I will never forget that moonlit night in Venezia. We sat across from one another, the candlelight illuminating every curve of her strikingly beautiful face. The thick tresses of dark hair cascaded down onto her shoulders, and her unspeakably lovely eyes gazed deeply, infinitely, into mine. Our hands touched, every nerve in our bodies electrified by the anticipation of what was to come.
I had just completed work on a comedy script for Paolo Panelli, and it had met with rave reviews among Rome’s sharpest television critics. She gazed at me even more deeply as the notes from a sweet-voiced tenor’s barcarole drifted in through the open window. “My Seth,” she softly said. “Behind the smile and the laughter I know there is…” she paused, as she tried desperately to get a grip, “…a serious side to you. Oh, so serious.”
I watched her intently as the crooning from the gondolier mixed gently with the braying of two copulating donkeys, which in turn mixed with the oaths from a drunken sailor who had upset a trashcan in the alley and was now covered in fish heads and old tomatoes.
“Ah, my dearest Svetlana Olstowski-Nazlkanker,” I whispered back. “I don’t have a serious bone in my entire body. The closest I ever came to having a serious bone was, in fact, having a serious tooth, but the dentist yanked it when I was twelve and replaced it with this.”
I pointed to the stained, yellowed, and plainly mismatched front tooth that, upon meeting people for the first time, commands their stare as they wonder, “Why doesn’t he fix that fucking thing? We can make bionic fucking legs for chrissake, hasn’t he ever heard of a new crown?”
Svetlana, crestfallen, looked away, the mood forever broken as the drunken sailor began banging on the door below. “Luigi, you cocksucker! I’m going to cut your balls off with my bare teeth!”
Luigi, who apparently lived somewhere else, was unfazed. Luca, however, who lived behind the door that the sailor was pounding on, took umbrage at being called a “cocksucker” and came out swinging. Svetlana Olstowski-Nazlkanker and I watched them pound one another into pulp. I will cherish that moment forever.
Though lacking a serious side, I do occasionally have a serious thought.
But by the time the serious thought has swum its way to the edge of the pool, it is so exhausted from fighting through the sludge of inanity and silliness that it drowns before it can hoist itself up the ladder and onto firm ground. Sometimes, however, the thought is so robust, valid, and full of vim that it actually makes it to the other side without drowning. I had one of those thoughts a week ago on Friday. It begins, however, with an observation: someone you know well has a disability.
My buddy Banker Bob signed us up for the annual BORP charity ride in Sonoma County last week. In contrast to its awkward acronym, the Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program does something beautiful. That something includes year-round sports and recreation programs for people with amputations, paraplegia, quadriplegia, cerebral palsy, head injuries, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, strokes, sensory and visual impairments. Part of BORP’s annual program includes a fundraising bike ride. Participants include a breathtaking variety of riders. Many complete the 25-mile loop on adaptive vehicles.
It’s harder than it looks. And it looks plenty fucking hard.
What astounded me most was the post-ride. As the Trentadue Winery laid out an extraordinary buffet for participants, a scene unfolded unlike any I’ve been a part of, as we mingled with participants who were using all manner of wheelchairs and assistive devices. The realization crept up, and then overwhelmed me. Our society is filled with people who are capable of getting out and enjoying the two-wheeled experience, but who don’t ever get the chance to do it. I started making the mental tick-list of what takes for even the average Schmo to cycle–bike, kit, shoes, helmet–and then saw how much more daunting it must be if you require specialized equipment or instruction.
Fast-forward to the elite national track championships held this past week at the Home Depot Velodrome in Carson. We were treated to some unbelievable performances, not least of which was watching Mike Blatchford uncork a 41.9 mph sprint in his semifinal heat. Somewhere along the way local racer Will Chesebro also pulled on the stars and stripes. And then we got to see Joseph Berenyi pull off a come-from-behind win in the individual pursuit, no small feat when you consider that he did it with one arm. The roar of the audience as he began to surge with three laps to go, and his gutsy, take-no-prisoners ride was as exciting as anything I’ve ever seen. If sport has a gift to give, it was delivered to me that night with a bow on top.
Tell me again about that hard group ride you did.
It became clear that with regard to the BORP fundraising ride and the track races, the people doing the giving weren’t just the ones who paid the entry fee. The people showing us what it really means to overcome obstacles on their way to the pinnacle of excellence were dispensing with some charity as well, and perhaps the people most in need were those like me who really didn’t have a clue about how other people get on with their daily lives, lives in which things like going for a quick bike ride can be pretty complex.
So there it is, panting and out of breath, recovering as best it can with its legs dangling in the pool, the serious thought that has proven pretty resilient amidst the other mental clutter: sometimes when you set out to be charitable, what you find is that the real charity recipient is you.