Of Bikes and Men


After accidentally destroying a mouse nest in 1785, the poet Robert Burns wrote, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.” In case we weren’t fully convinced of just how awry things can go, John Steinbeck hammered the point home 150 years later with the most beautiful exercise in soul-crushing devastation ever written. (It is brilliant and inspiring, but I will never bring myself to read Of Mice and Men a second time – much like Death of a Salesman, Native Son, and Al Gore’s speech conceding the 2000 Presidential election.)

On Sunday, the universe made sure I understood how agley things aft gang with a comedy of errors so stupid I actually stopped at one point to check for a live studio audience hiding in the bushes. They weren’t there, but the laugh track in my head was pretty loud. Since comedy equals tragedy plus the time it takes for the pain killers to kick in, I thought I’d share my story.

It started with a plan – a rare plan for me, to do Sunday right and thus do very little. The new eggplant in my life is a big Game of Thrones fan, and in anticipation of the season 4 premiere, we have been attempting to binge-watch seasons 2 and 3 (a re-watch for him, the first pass for me). This eggplant – let’s call him Hodor – has a sweet entertainment setup, so we do these GOT marathons at his place. So this Sunday, that was the plan: breakfast, GOT, lunch, maybe a hike, more GOT, dinner, then the season 4 premiere.

At 9-ish, my phone rings. I ignore it, because it is out of reach on a Sunday morning and I am not about to start my day. By 10-ish, I am emotionally prepared to face the world, and also ready to face some breakfast. What harm could there be in checking a voicemail from my dear friend Peter first? Turns out it wasn’t from my dear friend Peter – it was from his friend saying Peter had been in a biking accident, and could I please call back right away. Panic. Guilt. No more lazy Sunday.

Peter is going to be fine, it turns out, but he is in the hospital for tests and needs his insurance information sent over. Since I am also his neighbor and the keeper of the spare keys, I am the perfect person to solve this problem. Except I am not at home; I am across town. A logistical monkey wrench, but not insurmountable. It’s an hour round trip, tops.

In my head I am hearing my favorite Simpsons clip, from Treehouse of Horror III, where Homer is sold cursed frogurt. Peter was in an accident (ooh, that’s bad); he is going to be fine (that’s good!); but he needs you to get dressed and head across town (that’s bad); though it should only delay your plans by an hour (that’s good!). Hodor and I resolve to delay breakfast while I run home, and as I hug him for his understanding, that’s when my back muscles go into complete spasm. (Can I go now?)

Twenty minutes of deep breathing and tentative stretching later, I am able to get up off the floor, get into some real clothes, and make it to my car for the drive home. The entire left side of my back is still in knots, making left-hand turns really unpleasant; suddenly, everywhere I need to go is to the left. As I whine pathetically, “It hurts when I steer,” I hear my grandmother’s voice reply, “Then don’t do that.” If only.

While driving is painful, and getting in and out of the car even more so, I resolve to pull an L.A. Story and drive the three blocks from my house to Peter’s once I have retrieved the keys, because walking is the worst action of all. This, of course, is the moment my plans get run over by a bicycle for the second time that day.

Wilshire Blvd., the main drag that runs roughly a mile north of my house, turns out to be closed down for CicLAvia – the event four days a year when bikes take over the city. Closing Wilshire to cars is bad for traffic, but not being able to cross Wilshire for several miles in either direction is catastrophic. I’m all for green transportation and a healthier lifestyle, but at this point I am ready to tattoo “fuck bicycles” across my forehead.

Making one last eye-watering left turn, I ditch the car as close to Wilshire as I can and set out to cover the last mile to my house on foot. Thank goodness Hodor had convinced me not to run this “quick little errand” in my pajamas – it would have been less effective to curse the happy biking families if they were laughing at me.

Since my iPod is with all my hiking stuff back at Hodor’s, I entertain myself during the walk by singing “Hasa Diga Eebowai” from Book of Mormon. On repeat. By the time I hobble to my house, grab Peter’s keys and a sun hat (because the sunscreen is also back with my hiking stuff), and drag my hunchback-ass up the hill to his house, poor Peter has been waiting well over two hours for his insurance information. My not-so-intelligent phone manages to take a decent photo of his card after three tries, and the hospital finally has what it needs. Huzzah.

I still have to walk Peter’s dog, who, instead of pooping, seems determined to make me limbo under every low-hanging tree she can find, but eventually I get her back inside, where I “borrow” some of Peter’s ibuprofen as my reward. Sweet, sweet drugs. Back down the hill at my house, I scarf down a “breakfast” of toast, grab a heating pad and a screw-this-I-earned-it bottle of champagne, and carry them in a shopping bag hugged to my chest – the only position that doesn’t completely exacerbate my back. It is well after 1pm by now, so I start the long walk back to my car, shuffling along like a bag lady in the heat of the LA afternoon. Looks like I got some exercise in after all!

Even though the knot in my back got ambitious during the return drive and seized the muscles on the right side as well, the rest of the day went much better than the morning. Hodor declared it a day (well, a half-day) of pampering, and we did manage to finish Game of Thrones season 3 before the premiere. As a bonus, the haze of Advil and champagne made the red wedding far less upsetting than it could have been.

One last thing: a couple of episodes into our afternoon binge, Hodor’s overhead light fixture – completely unprompted by man or earthquake – fell from the ceiling, shattering glass all over his table and computer. Which just serves as more proof that you probably shouldn’t try to make plans with me in the near future. There is a good chance you will end up having to take me down to the river to tell me about the rabbits one last time…