Mercurochrome Wars

Aah, those childhood memories, full of broken bikes, broken bones, Mercurochrome, and flamethrowers. Did I say flamethrower? yes, but that is another story.

Looking back at all the stupid things I attempted in my childhood, I'm absolutely amazed that I managed to survive to adulthood.

Everyone likes the feeling of freedom and when I was a child, my bicycle was the epitome of freedom. This was before the time of bike helmets, knee pads, elbow pads, and all that other safety equipment we make our own children wear these days. Back then, the only safety equipment I had was a rubber band or string around my right pant leg so it wouldn't get caught in the chain. If we couldn't find these items, my friends and I would just tuck our pant legs into our sock when riding. I know what you're thinking and, even though I lived on the west coast, I still wore socks.

My bike was my pride and joy. I believe the popular bike for kids in the early to mid seventies was made by Schwinn and it was called the Stingray. My bike was made (I believe) by Murray and sold through JC Penney. It was called the Swinger. My bike had none of fancy accouterments as the Stingray.

My Swinger had no fancy gear shifter. it was single speed. It had no hand brakes or fancy front suspension. It did come with a slick tire on the back, big rams horn(?) handle bars, and a banana seat with sissy bar. It also had chrome fenders that I used to polish so much I might have been close to rubbing off the shine.

The Swinger may not have been as fancy as the Stingray but it was one tough ombre. Through the years, it survived jumps that would make Evel Knievel jealous, countless wheelies, the weight of hundreds of folded newspapers. It even survived a few seasons of towing a lawn mower through miles of trails and roadways.

I was fearless on my bicycle and would take any opportunity to demonstrated my skills to family and friends. Unfortunately, I was not as skillful at actually maintaining my mode of transportation. There were many times a task as simple as replacing the chain would require help from my Dad to figure out what to do with all the extra parts in order to get the bike operational again.

On one particular occasion, I did not ask for assistance from my Dad because my Grandmother was visiting, and no self-respecting young man is going to come crying to his Dad in front of his Grandma.

So, with my Grandparents just arriving and my bike recently reassembled, it was the perfect time to impress another family member with my fantastic bike-riding skill and absolute mastery of jumps and wheelies.

As soon as I saw them pulling into our driveway, I ran outside without waving or otherwise acknowledging their arrival, and jumped on my recently reassembled bike. I ran the bike up the hill as quickly as my legs would move to a spot that assured me enough speed to perform the miracle I was planning. By the time I got the bike turned around, my grandparents were getting out of their car. I yelled and screamed for them to "watch this" as I pushed the bike off and started peddling with all my mite.

Assured that I had gotten their attention, I peddled harder in order to hit the small bump in our driveway that served as a water runoff in a way that would propel me into a grand aerial jump that I was sure would establish a new world-record for airtime from a non-motorized vehicle.

Just after I made my launch from the speed bump and was approaching the apex of my orbit, I noticed something speeding and bouncing down the hill in front of me. On closer inspection, I realized the object was the front wheel of my bike. A quick look down confirmed it, and I'm sure, in that instant, the broad knowing smile on my face turned to something that more closely resembled existential terror.

I could be wrong but I could've swore I saw my grandma reaching into her purse for something at a time when my very life was likely nearing it's end. Was it a camera? I would not have put it past anyone in my family to think first of getting a picture at the moment of my death because they all liked mementos and they especially liked capturing Jimmy (that was me) in all of my most embarrassing moments.Or, was she reaching for something else? If she had in her hands what I thought she had, I was going to have to recover quickly, if I lived at all, and run like hell.

I tried to pull back on the handlebars to prolong the inevitable hard landing. Just maybe, I thought, I could land on the back tire and just ride into the side of their car or the house, which seemed a better way to stop than face-planting into the concrete. If I could pull that off, I would surely go down in the annuls of Stratton family history. The story would be told for generations of the emotional boy who used to hide under a table and cry (yes, there is photographic proof) suddenly redeemed himself by pulling off something truly amazing and surely impossible by any other mortal human being. But, as you've probably already figured out, that would not be the case.

When I hit the ground I remember everything in slow motion. The front of the bike settled much lower than normal and, when the front forks finally touched down, I was thrown over the handle bars like one of those entertainers being shot from a cannon at the circus. In that split second, I assumed perfect form with my arms outstretched and my body straight. Well, I suppose it would've been perfect form if I were a high diver. Nonetheless, I can assure you that it was not perfect form for an unintended landing onto concrete.

I believe I hit the ground in nearly the position as when I was airborne. The t-shirt and shorts I was wearing offered no protection. I'm sure that one could find traces of my DNA embedded into that driveway to this very day.

I lay there on the concrete for a moment preparing myself for when the pain made its way to my brain and I dared to glance at my body to witness flowing blood and protruding bones. That's usually when the crying started. My grandma was running toward me and what I saw in her hand confirmed in me something I feared more than death itself-Mercurochrome.

Damn my broken body, I sprang forth and was running at full speed before my grandma could close the distance between us. I thought all I had to do was get out of her reach and she would give up and go into the house, but she gave chase. Thus began another battle in the never-ending Mercurochrome Wars.

She ran surprisingly fast and, with the help of grandpa, was able to pin me into a corner. About the time I started feeling the pain of my botched attempt at glory, she had opened the bottle of that torture serum and was slathering it into my open wounds. I can tell you from experience that there is not much worse one can experience than Mercurochrome being pushed around a skinless wound against embedded sand and grit. It's worse than waterboarding. I know because I've experienced waterboarding while attending SERE school in the military. Waterboarding may make one think they are going to drown but Mercurochrome makes one feel like they've already died and are strapped to a table in the devil's torture chamber. I'm sure you get the idea.

By the way, the Mercurochrome my grandma had was some old forgotten bottle without a brush. It was simply a glass rod with a ball on the end that would have to be continuously dipped into the jar, or the jar simply poured over the wound and the inefficient glass rod used to moved the death acid around on damaged and sensitive flesh. It was the 1970's for crying out loud. I'm not even sure where she got this stuff. Probably mail-order from Howard's house of horrors.

Well, she managed to use the entire bottle on my wounds and I managed to suffer through it without too much wailing. I must say that stuff seemed to help wounds heal faster. I don't know if it actually helped grow skin back or chemically burned the skin so that it appeared smooth and unbroken.

What did I learn as a veteran of the never-ending Mercurochrome Wars?

What? Are you thinking that I learned to be more careful on my bike? Don't be silly. Of course, not.

I learned that if one can survive the occasional dowsing with Mercurochrome, then much of the trials of life seem small in comparison. I must say, although I fought against it at the time, I always knew my grandma did all of it out of love, using the best medicine she knew of at the time. That's gotta mean something.