Monday, July 23, 2007

The Guy on the Bike

There was a bar in Berkeley where I used to hang out. I mentioned it in the acknowledgements in SunSmoke, because I often did some writing there. It was also a place I often went to have a beer after an Aikido practice. The first beer after Aikido doesn’t count, is the way I sometimes put it. Sometimes you’ve sweated so much that they first beer is like pouring water onto dry sand.

Neither the post-Aikido beer, nor the writing explain why I was often there at closing time, though, nor could massive alcohol consumption, since I tended to nurse each beer for at least an hour and rarely had more than three in an evening. I did like the ambiance of the place, though. A friend of a friend nicknamed the place “The Fellini Bar,” because of the weird décor—stuffed animals, manikins, that sort of thing.

One evening near closing, one of the waitresses asked my help in dealing with a guy who was “off.” You get pretty fond of the waitresses when you spend a lot of time in a bar, so I went over to the guy and offered to walk him home. He lived only a few blocks away, and he sensed that it was a good idea to take me up on the offer. He wasn’t too far gone to realize that he’d been scaring someone.

The guy had serious brain damage. He was living in a halfway house hotel on Shattuck Avenue, and I sat a while with him in his room, chatting. He’d done his best to decorate the room with magazine cut-out photos on the wall, a knick-knack here and there. He was trying his best. One of the things I learned was that after so bad a head trauma accident, one of the most important things that all the medical professionals tried to indoctrinate him with was that it was not okay to simply finish the job and kill himself. His speech would periodically return to what were obviously slogans that they’d fed him, e.g. “Now is not my time.”

He told me that it was from a motorcycle accident over ten years before. As I say, he was obviously trying to make the best of it, but there wasn’t much “best” to be had, especially because he remembered what it had once been like to be able to think and speak clearly.

There was much food for thought in our little encounter, much of it not relevant here, but there is one thing that came to me with considerable force: the guy who stepped onto the bike was not the guy that I was dealing with. People can yammer all they want about how it’s “their business” if they want to risk their lives, etc. etc. and I might be tempted to agree on principle. But it isn’t just “their business.” It’s also the business of whoever comes out the other side, the guy who isn’t them any longer, but who has a vague memory of having been them, once upon a time. And it’s the business of every waitress they’ll ever scare, and every guy who’ll ever have to walk them home.

1 comment:

TStockmann said...

Identity remains an interesting philosophical issue, assuming one finds any philosophical issues interesting.