Bob, you and I were coming out of a Saturday matinee at the Delaware Theater back in ’52 (no doubt after seeing a film in which the good guys got the bad guys) when we discovered that my bike was no longer waiting faithfully in the alley beside the theater, as it always had in the past. I was, to put it mildly, devastated. In fact, it was a turning point in my young life, a moment in which recent events that had made no sense suddenly crystallized into a deep sense of loss. It was my High Noon; a moment of reckoning. I knew that I would never see my bike again, that life would never be the same. My bike had come to symbolize everything I wanted to hold onto, and couldn’t.
I wasn’t alone in my longing. The bicycle as an object of devotion can be traced back through the latter part of the twentieth century, in fact, in books such as Henry Miller’s My Bike and Other Friends, or William Saroyan’s The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills, a work in which the author claims that he rode his bicycle so hard that he frequently broke chains, loosened spokes and twisted handlebars. Films such as The Bicycle Thief by director Vittorio De Sica, or Pee Wee’s Big Adventure by Tim Burton, also explore this sometimes irrational attachment to bicycles. In De Sica’s film, the bike is the pivotal element in a struggle for survival, even redemption, by someone living in the crushing poverty of post-WWII Italy. For Pee Wee, on the other hand, comfortably settled in a suburban paradise, the loss of his bike seems no less than the heartbreak of separation from his closest friend. He, in fact, desires his bike above all human relationships.
I have no recollection of what I did after losing my bike that day. I am sure we looked for it for a while, but my heart had already given up; the weight of recent events had made it impossible for me to go off on a heroic quest to recover it, as did the films’ protagonists. My story would not have a happy ending, and I would have no father to bond with in the midst of tragedy; our family was in a downward spiral, and there would be no more bicycles.
Suffice it to say that that is where the adventures ended for me. I was cut loose, I had to walk home, and in fact, had to walk everywhere from that day on. A few months earlier, Dad had packed up his yellow and black ’49 Mercury, sat behind the wheel for a few minutes crying, handed me a dollar bill and told me to be a good boy and mind my mother, then drove off into the sunset, not to be seen around those parts for many, many years. I suppose the blow didn’t really hit me until my bike disappeared, when suddenly I realized that the most important things in my life were gone forever. It was now an undeniable truth that you could not depend on anything or anyone, and, as the wheel of life turned ever so slowly, it would be a long, long while before that lesson could be undone. It would not be long, however, before we left the Golden Age of youth and, destined for a time of testing, moved to the South End of Albany, with all of its stories, some far harsher, yet to be told.