Huntress of the Lens


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bicycle Men

There is a certain kind of guy in my town, who I see all over. He's on every street. His details vary a bit, sometimes he pulls a little trailer meant for one or two children behind his bicycle, sometimes not. Sometimes he balances an amazingly large plastic trash bag of aluminum cans on his handlebars, sometimes his little trailer is homemade and isn't recycled from some of the belongings of a couple that thought pulling their children down the road behind them through traffic was a good idea. He usually wears a frayed, plaid, quilted jacket, no matter the weather. Somewhere on his self-propelled vehicle you'll see that he has all or most of his belongings with him. 

His jeans are a web of dirty cotton threads at the heels, missing fabric at the knees. He often has a backpack to match the outfit. He is always in motion, going somewhere, on the move. You'll see him standing still when a police officer wants to ask him a question, and I always think wouldn't it be funny if the cop hit that distinctive blast on the siren, the one that lets you know it's your turn this time, just to say "Hey buddy, come over here. Do you know what year the Normans conquered England? I can never remember if it's 1055 or 1066." I doubt that's what they're talking about, but I like to imagine it. 

He never has all of his teeth, and always has a scruff of facial hair. Not always a full beard, but the remnants of a shave that say "I am able to groom myself, just not recently." Sometimes he favors the really high ape-hanger handlebars for his bike, and once I saw a guy with a black cat that rode on his shoulders. That cat's entire life and home was on top of his man. I haven't seen that particular man with his cat for a long time now.  This man is everywhere here. 

Sometimes he still has an old truck with a camper shell that was never meant to match it, and many repairs and reinforcements have been done with duct tape. Through whichever windows haven't been replaced with plywood or cardboard you can see that it's  full to the top with belongings. Items. Stuff. This is property ownership for this guy. Sometimes you see him at an NA meeting once or twice, or once in a while, and in rare cases you see him come back many many times and hear that he's got three years clean and just married one of the prettiest girls in the program.

I've seen his female counterpart, in the evening, only out after dark. Where does she go during the day? She wears the same fashion style that didn't really look that good in decades gone by, and her clothes don't really fit her now. She has a thing for cleavage or bare midriff, even though both are sad and shouldn't be seeing any light, even the artificial yellow cast of the bar lamp. I don't see her riding the bicycle, she goes to ground during the day. She and all of her sisters have the same sunken cheeks, the similar facial features that make them look like they are all from one family. All of them, the men and the women look as if they are from one extended gene pool. And they are all approximately my age.

This is the part that worries and wonders me, what it is that happened to the people of my generation. Lately people have been posting yearbook pages, or pictures from softball events, or team shots, or just random shots of my classmates sitting around in our feathered hair and our Ditto pants, carrying our stamped leather purses. We all looked as young and full of promise as the kids of today do, with fresh skin and all of our teeth.

It's not all of us, my generation, class of '78 that ended up on bicycles. Many of us did the smart thing and went to college, or did other things that led to success and families and ever-increasing affluence. These are not the nationwide classmates I'm speaking of. I'm talking about the aluminum gathering, copper stealing, bike riding, drug-addicted rest of my generation that seem to be everywhere, at least in this town. I see us riding bikes all over, and in the off chance that I'm in a bar for some reason that doesn't include drinking and I see my sisters I wonder what happened to us in such great numbers. 

I was driving and talking to my son Paul the other day after passing one too many of the bike men and I asked him "What do you think happened to us, do you know that many of these guys are actually younger than I am?" He said "Well, your generation was kind of famous for experimenting with drugs..." and we were. We were garbage cans. We would smoke anything, snort anything, swallow any pill without asking what it was. Eventually I think as a whole generation we found and settled on methamphetamine, because it was relatively cheap and readily found. Meth is what happened to us.

I hate it when people throw around percentages as though they've read more than one set of data to back it up. Michael does this all the time. It's one of the things that I don't find cutely endearing, but love about him anyway because he's just making a point and I love him always, no matter what. I'm going to do that very thing myself now: I have heard that only 2% of all people who become addicted to methamphetamine are able to stop using it for sustained periods of time. Holly and I tried to figure out just when we quit together. Our best guess is that it's been almost 18 years now. I'm going to call that sustained. Michael likes to say that for every addict that comes to the rooms hundreds or thousands die without even sitting in one of the chairs. For every addict that truly finds recovery there are hundreds or thousands that die without ever finding freedom from their addiction. So many of these  people who are dying are my age. Meth is culling my demographic.

When I see the guy on the bike, I say "Thank you God." for myself, and "Go with God." for him. It's never too late for someone to find freedom from active addiction, but it is always too late for someone who isn't seeking it. I wonder how many people who smile from the pages of my yearbook are dead now, and how many were chewed and swallowed by the jaws of addiction? I have no way to gather this data, but if you're my age I bet you know at least one person who was taken out by drugs or alcohol in one way or another, don't you? We all worry about chemical warfare, and yet we wage it on ourselves daily. 

If you've never tried a drug, or just experimented in high school before growing up and knocking off that nonsense as you began your adult life then of course I don't write to you. If you have a glass of wine with dinner, or like to go out for a few beers with your friends now and then, you can count yourself out of the "we" and "us" that I write of here. But what about your brother, your sister, your uncle, your friend from long ago? Don't you know at least one of us? We're everywhere, and only a very few of us ever get a chance to gain our freedom and park our bicycles for good.

If you secretly (or not so secretly) struggle with any kind of addiction I am no expert on anything at all, but I've learned some things, and found my freedom. Write me a private message and I'll tell you where I went to find my life, just waiting to be lived. There is a whole family of people much wiser than I just waiting for you to come in from the lonely and find the same freedom for yourself.

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