I forgot to mention weeks ago that I finally found an affordable used bicycle to replace my Iron Horse, the theft of which left me in a funk not unlike Jimmy Stewart’s in Vertigo after he failed to save his fellow cop from plummeting to his death during a rooftop chase of a bad guy. My self-loathing was so severe, the doctors had to lock me in a padded room for weeks and play Mozart records until I snapped out of it…
Actually, I became angry and searched the neighborhood for a long time, hoping to blunder into the thief with the bike, or the bike by itself. I was ranting. Someone said, “If a stolen bicycle upsets you this much, how would you react if you found out you had terminal cancer?” I replied, “I would die, I guess. That’s a stupid question.”
My point was that a setback that seems minor to one person might seem earth-shaking to someone else. It depends on your hierarchy of needs and frame of mind. Years ago I suffered an ankle injury — torn ligaments — that kept me on crutches for three months. I was in a resilient frame of mind, so I reacted by doing a lot of upper-body exercises and speed-walking on crutches.
This time I wasn’t feeling resilient, and my mood didn’t improve until I was able to buy a new bike. At some point I re-watched Bicycle Thieves (also known as The Bicycle Thief), the old Vittorio De Sica movie about a poor man supporting his family with a job that requires him to have a bicycle. His bike is stolen and he steals someone else’s bike after a fruitless search for his own. He gets caught, of course, right in front of his son, and ends up feeling shame as well as outrage. Now that’s a setback.
The moral of Bicycle Thieves is don’t do something that might embarrass you in front of your son. Or don’t steal bicycles unless you’re a professional thief. Or don’t steal bikes that are so slow and clunky, you’ll get caught in the act.
There is no moral. Great stories don’t have a moral. De Sica’s movie is about coming to grips with the fact that opportunities are rare and second chances even rarer, especially if you’re poor. It’s about the difficulty of enduring mundane cruelties without becoming cynical or defeatist. There is a sociopolitical subtext to the movie, but De Sica was too artful to allow his story to become overtly polemical. There is no happy ending.
Footnote: You can watch the whole goddamn movie on YouTube!