Friday, October 21, 2011

Serena's Bicycle Exploits, Part 1

I need a bicycle.

This what I told myself as soon as I got to Loma Linda. I told everyone I met. "I need a bicycle!"
They'd nod knowingly. "Yes, you do."

Bikes are good for a lot of things. They're cheaper (eventually) than buying gas. You can ride them (almost) anywhere. You can (usually) find parking. Biking is good for me. So I needed a bicycle.

Craigslist--that haven of cheapskates, bargain-hunters, bankrupt students, and scam artists, seemed a logical place to start. "Bike--cheap!" the ads would say. Also popular were "Bicycle, in good shape" or even "good bycicle" [sic]. Only $50, I'd muse, clicking on the link. But often than not, the picture depicted a heap of scrap metal. A couple had intact frames--"only needs wheels, a seat, and handlebars!" those posting would proclaim. What a deal! Others, perhaps saner (depending on your definition), posted their Walmart second-hands. While ostensibly intact, these enterprising individuals listed them for $200, $300, $400--more than twice the bike's value.

After slogging through Craigslist postings for weeks, I had nearly given up. "Inexpensive bicycle" seemed to equal "broken bike" or "shifty scam" in most people's minds.  About to break down and get a bike from--horror of horrors--Walmart, I asked my dear friend Frances for advice. Immediately, she swarmed my phone with links to Craigslist posts. Of bikes. Perfectly intact bikes for reasonable prices. I'll never know how she did it. I picked a gorgeous shiny teal one, negotiated a price, and named her Ynez.

Skip to this past Monday. Helmet donned, bike lock stowed in my backpack, I set off to class. Although nervous at first, I began to grin as I sped down the streets, scarcely needing to pedal. At school, I proudly proclaimed my accomplishment to Adrianna. "It wasn't even hard--I thought it would take me a long time, but it was easy!"
"Uh, Serena. . ." she began. "Don't you live on a hill?"
"Uh. . ." I thought about the streets leading up to my house. I remembered the easy ride to school--the fact that I hadn't had to pedal. Because it was downhill. "Oh, dear. I'm gonna die."

I put off going home for as long as I could. I sat in the library, trying desperately to fill my brain with Psychometrics. Instead, I saw towering mountains, my house a tiny speck at the top. Finally, unable to study, I sighed and packed my things.

At first, it wasn't bad. I can do this, I thought, pedaling up a slight incline. It's not so bad. I stopped at a red light. Cars sped past at the speed of light. I tried to remember what to do at intersections. Am I a pedestrian or a motorist? Should I be in the crosswalk? The light turned green and I jumped, trying to step on the pedals. I slid backwards, but finally managed to propel the bike up the hill--just as the light turned yellow. I can't stop! I panicked. I was now halfway through the intersection, pedaling as fast as I could--but the incline was increasing and I felt my legs going more slowly each rotation, sluggishly moving me through the angry stares of the drivers. "I'm sorry!" I called out, still in the path of their now-green light.

I made it through the intersection and sighed in relief. Until I saw the mountain in front of me. I just rode down it this morning. I glanced sideways at the street. How did I not notice how freaking tall this thing was? Heart still pulsing rapidly from my brush with murderous drivers, I sighed resolutely and continued my trek. Must. . . push. . . pedals. As it became more and more difficult to force myself forward, I tried changing gears. Now my feet spun in rapid circles, but my bike slowed to a wobbly crawl, barely inching up the hill.

I stuck out a foot and caught the ground, then stood panting in front of a well-kept lawn. As I gasped for air, the sprinklers began to squirt cool water just out of reach. I took a few unsteady steps and tried to get back on my bicycle, but I couldn't keep it steady long enough to move more than a few inches. Heart beating hard, this time from exertion, I slowly rolled my bike up the hill. Cars passed, drivers glancing at me quizzically as I labored on.

I finally reached the top, breathing hard, red-faced. Water bottle sucked dry, my mouth seemed filled with cotton balls. At five pm, it was still hot and sweat beaded on my forehead. I'm gonna be stuck here forever, I thought hopelessly. I'm gonna die half a mile from home. I thought about walking my bike the rest of the way. No. I can do this. I straightened my backpack, flipped my braids over my shoulders, and climbed back on my bike.

The last tiny incline before my house nearly killed me, and I walked the final ten steps to the driveway, but I made it. I staggered into the house, peeled off my sweaty clothes, and fell into the shower, turning the faucet to ice-cold heaven. Afterward, I laid on my bed, still feeling waves of heat emanating from my body. Why did I want a bike, again? Oh, yeah. It's good for me. Right.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wheels and Viruses

"Oh, boy!" I rocked the table back and forth. "It's got wheels!" The two students in the back of the classroom didn't look impressed. I tested my new-found toy, pushing at its legs. It lurched forward like a drunken rabbit, then halted abruptly. I squinted at the wheels. "Hey! They've got those brakes on them--like on shopping carts!" This got their attention. Sort of.
"Huh?" one asked, looking up.
"Shopping carts! Actually, I'm not sure if the ones now have brakes on them anymore. . ." I closed one eye in thought. "But I remember from when I was little. They're so the cart doesn't fly away with your kid in it."
"Oh, that explains it," said one, returning to his notes. "I only shop at places that hate kids."
I grinned. "Oh, yeah? Like where?"
He didn't look up. "You know, 'We Hate Children,' 'Kid-Haters 'R' Us,' all the usual places."
"I see." I nodded as if this made perfect sense.
The other spoke up. "Oh, I know those places. I hate them! The food from there always tastes terrible!"
"Hmm. . . I've never had that problem," mused the first. "Maybe you're going to the wrong ones."
The second student thought for a bit. "Yeah. . . The ones I go to always have viruses in the food. Like, a lot of viruses."
"Well, that certainly would make it taste terrible," the first agreed.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Fantastic Face

Not wearing makeup has long been a point of pride for me. I don’t need makeup to feel pretty, and wearing it too often feels deceptive. But now I’m in grad school. We’re supposed to be professional. And part of professionalism is wearing makeup. Or so I’ve heard.

Grad students wear makeup.
Serena is a grad student.
Therefore, Serena wears makeup.
Assessment: Valid.

I hoped I was better at syllogisms than this guy.

And besides. . . Makeup made me look nice. Big eyes, flawless skin—what’s not to like? So putting my prejudices aside, I slid liner along my lids and fluffed powder on my nose. And I did feel prettier. Maybe this is all right, I thought.

But by week two, I felt trapped. Running late one morning, I almost forgot to line my eyes. I’ll look awful if I don’t! I thought, whisking out the brush. The whole week I kept seeing my reflection and thinking, This isn’t me. I don’t really look like this. But I shook it off, consoling myself that I looked better than me.

On Friday, I looked in the mirror and grinned in recognition. I looked normal! Then I realized it was because I wasn’t wearing makeup. I paused.Who in my class did wear make up? I couldn't even remember.

I looked critically at the naked face in the mirror. My eyes are fine just the way they are, I mused. I stuck my tongue out at its pink reflection. And my face is fantastic.

Some graduate students wear makeup.
Serena is a grad student.
Serena must wear makeup.
Assessment: Invalid.