Party in The USA

In the wash of mercury moonlight, I watched the mentally retarded man struggle to pedal his bike down the icy, snow-crusted sidewalk.

Frankly, it was difficult not to watch him.

His many red, blinking bike lights were mesmerizing in the inky Alaskan darkness.  His pursed lips and furrowed brow begged to be noticed and bespoke the Herculean effort he was undertaking.

Apart from the blinking lights and his determined expression, something else prompted me to remain parked on the deserted city street - even after the stoplight flashed from red to green to red again.

I didn't understand what it was about the mentally handicapped bike rider that was prompting me to delay my early-morning bagel run - but there I was, fiddling with the temperature control on my heated leather driver's seat in my luxury sedan, and counting each excruciatingly slow evolution of his bike wheel.

Was it curiosity about his motivation for being out so early and in negative 4 degree weather?  Or admiration for his obvious fortitude and physical stamina?  I don't know.

The stoplight changed to green again.  The man plodded along.  An annoying, over-played Katie Perry song about Daisy Duke's and bikini tops came on the radio.  I slid my thumb an inch or two to the left and pushed the stereo control button on my steering wheel to turn Katie off (Turning Katie off, I wryly thought, was a Herculean effort in its own right).

In my suddenly silent mobile cocoon, I could hear the crunching sound his tires were making as they slowly pulverized the crisp snow and a strange, low humming noise.

I was still watching as his rear tire hit a slick spot.  The bike veered sharply and then crashed into a snow drift.

I jabbed the hazard light button on my console, threw open my door, and ran over to the accident site.  The determined rider was sprawled on his back, half on the ice and half in the snow.

I looked down into his flat face, noticed the small scar above his lip and the cock-eyed way his fur cap now rested on his head, and realized he was a teenager not a man. 

"Are you alright?"

He did not move or speak.  For several sickening seconds, his wide, vacant brown eyes remained open, unblinking, staring but unseeing.  Irrationally, I worried he had cracked his head hard enough to kill him.

Finally, he said, "I'm Tommy and this ice is cold."

I asked him again if he was alright.

"I am cold," he said, flashing me a lopsided grin.

He took my hand and I helped him to his feet. 

"Did you hurt yourself?"

He scratched his chin as he shook his head.  Then, together we extricated his bike from the snowdrift.

"That was quite a crash," I said.  "You're a tough guy to have survived it."

He giggled and said, "Uh oh, Tommy crashed.  Tommy crashed."

Considering his young age and the harshness of the weather, I couldn't stop myself from asking him what he was doing out at such an early hour.

He told me that he worked at the grocery store at night, cleaning up and stocking the shelves. 

I made some inane comment about it sounding like hard work. 

"Pop-Pop says hard work is good for the soul.  Pop-Pop says all good Americans should work hard."

Then he said that he wanted to keep talking but he had to get home or he would be late and then he would not be able to catch the bus to school.

"Would you like a ride home?"

He shook his head.  "I have a bike.  With lights."

"But it is so cold out.  Are you sure I can't drive you the rest of the way?"

He grinned again, his fur cap still lopsided on his head. 

"No thank you," he said.  "I am a tough guy.  Tommy Tough Guy."

And with that he swung his leg over his bike and began pedaling his way down the treacherous sidewalk, his red lights winking at me in the darkness.

I went back to my perfectly heated car, jabbed the hazard lights button, and clicked on my radio.

Miley Cyrus was warbling about her Party in The USA.  I listened to Miley sing about her life in the land of the rich and famous and spending her nights going to clubs and dancing to her favorite songs and I started to cry.  I suddenly realized why watching Tough Guy Tommy had piqued my interest (and now my admiration).

I realized that we've come to value the partier and not the plodder - and by we I mean the people living in first world nations, not just the people of America.  In my opinion, bloated bellies and muddled morals have become a global epidemic. 

I decided that this Christmas, I will take a cue from Tough Guy Tommy and his Pop-Pop and value the worker, not the wares.  I will not take pride in my possessions, but in the perspiration shed to earn them.  This Christmas, I will spend less time thinking about which designer handbag or fabulous pink gown I covet and more time thinking about the immeasurable worth of a hard day's work. 

After all, a person in a fabulous Christian Dior gown is not nearly as attractive as a person with a good soul.


Stephanie said...

Wow....what a thought-provoking piece...I could not agree more about your opinion that "bloated bellies and muddled morals have become a global epidemic." This article is coming just at the right time as I was struggling with the fact that there won't be many Xmas presents under our tree because of finances. It truly is more about the experiences and spending time with people you love than what's/how much is under the tree. Thank you for reminding me of that. GREAT piece.

Jennifer K. said...

You brought me to tears with this piece. Thanks for reminding me of what is really important.

Francis B. Clark said...

You are such a gifted writer, but what I think is even more special about you is that you are a compassionate person. Tough Guy was just as fortunate to encounter you as you were to encounter him.

Rowenna said...

Incredible post, Leah--so true. We should be admiring the Tommy Tough Guys and the Pop-Pops. I am fortunate to be acquainted with a few of those kinds of folks--thanks for reminding me to be thankful they're in my life.

Lisa said...

Wonderfully insightful, soul-searching article, Leah. Thank you for reminding all of us what's most important - not only this season, but always.

Megan W. said...

oh wow LB.... I lOVE this one...thanks for the thoughtful & heartfelt view - perfect timing by the way! love you...

Sherry said...

Excellent and thought provoking as always!

Kristin said...

I love, love, love the eloquent way that you put words together and seem to do so effortlessly. My VERY talented friend!!!

Tribeca Holmes said...

Wow. I have read some thoughtful posts on your blog before but this one was completely unexpected, especially after your posts on shopping. Honestly? I thought this was a moving post but I like your shopping and fun ones too.

SaraLynnArt said...

What an amazing story. You have a gift for writing - I was hooked on every word.

Unknown said...

I just now saw this post on your blog. What an amazing story. I think we all need to realize how easy we have it compared to others. This was very thought provoking.