I was recently halfway around the planet at a secret location. The place in question is coveted, privately longed for, and relentlessly dreamed about - but rarely visited - by me. I actually get to go there about once every seven years, but I visit it every day in my head. Only Jim and a handful of people in my life even know about it, and when people do hear about it, they usually say “Oh, that sounds… interesting. But why exactly would you want to go there?” I smile, shrug my shoulders and change the subject; its esoteric qualities and my private obsession with them only serve to nourish the symptoms that qualify the location’s value.
Most everyone has a place like that. They mentally picture it when they want to detach. It’s usually a place that’s understood only by them. If they could just magically teleport themselves there right now - they find themselves saying - everything would be fine. You know the mental drill. For many, the location may be a place they’ve never even been to (or in some cases, nonexistent). Which is why locations like that glom most of their voltage from being daydreamed about.
I daydream about this specific place whenever I have the blues, or the mean reds. But since I can’t just hop in a cab and go there. I often call it up on GoogleEarth and stare at its “live” satellite view, which is kept up in a corner window of my computer desktop, just sitting there. I usually keep this electronic view on while in an upstairs room in our house, where I often work at a computer. It’s a way of visiting the place in little tastes, when I need to. I like to keep an eye on it - make sure it’s safe. Knowing that my private utopia still exists often keeps me from screaming at clients on the phone, or babbling at myself to the walls. As long as I know that being able to go is at least a semi-tangible fantasy (or can dream about the spot while falling asleep listening to Brian Eno albums) I’m reminded that there’s a horizon.
The times I’ve been lucky enough to go have been journeys planned spontaneously, all hush-like and underground railroad-y. Once I’m there it’s like a fairy tale, if only because I get downright theological. How could anything but a supreme being create such a perfect place? I feel in debt to the universe for allowing me the honor of least one more visit. My need to control things is relented because everything magically falls into place there. Nothing can go wrong, and if it does, it doesn’t matter because I’m THERE. By the end of the trip, I can suddenly see an “order” to everything outside of that place, an order that’s logic is only viewable from the perspective allowed by being in the place itself. I always return absurdly replenished and clear-headed.
During this recent visit, I had decided to rent a bike. The extended sensory experience that riding openly around on two wheels can sometimes be, was something I hadn’t done there yet.
The third day of my trip had started out blissfully. I had been out since the early morning, but also had misjudged how far away from my hotel some of the places I wanted to see actually were. It was now late afternoon, and I was trying to make my way back to my hotel. I had blisters. It was taking forever, I was exhausted, dehydrated and sun-fried from riding around all day. Whenever I would stop and punch the address of where I was on my route (a dense and endless hive of interconnected streets, like microscopic cracks on the surface of an ancient vase) into Mapquest, I would worry that the sweat dripping off my fingers was seeping into the spaces between the little buttons on my Blackberry and destroying it. Each time I checked, I realized I was still much farther away than I thought. Again. And again, and again. Gosh it was hot.
I kept mentally picturing the thermostat in my hotel room dripping with icicles as my frozen, shivering hand reached to turn it to sub-zero. Ahhh. But the distance to my hotel almost seemed to be taunting me with that thought. Is this what sun stroke feels like? I wonder if I’m dehydrated? If I wanted to call a cab, I’d have to wait forever for them to arrive, if at all, and I don’t know if my bike would fit inside their small cars. I thought to try and hitchhike a ride from one of the kooky locals. But all sweaty and grimy? No, the only logical course was to just press on. I’d be home eventually. After all, what did it matter? I was HERE.
The bike I had rented was a “hybrid bike” (basically, a mountain bike with 10-speed wheels). If you’re familiar with this kind of bike, you know the wheels are quite skinny, too skinny in my opinion. They’re like sideways tin can tops. If you encounter a substantial groove anywhere along your path, the razor-thin wheels will just fall right into it - lock-in really, like a needle on a record - and without warning rapidly throw the bike on a different course, usually smashing your head to the ground in front of you as your newly-liberated teeth bounce all around you. Not smart. I’ve always thought buying a bike with skinny wheels was a bit like signing a death certificate, but… the sales boy at the bike rental shop had been so blindingly handsome.
So, speeding along blindingly in my “kill-me-please” skinny bike wheels, that’s when it happened. There was a cracked groove in the sidewalk that I saw too late, and my wheel of course popped right onto it without me knowing what was happening. The front wheel violently jerked left and the whole bike slammed downward, as I kept floating forward through space (with a slight elevation, as I kind of instinctively ‘jumped’). There was an adobe wall immediately to my right that I was afraid I might slam into it, so I jutted my hand out to keep it away, causing my open palm to scra-a-a-a-p-e along its rough surface as I flew in the air beside it. Microseconds later, I realized I was descending to the ground cranium-first, which might be extremely bad. So (it’s amazing how quick your mind works here), I rapidly jerked my head down to my chest and quickly bent my knees, in the hope that I would roll forward in the air (those two years being mocked as the decided-by-vote worst member of the diving team in college were at least good for something!) I did indeed roll, which meant I lost track of where the ground was. I hoped for the best. In a flash, I felt the pavement smash hard into my ass (yay! my skull is safe!) which caused me to roll again a few times on the concrete until I flopped to a stop. I heard a few car horns - there was a busy road about fifty feet to my left - my stunt must have been quite a acrobat-ical spectacle to see from a car, a moment of “ta-da!” chaos in a serene paradise. But nobody stopped.
Still planted on my now screaming coxix bone, I turned and looked back through my shredded WalMart sunglasses (fashion tip: don’t ever buy expensive sunglasses, you’ll just end up losing them or ruining them when your head bounces off the pavement in a horrible accident!) I could see my bike laying on its side several yards behind me. I stood and looked down at both my arms. There were several big white scrapes that I’m sure would be raspberry in a few seconds. There was also a bad one on my right leg. I instinctively felt my face with my hands to make sure that one of the now-detached arms of my sunglasses hadn’t jutted under my eyelid and given me an instant lobotomy. It hadn’t. I don’t think. Nothing on my body hurt besides the familiar sting of sweat on skin scrapes. Nothing seemed broken. I was lucky. I then looked down at the pavement, and noticed some weird graffiti I hadn’t seen before (weird for this area).
Oh, that was my blood, lots of it, which was now dripping down my forearms, off of my elbows and making a little Jackson Pollock-style drizzles on the sidewalk. Hmm. Maybe I was hurt. But… ahh! Luckily, I had come prepared! I thought there might be the possibility for a bike spill, so in my backpack I had brought BandAids! And Neosporin! (and Jim thinks I’m too anal!)
I grabbed the tube of Neosporin and fussed over its infinitesimal cap with blood-mottled fingers. Neosporin is usually pretty thick stuff but - and I hadn’t realized this - it had heated up while in the outermost pocked of my sun-roasted backpack, and was now quite thin and runny. I squeezed with the usual pressure, and the entire contents of the tube jetted straight outward to my left, in a line, landing in the grass. Shit. Oh well, there was still enough left, if I twisted and folded the tube really hard (so fun to do with cut, bloody, screeching-with-pain fingers). It was then that I realized most of the blood was coming from the knuckles on seven of my ten fingers, which had all been sliced pretty bad, probably while I was skidding along the ground. The palm of my right hand had also been thoroughly cheese-grated by the adobe wall. So instead, I just took my t-shirt off, and wrapped it around my right hand. Then I took a small-ish white towel I had brought from my hotel room (to wrap around cold bottles of water to control the condensation) and wrapped that around my left hand - the tips of fingers exposed on both.
Oh how perfect! More passersby honked. I stood there - now shaking for some reason - trying to peel the miniscule tabs off of individually wrapped BandAids, which I then assembled chaotically on my other wounds.
I stepped back into the grass and squinted as I looked over at my prostrate bike again. It was still far away from me. The orange sun was shining hard on the beige-colored wall, casting an elongated shadow from the bike, which kind of pointed in the direction of where I had flown off. Looking up at the wall, you could literally see a squiggly, white-ish line, a warped kind of arc, where my hand had scraped as I flew alongside it. The top of the arc was probably ten feet high. In front of where the line ended, on the sidewalk, was the now large collection of dark blood spatters and bloody shoe prints - contrasted on the bright white sidewalk (with sparkles!) - where I’d stood and bandaged myself. I thought the whole thing would make a great photograph. It looked like one of those “solve-the-crime” picture puzzles (’Can you tell what happened here based on the visual clues?’) With my cloth covered, giant Q-Tip-like fists, I reached into my pack and got out my camera. Hmm… wait. Suddenly I remembered that when I’d landed on my ass, I had basically also landed on my backpack, which held stuff like my digital camera. I couldn’t get the power to turn on at all, even if I rearranged the batteries. Well isn’t that just shit-my-pants fantastic. Suddenly I wondered what was on the other side of that adobe wall. Had it been people? Did they hear my cursing? I put the dead camera away. I decided to just get home. I put everything in my bag and walked over to my bike. I stood it up and moved it along. The wheels were fine. It seemed just fine. Good. I got on, put one foot on a pedal, and CRUNK - I looked down.
Not only was the chain off the tracks, but it was bunched up and dangling like a drop earring near the back wheel spokes. Groan. I turned the bike upside down and started to try and get it back in place. It was really badly twisted. Could I fix it right here with no tools, and bloody stump hands? Would I have no choice but hitchhike a ride with one of the locals? Get in some family’s car, covered in gore? The black, gritty grease from the chain was now getting all over my brown-with-blood fingers, and my left towel bandage kept coming off. More cars honked as they went by. I mumbled stuff under my breath as though I had to keep them from hearing what I was saying. Sweat was stinging my eyes, which I hardly noticed because everything else hurt so much. The whole front of me was quickly caked in black grease as I kept trying to untangle the chain, which wouldn’t do what I wanted. It was like demented macrame. I put the bike upright and tried to move it along while pressing down on the pedal, which sometimes helps a chain pop back in. I noticed that my nose was now running a lot for some reason (I checked, it wasn’t brains). I was really getting angry at this point. Nothing was working. I got the little L-wrench out of the bike’s minimal tool pack, and it fell out of my wet hands and into the grass somewhere, then I couldn’t find it. Just as I was about to transform into the Incredible Hulk, the chain on the bike suddenly popped right into place. Without stopping to contemplate, I just grabbed my pack, and hopped right on the bike, peeling off towards home. I was again going the full speed I’d been traveling when I’d wiped out earlier. I didn’t care. It occurred to me what a really, really black mood I was in.
I pressed down on the bike pedals like a child stomps up stairs to his room in a tantrum. I couldn’t go fast enough. Had my nice digital camera just broken? Had I lost the hundreds of photos I had already take on this rare, special trip? Did I need medical assistance? Was my coxix bone broken? Since I didn’t have any more adrenaline left, I used the energy of sheer rage. I couldn’t believe how long it was taking to get back to my hotel room. It was the worst mood I think I’d ever been in, in a long, long time. It’s the kind of psychosis that visits everyone every couple of years, or maybe once or twice in life - it’s the mood you’re most willing to volunteer manslaughter in.
I zoomed past everything I cherished in this place, mentally scowling at lightening bugs to get the hell out of my way. I tried to run over geese. There was a gorgeous sunset, but I told the sky to kiss my ass. I was actually angrily babbling to myself. My head was like a bubbling tumor ready to gleefully ass-plode all over everything around me. If my mood had been any blacker, the very Earth beneath my wheels would have split open.
A bit tragi-larious, because, on the route back to my hotel I had to pass right through one very particular spot in this faraway place. It’s my “favorite” single place there. Whenever I gaze at this general location on GoogleEarth, and daydream of going, it’s this particular spot’s address I punch in to bring it up. How many hours had I spent gazing at this very spot on my computer from my home a million miles away? A square inch on my screen, and barely an acre in real life; my most cherished small space on the whole planet, where nothing can go wrong and everything seems eternal. So doing a whole “Firestarter” thing while riding through it wouldn’t have been wise, but there I was, annihilated-ly inclined.
I rode right through it like I was raping it. Oh how I wish GoogleEarth had snapped an image at that particular moment; me, as a little blurry blip, ripping through that spot like a bullet through a skull. Oh what a pretty little satellite picture that would have made!
Talk about a brat. Jesus Christ, I felt a retard. The only way I could have turned my feelings off at that moment would have been to steer my bike right into an oncoming truck. Bad moods are complicated, and don’t have on and off switches. They have rudders. You can steer them in a certain direction, and that’s it. I was in the most perfect place I can possibly imagine in the world, in quite possibly the worst state of being I’ve ever felt in my life. Was the place causing it?
When I returned to my hotel, I looked in the mirror. The cloth blobs on my hands looked like cotton candy. My right sock was the color of sashimi tuna. I didn’t realize I’d wiped so much blood on my face, and also bike grease - it looked like war paint, or a self-tanning kit gone horribly wrong. I must have looked like Carrie White bicycling home from her prom. In contrast, I noticed my eyes looked more content than I’ve ever seen them. I tossed all my bloody rags in the trash for the maid.
Days later, I was changing my bandages at 30,000 feet in an airplane bathroom - if for no other reason than leaving little spots of blood everywhere your elbows touch doesn’t go over well in the overcrowded coach class of a twelve-hour flight home. My wounds really weren’t that bad after all, just a lot of bleeding initially. Also, after some tinkering - my camera was fixed, and all my pictures saved.
When I was home and unpacking. I was amazed to find the hotel towel I had wrapped around my left hand. It was crumbled up in a plastic bag. In my rush of post-rage confusion, I must’ve inadvertently thrown it near my luggage instead of the trash, and packed it later thinking it was something important. Crunchily un-crumpling it, I held it up and looked. It was rank, stained with blood, sweat and bike grease.
Immediately, I took it and hung it in one of the empty rooms of our house where I sometimes go with my computer to work (and where GoogleEarth is always available). I just tacked it up it right above the mantle, a perfect spot. Jim said it looks like a dirty diaper. What a trophy! I love looking at it. It’s a reminder that there’s no such place as Heaven, or Hell.