It was in the late spring of 1984 when I had reached a low point in my life, living in Ottawa, Ontario, unemployed, recently exiled from a disastrous marriage, sleeping on an old mattress on the floor of an former girlfriend's house, and the object of distain, self imposed and otherwise, picking up a few bucks here and there working as a day laborer for a Yugoslavian landscaper named Rados who was quite bright, interesting and fully appreciated the irony of having a guy with a PhD working for him, digging holes, laying sod and bricks, and not much else in those days. Rados and I liked each other and talked a lot about the absurdities of life that brought us together in our respective exiles, and we would occasionally run into each other in later years, after I had recovered and had regained a sense of personhood and humor about all that, and he seemed glad to see me.
The full depth of despair regarding my circumstances dawned on me one hot June afternoon while I was sitting on a stoop in Ottawa South, trying to find respite from the disapproving sun, when for some reason it dawned on me that I had no keys. I mean no keys as in no car, no home (Linda never locked her house), no office, no locker at the squash club, basically nothing of value that required being locked up. I was nothing, bodiless. void of meaning and worth, chaff blown about by the wind and too numb to care. Things had bottomed out, spending endless days roaming the streets in search of nothing but an escape from nothing. I was hot, tired and had become invisible or at least I had hoped I had.
A poem I had written on a park bench in Confederation Park watching the world go by, during those dark days when I was still amusing myself by writing poems in spite of everything...
July 10, 1984
A red Corvette,
with the obligatory blond
flaming, screeching, insulting
the slow moving field of vision
of one who is on foot and
damp with the sweat of
a summer's day that will not yield
or permit refuge
in the damp crevice of dreams
where even life might be induced
to extend roots and find ways to
live with the sun.
Tired of walking, tired of thinking, tired of being, I passed an old bike shop on Bank Street which had a rack full of used bikes out front. My eye was immediately drawn to a strange one that looked like, and actually was the amalgam of the parts of 3 or 4 bikes cobbled together into one with clamps and baling wire and painted bright black to conceal the bright orange underneath that was apparent in spots where the black had scraped off. A kindred spirit. How much is that one I asked the owner. The "Black Beauty" he asked sort of mockingly. Yea, I said. Fifteen dollars. I'll take it I said. He inflated the tires adjusted the handle bars, and I rode off into the world on my bike, inexplicably happy, with a renewed sense of worth and personhood; the owner of a trusty steed that I am convinced saved my life and which I still own and use and to which I owe a debt of gratitude, to this day. Salvation comes when you least expect it, and looks nothing at all like you imagined it would. I'm not saying that the Black Beauty saved my life that day, but who knows. Thanks Black Beauty.