Archive for the 'unsolicited stories' Category

No Complaints.

March 18, 2010

There is light in the evening again. It is getting warmer. And suddenly, I’m motivated to be as active as my body will allow. This means that I’ll be spending whatever hours I can find outside on my bike; the mornings aren’t so cold anymore, and the evening is just fine. “Spring ahead” is like a tax refund for time, an I always love it.

Aside from the clocks around me, there are some other changes happening for me, and they are positive as well. Just as with “spring ahead,” however, there’s always an individual who sees it the other way.  And just the same, I won’t feel like I’m missing out on an hour of sleep…

A few days ago I saw a woman who looked like she was wasting away, your typical crazy lady with an eating disorder; she had to have been at least 25 pounds underweight. I felt very strange while selling her a pair of running shoes– wondering to myself why in the hell she could possibly feel like she needs to run.  She was friendly and engaging, but withholding and indecisive– which seemed common, presuming she had an eating disorder. And then she suddenly she informed me that she lost her husband six months prior in a car wreck. She went on to explain that he left four independent businesses to her, and that operating them has been overwhelming. She also informed me of a particularly cruel type of identity theft to which she’d fallen victim wherein the thieves also tormented her. This woman just wanted her old life back, and she will never have it again.  Why is she buying running shoes? I guess it seems like the simplest escape option.

Before I was even able to redraft this entry, a close friend of mine was hit by a car.  He suffered some injury, and his bicycle was damaged.  When talking about a vehicle/bicycle collision, that’s about as good as it gets, and it can always be worse.

I’m not old, but I’ve been around long enough to know that bad things can certainly come in waves; I also know that there’s another side to those waves that can be impossible to see when you’re trapped.

Cross your bridges carefully, and don’t burn them.

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Well If That Don’t Beat All.

October 7, 2009

When you sell bikes for a living you hear a lot of stories. People have all kinds of reasons for buying bikes. Sometimes there’s a big life changing thing that happens, or someone needs to get in shape for something, or someone is out of shape because of a life changing thing, and so on. I’ve heard a lot of them now, and a lot of different kinds from “I just got divorced, and I really deserve this” to “I was pronounced dead, but lived  and the doctors said I’d be a vegetable.” But today I heard one. A kind that I’d never heard before. This wasn’t even my sale, but I had to listen in, because it’s wins the pot.

This middle aged guy, and a younger guy were in the store together. Both of them were weird.  The older guy was slightly overweight, he was wearing “fitness clothes,” and he had a tattoo of a lone wolf howling at the moon.  The other sales guy working with them mentioned in passing that the older guy was a Vietnam vet.  So, right there… Then I over hear him saying he was up way late.

“Out partying?” The salesman asked.

“No. I got a Xbox.” He replied, and followed with, “I’ve been clean and sober for 21 years. If I’da had one more drink I woulda gone to jail, an’ my brother went to jail same way, an’ he died there. I haven’t had a drink since June 23, 1988.”

“Oh, man. Good for you.” The salesman sounded off uncomfortably.

The man went on to say some other things I didn’t really hear about growing up in New York? Owning a bar? Living in England? Something else, and then:

“… two guys escaped from Chino, an’ they came broke into my house, they killed my wife, killed my two kids, an’ cut ’em up wit a chainsaw, I came home from work that night an’ had to identify their bodies, that was twelve years ago, then i wen’ up to 300 pounds, started goin’ to the gym, work out early in the mornin’ before i go to work…”

The story goes on as a personal narrative of his struggle with fitness, and the difficulty he’s had finding a quality fitness establishment (like one that will stop charging his dead wife a membership fee) and how he’s just going to ride a bike from now on.

I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m trivializing this guy, because (if all that stuff is true) I am amazed and impressed by his desire to even be alive, let alone his commitment to staying healthy.  A man who served combat in an horrific modern war, who fought a hard battle with alcohol, whose brother died in prison, and whose family was left horrendously murdered by escaped prisoners for him to see.  A man like that really is a lone wolf. A pack animal without a pack, who can survive, and persevere.

Dark of Heartness

August 16, 2009

It’s been almost a month since this happened, and I keep thinking about it.

I went to Kroger one night after 10:00, a fairly regular occurrence for me. I was there with Kelly, and we were rounding up various vegetables and some Topo Chico for that evening’s dinner. I wandered through the produce department picking up vegetables and setting them down, cursing the hard avocados, cursing the smushy avocados, and having that what-the-shit-am-I-supposed-to-be-looking-for thought when I forgot every ten seconds what I went there for. While idly holding some vegetable that I surely didn’t purchase something caught my attention. I was somewhat startled as it sounded like THIS was rolling down a cobble stone hill at me, but it was just the voice of a man. A visual of him was not much more settling: he had a weathered face, gnarled hands, he wore a hat of some U.S. Navy ship and he carried a giant stick in his motorized shopping cart. His question finally made it to my brain after passing through a water like barrier in my ear canal that had been caused by my dumb and momentary stare at him: “Are you a fisherman?” Another moment of dumb staring and I was able to say “No. Well, I used to…” I didn’t want to finish that statement. “But, you like the sea?” he asked. My confusion only lasted a few seconds before I realized he was commenting on the tattoos on my shins. One is a sailing ship, and the other is a shipwreck. Normally I don’t care to converse with strangers about my tattoos. This was different. “Yes.” I responded.
I take great lengths to avoid these kinds of situations usually, but something about this gruff old man was strangely difficult to avoid. “Do you read books about the sea?” he asked. “Yeah” I responded having not actually completed a book in over a year. “Like what?” He followed. At this point I couldn’t tell if he was trying to break my balls over these tattoos, or test my knowledge of the sea, or what, but I couldn’t stop talking to the guy. I listed a few of the books that I’ve I particularly enjoyed, and he listed a few titles and asked me if I’d read any. He was sort of giving me a litmus test: asking me what I thought about Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and assured me that it’s a quality tale. We had a little bit of overlap, but I really peaked his interest with In the Heart of the Sea. He squinted at me when I said the name of the book, and he asked me to elaborate. I told him that it’s a nonfiction account of the first known ship to have been sunk by a whale, and that some of the events were the basis for Melville’s Moby Dick. He was a tad incredulous for a moment about In the Heart of the Sea being a recent title, like somebody cheated him or slipped something by him, then he asked me to repeat the title, and then the author’s name. He started to look for a pen and paper with some urgency, while doing so he mentioned that he wouldn’t remember the name of the book because of his condition.
Before I knew it I was walking to the front of the store in search of a pen. I spotted one in a recently accumulated dust/debris pile and I picked it up before the pile could be swept into the trash. I walked intently back across the store to find this guy just to give him this pen so that he could write down the name of this book. When I found him again I tried to just write down two titles and authors on his coupon sheet, but he couldn’t read my handwriting, so I stood there and spelled out the two titles while he wrote them down. He had a dry, violent, coughing spell for a moment that made me think he was going to shoot handfuls of pea gravel out of his mouth. He mentioned something again about his condition, and then he asked me what Sailor Song is about. He snickered a little bit when he realized that it is from the author of One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest and made some remark about living in California around the time that Kerouac and Kesey were creating their movement. With very few words he identified that he understood it, but that it was so passe´. I was being paged over the intercom at this point to come to the front. He touched for a moment again on Moby Dick right before he reverted to his original question; he wanted to talk about fishing, and for no reason that I can possibly imagine I wanted to indulge him.
I had already mentioned that I used to fish, but I wasn’t going to elaborate on that just the same as I didn’t want him to elaborate on his “condition,” which was clearly a limiting factor to what was certainly his biggest passion. He was asking me what kinds of fish I had caught. “Speckeled and rainbow trout mostly, flounder, redfish…” As I recited my list he nodded, and made some gestures of approval. “You ever catch any snapper?” The question itself was morsel of bait at the end of a 60 lb. test leader. “No, almost all of the fishing I’ve ever done was in the bay, or in the surf. I’ve never gone offshore.” “Well what’s the biggest flounder you ever caught?” I really didn’t know, so I made a conservative guess (which I realize is not very typical of fish-story-telling). “Maybe 8 lbs.” I answered, recalling one particular large flounder my grandfather was so excited to see me bring onto his boat. This stone voiced man, who shopped in a motorized cart, who was propping himself up on something the entire time we talked had a literal knee slapper of a laugh at my 8 lb. flounder. He had already been searching through his wallet for something, giving it a really good once over. The man said that it was nice talking with me and that… “WAIT! There it is!” He held a trimmed down piece of color photo paper up for me to see, and he handed it to me. On it was the same man, ten years younger, holding a giant red snapper in his arms, wearing some kind of PVC bibs, with the unmistakable look of joy on his face and in his eyes. I flipped it over to see the weight of the fish and the date, “That’s a big fish.” I said, and when I looked up to hand it back, he was leaning casually on the frozen food case in front of me, with his arms proudly crossed, joy in his eyes, a smile, worn down.
It’s characters like him that make it that much more unbearable to see limp-dick-jerk-off-douche-bag-goobers like this guy holding some fish in some vacation destination with their Columbia hat, and PFG shirt, and neon mirrored sunglasses, and crocs, and Livestrong bracelets, and vacation stubble while shitting their pants.