The ringing phone woke both of us — me, and my hangover. This was one of the two years I had the townhouse on Boulevard East (1975-1976), in Guttenburg, NJ, with a view of midtown Manhattan that could have gotten a cigar store Indian laid. Too bad I wasn’t a cigar store Indian. But if reading the alarm clock had been a test for the right to mate, I’d have failed anyway. I’d consumed my weight in rum earlier that night, and now had eyes that rolled around independently of each other, like those stupid lizards that turn up in the lobbies of first class hotels on the Amazon River.
It took me three attempts to determine it was past one a.m., and by that time the phone had stopped ringing. But the ringing in my head took up where the instrument had left off. I had just resolved to sleep through the cranial carillon, when the phone started again. Only two people would call me at that hour, and both of them was “Cretin.” One was the happy Cretin, who may have found himself with two women hot to trot, but not necessarily in a threesome.
Above) The view of Manhattan from Boulevard East in Weehawken, NJ. This is easily one of the most scenic streets in the world. Photo from Wikipedia.
Cretin’s apartment usually had some great architectural elements, or a view to rival mine. Invariably, however, it was a total shit house, like a flea market in hell that had been targeted by a car-bomb. He’d call me whenever he had dual action he didn’t think could handle the crime scene that was his place. He once brought a hooker back to his house who asked, “Did you bring me here to give you head, or to wash the dishes?” On occasions like these, having a tidy apartment and a toilet that didn’t match the decor of a Turkish prison offered an advantage.
I would have been delighted if it had been the “happy” Cretin.
It was the “disturbed” one though, who was working through the process of a really bad idea by the time he called me. With Cretin, you took the bad ideas with the good ones as the average usually worked out to a damn fine time. Dark forces were already at work, however.
“Reep, do you recognized my voice?” asked the broken glass and dog shit Hudson County accent that could only belong to one person.
“Christine,” I asked. “Is that you?”
“Listen Shit-For-Brains, I’m in a jam and I need help. Are you sober enough to find your dick and put a sock on it?”
The last time I’d heard this line, he’d run up a $800 tab for lap dances in a totally nude juice bar someplace outside of Paterson, NJ.
“You know that corner bar down on Gibbet Street? I need you to ride down here right now on that piece of shit you call a motorcycle, and park around back, behind that saloon. Bring that other stoopid-lookin’ helmet you’ve got too,” said the slightly disturbed Cretin. “And make sure you come up from the side street, and park in the back.”
“I don’t like that place,” I said. “A big ugly guy on a red Harley gave me a hard time there once.”
“That guy is ‘Ass Face’ O’Hanlon,” said Cretin. “And he’s still here here.” This guy was so ugly that a bar floozie once told him he’d look perfectly natural with toilet paper sticking out of his mouth. From that moment on, he was known as “Ass Face.” It was my understanding that everyone — including his mother — called him that.
“I’ll meet you on the corner.”
“Listen Suck-Nuts... I need you to give me a ride... That’s why you have to bring the second helmet... And I need you to pick me up in the alley, behind the bar, with your headlight off. And I need you to get here in 15 minutes, before this shit hole closes.”
“You’re going to ride pillion on my piece-of-shit Kawasaki H2,” I asked? But there was no reply. He was already moving on to “phase two” of what already sounded like a bad idea to me, and I hadn’t left the house yet.
Though cryptic, my instructions seemed simple enough. Cretin wanted me to get dressed, get on my bike, and ride down to a gin mill in Jersey City, where I was to come up on the dark side street, and park around back. (He didn’t really expect me to hang a sock on my dick. That had been a rhetorical question for me to determine if I was conscious enough to handle the bike. This was a favorite expression of his that I did not understand the first time he used it in conversation. So he was not expecting me to answer the door on that occasion, stark naked with a gym sock on my Johnson. Nor was I expecting to see him in the hall with two women. It was to their credit that they stepped in and stayed like this was all perfectly normal — Author’s note.)
The little town of Guttenberg is perched atop the Palisades (cliffs towering 40-stories high, lining the New York City waterfront). I decided the fastest way to get to Jersey City across the checkerboard of towns that make up North Hudson County was to take Boulevard East south, through West New York, Weehawken, Union City, and Hoboken. There was a good deal of traffic on the Boulevard at 1 a.m., as it is a great place to walk and make-out with someone if you are between the ages of 15 and 25. Following the contours of the cliffs, Boulevard East is one curve after another, on perfect pavement, on a tree-lined artery that could be in Paris. Gentle input to the handlebars brought the Kawasaki effortlessly through each curve. Though the speed limit was officially 25 miles per hour, 40 was normal in most places and I hit it.
New York City was spread out on my left... Like Oz, if that mythical place were jeweled towers and glittering canyons. If you got stopped at a light, you could occasionally glance straight up a cross street — like 42nd Street — a mile and a half across the Hudson River. It was late spring, and the cruise ships were in too. I found myself shooting down the hill into Hoboken ten minutes later, where the elegant street dissolved into potholes and was lined by factories (including the old Maxwell House Coffee Roasting Facility and old fruit warehouses). I charged up the 14th Street viaduct (which was falling down then and has hardly improved more than 25 years later), and rolled into Jersey City like a bad rumor. I didn’t frequent the section where I was headed, and never really like the look of it. It was a maze of streets with two and three-story houses, with false peaks and flat roofs, and gray windows that aspired to cheap decorations at Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
I worked my way around to the darkened side-street, killed my headlight, and coasted into the alley behind the bar. It was as black as pitch in there, and I ran into two garbage cans that were hosting a convention of cats. “Shit,” I muttered under my breath. “That fuck, Cretin.”
There was a steel door out back that was partially open, leaking a wedge of light. The wedge expanded, revealing Cretin’s face.
“There’s one more can out there... Want to try again and see if you can pick up the spare?”
I don’t like going into strange neighborhood taverns. I like sneaking into them even less. It’s like brushing your teeth with someone elses toilet brush. I had always considered this joint an “old man’s bar,” though I could see that wasn’t exactly the case. There was the standard human wreckage clinging to the stools, and a handful of humanoid shapes at a half-dozen tables concealed by a cigarette smoke screen. “Ass Face” O’Hanlon was sitting at the bar with a woman whose features were primarily canine. All I could think of was, “A dog sniffing another ass.” His right hand was in her jeans.
“Ass Face” was the only living human who'd ever kicked me in the balls. My balls screamed out for vengeance.
There was a smiling Cretin, in the company of a startling pretty woman. This one had a a seductive face, short hair, and a dynamic ass. Her shirt was tightly tucked into her jeans, creating a series of seamless curves from a well-defined rack to a waist I could have encircled with both hands.
“This is Linda,” said Cretin. “Linda Aces High.”
She apparently was.
Under different circumstances, I would have been jealous. But Cretin’s women usually came with baggage, The prettier they were, the greater the baggage. This one looked like she came with a barge-full of steamer trunks. Why would I say that? Because all the really pretty ones get taken first, and get their baggage early. Especially women who looked like this one, and who met guys like Cretin in places like this.
“This is Reep,” said Cretin. “Don’t talk to him or we’ll never get out of here.”
This woman looked vaguely familiar. This was because she tended bar in a place where Cretin had asked me to meet him once or twice before. It was her husband’s bar. And she had been giving Cretin a guided tour of her panties three nights a week for the last six months... Sometimes on the bar after she’d closed it.
Her husband had gotten wise and was currently sitting in a parked car at the curb, with several of his cronies, staking out Cretin’s Norton, which was on the side stand, under the streetlight. The woman had gotten a ride here. Cretin rode up on the bike. The plan was to have a few drinks... Get all kinds of warm in the cozy, hellish club-like atmosphere... And ride to Cretin’s place. It was obvious he still hoped to salvage the night while ducking a beating.
“I thought you wanted me to give you a ride,” I asked.
“Yeah,” Cretin replied... “Can I have your ride?”
I busted out laughing. I had been taking endless shit from him over my two-stroke, piece of shit, lollipop-colored, Kawasaki H2 for nearly a year. And now he wanted to ride it. “How do I get back from here,” I asked.
“On the Norton.”
Cretin’s plans generally entailed some measure of personal risk. This was the first time my role as a “beard” would also include being the designated decoy.
“There’s nothin’ to this,” said Cretin. “You swagger outside, get on the bike, and pull away at about 10,000 miles per hour. How hard can this be? You ride like an animal anyway. And for once, you’ve got a real motorcycle.”
This would be a night of realization. I realized that I was being tossed to the wolves for a piece of ass. And the more I saw that ass through sidelong glances, the more I realized there was no higher aspiration in life. (I would have walked in a mile of her shit to see where it came from.) The bartender yelled, “Last call, folks,” and I ordered a rum and coke. If I couldn’t go down with the taste of this woman on my lips, or any woman on this night, then I wanted the next best thing. We switched keys, and I realized my house key was on the same ring.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Cretin. “We’re going to your place anyway. But you should feel free to ride until dawn... Stop at an after-hours place. Watch how the Norton lures the pillion candy.”
I busted out laughing. The swindle was complete.
And then we switched helmets. Cretin had my two stupid-looking metallic green helmets, with the snap-on plastic shields. (Crap like this was popular in the '70s.) He gave me an open-face black job, and a pair of goggles that looked as if a WWI gas mask should have been attached to them.
“I’m countin’ on ya,” said Cretin. “And whatever happens, don’t stop within two blocks of this place.”
I walked out to the Norton Commando, threw my leg over the saddle, neither looking to the right nor the left. I switched on the ignition, triggered the handlebar-mounted choke lever, and kicked down on the starter. (This bike had an electric starter, but it was purely ornamental.) With the throttle liberally cracked, the Norton roared into life. I pulled on that clown-suit of a helmet, snicked the bike into gear, and left.
I thought I heard yelling in the street, but just kept going. My departure raised doubt among the lurkers as I did not leave with a woman... And I did not look like I hadn’t eaten in two months... (Cretin was skinny.) And I pulled away from the curb like an old lady. The 1975 Norton Commando was not the 1975 Kawasaki H2. If I was ever going to rob a bank, the Norton would not have been my choice of a getaway vehicle. It had four gears to the Kawasaki’s 5, and two/thirds of the horsepower. In truth, I developed a much healthier respect for Cretin’s aggressive riding on this machine. But it did sound as good as it looked.
I got two blocks away before a car came up from behind, pulled around me at a corner, and dumped a bunch of vicious guys in my face. One of these assholes tried to shove me out of the saddle, but I held on, and grabbed the keys from the ignition.
“You fucks are not getting my fucking bike,” I yelled. And with that, they realized I was not Cretin.
“Dis is Cretin’s bike,” yelled one of the plug-ugly bastards, who was foaming at the mouth. (I assumed he was the husband.)
“Not since last week,” I said. “He owes me for 10 grams of blow and I took this bike. After Friday, this is Joey Dee’s bike. You wanna take it up wid Joey Dee, be my guest.” I had never seen 10 grams of anything, and I made up the invisible Joey Dee. In a city full of tough Italians, I figured there had to be at least one Joey Dee, who routinely kicked the shit out of somebody. (Joey "Dee" was short for Joey DiTuna, or something like that.)
The plug-ugly husband was not so easily mollified. He started to yell about how Cretin was sniffing up his wife’s skirt, and how he was gonna kill him. I felt sorry for the guy, because I’d have been sniffing up his wife’s skirt too (in the day’s when I was 20-years-old). But I had that cold feeling in my balls, and my mouth was already moving.
“What does your wife look like?” I asked.
And in that split second, before he could tell me, I heard the scream of triple pistons in anguish, as a Kawasaki H2 tore up the pavement on US-1/9, barely two blocks away. The unholy two were already escaping into the stratosphere.
The plug-ugly described his wife to a tee, and I said, “I saw a woman who looked like that tonight... She was with a guy who owns a red Harley... In that saloon I just left. I don’t know if that was your wife, but that guy had his hand in her pants right there at the bar.”
The plug-ugly re-devolved into a cross between the Incredible Hulk and Godzilla. He and his droogies piled into the car and headed back to the bar. Unless I was very much mistaken, Ass Face O’Hanlon was about to get one solid beating. And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer, uglier guy. My balls felt better already.
It was now just after 2am. My headache was gone, and I had this classic Brit bike to play with. It gave a steadier, more sedate ride than the H2... But who the hell wants steady and sedate on a Friday night? I wanted danger, speed, and some hot patootie like Cretin’s. The Norton’s engine was throaty, but so what? Where was the push? I rode to an after-hours club in Union City, to try my luck with the Cuban girls. It took an hour, but I conned one into coming for a ride to my place on “The Boulevard.” She took one look at the Norton and said, “That’s Cretin’s bike,” and went back into the bar.
Above) 1975 Norton Commando. Photo from Wikipedia.
Above) 1975 Kawasaki H2. Photo from Wikipedia.
Cretin’s Norton was jet black with gold lettering, but had a red-tinted spider, about the size of my palm, painted on the tank. It was like the kiss of death. There wasn’t a place I could go where that bike wouldn’t be recognized. And sooner or later, somebody would think I’d stolen it, and be happy to do Cretin a favor by clocking me in the back of the head.
I couldn’t get “Linda Aces High” out of my mind and rode back to my place. I parked the Norton next to the Kawasaki on the sidewalk. Side-by-side, the H2 had many of the design elements of Brit bike: such as an upright position, a similar instrument cluster, and the choke on the handlebars. The chrome and fit was much better on the Norton. Yet the one machine was an exhausted design from a tired company, and other was a super-powered dinosaur. Both were headed for extinction. And in a way, so were the lifestyles that Cretin and I were living.
Above) One of the little parks that line Boulevard East, making it one of the most cosmopolitan avenues to be found anywhere. Photo from Wikipedia.
There was the tip of a bandana barely visible in the mailbox, and I found the house keys tied to it. Cretin and the woman were on the floor upstairs. They had dragged my mattress out of the bedroom into the living room so they could hump in view of the city, from the glass doors on the terrace. Spent, they were sleeping naked in each others arms, amidst the wreckage of a real bacchanalia. Cretin had stopped someplace for Chinese food, and there were open, half eaten containers of dim sum, shoo mai, and fong wong gai all over the place, among glasses of sangria, which he had mixed in the kitchen sink. There was about three inches of the fruity stuff left in the bottom of the pitcher. I drank straight from the vessel, with apple slices and cut up oranges sloshing against my face. My mouth was red as if I’d been sucking blood.
I looked down at the two sleeping figures, never realizing I’d have a chance to see most of this woman naked before this night would be through. Let the record show there is no romance in seeing a naked woman by default. It is only special if the candle-light is filtering through the pitcher of sangria, and she is undressing for you with purpose. I covered them with a quilt. Then I grabbed the keys to my own bike, went down to the street and took off. I had 90 minutes before dawn, and I wanted the sun to find me eating breakfast on the slopes of High Point, NJ, in a diner on Route 23, that catered to WASP woman who rode horses. There is something about elegant asses in jodhpurs that starts a day off right.
Author’s note: Please read the first two paragraphs of my last Twisted Roads episode for more definitive information regarding my friend Cretin.
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©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011