My Sting-ray Christmas

Stingrayby Glenn Fairman   12/22/16
A Holiday Reprise  •  A scant lifetime ago, before the world had yet lost its luster, I was a young boy from a large family growing up happily in the East San Gabriel Valley region of Southern California. My memories begin to solidify in the early 1960’s with the era of Beatlemania and the striking down of a young President. Historians tell us that these years marked the apex of American power and influence around the globe. Perceiving life through my comic book world, I knew nothing of this.

Being a klutz of sorts from what I suppose was a problem with depth perception, I had avoided organized sports and was even late in riding a bike. Playing marbles in the gutters of our cul-de sac and my love for comic books were the diversions of a boy that was painfully shy and reserved. My father had come from a rough part of Los Angeles and, in seeking to shield his children from dangers and temptations, had forbade me from travelling any further than the street behind us. As I grew, it was an incessant curiosity and a growing sense of independence that caused me to disobey this firm admonition.

There was an older boy who lived a few houses down that my parents frowned upon me playing with. Gary Hart was tall, quite intelligent, and more than a bit rebellious. We reenacted roles from the television shows of the time and most always he was Napoleon Solo while I was his partner Illya Kuryakin from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Gary even fabricated Walkie-Talkies from blocks of wood and old transistor radio antennas. We provided the squelch interference with our voices. It was glorious.

When the fullness of days had passed and I was ready to tackle riding a bike, my friend Brad Dutton had an ancient rusty thing that hung around his yard and I would ride it alongside the curb so as to be able to arrest any impending falls, of which there were legion. It was only when I swallowed my fear and moved away from the curb, trusting my own powers of balance and independence, that I mastered the beast. I suppose bike riding freed me from the gnawing fear that besets so many people who must internalize the truth that confident action and self-reliance are paramount to success, while tentativeness and second guessing are fatal. I learned that we are to remain in motion and push on through if we are going to get anywhere.

So rich was my fantasy life that I longed to be the super heroes from those comic books I adored. I loved their wild acrobatics and sarcastic dialogue when engaging their nefarious foes. Given that, I suppose that it should not have been surprising that I would fashion ramshackle costumes for myself and take to the streets in search of villains. Often, a tattered ski mask with a towel as a cape and an old army issue utility belt were just the right garb as I wandered the streets increasingly further away from my home in search of evil. The odd stares that I received I naturally assumed were those of awe and respect, as I jogged barefoot through the streets, generally encountering only laughter and an occasional startled dog.

But such derision is the life of a lonely but misunderstood hero and the sacrifice he must make to protect the hamlet that he loves. Occasionally, I had to tone down my flights of fancy when my identity became known and my father found out what his odd eldest son was doing. Moreover, an old aluminum trash can lid, which doubled as Captain America’s mighty shield proved to be my downfall as I flung it expeditiously but errantly through the window of our garage. Alas, with great power comes great responsibility.

For a growing working class family back then, toys were scarce and generally reserved for Christmas and birthdays. As Christmas approached that fateful year, I had let it be known that I was ready for that bike, and my brother Gary heartily agreed with this request. Of course, my parents informed us that such extravagances were out of the question, given our precarious finances; and even my sly retort that Santa Claus could bring them was not fully appreciated in the spirit that it was intended. If only they knew that with a bike I could canvass and protect the neighborhoods much more efficiently as a Super-Hero. However, prudence dictated that I keep this rationale to myself.

To a child, Christmas approaches with the cadence of an arthritic snail and on Christmas Eve our parents sent us to bed especially early. And so began the self-reflective agony children undergo when coming to grips with the question of whether they are worthy of their heart’s desire. I fumbled between the existential (Had I indeed been good?) and the pragmatic (Is there the money for such treasures)? Deepening in anguish at the latter question, my mind ran through that mental slide show of my parents at the dinner table trying to make my father’s meager paycheck stretch even beyond the elastic reach of the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards. Succumbing finally to pessimism and despair, I drifted into the dreamless sleep of those who have abandoned all hope.

My next memory was my brother Gary shaking me awake in the pitch blackness of our room saying: “Glenn, there is something in the front room.” In that silent hour before dawn, when half the world slumbers, we made our way into the living room which was uncharacteristically pitch black. Feeling our way to where the tree should have been, I thought I saw a faint shimmer of light off something metallic that was chest high. Just then, my brother and I tripped over one another and like falling dominos, the sound of metal on metal came crashing down followed by a curse from my father. I cannot remember who turned on the lights, but when light suddenly bathed the room, I was regaled with a stunning spectacle. My father, who had been sleeping on the floor in the living room, lay underneath a pile of three bicycles and the horror of the image sent me fleeing back to my room to feign sleep and avoid culpability in this holiday fiasco. But what child could repress such concentrated joy? My fear left me and I soon came back – pinching myself along the way to make sure that it was all true.

That morning, against all hope, I had received my heart’s desire. Both Gary and I received gold Sting-Ray bicycles with chopped handlebars and the coolest banana style leopard print seat—truly the envy of our street. Before day had fully broken we were riding around the circle of our cul de-sac with pajamas still on. And as the sun rose into the sky behind our home, I remember seeing the shadow of my father, still exhausted, watching his sons from the garage. It was my Sting-Ray Christmas, and I cherish its memory greedily in the deepest vault of my heart.

Only years later did I have the insight to understand how difficult it was for my parents to purchase those bikes—what bills had to be left unpaid or sacrifices bore stoically. It taught me a lesson of the lengths that mothers and fathers went for their children in the days before easy credit. It was a world where adults diminished their own dreams for the sake of kids and government lived within its means and did not pile a mountain of debt upon the newborn. The family and government did not engage in an orgiastic spending for the here and now: a politics utterly contrary to the spirit of the heroic.

I still love the hero, but I have learned that they do not come in capes and cowls. They do not mysteriously hide their identities nor do they necessarily stand out in the crowd. So often they wear broken shoes and threadbare pants as they arise before dawn only to return to their homes at dusk; and they are as mundane to those who are ill-equipped to really see their heroics as birds upon a wire.

After that special Christmas I ventured further out into the world that called me and began to more fully explore its treasures, eventually discarding my childish fantasies; but not too quickly. Something still inspires me to want to do great things, and I know this to be the Spirit of God in whom all great and wonderful aspirations congeal and find rest within.

Flying down that long great hill in my golden stingray with the wind against my mask and my cape rippling behind made me realize that I longed for something more profound than I was capable of expressing. Many years hence, while watching the faces of my own children on Christmas morn basking in that same delight, I finally closed that precious circle. And with it, fulfilling that heroism that I had indeed been searching for, all the precious days of my life.


Glenn Fairman returns from the wilderness and writes from Highland, Ca.
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21 Responses to My Sting-ray Christmas

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    We must be about the same age. I had a metallic green Sting-Ray with, I think, a matching metallic green banana seat as well. And the same chopper-style handlebars. That bike got a lot of use. I’m guessing that it was a birthday present perhaps around my 12th birthday or so.

    According to a Wiki article, the Sting-Ray was brought to the mass market by Schwinn in 1963, a design based upon what California yutes were doing to retrofit their bikes to look more like motorcycles. I did not know that. I’m going to assume it then took a few years for that trend to make it up to Washington State.

    Apparently that style of bike really took off around 1965. Other manufacturers starting aping the look. And I can’t be sure what brand of Sting-Ray bicycle I had. Was it an authentic Schwinn? Probably. But I can’t be sure.

    The Schwinn Sting-Ray was made from 1963 to 1981. I’m guessing I got mine around 1970. It could have been a couple years earlier than that. It was a very good bicycle. Very rugged. I used to regularly do a flying landing where I’d leap off the bike while still going forward and let the bike just crash into the bushes or something. Who has time for a kickstand?

    Occasionally the handlebars would bend backwards from too much torque and you might have to bend them back a little. Pulling wheelies with those things was a popular sport. But bend them back a few times and, due to metal fatigue, I’m quite sure you’d need to replace them, as I’m sure I probably did at least once.

    That wasn’t my first bike. But, now that I think of it, it’s probably my first adventure in freedom. I went everywhere on that bike. And no helmet. Good god, how they’ve turned boys into such ninnies these days.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I did not have a Sting Ray, but recall that kids could do wheelies on them, which was very cool to a ten or eleven year old boy.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        You were obviously a deprived child, Mr. Kung. No Sting-Ray as a child? There was obviously no “social justice” at the time to make sure that you, too, had one. After all, it’s a “right.”

        Glenn’s most important point (which could put him in the lead in front of Pokey…I’m still internally debating this) is that his father had to make a choice. (Yeah! The kind of “my right to choose” that makes any moral sense.) Instead of going into hock, he decided to put his child’s desires ahead of maybe a new barbecue grill. I’m sure that wasn’t always the case. Children shouldn’t get everything that they want. But sometimes they should get something. It’s called “nurturing your child instead of engaging in perpetual adult me me me narcissism.”

        That ethic is now long-gone. Good god, the way people now just automatically put their every whim on a credit card. And we are doing that as a culture as well: 17 trillion of debt, 100 trillion of unfunded socialist welfare entitlements. The story of the decline of America can, in one sense, be interpreted as an economic factor. It is when, as Thomas Sowell often notes, we no longer saw the world as finite…a world in which we had to prioritize and make choices — either a Sting-Ray or a barbecue (or perhaps nothing new at all if the budget so dictated).

        The liberal/Marxist world we live in now is one that demands that we have whatever we can think of. And that mindset has turned us all into spoiled children in need of training wheels again just in order to re-learn how to live the noble American life.

  2. Glenn Fairman says:

    this was circa 1964-5 …….born in 57.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Born in ’58. That’s pretty circa circa. I’m sure a Kodachrome slide exists of that bike somewhere. I’ve got our family’s collection of slides in my possession. I had the grand idea of perhaps digitizing them someday. I’ve got a good scanner for that but it’s pretty time-consuming.

      Okay, we have two very good essays: one by Pokey and one by Glenn. I may (perhaps already have) throw my hat into the ring. But it won’t count because I’m going to be the final judge for who wins Pokey’s half dozen chocolate cupcakes.

      I will be fair and completely impartial. If another half dozen of those chocolate cupcakes turn up on my doorstep, that will not sway me in the least.

      • Pokey Possum says:

        …a baker’s dozen then!

        Nice story, Glenn. My Sting-Ray was 1970’s pink. Hot pink with handle bar tassels.
        My Dad loves to give bikes for Christmas. He glows like a Christmas tree when the bikes are revealed. Right now he has 8 little bikes in incremental sizes lined up in his garage for all the great-grandkids.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Right now he has 8 little bikes in incremental sizes lined up in his garage for all the great-grandkids.

          That’s a very good sentence. You should write more often, Pokey.

          And a hot pink Sting-Ray. Boy did that bring a smile to my face. An era gone by, when boys could be boys and girls could be girls…hot pink and all. And tassels tuh boot. I did the manly thing and put balloons or playing cards in my spokes to make that cool “vroom” sound. I suppose girls did that too. At that age, we weren’t “gender” conscious as much as we were “fun” conscious.

          One of the ironies of the Sting-Ray is that it might have been some of our first (and completely unaware) dalliances with Cultural Marxism. I like the movie, Easy Rider, but Dennis Hopper will hardly be mistaken for George Washington. He’s part of the generation who actually mistakes Nelson Mandela for George Washington.

          So here we young skulls-full-of-mush are riding around on little chopper bikes. There are no drugs hidden in our gas tanks. (There are no gas tanks.) But we are breathing second-hand fumes of the Marxist/Leftist culture as it gathers its imperfect storm.

          Why some of us were able to pick and choose the mere outer forms (chopper bikes) without also inhaling the ideology, I don’t know. But I never did inhale that ideology. I listened to the Beatles, the Stones, etc., but never once did I suppose that what they said had any import. It was just music. There are other reasons I was never infected by the narcissistic gene of the 60’s (which bled on into the 70’s as well) — none of them having to do with any special nobility or powers of discernment. But I just never did. I didn’t assume the Vietnam war was a bad and lost thing simply because Uncle Walter (basically a Communist sympathizer) said that it was.

          But here I am making too much of a thing out of bicycles and Sting-Rays. And yet, I think it does us good to reflect on things from time to time to make sure we keep out the fumes of Cultural Marxism.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            There’s an old saying that anyone who isn’t a socialist at age 20 has no heart, but anyone who’s still a socialist at age 50 has no brain. This happens because it’s easy to see problems, and those who don’t have enough life experience will naturally accept the most obvious solutions. The essence of conservatism is caution that stems from an awareness of details such as unintended consequences. Also, most young people tend to react emotionally in politics. I know I did (though in practice my emotional reactions were as much rightist as leftist), at least until I was exposed to Ayn Rand in late 1972.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              I understand that whole heart/head thing, Tim. But let me just say that I think conservatives are the more compassionate people. It’s just that their compassion is not meant to be self-congratulatory. The adult who tells little Johnny “no” when little Johnny wants to do something particularly stupid or dangerous is the truly compassionate person, even though little Johnny may cry out, “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you.” Real compassion is not about “Oh, what a nice person am I” and simply caving to what people want (being “nice”). It’s about actually being good. And simply caving to the conceits of the juvenile class (or the Marxist class, or the various grievance group classes) is not compassion.

              I think the heart/head thing simply speaks to the fact the young people tend to be uninformed and a little light on the acquisition of life’s wisdom. And uninformed or unwise people are much more likely to be driven by emotion or just pie-in-the-sky romantic dogmas. Such people are much easier to manipulate.

              Now, take these same young people, who have a normal inclination to stupid, and after having spent years in a mostly “Progressive” education which mucks (not the first word that came to mind) with their entire emotional-intellectual system and you crank out people who are forever “20 with a heart” and who never grow even a semblance of a head. And, I would say, even their heart is usually misplaced and prone to just stupid ideas.

              Like I tell my friends, at one time I thought it was a great idea if Teddy Kennedy would be president. When was that? Probably in my late teens or early 20’s. It wasn’t so much my age though. It was my lack of maturity and wisdom. Stupid is as stupid does, and that is true at any age as Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, or even our Pope tend to verify regularly.

              But I have learned some since. And I keep learning. I’m pretty sure now that I wouldn’t vote for a Kennedy even for dog catcher.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                “Real compassion is not about “Oh, what a nice person am I” and simply caving to what people want (being “nice”). It’s about actually being good.”

                Let’s take an extreme example. Is it more compassionate to let Little Johnny stick his hand into a fire ant mound and learn through experience or to grab his little hand and give it a smack saying, “no, no, no”?

                In life, the consequences of sticking one’s hand into the the fire ant mound may be years away, but they still come. So it is better for a parent to act quickly and firmly if they wish to save Little Johnny from some of his childish decisions.

    • Goo-Goo-Gahjoo says:

      Burgundy Red was my Sting-Ray of choice. Yes mine was most definitely a Schwinn. I would not have accepted anything else! At least in the caverns of my own mind anyway. Not like I had the luxury of that choice. I had it somewhere in the time interval spanning late ’60s to early ’70s.

      I too lived on a cul-de-sac. And living on a dead-end in the context of having and riding a Sting-Ray had its significant advantages. Our cul-de-sac had the additional advantage of sloping gently up-hill toward the sac-end.

      The family make-up in the neighborhood consisted of I’d say at least six families that each comprised of at least one pair of boys.

      Where am I going with this? Fall consisted of street football. So often in fact, that at one point the older brothers gathered together all the old paint in everybody’s garage and they painted all 100 yards of yard-markers in one curb going up the street!

      In the winter it was sledding. Flexible Flyers of course. The older siblings would always “let us” younger ones go first. They would then follow in hot pursuit, grab the rear loop on the runner, and dump us off our sleds.

      And what is the common denominator between sloping cul-de-sacs, boys, and Sting Rays with that 1-2″(?) wide slick tire on the rear? Wheelies!

      Spring and summer belonged to us. Those seasons were ours. Remember the yard markers? Great for wheelie competitions to see who could ride the longest wheelie up the street. The first great advantage of living on a cul-de-sac that sloped was that the street itself offer increasing resistance to buffer the need to peddle faster to maintain our balance. The second great advantage of living on a cul-de-sac was the traffic. Specifically the lack thereof. Typically limited to residents, so not much to avoid.

      Whether playing football, sledding, or pullin’ wheelies, on our Sting-Rays, we didn’t encounter much of being in the way.

      We owned that street! One-hundred yard wheelies baby! And once in a while we’d actually succeed.

      Yeah!

      We were the Wheelies Kings!

      • Lucia says:

        What, no helmets? No adult referees to protect the smaller ones from bullying? Didn’t you allow girls to compete? What right did you boys have to feel so confident anyway?

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    I have some general memories of childhood Christmas 9and very nice ones, too), but for some reason I don’t have too many specific memories. Maybe that’s why I try to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas every year.

    As for bicycles, I was given one while we were in Greece in the early 1960s, but I don’t recall the model or the circumstances. We lived on a hill, which led to an accident once that left me with nightmares of a sort (over what could have happened, not what did). It broke down a couple of years later while I was riding back from the library in Fort Campbell.

  4. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    “You were obviously a deprived child, Mr. Kung. No Sting-Ray as a child? There was obviously no “social justice” at the time to make sure that you, too, had one. After all, it’s a “right.””

    Yes, and it was even worse than you think. In third or fourth grade, I had a classmate who had an electric car than he could drive on his driveway and road in front of his house. It was powered by automobile batteries and extremely neat. Although he let me drive it, I have never gotten over the fact that my parents didn’t buy me and my four siblings such cars.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Ha! Further proof that parents should be just done away with. But, seriously, I do believe that 90% of Cultural Marxism has to do with maintaining the emotional and intellectual mindset of a juvenile.

      What drives the Hillary types isn’t “justice.” It’s because they are unable to get over the fact that sometimes life just isn’t fair. Such a person may be forever grieving that they were always the last picked on the playground when choosing up sides, or never had the nice electric car that some “rich”neighbor had. And so people such as Sebelius and others spend the rest of their lives trying to psychologically rectify (by equalizing all of society) their own demons externally rather than manning-up and just dealing with things internally and growing the hell up.

  5. jc says:

    Hmm, I have a different take on Hillary-types. It’s a form of revenge, getting back at all the people (that is, the fellow kids of her childhood) who didn’t let her play with them in the club treehouse. In adulthood, she now wears the mantle of the avenger ready to stop such injustices against others, ostensibly as magnanimity, but really as revenge for all the times she wasn’t picked to be prom queen. Win/win: she can now be queen bee AND get back at those who didn’t appreciate her properly in the old days. Compensatory mechanism.

    Oh, and my first bike was a blue Huffy. Good times.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      “I have a different take on Hillary-types. It’s a form of revenge, getting back at all the people (that is, the fellow kids of her childhood) who didn’t let her play with them in the club treehouse”

      Take a look at her high school photo and you will see further reason for her discontent.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      JC, I couldn’t agree more.

      People get into politics for all sorts of reasons. I think many, if not most, of those reasons aren’t particularly good ones. But I do think that what drives the Left is a type of disjointed psychology. They are taking their inner demons and, instead of working things out with their pastor or their shrink, are trying to soothe themselves by striking out at society at large.

      There is a danger here, of course, in saying that one’s political opponents are nuts. This has, after all, been the tactic of the Left. If you don’t agree with their policies, it is supposed that there is something wrong with you. But I’ve seen too much not to comment on what seems to be a pattern. As Blaise Pascal said, “All of man’s misfortune comes from one thing, which is not knowing how to sit quietly in a room.”

      This is not an easy lesson to learn. Who hasn’t, instead of working on their own issues, gotten behind the keyboard and banged away in what can only be termed psychological transference? Mea culpa, times three. And this is one of the guiding principles I have for this site. Yes, it’s more than okay to bitch about the daily absurdities of the Left. These guys are dangerous and often deranged kooks. I’m not shy about admitting that.

      But we have to stand for something more than just taking our psychological angst and projecting it upon society (or on an internet site) at large. That doesn’t mean that anger or outrage are forbidden, for those are healthy and normal emotions in the face of some truly dastardly stuff — such as the very presidency of Obama.

      But we have to do more. I think it is also incumbent upon us to count our blessings, to highlight the good that still is America (if only in selected parts now). But none of this cautionary philosophy should be taken as giving a green light for the kind of namby-pamby politically correct milquetoast stuff you’ll often find at places such as National Review, for example. I’m for the frank exercise of truth. If it hurts some RINO’s or “centrist’s” feelings that someone bursts their idyllic bubble image of Nelson Mandela, for example, then boo hoo.

      But we can learn much from the kook types such as Hillary. We must work out our own stuff to a certain extent so that we, too, are not a blight upon the world.

      Merry Christmas, JC.

  6. Timothy Lane says:

    Well, I’m glad it worked out better for you than the hobbyhorse “Golden Dancer” did for Henry Drummond in Inherit the Wind.

  7. Good to read your writing again, Glenn. This reads like A Christmas Story — makes me smile the same way. Have a wonderful Christmas!

    • Glenn Fairman says:

      I think that I must have had that film in mind when I wrote this. The movie is utter perfection and if I had to borrow the tone from somewhere, I’m glad it was A Christmas Story.

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