“Hey man, nice bike.” We were crossing Bergen Street to look at an apartment for rent, and he was wheeling his own bike and balancing a beer in a brown paper bag. On a beautiful spring evening, New York’s open container laws make furtive winos of us all. He stopped and whistled. “Whitewall tires and everything.”
“Bought it off a Cuban guy on 30th Street for twenty-five bucks. I cleaned it up a little, and it’s a great bike now,” said Tim proudly.
“My friend has a truck bike like that. Beautiful thing.”
“Truck bike, eh? That’s what my bike shop guy calls it, too. I call it a cruiser.”
“In Puerto Rico they’re truck bikes. We love ’em out there, man.”
I’m used to this. On the New York street, the fat-framed blue bike is the babe on Tim’s arm, and her balloon tires are the booty worth checking out.
“My friend, his bike has pure white tires. Perfect condition. Big silver fenders. It’s a beautiful thing. He has it wrapped in plastic like a baby. I want him to sell it to me and he won’t. He doesn’t even ride it. He got AIDS–he got it messin’ round with the ladies–and he’s dying now. The doctor says he’s dying, he ain’t got long. So he’s never gonna ride this bike. But he won’t sell it to me. I offered him three hundred, and he says no.” He shook his head. “Wrapped in plastic.”
“Sorry to hear it,” I said, but he continued cheerfully.
“Then last night his girlfriend offers it to me for fifty bucks. She’s a crack addict. They’ll sell anything. So now I don’t know what to do. What should I do?”
“She’s going to sell it anyway.”
“I _know_. I don’t wanna have her steal from my friend, but if I don’t take it fast, she’ll sell it on the street.”
“Could you tell him she has her eye on it?”
“What’s he going to do about it? He’s sick!”
“Better you have it than some guy on the street. At least you could store it for him.”
“Maybe you could find a way to pay him for it.”
“Could you just tell him she’s going to steal it and say you’ll keep it for him even if he won’t sell? He must know she’s a a crackhead, right?”
We talked it through, and shook our heads. He shrugged.
“I’m right down the next block here. Bergen and Washington. I’ll see you around when you take that apartment. You let me know if you ever want to sell it. Good luck, man. Take care of yourself.” He took a swig of his beer and pushed off down the bike lane. The corner boys in ‘do rags watched as we chained the bikes to a railing.
The apartment was beautiful. It stretched the whole third floor of a newly-bought brownstone. Never lived in, the ad said, but that couldn’t be. An old metal plaque fixed to the fire escape read: “Any Obstruction Placed on Fire Escape Will Result in a Fine of Ten Dollars.” We leaned out the bedroom window, and in the tiny backyard next door, a strutting rooster crowed the alarm.