Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Trip to the Loo

Like thousands of other bicyclists riding the New York City Century on September 13, I rolled out of Central Park just before seven a.m.

It was around eight when I chugged into the first rest area, in Prospect Park.

Bikes were strewn all over the grass, and hundreds of riders were milling about, chomping on bagels and chewing out orange slices.

As usual, however, I was focused on the toilet. Pushing my bike past the throngs, I followed a chalk-marked trail to the restrooms—which, as it turned out, were inside the Prospect Park Zoo!

The place wasn’t even open yet, but a cheerful guard was waving us in, directing us to the bathrooms just past the sea lion pool.

Sea lions! A deserted zoo! I felt a bit disbelieving as I strolled through the gates. It was the totally unexpected gift of a weak bladder—a wonderful urban adventure.

The other women in the restroom were happy, too. Bike rides have a way of making the things we take for granted seem almost instantly like the luxuries they truly are.

A flushing toilet, for instance, or running water.

“This ain’t no Port-a-Potty!” sang one woman, ecstatically lathering her hands over the sink.

“And they have seals,” another woman added, sounding every bit as reverential as I felt.

All the way from Manhattan I’d been counting to ten, trying to suppress my irritation with the other riders—the father and son who rode side by side and swerved unpredictably, the hotshots in mid-avenue, the hordes of supposed bike ambassadors defying the lights in ways that left pedestrians stranded.

Now, in Brooklyn, I was feeling a wave of affection for these very same people. Like me, they were lingering as they crossed the sun-dappled pavement, stealing a moment with the zoo.

The sea lions weren’t on their rocks, so there was no real excuse to loiter, but we all knew they were circling beneath the churning water. Even the idea of them was thrilling, at least to me.

I’d already passed the pool when I heard the sound: “Pfffffft!”

I stopped dead in my tracks. Elation drained away. Where a second before I’d been swelling with joy, I was now fighting the urge to weep.

It took me a moment to realize what had happened. A sea lion had come up for air—and I’d heard my gasping father, swimming his laps in our country pond.

My father, dead for six years.

One instant happy, the next filled with sorrow. The feelings seem so opposite, but sometimes I imagine that in their underlying essence they are much the same—one glass half empty, the other half full.

For a second I imagined telling the nice guard at the gate about all that had happened in my five minutes at the zoo, but of course I didn't. I got on my bike and kept going.

1 comment:

Joan said...

Very moving post. I unfortunately barely even remember the sound of my father's voice, it's been that long. But there is a piano chestnut called "The Spinning Song" that he used to sit down and start playing very fast when we were little, and it became a game for my sister and me to jump around, dance and cheer when he'd do that. To this day hearing the song makes me feel festive and sad at the exact same time, like 2 different audio levels rising simultaneous on a stereo.