05 July 2008

Spinning Counterclockwise

Although it may not be too easy to tell from the above photo, what is pictured is my beloved bicycle with its handlebars twisted into a pretzel. I have no idea what force, human or otherwise, is responsible for this, but it's how I found my bike early Friday morning when I came out to ride it to the park and the gym.

Whether I will ever be able to ride it again remains to be seen, probably at least till Monday, when the bike shop reopens. As it stands, I can't even move it except by carrying it (and it's rather heavy) because the brake cables were pulled taut when the handlebars were bent. Why this happened, I have no clue. It wasn't a case of anyone trying to steal the bike or parts from it, I'm pretty sure; not only are there much better bikes all over the neighborhood, and in more accessible places (mine, as you can see, was locked inside the fence that surrounds my building), but the same person or persons also attacked another bike nearby, and left the broken parts lying on the sidewalk. So apparently it was somebody who just wanted to destroy bikes for reasons known only to himself.

Of course there's always the possibility, slim as it might be, that someone was deliberately targeting my bike because of a real or imagined grudge. The only suspects I can think of in that regard are the gang that hangs around in front of the house next door (and, by extension, because there are so many of them, our building as well). But I've never had a run-in with them, and have never seen or heard them doing anything more obnoxious than talking and shouting very loudly late at night. In fact, many of the neighbors seem to think they keep the block safer by being out there. But if by chance it is them, what's going to happen if I get the handlebars replaced or get a new bike?

I'll have to admit it's kind of depressing. I paid $75 for that bike in 1993, and got ten or a hundred times that much service out of it over the years. It may be starting to rust out from being left outside through a New York City winter, but I'm still very fond of it. In fact, I'd unhesitatingly say that with the possible exception of the bike I had when I was 12 and about which I remember very little now except for the effortless smoothness with which I rolled around suburban Detroit, this is my favorite bike ever.

But what also hit me was how much more immobilized I felt as a result of its loss. I'm in the habit most mornings of riding it to the park where I do t'ai chi and/or run around the track, and often from there I'll go to the nearby gym. On my bike I can be either place in five minutes; on foot it's more like 20. The morning I discovered the vandalism, I decided I wasn't going to be put off exercising, so instead I ran to the park, which took about 12 minutes, and impressed me mightily, since it's not all that long ago that I couldn't have run anywhere near that far without stopping to catch my breath.

But this morning, the prospect of either running or walking seemed too dispiriting, especially when combined with the on-again, off-again rain, and I stayed in the house to brood. Which in turn led me to think about the time, which will inevitably come one day, when I'll no longer be able to ride a bike at all, and then in turn to question why it's so all-fired important to get as much exercise as I do. Last night at a party Crystal was razzing me about my exercise and diet choices, saying, "I thought the whole point of being your age is that you get to let yourself go, eat whatever you want, do or not do whatever you want."

I don't know how serious she was, but the idea made my flesh crawl. What kind of way to live would that be, I wondered to myself? Plopped in front of the TV, getting fat, stuffing my face with pizza and donuts... Well, actually, I've been there, done that, and while there's a certain momentary satisfaction to it, it's actually quite lonely and miserable, and that's even before the diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and morbid obesity start kicking in.

People often do make that point, though: you're going to die anyway, so why make yourself miserable trying to prolong your life an extra couple years? I guess to me it's not about prolonging my life at all, but having the best possible quality of life for whatever number of years I am alive. And while I feel as though I'm in as good as or better shape than I've ever been in, the (hopefully temporary) loss of my bike is having an effect on me not unlike what I've heard older people describe following a fall that shatters one or more of their bones and makes it emphatically clear that whether or not they're ready, nature has called time on their youthful gallivanting.

I'm currently reading Exit Ghost, Philip Roth's most recent book (at least I think it is; the man, even in his mid-70s, seems to spin out novels as profligately as I do blog posts), in which he chastises himself over an awkward attempt to recapture a bit of the joys and challenges of youth "as though spinning a lifetime counterclockwise were an act as natural and ordinary as resetting the timer on the kitchen stove."

In the novel, Roth portrays himself (or at least his protagonist, who seems scarcely removed from his own persona) as having filled his days, at least from the time he was my age to where the novel begins 11 years later) with virtually nothing but writing, and I couldn't help wondering what could be his motivation. Not money, obviously, since both the fictional writer and Roth have plenty of that, nor for accolades or adulation, of which the same is true. Out of a sense of service, whether to humanity or one's artistic muse? Possibly, perhaps even likely, because the only other alternative that suggests itself would be simply to pass the time, the same way someone might do crossword puzzles or play video games.

But if that were the case, why keep publishing? A private journal would accomplish the same trick, wouldn't it? I ask because I have similar questions. Gone is the fiery, almost violent youthful certainty that insists one has something of utmost importance to say to the world regardless of whether or not the world deigns to listen. While I don't doubt that I still have the less than universal ability to string words together in a coherent and sometimes interesting fashion, I'm no longer so sure it's going to make a substantial amount of difference whether said words whether rise beyond the inchoate swamp of fevered musings that I seem to increasingly rely upon (or mistake) for inspiration.

I guess I write because I don't know how to do anything else, and perhaps it wouldn't be too presumptuous of me to suppose that Roth is in much the same boat (plus or minus a few Pulitzers, National Book Awards and millions of dollars, of course). But I've got fairly well-developed ideas for both a novel and a nonfiction book that have both been sitting there fermenting in my mind for years in one case and months in the other without having taken any concrete action to bring them to fruition. Honestly, it's a struggle even to complete a third or a quarter of the potential blog entries that occur to me, and if it weren't for goofy message board postings, I might go many weeks without writing anything at all.

All this somber introspection arising from a vandalized bike? Perhaps if all the good things that have happened to me don't suffice to kick me out of my lethargy, a few misfortunes will be necessary? Let's hope not. In the meantime, I'm meeting some friends and we're off to Hoboken.


erika said...

Letting yourself go is for the young. I agree that getting older is when you need to take more care.

Sorry about your bike, my friend. I miss my mpls schwinn

Maybe you should move to Oakland where it's safer :)

crystal! said...

i was joking!

sebby and i saw your bike that night and it was mind boggling. hopefully you can replace the hande bars. sarah thinks that it took tools to bend it like that.