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Sunday Stories: flat

It was hard work. With flat tires it is as if you are constantly riding into a headwind. Joe also cursed the moment he decided to put on his winter coat. When it’s rainy in October, it isn’t necessarily cold as well. That much he knew now – but now it was too late. He was stuck in his coat. It was raining. Even if it hadn’t rained the coat was too thick to be put away in something; the sleeves were also too thick to allow tying the coat around his waist. So he wasn’t even half way when he noticed that he didn’t just have a flat tire but that he was beginning to sweat profusely. He thought it was pathetic that – well into his 40’s – he had not managed to learn how to properly inflate his tires.

His awkwardness was however not his main concern. He knew that, beyond the next crossroads, his left flank would be at the mercy of wind and rain, because, once there, on his left there would only be the park. After the traffic lights, the sadly impersonal six- and seven-storey buildings for the wealthier public of modern perfectionism would only be to his right. The gusts of wind would come from his left. Joe thought they were strong gusts but that could as well have been a feeling caused by all too flat tires. It was worse than he expected. He felt like he wasn’t making any progress whatsoever. In front of him he saw how a sheer endless piece of sidewalk – clumsily painted in red – tried to make him feel like he was on a real red cycling track.

He had hated parks as long as he could remember.Parks brought to the surface the worst in people and the worst in people didn’t bring a lot of good to Jo’s surface. But all of that was just thought; his aggression trying to find a way out. He was about to explode. Still a long way to go. He steered to his right in an attempt to convince himself of the fact that he was blown there; and that consequently he couldn’t go on. This fact was as much a fact as then is not now and thoughts are anything but observations. Confusion is inevitable, even the rules of reason are rarely transparent. ‘Maybe I need to turn back,’ he thought because for the time being he was still closer to home than he was to his work place. Only half a mile or so separated him from his house where he only had to put the heating back on to remain warm after having taken a refreshing shower. Both his potential left ánd right side would would, moreover, be covered by houses during that complete half a mile. Houses, not buildings. For people – like Joe – who in their imperfection provided entertainment to those who preferred to see their own business as business.

He just needed to take a right here. And then some left and some more right (more right than left) and then take care at the tram tracks (certainly in wet weather conditions) and he would be home before he knew it. Once there he could call in that he was ill and that he just managed to get ‘the little one’ safe to school; that he then noticed that something was wrong (which wasn’t even a lie). He actually was proud to have gotten his youngest son safely at school so this story even helped him share that pride with others thereby arousing in those others a feeling of warm respect that otherwise wouldn’t have been – for what is special about a man delivering his youngest safely to the school premises? Joe had by the way almost not stayed home from work ill this year. Having worked whilst ill had been more of the norm; not as a sacrifice but rather out of a strange sort of guilt, regarding nobody in particular. More for good order. Or maybe because he wasn’t so quickly able to identify something else to do. At any rate because of a personal identity that had formed under social pressure to feel the type of guilt that made him prefer those things that he thought that ‘others’ associated to a good order. This was yet another thing in which he was anything but exceptional.

He was Joe. So he went straight on, even if this time he had a concrete idea of what he could do at home. There was some actual social pressure he had to take into account. It came in the form of responsibilities that he as representative of his department had during an informal visit of the local boss who was merely boss of what happened in the local offices and therefore not even Jo’s boss. Bike after bike passed him as if there was no, or at least very little, actual headwind. He knew he would stink, certainly immediately after taking off his coat when the air, that presently was still captive between shirt and body, would be released slowly and slowly find its way to noses that were not his. Another bike passed making a lot of noise as if it had very little time until its inevitable disintegration. Joe tried to speed up in the illusion that if he would be able to follow this one there would be less air resistance to meet and that this way he would be freed from his present predicament sooner. The biker was a short skirted she probably trying bravely to keep autumn at bay. Following her was also proving to be an illusion which meant he couldn’t even empirically verify his prior illusion.

Even if he wouldn’t have had flat tires and consequently had been able to follow her, it would only have led to observing that he was a dwarf next to her and in every possible way only the half of her. His halfness would have accentuated by the size of their bikes. She might have been riding a nearly broken one, it was normal in size whereas his was an expensive folding bike (which he never folded but always wanted to have because in the presence of folding bikes the existence of non-folding bikes intrigued him). In following her, he would have had to move his legs twice as fast as she would had to. It would have been ridiculous.

Such musings put him beyond his next opportunity to turn right. He was closer to work now than he was to home where there would be silence and he could make any noise he wanted. Straight on was the only option. His mother had baked in him to show respect for the boss, any boss. All this keeping options open was boring anyway as he well knew there were – for him – no options in this case. Still, it took endlessly long before he finally wound up punishing himself by continuing straight to work. He hated this and he hated worrying about the inevitable. Especially hate-worthy was how predictable he was in winding himself up over it. The road was long and that was the problem. Once there, the suffering was over. The whole thing would fall back to the obvious; a matter of social dexterity and the inspiration that always comes when one is not counting on inspiration to come.

“You have to be willing to sacrifice something for it.” was what his mother said. Her husband said the same but she meant it, for almost any conventional substitution for ‘something’ and ‘it’. His mother’s motto relaxed him. Joe was a loser, but not a loser without merits. He was still not making a lot of progress but at least now his head was not slowing down what was already excruciatingly slow. Cycling, like any physical activity, definitely was part of his hate-zone. He wasn’t good at it and he was old enough to have been an asthmatic at a time doctors told asthmatics not to work out. This advise was not based on scientific evidence but on the knowledge that asthmatics die less dramatically when avoiding physical activity. Less dramatic but more pathetic, but doctors are not generally taken to court because there patients live pathetically.

Hatred ran intensively in him. It gave him energy. He was almost there. Too late! The informal breakfast with a local boss would have finished by now. In spite of this, he would present himself at the chosen venue as he was certain there would be at least one laggard against whom he could complain about the formalities of breakfasts with bosses, for instance them always taking place at an hour when most employees were still struggling to decide whether to come in at all. Or at least a laggard who would be able to act as a witness of the fact that Joe finally made it, in sweat and out of breath. Too late – but not without the excuse of having tried everything possible. He knew people would find this endearing and would not even wonder whether it was true or not. These were details, but crucial to limit any damage to the perception that people had of him.

He didn’t go any faster now but time did. This was the best of all possible worlds: arriving too late, with an excuse. There were not going to be any errors made by him in this scenario. This is what he did well and therefore, when needed, liked to do. His only error was to have been thinking outside of that scenario. He was resolutely decided to pump his own tires. He was pretty sure he could convince his wife to go out and buy a bicycle pump, including  giving her the responsibility for knowing how it worked. Then he would do the pumping himself such that things would never ever go so slow that he’d have time to call stuff in question. It was pretty likely that over time this would flatten aspirations over time. That was a good thing. Aspirations are a curse and generally get in the way of savoir vivre.


December 11, 2011 - Posted by | Sunday Stories, waking up in a cold sweat

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