The first real bike I ever got was a cheap no-name ride, which my parents probably bought at Sears or something as a surprise gift for Christmas or my birthday; I certainly have no memories of actually picking it out. It was black and silver and the chain guard was decorated by the Space Invaders logo and some of the pixellated alien attackers (I was more of an Asteroids fan, myself, but again, wasn’t made privy to the selection process beforehand). It had a huge banana seat, as this was right before those became extremely uncool. And I freaking loved that thing and rode it whenever I could, for years.
I eventually moved my way up to BMX bikes (not that I was ever into racing or terribly good at freestyling or anything, I just clued in to the fact that those were what the cool kids rode) and in the grand scheme of things I probably only had the Space Invaders bike for three or four years. But that may very well have been two years or more longer than my parents expected that particular item to last, and three or four years was essentially enough time to ride it into the ground.
I remember my dad being bemused by how long I hung onto the Space Invaders bike, and in fact I have a crystal clear memory of one summer day when my dad was in the garage getting ready to do some yardwork and I came out to get my bike and he just marveled that the bicycle still worked at all. And I asked him why and he said, “Because it’s held together with baling wire and spit! It’s like the Millennium Falcon!” Of course, comparing my ride to the coolest fictional spacecraft of all time was only going to endear the bike to me more, and I’m sure my dad knew that. He got Star Wars, and he liked the movies on their own merits along with knowing that a Star Wars reference was usually a gimme as far as getting me to grasp something. So I have to assume that my dad just found my old ugly bike funny and sad in equal measure, but didn’t want me to feel like I was being mocked (for once) so he managed to put the best possible spin on his unfiltered reaction to it.
Still, the whole bit was kind of weird, especially the non-Star Wars lead-in. For one thing, the bike held itself together just fine. No doubt quite a few inessential things had fallen off it over the years, some foam on the seat here, a fragment of a broken reflector there, but I don’t recall ever adding anything to the bike, certainly nothing to reinforce its structural integrity. It’s not as though the handlebars had come off and been reattached with mismatched bolts through an improvised collar or anything. The chain slipped pretty frequently, but I learned pretty fast how to get it back on the gears on my own. So I’m not sure there was any component of that bike remotely analogous to baling wire after all.
Which is pretty easily explained away given that my dad and I are not that different, and we both tend to be easily seduced by a mellifluous turn of phrase and use it whether it actually means what we’re trying to say or not. Although the question does remain, where in the world did my father pick up that particular phrase, “held together with baling wire and spit”? My father was raised in the well-to-do suburbs of New York City, and for that matter so were his parents. So not only did he not grow up on a farm, he was never even near one, and didn’t know anybody else who ever was, either. Maybe he just picked it up from an episode of Bonanza or something, I don’t know. I do know that when he said it in reference to my beloved bike, it was the first time I had ever heard the phrase, and obviously it lodged in my brain for several decades.
I also know, now, that this is another propensity for elitists from the northeast (myself of course included), to latch onto countrified sayings because they just seem to have more weight and truth to them. And when you can pair up a down-home expression with a Star Wars reference, that is gold. A very particular vein of carpetbagger-geek gold, but precious all the same.