18 January 2009

Take, These Broken Wings

Yesterday evening a thing happened to me. At the corner of Houston and Broadway, I was pedaling full speed when my bike splits in two. I land on my feet running between the front and rear wheels, and after 10 yards of this I slow the three of us to a stop. I pick up both ends, still connected by the break cables, and dash for the sidewalk just as the next wave of Sixth Ave traffic begins to whoosh by. This all transpires in less time than it takes to type “Oh my.”

I prop what is now a unicycle tethered to an anchor against the nearest signpost. I swing my head around looking for some explanation. People walking by don’t know what to think of the situation. Two weeks ago I dropped $30 on this bike to get the breaks working. Can I take it to that place and have them weld the frame back together? I refuse to ride the train to work again. Not again, not me. I do have $400 in cash. But I’ve come to love this bike. White, athletic, stripped of the gear-changing apparatus. Born in 1909, cast in molten lead and depleted uranium, christened with a bottle of Night Train. Three cranks and it morphed into a herd of bison. It was a Manhattan bike – the kind that can cooperate with the front of two cabs and the back of a Chevy Tahoe. This bike never had a name. My first commuting bike. The kind of bike that doesn’t get stolen, unless a MOMA curator happens to walk by. How could I have let this happen? Maybe I didn’t. Maybe the bike itself chose to let go at the just right moment to spare my life. You know, Jesus did that.

I chain the two pieces to the post and make my way down Houston. I haven’t absorbed what just happened, but I still have an obligation to roast a chicken tonight. Now I am immersed in five lanes of sheep shuffling east and west through the cryogenic wind tunnel. The same sheep that refuse to look both ways when they step out of a cab. A bike zips by, but there is no epiphany in the spindrift floating in its wake, at least not within reaching distance from this icy sidewalk. I’ve been commuting cross-town for 18 months, five days a week, that’s over 700 rides down Houston. Never mind the Manhattan circumnavigations, the trips to the Bronx, riding the ferry over to Breezy Point. I need a new bike, I tell myself, tough guy that I am.

By the time I get to Whole Foods my spirit has dropped to knee level and I realize I would have been home right now if the bike hadn’t split in two. I snare a plastic bag and start picking through the brown mushroom trough, which neighbors the exotic egg section, but tonight there are no ostrich eggs with the green $29.95 stickers on them. Just quail eggs. I feel as though my own ostrich eggs have been replaced with quail eggs. Let’s call mine pheasant eggs, given the clutch landing.

Then I see her. Mary Kate or Ashley Olsen. Olsen - a Viking hero. Am I spelling it right? God knows. She picks up an onion and her eyes grab hold of mine. The realness is too much. I quickly redirect my gaze to the guy she’s with, who’s wearing sunglasses, even though he’s not a celebrity, and he’s – did he – I think his tongue touched the mouthpiece of his cell phone. Mary Kate or Ashley Olsen, I remember you from Full House, when I lived with my mom and grandmother in a 3-bedroom house, which could be considered a full house, but without Stamos, are you still in touch with him? I take my time selecting Brussel sprouts so I can turn and take another look or two. I’m no star f***er, as Irene would say, but I must be sure. Yes, it’s one of her. I wonder, are they shooting a follow-up to Beyond Thunderdome? In this weather? Olsen is all ragged lace and droopy grey hems: the post-apocalyptic nymph busily foraging through layers of catalytic converters and rusted oil cans when Mad Max enters her auto-graveyard realm. Can she be trusted? She barters a dubious Firebird for Max’s blue heeler. As Max drives away we see her constructing an over-sized hamster wheel in the background. It’s a dispensable scene – still, it will be the scene people miraculously remember when push comes to shove in a heated game of Trivial Pursuit ten years henceforth. I don’t know, maybe she always dresses that way. I’m glad she brought a coat because it’s 10 degrees outside, and we’re a long way from Ayer’s Rock.

We part ways and I’m off to the free-range section. I wonder if the Olsen could see the loss in me. I think about how Alex and I used to play tennis, and whenever the score was 15-15, we’d yell “Olsen!” Mary Kate and Ashley were always 15 to me. But this one didn’t look 15, and that was unsettling. As unsettling as the prospect of bike-shopping. And having to walk back to reclaim my lock, and take this picture…


Mom said...

Shervin, you see now why I say, "Always wear your helmet"?

Wheelz said...

Surreal and strangely comical from start to end.

Jeege said...

What an extraordinary, tripped out ride! And I have to say, I'm with yer mom -- WEAR YOUR HELMET because you need to protect that magnificent, freewheeling brain of yours so you can continue writing stories as entertaining as this! Bravo!!!