..Richard Irving..

A Bicycle Story

Recently my bicycle disappeared from the secluded nook in the hallway outside my Upper West Side apartment.

I'd left for my morning Starbucks coffee at six a.m. When I returned an hour later, the bike was gone.

I had known leaving it there was tempting fate, although it had remained safe for months. But a smallish studio and a full-size bicycle are an awkward fit. Plus I'd already had two locked bikes stolen off the street.

This one was an aged but serviceable 21-speed roadie I bought several years ago. I used it for my comings and goings around town as well as for frequent exercise rides. I'd outfitted it with accoutrements, such as a night light, toe clips, mirror and saddlebag. In addition to the riding pleasure, I was avoiding the hassle and expense of mass transit. Now Bike Number Three was history. Bike Number Four, I decided, would be a cheapo, thus less desirable to thieves.

One morning the following week, I left the building and noticed a bike resembling mine chained nearby. I went over and examined it. The frame had been repainted and black masking tape now covered the handlebars. The quick-release seat was missing, apparently removed for safe-keeping, but familiar nicks and markings confirmed the bike was mine.

After speaking to the super, I borrowed a bolt cutter, snipped the flimsy chain and brought my prize upstairs. However, my elation at recovering the bike was tempered by frustration at being unable to ride it. Before purchasing a new seat, I wanted to try to get back my old one. I thought I knew who had it.

The front desk had informed me Eddie our resident crackhead was looking for me. Earlier as I'd been pondering my dilemma, I noticed him saunter out the building and head toward the bike but, seeing me, stop in his tracks and turn around. So he was the thief. I hadn't suspected another tenant, certainly not a fellow bicyclist. There's a camaraderie among us, though loner Eddie wasn't part of our group. He and I had lived there twenty-plus years but had rarely spoken.

His brazenness was what astounded me. Cocaine must have addled his brain to think he could pull off such a stupid stunt. And why hadn't he sold the bike to buy drugs like a normal junkie?

I was determined to get back my seat. How could I live with myself if I allowed someone I saw regularly to get away with stealing something of mine? I knew an altercation was possible. Eddie was tall and skinny, with the long-time addict's habitual twitchiness. He didn't look especially tough, but anyone capable of such bizarre behavior was unpredictable.

That afternoon armed with a tennis racquet, I knocked on Eddie's door. A woman's voice said he wasn't in; she didn't know when he'd return. I recalled a frowsy blonde who sometimes loitered outside the building. The reckoning was postponed. I went back there numerous times over the next week. Dreading the inevitable confrontation, I sighed with relief each time no one answered.

My life narrowed a single objective: reclaim my bicycle seat. I rehearsed endlessly what I would say to Eddie. On my daily walk to and from Broadway, I'd punch my open palm practicing a show of bravado. Should I act stern and threatening? Or jaunty and magnanimous, as if to forgive him for an honest mistake?

Eddie probably hadn't known at the time that the bike was mine. But he knew now. In my eyes, each day he didn't return my seat only added to his offense. And to my anger.

Late one night there was a knock on my front door. I decided to ignore it. I heard Eddie's gentle-sounding voice: "I paid forty dollars for that bike...it's mine...I've had bikes stolen too...I'm a civilized individual..."

An absurd situation had become surreal. He'd apparently convinced himself the bike was his. Suppose he reported to the police that I'd stolen his bike. Could I prove otherwise? The bike's make, an obscure name which I couldn't recall, was concealed by the paint job.

The next morning I called on Eddie feeling oddly less apprehensive. A madman, I thought, probably wouldn't refer to himself as "a civilized individual." He opened the door to his tiny studio immediately, saying "Don't let the cat out." A floor-to-ceiling bookcase brimmed with hardcover novels and philosophy works. As he stroked his cat, he maintained he'd paid forty dollars to a shadowy man he'd never seen before. Eddie admitted the man advised him not to park the bike nearby. So at the very least he knew the bike was stolen. But I was unable to dent his story. Finally, I offered him twenty dollars for my seat, thus splitting his alleged loss.

I'm still unsure whether Eddie was telling the truth. My neighbors are skeptical. Trying to discern if a person is lying is inexact work. You scrutinize their voice, words and mannerisms for suble inconsistencies. In my judgment, Eddie passed that test. But in Eddie's world, maybe lying and stealing don't have the same meaning as in conventional society. His bike was stolen, he figures, so why not swipe someone else's and things are squared away?

I'm relieved that the matter was resolved amicably. And now I house the bike inside my apartment.

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