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Leap Year

On the way to school it rained, and Lime Barty‘s bell-bottom pants leg stuck fast in his bicycle chain, suspending Lime in a brief, frenzied balancing act before spilling him like a big wet bag of bolts onto the road’s soft shoulder.

During that anti-gravity moment, Lime‘s eyes felt like they’d been popped like champagne corks and re-socketed, three times -- optical gymnastics rarely experienced outside a Tex Avery cartoon. Now the ah-OOO-gah! was over, and Lime lay in the moist, quiet wreckage of his Schwinn 2-speed kickback with his bell-bottom still stuck between chain and crank, watching the small rainrivers form and flow around his handlebars. He expected, for dramatic effect, if not his life to pass before his eyes, then at least some of his blood. Blood to slowly mix with the rain, for the rain to thicken with it, then for Lime to pass out in and awaken in a nice warm dry hospital bed, with visitors.

No such luck. He remained cold and wet, grateful to be alive but not to be awake. Cars ground past the intersection of Grandview and Buena Vista, across from the park, a few slowing down to check him out, then driving off, scattering gravel, dotting his face with fine, fresh mud and soot. Thank you for your concern.

Lime began to cry -- or to notice that he‘d already started crying -- and then stopped. Took a deep breath, opened his mouth and eyes to the rain, thought vaguely heroic thoughts about horses and saddles -- about getting back on the bike and continuing on to school, to be greeted with great fanfare the likes of which no South Side School fourth-grade class had ever before seen. (Wounded in Bicycle Tragedy, Lime Barty Survives!) But his head, both elbows and his wrists -- plus at least one ankle and three ribs -- shared none of his imagination’s fever dream of glory, of one small white boy‘s triumph over big gray rain, big blue bell-bottoms and big black bicycles.

Besides, he was sort of stuck.

One of the slowing cars continued to slow and to pull over and stop about 30 feet up the road. Station wagon. Someone got out and said, ”Lime? Lime Barty?“ Then someone else got out, and both figures approached him in a low, stiff shuffle, mother and daughter in matching navy raincoats.

”Are you okay?“

Lime recognized his neighbor and classmate Margaret Pearl, and her mother, whom he knew only as Mrs. Pearl.

”Maybe not.“

”Can you move?“

”I’m not sure.“

Mrs. Pearl inspected suspect body parts. Her husband was a physician. Sometimes they hired Lime to do odd jobs -- rake the leaves, mow the lawn, polish the silver.

No bones seemed broken; nothing notably twisted or sprained. Mrs. Pearl unsnagged the chain-pinched bell-bottom and, with Margaret‘s assistance, lifted Lime to his original, upright position. Lime inspected himself and was disappointed to find that, apart from a few cuts and abrasions along his right arm, he’d been spared the honor of bleeding.

”It feels like it‘s bleeding more than that,“ said Lime Barty. An apology, as if when someone pulls over to help someone else who’s fallen in the rain, the least the helpee can do is to bleed. Lime Barty wanted more out of his childhood than mere survival.

At school, Lime‘s classmates were already working quietly at their desks, typing away on what appeared to be brand-new 1988 Epson Equity 1+ computers -- IBM XT clones -- with 20MB Seagate hard drives and 12-inch monochrome monitors, amber. Unfazed, Margaret settled in at her desk while Lime, still damp and battered, remained in the doorway, feeling a bit confused by the spectacle, since he was pretty sure it was still just 1972.

But a leap year’s a leap year, he reminded himself, and after he‘d sat down at his desk and Mrs. Davis had brought him a cup of hot cocoa -- she’d made a big batch for the whole class, as she often did on blustery days -- everything seemed to make sense. With Mrs. Davis‘ guidance, Lime soon found himself comfortably writing an essay in WordPerfect called ”Why I Like Edgar Allan Poe Better Than Encyclopedia Brown.“

In a series of whispers, word of Lime’s bicycle accident slowly worked its way around the room. Lime showed his shallow wounds and said, ”But it really hurt like it was bleeding a lot . . .“ when prompted.

After school, Lime lay in bed reading The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron (Little, Brown, 1954), the story of two white boys whose green neighbor helps them build a rocket ship so they can save the dying population of an invisible planet by bringing them a chicken. Lime‘s mild abrasions had impressed the hell out of his classmates, and by the time 3 o’clock rolled around, the rain had stopped, and Lime gladly accepted a ride home from Mrs. Birnbaum. Despite the bicycle accident, it had been a good day. Lime had learned to use a fancy microprocessor-computer, an operating system and a word-processing program, none of which had even been invented yet. Mom and Dad would have to be impressed by that.

Getting close to dinner time, thinking about asking his parents for a scooter. He wouldn‘t have had a bicycle accident if he’d been on a scooter. And since scooters are lower to the ground and can‘t go as fast, he was 122 percent less likely to break a bone on a scooter than on a bicycle. Sixty percent less likely to bleed, and besides everyone else . . . (this was as far as he’d rehearsed).

Based on the wooden scooters made popular in the ‘50s, the shiny metal foldup scooter with small, candy-colored wheels that Lime was thinking about asking Mr. and Mrs. Barty for over dinner wouldn’t be available for another 25 or 30 years. Still, he thought, now was a pretty good time to ask them, what with the bicycle accident and this being a leap year and all, and them being pleased with today‘s accomplishments at school -- his proficiency with yet-to-be-invented microtechnologies -- to buy him a scooter now, while he was still young enough to enjoy it.

* * *

Home to ”one of the largest private collections of bicycles in the world,“ the Bicycle Museum of America (www.bicyclemuseum.com) in New Bremen, Ohio (make a north at Dayton), maintains, as any good bicycle museum should, an engaging online presentation of deeply captioned photographs of pieces in the museum’s collection.

Scooter Depot of Largo, Florida, maintains a page called Scooter and Wheelchair Video‘s [sic] (www.scooterdepot.comvideo.htm), which provides the casual browser with clickable thumbnails of what has become one of the Internet’s least provocative selections of motorized-scooter videos. Choose from Pride Legend Electric Scooter, Pride Hurricane PMV Scooter, Overview of Jazzy Electric Wheelchairs and almost half a dozen other popular titles. Don‘t forget to click HERE (www.scooterdepot.comentry.htm) for your chance to win a ”FREE Manual Wheelchair!!!!“ (Offer expires September 14, 2000.) And please note that most of these scooters are for use by veteran scootists and should not be operated by those of inappropriate age.

The International Human Powered Vehicle Association (www.ihpva.org) is an affiliation of associations and organizations, and vice versa, ”dedicated to promoting improvement, innovation and creativity in the use of human power, especially in the design and development of human-powered vehicles.“ The association publishes a journal, Human Power, and maintains an extensive database of all things at once human and vehicular, including links to works in progress around the world (www.ihpva.orgBuilders) and video clips (www.ihpva.orgMovies), notably three rather large (17 to 46MB) MPEGs of the 1996 Great Port Townsend Bay Kinetic Sculpture Race.