Tuesday, May 17, 2011
There is no point in arguing with this woman when she insists on confronting heartfelt emotion with cold, hard fact.
I have explained in previous stories that I now ride a motorcycle because Stiffie insisted we get them. As the hardened, but dedicated Twisted Roads reader will recall, Stiffie had gotten caught in the moto-melee of Sturgis, South Dakota during the height of the summer’s Harley Rally, while driving home from concluding some business in the Pacific Northwest. Her call from the epic-center of leather, chrome, and thundering noise was brief. “Jack,” she said, “I’m getting a motorcycle as soon as I get home. You should get one too.”
Now guys... When was the last time the woman in your life insisted you get a motorcycle? I danced around in the kitchen, wearing nothing but war paint, for 24 hours. Then I sacrificed a quart of rum to the motorcycle gods, by passing it through my kidneys.
Stiffie was like a women possessed. She looked at Triumph’s, Suzuki’s and finally Harley’s. The Harley dealer had the most savvy approach, insisting she sit on the bikes in the showroom — while starting them up. She got the full benefit of the sight, the sound, and the vibration of the legendary Motor Company Machine. But she didn’t see in reality what she had envisioned in her mind... Until she stopped by the local Honda dealer. There on the showroom floor was a white and silver pearlescent Honda Aero Shadow (750cc). She sat on it, and checked the machine’s balance. When she glanced at me, her eyes had that same look that “Mina” had, after she’d danced with Dracula for a bit (Winona Ryder in the 2009 version of Dracula).
It wasn’t long before that bike was in the garage, complete with auxiliary lighting, a windshield, an aftermarket Mustang saddle, saddle bags, a Steeble/Nautilus compact air horn, and special tail-lighting. It was the perfect machine for an Elvis impersonator. And she looked great on it. Shortly thereafter, I acquired a 1986 BMW K75. I bought this bike because friends of mine Shanghaied me into it. Compared to the “Shadow,” the K75 was the most peculiar-looking motorcycle I had ever seen. The bike transcended ugly... It was “fugly.” My BMW-riding friends insisted this was the motorcycle for me to get... And I only got it because the owner at the time insisted he wouldn’t take a cent less than $5000 dollars (for a 19-year-old fugly BMW). So I offered him $4600, and this bunko artist said “yes” faster than I could blink.
Above: Leslie's Honda Aero Shadow — Fully tricked out and ready to roll. Photo by Leslie Marsh.
Leslie and I began with the compulsory rides around the neighborhood, and slowly added the byways and farm roads of Amish Lancaster to our repertoire. Sometimes Stiffie would take the lead, and every Harley rider that passed would give her a big wave. I’d wave too. It is easy to mistake a fully farkled Honda Aero Shadow for a Harley in a split second, and once the mistake is realized most guys are thrilled to get a warm smile and a wave from a chic on a bike. Not so with a BMW K75. To the uninitiated, the K75 looks like it’s constipated, or gives the impression of an honor student who’s just been kicked in the balls by a varsity football player. The waves quickly became extended fingers, sometimes followed by a loogie in flight. I got hit with lit cigarettes on several occasions. One rider u-turned and caught up to us to make sure the guy on the constipated giraffe wasn’t bothering the nice lady.
Above: Leslie and some guy on the back of her 2005 Honda Aero Shadow at Christmas. The "Santa" figure is a handmade doll and part of "Stiffie's" holiday decorations. Photo by the author.
Above: My 1986 BMW K75 was the farthest thing from the classic lines of Stiffie's Honda Aero Shadow, and peculiar-looking too... In the beginning. Now I know better. Photo by Leslie Marsh.
On the occasions when I led, the image of Stiffie following behind me — in her pink leathers or her silver mesh jacket — became a kind of visual foreplay. I liked the way she looked, framed in my Napoleon bar mirrors. The rides with Stiffie were a lot more interesting than the runs I took by myself. She’d feel compelled to pull over and snap a picture of something cool; or stop to admire an old barn, or even a scene unfolding between people. One of these was of an aged Amish farmer, trudging along behind a single mule, guiding a plow that turned over one furrow at a time. Leading the mule was a young Amish woman, her face hidden by a bonnet. She held the animal by its halter and seemed to keep it from moving too fast for the elderly man.
We were a hundred yards or better away from this field, with the bikes parked beneath a clump of trees. And even though we were not readily visible, Stiffie refused to take a picture. She felt it was an intrusion that we were even watching this moment straight out of American Gothic.
“He is probably her grandfather, and this one-acre plot is what they rely on for vegetables in the summer, and for some extra money raised through a little produce stand by the side of the road,” said Stiffie. “He might be a furniture-maker by day, starting at dawn, working the wood with hundred-year-old tools, with handles worn smooth from three generations of men, yet with edges that are razor sharp. And she thinks of an Amish man who might be courting her, but she helps her grandfather, in this little field, in the last hours of daylight.”
“I think she is his wife through some sort of marriage arranged at midnight, for which her destitute parents were cut a break on a crushing mortgage," I said. "She is forty-five years his junior and he never lets her out of his sight. When he goes to the outhouse, he makes her stand outside the door and sing. Under that bonnet is a face stained by the tracks of a thousand tears and the only other living thing she has to talk to is that mule."
Stiffie simply looked at me and said nothing for a bit. “You probably do think that,” she said, “which is indicative of how far your mental state has deteriorated. Some people see a glass as half full. You not only see it as being half empty, but undoubtedly containing something foul."
The woman left the mule and returned with a pitcher and glass, which she filled and handed to the old man.
“See,” said Stiffie. “She brought her grandfather a cool glass of lemonade.”
“Is the glass half empty?" I asked. "I bet she poisoned him."
We rode off together, passing this unique couple.
“It’s poison,” I yelled to the old guy, knowing that Stiffie couldn’t hear me over the Shadow’s growl.
Our ride took us deeper into one of the largest Amish settlements in the United States. This is a broad valley that encompasses a number of communities, some of which are quite large. Others are famous tourist attractions, like Bird in Hand, Paradise, and Intercourse. The road through Intercourse leads to Paradise, but I wonder how many of these bearded guys end up in Bird in Hand.
The road took us past farm after farm. In one field an Amish farmer, as thin as rail and wearing a straw hat, stood ramrod straight, balanced on the yolk of a plow, pulled by five enormous draft horses. These animals can weigh 1500 pounds each. Stiffie and I pulled off the pavement to watch, and it was there I pondered the question: if a draft horse is larger than one of these buggie horses, is it possible that a draft horse can be more than one horsepower? I made the mistake of pondering this out loud.
Stiffie has a sweet expression that suggests she is occasionally required to work extra hard at humoring me. Other women do this with their husbands too. We went to Paris some years ago and spend a few days touring museums and cathedrals. In the Musée de la Armée, I was explaining how French troops went to the front in cabs during WWI, and was showing one of these vehicles to Stiffie, when we passed a Frenchman and a woman, presumably his wife. He was explaining to her the innovations of the first French tank... Stiffie and the other woman, perfect strangers, caught in the perfect moment, rolled their eyes at each other in perfect understanding.
Stopped again with our bikes on the side of the road, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the Amish dairy cows seemed like storybook cattle, clean to the point where they looked groomed and contented, with their teats pulled twice a day by rosy-cheeked Pennsylvania Dutch milkmaids, who could be posing for Hummel figurines. Yet some of the other farms, undoubtedly run by Englanders, had cows that looked scruffy, unkempt, and generally disheveled. It was here I suggested to Stiffie that someone ought to be looking after these bovine charges.
Stiffie gazed at me with an especially deep level of understanding, and said, “You could do it. You could become the ‘cow whisperer.’”
“What do mean?” I asked, touched that she thought I had this ability.
“Well, horses are lean, and muscular, and sensual, as was the Robert Redford, when he played the role of the ‘Horse Whisperer. Cows are sort of docile, and lumpy, and slow moving...” Stiffie couldn’t finish her statement as she was laughing very hard. (For the record, I was laughing too.)
Back at the garage, I delayed entering the house. The bike was making that ticking, clicking sound, as the headers and block cooled off. Running my hand over the K75, which by now had revealed her true self to me as a mechanical marvel, years ahead of her time, and capable of delivering one hell of a good ride (much faster and more responsive than the bovine Aero Shadow), I found myself whispering to the bike. “Tell me your story."
I thought I heard the motorcycle communicate with me, on a level known only to BMW riders. It was more of a sensation than an expression... Though words were clearly understood. In a dream voice with a German accent (like Marlene Dietrich), the bike said to me, “Unless you slim down, what does my precise weight to horsepower ratio really matter?”
I looked to see if Leslie was hiding in the garage, and wondered if she had secretly trained as a ventriloquist. The bike and I were alone. Despite this first level of contact, I had become the K75 Whisperer. The cows could go to hell.
I had plans to ride through Maryland and upstate New York with Stiffie. Alas, they were not to be. Leslie developed a vicious case of vertigo that precluded taking banked curves on a bike. In fact, she gave up driving a car for any distance that year too. She held onto the Aero Shadow for an additional two years anyway, then reluctantly sold it. While I have had some of my best adventures driving around with Stiffie (like the week we toured Ireland in a rental car), I do miss the limited time we had on motorcycles. If it wasn’t for Leslie’s insistence, I would never have gotten another bike in my middle age, nor would I have written any of these stories. Please send your complaints to her directly. Leslie is an accomplished photographer and mixed media artist, Her work can be viewed by clicking here.
Author’s note: This blog episode was a day late in posting. This was because I opted to spend the afternoon in the garage fooling around with my K75, taking a couple of hours to wipe some polish into the paint. Towards the end of the day, I put my hand on the gas tank and whispered, “What would you say to me now?”
“This garage is some shithouse,” said my K75. "Do you plan on cleaning it any time soon?"
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011
Friday, May 13, 2011
I was on a run with a bunch of guys down to Lewes, Delaware (several years ago), when we got caught up in a Polar Bear Run. There had to be close to 300 bikes assembled in the parking lot of a local watering hole, with more arriving every few minutes. I had no sooner gotten my feet down and my helmet off, when the atmosphere was assaulted by an endless clap of thunder that seemed to roll within itself, as close to 50 regal Harley-Davidsons arrived enmasse, jazzing their engines as they cleared a rise (steel-plated lift bridge), slowed for the turn, and pulled into the lot. I marveled at this impressive presentation of iron, chrome, and noise.
It was nothing less than a multi-sensual celebration of the ride... A combination of sight, sound, and rider solidarity expressed in two unbroken lines of Milwaukee Iron.
“Wouldn’t it be cool to do this with a long line of BMW riders,” I thought to myself. I have expressed this idea to BMW-riding pals of mine, who have invariably shrugged the concept off, preferring to ride in groups that seldom exceed four. Yet the occasion presented itself a year later, when no less than 30 riders of the Mac-Pac decided to take a lunch run to the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa. There was no conscious decision to do this in a group, it’s just that 30 riders showed up, and managed to leave at the same time.
In deference to my arthritis, the guys agreed to take the slab west (Pennsylvania Turnpike) to Route 15 south to the historic battlefield. Gerry Cavanaugh (astride a mighty GS) followed by Horst Oberst (on another “R” bike) led the assembly in the standard staggered formation, setting the pace between 65 and 70 miles per hour. I would finally get my wish, to be part of a long line of BMW riders, bound by style, machine, philosophy, and friendship.
This was unbelievably exciting... For the first twenty minutes.
I was careful to maintain a 25-foot gap between my front tire and the back wheel of the bike that was in front of me, and to my left. My usual riding partner, Dick Bregstein, did the same, about 25-feet behind me, and to my left. Though it is a super-slab and traffic can be heavy, this stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike runs through farmland, which is soothing to the eyes. I know this from other rides. But on this trip, I primarily concentrated on maintaining a precise position from the machine in front of me, occasionally looking up to make sure that there were no problems in front of him. Several of the bikes in the lead were equipped with cruise control, and held a precise speed of 70 mph. I found myself giving “Fireballs” (my 1995 BMW K75) the gas to pull up a bit, and then twisting off the speed when I started to gain.
This was about as much fun as laying brick.
We were all in the right lane when a truck decided to pass us at about 71 miles per hour. That means the driver took 15 minutes to pass the entire line of bikes, boxing us in 10 at a time. Glancing in my mirror, I could see several other trucks getting left to do the same thing. It was then I gave Bregstein our special signal. I raised the middle finger on my left hand and slowly waved it. That means, “Fuck this.”
I hit my flashers for a second, signaled for a left, and broke the line with Bregstein hot on my tail. I could see Dick laughing in my mirror. The line of BMW’s fractured in an instant, with riders teaming up in groups of three or four.
Suddenly the fun was back in the ride. We were moving at speeds that were far more comfortable to each rider, or smaller groups of riders, and maneuvering like eagles instead of ducks. There were times when I was doing 70mph, and times when I was not. And none of us had the claustrophobic feeling that comes from getting boxed in by truck traffic.
Our destination for lunch was the Dobbins House, adjacent to the battlefield at Gettysburg. This is a “period-type” restaurant in which the serving staff dress up like they would have in 1864. The food was good, the service was adequate, and the company was superb. On the way back, the riders started out is smaller groups to explore various back roads on the way home.
But I had gotten the answer to my question. The reason you don’t see large assemblies of BMW riders together is that there is much more fun to be had in smaller groups. Simply stated, privateers have more options than the Armada. It could be argued that there are a lot fewer BMWs than there are other marques... But the truth is that even when larger numbers of Beemers are available, they seem to prefer each other’s company at the beginning and and of each trip. Now I know why.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011
All rights reserved
A five-day ride through West Virginia was coming to an end. Though there would be a few hundred miles to cover before each of us would dismount in our respective garage, it was generally acknowledged that the adventures were over. We pointed our bikes north after the traditional farewell breakfast, and took a series of back-roads as long as these were an option. The time would come for the slab soon enough.
There is always the thought that we would pull off the road, then pull off our gloves and helmets, to properly say good-bye as each of us left formation for a home that might be 20 or 30 miles off the common ride. But it seldom works out that way. Pete Buchheit bailed first. Yet we were on one one superslab as he signaled for a right, and exited onto another. The good-bye was a cavalier wave, and a blast of horns.
The traffic on I-95 north of Baltimore that day was as thick and hot as magma. Clyde Jacobs and I cut through it, dashing from one clear spot to another, like frogs jumping on moving lilly pads, in a game of certain death. At one point, Clyde was three lanes to my right, boxed in as was I, perfectly parallel to me, doing about 75 miles per hour. I could have stepped across the hoods of cars to ask him a question.
This type of riding is hardly fun and I watched Clyde move ahead, then wave me behind him. We left the slab someplace around Bel Air, Maryland. I followed Clyde onto the shoulder of a side-road, and took a swig of cold water from a bottle he offered.
“Let’s take the back way into Pennsylvania,” said Clyde.
I was ready to give him an argument. The pain in my knees was phenomenal and now that the ride was at an end, I wanted to get home, and off this bike, as quickly as possible. But that’s not how a ride always ends. Clyde and Pete had been especially solicitous of me and my quirks on this run. It was my turn now.
“I’ll follow you,” I said.
Yet I couldn’t help noticing that the skies were darkening perceptibly, and that the wind was starting to pick up. We were riding right into a thunderstorm. Local traffic was much lighter, but we were also moving much slower. The storm broke like my last wedding vows, with a fury to match the temper of the enraged bride. It was the kind of rain that lashed down in vicious waves. Riding in mesh, I was thoroughly soaked in about 5 seconds, as was Clyde. The rain fell so furiously that it obscured visibility with its velocity, with its bombardment effect from bouncing up off the road and everything around us, and with the humid mist that rose from the heated pavement.
Clyde and I triggered the four-way flashers on our bikes at the same time. There was no real shoulder on this road and the possibility of getting whacked by a car attempting to pull over was very real. We plowed ahead through water that began to pile up against the wheels. The thought occurred to me that we might have missed this storm entirely had we stayed on the slab, and then, we might also have found ourselves in melee of traffic doing 80 miles per hour in a sudden deluge.
The storm passed in less than ten minutes and the sun came out with a vengeance. I started to steam in my rain-soaked tee shirt (under the mesh riding jacket). I was wearing crash-resistant Defender Jeans® by Diamond Gusset, and they were soaked clear through. Wearing a mesh jacket saves your dignity, in that it disguises the fact you look like drowned rat.
At that point Clyde and I ran into a huge Harley-Davidson event, with hundreds of riders along the side of the road. Many of these guys were in nothing but tee shirts and “do” rags. And so were their girlfriends. A staggering number of these fine ladies were wearing white tee shirts or tank tops — with absolutely nothing on underneath. It was the world’s largest wet tee shirt contest, in which very little was left to the imagination.
“Doesn’t this almost make you want to plink down a third of year’s wages on a Fat boy or a Wide Glide?” asked Clyde.
“Only if one of these women comes with the bike and will take that shirt off to polish the chrome,” I said. “Keep moving... These guys are bound to realize we’re wolves in Teutonic clothing.”
We hit US-1 a few minutes later, and I waved Clyde to the shoulder for the last time. There was plenty of opportunity to pull over and I wanted to thank him for a great ride. We shook hands on the Mason-Dixon Line, which at that point is the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania. Cyde and I had the pleasure of each other’s company for another ten miles, when he pulled off for home. I had the option of a back road, and I should have taken it. But I was too hot and in too much of a hurry. I followed US-1 to the junction of US-202 and ended a great ride in the exhaust stink of traffic stuck at red lights. Less than a mile from the house, on a road that is little more than a glorified city street, I gave “Fireballs” a burst of gas in third gear, turning into my community. It was my salute to five days of sheer fun.
I killed the engine in the garage, and just sat on the bike for a few moments. This had been a great trip... And while I would be delighted to see Leslie (Stiffie) again... I’d be ready to ride with Clyde, Pete, and Dick, in less than a week.
Author's note: Blogger has been down for the better part of a day here and I had the devil of a time posting Thursday's blog on Friday afternoon. I regret the delay. Some pictures may be posted to this blog episode latter on this evening.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011
All rights reserved
Friday, May 6, 2011
Conditions have to be perfect to drop a bouncing motorcycle and not sustain any damage to the bike or rider. On this day, the temperature was a moderate 58º and the sun was making a cameo appearance on what would have been the first really good riding weather of the 2006 season. I had stolen odd hours during the week to wipe the garage dust and the odd spiderweb guy line off my 1986 BMW K75, known as “Blueballs,” and it was almost ready to go. Last minute flailing at the body work with a rag soaked in polishing liquid, I buffed the paint into a surrealistic dimension of deep blue. It was hard to imagine the paint was 18-years-old.
The bike had received its winter service two months prior (in February) and started on the lightest touch of the button. This was prior to my days as a member of the Mac-Pac (southeastern Pennsylvania’s chartered BMW riding club) and I headed out strictly solo. I tried a few tentative swerves and stops, which the machine executed with as much precision as my stiff, rusted-over joints would allow, then struck out to explore a handful of Amish farm roads. Those accustomed to neck-snapping acceleration would be disappointed with the K75. It’s performance can best be described as “predictably reliable.” Keeping the speedometer between 55 and 60 mph, I shakily began to take in the sights. The first ride of the season is a highly tentative occasion for me.
The roads around Lancaster were initially designed for horses and buggies, which could leisurely pass each other at a brisk 15 mile-per-hour clip, with the wave of a hat and a smile. Coming around a tight rural turn, I was confronted with an Amish buggy, whose horse was rearing up and dancing. The guy at the reins looked like a 25-year-old wearing a false beard. I don’t know how to say, “This fucking horse,” in ancient high-German, but this kid was muttering something to that effect. I dropped down a gear and went around this guy on the right, as the horse kept dragging the hack into the opposing left lane — and oncoming traffic.
“So far, so good,” I thought.
The next curve lay between two fields under cultivation. A gate pierced each fence not far from the apex of the turn, through which a team of six Clydesdales (pulling a plow) had recently traversed the road, depositing a layer of muddy dirt and and horse-shit on the pavement. While the exact proportion of mud and horse-shit required to create the adhesion potential of wet glass has yet to be published, these Clydesdales were pretty much on the mark. I felt the rear wheel slide to the right and rode it out with my heart in my mouth. The rear tire found its bite a milli-second (20 feet) later and the curve was executed with nothing more than a pleasant drop in blood pressure.
A friend of mine, Chris Jaccarino, once said, “If you ain’t slidin’ then you ain’t ridin’.”
Approaching a traffic light, I made a classic beginner’s mistake and brought the bike to a halt on the crown of the road (in the center), between two furrows in the pavement, worn deep by thousands of daily milk tankers grinding to a stop at that intersection. My saddle was over 30-inches tall and I could just about flat-foot the machine on a level surface. But with a furrowed pavement under each foot, the bike would lean another two inches, just enough to precipitate a drop. I felt it starting to go over on the right in the same instant I realized I was about to stand in a hole. Yet the light changed at that moment, and letting out the clutch in first kept the bike upright.
Now I had about reached the point where numerous heart-pounding distractions were growing somewhat monotonous, and noticed there was something odd about the windshield. It appeared to have a line running across the top of it. I had never noticed this before, and this took a second or two to study as I was pushing along at 45 miles-per-hour. In total horror, I realized I was looking at the top edge of the plexiglas, as it was sliding downward in its frame. I commenced a very gradual braking, and had almost stopped when the windscreen popped out, and hit the ground.
There are times in a man’s life when yelling, “Oh Fuck,” is not only appropriate, but soothing. The bike was equipped with a unique “Sprint” fairing, and the windscreen, which had a slight tint, trimmed with black paint, resembled the bubble on a Bell Helicopter in the 1950’s. This fairly sizable concave piece of plexiglas landed on its backside, sliding along on its edges.
There was no place to decently stop on the side of the road. The pavement had a pitch like an aluminum siding salesman, that ended in loose gravel and raked-over horse shit. I held the bike on a right tip-toe, while I got the side-stand down, then went to collect my windscreen. There was not a crack nor a scratch on it. On one hand, I was elated. Yet on the other, what was I going to do now? My mechanical abilities are well-know in my current riding circles and openly discussed as a case study for men who should never be given tools. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but desperation is the illegitimate child.
The windscreen was held in place solely by the friction of a channelled *gasket — like that of a 1965 Volkswagen Beetle. Unbeknown to me, that gasket was wearing out, and the flexing of the fairing could pop that windscreen right out (which it just had). I acted the part of a BMW rider by flicking on the flashers (standard), popping up the seat, and whipping out the 65-piece tool kit (standard), by which a man of normal skills can rebuild the entire machine. Grasping the appropriate screwdriver (one of three), I opened the channel in the gasket and started jammed the windscreen back into it. I had less than three inches to go when I observed the “roving gap” phenomena. I chased that gap all around the entire windscreen. Twenty-five minutes later, I used about six inches of duct tape to compensate as a “roving gap arrestor” and reseated the windscreen. It would fall out again (and get run over by a car) but not today.
The run back was fun, even spiritual in that way that the first ride of the season can be. Each mile brought that rare combination of banked curves, the growl of the engine, and that electrifying sensation of power that surges through the handgrips. There are three traffic lights in the last two miles between the highway and the house, and I zipped through them all. The driveway is on a slope that curves to the left, then the right. I pulled in the clutch and chopped the power to bump over the lip. My response time may have been off by a hair... Or I may have cut the power a bit too dramatically... Or the polarity of the earth’s gravity may be stronger in the driveway here than any other place else...
The engine lugged like a Congressional subcommittee and I missed the split second to knock it into a lower gear. So I locked it up with both feet flat to sort things out. The sudden absence of all forward momentum caused “Blueballs” to dive on the forks, and to bounce back, with the front wheel coming off the ground. This sudden development caught me by surprise and the K75 rolled over on its left side, making a perfect impression on the flower bed. The garden yielded to the mirrors and the turn signals, but had muscle enough to knock the wind out of me. Fortunately the street was deserted. Leslie (Stiffie) came to the door, smiled, and said, “So that’s what the bottom of a K75 looks like.”
Then she helped me pick it up. She’s quite a woman.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2010
* I bought a new gasket and a replacement windscreen from Sprint the following summer. With new rubber, it would take bat to knock that windscreen free.... Or a mini van.
Monday, May 2, 2011
I thought she was beautiful. We’d pal-ed around as kids for a couple of years, before I started to notice she was a girl. I got the shit beaten out of me for my growing awareness.
Her family moved away shortly thereafter and I asked another girl to the movies three years later. She said, “Yes,” and I was amazed at how painless the process actually was. This is nature’s way of bamboozling the male of the human species into thinking life actually works like this. I would ask many women many things over the course of the next five years (sometimes on the verge of pleading) and there was never a rhyme nor a reason as to why some said “yes” and why others would spit on my shirt and laugh. But it got to the point where I had an outfit made of teflon, so their venom and spittle would run to the floor without sticking.
I thought that riding a motorcycle would recast my image into that of a biker... The kind of guy who rode from place to place, acquiring honeys like bugs on a windshield; yet always moving on solely to prevent them from experiencing the pangs of a broken heart. My friend “Cretin,” who was once married for two weeks, explained to me how women would hate a guy who just left after a couple months, while still wanting him; but would truly despise some simpering wimp who was always trying to kiss their ass in a painfully enduring relationship.
“What is the difference between being hated momentarily and despised in the long run?” I asked.
“Being hated momentarily might give you another shot at it a few months later, if you meet her at a party or something” said Cretin. “Otherwise it’s about the same. But if you’re not there, what do you give a shit?” Cretin could run rings around Plato, Aristotle, and the planet Saturn when it came to irrefutable moto-man logic.
I was going through one of my occasional romantic dry spells (which I used to think could be fatal) and that damn 1975 Kawasaki H2 (which I bought new, earlier that year) was useless in remedying the situation. Real biker chicks scorned it and the only Jap bike that was getting any notice that year was the new Honda 750, which even sounded like real quality. I decided to get out of “Dodge” on the evening in question, and loaded the bike down with the usual camping crap for a couple of nights in the woods. On my way north, I stopped by my college campus, where a raging quad party was in progress. It was the first party of the year and there was a lot of new talent standing around. But my eyes were riveted to a couple hot-dancing to the strains of Led Zeppelin.
Actually, my eyes were riveted to the gyrating ass on the woman.
Her every movement accented denim lines executed in perfect curves. Her hips swung in delicate balance, like a sexual pendulum, offset by long hair that moved from one shoulder to the next. She was modestly endowed, but what she had was flawless. She was wearing a flannel shirt, rolled at the sleeves, and loosely buttoned at the top. She had grabbed a cowboy hat from some asshole, and it just made her look great. Today, I can’t look at Jessica Alba in “Sin City” without thinking of her.
She was dancing with a guy off page three of the Rob Lowe eugenics handbook. The guy was rail thin, tanned, and dressed like he bought his clothes from “Joe Cool.” I couldn’t help thinking, “What must it be like to undress a woman like that?” And, “what must it be like to see her move around like that naked?” While some guys would have been uplifted just to see her dance, the performance left me in the clutches of an acute desire with a jagged edge. In fact, I could feel it pressing against my jugular.
I went over to the keg to grab a fast beer, where a mob of the newer kids were filling cups with foam.
“Not like that,” I snapped. “Do it like this...” I grabbed a cup from the kid’s hand and managed to fill it two-thirds full of amber liquid, with one-third head.
“Thanks,” said the kid, reaching out for the beer.
“No problem,” I smiled. Then I drank it and handed him the empty cup.
To me, beer tastes like liquid bread... And man does not live by bread alone. I had a bottle of Irish whiskey on the bike and I wanted a taste in the worse way. I wanted to feel the bite of the whiskey in my mouth and its burn in my soul. But I knew if I went back to the bike I’d ride off without unpacking it. Two guys on the edge of the crowd were passing a bottle of Scotch and a joint. It was “Fast Eddie” and “Little Joey,” two social lampreys that had the low-down on everything low. One sold really shitty pot and the other sold anything he could get his hands on.
“Yo, Reep,” said Fast Eddie, offering me the joint.
“I’ll take the bottle,” I said.
I love whiskey, but not Scotch. The difference between Irish whiskey and Scotch is that the barley is malted in distilling the latter. And then the fine Scotch single malt is run through fire-blacked oak casks into which three dozen, unwashed jock straps are thrown. To my refined taste, Scotch is the closest thing to unrefined piss. But this was the whiskey of the moment, in my hand. I took a swallow for effect, and another for penance.
“I got some other action on campus,” said Little Joey. “Wanna come with us?”
“The only other action you ever had was with your left hand,” I said, with a laugh. “I’m gonna ride.”
I wanted one more look at the hottie in the jeans. She was gone. Presumably with the eugenic cyborg. I turned to go, and walked right into her.
She looked at me with a half-smile and a half scowl, and said, “The last time you tried this, I beat the shit out of you.”
I was momentarily stunned. Up close, she was far from beautiful. But she was desirable.
“I’m tougher now,” I said.
“I’m looking for something to drink,” she said. “You got anything?”
“I got whiskey on my bike.”
“Better than Jack Daniels...”
“What’s better than Jack Daniels?” she asked.
We settled into the shrubbery about 50 feet from the bike and passed the bottle back and forth for about an hour. She filled me in on the last seven years. She’d met the cyborg in a bar someplace, and he’d brought her here. She was surprised to see me. I was surprised at the dent we’d put in the whiskey.
She put her head up against my shoulder, and I breathed in the scent of her hair. I swear a woman’s hair is the source of the pheromone that helps men find them in the dark, or on foggy nights. Sometimes it becomes the combined elusive scent of their perfume, their conditioner, abnd the natural fragrance that is as unique to a woman as her fingerprints. I had my arm around her and felt the gentle curve of her slight breast. I told her that in my next life, I wanted to be her flannel shirt.
And then I closed my eyes, just for a minute.
The first songbird of the day was just warming up when I opened them again, around 5am. The slightly damp ground was leaching the heat from my body and some part of me ached. I was alone. Both the girl and the whiskey was gone. I stood up and pissed in the bushes that had hidden me from the street all night, and went over to the bike. The rucksack on the sissy bar was slightly askew. When I opened it, her flannel shirt was on top (and one of my tees was missing). I covered my face with it and took a deep breath. The scent of her was strong, but it would fade soon. She hadn’t laid a finger on me this time... And yet I still felt bruised. I imagined her peeling that shirt off in the middle of the dark street, and felt that jagged longing again.
There is something to be said about careening into someone’s life and then leaving while they still want you. But it’s much better to be on the careening end. I fired up the bike and roared out of Rutherford, NJ at first light. The late summer air is almost cold in the morning, and I shivered as I headed to a diner about 30 miles away for coffee. I would never see her again... But I carried her shirt on that bike for a year. I always thought I’d get the chance to re-install it.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011