Birds and Bees

Mom’s request seemed as random as anything I’d ever heard spew from her caustic maw. “Clean out your drawers—I want to switch my chest for your dresser.”

“Jeez, mom—what the heck are you talking about?”

“Your dresser. I want to put it in my bedroom and give you my chest of drawers. Your dresser holds more shit—clean it out so we can switch.” 

“Gimme a second—I’m organizing my magic library.”

Because she was nomadic by nature, mom frequently grew tired of our surroundings. This is what compelled us to move so often, sometimes to as many as three apartments per year. Because she didn’t drive a car, we always packed light. To minimize log jams on issues like interior design, mom and I shared components from the same thrifty bedroom ensemble. One chest, one dresser, two nightstands, and two bedframes: one double, one single. If whatever apartment we moved into that month couldn’t accommodate mom’s desk, Dictaphone and IBM typewriter, I’d take the big bed and dresser and mom would make do with the single bed, chest, and night stand. 

Why mom wanted to switch dressers in this home was not readily apparent. We’d lived there for months before she got the urge to redecorate. After shelving my treasured volumes on prestidigitation, I begrudgingly complied. Before I could empty the contents of my massive dresser onto my bed, mom had already dragged her chest of drawers into the hallway. After helping her shove my empty dresser into her tiny live/work space, I began the painstaking process of re-organizing my clothes. Socks and underwear up top, T-shirts and shorts in the middle, color-coordinated bed linens in the bottom. That’s when I found two items mom had overlooked: a scratchy synthetic blanket, and a paperback tome nearly two inches thick with a title that tickled me where my bathing suit covered the second I read it. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But were Afraid to Ask).

I was eleven, so of course I had questions. Why do some kids have hair on their balls? How come my dick look like a snail in a turtleneck and my friend John Reagan’s looks like a baby with a plum in its fist? Why did the principal at Jesse P. Miller Elementary get fired for spanking girls over his knee? I quickly buried my find under the Houdini biography in my nightstand, then returned the blanket before she could realize what was missing. “Thanks, Harold,” she said. “I’ll need this blanket—it’s supposed to get cold tonight.” Most nights mom slept in the cozy embrace of a single-malt fog—what did she know about cold?

It if snowed dog shit in our living room that evening, I wouldn’t have noticed. Mom’s sex manual consumed me. So many questions. So many answers. Each one spelled out in a captivatingly dry, pedantic manner. Fellatio. mom called me a cocksucker all the time—is this what she meant? Masturbation. Now there was a word I could use to impress the girls at the park. Cunillingus. Sounded reasonable to me, especially after learning how difficult it is for women to experience vaginal orgasms. Orgasms. So that’s what happened every time I washed my dick. A dick, I was relieved to learn, that was exactly three-eighths of an inch longer than average. It took me three days to finish Dr. Reuben’s manual, and another month to show it off to friends. Mom didn’t know it, but her book had turned me into a guru among every sexual neophyte in the sixth grade. Or did she?

After referencing mom’s weighty missive at least a dozen times, a challenge materialized: how was I going to get rid of it? I couldn’t simply hand it back to her; doing so would instantly brand me a sexual deviant. Hiding the book in perpetuity wasn’t an option, although storing it as I had for the previous five weeks in the dust bag on our Hoover was an inspired bit of subterfuge—mom was more likely to translate the New Testament into Sanscrit than push a vacuum. No, for me, consuming Dr. Ruben’s manual was much easier than disposing it. We lived about 500 yards from a small neighborhood lake—I could have tied it to a rock and thrown it in the water. Better yet, my best friend Kenny Bacon had a fireplace—why didn’t I just burn it, or simply throw it in a dumpster on my way to school? 

Faced with too many fool-proof solutions, I did what any other addle-headed adolescent blinded by birds and bees might do—I threw it on the roof of our house. As long as mom didn’t climb the tree in our back yard, my secret would be safe. We were probably going to move in ten weeks, anyway, so I liked the odds of my gamble. In the end, Dr. Rueben’s book decomposed peacefully beneath the brilliant Florida sun. And in Coach Peepers’ sex-ed class, my knowledge of all things vulgar, twisted, abhorrent, and profane shined just as bright.

Dress for Success

Had she not earned a “D” in PE her senior year—an achievement I topped with an “F” in the same class by the tenth grade—my mother could have been the valedictorian in Manatee High School’s Class of ‘59. Instead, that academic faux pas earned her a one-way bus ticket to secretarial school in Jacksonville, Florida. Hardly the scholastic springboard to fame and fortune mom dreamed of. Still, Jeanette emersed herself in her studies with customary fervor. After mastering the arcane language of Gregg shorthand and accelerating her typing skills to a blistering 172 WPM, mom shared laughs and smokes with an acrobatic water skier at the Jacksonville YWCA. When the company of bull dikes and unwed mothers became too much for mom and her roommate to swallow, the girls would dodge curfew at the Y and hit the town. With a bottle of Thunderbird and a pack of cigarettes stuffed beneath their trench coats, the ladies would sneak off to shoot pool with the sailors on R&R in Jacksonville harbor.

One sailor who caught mom’s eye was an 18-year-old yooper from Michigan. Friends called him Harold. Family members called him Sluggo. By their third date, mom was calling him Mack. One year later, friends at the Y were calling their ex-roommate “Mrs. McGruther.”

Precious few memories I have of my father were formed by any real experiences I shared with the man. His triple commitment to manic depression, marital infidelity and serving his country didn’t leave much time for baseball and bike rides. Instead, nearly all the illuminating portraits of dad hanging in my head were painted by my mother. One of my favorites shows a short, solidly built Italian guy tearing the Jacksonville phone book in half with this bare hands. Then there’s the SCUBA diver loading his gear into a white ‘64 Chevy II with a red vinyl interior—the only paint combination that appealed to his double-colorblind eyes. Other snapshots include yo-yo coach, car crash victim and wearer of small pants.

When I was 12 years old, I wore the same sized pants as my father: 28 square. Among fashion-conscious preteens of the day, Sears Toughskins were all the rage. Boys dug the groovy colors. Budding young flower girls liked their hip-hugging silhouette. Mothers and Catholic priests praised their reinforced knees. Unlike conventional blue jeans, grandma could cut off a pair of Toughskins with pinking shears and the ballistic-grade polyester would never fray. Pegged or flared and in every color of the rainbow, Toughskins where the pants to wear when you had to wear pants. Of course, I wore Moleskins. These thinly veiled pretenders to the Toughskins throne were the house trouser at Montgomery Ward’s.

Because it didn’t have a power tool line to rival Sears’ Craftsman brand, Ward’s was where divorced women and their fatherless crumb snatchers shopped for frocks and togs. Mom’s favorite flame-retardant pantsuits came off the rack at Montgomery Ward’s. When there was money left over from the 125 bucks per week she pulled down at the law offices of Frank Arpaya, Mom would buy me a pair of Moleskins in mustard, avocado, or some other funky earth tone. Among boys my age, one polyester pant was as good as the next. To the discerning eye and supple flesh of this young haberdasher, Moleskins were a tactile abomination. I blame no one but my father for the anguish and discomfort I suffered in those relentlessly abrasive, ill-fitting jeans. Fortunately, it didn’t take too many of grandma’s Boston cream pies to snatch me out of Ward’s boys department and straight into menswear. After reaching that milestone, my sartorial priorities took a turn for the wurst. Although I was built like a sausage, my mom was determined not to let me dress like one.

If the look for boys in the summer of ‘69 was Tom Sawyer, mine was Tom Jones. Mom took great pride in turning me out at holiday dinners and grade-school music recitals in ruffled tuxedo shirts, polyester bellbottoms and pastel suits. Pimps are expected to dress like that. It’s good for business. When your business is practicing magic and hiding boogers beneath the sofa, prancing around the schoolyard like a Welsh lounge singer was an invitation for an ass kicking. Then as now, I deflected caustic confrontations with a shield of self-deprecating wit. With so much good material to draw from, learning to laugh at myself came easy.

Anchors Away

I love cruise ships. There’s something magical about piling into a floating cut-rate casino with 3000 buffet assassins and their feral offspring that makes suffering a week of sea sickness worth the low five figures Paula and I typically burn to endure the experience. If that sounds amazing hold onto your life vest, because at every port-o-call on these journeys there’s a decommissioned school bus waiting to whisk you and a thousand other geriatric gadabouts to a swamp, pirate’s brothel, or hole in the ground—just show your passport, fork over 89 dollars and walk the plank.

There is an upside to stowing away on an aquatic gin palace for seven days, and it’s this: these floating Petri dishes making seeing big chunks of the world fast and cheap. On one seven-day sail, my mother and I visited Cancun, Cozumel, Honduras, Belize and Virgin Islands. Total price: $1,600. In headier times mom would have doubled that number with her bar tab, but a wheelchair makes bellying up on the Promenade Deck much harder these days.

On one of our earliest dates I asked me soulmate-in-training if she had a passport. “Of course,” she exclaimed. “Why?” “Because when you’re through with me,” I boasted, “it’s gonna look like your three-year-old beat on it with a rubber stamp.” Three months later Paula and I were chuckling about that humble brag at a Formula One race in Brazil.

Where we go and what we do makes us who we are. Everything else is just stuff. I learned that the hard way last spring when our house burned down. We escaped with the clothes on our backs and the cars in our driveway. Everything else was destroyed by fire, smoke, water, or all three. It will take nine months and nearly a half-million dollars to rebuild our lives from scratch. Paula’s childhood memories, Silas’ Nerf guns, and our family’s seven bicycles? Gone forever. Someday this story will be good for a giggle, but today no one is laughing. Instead, we’re counting the months until this smoldering nightmare is behind us. I’d hold my breath, but I did that last March for Covid-19, and it’s gotten me nowhere. Whining about a melted tool box when three million Americans have Coronavirus makes a person look selfish and small.

Alas, there might be one silver lining in the smoky cloud of our fiery milieu. Because first responders flooded the burning guts of our humble abode with 40,000 gallons of water, every wall and ceiling, every foot of electrical and plumbing, every appliance, stick of furniture, and personal effect will be trashed, fumigated, or replaced. This will take a year, and cost a fortune. Fortunately, Paula’s super powers include record-keeping, letter-writing, and voicemail navigation. In the blood sport that is negotiating an insurance claim, the vultures at Mercury and Progressive don’t have a chance. All we need to do—and have done—for approximately nine months is hurry up and wait.

If the recalcitrant mouth breathers at City Hall moved half as fast as Paula does, our general contractor and friend Big Mike would have his building permit by now. Instead, it took over two months for our engineer Mike II to assess structural damage and draft blueprints for our home, plans the city of Temecula and our GC require to authorize final demolition and start the rebuild. Why the foot dragging? One week after Mercury introduced us to our affable architect, he got Coronavirus.

Home fires are a nightmare. Suffering one during a global pandemic feels like being waterboarded during a prison rape.

Dutch Treat

In proper light and stable mind, Amsterdam’s twisty cobblestone streets can be difficult to navigate. Through the smoky haze of a drug- or alcohol-fueled bender, they’re impossible. So it was no small miracle when I found myself under the same dimly lit S&M parlor sign my friend Sully and I had walked beneath hours earlier, before both of us were too high to see.

Sadomasochism as a sexual distraction dwells in the seediest gutter of the human psyche. Mainstream culture has been quicker to embrace cosplay than “the dark arts,” as poetic practitioners call their game. These perversions read like a steaming bowl of deviant alphabet soup: BND, OTK, CEI, CFNM. I had spectated some kinky scenes in my day, and even engaged in harmless role play with girlfriends from time to time, but this was my last, best chance to take weird to “11” with a dominant mistress on foreign soil. In 14 hours, Sully and I were flying home.

As I steadied myself on the banister of the narrow staircase in front of a heavy black door, a terse voice with a gentle accent cracked through the intercom.

“Why are you here?”

“Who is this?

“Let’s make one thing clear before we move on—I ask the questions, you answer them.”

Um… I don’t know… I guess I wanna be your slave?”

“Not possible. Slaves do not choose their fate—I choose it for them.”

“…I’m sorry. I mean, I’m here to serve you…”

“We shall see. “When I push the button, open the door, walk up the staircase, enter the room and sit on the chair.”

The remote-control deadbolt released with a muffled buzz and the heavy black door swung open slowly. The foyer was pitch black, save for a red glow at the top of steep stairs. Soviet bloc techno thrumming in the background enhanced the cartoonish ambiance of the scene. I climbed the staircase as instructed, pulled a small chair away from the wall and sat down.

“Are you here?” I asked sheepishly. The hash in my head, the beats on the stereo and the red lights in the room drenched the small, tidy but overstuffed space in dense shadows. Suddenly, a slender hand in a black rubber glove reached toward me from behind. I jumped, but a second hand rested on my shoulder in a reassuring manner. Without saying a word, the mistress blindfolded me with a satin sleeping mask, the kind they give you on Economy Plus flights to China.

“Can you see out of this mask?”


“No what?”

“No Ma’am.”

“You are not my child, you are my slave. You will call me Mistress every time we speak. Do you understand?”


Before I could finish the words, a vulcanized rubber palm landed with a sting on my cheek.


“Yes WHAT?”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“I will give you the benefit of the doubt and say drugs and alcohol have made you stupid and lazy. Am I right?”

Yes, Mistress.”

“Yes, Mistress, what?”

Yes, Mistress, I drank some booze and smoked some hash.”

“A simple admission that you are stupid and lazy would have sufficed. I see now the challenge of returning you to your senses is mine. How do you propose we proceed?”

“I’ll do whatever it takes to please you, Mistress.”

“If you knew what it took to please me, you wouldn’t say that. Let’s start with the basics—why did you move the chair before sitting down?”

“I don’t know…”

Smack—another shot to the cheek, this time with more gusto.

“For this to work, you must do exactly as I say. Understood?”

“Yes Mistress—understood.”

For the next 90 minutes, my Dutch dominatrix dragged me through her garden of unearthly delights like a rusty hoe. The hash obstructed deep root of any vivid recollections, but whips, gags and flagellation were involved. When Mistress was convinced no more resistance or bodily fluids could be extracted from my lumpy carcass, she instructed me to bathe, dress, and leave a pledge of undying servitude beneath the porcelain skull on the table—200 Euros would suffice.

“Did you enjoy yourself, slave?”

“I’m not sure. The blindfold made it impossible to know what was going to happen next.”

“You have no idea how right you are…”

Still cloudy from the dangerous narcotics, but only slightly embarrassed by the depths of my freshly mined depravity, I stumbled back to the hotel where Sully was sleeping off his own night of bad choices. Taking a seat on the corner of my bed, I emptied my pockets onto the nightstand. As I pulled off my shoes, Sully lurched upward in a fright, wild eyes blazing.

“I saw a nightclub on the way back to the hotel—let’s eat disco biscuits and dance with some Dutch girls.”

Sully didn’t have to say it twice. While pill-popping isn’t my thing, I’ll cut the rug at the drop of a hat. “Let’s go!” I shrieked as we flew threw the lobby to the last stop on our freakout hell ride. At the disco Sully smoked weed with Dutch amazons next to a pile of rusty 3-speeds while I danced like a white Rerun on “What’s Happenin’?” When there were no more beats or blunts to fuel our stupidity, we walked back to our hotel—we had a plane to catch late Sunday morning.

After 20 hours of transit that included layovers on two continents, we finally arrived at our humble Lake Elsinore home, only slightly worse for wear.

“What the fuck did we do last night, Soulman?”

Hell, son—was that last night, or last month? “I feel like I’ve been shot out of a cannon. “I don’t remember shit after the hash bar—where’d you disappear to?”

“I did some bad things, Sully—I don’t remember what. “Let’s not talk about this with anyone.”


True to his word, Randy didn’t share any gory details of our European shenanigans with co-workers or friends. Then, about a month later, I received a cryptic email:

Hey McGoo,

Check out this website…

I clicked the link in Sully’s email and waited an eternity for the page to load—remember, this was wifi at the turn of the millennium. Eventually, a Betty Page doppelgänger in a vinyl bustier and leather boots filled the screen. Between her widely spread legs crouched a chubby man on all fours, a dog collar around his neck and a leather ponytail dangling from his bare ass. Though his face was obscured by a ball gag, his identity was unmistakable. That pony boy was me.

…you looked like hammered dog shit when you came back to the hotel that night—I knew you were up to no good. When I found a business card on your nightstand, I got on Ask Jeeves and did some poking around. You’re a sick man, Harold McGruther.

Love, Sully

Vitulum Omnibus Cacas

Here’s a half-baked hardball from someone with no education on the subject, and only one night of personal experience. America’s penal industrial complex is a corrupt monopoly that treats recidivists like repeat customers—great for business. Harsh sentencing for minor infractions continually rewards this system with new customers—another boon for cash flow. What can a country with 5% of earth’s population and 22% of its inmates do to improve this situation? How about Federal decriminalization of marijuana, followed by legalizing, regulating and taxing prostitution. Other victimless crimes might qualify, but these are my favorites, so it’s a good place to start.

If this crackpot idea sounds like good politics, hold on to your hat. Let’s talk three years of mandatory civil service for every able-bodied high-school grad, dropout, GED candidate, and gender-fluid shoe gazer who doesn’t meet at least one of the following criteria by his 19th birthday:

  • Registered for a full course load at an accredited university
  • Gainfully employed, with health coverage
  • A member of the US Armed Services

Draftees will be given free housing, hot meals and $1,500 per month in exchange for 50 hours per week—40 cleaning graffiti, painting bridges, servicing municipal vehicles, filling potholes; anything US cities might require—and ten for physical fitness and advanced on-the-job training. The budget for this ambitious Federal initiative will come from a 5% reduction in military spending and a 2% added flat tax on FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google—it’s about time these unregulated monopolies paid back society for their good fortune). While they are enlisted in the program, participants in FFLAKE—Federally Funded Learning and Knowledge for Everyone—will receive the same health benefits and paid vacation as members of Congress. When their three years are up, these 22- to 25-year-old FFLAKE veterans will be unleashed with the skills, self-confidence, discipline and personal wealth they need to make a positive contribution to US society.

Speaking of Washington, I have a seven-point program for fixing that shit show, too:

1: Abolish the Electoral College

2: 10-year term limits for members of Congress

3: One single 10-year term with no chance of reelection for the President

4: No more presidential appointments for Federal Judges; instead, citizens of the states where judges preside will elect them for a single term on their digital—not paper—census form every decade

5: Institute municipal voting by city, and state-wide elections by county; no more gerrymandered districts to ensure long-term positions for local, state or national politicians

6: Initiate online voting, make if failsafe and mandatory. Failure to cast a ballot will result in a fine on your taxes equal to 10% of your gross income or $5,000, whichever is greater. Use money from apathetic non-voters to help subsidize National Healthcare

7: Replace the IRS with a flat tax: 15% on gross income for individuals; 20% for small businesses (less than $20 million yearly revenue); 25% for every business larger than that… no deductions

Under my policies, all the recently displaced IRS agents can keep their cushy fed jobs by running FFLAKE for the aforementioned Gen Z malcontents.

If all this sounds like the booze-fueled rant of a raving Socialist, I’m just getting started. I find it unconscionable that the richest country in the world doesn’t provide quality health maintenance and emergency medial care for every citizen on its golden plains. I’m not talking about the snaggle-toothed program they settle for in Great Britain; let’s shoot for the platinum care citizens of France, Japan and Canada enjoy. We’ll manage the cost of National Healthcare two ways: by regulating what “healthcare” is (example: no more Botox, laser blemish removal, or lip implants for Instagram influencers), and by setting wage and legacy cost limits for federally-employed medial professionals. $350k per year should be plenty for doctors; 100 grand seems fair for certified nurses and educated support personnel. If a doctor wants to earn more than that, he can open a private practice to provide treatment or vanity surgeries for the rich. If the flat tax proposed in #7 doesn’t cover my system’s overhead year one, we’ll adjust tax rates +0.5% across all sectors every year until it does. I would happily pay an additional half-percent personal income tax for National Healthcare. Currently I invest $10,000 per year on healthcare for my family and me. I goddamn sure don’t make 2 million dollars, so a point-five uptick against my actual gross would be a bargain. Do the math for yourself—I think you’ll agree.

America’s got another problem, and it’s this: 70% of the planet’s ambulance chasers practice law on US soil. We are the most litigious country on earth, suing each other for everything from bad haircuts to Twitter burns. It’s time for all of us to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions. If your kid cracks his skull in a skatepark, don’t sue the city or the shop that sold him his board. Teach him how to skate, or make him love books—no one suffered head trauma reading “Gulliver’s Travels.” If every American had guaranteed health coverage, fewer of us would call Larry H. Parker every time we found a pube in our soup.

Brazen social engineering of this magnitude is bound to bring unintended consequences, none of which I’ve even considered; if you want to make an omelette, you have to crack some eggs. I CAN tell you this: current conditions and prevailing attitudes in modern America are untenable. These United States have practiced unfettered capitalism and defended unbridled freedom for nearly 250 years. Where has it gotten us? Trailer park Republicans and their sycophantic leaders make a mockery of truth, justice and The American Way by giving the nuclear football to a malignant narcissist and pathological liar. Bleeding hearts foment cultural fissures nine miles wide by force-feeding us their self-righteous indignation about everything on 24/7 cable news and social media. While The Left stirs tempests in a teapot, The Right pines for “the good old days” with heads in the sand. As a man born and raised in the dirtiest place in the Dirty South, I’m here to tell you—the good old days weren’t that great. I’ve watched misogyny, racism, pedophilia, corruption, incest, greed, and violence shred whole swaths of American social fabric every day for 25 years, and that’s just the senators from Kentucky and Alabama.

Work will Set You Free

When you work two jobs as mom did for most of my childhood, something has to suffer. In our case, it was housecleaning. Mom wasn’t a pig in the true sense—she rarely ate table scraps and never rolled in shit—but things like dusting and scrubbing were low on the to-do lists she scribbled on cocktail napkins laying around the house. Because we didn’t own a car, simple errands like laundry and groceries required more time and planning. The net effect of these impositions was a home one might kindly describe as bohemian. Compared to Aunt Dianne’s suburban manse or grandma’s spotless two-bedroom cottage, many of the bungalows and apartments we lived in were dumps.

The best dump ever was a tiny one-bedroom apartment with an attached single-car garage. Situated on an alley behind a laundrymat and a Quickie Mart in Lake Worth, Florida, that first address in our new hometown was minutes away from two places that would define our lives for the next six years: the bus stop on Dixie Highway, and Princeton Cycles.

Jim Daetwyler’s father founded his family’s eponymously-named bike shop in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1948. Migration to the Sunshine State in the early ‘60s brought the Daetwyler brood and their mom-and-pop bike shop to sunnier climes in the sleepy retirement community of Lake Worth. Jim took over the shop from his father and raised a family of his own in those days, living with his wife and young daughter Lisa in a small apartment across the street from his humble Schwinn dealership. When the bike shop hustle proved too demanding, Jim sold Princeton Cycles to a Goodyear franchisee named Robert Nichols in ‘73. After he graduated high school two years later, Mr. Nichols put his 18-year-old son Bobby Jr. in charge of sales and service at his new business. Unfortunately, the silver spoon in Bobby’s mouth sometimes made it difficult for Mr. Nichols’ kid to talk and turn wrenches at the same time. My mom didn’t know any of this in the summer of ‘75. All she knew was that her boy needed a job to finance his growing addiction to BMX. Leaving her pride next to a pack of Marlboros on the typing desk in our living room, mom walked down the alley, through the laundromat and across Dixie Highway into Princeton Cycles.

“May I speak to the owner?”

“He’s not here. I’m Bobby, the owner’s son, Can I help you?”

“I hope so. My son Harold is obsessed with bicycles. Is there ANYTHING he can do around here to earn extra money? He’s a good kid, smart—too goddamn smart, frankly—and he races BMX. It’s expensive.”

“Send him in. We’ll let him assemble some bikes to see if he knows what he’s doing.”

What mom failed to mention was my age. Thirteen. Legal statutes, however, she knew all too well. Palm Beach County, our new place of residence, stretched from the the gilded boutiques on Worth Avenue—the East Coast’s Rodeo Drive—to the cane fields on the shores of Lake Okeechobee—farm country for Florida swamp people and their genetically engineered ranch hands. If you were 13 and maintained a C-average in school, you could get a work permit. Report card and freshly minted Social Security ID in hand, I pedaled my Ashtabula Black Diamond across Dixie Highway and reported for duty at Princeton Cycles.

If Bobby Nichols was surprised by my youth, he didn’t show it. Himself a fresh-faced kid barely out of high school, he seemed to relish the idea of pushing around a teen-aged grease monkey. There was a third man in Princeton’s tune-and-service department, a 60-something semi-retired master mechanic co-workers and friends called Chick. Chick was a wizard with wrenches, the first real mechanic I’d ever met. I stuck to him like glue. After comparing shop hours—seven-thirty to seven Monday through Friday, nine to five weekends—with my commitment to seventh grade, Chick and Bobby agreed to let me work four to seven weekdays and both shifts on the weekend. More importantly, Chick said he would teach me how to build wheels and fine-tune the Shimano coaster brake on my BMX bike when work was slow. On the subject of pay, Mr. Nichols introduced me to the term “piecemeal.”

I’ll tell you what, Harold…”

“Friends call me McGoo, Mr. Nichols…”

“Fair enough, McGoo—employees call me Bob. “I’ll give you one dollar for single-speeds, two dollars for three-speeds, and three dollars for five- and ten-speeds. Pay attention to what Chick shows you and I bet you can make a couple bucks an hour.”

After a quick how-to on using third-hands, fourth-hands, and rapping randonneur bars with vinyl tape, Chick cut me loose on a pallet of Schwinns. Coaster brake bikes were easy—bars in the stem, grips on the bars, stem in the fork, and the pedals in the cranks. Even the seat and seatpost were already assembled—just grease it and go. Chick assessed my work and pointed out flaws.

“Don’t drop the post so far into the frame—the clamp will scratch the zinc plating.”

“Grease the wedge hardware and stem quill—it’ll come out of the steerer with less headache when the next guy works on it.”

“Tighten the chain—those factory workers in Chicago are sloppy bastards, and dumber than hell.”

Even at Chick’s more measured pace, I could assemble three Typhoons, Pixies or Sting-Rays per hour. Clearly, I needed to build some 10-speeds to make real money. Unfortunately, my mentor’s assessment of line workers in The Windy City was correct—Schwinn Varsities and Collegiates were over-priced, under-spec’ed, fillet-brazed piles of shit. Raw handlebars were just the beginning. Stamped steel derailleurs were loosely installed and poorly aligned. Headsets and bottom brackets were dry as a bone. Brake levers and stem-mounted shifters were stuffed in a cardboard box with everything else that mattered: pedals, reflectors, bar tape, saddle and seatpost, owner’s manual, you name it. Of course, these parts kits always exploded in transit. Now I had to dig in the trash to find a seatpost clamp so I could claim my three-dollar bounty for fine-tuning another American-made turd.

It was a dirty job, but I wouldn’t have traded it for all the lawn-mowing money in the world. In less than a month, I was the fastest bike builder Chick, Bobby or anyone else had ever seen. How fast? On my first check I averaged twelve bucks per hour. It didn’t take Bob Sr. long to close that gold mine.

“Damn, McGoo—you’re a whiz! How would you like to get out of the back room and help Chick with high-end service and Bobby with customers?”

“Will I get to wear a uniform shirt with my name over the pocket?”

“Hell yes—everyone at Princeton Cycles gets a week’s worth of shirts and three pair of pants.”

I’m in! How much will I be getting paid?”

“Minimum wage to start, but with the hard work I know you’re capable of, the sky’s the limit.”

Business handled, I thanked Mr. Nichols for the opportunity, gave Bobby my sizes and punched my time card on the company clock.

The year was 1975. The minimum wage was $2.10 per hour. I was the youngest employee at the worst-performing Schwinn franchise on Florida’s East Coast.

It was a great time to be alive.

Riders Ready, Watch the Lights…

In 1975, Honda was the only motorcycle manufacturer among the Japanese Big Four that hadn’t jumped on the BMX bandwagon. Yamaha was first a few years earlier with their Moto Bike, a janky, half-hearted effort with front and rear suspension, threaded European bottom bracket, and three-piece steel cranks fastened to a buttery soft boron spindle with cotter pins. Suzuki entered the arms race next, with a rigid loop tail number reminiscent of the Webco frame developed for the burgeoning sport by a SoCal hop-up shop of the same name. Suzuki’s effort should have caught on but didn’t, probably because the company failed to enlist a superstar to endorse their product.

Not wanting to suffer the same fate as their yellow neighbors, Kawasaki came to the game armed with a respectable green weapon and a capable racer. Unlike Yamaha’s Asian import, the Kawasaki BX200 A1 was made in America by Bill Bastian. Bastian’s Race Inc. job shop in Gardena, CA, was where Scott Breithaupt and motocross exhaust guru Donny Emler commissioned the FMF frames that carried BMX legend Stu Thomsen to victory before SE Racing and the STR-1 were born. A 15-year-old kid from The Valley named David Clinton rode for Team Green in 1975, and took the NBA #1 plate that year aboard a Kawasaki made rideable with a pair of rigid struts where the spongy rear shocks used to be. Kawasaki would give up the bicycle game as quickly as they had entered it, but David’s innovative 6061 aluminum bicycle made an impression on one mid-pack goon from the Sunshine State that never waned. I dreamed of meeting David Clinton someday to talk about BMX. That day would come five years later at an NBL national in Pompano Beach.

By the time Dave and I met in my friend Greg Esser’s living room the spring of 1980, Clinton’s days as a Team Green factory pilot were long behind him. Now 20, Dave seemed content to rest on his laurels as he rode into the sunset on a Diamond Back in a Shimano jersey. From my cheap seat in the peanut gallery, BMX seemed less like a profession to Dave, more like a springboard to make a bigger splash in California’s burgeoning bicycle industry. I was not wrong. After enjoying a race career any teenaged BMXer would kill for, David Clinton parlayed his notoriety into lucrative positions at a number of bicycle companies in SoCal, Diamond Back and Shimano included. My childhood hero—at the time a child himself—wisely chose business over pleasure. It was a choice I would make two years later at my first BMX race in California, and my last race ever.

Time to move on.

The Circus Comes to Town

For gerontologists and migrant farm workers, my birthplace and childhood home was ripe with professional opportunity and social reward. For a single mother whose son had expensive tastes in European mini bikes, 13-inch action dolls and tailored trousers, Bradenton, Florida, counted only misery and Tropicana orange juice among its cash crops. During one particularly hot summer of her discontent, mom decided migration to Palm Beach Country on Florida’s Atlantic coast might better quench her thirst for social enrichment and financial reward. While mom set up shop for us 175 miles east in Palm Beach county, I spent the summer of ‘74 with my aunt, uncle, and cousins Tracy and Jennifer in Sarasota.

At the turn of the 19th century, the Ringling Brothers pitched their big top mere blocks from the old-money neighborhood Aunt Dianne and Uncle Greg called home. Rich WASPs and retired lion trainers called Sarasota home. Art-school nihilists and boozy bettors at the city’s dog track called it “Clown Town.” Except for the couple years mom and I lived with a British upholstery worker and her troublesome teenaged daughter, I’d always been a latchkey kid. The freedom was intoxicating, like the Cutty Sark mom quaffed during nightly freelance speed-typing marathons. Dysfunctional though we may have seemed, what little mom and I had worked great for both of us; I didn’t need additional gear or guidance.

Though the part I played in my uncle’s family drama was a short one, my triple role as surrogate son, feral nephew and big brother was both tedious and rewarding. Uncle Greg may have been the breadwinner in his patriarchy, but Aunt Dianne ruled her pristine showcase home with cast-iron fists. Uncle Greg’s joy for being the father I never had was real, but he made sure the life we shared was his own. That meant duck hunting on Terra Ceia Bay, bass fishing on Lake Okeechobee, and church at Palma Sola Presbyterian every Sunday morning. While her public demeanor seemed quaint, after a dozen years of free-range parenting from my mom, Aunt Dianne’s regimented approach to housekeeping and child rearing was a shock to my system. For a boy who pulled it to Playboy magazines in the bathroom at Circuit Judge Robert Schultz’s beach house on more than one occasion, the whole scene was hard to swallow. My cousins Tracy and Jennifer were the loving sisters I never had; Aunt Dianne and Uncle Greg were sometimes the puritanical parents I never wanted. I needed the change of scenery more badly than mom did.

For reasons still unclear, my mother waited well into her forties before consumating her relationship with Florida DMV. A total dependency on public transportation during my adolescent and teen years was the pennance we paid for her unwillingness to take the driving exam. When friends provided ground transportation, mom’s appreciation manifested itself in disproportionate generosity at the pump; she tipped big for short bursts across town, and covered every tankful on camping trips to Central Florida. Mom’s indentured servitude and fear of steering wheels planted in me the seeds of independence that still drive my soul. With no family car to rely on, the vehicles that moved me—both physically and emotionally—were mini bikes and bicycles.

I wasn’t the only person hooked on going places and doing things in the 1970s. In those days, country singer C.W. McCall wrote a song about cross-country trucking and CB jiving called “Convoy” that became a number-one hit. For a time, cars were big, gas was cheap, and Americans were on the move. Then, OPEC cooked up an oil shortage in the Middle East that made two-hour waits at the pump a weekly ritual for American drivers. American drivers who still clutched keys to muscle cars and 560 cubic-inch Cadillacs in their porcine hands. Not surprisingly, this confluence of cultural and geopolitical factors collided with a force so great it catapulted America’s moribund bicycle industry into the stratosphere.

The Schwinn Bicycle Company—a rustbelt juggernaut that built sturdy, dependable bicycles in Chicago since 1895—sold trendy 10-speeds and flashy Sting-Rays to millions of Americans who were growing tired of the petrol-powered coup d’etat. The function, fashion and practicality of America’s favorite bicycle enabled those over-built machines to coast past cultural and ideological road blocks with speed and ease. Hippies rode Schwinns to save the planet. Republicans rode Schwinns to curry favor with corrupt Chicago politicians. Democrats rode Schwinns to support their union brothers. I rode a Schwinn for the same reason I wore Pro Keds, ate Little Debbie cakes and drank Dr. Pepper—they advertised in the dozens of magazines I bought every month with the money I earned dumping trash at my uncle’s sign-making business. Hot Rod. Car and Driver. Motocross Action. National Geographic. Boy’s Life. Reader’s Digest. If Publisher’s Clearinghouse sold it, I subscribed to it. Going hunting with Uncle Greg? Read Field and Stream. Baking a cake with grandma? Scour Good Housekeeping for the perfect recipe. When it was time to buy plastic fenders for my Hodaka Dirt Squirt, Preston Petty ads in Dirt Bike saved the day. I was a junkie. Magazines were my crack.

Special Delivery

For the first seven or eight years of my life, in addition to Christmas presents from all the usual suspects—mom and grandma, aunts and uncles—every December the mailman would deliver some odd gift in a plain brown wrapper. These parcels were always addressed in the same fussy fashion: “To Master H.W. McGruther, Esq.” No sender’s name or return address. When I quizzed mom about the origin of these charitable contributions to my arsenal of holiday detritus, her answer was always the same. “Your father.” I wanted to think differently about dad and his parcel post parenting, but these unmarked boxes always contained more questions than answers.

“I HATE football—what am I supposed to do with a Jets helmet?”

“What the hell’s an Ant Farm?”

“A toy Doctor kit?! Does he think I’m a three-year-old?”

Every time I ridiculed the man who wasn’t there about the gift I didn’t like, mom launched into the same threadbare diatribe about the spirit of giving, then closed with a line straight out of an ABC After-School Special. “He’s your father and he loves you very much—nothing else matters.” Mom’s guilt trips worked like a charm. My greed and self-absorption plummeted, dad’s stock on the Love and Caring Index held steady, and mom’s’s Wisdom Quotient went through the roof. To regain her faith, I gamely diddled with dad’s dumb gift ’til New Years Day, then banished it to the back of my closet. When my birthday rolled around January 21st, mom would smile confidently as I tore into every fantastic gift she’s typed her fingers to the bone to finance. Slotcars. Tennis rackets. G.I. Joes with kung fu grip. A Dynamo label maker.

“Now THIS is a gift I can use! Thanks, mom!”

“I’m glad you like it. Now stop labeling everything in the goddamned house and go write your dad a thank-you letter. He’ll love hearing from you. “Thank him for the baseball mitt, but don’t mention you’re left-handed—it’ll only embarass him.”

Though I wrote those thank-you letters as instructed, eventually the plain brown packages stopped coming. Was it something I said? Did my hand-written letter for last year’s Mr. Potato Head seem less than sincere? We moved recently—maybe dad didn’t know our new address. Whatever the reason, it didn’t matter. Feigning interest in either the man or the feeble tokens of his affection had grown tiresome. Mom’s zeal to dignify dad’s memory had also waned. Ten years is a long time to pretend to care—especially for someone I never knew. For Mister H. W. McGruther, Sr., I’m sure the feeling was mutual.

Making It Hot For People

Thirty years ago, my friend Jeff Tremaine gave me a copy of Terry Southern’s “The Magic Christian,” saying at the time “it will change my life.” Southern’s satirical romp is an allegory about the evils of wealth, the ignorance of crowds, and the corrosive nature of power. Guy Grand, the book’s protagonist, is a billionaire with a mean streak who plays pranks on individuals and society; sometimes to make a point, but mostly just for laughs. In three years of high-school German I never learned about schadenfreude, but this book drove the concept home like a sledge on a tack. Leave it to the Germans to coin a word for finding joy in the discomfort of others. Now whenever my caustic wit gets the best of me, I can blame my insensitivity on the guys who invented the Holocaust. Mr. Southern’s masterpiece changed my life like Jeff said it would, but not in a way I ever could have imagined. Arbeit macht frei, indeed.

Fifteen years earlier, a California entrepreneur built the world’s first complete BMX bike in his fab shop in LA’s San Fernando Valley. Skip Hess’s Mongoose was the stuff nocturnal emissions were made of. Boys gobbled them up like dots on a Pac-Man screen. Call me aloof, but Skip’s collab with his friend and drag-racing legend Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen left me cold. Its cast-alloy Moto Mags were clearly too heavy for teen-aged pedal power, and Tom’s cartoon avatar seemed downright silly.

My first California BMX frame from that era was a Littlejohn Murphy monoshock, one I prepped for competition by replacing its coil spring with a strut I fashioned from an old seatpost. This crudely cobbled lockout device, I theorized, made my bike more reactive to pedaling inputs and less inclined to bounce up and down when I chopped wood on its 7-1/2-inch Ashtabula cranks. Twelve years old and already I was dabbling in frame design and suspension dynamics.

Of course, Mongoose didn’t need engineering tips from a kid who lived on a dirt road in Florida. Skip sold a quarter-million American-made Mongoose bikes in 1975 alone. After running out of ways to sell The Original, Skip slapped different stickers on his heavyweight champs and sold them as Jags to black kids or Blue Maxes to Army brats. Innovative frame shops like Race Inc., Torker, and JMC made race machines—Skip Hess made money.

Business at Mongoose was booming in the mid-’80s, but it wouldn’t last. Two Bobs, Haro and Osborn—the former a maker of BMX accessories, the latter a publishing mogul—had been planting seeds for an offshoot of bicycle motocross on the pages BMX Action magazine for years. They called their less structured, more accessible form of 20-inch fun “freestyle.” Seemingly overnight, mid-pack goons tired of getting fifth in the semi dropped their helmets and rushed to local bike shops to buy The Next Big Thing: a Haro Freestyler, a GT Performer, a Hutch Wind Styler. Anything, it seemed, but a Mongoose.

Skip Hess couldn’t have cared less. Months before racing pooped in its leathers, the old Skipper sold his dirt-bike leviathan to American Recreation Group, a multi-national conglomerate headquartered in Trump Tower whose portfolio included Princess Cruise Lines and the pop discography of a chanteuse named Pia Zadora, the wife of Meshulam Riklis, ARG’s owner.

It didn’t take long for ARG accountants to realize they’d been sold a pig in a poke, so they did what every business behemoth would do in a similar situation: cut the fat. One of the first heads on the chopping block was the founder’s son, Skip Hess Jr. Skip II as friends and co-workers knew him was a silver-spooned devil who liked spending time on fishing boats nearly more than he enjoyed spending dad’s money. Skip II’s riverboat gambler style of squandering every nickel until the company made a profit was 180-out from the way ARG shekel counters did business, so he got the axe.

In his time at the helm of Mongoose’s sinking ship, one thing Skip II did get right was mountain bikes. Mongoose was among the first BMX brands to dip its toe into the burgeoning MTB scene, and Skip II sponsored the rider who would become the sport’s first megastar. John Tomac was a teen-aged BMXer related by marriage to Eric Rupe, a legendary Mongoose BMXer and 1983 NBL number-one pro. Another retired Mongoose rider named Charlie Litsky—a USC grad, son of a New York Times editor, and savvy player in the sports-marketing game—took young Tomac under his wing, and a star was born. It was Litsky’s vision and shrewd negotiating that made “Farmer John”—not Cancer Jesus Lance Armstrong—the first pro cyclist on Nike’s payroll, proving beyond doubt that Skip II’s instincts regarding Johnny T’s speed, charisma, and marketability were solid.

Unfortunately, little of what the superstar accomplished on dusty ski slopes worldwide moved the metal on dealer floors. While Tomac dutifully hammered his Mongoose into the record books, other mega deals followed, until one day 7-Eleven, America’s premier road-cycling team, knocked on Johnny’s door. In less than a decade, Skip II’s BMXer from Michigan was heading to Europe to train for the Tour de France.

Mission accomplished, or opportunity squandered? Nobody at ARG cared. Harry Manko, the septuagenarian scarecrow at the helm of Mongoose’s parent company Service Cycle—another New York-based subsidiary of ARG—needed Mongoose to sell bicycles, and fast. Manko’s roots in the American bicycle business were deep—his father was a regional distributor of various French and Japanese imports after WWII—but Service Cycle sold bike parts and Christmas trash to Kmart. Fast-growing, forward-thinking companies like Specialized, GT, Trek and others were eating Mongoose’s lunch where it mattered most: Independent Bicycle Dealers. Although their numbers had begun to dwindle from their peak in the early ’80s, US IBDs still represented The Holy Land where high-end brands waged war for bike-cult supremacy. Jeff Bezos wouldn’t perfect online shopping for another 25 years, so brick-and-mortars still called all the shots. Manko knew if Mongoose hoped to grow floor space it needed dynamic leadership, new product, and Big Ideas. The days of juicing rusty clunkers with root beer brown paint and Jag BMX stickers were over.

One Service Cycle competitor based on America’s progressive left coast understood how the bike game of the day was played. IBD wholesaler West Coast Cycles’ portfolio included super-hot Haro BMX and freestyle bikes, Nishiki road and mountain bikes, and Cycle Pro parts and accessories. Dealer sales at WCC were led by Nick Andrade, a hustler whose shop knowledge and sales savvy were surpassed only by his photographic memory and genuine kindness. After remembering their birthdays and working the names of their wives and children into his pitch, shop owners lined up to give Nick their money. On the product side, WCC had a 30-something bike nerd named Bob Margevicius. Bob’s original position at West Coast Cycles was in-house legal counsel. One of his earliest contracts was between his employer and that freestyle pioneer Bob Haro, who sold WCC his rapidly-growing empire in 1985. When there were no legal proceedings to oversee, Margevicius designed Nishiki road bikes. Lawyer and road geek might seem like strange bedfellows, but Margevicius was custom-built and fine-tuned for the grind. Before he earned his JD at NYU, in 1972 Bob won the USCF National TT Championship. From Harry Manko’s perspective, Bob’s alphabet soup of overachievements made him the perfect candidate for Mongoose president. That the slim, prematurely grey East Coast native wore ties to design bikes when everyone else preferred t-shirts was icing on the cake. Bob took the reigns in ’87, evaluating Mongoose’s assets and restructuring his creative team immediately.

It took two years for the decisive but methodical C-suite neophyte to dump the flotsam and jetsam from Skip II’s bloated vessel. Not everyone proved as easy to cut loose as Bob might have hoped. Still, it was a lean crew that fit nicely into a smaller office in Torrance, CA, one Margevicius owned personally (taking the helm of a moribund bike brand was already paying dividends). After rebuilding as much as he could from within, Bob reached outside his circle of comfort to find a product manager for Mongoose Bicycle Company’s youth division. Being clever and practical, Bob didn’t look far. GT Bicycles in Huntington Beach, CA, was the 800-pound gorilla in the BMX circus, and employed dozens of clowns whose veins coarsed with 20-inch blood. If he could convince the right one to jump ship, Mongoose BMX might be back in business.

GT’s story is nearly more improbable than Mongoose’s. In 1979, a track operator and a one-time trumpet repairman with metal fab skills combined forces to build a BMX behemoth whose sales, marketing muscle and rider-endorsement horsepower were magnitudes above the competition. At the peak of his draconian powers, GT co-founder and president Rich Long used in-house marketing, global sales networks, aggressive M&A strategies, and sheer will to pummel suppliers, distributors, media, race organizations, athletes, and employees into submission. GT went public in 1995, generating $40 million on its IPO, $37 million of which the company used to pay down debt. Rich Long died one year later in a motorcycle accident.

Without Richard’s iron fist to guide it, GT floundered for a time, went bankrupt, then returned to private ownership, rescinding nearly all of its considerable R&D and marketing mojo to Specialized, Trek, and others along the way. In an interesting side note with a bizarre twist, a 13-year-old neighbor kid Rich Long once hired to package small parts in his garage now owns S&M and Fit Bike Co., two of the most respected and influential BMX brands in the world. I worked for GT when that kid and my friend Chris Moeller printed S&M flyers on GT’s photocopier. I found the disdain some employees held for Mad Dog’s brand of two-wheeled tomfoolery puzzling—weren’t the bikes we were building supposed to be fun? While he was alive, one of S&M’s most vocal skeptics was Rich Long himself. Karma, or bad luck in a blind curve? I’ll cede that debate to clerics and car-crash investigators. While serving GT’s poisoned punch to athletes, media, and customers was my job for three years, I never personally loved the taste. When Bob Margevicius asked me to jump ship, I sprinted, then leaped… but not before having one last tête-à-tête with Gary Turner’s surly partner.

I called in sick on a Thursday to make time for my interview with Bob at Mongoose HQ. I’d met hundreds of skinny road geeks, but few more kind and charismatic than this lean—almost gaunt—straw-haired fellow. It came to light during two hours of conversation that I was only nine years Bob’s junior. How had I accomplished so little during the same number of years in the bike business? Judging by the dearth of trophies or mementos in his corner glass office, road bikes seemed little more than a passing fad to this polished, confident businessman. If I was intimidated or insecure I didn’t let it show, however, and when Bob asked me where I saw myself in five years I told him, “Sitting where you are, interviewing the next kid who wants to make a difference.” Boom. All that remained was the talk about money. By his own admission, Bob didn’t know much about the business of BMX. For this reason, I anticipated a fight when it came to dollars and sense. I was GT’s copywriter, team manager and part-time product designer, after all—a triple threat. The 37k I earned at GT in ’88 was going to be pretty tough for this guy and his now charitably second-tier BMX brand to beat.

“We have a budget for your position, and it’s 60,000 dollars—45 base salary, and a 15-thousand dollar bonus if your product category shows a net profit. Sixty percent of kids bikes are sold between Halloween and Christmas, so it will be clear by the end of the year whether your bikes are popular, or missed the mark.”

“What are you telling me?” I responded, still gobsmacked by my future boss and mentor’s cash and candor.

“Mongoose kids bikes lost 4% last year. My boss Harry expects the new product manager for this category to design bikes that make the company money. “You show a nickel’s profit from BMX by December 31 and there will be an extra 15 grand on your next paycheck.”

“When can I start?”

“Tender your resignation at GT first, then we can set a date. I assume you’ll give Rich at least two weeks notice. “If you’re as valuable as I think you are, he’ll probably counter my offer. “You owe it to yourself and to him to listen.”

On that I shook hands, thanked Bob for the opportunity, then departed.

Friday morning I returned to GT an hour earlier than normal so I could bang out my letter of resignation without drawing co-workers’ attention. Of course, Rich Long and his assistant Debbie were already there, and were sifting through their inboxes at the receptionist’s kiosk when I walked through he door.

“You’re here early, McGoo—how you feeling?”

“OK… why?”

“You were sick yesterday…”

“Oh yeah—I was. “I’m better now. How you guys doin’?”

“Fine. “What do you have going on today?”

“We’re looking at comps for bike graphics, and I have to write some copy for the mountain bike catalog…”

“Why are you writing mountain bike copy…?”

“I write the copy for everything around here, Rich—you didn’t know that?”

“I just assumed mountain bike product managers did it.”

“Bill doesn’t even have a typewriter. Anyway, can I talk to you later today?”

“What’s’ up?”

“It’s the Dyno shoes. The freestyle guys hate them—too thin, and no padding.”

“They get paid to wear whatever we tell them, but sure—come to my office around four and we’ll talk.”

Banal morning banter out of the way, I headed to my office—a renovated storage closet—to write the letter that would make it official. Nine hours latter I’d hand that letter to the man who just admitted he didn’t know one of my key responsibilities at his company. The words came in a torrent.

I quit.

Knowing my days were numbered, I didn’t kill myself to look busy that Friday. Instead, I made small talk with friends in every department of the company. Hanging out with Rich’s affable partner Gary Turner—the G and T in GT—was especially melancholy. Nine months earlier, Gary and I spent six weeks designing and building a mobile halfpipe that I towed across Canada with a hand-picked team of GT and Dyno freestyle pros. We’d grown close during that project. After the riders it had been my job to manage for three years, Gary and his right-hand man Sam Shockley were the guys at GT I would miss the most.

“Hey Rich, can we do this?

“Come in and sit down—Galloway was just leaving. “What’s the beef with our sneakers? “These prima donnas drive me nuts with their bitching. “Lemme guess—Voelker got an offer from Vision…”

“Yeah, Voelker got an offer from Vision, and Vans wants to sign Josh White. “Before we get into that, there’s something else I want to talk about. “It’s about my job… there’s an opening for a product manager at Mongoose, and I want to take it. “This letter of resignation makes everything clear. “I’d like to stay two weeks to finish writing the mountain bike catalog, and to wrap stuff up with the team…”

“Wow—you’re putting me—us, everyone—in quite a bind, McGoo. What’s the problem?”

“There isn’t a problem, Rich…”

“Nobody leaves a job because there isn’t a problem. “Say it…”

“There’s no room to grow at GT, Rich. “Six weeks ago I answered to Shawn Buckley, but after he quit I started answering to you. “I’m as far up the ladder as I’m ever gonna get…”

“I don’t agree with you, McGoo—there’s plenty of opportunity for growth at this company—you just need to be patient and fair. You’re important to this company…”

“Come on, Rich—this morning you didn’t know I write the catalogs…”

“I can’t know everything people do around here—we got 150 employees…

Yeah—and half of them answer directly to you, me included. “Where does a corporate structure like that leave room to move up for a guy like me…”

“This is about money, isn’t it? “How much did they offer you?”

It’s not about money, Rich—it’s about working for a place that knows what I do, and values my contributions to the company. “It’s about getting a chance to do something bigger and better—I don’t want to fight with BMXers about Tuff Wheels and tennis shoes the rest of my life.”

“Look, if it’s about money, just tell me what you want.”

In a dramatic flourish, Rich slid a Post-It pad and pen toward me across his desk. “Write down the number.”

No, Rich…” I said as I slid the pen and paper back toward his side of the desk, “YOU write down a number. “I know what Mongoose thinks I’m worth—I want to hear what you think.”

“That’s not fair, McGoo—you’re putting me in a corner.”

“If I write a number and you agree to it, I’ll never know if it’s what you think I’m worth, or just what it took to keep me around. “I want you to believe in me, and I want to feel like what I do matters around here. “Write a number and I’ll give you an answer immediately.”

“That’s not how this works, McGoo. “If you won’t tell me what you want, how can I know what I’m supposed to pay you?”

“You can know what you’re supposed to pay me by considering everything I do around here, then deciding for yourself what that’s worth. “Show me THAT number and I’ll tear up this letter.”

Rich’s melodrama had backfired. Quite by accident, and using only the silly props he provided, I painted the legendarily tight-lipped leader into a corner. To is credit, what Rich said next was both the only card left in his hand, and the right one to play.

“Keep your letter, McGoo. “We’ll sit down again Monday morning after taking the weekend to figure this out. “You’re important around here, and I want to keep you.”

“Fair enough, Rich—see you Monday…”

When I returned to work Monday, GT sales manager Bill Galloway greeted me outside the front door.

“Rich is ready to see you—I’ll take you to his office.”

I know the way—let me put my stuff in my office…”

I can’t let you do that.”

“OK, let’s go.”

Confused for a moment by Galloway’s involvement, everything became clear when Rich spoke after telling my to take a seat.

“I’ve decided to accept your resignation, McGoo. We don’t want people at GT who don’t want to be here. Bill’s going to give you a check for the current pay period plus two weeks, and I’ve instructed him to walk you to the parking lot after he’s watched you clean out your desk.”

“Wow. OK. Can I say bye to a couple guys?”

“You can say anything you want to GT employees after 5 p.m. “Right now all you can do is get your things and go.“ We shook hands, after which my now ex-boss’s sycophantic sergeant-at-arms escorted me to my office.

“That was weird.”

“Well, given where you’re headed, I agree with Rich—it‘s in everyone’s best interest to move on.“ Galloway had never contested a word that came out of Richard Long’s mouth—why would he start now? 

Feeling froggy in the afterglow of my unceremonious termination, I joked to the lackey looking over my shoulder that the desk and word processor in my office weren’t going to fit in the cardboard box he gave me.

“What do you mean?” Galloway inquired?

“This desk and word processor are mine—I brought them from home when youclowns forgot to build me an office. “Why do you think I work in this fucking closet?”

“I can’t let you take them, McGoo—there’s obviously privileged information on that typewriter…”

“Tons. Catalog copy, bike specs, dealer lists for freestyle shows, you name it. “Tell you what—add another thousand dollars to my severance pay and you can have ‘em.“

Rich’s ass-sucking sidekick stomped out in a huff, then returned three minutes later with another check. Satisfied, I picked up my cardboard box and followed Galloway to the door.

Arbeit macht frei.

Work makes you free.