An old man with one arm, African–American, sat on the bench in front of Days Espresso. He was bumming cigarettes, but I didn’t have any, having quit in January. He said, "Hello" to me but nothing more. I said, "How are you doing?" but he didn’t answer. He didn’t ask me for anything — a relief – but just his presence made me feel guilty. I wanted to fix his devastated life, but I couldn’t. I tied up my shiny bike; the price of it would feed the old man two months, but that wasn’t going to happen. I went inside and got a coffee. The old man finally walked away. I hope he had somewhere to go.
I had an intervention with myself and faced the fact that I am a bicycle junkie. I’m an addict. I don’t feel really right until I get out on my bike and ride. I received a particularly upsetting telephone call two nights ago. I thought about it for a couple of minutes and then I put on my helmet and reflective gear, turned on the lights and rode my bike until I got my feelings in order about what I had heard. The bike has become my drug.
The bicycle is actually a bunch of drugs for me. It’s my psychotropic anti-depressant. It’s my blood sugar reducing diabetes drug. It’s my cholesterol-reducing Crestor replacement. It’s my stiff-joint, NSAID, anti-inflammatory. It’s my blood pressure reducing anti-hypertension high blood pressure drug. It’s my diet and sleeping pill.
I have hypertension (high blood pressure) and due to the drugs I take for that, I need to have regular blood tests. A couple of years ago, I began showing very high blood sugar in the tests. My doctor said that I could go on another drug or get some aerobic exercise every day. I opted for the exercise and got really serious about getting some significant bicycle time every day. I’m averaging seventy miles a week on my bike and my blood sugar has been reduced by 60%.
The bike is my “non-steroidal-anti-inflammatory” drug. Once upon a time, just climbing the stairs in my home would have my knees screaming. Today, I climb them like a sixteen-year-old – no pain.
The bicycle is my diet pill. When I committed to riding my bike every day, I weighed 212 pounds and wore a snug 38” waist pants. Today, I weigh 178 and wear a loose 34” waist paints – in a bit more than a year and a half. My significant other totally loves the transformation. I feel fit and sexy rather than old and overweight.
I still have to take my high blood pressure meds. While I am getting better readings, I still have times when the blood pressure is too high. The bicycle is helping, and there may come a day when I can quit taking the meds, but it’s not here yet.
The bicycle is my sleeping pill. I have always been one who fights sleep. I will stay awake all night under the right circumstances, but that is unpleasant. It is hard for me to fall asleep at night, but when I have ridden 16 miles in a day, I care barely stay awake until midnight. It is well known that better sleep improves your overall health, including weight, skin, healing and mental acuity.
And yes, I suppose the bike is my cannabis. If you accept the traditional characterization that cannabis is a “euphoric” drug, then I’m getting my euphoria these days on the bicycle. After an epic ride, I really do feel euphoric, even if I’m tired and the muscles ache. I’ve smoked some pot in days past, and favor its legalization if for no other reason than to stop screwing up the lives of millions of young people who get arrested for it, but for me personally, the magic weed doesn’t do much for me these days. The bike is a different matter. A good ride will definitely produce a euphoric feeling, and I often wish that I could just keep on riding.
The bicycle simply makes me feel and look better. Even a fairly short ride will give me a warm glowy feeling. I suppose it results from the increased oxygen levels and the release of endorphins. Endorphins are described as “endogenous morphine” which is “released during exercise, excitement, pain, spicy food consumption, love, and orgasm.” After a good ride, I feel like I have taken some wonderful, perfect tranquilizer, but without any drug overhead. I have the proverbial “sense of well-being” while being acutely aware of my muscles and body. I have lost so much weight that I had to have my suits taken in. In the past couple of months, I have had several people, including doctors, tell me that I look “great” and it has been some time since I last heard those words. That’s great for the self-image. The bike is good for the body and the mind.
Yet, there is a downside to this rosy scenario. There are a few days when I cannot ride. Either the weather is just too foul (I don’t ride on ice or in thunderstorms which threaten hail), or I have business or social commitments which preclude a bike ride. On these days I go into serious bicycle withdrawal. Even on these dark days, I don’t despair because I know the clouds will go away; the ice will melt and my faithful two-wheeled medicine cabinet will be waiting for me in the garage, eager for another adventure and another chance to make me healthier.
cannibal of dreams,
you are rapacious,
Night burns into
day, and into
and there is no
There is only
There is only
and a god
who will not
I will not
I am not
I am not
so vain to think,
the cold flood,
that I would not
but not a fool.
but not a fool,
make red stripes
upon my skin.
By them I know
I am alive.
Pain is the
He slides the old wallet into his pocket. It is a miracle of physics that its molecules still hold together. It is so old. He doesn’t remember now if he bought it or someone gave it to him. He thinks, “Time is evil.” Time takes away youth and beauty, and leaves in their place frailty and pain. He fumbles in his pocket for his car keys but then decides to walk. It is not a terrible day, warm and sunny. He lets himself out of the front door and deadbolts the lock.
Out on the sidewalk, he produces a cigarette from one pocket and a lighter from another. He lights it and drinks the smoke. He knows he should quit them, but he loves the smoke. He loves the taste and smell and the way tobacco makes him feel. He considers if life without cigarettes is worth living. This is an open question.
He wants something, but he doesn’t know what. Sex comes to mind quickly, as usual, but he isn’t sure if that is it. Sex is complicated, a lot of worry and maneuvering for a little bit of pleasure. He decides to go for coffee. He isn’t sure if coffee is what he really wants, but it is far less complicated than sex. He begins to walk. Four blocks away there is a coffee shop where college students mooch the wi-fi and nurse cold cups of coffee.
He begins to walk. The sun is hot and he seeks the patches of shade beneath the massive maple trees. There is a moment of coolness beneath the maples. He likes to walk. It makes him feel good and sparks his curiosity. He walks past houses he has passed a thousand times but every time he wonders about the people who live there, what their stories are, how life brought them to inhabit that particular structure, and what they do there when the shades are drawn.
There are angels standing on the rooftops. No one else can see them, of course. Actually, he can’t see them either, but he knows they are there. They have always been there, watching silently through every awkward moment. It creeps him out. He keeps on walking.
He thinks about The Day. It was a warm day in the summer, not unlike this one, the day when the police cars came, two to his house and two to the boy’s house. The police cars came to his house to stop his father from killing the boy. They went to the boy’s house to arrest him. That was fifty years ago and he was still thinking about it. He remembered every small detail of the gun belts the police officers wore – the large revolvers in their black leather holsters and extra cartridges in leather loops along the back, just like cowboys in the movies. He remembered thinking that when he grew up, he wanted a gun like that.
He is sweating now. The sidewalk is hot, but he keeps up his pace, walking briskly toward the coffee shop where the college students mooch the wi-fi. He steers for every patch of shade to escape the relentless sun. He finally stops, finding a place to sit down in the shade. He pulls another cigarette from his pocket and lights it. He inhales and feels the smooth wave of nicotine wash across his nervous system. There is a dead bluebird on the sidewalk, blue back and wings with an orange belly. He wonders what killed it and why it breathed its last on this piece of sidewalk.
It was his fault. He talked. He told Stewart and Stewart told his parents, and Stewart’s parents called his parents, and his parents called the police who came with their black leather gun belts and cars. He didn’t know that this would happen. He would have never said anything had he known what would happen. He wondered if the angels were watching. He wondered if the angels saw what he and the boy did. Someone said that the angels were blind because they could not bear to view human sin, but he didn’t believe that. Would the angels tell? Were they as stupid as he had been?
He looks up to the rooftops and catches an angel in the corner of his eye, but when he looks at it directly it is gone. He gets to his feet and begins to walk again. It feels like the sun is burning holes in his skin. He wears sunscreen, but he doesn’t believe in it. He doesn’t see how a little smear of cream can stop cosmic rays from scrambling the DNA of skin cells, but he wears it anyway because the doctor told him to. He thinks about baseball. Baseball is his favorite diversion. He can watch it mindlessly for hours without the slightest regard for who is playing or who is winning. It really doesn’t matter. He watches the handsome young men with their bats and gloves, pitching and catching, hitting and running. The head games the managers play against each other fascinate him.
The boy was sixteen and he had a pet raccoon. He would go over to see the boy and play with the raccoon. His parents would be working and the house would be empty. Eventually they would go inside and things would happen. The boy would ask him to take off his clothes, and he would touch him in ways that felt really good. He had never felt those sensations before. He was only seven, but he liked the things the boy did. He didn’t know that what they did was wrong, that the police would come with their cars and leather gun belts if anyone found out. He never saw the boy again. The police took the boy away, and his family moved to a different town a few months later.
What do the angels see with their blind eyes? He knows now that what he wants he can never have. There has been too much time and he could never find him. He wants the boy to forgive him for being stupid, for talking, for ruining his life. He pushes open the door of the coffee shop. It is cool and dark. He steps to the counter and orders a cup of Columbian. The boy working the counter is cute and friendly and he gives him a dollar tip on a two dollar cup of coffee.