Monday, December 1, 2008

"distressed" bicycles

Erin and I just got home after having dinner with her friends Miguel, Juana, Lihuijin in this tiny restaurant inside of an apartment building. I liked it. It felt like a secret restaurant. Most of my favorite restaurants and bars feel like secret restaurants and bars. For example, in Seattle, I love the Alibi Room. It's in an alley off of Pike Street. There used to be this coffee shop, or maybe a bar, (I can't remember which and I think that means I'm getting old) in Port Townsend, Washington, and you had to enter the place through this little half-door. Maybe if one of my cohorts from those days reads this they can comment and tell me the name. I can't remember the name of it.

After dinner Juana and Miguel told us about this guy who sells cheap bikes down the street from the restaurant. The cheap bikes are actually new cheap bikes, not stolen cheap bikes. Erin and I jumped at the chance to somehow circumvent her earlier moral dilemma about buying a stolen bike. Juana and Miguel kindly offered to show us the place. The bikes cost what amounts to about $25 after conversion, so we jumped at buying one for Erin. Bicycling is the most practical way to get around here, and getting one's bike stolen is nothing to write home about. The timing was perfect, too, since I had previously taken a taxi from my school to meet up with everyone. Erin had our one remaining bike with her, and I wasn't looking forward to hoofing it home in the progressively bitter cold of a Tianjin winter. After we bought the new bike we both got to ride home.

On the ride home I kept thinking about the word "distressed" because Erin and I had already discussed wanting to rough up a new bike, if we bought one, so that it would look less appealing to steal. In the states, at a Pier One, or some other store, "distressed" tables are being sold for exhorbatent fees. At clothing stores "distressed" jeans are also being sold for exhorbatant fees. Distressed leather jackets, distressed baseball caps, the list goes on. I've been thinking lately that America may be unique in its need for "distressed" goods. From what I can glean, Tianjiners distress things on their own, and don't need manufacturers to do the distressing for them. In fact, things here maybe be a little too distressed at times. The air is distressed, the water in the canal is distressed, the frozen globs of spit on the sidewalk are distressed. But I digress.

Advertising language keeps coming up in my thoughts and my writing, lately, because I'm coming to terms with the fact that many sounds and sights that make me feel nostalgic, or safe, are really just Pavlovian responses to advertising. For example, after about a month in, here in China, I walked into a Fomax store and was in the drink aisle when I suddenly felt an emotional tug towards a plastic bottle with a familiar color scheme. It was a Minute Maid bottle of "orange drink". Here was the distressing part, before I move on to discuss "distressing" a bike; I don't read characters. I have merely been trained, through all of the years of my childhood, to know that the colors orange and black mean "Minute Maid". At first I thought it was a fluke, but a week later I was in Carrefour, in the toothpaste aisle and felt a similar, nostalgic tug. After I felt the tug I pointed to a display and said "That's Crest." Then I pointed to another one and said "that's Colgate," and then I felt a little like a trained monkey. And also, shamefully, a little bit at peace.

But back to the bike.

Once we got the new cheap non-stolen bike home I ran up to our apartment and got some supplies: 1) the steel wool from the kitchen, 2) a roll of strapping tape, and 3) a plastic bag. Then I proceeded to scratch the new cheap non-stolen bike as much as I could. I wrapped a piece of strapping tape around it. I used the steel wool on the "leather" of the seat. Erin grabbed some dirt and we rubbed it on the bike for good measure, before locking it up. Voila. We successfully "distressed" a bicycle.

I'll take a picture of the distressed bicycle tomorrow and post it.

If it hasn't been stolen.