Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Thinker - A Novel (Chapter 1 Part 3) Bike Ride

I WOKE UP AROUND TEN-THIRTY IN THE MORNING. Being a natural night owl, I knew a pattern was slowly developing. Each day I’d wake up a little bit later than the previous day and would eventually be getting up at three in the afternoon and going to bed at seven AM. I didn’t want to let myself get that bad. Not for a while at least. I made myself breakfast, using the last egg that had probably been sitting in my fridge for a few weeks and some Italian sausages that probably weren’t much younger. I put some frozen waffles in the toaster and sliced up an avocado to add something a bit more healthy in the mix. As I sat and ate I watched the day’s news on TV and contemplated what I was going to do that day. Thoughts of work and getting fired were quickly fading away. Two days unemployed and I was nearing that point where I couldn’t give a shit anymore. My morale was quite high. I was excited about this journey and where it would take me.
     Since the weather was so nice and it was midsummer I decided that a bike ride was in store. I had an old red Raleigh mountain bike that was nearing its death but still ran decently. I greased the chain up with some WD40, pumped up the tires, put on my shades and my old cabbie hat and took off out into the summer sun. I lived in Queens but I had Brooklyn on my mind for some reason, and so Brooklyn it was.
     It felt so strange being out in the middle of the day on a weekday. It had been so long since I saw the city it this day and hour. The streets were lively and filled with people. Kids were out playing in the playground sprinklers; old men were playing bocce in the park; beautiful young women were walking their dogs. And all of this went on every day when I was slaving away at work. I crossed the John Jay Byrne bridge from Queens into Brooklyn. It goes right through that big industrial area bisected by Newtown creek. I headed south towards Williamsburg, hipster central. It was a favorite party area for me and my friends due to all the twenty-something girls and the abundance of bars. In the daylight it almost seemed like a sleepy neighborhood, far from its nighttime alter ego. I remember when the so-called “hipster” culture exploded in New York back in 2001. The Strokes had come out and reinvigorated indie rock and set off a new culture trend. They brought skinny jeans and mop-tops back. It slowly put a death curse on the angry rap metal that had permeated the culture for years up until that point. I was glad to see rap metal and nu-metal die. I never felt acquainted with its brashness and angry vitriolic lyrics and sound.
     Even in my teen years my musical tastes were eclectic. When I first got into hard rock and heavy metal after having grown up on hip hop, I began tracing its roots back to the source. I had gotten passed Nirvana and made my way back to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, who are regarded as the founding fathers of heavy metal. I didn’t stop there. I went back further, getting into Cream, Hendrix, the Doors, and the Beatles. I eventually found my way to the blues where I suppose you can say it all began. And when I got there I strangely felt like I had gotten home. I was a blues man at heart all this time and I hadn’t known it.
     So when the “hipster” culture emerged I felt right at home. Retro was in. Suddenly I felt like the culture around me was conforming to my own personal likes. It grew and grew from a subculture mostly centered around the East Village back in the early 2000s to a full-fledged cultural phenomenon. Now it had gone mainstream, and once that happened to a culture it was all over. When suburban douchebags started wearing vintage clothes and skinny jeans, hipsterdom was dead, it seemed. I remember the same thing happened to hip hop. Even though I’m technically a “millennial” I’m just old enough to remember a time when hip hop was still to a large extent a New York thing; it was a cultural identity, something fresh, something white kids in Alabama didn’t listen to—or understand. It had the feeling that it was our music as New Yorkers—our language, something we could claim as our own culture. But then it got popular and everyone started listening to it, and that ruined this sense of ownership and identity.
     But as I rode through Williamsburg on that sunny August day "hipster" culture seemed alive and well. I decided to head over the Williamsburg Bridge into the city. The view is always amazing. What a spectacle I remember thinking being able to enjoy such a moment. Life doesn’t often allow one to have such an exhilaration of freedom where you can actually enjoy it without the menace of impending obligations to have to worry about—like work. I wasn’t at all worried about finding another job. In fact, the last thing on my mind was finding work. I had always been somewhat of a saver. I had enough money saved up to survive for months, even without unemployment. In the back of my head that prevented me from having any thoughts about finding work and going on job interviews. I was going to dedicate the rest of the summer to me. And to finding my inner Zen—whatever the hell that was.
     I made my way over into Manhattan. I loved the hustle and bustle of the city, but biking on its streets was sometimes nerve-racking. I turned north up through the Lower East Side and on up into the East Village taking the side streets. I remember how the neighborhood changed since the early nineties. It was no longer the edgy epicenter of burgeoning avant-garde subcultures. That had moved across the river into Brooklyn in the 2000s. Now the East Village and Lower East Side had turned into yuppie enclaves, and many of the New Yorkers like me who remembered the way it used to be were less than happy about this transition. Gone were most of the vintage clothing stores, replaced by upscale boutiques and commercialized chain stores. The whole neighborhood had been marketed as the hip, edgy, artistic downtown New York of the Warhol era, and in doing so money and investment poured in and the rents skyrocketed. The artists had to flee to cheaper neighborhoods, but also many of the working class families not protected by rent-control laws. The bankers and trust fund kids moved in, and with them came the neighborhood's cultural decline.
     I can still remember as a kid that there were burnt out buildings all up and down East Fourteenth Street back in the 90s. They had long since been demolished or renovated. The nabe had become normalized and started resembling the Upper East Side. It still retained its nightlife however. But I remember how different it used to be visiting the area in my early teens when my dad used to live on East Thirteenth Street in his tiny little pre-war railroad apartment that never saw the light of day. This all, I suppose, was the natural evolution of market capitalism. Urban renewal came with a price. And that price, it seemed, was the extinction of the working class people who lived and worked in its neighborhoods and the artists and eccentrics that made it interesting.

     I needed a break because my legs were killing me. It'd been a long time since I'd been on such an enduring bike ride. So I grabbed a bite to eat and splurged on two slices of good ’ol New York Pizza. Afterwards, for some reason I decided to ride over to the West Side and headed crosstown over to the Hudson river. The sun still was a few hours away from setting but the sky was already turning that hazy shade of orange and was magnified by the cirrus clouds on the horizon. I made it to the water’s edge and dismounted my bike. They had put a bike and jogging path up along the river many years ago that was quite nice. I sat at a bench and watched the water as the occasional biker and jogger passed by behind me. The thousands of tiny sparkles from the sun that reflected on the water nearly blinded me for a moment. A giant cruise ship went by on the river, probably headed to the Bahamas. Its mast must have been at least fifteen stories high. I rested for about a half hour thinking about life. Just as I got comfortable and thought I was going to have a day alone to myself my phone rang. It was Steve, my friend from college who would always call me out of the blue. We hadn’t hung out in some time.
     “Hey, how you been man? I haven’t talked to you in a long time.”
     “Yeah I know. It’s been a couple months.”
     “What are you doing?”
     “I’m biking in the city now.”
     “Oh really? Wow. I’m getting off work early today and you know I wanted to go have a drink. What do you say?”
     “The thing is, I got my bike and I’m in the city. Where did you have in mind?”
     “Ahh! I told you I’m in the city, it’s gonna be a bitch for me to get there right now. Come meet me here. We’ll hit a bar in Midtown or some place in the city. Where do you work again?”
     “I’m by thirty-fourth and eighth.”
     “Alright. I’m not that far away. I’m by the West Side. I can be there in twenty-five minutes.”
     “Oh awesome man.”
     Steve was always so over-enthusiastic about everything. I just couldn’t resist the urge to tell him about getting fired.
     “Oh, guess what happened to me?”
      I took a deep breath in an attempt to make it more dramatic than it actually was.
     “I got fired from my job a few days ago.”
     “What? No you didn’t! For real?”
     “Oh yeah. That’s the only reason why I’m even available right now. I’ll tell you all about it later.”
     “Alright man. Holy shit! This is crazy!”
     As I hung up I remembered the joy with which I no longer had to slave away in an office all day like my friends still had to. I got on my bike and headed uptown to go meet Steve.

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