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Wednesday, Mendy found a lectern.But let me explain.I will start out generally that Mendel Pinsky, who likes to be called Mendy, is an orthodox Jewish father of four and lives in a private detached house in a residential neighborhood in Brooklyn.Mid-thirties, tall and thin, he always wears a black suit of modern cut and style with a white shirt over a talis (prayer shawl.)
In his spare time, Mendy likes to mend things; he fixes toasters, lamps, chairs, and the odd computer or VCR, all things he finds as he walks around the city, maybe for instance on his way home from work, to shul (that’s the neighborhood synagogue), from the dentist, or wherever. He doesn’t actually look for discarded things; he just notices them, and if they have potential, he brings them home to fix.In his not-so-spare time, Mendy is a lawyer.
So there he was, not looking for discarded items, just strolling home along River Court.This is, by the way, an ironic name for a short street associated with neither waterways, nor any enclosed garden, royalty, judicial venue, nor even romantic courtship.He was walking along River Court, as I say, this warm April afternoon returning from work a little early.He had stopped at Pedal Pusher Bicycle Shop where he purchased some metric screws he needed to fix the door on his washing machine, and half-way down River Court, standing alone on the sidewalk was this lectern, a nice one, too.It was oak, standing almost four feet high, with a light perched at the top, and everything seemed in perfect condition.
The lectern was too good to pass up.The dilemma, of course, was what could Mendy do with it?There was no logical place in his house for such an item.Rivka, his wife, approved of, or at least tolerated, most of Mendy’s eccentricities.This reading stand, however, didn’t stand a chance.
Mendy stood behind the lectern and imagined himself for a moment as a learned professor addressing a large hall of eager and attentive students, all diligently taking notes.“Yes, a question there?” Mendy said aloud.“Oh, that’s correct, the fifteenth century in Florence.”Mendy straightened his tie and placed his briefcase on the lectern while he fielded another question.He pointed to the back of the virtual lecture hall and paused to listen to the question before answering, “I have wondered the same thing myself.I would ask Spinoza if I could!”This brought a round of chuckles from many of the attendees.But, alas, Pinsky Memorial Lecture Hall evaporated as Mendy picked up his briefcase.He took one last long look at the lectern and continued on towards his home, another four blocks away.
If you’re paying attention, you probably guessed that Mendy found also something else that day. It’s only logical, the way this story is going.Yes, four blocks to home was not close enough for him to evade another object’s sending a summons to this innocent lawyer while passing by.And the object this time was a bicycle.Mendy was adept at fixing things, and that included the Bianchi city bike he had in his garage, five other bikes for his family, and a bike trailer, as well as other bikes from time to time, so when he noticed this discarded bike, Mendy was very interested.
Now there are disposable department store type bicycles, there are properly made recreational bikes, and then there are real, road-worthy, serious bicycles.The bicycle which commanded Mendy’s attention right now did not seem to be of the ordinary variety.It was chrome silver with red and black letters spelling CINELLI on the frame in three places.It was lying at the edge of the sidewalk partly under a large black plastic garbage bag.
On closer observation, Mendy’s Cinelli had two flat tires, one of which was half off the rim, and the saddle was not attached, but lying next to the bike on top of another trash bag.The bike had clearly been discarded along with the household trash.But wait a bit.Did I say, “Mendy’s Cinelli?”It wasn’t really Mendy’s yet.Could the owner have had two sudden tire punctures and then gone off on foot to get a pump, intending to return to his broken bike?Mendy considered and dismissed this idea; no one leaves a bike unlocked in New York for even a minute.But with such a valuable item in question, Mendy walked up to the door of the house and rang the bell, soon answered by a teenaged girl, holding a biology textbook in her hand.
“Hi!” She flashed a practiced, but genuine welcoming smile.
“Yes.Hello.I’m....I mean I’m sorry to bother you.I saw the bicycle out front, and I was wondering if it was supposed to be in the trash.” Mendy stumbled a little on his words as he explained.
“Oh, yeah,” she answered.“My dad used to ride it in a triathlon or something.He doesn’t do it anymore and he made me bring it out to the trash.You can have it if you want.”
Mendy followed up, “Are you sure?It looks valuable.”
“Probably, but my dad’s pretty old.He’s as old as you are—I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that the way it came out.I mean he doesn’t ride anymore because of his back, and Mom and him had this big argument about him getting rid of it from the back of the basement, so they told me just to bring it out to the trash.I was supposed to bring the trash out this morning, but I have this bio exam tomorrow and I put it off and then I forgot, but I remembered a little while ago.I think the trash pickup already came today while I was at school, so I’m going to have to bring the bags inside again.Sure.Take the bike if you want.I won’t have to bring it in and my mom will be happy it’s finally gone.”
“I think I will.Thank you.Good luck on the biology.”
“Yeah.Thanks.I’m okay with it.Um, can I ask you, you’re Jewish, right?Are you allowed to ride bikes like that?”
Mendy smiled gently.“Of course.But we don’t ride on the Sabbath.Thank you again.”
“Have a nice day, señor,” she said puckishly, as she closed the door.
So Mendy picked up the bike, stuck the saddle loosely where it was supposed to go in the frame, hung his briefcase on the handlebars, and half wheeled, half carried the bike to his house.
Ephraim, Mendy’s oldest at fourteen years, met Mendy at the front door.“I saw you coming from the window, Abba.That’s a pretty nice bike, there.Do you need help?”
“Just my briefcase, thanks,” answered Mendy, handing the bulky carryall to his son and then wheeling the bike to the back door and down to his basement workshop.Rivka called down that dinner was almost ready and did Mendy fix the washing machine yet, and did I see another bicycle?Responding okay, no, and yes, Mendy left the bike and went up to prepare for dinner.
Hot borscht with a boiled potato was a good start for the dinner.During the chicken marsala next to the broccoli, Ephraim piped up, “Oh, before dinner I called Harry, you know the one with the racing bike?He says Cinelli is a terrific Italian race bike like the professionals use.” Ephraim noticed the interest of his three younger siblings and turned to them.“Offana-im.Bicycle.Offana-im,” he said in Hebrew.
“I think it’s a pretty cool bike, too.Should I fix it up and ride it?” asked Mendy.
And now Rivka chimed in.“You, a regular Greg LeMond-owitz?”
“I dunno,”Mendy said.He chewed on the thought.
After dinner, he went down to the workshop, and Mendy fixed the washing machine before anything else. Two bolts were rusted and would not hold the door steady.He struggled a little but got them out, and replaced them with the new ones, using some larger washers to reinforce the edge of the door.He opened and closed the door about ten times to make sure everything would hold.It was just at this time that Mordechai, age 6, came to the room and observed his father do this odd thing, opening and closing the washing machine door.Then Mendy turned on the empty washer to make sure the interlock on the door worked.Not knowing about such things, Mordechai wondered why a sane man turns on an empty washing machine.Open the door and see that the agitator stops.Close the door and it starts.And then Mendy began speaking aloud, “By the way, ma’m, this is on the house because of your chicken marsala, or actually under the house, since it’s downstairs.”Mordechai didn’t understand the expression “on the house” or why his father would be talking to the washing machine anyway.He forgot what made him come down to the laundry and didn’t say anything, but just turned around and walked away.
Now for the bicycle.Mendy had fixed bikes many times in his workshop and had rigged two hooks on the ceiling for this purpose a long time ago.He put on blue rubber work gloves, hung the Cinelli by the seat and handlebars, removed the rear wheel which had the tire half off, and then put the wheel back on without the tire.He spun both wheels, ran through the gears, and evaluated his new bike.Other than the tire, the bike was mechanically perfect, and the size seemed to fit him.
Mendy pulled off the front wheel, loosened the locknuts on the axle and removed the bearings.All were smooth and clean.Reassembling the hub, he squeezed in new grease from a tube and wiped the outside clean.He stood the bike on the floor and then carefully unscrewed the headset to remove the fork.As with the front hub, the headset was practically new.
Dirk Pitt was once marooned on a remote island in the Indian Ocean, and overhauled an outboard motor to escape in a bathtub.Don’t ask.Clive Cussler.What can I say?A Campagnolo-equipped classic bicycle wasn’t a matter of life and death, but still, this Cinelli was a worthy project.
Mendy’s mind wandered as he proceeded to the bottom bracket and rear hub.While he worked on the bike, he mentally came in fourth in the UCI World Championships in Agrigento, Italy.Not first, because he flatted in the last hundred yards, losing to Luc Leblanc, the great French racer.“Quel domage, (that’s too bad,)” Leblanc said sympathetically as he sped past with a friendly wave to his collaborateur with the flat tire.Mendy picked up the bike and ran heroically to the finish line and made fourth place.
Soon, Mendy knew that the bike was in pristine condition and required no new parts except for that one tire.It was a special racing tire, glued to the rim with the inner tube sewed inside. Tomorrow, Mendy would buy the new tire and glue.
The next day, Thursday, Mendy stopped back at Pedal Pusher Bike Shop, the same place he had purchased the screws for the washing machine.Pedal Pusher Bike Shop was tiny and as crowded as a kosher deli the day before Rosh Hashonah.There were bikes outside on the sidewalk, bikes inside hanging from the ceiling, bikes everywhere.You could stumble on a bike even if you didn’t move. Mendy had to wait a few minutes, asked for the new tubular tire and glue.Apparently, tubulars, also called sew-up tires, are now obsolete, but they still have many advocates, mostly older cyclists not yet ready to switch over.Mendy indicated that just fixing the bike was more important today than upgrading.Pausing briefly near the colorful cycling clothes, Mendy went out with his purchases in a plastic bag, sporting graphics of a saucy lady on a bicycle from the 1880’s.An hour later, the new tire was installed on the rear wheel, the front tire was reglued just to be sure, and the only thing postponing the maiden voyage was waiting for the glue to dry.
Well, that is not correct. There was indeed one more thing postponing the maiden voyage: an outfit.Would Mendy play tennis except in tennis clothing?Certainly not.Ski?Play hockey?Perform surgery?Dance ballet?Work in a butcher shop?Of course, Mendy did none of these things anyway, but the point is that he wanted to wear appropriate clothing.So back to Pedal Pusher he went, for some padded lycra shorts and a colorful jersey celebrating Mendy’s home town, Brooklyn.
The next day was Friday, the beginning of Shabat, during which no work could be done, on the bicycle or otherwise.Mendy wondered if there was a brucha for a bicycle.(Oh, a brucha is a prayer, and there exists one for almost anything you can think of.Often, we say a general purpose brucha, such as shi-hechyanu, giving thanks just for surviving.)
Saturday evening passed with a nice dinner of baked ziti, Caesar salad, and a glass of chianti.
Then Sunday morning, Mendy put on his new black lycra shorts and the jersey with the red, white, and blue Brooklyn logo on the front, and admired himself in the mirror.“Admired” is probably too strong a term.“Observed and evaluated” is better.Mostly, Mendy was getting used to the idea of wearing snug shorts with the padding for the bicycle seat.Although he was a modest man, and certainly not vain, it could be said that he was aware of his appearance in the neighborhood and community.He was comfortable in the conservative black suit he wore to his office every day.These bike shorts, on the other hand, fit like a glove, if you will permit me to mix a metaphor.They also felt like he was wearing a bathing suit and Mendy felt odd not being at a swimming pool.But, as I said, athletes wear all sorts of unusual uniforms and equipment, so in the context of cycling, this was normal.
An awful thought crossed Mendy’s mind, that cyclists shave their legs.The idea shocked Mendy as he dismissed the image.No way.There was as much chance as Rivka getting her eyebrow pierced.As much chance as gefilte fish made with shrimp.As much chance…. well, I think I’ve made the point.No shaving of legs, not even if it meant winning the Giro d’Italia.
He fetched his bike helmet from the top of his closet, took off his yarmulke, and glanced once more in the mirror, this time, yes, with a little vanity.He looked okay, this thirty-five year old lawyer, no pudgy stomach, legs a little skinny, shirt a little loose.He added his aviator style sunglasses to complete the ensemble.And with a grin that he could not suppress, Mendy went outside with his classic chrome Cinelli racing bike to give it a testride.“Arrivederci, cara,” he called to Rivka, who was planting geraniums in the front yard.
Mendy rode the chrome Cinelli slowly around the block, moved the gear lever tentatively and listened for the gentle thunk as the chain settled onto each gear.Having successfully circumnavigated the neighborhood, he stopped briefly, and saw Rivka enjoying the planting of her flowers. Mendy adjusted the strap of his helmet, inserted the right toe of his sneaker back into the pedal’s toeclip, and set off again, this time with Prospect Park as his destination, where he would do several laps, or as the bikers called them, loops.
Once in the park, he rode alone, sometimes powering up a hill and sometimes leaning the bike into the curves, probably with more caution than necessary for the responsive and reliable machine that Mr. Cinelli had produced.Mendy loved the sensation of this wonderful racing bike.It was as different from his regular bike as Rivka’s dinner was from popcorn.
During this riding alone in Prospect Park, he began mentally competing in the Tour de France.Mendy imagined keeping the pace line steady as he rotated positions with five racers from other teams, sometimes as the leader and then falling back.I should digress a moment here to discuss professional bicycle racing.Among many other tactics, the most important and primary strategy is NOT to be first.The toughest position for the racer is right out in front where wind resistance is the highest.The next rider tries to pedal as close as possible to the front biker, their wheels only inches apart.The energy used by the second rider is considerably less than the first rider, so he has an advantage while he prepares to overtake the exhausted leader.A third rider can follow the second one, and so forth.This is called drafting.Actually, the paceline may contain many riders, each drafting the rider directly ahead of him, and in good races, each rider will take a turn “pulling” at the front, then fading back into the line for the next racer to take over. Paradoxically, even racers of competing teams are encouraged to cooperate with each other, alternating first place back and forth, until one of them decides to make a mad dash out in front, and then neither of them will have the wind advantage.
Now back to Mendy, working with Indurain of the Banesto team, Pantani of the Carrera team, and three others, one Carrera and two Banestos, who really weren’t competing to win, but were there to assist the other members of their team by leading the paceline for them.The six of them were spinning easily toward Mont Ventoux, whizzing past vineyards and fields of lavender.Crowds were throwing flowers, cheering wildly.The main pack of over a hundred racers, the peloton, was about two minutes back.Up here with the leaders, helicopters with news cameras hovered overhead, some low enough for Mendy to feel the downwash of air from their rotors.Motorcycles buzzed like solicitous bees, prepared to hand over a bottle filled with an energy drink, or help a team member in some other way.
And then Mendy sensed, rather than saw, that something had changed, that the group had been caught by two members of the Spazzati team.Dressed all in black, it seemed that every noun associated with the Spazzati should be preceded by the adjective “dreaded.”So Mendy now had to deal with the dreaded Spazzati.They were strong climbers and ruthless competitors.Mendy had been warned not to trust them, and now it was clear that they had joined the paceline.To exclude them from the paceline would not have been considered fair play in bike racing.So it was that when it came Mendy’s turn at the front, the Spazzati were right behind him.A small movement of his rear wheel could catch the front wheel of the rider behind and send him off in a spectacular crash.Mendy was glad he was in front of the Spazzati for the moment and not in that vulnerable position behind them.
But Mendy had some tricks up his sleeve, short sleeves though they were.He put a pained expression on his face, as if he was struggling, and he intentionally mis-shifted to a lower gear momentarily before returning to the original gear, suggesting that he was tiring.The Spazzati tried to take advantage of Mendy’s weakening condition by suddently accelerating to break away from the group of riders.Mendy, of course, was ready and allowed the Spazatti to take the lead along this stretch of roadway.But Mendy sped up tucked right behind them.He let them think he was at the end of his energy, barely keeping up, ready to fall back into the group with Pantani and Indurain, and then fall even further back into the large group of riders, the peloton, several minutes behind them.But he stayed in this small breakaway as they sped up the mountain road approaching the finish, now rotating through their own paceline of just three riders.
They had left a gap of five or six seconds between themselves and the small Pantani/Indurain group that was unsuccessfully chasing, and the gap was growing larger.Mendy rode carefully, pretending to be on the brink of exhaustion.At one point he swerved to avoid a black Spazzati waterbottle suddenly discarded in his path.Yes, don’t trust them.Soon, as Mendy took his turn at the front, he slowed a little, just perceptibly, causing the Spazzati to ease up behind him.Then he abruptly upshifted and leaped ahead.The Spazzati would have blocked his effort if they had thought he was capable of making such a jump ahead with only five kilometers left to go in the race.Mendy increased his cadence wondering if the Spazzati would take him seriously and let him go.He didn’t care.He had taken a lead of more than twenty yards.James Bond would have floored the Aston-Martin.Dirk Pitt would have dived after his super side-scan sonar.Mendy was all the literary adventurer heroes rolled into one.Mendy was about to win this stage of the Tour de France.
And what is that up ahead?A small white dog had wandered into the roadway, wagging his tail and sniffing around.Mendy dodged the pet with no trouble but heard much shouting in Italian behind him.(You may relax, as no squeals of animal distress were included.)Mendy’s triumph was sealed by this distraction to the Spazzati, and he sailed on to win this stage of the Tour de France, his arms triumphantly overhead.
So Mendy, having ridden three loops in Prospect Park, completed about ten miles, getting used to this Ferrari of a racing bike.When he was satisfied that he had won the stage of the Tour de France, he slowed a little, while he tried to decide whether to go home or maybe do some more.Ten miles isn’t very much and had taken only forty minutes.He could plan to train regularly and easily cut his time, as he got used to the new bike.Proper cycling shoes would help, too.
It is now time for a real-life event to occur.After all, this narrative is more than a Walter Mitty fantasy.I say this so you don’t confuse the imaginary adventures that entertain Mendy (and us) with the real-life incidents and challenges that we all experience, like real blisters, real bills to pay, and real love for our family.Remember that we have left Mendy riding in real life in Prospect Park.This urban park is used daily by an endless variety of people: cyclists, of course, as well as joggers, roller bladers, mothers with baby carriages, dog-walkers, and who-knows-who-else.
And while Mendy was debating whether to head home or not, from somewhere behind there arose such a clatter.(I know. I apologize to Clement Moore, but it seemed to fit in here just right.)Horse’s hooves clopped rapidly on the pavement.People were shouting, maybe even screaming; it was hard to tell the details with all the noise approaching from back down the roadway.Mendy looked over his shoulder and saw a horse-drawn carriage rattling in his direction, apparently out of control.The carriage was rolling along with two women shouting in the back seat, waving their arms.The driver seemed unable to rein in the horse trotting along faster than was safe.
In Mendy’s movie-land mood, heroes such as the Lone Ranger or Hopalong Cassidy or Gene Autry without hesitation would have leaped onto their great steeds, chased down the hysterical animal, brought him under control and soothed him with a carrot---and then ridden off, singing with a guitar or, who knows, maybe even a whole orchestra.Mendy watched the carriage go rattling past, endangering all those in its path, carrying three people in obvious terror, and there was, of course, no great steed available at this time.
But there was the Cinelli.
So Mendy gripped the handlebars a little tighter, shifted to a higher gear, and took off after the misguided, or unguided, carriage, absolutely unsure of what he would do when he caught up.
It was quite easy for Mendy to chase down the carriage, but the tricky part was to pass it and reach the runaway horse pulling it in front.Mendy wondered if there was a prayer to keep everyone out of the way as he began to race alongside the carriage. Also in the same prayer, that there were no potholes or obstacles in the roadway.Available brucha or not, Mendy rode on.
Mendy passed alongside and the occupants of the carriage yelled at him.Mendy could not determine if they were shouting warnings, pleading for help, or trying to tell him how to rescue them.Mostly, they just increased the chaos of the moment.
Understand, please, that Jewish lawyers in Brooklyn are not famous for knowing anything about horses, and that included Mendy.A hundred and fifty years ago, Mendy’s great, great grandfather in Eastern Europe may have had a nag to pull a wagon, but even this limited expertise was not inherited in Mendy’s genes.Nevertheless, with one eye on the roadway ahead, and one eye on the horse, Mendy tried to ignore the noise and used all his efforts just to keep up with the dashing animal and the clattering cart, without ending up underneath.The horse’s reins seemed to have been pulled from the driver’s hands and were flopping around, partly on the horse’s back and partly dragging down his side.There was no way Mendy could reach over and grab them, to return them to the driver.Climbing up on the thundering horse’s back was out of the question even for a superhero like Mendy, as he had never ridden even the tamest pony.But maybe he could go right to the horse’s head and do something.
So Mendy guided himself closer to the horse’s head and tried to reach up with his right hand to pull back on the leather strap attached to the bridle.As soon as he took hold, the horse realized that someone was in control, and began to slow down.What Mendy did not anticipate is that pulling on the left rein tells the horse to turn to the left, which is exactly what the horse began to do, right in front of Mendy on the Cinelli bicycle.
It was all over in a moment.The horse came to a reluctant halt, heading only a little to the left.The wagon did not turn over.All the occupants, shaking, got out as fast as they could, all of them terrified, as well as simultaneously relieved and bewildered.Who was this bearded stranger who had rescued them, anyway?
Mendy was unhurt, but was still attached to the bridle, his hand closed on it as tight as he could.He had been dragged about thirty feet, hanging on with that one hand.It took active concentration for Mendy to release his grip, stagger about ten feet away, and sink to the ground to recover.He sat there, ignoring the voices of the gathering crowd of onlookers.“Are you okay?” was mixed with “Give’m some air,” and “Call 9-1-1 !” and “Cheez, look at the bike,” as well as “See what bicycles do when they get in the way of the horses?”
The chrome Cinelli lay under the wheels of the wagon, many parts bent and obviously damaged.
The police arrived within another minute, the red lights on the roof of their patrol car flashing to warn oncoming cyclists and others.They took charge, which consisted mostly of writing a report.No one had been injured.Only the bicycle was the worse for the whole incident.The horse, by the way, did not seem happy about the police car’s flashing lights and made many noises to so indicate.The wagon driver translated from horse language to English and the lights were turned off, while one police officer trotted up the road a little to direct and warn oncoming traffic.
The worst part of the whole adventure was when the police transported Mendy and his mangled bicycle home in the police car.Rivka did not know what to expect as she saw the police car arrive with the chrome bicycle half sticking out of the trunk; in fact, she expected the worst. Was Mendy all right?Yes, and he was a hero.Actually, the hero part was pretty good.
The second worst part was when Mendy saw the newspaper the next day, with his picture on the front page.The Daily News is notorious for sensational front page headlines and photographs.There he was, in his lycra cycling shorts, helmet, and Brooklyn jersey, holding onto the horse with his hand on the bridle.No bicycle in the picture, just Mendy in tight shorts and helmet with the headline: “Lone Stranger Rides Again.”
Looking just at the newspaper picture, Mendy’s clothing would have been preposterous, a weird man from Brooklyn wearing a helmet.Fortunately there was the headline, a caption, and several paragraphs.Somehow, the newspaper had acquired the photo as well as details, such as the names of the survivors.Mendy’s name was printed as Mandy, but even with the helmet and sunglasses, everyone in the shul, all Mendy’s neighbors, and the classmates of Mendy’s children soon figured it out.Two radio shows called him for interviews.Rivka kept a list of all the phone calls and the list was several pages long. He was a celebrity.
The owner of the carriage offered to buy Mendy a new bicycle, which Mendy declined, since his one bicycle, the Bianchi city bike which had remained in the garage, now seemed enough at this time. Mendy suggested a nice contribution to the Prospect Park Conservancy, however, as a gesture appreciated by all.Mendy didn’t know what to do with the damaged Cinelli, until he got a call from a bicycle dealer in Washington, DC, who would buy the remains just for the classic parts, whatever might be usable.What a shock to find out that the bike was worth several hundred dollars for salvage alone!And now it had a history.
Mendy used the money to buy a new bike for Ephraim, who had outgrown his, and the whole family went off together bike riding in Prospect Park with an orchestra playing.Okay, no orchestra, but with pride in their hero.And a very stern warning not to try such shenanigans again.
(Dedicated to my friend Mendy, a rabbinical student in Brooklyn, whose first name is coincidentally the same as my protagonist’s.The fictional Mendy is not at all like the real one, except that the real Mendy also has a ready smile and sense of humor as well as dedic
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