Wednesday, January 4, 2012

the memory of bicycling

I like to read and I like to run and I like to bicycle and at a certain point in time my life was totally on the rocks.  It was around this time that I picked up a novel called The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty.  It's not a fantastic amazing life-changing book and I'm not saying you should go read it but I did often find myself thinking that a better title of the book would be The Memory of Bicycling and I think maybe that was the working title for the book except it lacked the ring of "Running" or maybe bicyclists don't read as many books as runners.  Most people in this country (and maybe other countries) have a bicycle somewhere in their childhood experience.  A bicycle they rode everywhere, through every neighborhood, to school and to the store and to a friend's house.  It's a bicycle before it's a car and when you are an adult and you think back to what you once were, when you try and remember yourself, it's a bicycle that can carry you.

The protagonist of The Memory of Bicycling Running is a guy named Smitty and in the first fifty pages of the book both of his parents die from injuries sustained in a car accident.  We learn that his schizophrenic sister who suffered immeasurably throughout his childhood has been missing for years.  We learn that Smitty is a Vietnam vet who used to run everywhere (but mostly we hear about his bicycling) but now is a 287 pound alcoholic who chain-smokes and has a wage slave job.  

It is after the funeral(s) and after the wake when he walks into his parent's garage and sees his bicycle.  This begins a trip that continues until he has bicycled across the country, from Massachusetts to California where he arrives in different shape (literally and figuratively) from the shape he left in.

Above the small window in the back, hanging over Pop's long workbench, was my Raleigh.  My Raleigh.  I never saw it there.
I was drunk, but that was my Raleigh.  I stood on Mom's blue hood and pulled it away from the hooks.

We both crashed onto the roof of the car, me and my Raleigh.  The bike pitched again, over me and out the garage door.  I lay in the dent of the car roof for a few minutes, then rolled off and walked to the bike.  

My Raleigh.  My maroon three-speed.  I set it on its wheels and popped the kickstand.  It still had the light on the front, but there were no batteries inside.  It still had my small leather pack hooked onto the back of the seat.  I unzipped it.

"The zipper works good," I said out loud.

I threw a leg over, and the bar sat way below my crotch.  Had I grown that much?  I sat on the seat, keeping balance with my left leg.  It was a tight fit, like the blue suit I had on, when I sat down I couldn't keep it buttoned.  The tires had no air, so they groaned under the beer and pickled eggs, and the tire rims crunched on the pavement.  I lit a cigarette and sat on my bike.  

I sat smoking until the cigarette was gone.  Then I put up the kickstand with my heel and walked with the bike between my legs, to the end of the driveway.  It must have been around eight, because I remember a full moon.  

Now I don't understand this, except I knew there was a Sunoco station at the bottom of our street, and it probably had an air pump, but, as I said, this is a gray area because all of a sudden I gave the Raleigh a few steps, sat ridiculously on the seat, and began to coast on the flat tire rims of my bike, down our little hill.

So here it is 2012 and I guess what I am saying is, do you have a memory of bicycling?  Isn't it maybe time you went out to the garage and got down your bicycle and remembered who you are or who you were meant to become?

1 comment:

  1. Good post, I bet most people have a memory of bicycling, I may try that angle out next time someone asks me about bike commuting.