Monday, February 8, 2010

for they are vexations to the soul

there are a lot of things that can happen on a bike.

i've seen pictures of most of them, have lived a few myself, but today was a brand new threshold approached, and then passed for me. it was, after all was said and done, something to write a seinfeld episode about. the action was the same. the recollection and surrounding dialogue equally theatrical and meaningless. and the insult - inevitable.

there are a lot of things that can happen on a bike. you can get fit. you can get fast. you can look cool or not remotely. you can meet cool people or not remotely. you can ride away from people. you can ride into people. you can ride into cars or around them or through their choked lanes at rush hour. you can ride into a sunset or out of a dawn into a brand new day. you can ride to the bar. you can ride to a date. you can ride off a cliff or over a bridge or under a log or through mud, sleet, hail, rain, brooklyn, queens, queen's north of princess, parliament and shuter. you can ride with inspiration or devastation. you can ride in a costume, with no clothes on at all, or with only european-designed clothing on a japanese bike made with pennsylvania steel. you can ride to work. you can ride, away from work, in the direction of home, after a really long and half-frustrating-half-glorious day, and you can get spit on, apparently accidentally, by the very youth you spend all day trying to 'cultivate'. this is something that should not happen on a bike.

i have written and thought, countless times, on the topic of letting things go, particularly in the context of riding bikes in the city, and riding bikes around other people and things not remotely on bikes. most of the time, my mantra remains the same: be prepared for the worst, and let it go when it happens. give a little. let it slide. 

today, i had to let it slide.

i always let it slide. i had let it slide for the last 75 minutes of extreme asshole behavior so exemplified by some of 'the youth of today'. i had let it slide for years, in the work, on the way to work, on the way home from work, and everywhere in between. thick skin, one might say. thick skin is different from indifference because i give a damn, a whole big lotta damn, but i refrain from letting that show through. the skin is thick on the inside.

first reaction: let it slide.

second reaction: wait, that kid should know that that was wrong and unacceptable and a punishable offense. go and tell the kid in kind words. get a typical stupid kid reaction. let it slide. leave, cursing 'the youth' under breath. 

third reaction: get the kid's name. go back. get it. punish him. even with a small note or something. get his name. 

the kid hustles inside. his friends stay behind to laugh, heckle, play dumb, give false names. these are the youth. today, they are useless assholes, and they are not worth it. 

maybe tomorrow.


there are a lot of things that can happen on a bike. fixing one's attitude about the shit of the day is definitely one of them. even by the time i got home after just 7 minutes spinning cold, salty circles westward, i had sloughed off most of the mortal coil and was once again calm. bikes are amazing.


Need. A short story.




"then it's going to get warmer", she said.


his smile said, "i hope so" in a half-believing way and his posture bent itself forward in an awkward, "have a nice day."


he walked a crooked line across the snow, dodging nothing on the ground and everything in his head.


upon reaching the street, he turned south for no apparent reason. he passed the man selling mangoes, nodded at the girl from his painting class two years ago, and narrowly avoided collision with a shoulder-full of tommy hilfiger pomp. collision...


it was friday afternoon, just before four o'clock. the wind in his face, he was pedaling hard, determined to make it to work on time. passed the car. approached the box vans unloading another load of rice and fish for a diet he knew well. pedaled harder. he began to ring his bell as he passed the first truck. the ringing gave sound to the otherwise white noise of an everyday commute. it's wind in the ears and an occasional horn. he passed the second truck still ringing his bell. what a beautiful red blur he must have been.


"it's not your fault, and i just wanted to make sure that you knew that."


"yes sir." that's what his mouth said, empty of saliva and belief and emotion.


"so i hope you can still enjoy your holidays..." was followed by a longer stream of apologetic and unknowing fare-thee-wells from a stranger who didn't know how to help a man who'd lost his...his...


what's the word?


fresh and green, that traffic light was waiting just for him. he accelerated past the back of the third truck, wondering futilely how much one of those crates of rice must


no more than a second in the air. the man was still breathing, but he was bleeding from his head and his mouth and his hand and why didn't anyone speak english or call an ambulance or do anything other than cluck and chatter and watch the boy struggle?




he apologized for being late to work, explaining that he had had to walk there after being involved in an accident. yes, he was fine. no, he didn't need to go home. the bike? oh, the bike was still up there, locked to a post just north of dundas, the front wheel too bent to ride and the heart too...


he went away for the holidays and that night, in his parents' home in the country, the phone rang from across innocence and any semblance of belief.


some officer is on the phone. some man just died. some man just became...what? those questions, those emotions, those things to be written in a journal shared with the therapist, they never came. four words came, though, hot in concept and branded on unfeeling skin:


i killed a man.

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