It’s a Gift

I started this piece a couple of years ago, and then put it aside for some reason. I think that the problem was that the endings that I came up with were all pretty lame. This endng isn’t much of an improvement, but what the hell.

The tale of Todd and Christy (and Brian and Lori) is mostly true.  I’m happy to say that Christy’s illness has a very good ending: she has been cancer free for well over five years.  Christy is a huge Lance Armstrong fan, and I had the privilege of riding with Todd and Christy (and thousands of other cancer survivors) at the 2005 Ride for the Roses in Austin, Texas.  Todd and Christy did a full century.  I, on the other hand, had perhaps the most painful 100 miles that I’ve ever ridden.  But that’s a story for another day.

I’ve changed Todd’s last name to protect his privacy.
I have a workshop in the garden behind my house. It’s a small wooden building with a workbench, a drill press, bench grinder, air compressor and paint guns, some welding equipment and a bicycle work stand. It’s my little sanctuary, a distinctly male bastion, a place where can I go and tinker on bicycles away from the demands of work and womenfolk.

It is also, like its owner, a bit of a disaster in terms of organization. In some ways it’s less of an actual workshop and more of a Museum of Bicycle Entropy: boxes of old parts, tools, the occasional lawnmower, and a profusion of bikes in varying states of disassembly all scattered higgledy-piggledy beneath a protective layer of dust and paint overspray. Mix in a collection of old racing posters hanging on the walls, a paint-splattered radio with a bent antenna, and you have it. Bike-guy nirvana, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.

Most of my friends who come over and visit eventually wind up back in my work shop, whether it is to get a bicycle looked after or to just shoot the breeze and hang out. They don’t seem to be bothered by the clutter. But then guys are like that. The male of the species can readily accept the fact that your shop is home to one of the largest collections of worn-out eight-speed cassettes on the planet and still not think any less of you. They understand because most of them have similarly world-class collections of useless crap sitting in their own workshops and garages.

Women visitors – and there aren’t very many of those, I can assure you – have a different reaction. Most stand fearfully at the entrance to my workshop, refusing to cross the threshold. The braver ones peer through the doorway at the clutter, their faces all scrunched up with maternal concern. It’s the concern that all women express when confronted with a tableau that could be entitled “Anthropology Case Study #5: Unsupervised Men with Beer and Power Tools – Six Months.” It’s a reminder that their own homes would probably remain much cleaner if they ditched their husbands or boyfriends and kept wild chimpanzees as pets.

Even my wife, loving and tolerant soul that she is, has from time to time expressed her bewilderment at the state of chaos that reigns in my workshop. One evening, as I was hunkered down at the workbench attempting to true a particularly recalcitrant wheel, she bravely poked her head in the shop to see what I was up to. The shop was in its normal state of anarchy and there I sat in its midst, a bike Buddha in a greasy bowling shirt, intently focused on getting the wheel round and true.  She eventually spoke up.

“I don’t know how you manage to work in these surroundings,” she said, shaking her head ruefully.

I quietly smiled, not looking up from my task.

“You focus on what’s important, and ignore what isn’t. Right now, what is important is the spoke tension of this wheel.”

“I still don’t see how you do it.  This clutter would give me a headache.”

“I suppose it’s some sort of a gift.”

She snorted, turned on her heel and stalked back across the garden.  The wheel turned out nice; one of my best.

About a week ago one of my riding buddies got some terrible news. Todd, who has been a regular on our Sunday morning ride for about two years now, quietly announced that his wife was diagnosed with a tumor that was blocking her digestive tract. At minimum it meant major surgery to remove it, and there was the obvious worry that tests would reveal it to be cancerous. We like to think of our little Sunday ride as a tight-knit group, and Todd’s news was definitely a blow to everyone.That afternoon one of the regulars, Brian, mentioned Todd’s news to his wife, Lori.  Lori decided that the gang should send a card, maybe flowers too, definitely cook some dinners – just do something to help. Swinging into action, Lori was immediately full of questions.

“How do you spell Todd’s last name?”

An eminently reasonable question, under the circumstances. Unfortunately, even after two years of riding with Todd on Sunday mornings, no one knew his last name. Ditto his address. With some effort, the group might be able to cough up most of the digits of Todd’s phone number.

“His last name starts with “C” and has a lot of consonants. He’s Czechoslovakian. I don’t think that even he knows how to spell it. We just call him Todd.” 

“Well, then what’s his wife’s last name?  Is it the same?” 

“I think that they call her Todd as well. It’s easier.”

Lori put her hands on her hips and shot Brian a disgusted look.  “How can you guys ride together for more than two years and not know this stuff?” 

“Frankly, I think it’s amazing that I even know that Todd is married. To me, Todd is the quick guy on the Lightspeed with the Mavic wheels.  That’s it.  That’s all I know.  And when we ride, that’s all I really need to know. We’re riding, not kibitzing. We  focus on the important stuff.  Remembering whether Todd has a good sprint or can be trusted not to overlap wheels in a paceline is important stuff.  Knowing Todd’s life story or whether he likes tuna casserole isn’t important stuff.  That is more of a chick thing.”

She rolled her eyes and made a derogatory, but deadly accurate, remark about men, bikes, and guys who shave their legs. 

To be fair to Brian, none of us in the Sunday morning ride group could have answered those embarrassingly basic questions about Todd with anything like the requisite level of feminine precision. We’re guys. We don’t remember extraneous data about our riding buddies.  Information like that is like the clutter in my workshop; guys tune it out.  It’s like a superpower that is part of our Y chromosome heritage.  You can either be paralyzed with angst about the fact that don’t know even the most basic information about friends who you have ridden with for years, a tragic gender-based breach of the basic rules of etiquette if there ever was one, or you can use the your special guy superpower to just roll with it and keep showing up to ride on Sunday morning. 

At the end of the day, our lack of fundamental knowledge about Todd and Mrs. Todd didn’t prevent us from taking care of our riding buddy.  We didn’t need a last name to make sure that Todd always had beer in the fridge, someone to ride with and, most important, dinner on the table (or, more precisely, dinner in a paper bag or take-out container) while his wife, Christy, was in the hospital. Todd was touched. Christy was impressed that a bunch of cyclists could be so thoughtful.  Hell, we even made amends for our initial bad manners by learning how to spell “Ctvrtlanik,” not that this is a particularly essential bit of information to know about Todd while you are out riding on a sunny Sunday morning. 

We’re guys.  We know what’s clutter and what’s not.

Like I said, it’s a gift.


3 Responses to “It’s a Gift”

  1. October 11, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Great Post, I’m trying to learn this. Your web give me a reference to be considered. Thanks

  2. October 12, 2010 at 4:45 am

    Great post. Please update more, I’ll look forward to your posting. Bookmarked. Thanks

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