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@loripalminteriTweets by @loripalminteri
It happened on a Sunday. During the (awful) Giant game versus the Cowboys. I was at a friends watching the game, who lives not far from me in Astoria. I rode my bike, and locked her to a pole, as I did many times, all over Queens and sometimes Brooklyn and Manhattan, for the year and a half I’ve lived here.
My dad bought me that bike when I was in middle school for my birthday. Yup, it’s that old (about 13 years). A Schwinn. It was a boy bike, and it was too big for me when I wanted it. Even my Dad will tell you, I walked into the shop, and picked out that bike, I was fixated on it (even though it was too big and I could barely reach the pedals), and I didn’t care about any other bike in the shop. I didn’t care it was too big. I liked it better because it was a boy bike. I would grow into it. I knew Schwinn’s made good bikes because my Dad had said over and over they were quality bikes that would last. My Dad heavily researches everything, and is extremely thorough before he buys anything (his anal retentiveness is borderline psychotic). He’s a walking consumer’s digest, which wasn’t particularly easy before the internet.
I loved that bike. I rode it everywhere. That’s how we got around. My friends and I would ride all over, all day long on our bikes. One time, I was was bike riding with my best friend, Lauren, and I took a pretty bad spill, scraping my arms and legs. I was bleeding, and Lauren said, “Lori! Are you okay!” And I ran to my bike, inspecting it for scratches and dings. I didn’t give a damn I was bleeding. I would heal. I only cared for my bike. I am as anal as my father.
Even when I got my car, I still loved that bike and it was my preferred method of travel. I rode my bike to work. I rode it to parties. I polished it. I took care of the bike. Things fell apart, slowly. I rode it on a lot of trails, and I love getting muddy, so the gears started to go (not all of them work), I replaced the grips, and rust marks became a part of her charm. Me and a couple of my dare devil friends would go on “hurricane bike rides” and literally ride through the town during hurricanes when the water in the street flooded a couple feet. It was dangerous. And it was fun as hell.
When I moved, naturally, my bike was coming with me. Plus, I live almost a mile from the subway. This is the only reason I can even afford a studio in Astoria, because I live so far from the subway. But I figured, no bother, I’ll ride my bike there, making it a quick commute. I knew that living in Queens, even a nice part, having your bike stolen was a risk. Though I was more concerned someone would steal the seat. It’s a great bike seat. Very comfortable. But on the hundreds of times I’ve locked it up at the subway, gone from 8am to midnight most of the time, no one ever touched it.
When I left my friends place a week ago, I was shocked it was gone. I picked up the cut lock. I couldn’t believe it. I took the lock and smashed it on the ground, “fuck!” I started walking home, pissed off. I saw someone ahead on a bike, and a part of me thought it was mine, so I ran after him. I was quiet, and fast. I had the broken lock in my hand. I’m not sure what I was planning to do. Swing the lock in his face, and take the bike? But when I got close, I saw it wasn’t my bike. I walked all the way home, dragging the broken lock with me.
(Actual picture of broken lock at the scene of the crime.)
This may seem silly… But my parents and my sister and nephew had all just moved to Florida. I really miss them. I miss the house I grew up in. I’ve had that bike so long, and with it, so many memories with my family and the old block, the bike felt like my (very useful) companion from that time of my life, and I was sorely heartbroken and pissed someone stole it from me.
I threw the lock in the trash when I got to my apartment, and then paced around my small studio for about fifteen minutes. My heart was racing, and my blood pressure must have been ridiculous. I was in full rage mode, and I just needed to calm down. How do I calm down? Surfing. Or maybe a nice bike ride… wait…
The following couple days, I was still pissed off. I inspected every bicyclist, searching for my bike. It was a bit crazy, I’ll admit. And I knew the odds of seeing it again were pretty slim. John Trueson, my quasi-manager, who has always looked out for me since I started doing comedy, called me up to tell me he had a bike he never used and I could have it. It was really generous of him. I offered him money, but he refused. Another one of my friends offered to lend me their bike until I could afford a new one. And another friend reached out and told me they would lend me the money. Then, my sister called to tell me she would buy me one as an early Christmas present. It was really kind of all these people, and I felt very fortunate to have such giving and good-hearted people in my life.
I relied on that bike. And that’s what pisses me off. My bike, with it’s faulty gears and rust, was one of my main means of commuting. Clearly, anyone commuting on a bike like that wasn’t doing well financially. I’m not the 1%, “the man,” or one of these trust fund kids. I work hard for what little I have. Which is why I don’t steal. Life is hard enough, I don’t want to make it harder for people. If you’re going to steal, steal from Walmart or some evil corporation with child laborers. Thou shall not steal thy neighbor’s bike. Jesus would have said that if bikes were invented in his time.
(Not an actual picture of Jesus riding a bike.)
Anyway, my week went on. I worked and wrote and did comedy, as per usual. Thursday night I crashed at my Aunt’s house after my Long Island gig, and she drove me to the airport Friday morning, because I had a one nighter in a theater in Michigan. The following 24 hours went like this: fly to Detroit, get on a plane to Saginaw, get to the hotel, nap, write, do the gig, have a drink, cheers, read, go to bed, wake up, get on a plane to Detroit, and finally get on another plane to New York.
Fellow comic and friend, Tim Krompier, was on the show with me and we were on the same flight home. He was kind enough to drop me off at the subway from the airport. I’m on the subway platform for about six minutes before I lose my patience, so I check the bus checker ap, and there’s a nearby bus I can catch if I run. I run regularly for exercise, and I figured, what’s the point of running if you’re not going to use that skill to catch buses. Ditching the subway, I ran with my heavy backpack over one shoulder. The sun was shinning, and it was over 80 degrees and I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, so I was sweating. But I made it. With time to spare. The bus was stopped at the light.
That’s when I saw a bicyclist riding a bike that looked like mine. It was like a movie, in slow motion, I inspected the moving bike. The rust stains, the replacement grips I bought from Sally’s Cycle in West Islip, the light from Target I put in the spoke when I moved here, the super soft seat… It was unmistakable. That was my bike. The bus stopped in front of me, and opened the door, and I started to run after my bike. Normally, I wouldn’t worry about not being able to catch him. The gears on the bike are fucked up. If you go to certain gears, it will jam. I know my bike. But I was carrying luggage which would slow me down. The man riding my bike looked back at me, and I grabbed his back pack, jolting him to a stop. I then started yelling at him, both of us gripping the bike. “This my bike! You fucking stole it! Cut my lock, motherfucker. This is my Schwinn, you fuck! These grips. That light. MY bike. Fuck you. This is my bike!” The transcript is not exact, but you get the point.
In my blind rage, I realized the guy didn’t know what I was saying. He just stared, blankly. He was calm (had he started yelling, it would have gotten ugly). I tried to calm myself to communicate with him. He was an immigrant, and spoke broken English. I slowed down, both of us still holding the bike. He said he bought the bike for $40. I believed him. Why? Because when he looked over his shoulder, he didn’t pedal away. If he stole it, and saw some girl chasing him, he could have gotten away. So I didn’t kick him in the balls and take back what was rightfully mine.
I don’t believe in karma. At least not in a supernatural way. I believe in reciprocity, and the ripple effect. The day after my bike was stolen, I was cranky, and a bitch. I’m sure I was a bitch to people all day, and then they probably were pissed I was a bitch to them, and they were mean to someone as a result, and the negative ripple continues, affecting more and more people. I didn’t want to steal my bike back. I didn’t want to make him feel the way I did (although he had my bike for a few days, and I had it for thirteen years, so it wouldn’t have been the same). But no less, my Aunt drove me to the airport so I could save money. John Trueson offered a replacement bike (which, by the way, is way nicer than my bike). I wanted to pay forward goodness. If I have any redeemable traits at all, it’s that I like to take pain and make it funny. I don’t want to add to the unpleasantness of the world.
His English was not great, but what I understood is that he worked in a restaurant, bought my bike from some guy, and he moved to the United States 15 days ago from Egypt. Together, with the bike, we walked to the restaurant he works at, which, coincidentally, is around the corner from where I live at a place called Just Combo. Just Combo served Halal and the shittiest pizza I’ve ever eaten.
(A blurry picture of MY bike at the restaurant.)
There, his boss (I assume) was able to translate a little better. The kid’s (wasn’t a kid, probably in his late 20’s) story checked out. He did only move here a couple weeks ago. I was told a guy who is a frequent customer came with the bike, saying it was his and was looking to sell it. They said he was a bit of sketchy character, and they’ve thrown him out for being intoxicated, but they claimed to not know his name. They said he lived in the area. They made an offer for me to buy my bike back for $40, which I told them was absurd. I’m not going to pay $40 for MY bike. So I called the cops.
I expected to wait a while, since a stolen bike isn’t exactly high priority, but after the second hour, I regretted trying to do the right thing. I didn’t want to screw over this guy who was in the country to two minutes. Egypt is kind of a mess (from what I understand on the news), and he probably came here without a dime to his name. I don’t blame him for buying the bike from a sketchy character. But clearly it was a stolen bike, and when some girl chases you down and waits for hours outside your work, at what point do you just give it back? Have some fucking balls. Give me MY bike back, and when you see the fucker who sold you the bike, shake him down for $40. I started feeling lousy. I felt like a sucker. I felt weak. I HATE that feeling. But I had made up my mind. I was not leaving without my bike.
(This could have been me, but the cops never came.)
I had the law on my side but they weren’t showing up. I waited three hours. I was dismayed. Not only for myself, because I’m sure my bike was not the first nor the last bike he was guilty of taking. I had to go home, and shower, and go to a gig. My job. So I went in and I said, “listen, I’ll give you $20. We both lose $20. When the guy comes back, get the rest from him, take my information.” The boss told me he was going to take a picture of the culprit and give it to the cops (not sure I believe him), and then he said I could have the bike for $30. I was pissed. It really took every bit of self control I had not to jump across the counter. I wanted to find the nearest Crossfit and pay the biggest muscle head $20 to pose as my boyfriend and strong-arm them into giving me my rightful property back. Negotiating for my bike. Un-fucking-believable. Who does he think he is? The Egyptian Whitey Bulger of Astoria? All I had was $25 cash. I told him to take it. I left cursing them, and wishing their mothers had abortions under my breath. And still, as I was riding my bike home, I couldn’t help but smile. We were re-united.
When I got home, I went for a quick run, and showered for my gig. I had to throw out my running shorts because the elastic was dry rot and they kept falling down on my run. Most of my clothes have holes in them. I made cheesy corn for dinner (frozen corn, with some butter and shredded cheese in a sauce pan, quite delicious actually). This is the person he (they) stole from. Someone who is struggling. Someone who’s socks and shoes have holes, and feet get soaked when it rains. Someone who eats corn for dinner. It was times like this I kind of wished I was a man. I wasn’t intimidating. I felt bullied and small. It kind of makes you regret trying to be a decent person. What’s the point?
I hate people. I really do. This is why I rarely date. It’s why I’d rather stay home and read an entire novel than go out. It is kind of alarming how reclusive I am. Comedy is the only thing keeping me from being a full time hermit. My faith in humanity is pretty low. Still, I’m surrounded by people who genuinely care about me. People who put my needs before theirs. And I honestly don’t think the bike thief has these kinds of people in his life. Maybe it’s because he was always an asshole, I don’t know. There are far worse injustices of the world than a stolen bike, I’m aware. For a long time, I’ve known life isn’t fair.
The good people are outnumbered by the dickheads in this world. That might seem cynical, but if you don’t believe so, I’d say you’re delusional. In a world full of such bastards, I have many good people in my life, and I’m not sure what I did to be so lucky. It’s only because of the kindness they show me that I try to be a better person. I try to pay it forward righteousness because goodness and evil are contagious. And I want to be good. But my very first instinct, my very first thought, was to kick him in the balls. And I fucking hate it when people prove that I should have went with my instinct. I want to be a better person, I really do. Damn it, stop making it so fucking hard.