Me And The Bike Lock
By Austin “’Sauce” Brookner © Copyright October 14, 2020. All rights reserved.
It spoke to me as no other inanimate object ever had. The autumnal winds gently grazed upon my cheek signaling the death of one season and the birth of another. We had just climbed a summit together. I pulled it with me as a boy pulls his wagon, a weight not of burden but with the pride of newfound responsibility. It needed me. And I needed it in order to feel needed.
I was born in this season of amber and fire leaves. The cool air felt clean. I had descended upon the avenues as my forbearers had a century earlier with the same hopes and the same desirous newfound promise of fortune. For that which is new brings forth that which is unknown and allows for one to imagine and wield their imagination to make a match from whatever dreams are internally kept with the air and the avenues that are breathed and walked. Time serves to elucidate the realness of the avenues, and the sameness of the air from which they left, and it abolishes such flights of fancy that my mind had taken to indulge in. But for the moment time was on my side.
My friend had left me the keys to his apartment, as he would be away traveling for a work assignment for the next several months. He showed me the ins and outs and minor eccentricities that come standard with any New York City apartment. Sometimes you’ve got to push the front door a little in before pulling it open, a few of the stove burners don’t work, small things. But then came the major obstacle. And that’s when we first locked eyes and I first beheld its entwined blue and black, black and blue, like a mother and its baby cub curled in dormant slumber or a diamondback’s markings.
‘It was on its last legs,’ my friend told me. It had nearly come apart on him once and he had to perform emergency streetside surgery to keep it alive. There were now three separate units to the instrument. One had to master the order of how each unit needed to be put together and enlaced for locking or strewn apart for deliverance in order to make the instrument sing or be rendered mute. The nod of my head as he explained the operation belied the confusion and trepidation I felt at trying the procedure myself.
The truth was I never thought I would be able to master the instrument. I thought it would forever be the master of me. My own personal Mt. Everest that I would never reign over but rather kneel before in deference. Surely it had seen more in its years than I had, had many a Chinaman and China woman perform their Chinese arithmetic that made its making, had seen neighborhoods I had never known existed, ascended to velocities I would never reach, and hung from poles I would never accidentally bump my abdomen into while lackadaisically strolling unaware of my surroundings. However you sliced it it had me beat.
But I had gumption. People always told me so. My nickname ‘Saucetin had not descended upon me from nothing. It was true that I had a propensity towards taking a nighttime nip from time to time. But I liked to believe the name came from more than mere drunkenness. I believed it came from my no nonsense attitude and my ever enduring will, that when put to the test never buckled from difficulty, pressure or confrontation if that was what was required. When push came to shove I was not to be pushed or shoved. For I would be the one doing the pushing and shoving or the one who when provoked pushed back and shoved back even harder.
But this was a horse of a different feather. A beast without a name. The black and blue, blue and black, beckoning me forward and simultaneously cautioning me to stay away lest I be willing to enter nightmares and hells I had never known existed. I gave the beast a name. It deserved as much and far greater than the nomenclature I would give. But all I could give was a name. And so it was that this glorious beast of celestial blue and phantom black came to be known as Joe’s Bike Lock.
I tried and I failed. I tried again and I failed again. And so it went. Time and again for days and weeks. Every day I tried anew. Every day I failed in a new way. I told myself if I didn’t get the hang of it by my birthday then to heck with the whole deal. I took a break from the beast of new name. There were other matters at hand – my thirtieth birthday party – otherwise known as “the big three O.”
There really wasn’t much planning involved for the party. Just a stroll through the neighborhood to pick out a few prospective venues. Asked my buddies for their input and with ease we settled on the one with the outdoor patio for smoking and roomiest inside bar for drinking. The real planning was what tie, shirt and jacket I would wear. I always liked the color blue. And since the only good jacket I owned was blue, I also picked a blue colored tie to go with it. For a moment the color made me think of that beast of new name that was unconquerable. Just as quickly as the thought came to me I pushed it out of my mind. One thing at a time. Crawl before walking. Climb hills before mountains.
I picked out my blue braces which was an easy pick as I only owned one pair of braces. I would wear my black pants of woven wool, another easy choice as it was the only trousers of good fabric and proper length that I owned. My white shirt of Alumo Swiss Cotton, also the only good shirt I owned, chosen because white can go with anything. There I was. Bobo in the flesh. White shirt, blue tie, blue sharkskin jacket, black wool pants, blue braces, Swiss Alumo cotton under-britches of light blue and certified one hundred percent sea island cotton black chaffon socks. Yes, Bobo would’ve approved.
I turned my attention to the invitation list after I placed my birthday outfit neatly back in the closet. That was a breeze as I only had a dozen or so friends, and among those dozen only a few were actually friends. The rest were acquaintances. I told them to bring whomever they wanted – girlfriends, wives, lovers, pals, such as it was.
With that task out of the way I could turn my attention toward something bigger. I had a full week until Saturday, the date of my birthday party. In this week I would slave at the altar of the beast until I wielded it to do my bidding.
I couldn’t believe it. Saturday had come. The afternoon blue skies were tumbling to a darker dawn and I still had not unlocked the mystery. I left the apartment and went for a walk down the streets and avenues that were becoming less strange on my feet. Underneath a dimly lit streetlamp lied a little translucent plastic bag. My curiosity was peaked. I knelt down to give it closer inspection. Inside was a powder of cloud white. I picked it up not quite believing the fullness of the bag that I held in my hand and not quite believing the contents of it. I looked around as though someone else had found my treasure before I had and was just playing a trick on me. But it was no trick. It was mine. All mine. My pace hastened back to the apartment. I felt like Christmas.
I opened a bottle of cheap red wine and tore the wrapping from a fresh pack of cigarettes. I ingested the cloud white powdered contests of the bag from the not so strange street through one nostril and then ingested more into the other. Then I did it again. And once more for good measure. And then another time after that.
“How’s about a smoke,” I said to myself. Don’t mind if I do. “How’s about a drink of healthy proportion to good with that smoke, ol’ Saucetin ol’ boy.” Well now that’ssome mighty fine thinking you’ve done there. Couldn’t’ve said it better myself.
It had turned dark outside the window. I was afraid to check the clock. I didn’t want to know the time for fear that it would strike reality into my carefree gaze. Then the burden of seeing people and making forced conversation and communication with known and unknown faces, forcefully gathered under contrived circumstances awoke my nerves I became agitated and uncomfortable. Was not everyday a birthday for a wise man?
With dread I looked at the clock. It was seven-thirty. Why – I had plenty of time. There was no need to fear or fret. Just as it had been when I landed in my newfound land in the sunset of summertime, time was on my side. Why be nervous? The night was always a time for secret jubilation, lasciviousness and adrenaline. I may have been born in the morning but it was in the night that I lived. And besides, I was going to be the sharpest dressed cat on the block or for any block miles around.
I dressed and beheld myself in the mirror. Black, white and blue. Careful – I almost thought of – no let’s not spoil such splendor with thoughts of agitation and frustration. Forget such nonsense. I looked at the clock again. Nine ‘o’ clock. Better not be late to one’s own party.
I sat there in the outdoor patio alone. I felt self-possessed. It was a rare feeling that came infrequently. Perhaps only a few times a year if I was lucky. When one wants for nothing and feels no need to do or say anything – complete comfort in one’s own skin and one’s own silence. It was as though I was speaking directly to the gods and spirits of the wind and air with my silence and to utter words would be fatuous. And then she came and ruined my moment of transcendence.
Words, words and more meaningless trivial words were exchanged. She touched my arm. Then she touched my thigh. I knew my company was sure to arrive soon but I hoped I had a little time before they would. Me and the nameless blonde haired girl with cigarette and liquored breath mashed our lips together and prodded each other’s tongues. It was fun. It kept people away from us. It was better than hearing her talk.
Then my company arrived. ‘Who was this?’ my friends wanted to know, that was draped over my arm and my lap. If she had given me her name I didn’t recall. I let her introduce herself. The night wore on and she became a nuisance. That conversation I had with the winds and the air in silence was a forgotten memory and was as though it happened in another age in another land. The age and land I was now in was the one of human flesh and it’s stink of booze and cigarettes and meaningless talk of nothing but that which gets in the way of such beautiful silent talks with the spirits of oneself. She was tired. She wanted to go home. She wanted me to take her there.
I left my own party and found myself on top of her naked torso kissing her as she unbuttoned my pants. The rest was a blur of humping and thumping and grinding and screwing and fingers exploring and hoping she didn’t expect me to hang around all night in her room of messy clothing. I still had the obligations of a good host to perform.
Night became day. I slept well. I awoke with the smell of the flesh between female thighs on my fingers which indicated that, yes, I did fornicate the night before. I had also finished the bottle of cheap red wine. The pack of cigarettes, on the other hand, was new. I must have bought an extra one the night before. Flashes of blonde hair and naked mid riffs and hands amidst another’s jeans came before me as I drank my coffee and smoked my smoke. Every day a birthday for a wise man. The day erased the secrets of the night and did not so much as pass judgment upon them but rendered them innocuous. In that manner I at times despised the sun.
I loved life. I wanted more of it. I had the feeling that it was hiding from me. Wherever I looked I didn’t find it. I found streets that were becoming familiar. They seemed to be growing as tired of me as I was of them. Bars and restaurants that were once curiosities to me as to what they might be like inside all became one and the same; the same bar with the same people with the same conversations and the same tired noises blasting from the same tired speakers and the same tired televisions with the same tired faces and the same tired noises coming from their heads on the TV as from the damn speakers and I wanted nothing to do with any of it and loathed myself for being amongst it. Where was that spirit of promise that I shared with my ancestors? Where was that spirit of possibility and rebirth? Or even the excitements to be found in the dark of night? The night came and all I saw were the sameness within them.
I was asked to open for my friend’s record release party. I was honored he asked and looked forward to it. I hadn’t performed in front of an audience in at least two years if not more. I hadn’t sung or pressed the piano keys in months. It gave me something to do and focus on. I worked up ten songs figuring I would just wing it and have more than enough material to pull from when onstage.
I never planned the order of the songs out too carefully. I would always feel the room and instinctively know which song to start with and then which to play next. Only go to the slow number after a string of fast paced ones, or when it appears unexpected, or strike precisely so that when the slow number does come the audience recognizes that they had been waiting for it and hadn’t even realized it until I started playing. I was never a virtuosic musician but I always knew how to work a crowd. I was alert when on stage, playful, and enjoyed the anonymity of it – the performer who enters and leaves and is not expected to interact in any other way. It was my preferred method of human communication. I never felt totally comfortable interacting with my kind in other social settings. But on stage there were moments when I did.
My brief set ended. My friend’s band kicked in. There was a good crowd. Packed to the brim. All I noticed were couples. I felt alone. I left and began to scour the night for flesh.
I walked past and peered into the window of a bar and saw the profile of a blonde that enticed me. I kept walking to the next bar. I saw no such enticement there. I turned around and entered the first bar and sat across from the provocative blonde so that we could lock eyes if need be.
I drank and said nothing. She drank and talked to people but she was not sitting in the company of anyone. I made some remark aloud. All the patrons looked at me as though they did not want to be of my company or were afraid. The blonde giggled to herself. This was a good thing. I became emboldened but did not show my hand. I said a few more playful remarks aloud to the crowd and she took notice of me. She looked at me and did not look away, as the others had, but made small smiles underneath her chin. This was an even better thing.
Then I played it cool. I retreated into my drink and into myself. I thought not of her and did not once look in her direction. I went outside for a smoke without the smallest of gestures her way. For all she knew I was not coming back. I hung around outside leisurely. People outside were talking of stupid things. Some were talking of politics and some were talking of other nonsense. I looked upon them scorn. Why must my ears be infected with such drivel? I flicked my cigarette to the curb wishing I could flick the driveling talkers just as easily as my butt into the fucking gutter.
When I returned I sat in the chair right next to the blonde. I spoke directly to her. She spoke directly back in a humble, slightly protective cadence but with an allegro energy that indicated she wanted to talk. She showed manners and a proper upbringing. She was polite, not overtly flirtatious. She was the other side of blonde than the previous one. These were the only two types I ever got on with, it seemed - the tigress and the lamb. But there are no lambs. For none are truly innocent. And this one was only pretending to be. I knew it. And she knew it too. She knew why I continued to talk with her. And she knew why she allowed herself to continue to be spoken to.
The following day I lay on the couch with my pants around my ankles and my erection high and mighty in the open air as her delicate head bobbed rhythmically atop my phallus. I wanted for nothing. I looked out the window and could see into the city from which I was born. I wanted nothing to do with it. I had her head giving fellatio and I worried not for if she were to spend the night. Her skin was porcelain and I could not help running my hands along her back to the nape of her neck and then dropping it to outline the surface of her buttocks and then back up again to run her hair over her ears. My hips jerked spastically as I spit my scum into her mouth that expanded as she engorged and ingested my swimmers. I wanted her to stay in my bed and did not want her to leave.
She spent the night and left in the morning but said she would return later that evening. I knew not if she would be true to her word and if I would see her again. But returning home on the train the thought that this buxom blonde beauty with the loose librarian look awaited me – one I enjoyed kissing as much as watching her head bob in my lap – filled me with calm vitality.
She did return that evening just as she said she would. She had an orgasm in my bed and said it was a good one. It appeared to me she was speaking honestly. She said it with surprise in her tone, as though she couldn’t quite believe how hard she came. I noticed that if a girl was chatty after her orgasm it was a small one whereas if she fell quiet with scrambled exhaustion then I had done a good job. My blonde was silent that night. I held her as though we were one in the same and our union was destined in the stars.
But this union with the loose librarian blonde beauty was destined to be brief and was ultimately doomed, as all of our destinies in the end are. I was left with loneliness and heartache. Our affair was a false positive.
As the weeks passed I watched lots of lousy episodicals on television and did not engage with the outside world. I contemplated how little I had in common with my species and how little in common I wished to have with them. Then I saw those entwined colors of my soul peeking from beyond the room. How my attention had been diverted. It was less than a month now before my friend would return and soon the weather would turn. The pressure was on. I had neglected my number one duty. This was not a job. There was no pay involved. There was payment but not of a monetary nature. The bike lock and me had unfinished business.
What if I put this one in first…and then…nope. Darn. Okay now. Dont lose youre cool. Try again. First the big, then the medium…that’s not it either. Hold, on. There must be a way. Joe showed you how. It wasn’t magic. He did it, you can do it. But Joe’s a man’s man. Youre a thin weakling who wouldn’t know his way around a toolbox any better than that phony baloney Bruce Springsteen. Working man – yeah right – if someone passed him a shovel he wouldn’t know which end of it to use. Oh shut up, you. I’m trying to concentrate. Yes – Yes – YES – OH – ah man I was so close! What did I do wrong this time?! I coulda sworn…wait…maybe it was because I didn’t – yea – that must be it. I didn’t put the ring over it first and then put the key in. OK. Let’s try. Big. Small. Outside ring. Hold tight, pull in the medium, then drop in the key and – yes – YES – IS IT STAYING? IT IS GOSH DARN IT! I GOT IT! FINALLY! FORGET THE BLONDES, THIS IS BLISS! Oh why do I gotta be thinking about chicks at a time like this. Let’s not spoil the moment. Savor it. You worked for this. Not them. Go out and ride. Ride baby wherever the heck you want to go!
And ride I did. Hither and yon. Through neighborhoods I had never been. Streets I had never known. I flew threw them and swerved through traffic and passed red lights and went down the wrong side of roads. I had the lock down where it wasn’t quite second nature but I wasn’t concerned about not being able to get it either. I knew now if I came to a hitch exactly what I mustve done wrong and how to correct it. I didn’t always get it on the first try but I was getting closer and closer.
The air was getting colder and my favorite season was signaling it was on its waning half. But the motion and speed of the bike kept me warm and invigorated. I decided to join a gym. Not the one a block away with a pool that cost a lot of money. But the cheap one that was far away that I had to bike to. I got exercise going there, exercise when I was there, and more exercise on the way home, as it was uphill on the way back.
There was the big hill in a nearby park. I felt strong. I felt ready to tackle it. My revolutions became slower and slower, the lock was dangling and clanging with a rickety patter, and I didn’t think I could do it, but I pressed upon, and then I stopped. I simply stopped going forward and could not press further. I walked the bike the rest of the way to the summit of the hill and sat on a bench and looked down upon the neighborhood with its long avenues and bars and tenements. A group came upon me to me right for a coordinated yoga thing. It was clear they were strangers because they asked one another, “Are you here for the (so and so)?” Then they’d introduce themselves to each other. They were fools, forcing themselves into the pretense of communion. I had found real communion. Me and the bike lock sat together in oneness with the winds and the schemes of things that could be done, that I could make happen. It was all for me in my one and only life. I did my best to ignore their presence.
I had a message from the loose librarian blonde. I hadn’t heard a response from her in over a week and assumed that I wouldn’t. No she was not able to meet me in the near future she said, as she was busy and consumed with work, but perhaps in several weeks’ time or the following month she might be free. I dismissed the message and thought not of it and the pains it would bring. I did not want my mind twisted and obsessed with desire and longing and sexual need. It would distract me from what little there was left in the autumn air and of my stay in this borrowed Brooklyn neighborhood of mine.
I flew downhill all the way to the gym and with alacrity fixed the bike lock around the bike and to the pole. A Ford Silverado pulled up right next to me as I finished locking the bike. There was a raucous coming from inside the truck and a boisterous bearded man in a hat with grease marks around his chin came out of the front door.
I did my gym routine. The same routine I had done for over a decade. My college roommate from California taught it to me as it was taught to him from his soccer team. I still do it to this day the exact same way I did it then. I do not do with as heavy weights, and am worn out by the end whereas I didn’t used to be, but I do it the same nonetheless. I had not heard from my kicking college roommate for a long time.
He once wrote me lovely letter one summer while we were on break explaining what a dear friend I was and how highly he thought of me. It was one of the most beautiful things anybody had ever given me. I don’t think the significance of his gesture was fully appreciated by me as much at the time as it was to me now. Back then people mattered. Friendships with people were what sustained you. Not their Instagram posts. That was how we communicated – from one heart to another – and it meant something. The remembrance of his letter stayed with me for over a decade to my current state and would likely be remembered until my death. How long do people remember an Instagram post for? What can you give with that?
I came out of the gym and put the key in the lock and tugged it apart. Pieces of black and blue plastic flew onto the concrete street and underneath the tires of the Ford truck that was parked on the curb. I raced to pick up the loose pieces from the ground but knew my efforts to be fruitless. It had come apart again and this time for good. I tried putting it back together the way I had figured out that it went. But it never held. The integral ingredients from its insides had been lost and severed. There was nothing left to be done but ride back home and leave the bike in its place in the living room.
I told my friend when he came back that I broke his bike lock. He told me not to worry about it, that it didn’t matter, and that is was nearly broken when he left it anyway. He was a stand up guy made of gentlemanly kindness and it didn’t surprise me he would react sympathetically and do what he could do to assuage my feelings of guilt. While I did not have many friends, I prided myself on the fact that the few ones I did have were good, true friends that I could count upon and whom I believe knew they could count upon me. My friend with the broken bike lock was certainly among them. I gave him the keys to his apartment and left the neighborhood and went back to whatever you wanted to call was my life.
As the pieces of the bike lock had scattered between the street and the Ford tires so too were the pieces of my soul left buried under the cement and the curbs. I was not embraced. I was cast aside. But I loved every second.