There hasn’t been a book in a while that speaks to me on a deeper level in the way this one does. Each time I read through its straightforward but multi-layered pages, I get that soul shifting feeling.
A Simple Machine, Like the Lever, also understood to the reader as Nicholas’ semi-frequent journal, is “me” in so many ways. Yet, enough not like me (or my life) where it doesn’t become subtly alarming.
It’s relatable and comfortable but far enough away, like the fuzzy morning sun star hitting my skin and the Earth as fall begins to overtake summer.
Penned by Evan P. Scheider, the story loosely describes a young man’s quest to clear his life and mind from extra things: backlogged debt, old books he’ll never read again (or never started), and life’s quirky miscommunications or misconceptions.
At the same time, he’s trying to fit in, mostly at work but also on his bike rides around town. And with his girlfriend, Marie, with who he’s constantly aiming to convince—sometimes terribly so—that his eccentric habits aren’t actually all that behaviorally nutty.
They make sense. To him, at least.
The longer the reader is with Nick and his daily journey’s, it becomes clear that his mission is one of practicality. Reuse this, save that, keep this in mind. He’s in his own head most of the time, wondering what others must think of him, but at the same time proceeding within his own little oddities, such as:
+ picking up a shaker of salt from the side of the road
+ borrowing a friend’s unused bike light, without telling him
+ cleaning a coffee pot by holding it like a glass mitten to ensure an exact clean
+ pouring hot water in a plastic honey bottle to use every last drop
+ locking up his bike with a dual setup, meticulous and exact every time
+ tagging his wardrobe to track what items are never worn
What stands out to me is Nick’s ability to observe life’s little quirks, quite often by way of his bicycle. His observations are spot on, and almost indescribable to non-cycling counterparts within this fictitious tale, or within my reality.
This morning was quite beautiful. I smelled a fall floating in the air. It was like an invisible bouquet of pumpkins waved above the road. My legs churned without much concentration or effort—sheer equilibrium of movement.
I love how he comments on the sounds, the smells, the weather. His homeless pal that is sometimes in a good mood. The way he folds his pant leg to avoid it getting caught in the chainring. And observations of other riders on the road.
What he describes is truly a small ecosystem of its own, rendered external to our bodies, but best experienced within our own heads.
When you ride, it becomes about body feel and observation. The heat on your neck, the chill up your arms, the burn in your thighs. Senses heighten, smells are robust, and you’re linked with the ground in a way that cannot be replicated.
The bike is a vehicle, but it is also an experience, and Nick understands this. It isn’t something to take for granted—it is a decision of purpose, and it cannot be taken lightly. Like on trendy “bike to work” days:
There is a deep disrespect being shown to the bicycle when it’s only ridden once a year and you have to ask someone else what’s going on with it. It makes me cringe inside, as if a dead leaf were being crushed between my lungs.
To a cyclist, sounds become rhymes that become patterns that become reflections. As the seasons change, the cyclist observes and understands this. Trees shift in color, from twinkling full bloom leaves to bare matchsticks, and the air ebbs and flows in weight right along side.
You capture tiny moments no one else does, and you want to hold on to those at all costs. The best of those moments often occur when no one else is around, like a wild animal streaking across the road ahead or the sound of a distant train. Perhaps it’s the smell of laundry or a barbecue grill full of tasty marinaded meats on a cool evening.
Before the reader parts with Nick and his journal, there comes a moment of pivot. With his finances, his relationship, his outlook. The author beautifully makes use of allegories throughout the entire read, but certain notes hit harder than others.
I wondered if maybe I didn’t like The Maytrees because I don’t know anything about love… I wanted love to be straightforward. Like doing basic addition instead of long division.
By the end, some things are clearer than ever for Nick, and in other ways, heavier than a morning fog in a coastal cape. But I suppose that’s how things always are. Clouds roll in and clouds roll out. We make change, or change is forced upon us.
Those of us that are fortunate enough to have (and be aware of) an outlet to observe things at another level of consciousness—in this case, the bicycle—perhaps look at life with a little more eccentricity, or oddity… or something.
However you choose to look at it, Nick reminds me of a simple solace that can be hard to put into written word, let alone explained verbally.
Born out of life’s ever-evolving paths and saddle-made memories, Nick makes me feel OK about being a little weird.