Posts Tagged ‘isolation’

Cycling through Four Exfoliations

January 8, 2021


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(dedicated to all bike mechanics everywhere and at all times)

ex·fo·li·ate v.tr.
to remove or shed (a layer of skin or bark)

So far in my life, as of the writing of this short story, I have completely exfoliated four times by riding a bicycle long distances.

The skin or bark that I shed each time and with each push of the pedals, was the hardened, calloused, persona that formed as I lived through the smoggiest and most acid-rained-on parts of my life. And like a snake or caterpillar, the result is a fresh perception with which to build on. A shiny new outlook and worldview. A new skin (or bark).

Exfoliation 1. Steel City Puberty

The first life-saving exfoliation took place when I hit puberty at 12. After spending 6 years alone and friendless in a sprawled out subdivision isolated from people or interesting activities, I was finally allowed to bike far enough to get myself friends when I turned twelve! The two best friends that I made in the first year of bike freedom lived 6 km and 10 km away.

Most kids didn’t bike very much in Steel City. The TV was there for them, I guess. TV stopped working for me at eight.

I pedaled as carefully as a pre-teen can. As my hardened, alienated skin peeled off, I had to really watch out for cars and trucks as our subdivision was located right next to a busy highway interchange. I still can’t believe I survived all the almost-collisions and near-misses. But I did.

I was a new fruit in town with… FRIENDS!

Exfoliation 2. Back to Steel City

Leaving Steel City for a few years to study abroad, I returned broke and feeling like a failure, finding myself back at the house that I biked away from so many times. Unloved and with no real reason to be there, and carrying all the existential angst of a young adult who can’t seem to grow up and leave home… I was able to steal away almost every nice evening, and do a 16 km loop around Oily Lake.

Narrowly avoiding being hit by impatient truckers and fast-moving suburbanites, I was able to do this loop often enough to make a plan to get a job, save money, and get away again. If I hadn’t biked reguarly during this period, I probably wouldn’t be here today.

And with the terrible bike infrastructure and total absence of bike culture in Steel City, I could have disappeared under a vehicle’s wheels during this period. But I didn’t. Perhaps the danger of almost being killed every ride made me appreciate being alive more. Gave me enough appreciation for life that I got focussed.

I was an organized fruit now, with PLANS!

Exfoliation 3. Post-Steel City Stress Disorder

A few years after relocating to a big city where I knew no one and nothing, I started to experience the aching crisis of panic attacks – a daily horror of heart-attack-like sensations, insomnia, and the budding of social neuroses.

Doctors and Psychologists try to help with words, therapies, advice, and a few happy pills. But none of it really works. There is a deep malaise in my head and these cures just don’t seem to be on the same scale as the terror behind the attacks.

But I find a way to control them in the evenings. Bike rides. Long, four-hour bike rides through parks, along canals, and up mountains. Though the panic still lingers, I am finally able to sleep well. And this leads to a cascading of positive improvements that leads to the disappearance of panic attacks within four years.

I was a more cautious fruit now with… SELF ESTEEM!

Exfoliation 4. Collapse of Capitalism

When I was in my middle ages, the stock market crashed for the fourth time in my life. I was in Spain at the time on vacation, and had to return immediately on the first plane because of what media was calling an “epidemic.”

Arriving in my city apartment, everything had been rebranded as diseased. And because of this, our ability to move around, work at your job, or see friends were all limited in order to save lives. Sit still in a house and save lives.

I always suspect things, and I suspected throughout the pandemic that the real reason for the repressive and anti-social measures wasn’t to save lives through distancing, but rather to save capitalism through lies. It wouldn’t be the first time. Our country was built on the lies of capitalism after all. Less informed people don’t know this about Steel City’s history, and so they are happier than me all the time. Blissful while wearing surgical masks in their SUVs.

Nonetheless, I went along with the repressive measures, giving my government a chance to prove its case. Or, eventually, to reveal that it had lied for some reason other than to steal from people to keep the financial parasite class well-lubed with everyone’s stolen cash. “Perhaps there is more to this,” I said to myself as I put oil on my bike chain, “Whether it’s real or fake, any crisis can be softened up a bit with aerobics and calcifediol.”

So, I biked long-distance almost every day, worked at physically taxing jobs, and didn’t experience the weight gain and profound existential misery that many of my friends did, and that I could have as well. I actually kept my morale up and my body in great health.

I wonder what kind of skin (or bark) I’ll shed when this is finally over. Maybe it’s everyone’s skin that’s at stake this time.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

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Wallpaper Sample Books

December 20, 2011

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(dedicated to all fathers)

Dad’s store makes me think of vinyl and paper cuts. Only time I’m allowed to go there’s when I have a doctor or dentist appointment. When this happens, I have to wait for a ride home. No choice.

I’m ten and in Grade Five, and just had my first dental fillings. Boy, was I scared. It’s hard to face first-time events like this when you have no older brother or father to say he’s been there. I never know what to expect or how to react.

My old man had all his teeth pulled out in his twenties, but I never heard about why or how. I guess the words got pulled out as well.

So today is the day. Right before I left for my appointment, my mother assured me I’d be fine. Her exact words: “Stop bein’ such a jeezus sissy!” Then she growled at me like a tiger to give me cat-like encouragement.

Just before filling my teeth with hot lead, the dentist snarled at me and called me a baby because I cried in pain. Dr. Hickstein’s hands shake like an epileptic seizure and he usually tears my gums to shreds during the freezing-slash-interrogation phase of each appointment. All I remember of him is: “You’re a baby!” *slash!*

So now it’s 1 pm, and I’m injured and weak at my father’s shop, and I start to tell him about the experience. “Shut up and go sit in the front of the store,” he snarkily tells me before I can finish the story. I keep forgetting it’s still World War Two: dental secrets can sink ships.

So, I slowly get up – embarrassed to be treated like a dog in front of human strangers – and sadly limp to the front of the store with my tail between my wegs. This is the farthest part of the store from the office – an outpost, almost in the display window. It’s raining, so no one is walking by.

For the next four hours, I look at wallpaper sample books all by myself: patterns and textures and colors and shapes. I guess I’m supposed to be learning that work is boring and lonely. Only one customer walks in during the whole four hours. As a form of solitary confinement, looking at wallpaper samples for four hours is probably worse than watching TV in a bungalow for the same duration.

Every once in a while I hear my dad laughing along with others coming from the office. I wonder what they’re laughing about? I wonder what subjects the men are talking about? Will I ever know what to say to other guys?

Patterns and textures and colors and shapes.

After a few years of these treasured educational visits to the store’s wallpaper counter, I decide to become a graphic designer whenever I grow up. My father laughs at my first attempt at imagining being a grown up, saying mockingly: “When I was 15, my guidance counselor said I was gonna be a paint and wallpaper salesman.”

The burn of the sarcasm helps me understand my low place in the universe.  I will forever be the Steel City Fruit.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)


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