Friday, November 18, 2011
The Sexual Allure Of The Motorcycle: One Up And One Down...
John F. Kennedy Boulevard is the primary artery running through five of the nine communities that make up Hudson County, New Jersey. It’s 14-mile-long length constitutes one of the densest traffic corridors in the Garden State — with one of the highest pedestrian fatality rates in the US. It is peppered with traffic lights (about one every city block), that occasionally adhere to some synchronistic behavior, with a few bizarre intersections (like the I-495 tunnel cut) thrown into the mix.
Riding a motorcycle along this stretch is the closet thing to experiencing life as a clay pigeon. And while it’s been some time since I leaned into the curves on JFK Boulevard, I doubt things have improved since the near tragic circumstances that occurred on this September night, in 1978.
In those days, I was riding in the company of “Cretin,” an urban desperado whose idea of the perfect romance was a one-night-stand... Whose concept of business was pricing “pot” or “blow” for value... And whose notion of a smokin’ hot sexual/social aid was a jet black Norton Commando. I have written about Cretin before and readers tuning into “Twisted Roads” for the first time can learn more about this representative of Jersey City Café society by clicking here and here.
“Cretin” was one of the toughest guys I ever knew. He hung around with some of the toughest guys I ever met, in the toughest saloons where some of the most outrageously beautiful women I ever saw, routinely opened their shirts for bikers who bit the heads off scorpions. I was like Toulouse Lautrec in a Parisian whorehouse for tall men. I had no business revolving in these social circles, but “Cretin” made it my business. “Cretin” told these guys that I was cool... That I was a writer... And that while I would generally see everything, I’d be damned disinclined to talk about it with strangers. Consequently, I walked through this valley of death and only got my ass kicked once. (This was by a semi-retired pole dancer who offered to open her shirt for me. I had had several Cuba Librés already that evening, and had given this kind soul an appraising glance, before truthfully answering, “No.” She took it hard. Cretin later said, “Next time, just say ‘yes’ like everybody else.”)
The clock was about to strike 1am and I was following Cretin at a ridiculously high speed down Kennedy Boulevard. It must have been the mating season for Norton Commando riders as “Cretin” was exhibiting the classic signs of rut. This included riding from gin mill to gin mill, playing “Werewolves of London” (by Warren Zevon) on the jukebox, and dancing on the bar until his jeans were down around his balls. And throughout this ritual, “Cretin” would be surveying the crowd for any woman, or one particular one, depending on his current degree of infatuation. This night, he was searching for a nicely-sculpted brunette, who’d wandered into “The Bucket of Guts” (not the bar’s real name) a few times prior to his passing out under the pool table. (New talent in these places either got claimed quickly or chased away fast.)
I was riding the tail-gun Charlie position for two reasons: a) there was never a dull moment with “Cretin;” and b) there was always a good shot that if “Cretin” was getting laid, then the one-night-stand-love-of-his-life had a friend and I’d get laid too. With “Cretin,” anything could happen. (I once won $500 on an illegal gambling game in some shithole he dragged me into.) His search had taken us to three bars already and seemed to be setting the theme for the evening. “Cretin’s” mating ritual would keep him occupied for a while, and then he’d call the next bar from a payphone (remember those?), on the odd shot one of his cronies had seen her.
Rumor had it she’d surfaced at a joint down in Greenville (the other side of Jersey City) and we were off like two couriers carrying human organs for transplant.
Our bikes couldn’t have come from more opposite ends of the spectrum. The Norton was the epitome of the Brit bike at its prime. It had a throaty growl, decent chrome, and paint as black as my second mother-in-law’s lungs. (She’d been a quality control inspector at Chernobyl.) I was astride a two-stroke 1975 Kawasaki H2 750, known as the “widow-maker.” This rig came in a lollipop purple, with shitty chrome, highlighted by highly questionable handling characteristics, complete with sound effects to match an outboard motor in a Port Authority toilet. It had damn little to recommend it, except it would blow past the Norton in any gear, leaving the Brit bike choking in a thin blue vapor.
“Cretin” never tired of explaining to me that my bike was the badge of a total douche. Worse... In his estimation, only a “disposable douche” would ride a Kawasaki H2. I always took this admonishment as Gospel, and then I’d reward his candor by smoking him with five miles of two-stroke-scented exhaust.
Kennedy Boulevard is home to 13 million traffic lights. My father once explained to me that they were synchronized to the 35 mile-per-hour limit, and that you could often cover 10 or 12 blocks by adhering to that speed (assuming that traffic was not laden with assholes). “Cretin proved to me that you could cover 20 blocks or more — while scorning death — at 60 mph, which is what my speedometer was reading when he crashed.
The “Boulevard” is 4 lanes wide in theory, but there is almost always someone making a left turn at every other intersection, which stacks up traffic on the right. We’d just entered a section where one set of synchronized lights bordered on another, and “Cretin” split between the right lane of standing traffic and a row of parked cars — to get ahead of everyone momentarily stunned by the signals turning bright green. It was at this point that Cecilia “Cookie” Siciliano, having explained to her boyfriend for the 5th time that night why he was not going to get a blow job in the car, opened her door and started to step out.
For a split second, “Cretin’s” entire world was an open car door — and a hot set of legs — that reduced his forward path to a gap about 18 inches wide.
“Cretin” screamed louder than the standard motorcycle horn of the period. It was forever known as the night that the word “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!.......” reverberated through the asphalt and dog shit canyons of Jersey City. Cecilia squealed, and fell back into the car, pulling the door shut behind her.
“Cretin” simply locked up everything and slammed through the gears. But the die was cast. The Norton began a tight fishtail as he fought to keep it in a straight line. It should be noted here that Kennedy Boulevard has been paved and repaved as an experiment in bad county economics any number of times, resulting in thousands of places where the asphalt is uneven, lumpy, or broken. “Cretin” had picked one of these spots to effect the most “emphatic” stop of his misguided life. For once, the odds were really against him. The back tire jumped around like it was possessed and the Norton low-sided in the intersection.
“Cretin” slid on his ass about 50 feet, before rolling over a number of times, coming to rest against the back tire of a parked car. His non-regulation, “Steve Canyon”-style US Air Force helmet took the shock and remained intact. And because he was “Cretin,” he was up and walking around, though holding his right elbow and manifesting the signs of road-rash where his jeans blew out at the ass. The flawless Norton was a mess.
The first cops to arrive were Jersey City’s finest, who knew “Cretin” by his first name. They called the meat wagon. The second squad car on the scene brought the Hudson County Cops, as the “Boulevard” was technically a county road. “Cretin” was loaded onto a gurney, and taken to the nearest hospital (of which there were three in Jersey City back then — Christ Hospital, Saint Francis Hospital, and the Jersey City Medical Center).
“Stay with my bike,” were the words he yelled at me as the ambulance doors were closed.
The two Jersey City cops had muscled the Norton onto the sidewalk, where it rested up against a tree.
“Nobody’ll bother ‘Cretin’s’ bike,” said one of them.
I fired up the Kawasaki and trailed the ambulance to the emergency room. Technically speaking, you had to be a blood relative to get beyond registration counter, but city emergency rooms tend to be busy places at 1am on Friday nights, as drunks, thugs, and general miscreants all tend to find their beer testicles at this magic hour. The nurse out front was filling out forms and barely looked up as she asked, “What’s your relationship to the patient?”
“He’s my sister,” I replied.
She waved me through without a glance.
“Cretin’s” shiny side really came through in a pinch, like when he was stretched out on a bed in the emergency room. I expected the name bracelet on his wrist to list him as “Fuck F. Fuckerson,” as that was the only thing he seemed to mutter. He wasn’t worried that he didn’t have a valid motorcycle rider’s license. (I didn’t have one either.) He wasn’t worried that he’d been rocketing 25 miles over the speed limit on Kennedy Boulevard. (Everybody did that.) And he wasn’t worried about the wrecked Norton. (He’d get it fixed by some by some chop shop artist in two weeks.)
“Cretin” was genuinely disturbed about not hooking up with the woman of his desire.
“I’m telling ya’... I’m gonna get one shot at this... And I probably blew it already,” was what he said to me as they wheeled him up to x-ray. “I’m never gonna find her.”
“Is he really your sister?” asked the registration nurse.
“Our mother had a strange sense of child-rearing. I’m here in case he needs blood, an organ, or anything else.”
“Like a joint or a personality?” She was a brunette, about 5’6” tall, and nicely sculpted in hospital scrubs. She was the woman “Cretin” had been pursuing all night.
And now that I was face-to-face with her, I was going to pursue her too. The gentle reader may be inclined to raise an eyebrow at this sudden turn of events. Here we have our narrator turning absolutely lupine (which means wolf-like) before the carcass of his closest friend has grown cold. (There is no cool-sounding word that means cockroach-like, otherwise I’d have used it.) But that’s how it was in Jersey City, back in the mid-seventies, when some guys rode Harley’s, and others rode Nortons, and disposable douches rode purple Kawasaki H2’s.
Her name was Karen, and she was a sister of a guy who used to hang out in one of “Cretin’s” preferred bars. Her brother had gone out west (in a hurry) and she turned up a few times in the gin mill to try and collect a small debt, and a set of keys, owed him by a former business associate. She mentioned that she’d seen “Cretin” a couple of times (once on the floor under the pool table), but that she’d seen me holding court as well.
“You seem very out of place in that bar,” Karen observed.
“Like Toulose Lautrek in a Parisian whorehouse for tall men?”
“Something like that,” she said with a smile. “Most guys in the ‘Bucket of Guts’ haven’t been to a Parisian whorehouse.”
Her shift ended three hours later, and she rode to breakfast on the pillion of my Kawasaki. It was the beginning of a romance that lasted six months. “Cretin’s” x-rays revealed another area of concern, and he was held for several days of observation. I dropped in 24-hours after the wreck to cheer him up.
“You worthless bag of shit,” was how he greeted me as I walked in. “Jackie Connolly saw you and my brunette down at the diner before the broken glass and plastic from the crash had been swept from the pavement.”
I said nothing but attempted to hide behind a look of mock surprise.
“She’s a nurse here,” he continued. “You almost had to ask her out over my bloodied corpse.”
I shrugged in a feeble attempt to avoid a smile.
“What happened to my wallet and keys and stuff after I got here?” Cretin asked.
“I took ‘em so they wouldn’t disappear,” I said, pulling them out of my jacket pocket.
“Cretin” grabbed the wallet and flipped it open. “There was $50 in here?”
“I know. Karen wanted steak and eggs for breakfast, and then we went around the corner for bloody Marys.”
“So I had to pay for your first date with my girl too?”
“Something like that,” I said, busting out laughing.
Though “Cretin” was in a private room, our conversation was broken by the sound of a toilet flushing. Several moments later, the bathroom door swung open and out stepped a real honey, in a short skirt, with the kind of eyes that could get men like me to do just about anything.
“This is Cecilia Siciliano,” said ‘Cretin.’ “We met when she opened the car door last night.”
Cecilia felt awful about the wreck, and got the cops to run her over to the hospital so she could see how the “poor biker” was doing. She actually waited until “Cretin” had come out of x-ray, which was more than I had done. She had then thought “Cretin” was “cute,” and hung around to hold his hand and stuff..
“Cecilia, this is ‘Reep.’ He is the worst kind of douche you will ever come across.”
“The disposable kind?” she asked.
“Yup,” said “Cretin,” with the laugh that was his trademark. “Don’t let him smile at you, and whatever you do, don’t talk to him.”
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011