There are certain high spots in a man’s life that he begins to anticipate from the age of thirteen. These include his first motorcycle, his first apartment, and his first live-in-girlfriend. The delight in these high spots seems self explanatory, as each has a lineal relationship with speed, or living in the fast lane. No man can ever forget that first motorcycle, bought and paid for with one’s own sweat. Mine was a brand new Kawasaki H2, sold to me by one of the fastest talking salesman in the history of motorcycle transactions. His name was “Fabulous Sam,” and he worked me over like a prize fighter on a punching bag. It took him exactly 15 minutes to sell me a bike. His mouth moved in a constant blur, like the mirror on an idling 1973 Harley. (I have nothing but fond memories of Fabulous Sam, who must be in his seventies if he is still kicking. And if anybody knows this guy, please drop me a line as I’d like to buy him a drink.)
I left the shop in Union City unable to believe the motorcycle was mine.
This incredibly beautiful, purple and chrome, mechanical wonder had my name on the title. And it was parked (on the sidewalk) outside the eighth wonder of the world — my apartment. The inspiration to get an apartment came from my father, who said to me when I was nineteen, “The time has come for you to move out of the house.” My father was neither a cruel nor an unreasonable man. But he had an enduring love for my mother, one of the most capable, competent, and statuesque blonds ever spawned by the Gods. My mother had a sense of humor as deep as the Beefsteak Mine... She was a people person who could work a room like Huey Long... And her Irish temper was the forerunner of the hand grenade: when she pulled the pin, it exploded in 7 seconds.
My mother and I were at war and the fighting was vicious, loud, and daily. The argument was about two out of the three high spots.
My mother discovered my plans for a motorcycle about the same time she learned I was having sex three times a week with a beautiful Italian girlfriend. I wasn’t stupid enough to tell her these things. She learned them through subterfuge. To make matters worse, I declined to become something useful in life — like an accountant — in favor of pursuing a vapory writing career. No decent son in my mother’s experience rode a motorcycle, had sex, and pretended that writing was a means of making a living. When asked by her friends how I was doing, she said I was in training to become a piano player in a whorehouse.
The fighting between my mom and I was so bad, my dad decided it was time for me to to leave.
Most guys who grew up in an urban environment like Jersey City will have no difficulty remembering their first apartment as it was usually a dump. I found another guy at school who needed a roommate, and we moved into a two-level town house, on Boulevard East — one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Hudson County. The living room had a bar and a terrace, with a sweeping view that ran from the George Washington Bridge to mid-town Manhattan. It also had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a utility room. It guaranteed instant sex from any woman lured to its confines.
And then there was the live-in girlfriend.
She was 5’6,” with brown eyes, about 110 pounds, and captain of the equestrian team at school. (She was wearing jodhpurs when I first met her, and I would have committed murder for a date.) Roxanne had straight brunette hair that was as black as the outlook of the current economy, and turned every head when she walked into the room. Kissing her was like putting your lips to a perfectly ripe peach. I had the motorcycle... The apartment... And the live-in girlfriend. I was barely a junior in college, and I had the world by the balls.
Then I discovered that reality is a bitch and nothing in life is as it seems.
While the Kawasaki H2 was the fastest street bike of its day, it was one of the most primitive motorcycles ever to roll out of Japan. The engine ran like three midget Samoan tag-team wrestlers, who hated each other. The motorcycle had the cornering characteristics of a piano dropped from a church roof. It revved like a tyrannosaurus farting, and other riders spit on it. (The H2 would eventually be regarded as cool, but that would take 30 years.) I learned how to clean spark plugs in my spare time, and got the usual education on tires that barely lasted 5,000 miles and brakes that were the source of many exciting moments.
My roommate and I could barely keep the bar in the apartment stocked with cheap gin because of the monthly rent. Since I had yet to set the world on fire with my literary ambitions, my primary income came from loading trucks. Loading trucks was one of those positions that seemed to pay remarkably well (and it did considering it was a Teamster’s job). But the nature of my truck-loading expertise was such that I was required to show up between the hours of 11pm and 7am. This was about the time I would normally schedule serious drinking, screwing, and sleeping, which constitutes the basis of most writers’ inspiration.
Yet the biggest shock of all came with the realization of the gap between a post-adolescent male’s expectations of a live-in girlfriend and the actual limitations of a woman’s endurance. I naturally assumed she loved me because I rode a motorcycle, drank Irish whiskey out of the bottle, and was ready to mate every 45 minutes. I was appalled to learn that her attraction to me was the result of my “penetrating blue eyes and literary promise.” What kind of bullshit was that? Furthermore I had assumed that doing my laundry, cooking breakfast and dinner, and perhaps tiding up a bit was more than adequate compensation for riding on the back of my bike, hanging around with my friends, and having sex with me whenever I wanted.
I was amazed to learn that this remarkable woman had some sort of hidden clock that was set to a kind of “doomsday” reckoning, upon which an alarm would ring, oral sex would stop, and her breasts would fill up with high-test, or else a bomb would explode. Worse still, the terms of this Armageddon to good times were nowhere written. Males destined to climb the Darwinian ladder are supposed to know all this. Her clock was set for 8:30am... While mine was set for August 4th, 1984 (9 years later).
The timer doesn’t usually go off like an alarm clock though... It’s a more gradual process marked by increased indifference. Yet one should never assume that while a woman doesn’t appear interested in a lot of things, that she she doesn’t see and understand everything. I had the mating instincts of a mink and the ethics of a roach when I was nineteen going on twenty. And I just assumed it was the natural order of things to have another lover heating up while the current one cooled. On the day of the final break-up, I rode in after a night of loading trucks and having a gin breakfast with the boys. She was on her way out with an air of finality. I held open the door, and she said something clever, about me being an asshole. My thought that morning was that a gesture must speak when the moment is too sensitive for words, and I knew the perfect one. Then I poured myself a gin and tonic as big as my ass and slept for a couple of hours on the sofa.
A man’s heart breaks as thoroughly as any woman’s and I was consumed by a crushing grief. However, my way of dealing with it was to aim the bike at the horizon and ride off to a roaring weekend party (where I would be introduced to a woman wearing a cotton shirt, a denim skirt, and perfume instead of panties). The Kawasaki started on the first kick. I snicked it into gear and let out the clutch. I got about fifty feet when the rear wheel locked up and the bike went sideways. The drop was somewhat embarrassing and the right turn signal shattered when it hit the ground. I yanked the machine upright and noticed that it refused to roll. Then I saw the chain was loose and the rear wheel was canted at an angle.
The set screws which kept the tension on the chain were missing. I found them on the ground where the bike had been parked — along with the lock nuts. Women are experts when it comes to having the last word, and some know a few things about gestures of their own.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011