A couple of weeks ago, when we were out skating, I saw a group of middle-aged men play a game of shinny at one end of the big ice. What really caught my eye was the fact that they all, every one one of them, wore helmets.
Back in the 1980s when I was a kid, people wore just cool sweaters, and nobody wore a helmet playing shinny.
We didn’t wear helmets when we went sledding, or skating, or for bike rides, either.
Helmets weren’t even compulsory for mopeds until April 1982, which was right around the time I would have been interested in mopeds. I had one before I had turned 15, the legal age, so I only rode that in the parking lot, and yes, I wore a helmet, but I remember people fighting the new law – just like they had fought the law that had made seat belts compulsory a few years earlier.
During college, I worked two summers at Dad’s appliance store, and one summer, in between, in a bank, as a teller. The summer at the bank was interesting, and I learned how something that looks like a small mistake can actually be a pretty big one, as I – by mistake – dropped a zero off an old lady’s savings.
They realized it a couple of months after I had left the bank and corrected it.
The year after, I had been too lazy to apply for any cool summer jobs – for example in a bank – so I sort of ended up as the delivery guy at Dad’s store, which was interesting because it opened up doors to people’s homes, whether I wanted it or not.
One of the homes I could have lived without seeing belonged to a man who lived on the outskirts of town, in a smelly little apartment, together with his dog.
Sometimes the man, let’s call him Mr Green, came several times a week, sometimes a few times the same day if we had got in some particularly exciting sets. He’d come in, haggle, go away, haggle some more, and then close the deals. For us, it was bad news because it meant another trip to his place, to the smell, and to the dog, and the mess that was his apartment. Sometimes he’d have several TV sets in his place, piled up against the wall, only to have none the next day.
He was always riding a moped and never left with the set he had bought. But he always bought one, sometimes two, and I guess he then quickly flipped them in some other market that I wasn’t aware of. However, it was very convenient for the salesmen at the store who often had to take in a used set when selling a new one and here was a man who paid cash for them, and made the sets disappear.
The actual disappearing act was performed by delivery guys like me.
But what made Mr Green really special in the city, unique even, was this: He was the only one in town who never wore a helmet when he was riding his moped, and according to himself, he was the only one who didn’t have to. He had got a special permission from the chief of police, he said.
And the reason was simple, if surprising.
“There’s not a helmet in the world that will fit my head,” he said once. His head was too big, he explained proudly, then got on his moped and rode home.
I followed him with the company pickup truck 15 minutes later, with another television set in the back, thinking about a head that was so huge that they couldn’t even make a helmet for it.
Of course he had made it all up. Although, when he rode his moped across town in the winter, wearing a good old fur hat, his head did look pretty huge.
Almost as if he had a helmet underneath.