Thursday, 27 May 2010

Midnight Oil: How Can We Sleep When Our Beds Are Burning?

I'm as critical of "social networking" as anybody. At its best, though, it is at the heart of an emerging "mass consciousness," and it may even herald a new era in which "community" transcends geography. For example, as I make my way through the morass of humanity that is New York City, I can know at a glance what people in Portland are thinking. And when it comes to riding bicycles, you can bet dollars to Voodoo donuts that they are thinking about how great it is to live in Portland:

Well, isn't that nice? I hear you can also lick the lamp posts while you wait, and that they taste like peppermint sticks. I read this "Tweet" yesterday evening just after completing what is commonly known as a "reverse commute," meaning that I was riding into Manhattan while most people were riding out of it. In a sense, I was a commuting "salmon," and from this head-on vantage point I marveled at the determination and outright aggression with which many people rode. Indeed, it's almost inconceivable that such a "Tweet" could ever issue forth from the iPhone, BlackBerry, or other handheld device of a New Yorker. When I stop for people trying to cross the street, the horns start blaring, the guy on the brakeless fixed-gear runs into me, and the pedestrian looks at me like I'm a moron.


In any case, as I descended the Manhattan Bridge bike path, I marveled at the clumps of cyclists on the ascent, heads down and fighting for the imaginary KoM points on offer at the top of the span. NĂ¼-Freds attacking in my lane looked me dead in the eye, daring me not to swerve and make way for them. This photo I took at the foot of the bridge should give you just some idea of how serious New York city commuting can be:

Note the rider on the left, equipped with track bike and inverted "transients/homeless"-style drop bars. He is racing for the coveted Manhattan Bridge bike path holeshot, but he's not going to get it if the guy riding a ten speed and wearing a "The Nation" t-shirt can help it. They'd both better be careful, though, because I'd bet scheckels to suicide levers that the rider on the road bike behind them is about to launch an attack. Meanwhile, a pedestrian is walking confidently in the bike lane, and despite the fact that I have the right of way it's he who looks nonplussed. I'm sure if I stopped for him Portland-style, he'd just give me the finger.

Of course, hustle and/or bustle is in many ways an unavoidable component of living in a big city. At the same time, though, it's worth noting that the so-called "bike culture" seems unable to police itself. In fact, so negligent are we in this regard that Judge Judy has had to step in and pick up the slack. This is the "bike cultural" equivalent of martial law. Not only has Judge Judy taken on a case involving a "bike salmon," but she's now taking on "fixiedom" too. As you've no doubt seen by now on blogs like fixed-gear freestyle impresario and streetwear enthusiast Prolly's, two bicycle messengers recently went head to fashionably-coiffured head over a burnt mattress and a missing "fixie:"



Here is the bicycle in question:


Here is the plaintiff, Christopher Villanella, showing Judge Judy his sweet hand tattoo:

A rose tattoo by any other name would be as poorly executed.

Here's the defendant, John Foraker:

He's explaining to Judge Judy that his own hand tattoo is pending completion of his "forearm work."

Notice they're both wearing their best "formal flannels" for the occasion. Anyway, Villanella and Foraker are bike messengers who are roommates in Brooklyn--or at least they used to be before Villanella's mattress was set on fire and his fixie stolen, both of which he blames on Foraker. Incidentally, it's worth noting that, while bicycle messengers trade on the notion that their work is difficult and dangerous, the truth is it's really only riding your bike around all day, and if you're a person who likes to ride your bike it's really quite pleasant. The difficult part of being a messenger is the voluntary part, which is the partying and self-adornment. Getting paid to ride your bike is easy; drinking all night, being hung over, and spending all your money on intoxicants, tattoo ink, and bike parts is difficult and takes its toll. Villanella and Foraker are a case in point--or at least they will be in a few years. As of now they still exhibit the soft edges of the recent post-collegiate transplant.

The first matter in the case is Villanella's burned mattress. Foraker claims the two were arguing, the argument got physical, and they knocked a candle from the nightstand onto the bed:


Now, an astute prosecutor would no doubt point out that the number one cause of burning candles being knocked over onto beds is not roommate arguments; it is in fact sweet, sweet lovemaking. Submitted as evidence: "Turn Off The Lights" by the late, great Teddy Pendergrass, complete with lyrics.



If there were also traces of scented oil in the bedding then this is an open-and-shut case.

Villanella, on the other hand, claims he wasn't even there, much less being slathered in burning hot oils to the strains of a lush Gamble and Huff arrangement. Instead, he says he smelled smoke from the other room and found the mattress had been torched:

Foraker, who is a study in childish facial expressions, flashes his best look of indignant "hipster" incredulity:

Here is the mattress, and indeed the burn pattern is rather revealing:

Surely no candle could have caused this, and at this point we can dismiss both physical altercations and lovemaking sessions. Instead, the burn marks point towards either an ill-advised attempt to rid their home of bedbugs, or else a tragic marijuana-smoking "wake and bake" accident. Speaking of their home, both Villanella's and Foraker's parents were no doubt watching this episode, and as soon as they saw the sorry state of their children's quarters they no doubt offered to increase the monthly check if they promised to move to Park Slope, or at least send the maid over to clean it up for them.

Next, we move on to the matter of Villanella's missing bike. Foraker claims that he was heading into Manhattan in order to see a band play, but his bicycle had a flat tire. So, he elected to borrow Villanella's bike, which was subsequently stolen:

This is actually a pretty solid argument, since I have no trouble believing that it would take Mr. Foraker well over an hour to repair a punctured inner tube. By the way, here is Foraker's best look of "hipster" bafflement. This is exactly how he looks at his bike when it has a flat tire:

Villanella, on the other hand, claims that Foraker took his bike and sold it:

He says that after the bike disappeared, Foraker was even throwing a bunch of money around. (I would imagine this involved suspicious high-rolling "hipster" behavior like ordering that 15th PBR and upgrading his knuckle tattoos from regular to bold face.) Villanella also claims his bike is worth $3,500, and that he even "handbuilt it with the shop owner." Here he is handing the receipt to the bailiff:


"Yeah, that's a pretty expensive bike," he observes:


While I have trouble believing that a De Bernardi track bike is worth $3,500, I don't have any trouble at all believing that Villanella paid $3,500 for his De Bernardi track bike. Like many new fixed-gear riders, Villanella ascribes almost mystical significance to the process of putting together a bicycle. This is evidenced by the manner in which they will often use the word "build" as a noun (as in "Nice build!")--or, like Villanella, say that he "handbuilt" his De Bernardi. In truth, we're talking about "assembly," and when it comes to fixed-gear bicycles this really involves nothing more complicated than bolting a few things to a few other things. Sure, building a wheel from scratch is challenging, but otherwise it's basically just tightening some fasteners. One wonders if the "fixerati" also say "Nice build!" when they see a piece of fully-assembled piece of Ikea furniture, or say they "handbuilt" their lamp because they screwed the lightbulb in themselves. (This is not to downplay the significance of "curating" your lamp by choosing a bulb with the appropriate wattage, of course.) In any case, here's Villanella's receipt from the shop:


At this point, I headed over to the website of the shop in question to peruse some of their other "builds." It was indeed a "tarck" de force. Here's a "handbuilt" Pista Concept:


Here's a nice hair build:

If there's not already a combination hair-and-fixie salon in Brooklyn, there really needs to be.

Here's Villanelli himself, using an obscene variation on the "doucheclamation point:"


And what have we here? It's our good friend Mr. Foraker, perhaps throwing some dirty money around by treating his young ladyfriend to a "tarck" bike shopping spree:


It even looks like they "handbuilt" a bike for Floyd Landis:


Meanwhile, back in the courtroom, the mountain of evidence is building:


And it's about to topple over onto Mr. Foraker. Here he is displaying the classic "overwhelmed hipster" look as he attempts to perform the rudimentary mathematical calculations that would yield the value of his own bicycle:

Note that he looks upward in an attempt to distract Judge Judy with the intricacy of his neck tattoo.

Unfortunately for Foraker, Judge Judy is not impressed with his "neckwork," his designer haircut, his nimble face, or indeed any of it, and she decides against him. There are a number of lessons all of us can learn from this poignant episode of "Judge Judy." Among these are the value of friendship, the importance of fire safety, the fleeting nature of material wealth, and of course the tender romance of a shared shower. Most importantly, though, we've learned that these two hapless bike messengers are already long overdue for their own sitcom:

Not only does life imitate art, but it also tends to parody itself.

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