The Paradigm Shifter
After I had finished my chores and done an hour's worth of homework, I asked Mom if I could go and ride my bike for a while. She always said yes, but if I left without letting her question me about the chores and homework, I was in deep trouble. She then asked me if I had emptied all the trash cans in every room and carried all the trash and garbage to the big can in the back yard, and I said yes. And then she asked me how many math problems I had actually done, and I said all twenty of them. Then she let me go. Of course, I could only play until dinner, and after dinner, I would have to finish the rest of my homework before I could listen to my radio.
Mom wasn't any harder on me than she was on herself. Every day, she mopped and scrubbed each room of the house, dusted every bit of the furniture, and cooked a big meal for dinner, including home-made bread or biscuits and often a home-made cake or pie. She also cooked our breakfasts and prepared our lunches. Every week, she washed all the windows and all the clothes. Before she put the clothes in our drawers, she ironed all our underwear, pants, and shirts, and she folded all of the socks.
I went out and got my balloon-tired bike, with its big gas tank, heavy springs, and front light with horn, not that I ever had any batteries. For a while, I rode by myself, but then I met up with Henry, who was also riding a balloon-tired bike, as all of us kids did. At school or when other kids are around, I stay away from Henry, as everyone makes fun of him for being so strange, but when no one else is around, I kinda think he is a little bit fun. Henry is always making weird inventions that usually don't work. All the kids call him "the Professor," but Henry just wants to be called "Henry," never "Hank" or "Hal."
"Whatcha upta?" I called as I caught up with him, and Henry said he was working on a new invention. "What kind of invention?" I asked him in normal voice. "It's a paradigm shifter," he replied. "Whoa," I said, "What's a paradigm?" Henry explained that a paradigm was a way of doing something. "A way of doing what?" I asked. "It's not the "something" that's important," he replied. "In fact," he continued, "It's not even the way that's important. A paradigm is when you think there's only one way to do something when there are many, many ways." "Like what?" I said. "How does your mother clean her floors?" he asked. "She sweeps them and then mops them; sometime she gets on her knees and uses the scrub brush; how else could she clean them?" "Oh," he said, "There's many ways. The Indians never cleaned the floors; they just moved the house." "Now that's silly," I said. "During the middle ages," he continued, "the servants in castles just put rushes on the floors when the filth got bad enough." "That's even worse," I said; "Are you trying to change the way people clean floors?" "No," he said, "but I've found a great new way to experience different bicycles. You see, bikes don't have to look like this; they could be a lot different." "Well," I said, "they couldn't be any better." He replied, "Come with me and see."
We rode down to the River Road before he was ready to begin. The River Road used to be the main road, but it wound around too much, crossed over some steep hills, and had several narrow bridges. Not many cars travel that way any more, as there aren't any houses along it either. It's a great place to ride a bike or go fishing.
We rode a ways, and then he announced he was ready. He moved a lever on the bar of his bike, and suddenly we found ourselves riding in wheelless vehicles a few inches above a metal road. "What's this?" I shouted. "Some kind of magnetic vehicle," he shouted back. "Where's the motor?" "It must be miniaturized; probably uses power that's transmitted by radio waves." "I'm scared," I hollered. "Let's ...," he began, and suddenly we were riding on horses on a narrow dirt road. Then he pushed the lever again, and we were back on our bikes. We both stopped. "That's incredible," I said. "Yeah," he replied, fairly matter of fact, "but I didn't intend such major shifts. Let me adjust it a minute."
Then he said he was ready, and we turned around and started riding back. This time, we found ourselves riding all kinds of exotic bicycles: bikes with skinny tires and bikes with fat tires; bikes with multi-speed hubs and bikes with derailleurs; bikes equipped for long trips, and bikes designed to ride off-road; even streamlined bikes with plastic shells and low bikes that hugged the ground; bikes with two wheels, three wheels, and even four. When we had tried them all, we stopped on our old balloon-tired bikes, as happy as we had ever been. "I better get home," I said, "Dad is sure to give me a licking if I am as much as five minutes late." "OK," he said. We rode alongside of each other for a ways. "You know," he added, "These bikes of ours sure seem slow, heavy, and awkward now." "I'm afraid I will be late," I said, "Why don't we shift into some light-weight racing bikes to get home?" "OK," he said, and he flicked back through some bikes as we rode along until I found the one I loved. It had shifters built into the brakes, a place to rest my hands well-forward of the drop bars, a skinny seat, ultra-thin tires, an air pump and water bottle, and a candy-red paint job. The wheels were each attached to the frame on the left side only, and the frame seemed to melt from one wheel to the other. The bike was super light. It was the cat's meow. Frankly, I didn't want my old heavy-weight monster any more.
Then we separated, and I flew home on my magic machine, afraid I would be late. As I neared our house, I started noticing changes that I hadn't paid attention to before. I hadn't realized that there were so many brick homes near us. I thought most were all-wood construction. And I had never noticed the A-frame and geodesic homes before.
When I pulled into the yard, I was surprised to see that our house was brick also, and the driveway was now paved with asphalt instead of being just dirt. But it was our house; the trees were exactly the same. I saw our newspaper and picked it up, and the date was correct. I went inside, wondering why Dad wasn't home yet (the newspaper lying there and his car not being in the drive told me that). As I entered the house, Dad called to me from the other room, "Are your feet dirty? I just finished vacuuming the carpet." I looked down; there was one big rug that stretched right up to the walls everywhere. Dad called out again, "Get your clothes out of the laundry room," so I went there to find all the washed clothes mixed together in the baskets. "Isn't Mom going to iron everything and put it in our drawers?" I called. Dad came into the laundry room behind me and said quietly, "Now why would she do a crazy thing like that? Anyway, she isn't even going to get home until well after your bedtime tonight, again. I wish she could get home for dinner once in a while, especially after I slave so hard every day. I've got our dinner ready to microwave now," he added, "whenever you're ready. And I finished your math homework too."
I turned around in astonishment to look at him, since what he had said made no sense. Then I got a real shock. Dad was not only dressed up to do housework, with a duster in one hand and a apron around his waist, but he was also wearing an old dress and some worn-out stockings!
I said, "Dad! What are you wearing that old dress for?" "Well," he said, "It is a bit worn-out. But since your mother seldom bothers to eat with us any more, I can't see any reason to take a bath, put on make up, and dress up for dinner like I used to. I realize that I'm probably not setting a good example for you to follow, but I just can't force myself to keep pretending that everything is all right, when it's not. I sometimes think that we ought to go back to living with your grandpa for a while, and then I think I am just being unreasonable with your mother. After all, she does have to work so hard to support us. She didn't ask to work late every night; it's just her job. Still, I just want to cry because I don't know what to do!" And with that, Dad fled the room.
Maybe I don't like the new bike as much as I thought I did!