Don't Kiss an Elephant on the Lips Today
I regain consciousness as the first rays of sunshine fall on my cheek. The cool grass invites me to stay down for a standing eight-count, but what little sense I have tells me it’s time to get up. My surroundings are unfamiliar at first, but as I lift my head off my arms I realize this well manicured lawn is my own. I see my bike lying to my left, and as I turn to my other side, the unbolted wheel tells me something really went wrong. That notion is confirmed momentarily, as I become aware of a dull pain that starts above my left cheekbone and courses down to my chin.
I reach for the strap of my messenger bag, and while I’m relieved to find it attached to my person, the movement makes me aware of another flesh wound—this one on my shoulder. I slap myself on the ass to check for my wallet, and I’m relieved to find everything I left home with. Except for my helmet…and my pride.
I hastily install my front wheel and circle the block looking for my helmet. The old man down the street snickers as he bids me good morning. I wonder how many people saw me in such a compromised state? I check my phone for the time and find a voicemail waiting for me. It’s my friend Neil.
“Don’t forget to tighten your front wheel before you ride,” he cautions me. Unfortunately, at 6:00 am it’s a few hours too late. I rationalize that if the only things I’ve lost are a bit of skin and a cheap bike helmet, I must have someone looking out for me upstairs.
I call Neil back and the story comes together—even though I still have zero recollection. The long and short of it is whiskey. Whiskey makes me do stupid things, and apparently one of them is insist on riding my bike home when I shouldn’t.
The rest of the day is wasted, and early in the evening I am, too. With safety on my mind, I remind every cyclist at the bar to be careful not to drink and ride. My words have little effect given that they’re coming from a drunk with fresh facial injuries. Maybe they need to see Wild Bill…
I’m awake before noon, but I don’t bother moving for three more hours. My neighbor catches me stumbling out onto the porch en route to the coffee shop and offers to buy me breakfast—well, lunch—at the Chinese buffet. I look like I could use some solid food, and his Eastern European upbringing won’t allow him to see a friend go hungry. I wolf down plate after plate of unrecognizable fried rice and noodles, then I get the most unusual message in my fortune cookie…
“Don’t kiss an elephant on the lips today,” it reads. I’m perplexed. After all, what could be dumber than laying a liplock on a 12,000-pound wild animal?
The party at The Bicycle Junkyard is nothing shy of a barnburner. The kegs are arranged in grand fashion behind the service counter, and the beer line starts way back outside of the warehouse. The entire crowd is decked out in cycling gear—half in streetwise cutoffs and t-shirts, the rest in gaudy Lycra and spandex. It’s no secret that bike activists like to dance, and the crowd doesn’t miss a beat, even when the speakers blow out.
I’m content sipping on a waterbottle full of some good dark beer, mingling with the out-of-towners and catching up with a few old friends. Unfortunately “catching up” with some of my old friends means taking their car keys or turning them on their side so they won’t choke on their own vomit. But I’m not passing judgment.
In all the excitement, I don’t even realize there’s a six-ton elephant lurking in the shadows. Just fifty feet from the end of the beer line sits an innocuous table with handmade placards that read, “Whiskey, $2.00.”
I take it as a sign, and I relinquish my spot in the beer line. I don’t put a whole lot of stock in organized religion or soothsayers, but I trust in fortune cookies. I make a beeline for my bike, down half a bottle of water and saddle up for another slow ride home. As I pedal through the parking lot a shooting star rips a shimmering swath across the night sky.
I wake up early to a clear head and the sound of birds chirping. It’s the first time this has happened in months, and for a moment I wonder if I’ve died and gone to heaven.
No such luck.
Some people drink for inspiration. Some people drink because their friends drink. Most just drink for something to do. While I seldom need an excuse, the truth is I mostly drink to forget. I’ve got problems and I’ve got issues. I’ve even got issues with my problems, and problems with my issues. But I won’t get into that here.
Still, this past week’s brought about a certain amount of clarity. I can only hope the small lessons I’ve learned stay with me long enough to keep me from joining the ranks of some of my less fortunate friends. I can’t say I’ll ever stop drinking, but I do know Wild Bill and I were lucky—just ask Toothless Tom, Brokeback Jim or One Eyed Pete. And that’s to say nothing of the people who aren’t just dealing with lifelong injuries, but who’ve lost out on life itself.