Bicycle, 02

If you’ve talked to me at all in the past, oh, thirty hours, I’ve told you that I biked forty-one miles on Friday. I’m telling everyone who will listen. I’m proud of something I did–this doesn’t happen often. My friends here are being wonderful and patient. They do not seem genuinely impressed that I biked forty-one miles (as opposed to say, my friends in Philly), but there seems to be that good feeling like learning someone likes your favorite band–there’s a shared experience between the two of you. In this case, it’s an intense experience.

My bike here is black. It’s on loan from the co-op I’m living in. Both breaks work. The gears shift. E–neighbor–helped me tighten the brakes so they work even better. I have a bike pump available, so the tires are full. On the handlebars, there’s a plastic thing that the light I use for night riding slides into. There’s a backlight that lives on the back of my shirt or backpack after dark. The frame is just a little bit too big when it comes to getting on and off, but it’s perfect for riding.

I don’t like just the bike: I like the freedom it gives me. I like that bus schedules are meaningless. I like that I now have a new thing to talk to people about. I can talk about my bike, we can discuss bike routes, we can talk about places we’ve biked. When I put on my pants in the morning, I roll up the right leg to a space between my knee and just under my calf muscle. I keep finding small smears of grease on me, marking a leg or a sock, the cuff of my pants or my hands.

I’d been planning on biking the Minuteman Trail–eleven miles and an extra mile (or so) from here to the trail head. It transitioned to a bike ride to Walden Pond. Walden is sixteen point five miles away. RO had been there before and offered his company, so I wouldn’t have to go on the adventure alone.

We left in the early evening. The sun was low, but still present. The path was surprisingly crowded. It was warm. The Massachusetts sunsets have so far surprised me with their golds and pinks smudged across the sky as a natural afterthought. It was getting dark by the time we were off the trail and onto the road itself. Sixty-two leads you from the Minuteman to Walden Pond. We biked through small New England towns, quaint places that made me wish I was an older gay man. I wished I was into antiquing and staying at bed and breakfasts and belonged doing these things.

The last major uphill made me wonder why I had decided to bike sixteen point five miles. I cursed it. Walden Pond was closed by the time we got there–it closes at eight. We went down the path anyway. We walked our bikes along the final slope leading to the pond. We turned off the lights that shine halogen white. RO reached around me and turned off the blinking brake red light attached to the nape of my hockey jersey. The sounds of the road, already low, faded. A house by the pond was lit up. We weren’t supposed to be there. We spoke in hushed voices, as though that could protect us from the crime we were committing.

We locked our bikes up to the bike rack. RO knew where it was. He’d been there before. To me, Walden was this non-existent place. Even standing there, it belonged to the land of national attractions. It was a thing that existed in photographs and lists of places to see. In the stories people tell one another when they talk about their summers and deep, meaningful personal experiences.

We walked around the pond on a path, looking for a place to go down to the water. I’d taken my bike light and was using it as a flashlight. The pond water was high–it’s been a wet spring. When the path ran out, RO hopped the hand-made wire-and-post fence meant to keep people safe. I followed and he gave me a hand.

Things like hopping fences, climbing trees, and actually swimming in natural spaces are outside of my realm of experience. I grew up in a big, safe city. And by safe, I mean without natural fears. I was raised to understand people, not the dark. I have trouble getting over a fence unless it’s chain link. Hopping one always makes me feel small and pathetic. I felt more awkward than I ever did in my teens.

Eventually we settled on a spot and put the backpack we’d been sharing down. We sat on a rock and I turned off the flashlight. There were moments of mostly silence strung together. The noises of the road sounded like the animals–the bats, the birds, whatever they were, and the owls–calls and responses across the pond and the night.

RO felt the water and declared it warm enough to swim. I stood up and there was a pause. In essence, the whole point of going to Walden was to swim.

I’d met RO my first weekend in the area. The ritual behaviors here include a weekly trip to a local pub. It’s a wonderfully pretentious place that friends of mine from all over know. The pub has a story about a legal case where they fought hard for, and won, their liquor license. The food is okay, the beer selection is good enough, but the real worth comes from the dimly lit cave atmosphere of the basement bar. Everyone was nice, taking their respective turns in a disorganized fashion of talking to the new person. They introduced themselves and answered the basic questions, asking more to me.

We went to Walden my third weekend. The question hung in the air: What kind of relationship was this going to be? Were we going to be the kind of people who swam in Walden Pond together? These decisions are not only based around how you interact with a person, but how you want them to perceive you. Are you going to be the kind of person who goes in with your clothes on? Will you roll up your pants legs and wade? Will you strip down to your skivvies and jump? How will this affect who you are to each other and how you will know one another?

He slid down the rock and entered the water. There was no pause. The behavior was natural. I stood on the rock at the edge, my feet just wet. I was scared.

“I’m scared,” I said. He was patient and didn’t make fun of me. I went through the words and the reasons, trying to talk myself in and out of going in. Explaining my reasonings and hoping I would find the right justification that would make it okay.

“I watched a lot of X-Files as a kid.” Pause. “I like to swim. In pools. And the ocean. During the day. Lakes have monsters in them. Monsters!” Pause. Silence.

I slunk down into the water and pushed off out into the black. It was neither cold nor warm. RO congratulated me without irony. We listened to the sounds. We heard something moving in the woods. We heard what sounded like another person and that was, in and of itself, scarier than the idea of a monster. No one came.

I was afraid of losing track of where we were. I thought we’d swim too far away and be unable to find our stuff. I thought we’d lose the bike light or the keys to the lock. I thought my shoes would go missing. I thought I’d get pulled under by a monster.

I inched away, swimming in small circles that largely consisted of treading water and floating backwards with occasional hectic arm motions. Off to one side, light pollution bubbled on the horizon. The sky had more stars than I’d seen since leaving Arizona.

Walden became real.

We sat on the rock and shivered. RO put on a sweatshirt I had packed at the behest of a friend I’ve had since high school. Wet, we looked over the pond and at the sky from the frame of leaning trees in silence.

Biking back was a fight against myself. We went past a field so full of fireflies it looked as though the field itself, and not the things in it, was alive. They blinked on and off, calling to one another just as the birds and cars had. They called as people do in the night, to stave off loneliness and fulfill biological imperatives.

We ended up lost and biked an extra eight miles. Before we hit the Minuteman, I was so tired, I’d wondered if I would make it. We passed Spy Pond, right near the last stop along the Red Line–one stop away from where I live.

Carrying my bike up the steps to the apartment was the hardest part of the whole evening. My whole body hurt. I sat in a chair in the kitchen. I didn’t move for half an hour.

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IRC

RO stopped by. The night before he had said he hadn’t been over to the co-op since the previous fellow left. When he talks about the previous fellow in residence, he seems a little sad. They became close, or so it sounds. I can make a lot of rash mental extrapolations when he talks about what happened. When RO and his girlfriend broke up, the project said fellow was working on became an strong centerpiece of R’s life. He would go over to the co-op in the early evening and work through until morning. Like a war room or the overnight staff of a newspaper, they worked on something they thought was important, lone soldiers in the trenches of their cause while the rest of the world slept, unawares of what was being created.

On Monday, RO showed up at the co-op. It wasn’t the best time to arrive, and I felt bad about that. After a lazy breakfast–a breakfast like so many projects that started with a rush of excitement and settled into a quiet lull–people dispersed. Two people went to work. Several people crashed out for the day. I knew I had work to get done, and I had plans to go check out the Media Lab.

RO got himself upstairs, though I’m not quite sure how it happened. The door bell was notoriously bad and a key was needed to get into the building. However, he landed himself on the green couch that looked as if someone had made it out of clay and then dropped a book on it.

“Are you on the IRC?” he asked me.

The co-op has an IRC channel. IRCs popularity among geeks is something that has always astounded me. As instant messaging programs have developed into google chat, AIM, Yahoo chat, MSN, and others (my chat client offers no less than eighteen options for messaging services), IRC is still around and still used.

IRC uses a system of channels, which are like chat rooms. Or, to be more accurate, chat rooms are like channels. People connect to these cyber places that are denoted by a name and usually express some sort of share something–interest, geographic location, job. The co-op’s IRC channel seems to be a collection of residents, former residents, and friends. Associates. People who are some how part of this social circle that decided to converge under the name of the co-op. As I write this, there are fifty-three people logged onto the channel. I’ve met at least fourteen of them, including myself.

I told him no. To be honest, I was always a little afraid of IRC. I don’t tell people this. It fell into that land of terminals and connections that you needed to have some sort of secret knowledge of a coded language to connect. Sure, I used some IRC channels when I was in middle school, but I learned those code phrases through memorization rather than understanding of what each part did. Much like usenet groups, it was part of this time–in my mind anyway–of less visual usability. The direct connection aspect, the computer equivalent of a phone switch board, left me feeling intimidated and lost.

Of course I didn’t tell RO this. I wanted him to think I was cool.

I said something that seemed clever to me at the time and laughed off the fact I was not part of this secret IRC club. He insisted it was easy and offered to help me. In less than three minutes of poking around on Pidgin (the chat client I use), I was connected and listening in on a conversation part of me felt I was not cool enough to be hearing.

In working on Signal Boost, I occasionally find myself reexamining what I’m doing. I think it’s difficult to go into a non-fiction writing project, an ethnography project, a journalism project, and know exactly what it is you’re going to be getting out of it. I think it’s hard, and at least for an amateur like myself presumptuous, to say “I am going to write X,” where X is at least a semi-detailed account of your future content.

Because of this, and because I really am at an early point, I worry. I am uncertain and I consider things and play with ideas in hopes that I will, out of my vacuum thinking, derive something great and important. “Laboratory Life,” a book by Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar, was a groundbreaking text on the sociology of science. In it, they make noises about “sensationalist” science journalism and sociology–the parts that focus on coffee conversations that lead brilliance and dirty lab secrets. I read books like “Methland,” by Nick Reding, that tells these tumbling chronicles of history, ideals, and people that somehow, by the end, create a cohesive something. The sort of books that thrive on educating across a broad spectrum of information and using episodes from the lives of people and places to act as points that the explanations and expositions connect.

I don’t really want to do either of these things.

For me, this is what it’s all about. It’s about RO meeting Mako on the subway. It’s about how RO became involved in the former resident’s project. It’s about how that led RO to the co-op on that Monday and how he connected me to a new part of the internet. It’s about sharing. It’s about enabling others to not just have access to these tools, but to understand how they work so they can use the tools on their own in the future. It’s about RO, teaching me how to log on to IRC using Pidgin, and promising to teach me how to do it from the Terminal some other time.

“Just in case you want to be really cool,” he told me.