There’s an older guy in my neighborhood who rides around every morning on his bicycle with a massive Ukrainian flag attached to the back. When I say older I mean older than me. And by massive I mean out of all proportion to the bicycle. I wonder how the bike doesn’t tip over backward. The guy wears a helmet, a yellow construction vest of the gilets jaunes type, and red pants with green sneakers. At least that was his outfit the last time I saw him.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he was playing a character from Dr. Seuss, except that he also blares classical music and opera as he pedals along like a man on a mission. Lately, it’s been the famous duet from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro featured in The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and “Il Mio Babbino Caro” by Puccini. The guy’s got taste. I’ll give him that.
Just by coincidence, I know where he lives, since I walk through the neighborhood to get to campus and pass by his house. The house is modest and charming, painted blue with yellow trim, and sits back from a street lined with sycamore trees. A Ukrainian flag hangs on a pole from a dormer, and an old, blue van is parked at the curb with a “Vote Blue” bumper sticker.
So, it is clear where he stands politically. I have seen him stop and talk to passersby, but I prefer to keep my distance. I like to think he is an exiled conductor from Ukraine or has family there and therefore has personal experience of the horror of Putin’s invasion. If that’s the case, there is nothing I could add to a potential conversation that wouldn’t upset either one of us, mainly because I have serious concerns about the war if not the suffering of innocent people. So I leave things alone. That’s a skill I am developing now that I no longer work full time, but that’s for another post.
The upshot of all this? Last week I wrote about overuse of the word “community” to describe groups of people who really have no connection to one another except in superficial or contrived ways (see What’s This “Community” Thing?). For instance, yesterday I heard a nutritionist refer to the “longevity community” in a talk about green tea and olive oil. But what was he referring to, exactly? People who have lived long? Want to live long? Know enough not to confuse longevity with gravitational pull? I suspect that if there really were a longevity community, we would all be members of it by birthright.
But here’s the thing. I’d like to make a rule that to be a member of a community you need a membership card, pay dues, and have voting rights. Either that or live in the neighborhood. That ought to keep social media influencers like the nutritionist out. Of course, it would still include socialists, communists, and many student groups, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
Instead of communities, I prefer neighborhoods and the people who reside in them, eccentric, committed, or crazy though they may be. The Ukrainian bike man is one of these. People like him give flavor and identity to the neighborhood, marking it as a true community, even if he comes off as a bit of an oddball. I get the impression he’s retired and has enough “up yours” money not to care what others think of him.
I take comfort knowing that he makes his rounds as dutifully as a nightwatchman but with the conviction that his cause is just. That’s my assumption, of course, whether I agree with his cause or not. It is also his way of expressing himself personally and directly. I do not know if he is one of the many keyboard warriors on the internet, but, if he is, he is also putting himself out there no matter the consequences, unlike most of the others. That takes courage.
Now, imagine what would happen if his flag had stars and stripes.
Image credits: feature by Chris Becker; flag by okeykat. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.” Happy Birthday to Camilla Heidi Brancatelli, Sofia Lillie Brancatelli, and Angelo Robert Brancatelli