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Tag Archives: Story Time

How The Stag Got It’s Horns

One of the great things about being a bike messenger is that you can

get away with doing a lot of very silly stuff at work. Stuff like

singing songs over the radio to your controller and calling your

fellow riders by increasingly sillier nicknames. And especially stuff

like dressing up for Halloween.

Bambi, who at this point was simply plain old Dan Chabanov, had gone

to some effort to concoct a costume that would turn him into road

kill. He had decided to put tyre tracks over his body, get a load of

fake blood, and attach antlers to his helmet. Another friend of ours,

Drew, had bought a pumpkin and was going to wear it over his head

whilst wearing a suit, like some sort of weird headless-horseman meets

American Psycho.

Every morning we all met before calling on at The Papaya Dog at the

end of the Williamsburg Bridge for coffee and knishes. The morning of

Halloween it was just me, Will Tang and Dan Chabanov. Dan had run out

of time, hadn’t gotten all the stuff he needed, fell asleep early,

whatever. He looked completely normal except that he had zip-tied the

antlers to his messenger bag. When I laughed at him he just shrugged

and said “well, at least I tried. By the way, what happened to your

face?”

My very favourite thing to do for Halloween is to only slightly dress

up. Just give enough weirdness that you have no idea if I’m in a

costume or if I look this way normally. The original meaning of

Halloween had more to do with the idea that you are dressing up to

look like something that scares you instead of say, a slutty

princess-cat. I think that my “costumes” are always scary because you

can never tell if they are a costume. This Halloween I had decided to

just give myself a massive fake shiner that took up a good portion of

the left side of my face.

Dan, Will and I parted ways, and I soon ran into Drew downtown in his

pumpkin costume. It was amazing to see someone riding around on a

track bike in a grey “pure power” business suit and a messenger bag,

with a jack-o-lantern on his head. I tried to flag him down and it

took a lot of yelling and arm waving before he eventually stopped. It

turns out that he couldn’t see anything out of the pumpkin and he was

trying to find a knife so that he could hollow out the eye holes

enough to allow him to wear his glasses. I unfortunately couldn’t help

him, but I did get to watch him teeter off into the middle of Spring

Street traffic to the tune of screeching tyres and horn blasts.

At a messenger center in midtown I was pulled aside by the massive

black man that was in charge of receiving packages. He’d always been

super nice to me in a fatherly kind of way that went beyond signing

and printing. He directed me into a corner and said very quietly “OK,

do you want to talk about what happened?” I was confused and asked him

what he meant. “You know, what happened to your face. Do you need me

to call somebody?” I did my best to hold back a smile and said, very

quietly “it’s Halloween. This is my costume”. I don’t think he got it,

and I’m not even sure he believed me, and he didn’t really have

anything to say to me again for the rest of the time I was in NYC.

At the end of the day we went to the The Levee for $1 Black Label beer

in a beer cozy and free cheese puffs. Drew had gotten pretty mad at

the pumpkin and had smashed it on Broadway, and Dan had spent the day

having receptionists asking him what he was supposed to be. His

answer? “I’m horny!”

I told him that was a terrible joke, and that it wasn’t even that

funny. If anything, I said, you’re Bambi.

And, at least for me, it stuck to him a lot better than those antlers did.

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The Second Worst Day on a Bicycle

Hector had been a bike messenger before he started Top Notch in this tiny little office on Clinton Street (where there really was music all through the evening). He was a bigger than life latino dude who had once killed a bike by ignoring all of the “men at work” signs and riding his bike into wet concrete. The workers pulled him and his bike out and pressure washed them down, but by the time Hector had ridden ten minutes down the road he claims the concrete chemicals had started to corrode everything, the cables, the chain, everything. And yeah, he still delivered the package. When he started Top Notch he founded it on the belief that people needed to get paid, regardless of how much work there was to do. His was the only company I know of that pays per hour instead of per package, and he gives regular raises to the people that work the hardest.

 

I liked Hector, and although I spent a lot of my time being a little overly cautious (read as slow) while trying to get used to NYC traffic, he was still nice to me.

On one of the last days I was in New York it was overcast, but I didn’t think much of it. I rolled over the Williamsburg bridge with Bambi and called in, did some running around downtown and eventually got something heading for mid-town. As soon as I stepped out of the flat I was picking up from it started hailing, massive chunks of ice that made me feel a little smug that Zach Trackstar and Bambi had made me start wearing a helmet. That smugness wasn’t going to last. By the time I delivered that package to midtown and started heading further north for the next one, a flurry of steroid-taking snowflakes started piling up on the streets, making it difficult to control my 21c from tyre, but I though “what the heck, I never get to see this kind of stuff in London”. It was beautiful and it made me feel like Woody Allen and Miracle on 34th St all in one.

Then the freezing rain started, and I had another seven hours of riding to go.

 

The only thing I can say about the rest of my day was that it was the second hardest day I’ve ever spent on a bike, the hardest being when I rode the Paris-Roubix route in a lightning storm, covering over a hundred kilometres of cobble stones that had been covered with over an inch of water. The day in New York was so cold that I ended up going into wholesale glove shop and terrifying the Pakistani men who worked there by refusing to leave until they sold me a new pair of gloves. The gloves that I had started the day with had gotten so wet that I had to abandon them, my temporary relief at having dry hands quickly faded when the sun went down and the whole world, including my fingers, turned to ice.

 

I don’t know how I made it through the day, but I was too worn out to feel triumphant when I finally made it back to the office with my day sheet. Locking my bike to Will Tang’s bike across the street, I saw that the office was filled with other workers and riders. Hector had gone out and gotten each of us a dry pair of socks and had tucked a twenty dollar bill into the cuff.

I stayed in the office for a good hour, drinking beer and revelling in dry feet before I headed back to Brooklyn with Will. Crossing the Williamsburg bridge that night with all of the other cyclists who were laughing and falling over on the elaborate ice rink that was the cycle lane made me feel like maybe I had cracked it, maybe I was part of something.

An Un-holy Alignment

London has my heart, but occasionally we have to agree to see other people. She knows deep down that I belong to her and that I’ll always come back, and it’s a relationship that we both feel comfortable with, sometimes a little too comfortable. I needed the chance to be lonely, to struggle, and hopefully to remember that I deep down I can deal with anything. And there is no better place for that then New York.

Party, and Bullshit, and Party, and BullshitA few months before I left Iain had died. He had driven me so crazy that I learned to draw just to spite him with a comic book about what a terrible boyfriend he was, and I feel like if he hadn’t died I would have always have been on the re-bound from him, in the same way that you never get over being an alcoholic, you just haven’t had a drink for a while.

I was devastated by knowing that he was out of my life forever, so devastated that I couldn’t even really be sad, I just knew I needed to do something.

Sometimes that last thing that you hold onto, that last piece of hope that you have in the world needs to fail for you to be able to finally pick yourself up off the ground and go “oh, yes. Here I am. Right. I guess I’ve got some work to do”.

My hope, and one of the reasons I was going to New York, was a ghost called Sam who had been sending me poetry from motels and lonely sage-infested highways all over the country, beautiful words about singing to the wind and about feeling restless. I was feeling the same, and I was feeling it for Iain, but since he wasn’t there I was feeling it all for Sam.

So, I bought a ticket, put my bike in a box and left.

Arriving in New York meant nearly instant hardship and triumph. The first few nights I had planned to stay with my old friend Brent, who had moved to the city to become the musician that he couldn’t be in Seattle with all of the apathy that thrives on the gloom of the north west coast.

He had some problems with his flatmates, so he had arranged for me to stay with his friend Sam. My ghost friend Sam.

Sam picked me up at a bar and took me to his place out in Queens, an area that I had only known from Coming To America before. His room only held a bed, a few books, and a little bit of recording equipment; he spent a lot of time on the road with his band. Once there he kissed me on the forehead, made some awkward conversation, pointed out a few books I could read in case I got bored and then left for his hither to un-announced girlfriend’s house.

I decided it would be best to look up this messenger girl I knew and try and stay with her after that.

After ringing her phone countless times I finally got a hold of her, and she was thrilled that I was in town and wanted to stay with her. In the way that only young female Americans can, she finished every sentence with an exclamation point.

“Yes! I can’t wait to see you! This is SO exciting! I have to teach a class tonight, but I’ll call you after!”

As a big fan of radical American history, I wandered around the area that 123 No Rio was in, peeking in through graffitied windows and staring at the incongruent yuppies that were frequenting all the boutiques that now had happily made their homes on the lower east side. It was hard to believe that it was the scene of a battle between artist, punks, immigrants and the police only two decades ago. In the end, gentrification, money and the government won, and the radical elements of the city scattered to more affordable places.

As I made bigger and bigger circles I found myself at Blue Stockings book shop, the only other place that was in the same line of work that 123 No Rio was in, that being providing a space for people who don’t want to be told what to do all the time to be in.

Amongst the queers and rad punks that were volunteering there I got talking a guy behind the counter in a Campagnolo hat. We talked bikes, and radical history, and what bike messengers we both knew. Considering that there are hundreds of bike messengers in hundreds of cities, a lot of us seem to know each other from international events. It turned out that he was going to 131 Tompkins for a show in a few hours, and if I hung out he was happy to take me there.

It was everything that a punk show should be, it was loud, it was cheap, there was beer, Black Label bike club was there, it was filled with tiny screaming punk boys with big hair and curvy tattooed bad-ass ladies with hip-flasks and bright-red lipstick. I was in a cliched punk heaven, and I both enjoyed being a part of something so solid and also felt so empty knowing that it could never really be a part of who I am as a dry humoured cynical Londoner.

I don’t know how I lost the boy from Blue Stalkings or how I had picked up Gavin, but at a certain hour this awesome kid just grabbed my hand, talked my ear off and he offered me unlimited use of his sofa. I had spent the night telling everyone who would listen that I was new in town and I wasn’t sure where I was going to stay or what was going to happen, and he was the first person to listen and to offer a hand.

That messenger girl finally called me a few days later, but by then I had found a job as a courier with Top Notch and had moved into a place in Queens with some friends of Gavin’s and I felt like I might finally be ok.

Teeth

Mis-shapen teethThanks to technology, I still was able to have a small moments kind of relationship with my friends back in London.

You write letters to say the big important things, emails to ramble about friends you’ve bumped into that are shagging other friends and drunken proclamations you may or may not have made, and text messages to share a train of thought, an incomplete idea, a small laugh and to remind people that you are still alive, somewhere. At an international rate of 20p a thought it was well worth it for me to continue to speak with my friends like they were just a river away instead of an ocean.

Posh John and I were comfortable old friends in a way that wasn’t meant to last, too much comfort too quickly meant it was easy to take our relaxed relationship to the level of forgetting to ever speak and then suddenly finding that you are no longer friends.

But in New York, that relationship was suddenly important, to have a casual contact with someone that was Home for me.

Sitting on a set of steps waiting for work it was easy to imagine him doing the same when he texted me the news that he hadn’t been keeping up on his bike maintenance and had discovered that he only had 7 of the possible 16 teeth left on his cog. I laughed, bit my nail, and promptly broke off a piece of my own tooth.

You couldn’t see it, it was the back part of a tooth, but as I went on through the day talking to receptionists and delivering packages I couldn’t stop running my tongue over the new rough patch, and my lack of self control was beginning to really annoy me. Any lack of attention on my part would send my tongue curiously moving back and forth over that broken tooth, it was irritating and it was also beginning to make my tongue hurt, but I couldn’t stop myself. Something would have to be done.

I ran into Bambi at a messenger center in mid-town, and in a flash of brilliance I asked him if he had a metal file.

He said he did, and that evening I found myself in Bushwick at his warehouse, borrowing it.

I had met Bambi before, he was sitting at the end of the bridge waiting for work, drinking coffee and I stopped and introduced myself in a way that would eventually be parodied by everyone I know; I stuck out my and and said “Hi, I’m Nhatt”. In a city where everyone is so concerned with being cool, having some random rookie come strait up to you and say hi to one of the cities fastest and least humble couriers was not an everyday occurrence.

It was also not an everyday occurrence to have a London bike messenger attempting to file her front tooth down while leaning backwards with a hand mirror under the only decent light in your apartment.

If my introduction didn’t win me a life long friend then I think getting that chance to watch someone file their own tooth did it, that and a few beers. Bambi and I have never spent as long in one place together as we did while I lived in new york, but we are inseparable in spirit. A tooth that broke in sympathy with a friend’s broken teeth half a world away cemented a friendship that would be made up of text messages and 20p a thought conversations for the rest of my life.