My parents worked long hours, and this of course meant that Bootsy usually babysat us younger kids, which was always a blast. Sure, she was often too rough (a smack to the back of the head here, a nipple twist there), but we loved having her as a big sister. My father was a minister, my mother an attorney, and when they were both away at work or social functions, Bootsy tended to keep things lively. Improvised plays were staged in our living room. Bizarre and near-inedible meals were concocted in the kitchen. “Bedtime” was hazily defined as the hours between eleven and dawn, and with every single light in the house turned on, ours was definitely the brightest domicile on the block.
It wasn’t all fun and games, however. Two incidents that occurred made my parents rethink their decision to leave their eldest child in charge of the house. One evening shortly after my eighth birthday, Bootsy had the clever idea of giving me a Mohawk. Needless to say, my parents were far from pleased. My mother ended up having to shave off my remaining hair. This style would increase in popularity by the time I reached high school, but it was definitely not the en vogue look for a third grader. Three months later, when Anthony broke his leg after Bootsy coaxed him into jumping off the roof of our garage, my parents had had enough. Our next door neighbor, the septuagenarian Mrs. Friedman, would babysit us ever after.
I’m sure Bootsy must have had some friends, but I never saw them. She occasionally went out, I guess to socialize, but most of the time she stayed at home. Perhaps because she was bored, she was always coming up with various strange projects or challenges. She became fascinated with the idea of Ramadan, and for nearly three months fasted during daylight hours. Another time, she resolved to build a scale model of the Machu Picchu ruins out of bacon grease. There were dozens of other offbeat ventures, but none were as epic or as carefully planned as the time she endeavored to eat a bicycle.
It was Christmas morning of my ninth year. Katie -- as she had recently decided she wanted to be called -- was lying on the living room sofa, thumbing through a copy of The Guinness Book of World Records that Michael had given her. She looked particularly absorbed, her brow furrowed, her lips pursed.
“Danny, come over here,” she said to me. “I wanna show you something. What do you think of this?”
She held the book open for me to see. The page she had been reading contained records for various categories of competitive eating and drinking. Near the top of the left-hand page was an interesting category: bicycles. It read, Michel Lotito holds the record for consuming a bicycle. Due to the potentially harmful nature of such an attempt, this record is closed.
Even at that young age, I immediately knew what she was thinking.
“Why do you want to do that?” I asked. “It says it’s dangerous.”
“He did it, didn’t he?” she said, and I had to admit she had a point.
“Not many people can say they ate a bicycle,” she continued. Her eyes had a determined look. “One, I guess. I wanna be the second.”
“But the record’s closed.”
“Even better. I’m not going to do it just so I can get my name in a book nobody cares about. That’s what makes it so intriguing. If I eat a bicycle, I’ll be part of a very exclusive club."
"Not that I’m gonna brag about it," she said after a pause. "I’d probably never tell anyone, in fact."
I wished she hadn’t told me. Katie divulged little secrets to us younger kids all the time, but for whatever reason I was her No. 1 confidant. I was proud of it, too, but not this time.
Katie was going to graduate the next year, and while her grades were far from stellar, my parents hoped she’d be accepted to university. Community college was a bad word in my house, but I think they were willing to accept Katie’s desire to study commercial editing at Nashua Community College in New Hampshire. (Why New Hampshire and why commercial editing -- Katie never watched television -- was anybody’s guess.) After all, Katie’s stunts, as my father called them, had virtually ceased, her last being an ill-fated attempt to pretend she were homeless. For three days she hung out downtown and slept outside, coming home only when my father drove down and physically removed her from the corner on which she was panhandling. My mother was so upset over the matter that she threatened a psychological evaluation. Thankfully, my father arbitrated that such a drastic measure was unnecessary, and the family breathed a collective sigh of relief. Katie was quirky, sure, but she wasn’t crazy. She was just, well, Katie.
This, though, was too much. My big sister, the same sister who taught me how to make farting sounds with my armpit and who once made me laugh for nearly an hour by making our golden retriever, Roxy, wear a yarmulke, was going to commit suicide, I was convinced. I had to stop this. I would tell my parents.
“Say anything and you’re dead meat, Dan-O,” she whispered with raised eyebrows.
“Not a word,” I promised.