Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Ride

It always comes down to weather. Moody, you’d call me, but actually it’s only echolalia of nature, this is what I’m made of. Build, therefore, your own world, Emerson exhorts and so I do. Today’s gray but not rainy, still but not bleak, chilly but not harsh. It looks like it’s ready for something to happen, something of note. So we wait. There’s that smell in the air, that heavy smell that The Toad told me was from a paper plant nearby and Bill told me it’s what Georgia clayey soil smells like in a sitting pond. Balo told me that she always thought it smelled like the garbage they forgot to take out. It’s perception that drives the schism between people, unconditional loyalty to our own symbolism what exacerbates these rifts. What smells to me like odyssey smells to you like gasoline that’ll take you to the mall. What smells to you like garbage smells to me like vespertine walks along the Ocmulgee river, at length expatiating on how unbecoming it is for Otis Redding’s statue not to have any eyeballs, and promising that I will fashion him some out of bubble gum. “I won’t let you do that,” you said solemnly and I, defending the argument, “But he’d be able to see us!”

Yesterday, since it was deliciously autumnal outside, I beseeched Nemesis (since we’ve developed a species of friendship I decided she must have a name) to take me on a ride to Lake Tobesofkee, at least that was the plan, a tour originally mapped for 70k which ended up reduced to 50, for reasons that I find somewhat humiliating. As a parenthesis, my firm-framed friend has been named after the goddess that delivered the reckoning for arrogance to the Greeks. She replicates this image quite well, for more than once I’ve seen her rehabilitated in the eyes of other bikers who had illusions of outspeeding, since she’s only a mountain bike after all, and not a fancy one either. She has been goaded, on occasion, to keep presumptuous drivers in check too, especially those who want to turn right on a red light and surmise, naively, that she’s not part of traffic. This reminds me: I’ve got to get a horn. All things considered, I’ve found Nemesis a fitting name, for other mythological reasons as well, but I won’t burden this story with them, especially since I think there are some things that ought to remain between my bike and me.

So I went, westward past the interstate, where the road narrows and climbs steadily, then climbs steeply, and what I wouldn’t give for a bike lane sometime, a little ribbon of asphalt that’s all mine. But this is Macon, after all. Further up, the road is edenic, with orchards on each side, miniature farms and tractors, and yes, a kid doing stunts on a scooter in his back yard. Hardly any traffic at all on a Saturday morning this far from the city. People are gorging themselves at Chick-fil-a, out for a movie at Amstar, having brunch at Starbucks, leaving this marvel to me, all to me, and how I jubilate and chant for universal shallowness. Following the map in my head I count the imaginary miles, more going downhill than uphill, since when I’m climbing I have a hard time focusing on anything else than trigonometry. These hills of Macon are such nuisances sometimes, as they worm their way onto the surface of the earth in a demented sinusoid that drains and drains, my shirt wet before I’m even 10 miles into the trip.

So at this point, where at the top of an agonizing hill I find deliverance in a road sign saying “Estes,” where is where I’m supposed to turn, I realize, like a fugitive flash of intelligence, that I can well hear the chain of the bike. Now, from my scarce experience with these animals I know this to be inauspicious, much like doing a headstand and hearing my back cracking, that’s when I know that I should stretch more often. Then I remember, an epiphanic flashback, that I never oiled this bike, and that I adopted it following a long period of idleness in Bill’s sunroom. Knowing Bill and how much he actually applies all the activities he plans, I’m not sure in fact whether the bike has ever been oiled. So here the mystery is elucidated, why it’s so hard to pedal, why I feel life squeezed out of me with every hill, and as I palpate the viscera of my Nemesis (so fitting the name just now) and my hand’s still clean, grease consummately absent, desperation enters.

Pulled over I muse, study my map, quickly improvise a shortened version of the trip, not considering for a minute going back, for I’m sure living with myself after such a failure would be impossible. So I climb on, chain parched and plaintive, but this Estes Road is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen and I forget all about my distress. Sun sifted through the trees, corrugated patterns on the grass. And a horse, two horses grazing, not even looking up as I pass with all my mechanical noise, they are in their own world and this space has no place for me, I’m merely a peripatetic observer, and even if I wanted to stop I could not.

After Estes reality is nauseating, busy thoroughfare with rushed drivers. And a dog! Yes, halfway up I see a dog sauntering toward me, quite an exotic character around these places. The traveler is a Pit bull and I’m going uphill on a thirsty bike, so precaution advises me to proceed on the other side of the road for a while. We pass each other, he seems to consider me and dismiss me as part of the landscape. Cars honk insanely as they see the itinerant animal and finally, someone elicits more traffic noise than me. On the same road a mattress leans against a mailbox, covered in flies, and I really can’t help but stop for photos. I’m goaded by a similar image later on, but quickly rebuffed by canine guards, so I snap one fast before their raucous threats turn into action.

There was a point when I actually considered giving Bill a call, a casual call to check if he’s around, if maybe he feels like driving a little out of town, where, oh nearby, nearby, not far at all, and it’s not that I’m in trouble but I’d really like you to see this route I’m taking, so bucolic, and maybe... give me a lift? And it’s right at this moment, providence and her sleight of hand, that a troupe of race bikers passes me. I know that they do this on Saturday mornings, but I didn’t imagine I’d run across them like this, so nakedly, at the intersection of Maynard Mill and Shi, when I’m in such an unflattering position and they’re so fast, and polyester-clad – some topless – and lofty somehow, going downhill at the speed of light, a flock of birds in full flight. Twelve of them perhaps, pedaling compact, and as they pass me they ask, each one of them, if I’m all right. And I, holding my camera which I’ve produced I don’t remember why, probably as an excuse to stop, nod reassuringly and pretend everything’s fine although it’s not, the chain getting drier with every mile and it’s palpable, especially in my thighs that scream with horror at what I’m doing to them. But for this fraction of a second, while they pass, everything will be just fine, I will look contemplative and impossibly fresh-looking, and they’ll have something to talk about as they continue downhill.

Coincidentally that’s my path too, Shi Road that is, so I blast after them and as I discover it’s all downhill, steep hills that anybody’d be downright crazy to climb in the opposite direction, so I slide with my brake pressed hard and still I fly. But well, these Southern lands are treacherous and whenever there’s a reprieve I know that there’ll be hell to pay later. And this happens soon, on Zebulon, where hills get the last sap of me, sometimes stepping out of the saddle and wondering if I’m dead or alive. Photos are no longer in the program. And still, there’s a mailbox in the shape of a school bus, so I have to stop for a minute to get that on film, and before I depart two bikers pass, struggling with the rough climb I’m descending, a he and a she. He, in the lead, salutes and smiles and I respond. She is behind and I wait for her to pass me, eager to say hello since she’s the first female biker I’ve laid eyes on in Macon, but catching sight of me she speeds up, visibly clenched on the bike and fierce to catch up with her man, and she does not so much as glance in my direction, even though I’m three feet from her. It’s OK, I tell her in my mind, women don’t usually like me. I’m not upset. But in reality I’m bothered.

It doesn’t matter how I got home, does it? In truth, it was one of those trances that we wheedle our bodies into, to go on automatic pilot while our mind meanders through other places. That’s how it was. The pain’s all gone now, after a good night’s sleep of seven hours, a royal treatment for me, really. Oil the fucking bike, a green post-it says. But now the world of Java awaits again, weekends crumpled into dialog with a compiler that argues with me about syntax and makes me want to pull my hair out, which occasionally I do. All this code, I loathe it. And even if you’re there to tell me what to do, to bring equanimity to my dementia, to give me a saintly hand out of quicksand, code is still something I suffer through, like purgatory, which I’ve the power to curtail at any moment, yet I don’t. With Java I feel dead. With Nemesis I feel alive. That’s just me and, don’t I know, it’s high time I stopped betraying both with this specious stagecraft.

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