It's a little cold this morning (about fifty degrees Fahrenheit) so I will wait awhile before heading out the door to wherever my bicycle will take me today. Last night I was drinking a beer and just idly spinning the front wheel of the bike where she hangs on the wall, a black bicycle against a white background. When you are poor you learn to make things do double duty and so my old Schwinn serves not just as transportation during the day but also as wall art when at home. As crazy as it seems that I should be so enraptured of this elderly machine there is nothing to be done about it.
I love my bicycle.
Sipping a beer and spinning the front wheel in the semi-darkness that is my single-wide trailer (in the second-crappiest-trailer park in town) a little before midnight, I was startled to see a kind of strobe effect as the thirty-six stainless steel spokes flashed there before me; I switched on another light and slowed the spin for a better look and was dismayed to see that yes, there was a jerky motion in the spinning wheel, not a trick of light but more likely some contamination of the wheel itself, something in the hub.
“This wheel is not that old! It has maybe...uh, wait...a thousand miles?” I never lubed the hub in a thousand miles and now it is showing. This is a kinda-cheap Dimension product, a single wall Alex rim with a Formula hub. Taking the wheel off the bike I go to the bench, grab a couple wrenches and open up the hub. There was not enough axle grease in there to even hold the bearings in place. Unhappy experience has taught me to be ready for the rapid mass exodus of bearings suddenly freed from their little prison. These wayward rascals fell harmlessly to the clean towel I had spread on the bench in anticipation of their escape.
My maintenance stories used to be a lot funnier as I attempted to work on my bicycle without a proper stand or the right tools, usually more than a little inebriated and absolutely unburdened by any excess of knowledge or skill. Alas, those heady days are more or less behind me now. I have acquired the gear, mostly, to get the job done right; and while my skill and knowledge remain far from a heavy burden, I seem to be able to perform the simplest bicycle maintenance chores without an excess of cussing, bloodshed or damage to the machine.
Midnight repair is not a part of my usual schedule. In fact, these days midnight anything is pretty much a stranger to my experience. But of late my routine is knocked off-kilter by this most recent bout of joblessness and idle time. As I always do when I have extra time on my hands, I have been doing a lot of reading. Good reading, too: whenever I am fortunate enough to have a stack of good stuff on hand I just read. A lot.
Sometimes I Ride, Sometimes I Read
Too much, in fact. When I get on one of these reading jags I am incorrigible. I read two or three books in a twenty-four hour period, just blasting through like an addict who has stumbled across somebody else's stash and has to use it all before they come looking for it. I read while eating and I read on the porch and I read in bed and sometimes I read all night and that's how my rythms and schedule get thrown off; that is how I find myself awake at midnight, drinking beer, contemplating a just-finished book, thinking about life in general and absent-mindedly spinning the front wheel of my bicycle at midnight. I like it and why not?
New Friends and Old
This month I have been roaring through the good stuff and finding writers I never heard of, young guys with wit and charm and frightening skills that blow me away; such as essayists David Foster Wallace (Consider the Lobster) and John Jeremiah Sullivan (Pulphead). Also sketches of America and beyond by the likes of people with long-familiar names like McMurtry (Roads) and Vonnegut (While Mortals Sleep) and Vidal (Clouds and Eclipses); David Byrne, too, of all people: the Bicycle Diaries wasn't half bad.
I read Grant Petersen's Just Ride and Eben “Bike Snob” Weiss's first book. (His second has yet to appear at the local library). Both were good, in fact, Just Ride was better than good, in a simple instructional-manual kind of way. David Byrne's book had even less to do with bicycles than the Trailer Park Cyclist, but like here, bikes are in there, if you look hard enough.
Also: I finally got around to reading Cross Creek by Marjory Kinnan Rawlings. It was a knockout and I am glad I waited, it is a delight to read stuff you already knew about but thought you wouldn't like. I first found Hemingway in just such a fashion; which is funny. (I re-read The Sun Also Rises and forgot how good he was at twenty six. The scene when a drunk Bill Gorton first arrives in Paris is just...well, I can't write like that. Obviously.
No reading jag is complete without some Faulkner (Absolom, Absolom!), Oakley Hall (Apache), Tom Pynchon (The Crying of Lot 49); John D. MacDonald (Cinnamon Skin); I am sure that you know about the Travis McGee series...but how about Tim Dorsey? His Serge Storm character, a kind of bizarro Travis McGee, is mandatory midnight maintenance reading for any Floridian worthy of the name. I just read Dorsey's latest, The Riptide Ultraglide. Eben Weiss, I think, could crank out madcap stories like Tim Dorsey does, should the Snob ever shed his snark skin and spread his wings. Do snarks have wings? Probably not in the cocoon stage, but later...
Adventure and History and Peanuts
There were more. A book about a lady who throws away her “normal” life to row a little boat across a big ocean (Rowing the Atlantic, Roz Savage); I read some stuff about life and art by Charles Schulz (My Life With Charlie Brown), and...well, there were a lot more. A lot more books. I read a lot of Florida history. I read books about prehistoric indians and not so prehistoric Indians, there are stories of the "Weird Florida" variety and of course tales of sunken treasure and mysterious fountains and on and on...but the books I mentioned above I would recommend to anyone.
Midnight Bike Repair
I got that glitchy wheel off the bike, I pulled it apart, cleaned things up a little and packed everything back together with some nice clean lithium grease. It was well after midnight when I finished and cleaned everything up, everything that I was able to clean up. There is a lot of clean-up needed, I think; it will take time though and more than a little money that I don't have, yet. Not yet. But for now the library is free and full of books. The library is free and it is a perfect little three mile bicycle ride from my front porch.
I have time to read and ride my bicycle and that is what I am doing. There is clean-up and fix-it to do, but not yet. Soon.
Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Reading Room