Call it bike lit. Joe "Metal Cowboy" Kurmaskie is all over it.
The Portland bicyclist has written nonfiction books, memoirs and story collections that have prompted USA Today to dub him "a modern day Mark Twain on two wheels." His latest book, "A Guide to Falling Down in Public: Finding Balance On and Off the Bicycle" (Breakaway Books, 288 pages, $23.95), being published June 1, is a bit of a personal victory.
"I battled back from the brink to complete it," Kurmaskie said by email. "I was diagnosed with hemochromatosis in 2015 and would have been shopping for a new liver or tombstone – instead I'm fit, thriving and working to make the world more aware of this rarely diagnosed, most common deadly genetic disease." Hemochromatosis is an iron disorder that causes the body to absorb too much iron from food, which increases the risks of developing a variety of life-threatening diseases and medical conditions.
Kurmaskie will have a book launch party at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 11, at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W. Burnside St. He'll also make these appearances:
Here's an excerpt from "A Guide to Falling Down in Public."
I step into the barn and lean against a table to chat with the old man. I take a New Mexico rancher approach, nod, wait, wait a bit longer before speaking.
"We biked over here from Sellwood."
He squints. I tell him that's back in Portland, next to the river.
"You know they have this thing called a car now."
I chuckle. "And I own one, but try to let cobwebs build on it. Biking is so much more fun, helps us stay young, it's easier on the planet . . ."
He grunts, folds up his newspaper, and points up to the rafters. Three vintage bikes hanging up there covered in cobwebs—reminders of missed opportunities. Nothing sadder than bikes eight feet off the ground forever.
That's when the bulk of the Papa Wheelies roll through the gate and start disembarking out by rows of blueberries. There's laughter, conversation, a comfortable rolling-carnival-type vibe.
"And here comes the rest of your profit center for today." I gesture at the gang.
That's when the elderly woman, who has been preparing weighed containers for us to use, turns to me and says, "We hate bike riders."
The old man chimes in. "They run stop signs and get in the way. I don't think you should be allowed on the road."
I start in about how there are good and bad road users in every transportation mode.
"You're just in my way," he adds before I've even completed my thoughts.
I try to stay reasoned and calm, but as I start to get angry, something happens ... I hold back a flood of fury, replacing it with pity. I just feel bad for these two aging people with so much unnecessary bitterness in their hearts. I do the unthinkable for Joe Kurmaskie of five years ago ... I walk away.
I head over to the gang, deciding if we should still pick there or not, when I catch the woman saying something to Josh. He's been making our case, telling her that this group are all dads and moms, and that we try to follow the rules of the road and be examples of safety for our children.
She cuts him off with, "You bikers make me so angry, you slow me down when I need to get into town. I'd like to run all of you over ... and your kids."
Josh, pale and gut-punched, marches over to us. I'm already taking blueberries out of some of the kids' hands.
Josh and I relay to the gang what just happened. We pedal hundred of dollars of blueberry money back out of their gate.
We regroup at the front of their entrance—pose ourselves for a thumbs-down photo of their sign, then look up where another farm might be. Turns out Josh thinks he remembers another one very close. Like the scene in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" when they hear the sound of singing from beautiful, winsome young sirens down by the river, we roll up to a pack of fresh-faced farm girls in tank tops and their cougar mom singing. Beyond them in the back acreage are a couple of strapping young guys getting onto farm equipment.
"Don't worry 'bout those two old crab apples. We love bikers. That couple has just a small patch and we don't see them as competition, but still they find out what price the berries are set at each week by the U-pick groups around town and then cut it by twenty-five cents, thinking they're stealing away business."
The next hour or two is spent in berry heaven. Kids running between the rows, faces covered blue. Farm animals for the kids to look at. The gals gave us ice cream containers to pack home more berries for the freezer.
It was instant karma on the bitter harvest down the road. As we passed their sign once more, I felt the failure and missed connections—that their own human plants had grown so stiff and hollow. It's a mean world that forgets how little it takes to be kind, no matter by what transportation mode people use to arrive at your door.
From "A Guide to Falling Down in Public" by Joe Kurmaskie. Reprinted by permission of Breakaway Books.
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