Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Contact is made

Shortly after my Beatrix was abducted, I spent my Friday evening combing the neighborhood posting signs.

I posted this one.

And this one.

I got sympathy from passersby, and even received some calls with tips to visit local used bike shops to see if anyone had sold a used bike matching Beatrix's description. They were all concerned neighbors with comforting words, but none that brought my Beatrix home.

But then, the plot became thicker.

Last weekend while sitting in a cab on our way to a burlesque show, my phone buzzed. It was a blocked number, so I ignored it. But the following message was left:

"Hi. This is Louie, um. I might be able to help you with, um, that poster that you, that you put up. About that yellow bike. Um, I would like to talk. I'll be, I'll be calling you back. If anything, I would like to meet in person. Cause um, I have to explain, you know, the situation. About somebody."


What twist was this simple case of a stolen bicycle about to take? Could it be that the dreadful assumptions of my precious Beatrix being nabbed by some sophisticated crime syndicate with terrible and sinister intentions are possible - nay, probable! - and not just some overly theatrical imaginations of a rambling, occassional blogger?

IIIII knew it!

So I summoned all the dudes I know in New York: A Palestinian guy. A dude in a bowtie. And a boy with a dragon tattoo. I summoned them each and I said, "I need you. I may be heading into a lion's den, and I need your muscle if shit pops off."

But Louie never called back.

So I continue to sit sleeplessly at my dining table. Stroking my angst-crinkled forehead. Biting my nails to nubs. Drinking cups of stale Folgers. Waiting for a blocked number to buzz and light up. In my head, horrific but all equally likely visions of ill-fated Beatrix continue to swirl about, each vision ever more grandiose than before.

An untouchable garbage collector in Mumbai.

A cold sherpa.

A flying monkey in an evil witch's army.

Or most fearful of all, tearful gulp, a clown's bicycle.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I want to ride my bicycle.

Last night, my bicycle was abducted. My precious, innocent, little yellow bicycle. Purchased in Japan four years ago for the paltry sum of $75, I couldn't bear to end our love affair after a year of cruising abroad, so I coughed up $300 more to bring her back to the States. And she's been a member of our family ever since.

Beatrix was her name.

I exited my apartment this morning to find only this.

A single knot of broken chain.

So distraught was I, I climbed right back upstairs and right back into bed.

She was one of my most prized and sentimental possessions, a steel pile of idyllic foldable imperfection. Her brakes went WHEEEEE in the rain. Her kickstand was broken and needed restraining with a pink rubberband, lest it go CLACK CLACK CLACK with every left-hand veer, and pedestrians holler after me "Your kickstand's down, bro!" as I clack merrily away. The 'd' was mistakenly rendered a 'b' in her Old English decal. It read Easy Riber.

We played together. (Hey Bea! Remember that time we practiced wheelies in the parking lot while listening to Wu Tang? We were waiting for Sherry to finish getting ready so we could go to Tokyo Disneyland.)

We impressed our peers together. (Hey Bea! Remember that time back in Numazu when we pulled up in front of the convenience store to meet up with all the other foreigners, and everyone said Oooh cool bike? Except that jerk who said Your kickstand's down, bro.)

We had each other's backs. (Hey Bea! Remember that time we were coasting to a stop on the sidewalk to chain you up outside the video store, and that guy goes You got the whole street for that shit. And I go Relax man, I'm chaining up my bike. And he stopped and said Do it, I wanna see you, and then waited for me to do it. And we had a lengthy stare down, and I said You're actually going to stand there to make sure I chain up my bike, you have nothing better to do on a Friday? And he stood there like a big dumb walrus, and I said curse words at him and insulted his intelligence and appearance as I walked into the video store, and he said What? and I said You heard me, jackass. Remember that? You totally backed me up then.)

And remember the countless times we rode along the Kano River or the East River listening to Bob Marley or ThinkTwice or Red Bacteria Vaccuum? And everything was right and perfect, all pieces in place?
Yeah, I remember that too.


Inconsolable, I arrived at work this morning and stood looking out at Manhattan from the 22nd floor, sipping coffee, all cried out. Somewhere among those building tops, among those honking cabs and street meat carts and dancing Newsies is my Beatrix.

Or maybe she's no longer even in the city, smuggled under moonlight into a cargo container and silently shipped to more sinister shores. Forced at gunpoint to mine diamonds in Sierra Leone. Another unwilling soul lost to the Armenian sex trade. Held hostage in the basement of the Alamo.

Oh, Beatrix. I shudder to think of your fate.

On the train Sherry asked, "Are you going to get a new bike?" "You callous animal," I said. "She isn't even cold yet." And then my buddy, Mike, asked me the same thing, to which I responded in the same way. He said, "She's not dead, just in the hands of another man."

How dare you, sir.

But in my heart I know I will one day ride another. The YMCA pool is simply too far to walk. And when that distant day comes when I am whole enough to once again mount a padded seat, clutch a firm pair of handlebars in my sweaty palms and peddle like I've never peddled before, love like I've never lost, I assure you that one'll be little and yellow too.

But next time she'll have a banana seat.

And lowrider handlebars.

Ooooh just like this one here!

 Squeal! What a beauty!

But she simply won't be you.         

     I miss you, Bea.



Monday, May 7, 2012

A few of my favorite things

For someone who wants to have the word 'writer' tattooed in typewriter font across his belly, a la Tupac, I sure haven't been doing much writing over the past year. I don't know why. Usually, while living a new adventure, the words gush from my fingertips and ooze from my ears and drip in splotchy, sticky puddles onto paper. While walking in Japan, for example, I would sometimes scurry off the road and crouch against a wall with pen and leather-bound notebook because I had to write, simply had to, right then and there. And when as a child I went to a new summer camp, I suddenly started writing screenplays, and they all had Beach Boys soundtracks. New York is arguably one of the most interesting places on the planet, so why am I not composing riveting prose here? Beats me. The voice just hasn't been speaking to me. I'll come home with funny anecdotes, relay them to Sherry. She'll say, "You should write about that." I'll say, "But what's the point?" She'll say, "It's funny." And I'll say, "Yeah, but what's the point?"

It all comes at me in kernels. No beginnings, no middles, no ends. No grandiose revelations. Anything beamed at me lately from the mothership is just fragments of shit that happens. It's all just an unorganized box full of Polaroid pictures.

But as of today, we've lived in New York for a full year. Today is our New York anniversary. A year ago today, Sherry and I arrived at our new apartment to find our Super squatting in our kitchen, ass crack exposed like some sad stereotype, installing our stove. The apartment unfinished. Walls unpainted. Washer and dryer, along with stove, uninstalled. Sawdust on our floors. Sherry was livid. I pulled her aside and I said, "We have a choice here. We can let this ruin the first day of our new adventure, or we can go get a decent buzz." And so we took Zealand out for bloody marys.

Anyway, I've gotten off track. Today is our New York anniversary. It would be remiss of me today not to share some of the things I've failed to share over the past year, however random and unorganized.

Like I haven't told you about the Chinese wholesaler down the street and around the corner. He has his live ducks delivered every morning at 6 a.m., hours from being plucked, bronzed and hung in China Town windows. Their hysterical quacking pours from their crates as I pass by on my early morning jogs. The smell, god almighty, the smell. Picture a wet and muddy stray dog. Now picture a wet and muddy stray dog fighting a bear. Fearful fowl, they wreak of wet and terrified feathers. I didn't know until we moved here, that's the worst smell in the world.

I haven't told you about our 1st floor neighbor, who has a 1st floor garden and planted a gigantic sunflower that grew so terrifically tall it went all the way up up up to the 2nd floor, until it grew too tall for itself and drooped and bobbed like a sleeping businessman on a Tokyo subway.

Or about how on my New York subway one morning, a cantaloupe rolled down the subway car and thudded to a stop against my foot. I looked at the woman sitting next to me. She looked at me. We each said, "that's strange," and I picked the cantaloupe up and put it in my lap in case someone wanted to claim it. And several minutes later a man tapped my shoulder and said, "I think it's hers," and pointed to a woman at the end of the car who had a grocery bag at her feet. "Excuse me, ma'am," he called, and everyone on the crowded morning train looked up from their books and nooks. "Did you lose a cantaloupe?"

Or I haven't told you how New York has made me aggressive, and a cab driver said late one night, "Fuck you". And I retorted, "Fuck me? No fuck you." And I actually shook my fist in the air as he drove away.

Or while the city has taught me to stand up for myself and instantly conjure my rage, it's also taught me to access my Zen with the same immediacy - a skill I reckon all city inhabitants must acquire lest the constant frenzy and push and pull eat you from the inside out. I ride my little yellow bicycle, Beatrix, along the East River. Zealand and I sit at the sidewalk tables of Sal's Pizzeria, eating a slice and drinking a pint while watching the passersby. I climb over our fire escape to the roof of the adjoining building and just watch the traffic on the BQE. These moments, I'm as at one with the universe as a Zen Buddhist monk.

I haven't told you about the crazy man who howled like Taz, the Tasmanian Devil, "Ooga booga blah flurr!" directly into the face of an Asian man one morning near Bryant Park. The Asian man was so perplexed and confused he couldn't help but grin. The crazy stranger yelled - spittle flinging from his lips, he was ferocious - "You think that's funny, mother fucker!?!" You won't be laughing when I smear your nose across your face!" And the Asian man stopped grinning.

And later that very same day, I saw a man walking with a cat atop his head, right atop his head!

This doesn't even chronicle the number of break dancers, violinists, erhu players, mariachi bands, Shakespearean actors, cypherists or hobo banjoists who make the metro system so enjoyable to ride. Christ, these people should be making more money than me, they're so goddamned talented.

Over the past year, these have been a few of my favorite things. My kernels. My box full of Polaroid pictures.

But as a 'writer', I still don't know what to make of it all. Maybe I'm still figuring it all out. Perhaps New York is a giant jigsaw puzzle. I've got the edge pieces in place, but I have no idea what the actual image is. Maybe that's my problem. Or, maybe that's the point.

Sherry and I just renewed our lease for another two years. So I have at least two years to finish this puzzle. Something tells me, though, two years just ain't gonna be enough time.

The stars. My, oh my, the stars.

Sherry and I recently returned from our first proper vacation in about a year and a half. As someone who already, at much too young an age, has the unbridled daydreams of a retiree, a year and a half is much, much much much (much much) too long to go without squirming my toes in wet sands, bathing under isolated tropical waterfalls or sinking my teeth directly into a still live salmon plucked from an icy Alaskan riverbed. We have left the city since moving here last May. We went back home for Christmas. That was our only trip (save for that Mandarin bus tour we took to Niagara Falls), and I quickly learned that a brief trip home after being away is anything but relaxing. Sugary, spicy, everything nicey, yes. Relaxing, no sir. I've never been so tired in my life. Everyone wanted us to eat. Everyone wanted us to drink. No one wanted us to sleep. I boarded the plane back to New York feeling like I had been trampled by bulls in Pamplona. So this next trip had to be all about following the fleeting impulses of our hearts.

I like to do dumb shit when I travel, and I have this somewhat irksome habit - I've been told - of doing things simply because other people haven't or won't. And when, for that very reason, I suggested we go to Cuba, Sherry just about punched me in the neck. Seriously. That conversation ruined our Valentine's Day dinner. But we settled on Vieques, a place that appealed to both our sensibilities. It's a small island off the Puerto Rican mainland. A former US Navy bombing range and testing grounds, it's now a wildlife refuge and eco-tourist destination. It's a place known for its free-roaming horses and pristine, untouched beaches. Off the beaten path, but safe. Still in our same time zone, it would scratch that travel itch until we're able to unplug for long enough to take that spiritual pilgrimage through India.

There's very little to actually do in Vieques, which made it perfect. It was relaxing and safe. Certainly much safer than, while on our honeymoon, the madams of Bangkok brothels hungrily eyed my South East Asian wife with dollar signs in their eyes. Yet, there was just enough risk involved to be fun. I had a brush with death when the pop-eyed man behind our rental car counter referred us to a bodega up the street where we could pick up some cold cervezas for the hotel. It was clear this was not a tourists' bodega, but it wasn't clear until I entered and walked past a heavily tattooed young fellow dressed in all red, sipping a Medalla. Inside, Puerto Rican eyes fell upon me. Seething, unwelcoming eyes. Predatory eyes. Convict eyes. And I - un gringo poquito in slim jeans, Toms and a porkpie - wanted to haul ass back into the sunlight, throwing frantic glances back as if I were being chased by the Chupacabra.

Once back in our jeep where awaited my bride, Sherry tells me she watched two men approach the jeep from behind, walking down the middle of the street. They looked like Somalians, she said, she thought she was in Somalia, and she thought they had AK-47s.

We didn't go back to that neighborhood, but two days later I almost backed over Sherry with our rental jeep. So there was danger.

But the rest of the trip was nothing but blissful horas upon horas of pure zen. I spoke each morning to the horses freely wandering the grounds of our mom-and-pop-run inn. I absorbed book after book. I drank my volume in Medalla - a terrible piss-tasting light beer, Puerto Rico's pride and joy, and the only beer to be had on the island. I chain smoked cigarillos, got lobster-skinned on secluded beaches, fought waves. The waves won and stole my shades.

But mostly, I just looked. When the sun was out, I just looked and pondered the horizon, the flat flat blue horizon. And at night, the stars. My, oh my, the stars. At night I would lie in the grass and simply look. Who knew there were so many? And think what our most ancient ancestors must've thought of them. Water, grass, dirt, these things are tangible and kind of make sense. Me drink water. Me eat grass. Me sleep dirt. But the stars, my oh my. No matter how tall a tree our Serengeti brethren climbed, they were always just out of reach. The homosapiens must've looked to them, opened their arms wide and in their limited lingual capacities, exclaimed what the fuck? This is where god came from. The stars are religion.

But while Vieques may have god, we have better beer. Plus, New York has it's own holiness among its vast dizzying twinkling windows, and Zen comes in many different shapes, sizes and colors. In fact, I'll tell you something. Opening the window onto our fire escape at night, the cars whizzing to and fro along the BQE, it's just like being lulled to sleep by the crashing waves of the Atlantic. Brooklyn, my own private beach.


Saturday, December 31, 2011

Helmet Club

Language is funny.

Asao, my Japanese tutor, asked me the other day, "がおもちです?"

And I replied in my robotic Japanese, "Yes, I. have. a. pet. It. is. a. dog."

And she said いいな~~ with a pleased look upon her face.

I asked in robotic Japanese, "And you, Asao-san, do. you. have. a. pet?"

And she relayed to me that at the present moment she did not. However, as a child she did. She used a word I didn't know and cannot recall now. "わかります?" she asked, and I indicated that no, I did not know what that word meant.

"Like a small parrot," she said.

"Aah," I said いいな~~with a pleased expression upon my face.

Then she started talking about something else, but I thought we were still talking about small parrots. "Helmet Club," she said. "Do you know?"

"Helmet Club?" I asked. "No, わかりませ."

She gestured with her fingers, miming as if she were placing a strawberry atop a cheesecake, or, more appropriately, putting a small helmet on a small parrot.

"Helmet Club?" I asked.

"Yes, Helmet Club," she assured me.

WTF, Asao? I had visions of her belonging to a club with other Japanese children who also had small parrots, onto which they would place small helmets. Was this a school-sanctioned club? Were they bicycle helmets? Helmets of Trojan warriors? And what did they do once the helmets were on the small parrots? Take pictures? Make the small parrots battle? I was so confused and at such a loss that I simply couldn't let the matter go. I had to understand.

"Helmet Club?" I asked again for the 3rd or 4th time.

"Yes, you don't know?"

No, absolutely not. "I don't understand Helmet Club," I said.

"Sea shore, along." Asao explained. "Look for empty shell..."


Hermit Crab!