Sunday, October 31, 2004

September, 1967

In the weak sunlight of fall, a picture embraces two young boys, ages 10 and 11. They are squinting into a camera lens composing a picture that looks posed, as if someone had asked them to turn, and smile. The neatly pressed chinos, the Perry Como sweaters (identical of course, save for their color) and a pair of $5.00 haircuts with cowlicks dutifully packed down with a Vitalis-patina, freeze a moment that could easily be a whole other universe for me today.

Joey and I were sitting atop identical red Huffy bicycles, preparing to go to school. It is fall in the photo, but it is hard to tell. Growing up outside of New York City, Fall (we didn’t call it “Autumn”) simply meant less time to play outside and awaiting the start of a new school year.

Today the colors of Autumn sustain me and I realize that I have since gravitated to a geography that nourishes me. How, I think, did I survive this dearth? The answer is that I found, as we all do, beauty in other things. I struggle now to recall exactly what I found it, but no one lives without beauty.

Joey and I were born almost exactly one year apart, off by 5 days, very nearly “Irish Twins”. Being born in such close birth order proximity entitled us, and still does to this day, to certain twin-like privileges. While we never engaged in “twin-speech”, we have had our share of “fratra-pathic” moments.

Like the time we played basketball at the local “Y”, teamed up in a two-on-two against a pair of local and more talented youth. Now, you have to understand that street-ball is part sport, part Kabuki theater and Joey and I played our parts, and fulfilled the rituals.

We were making passes no one could even see. For us, it was just the way we played, the way we thought, the way we saw things with a common filter on the lens of life.

“Wow!” said the leader of our two opponents. “You guys been playing long together?”

“About 25 years,” I responded.

If I glance at the picture again, I notice the bicycles. I rode my bicycle everywhere. I didn’t get a car until I was a sophomore in college. In part, I didn’t really need one living in New York. But in part, I had my bike.

A few years ago I rediscovered my love of cycling, but it had matured along with me. Now I do as much cycling as I can in the shortened New England season. Back then the bicycle was a way to achieve independence at a low cost. It still provides that feeling today, but for a different reason.

On a bicycle, I experience distance as a meditation. Thoughts are clearer, passion is more vivid, memory is more pristine than at any other time during my waking life. (Only dreaming surpasses this.)

On a bicycle, I can be alone and never lonely, even at times in my life when I am more lonely even when surrounded by others. The most misanthropic feelings in me evaporate like a summer puddle when I ride.

Now I suppose there are physiological reasons for this: endorphins, brain chemistry. But the thrill of using my own power to travel from here to Vermont, or tearing down a mountain road at 45 miles per hour, knowing I am just on this side and ½” of rubber away from the unimaginable, is really just like witnessing a sunrise to me; every bit as unique and transcendent.

Five years after rediscovering cycling, I have logged over nearly 15,000 miles. It occurs to me that not all distance is linear and that the inward travel has far exceeded the outward. Like meeting an old friend, the bike has become an extension of my youth, and of me.

Along the side of the photo is the date: Sept 1967. It occurs to me that a few years prior to this snapshot being taken, the Beatles had finished their first tour of the U.S. There was passion in a world yet undiscovered, even after JFK was assassinated. There was Ed Sullivan, and watching the old black and white TV and falling in love with them and their music.

I realize that this photo captured my youth steeped in the early morning angled sun like a used tea bag. The white picket fence and the modestly trimmed azalea bushes in the back screamed that everything was laid out before us and was available to us.

As we slipped our leather satchel school bags over the high rise handlebars, rolled our chinos pant legs up on the chain-side of the bicycle, we pushed off from the curb never once even dreaming of what we were leaving behind.


MB 2004

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