The mood in the saloon had been sour all day and “Cretin’s” face was longer than the rope used to hang Mary Surrat, the only woman convicted in the Lincoln assassination. He was leaning on the bar in the “Bucket of Blood,” a local gin mill that served as the union hall for the morally dispossessed and philosophers of the gutter. The conversation had focused on the subject of sexual release — specifically the trombone solo — and how ordinary men became serial killers when the music no longer played.
“I almost bought a chainsaw today,” said Cretin, pausing for emphasis. “And it’s only been two weeks. I tell you I am close to the breaking point.”
This statement drew sympathetic nods from me and “Spider,” who were also trapped in equally withering romantic dry spells. Just as planets occasionally align, the three of us were all on the shit lists of our respective lovers. Cretin had been caught “dipstick flagrante” with the barmaid of a joint in the next town, literally plowing the lower forty against his parked Norton in the saloon’s back alley.
“What are you doing?” screamed Niki, his long-suffering girlfriend. (He’d left her in the bar while he and the barmaid disappeared.)
“Showing you how it’s done,” said Cretin.
Then Niki kicked him in the balls from behind. If nothing else, she knew the value of a gesture.
Spider’s girl found lipstick smeared on one of his tee shirts, which was jammed into a side bag after a long weekend ride.
“Can you explain this?” his girlfriend Molly shrieked, waving the shirt in his face.
“Yeah,” said Spider. “The lipstick was all over my dick and the oil rag under the seat was too far gone, so I wiped it off with that tee shirt instead.”
Spider was a realist, and had concluded his relationship was about to enter a global ice age. In which case, it would be better for Molly, for him, and for his hangover if he dropped a real conversation-stopper early in the game.
My genteel girlfriend had let herself into my apartment, to surprise me with dinner, and found the steamiest love letter I had ever written, still simmering in my typewriter. Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t addressed to her. After a brief but memorable conversation, in which I had seen her eyes narrowed to firing range slits, she disappeared for over a month. (And the sad truth is I never got laid by the lady in the letter either.)
“It is unnatural for bikers, and posers who ride smoking lime-green Japanese shit boxes, to go through life looking for a willing trombone player,” said Cretin. “It’s time to go snorkeling. Put your cash on the bar.”
Above: Not my actual bike, but the spitting image of my first Kawasaki H2... Picture taken by Amanda Dumas.
We had a little over $100 between the three of us that night. Back in 1977, $100 was enough scratch to get into serious trouble. Cretin figured we needed $75 bucks for therapy and $6 bucks for tolls — leaving us $26 for Jamaican lubrication (rum). While Jersey City had all the charm and appeal of a Fellini movie (the Satyricon comes to mind), it was necessary to ride into Manhattan to find the sort of curbside service only available in the shadows of any great metropolis.
“Where are we going?” asked Spider.
“Tenth Avenue,” said Cretin, straddling his black Norton Commando. “We take the Lincoln Tunnel, cut left onto 42nd Street, and left again to 10th Avenue. There’s a place on Tenth Avenue, in the upper ‘Forties, across from a taxi garage that’s okay.”
Spider nodded, almost like he knew the place, and extended the kick started on his Triumph.
I alone felt like the milkmaid going to the infantry barracks. A late bloomer in terms of sexual adventure, it would never have occurred to me to seek out the services of a working girl. It had taken me eighteen years to talk a warm, sensitive woman out of her pants, and I had planned that right down to the point where I began to stutter. Reducing sexual gratification to a mere negotiation seemed so absolutely magic-less to me.
I mounted the Kawasaki H2, but made no attempt to start it.
“Have you guys done this before?”
Cretin and Spider just looked at each other and laughed.
“Cinderella here is having second thoughts,” said Cretin.
“How does this work?” I asked.
This just made the two of them laugh all the harder.
“Well, you take it out and sort of point it at her...” said Cretin. “They generally know what to do from there.”
Spider was laughing so hard, he nearly dropped his bike.
“You assholes,” I said. “I’ve never had to negotiate a blow job before.”
“Actually, you have,” said Cretin. “Every time you ever started buttering up your girlfriend with a candle-light dinner, giving her the endless back massage, or found yourself saying, ‘I’m in a mood to just cuddle,’ you were negotiating a trouser trout serenade.”
The unmasked truth of this statement rattled me.
“Cretin will do all the talking,” said Spider.
The bikes fired up on one or two kicks, and we were headed into the “City,” about a mile and a half to the east. I always got a thrill riding a motorcycle into Manhattan. From where we were, you descended to the Hudson River in “steps.” We took Paterson Plank Road (Jersey City) to Manhattan Avenue (Union City), and cut left to the “Viaduct,” then cut right into Hoboken, where we went left into Weehawken, and entered the Lincoln Tunnel. That’s what it looked like on a map. Now’s here’s what happened:
Cretin rolled the “stop” on Paterson Plank Road, and barely paused taking the right turn, with Spider on him like a shadow. They shot through a gap in traffic that was about as wide as the crack around a bank vault door. Naturally, I got stuck at the corner. I had to split lanes around a tractor-trailer, squeezing past the damn thing on the left — while balancing on the double yellow line — to shoot through the “amber” light on the intersection with Manhattan Avenue. I made it by a hair, just in time to see Cretin and Spider dive down the viaduct, still a quarter mile ahead of me.
Manhattan Avenue is cut into the face of the Palisades, which are the majestic cliffs opposite New York City, and leads to the viaduct like a storm drain. It is the crossbar of the letter “T,” which hosts a traffic light at the tottering, elevated roadway that drops into Hoboken. (The other side goes back up into Union City.) The 14th Street viaduct, a spindly black-steel trestle that was originally built for trolley traffic, has been on the verge of falling down for the last 40 years. There was no “right turn on red” in those days, yet I showed myself to be a true pioneer by barely slowing in the turn.
The Manhattan skyline was the backdrop for this mad descent to the river, over a “t-shaped” switchback that dropped 30 stories in a few hundred yards. The effect is amazing. It is like starting out looking in the 30th floor windows of the skyscrapers across the river — on their level — then riding your bike to the street. In the few seconds it took to get to Hoboken, the skyscrapers went from peers to towering giants.
Cretin and Spider were caught at the other light at the bottom of the viaduct. We hit the Lincoln Tunnel in a phalanx of three. I think the toll at the time was two bucks going in and nothing coming out. Riding through the tunnel, in light traffic, was always a pisser. The mouths to the tunnel’s three tubes are monumental on the New Jersey side, a gaping three stories tall, and dressed with cut stone. It is like riding into a huge funnel.
The atmosphere in the Lincoln Tunnel can be absolutely tropical on a summer night. Dual ventilator shafts, each the size of an apartment house, change the air in the tunnel something like 6 times a minute. Yet the engines from the hundreds of thousands of cars, trucks, and buses that cross into New York through this venue each day raise the already hot ambient air another ten degrees or so, giving those on motorcycles a nice prelude to hell. Stop and go traffic in the tunnel can be a horror, moving a few feet at a time, putting your boots down on pavement seasoned with anti-freeze and oily gook, mixed with the condensation from automotive air-conditioning systems.
Yet traffic was light that night, and we passed through the mile-long tunnel doing a smooth 50 miles per hour. The two Brit-bikes were ahead of me, emitting a throaty growl that would increase the heartbeat of any rider. The tunnel lighting gave an etherial glow to this part of the run, which starts out with a curve, and then a barely perceptible drop.
The tunnel walls are lined by millions of very off-white rectangular tiles, that get periodically scrubbed by a moving car-wash type of truck. There are like the teeth of a giant horizontal thing, that smokes a million cigars a day.
The halfway point in the tunnel is marked by a colorful mosaic that defines where New Jersey ends and New York starts. It’s hard to imagine the opening day of the tunnel, with governors of two states, sand-hogs, and Indian chiefs cutting a ribbon on this spot, like the driving of the golden spike to complete a railroad. (I once rode through the tunnel with a smoking-hot woman on the back. She was from Missouri, and told me that the tunnel should have been made of glass: “So that drivers could see all the fish in the river.” She was blond, a hot hump, and dumb as a stump.)
New York really starts when you buzz out the other side. In daytime hours, the artificial light in the tunnel slowly yields to a gradual glow seeping around another curve. But at night, that same diluted tunnel light gives way to a galaxy of artificial light, and a barrage of noise from the street. Veterans to the rabbit-warren-like exit patterns coming out of the tunnel, we positioned ourselves in the left lane and were ready to hook a left, to get to 42nd Street.
The area around 42nd Street, leading up to Times Square, was the shithole showcase of the porn industry back in the 1970’s. Theatre after theatre on 42nd Street featured ghastly skin flicks, and peep shows (in which naked women would masturbate before coin-operated windows) were common. For a quarter, you could sit in a stall in which hundreds of other desperate guys already jerked-off, watching a woman feign the throes of passion. (New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani cleaned up this neighborhood, and increased city revenue by hundreds of millions annually. There is a Disney store off 42nd Street now.)
We rolled through here like 21-year-old Visigoths, intent on the kind of pleasure that normally followed pillaging a village. This part of the city is known as Hell’s Kitchen, and the closest stretch of 10th Avenue was notorious for the numbers of hookers on each corner. The hookers were neither shy nor discreet. They wore hot pants and tiny shorts in every electric color. Some had slinky little dresses that barely had the substance of gauze. A few were in their underwear. They were white, black, Puerto Rican, and Asian. Some had huge tits, like the awning in front of the neighborhood delicatessen. Others had big asses and big hair. More than a few were thin with angular features, and seemed out of place trying to balance on spiked-heel “come-fuck-me-shoes.” Many hailed passing cars by waving, whistling, or yelling, “Wanna go out?”
At one corner, a woman darted out and put her arm in Cretin’s jacket. He brushed her aside like she was a hornet, and gave the Norton the gas. A number of these ladies subsidized their incomes by grabbing wallets and purses from passing vehicles. We made two slow passes over one stretch, with Cretin looking this way and that for a familiar landmark.
“I can’t remember where the fuck this place is,” he bellowed, over the noise of the bike. “Follow me.”
He paused in front of a darkened alley on a side street. Three ladies, presumably friends of his, were chatting under the light from a dismal storefront. (Have you ever noticed that stores in neighborhoods where the dogs have hopelessness in their eyes always sell the oddest things? This place sold fish heads.)
Cretin switched off the Norton, dismounted, and began talking to the ladies in a low voice, occasionally gesturing to Spider and me. Then he got on the bike again, restarted it, and pulled into the alley, motioning for us to follow. In the glare of three headlights, the alley was a portal into the gray side of New York City. A row of overfilled trash cans contributed to the aroma of spoiled life and piss. Broken glass and discarded condoms added to the carnival atmosphere. A beat-up delivery van squatted at the alley’s rear, causing me to wonder, “Who the hell would want fish heads delivered?” We parked by turning the bikes around, so we could ride straight out.
“Use the your fork lock,” grunted Cretin.
The three women were already in the alley.
My dad once told me, “Never buy a used car in the dark nor when it is still wet from washing... They all look good that way.” In the muted light of an alley at night, all hookers look hot. The one I wanted had a slight build, curly brunette hair, and an angular face. I have a thing for little tits and the thought of being paired with someone who sort of fit my parameters would make this adventure seem less stark.
Cretin looked at my dream date and said, “You come with me.”
“Fucked again, Bullwinkle,” I thought. Then Spider laid claim to the second woman, a curvy, gum-chewing lady with the emphasis on her ass. In the faded overhead light, she appeared to be dirty blond, with the emphasis on “dirty.”
That left me with the third. “Come with me, baby,” she said, in a voice that had a trace of an accent I couldn’t place. She was older than I had expected. I guessed she was about 29 or 30, with red hair. “It figures I’d get stuck with the old one,” I thought.
The windowless building on the left was a warehouse with an unlocked glass door on the alley. The hall was lit by a 20-watt bulb that was tinted dingy, to match everything else. A flight of metal, industrial stairs disappeared upward into uncertainty.The curly brunette led Cretin to a bench seat not far from the door, and started to undo his belt.
“I can watch the bikes from here,” said Cretin.
Spider and his blond went up the stairs to the first landing, where she pulled him down on the top step.
“We have the most private spot,” said the redhead, taking me up to the second landing, where another 20-watt light burned in the hall. It was here I could see that she was older than 30... Maybe 36. I felt like I going to get my horn honked by my sixth-grade teacher.
She deftly took me by the crotch, and started to massage “John Henry” through my jeans. In a radical departure from consensus, John Henry wanted none of this, and went into a coma.
It was then, in that dim light, I noticed that this woman had the most beautiful eyes — and the saddest — I had ever seen. Her make-up had cracked at all the little wrinkles that might have been smiles once, and her lip gloss could have been used to wax a red car.
“You’re not a cop, are you?” she asked.
I shook my head and she started to undo my jeans... And then I stopped her. I traced the curve of her face with the outside of my fingers, and pushed her hair back over her ear. “What’s your name?” I whispered.
She hesitated, then whispered, “Jean.”
I hesitated, then said, “Cretin.”
“Jack is better,” she said.
“You have the nicest eyes.”
“Thank you, baby,” she whispered.
Then she took my hand from her face and put it in her shirt. Her nipples felt like rivets, hard and hot. I moved my hand from one to the other, than gently touched her face again.
“It was nice meeting you, Jean.”
A muffled gasp from the landing below signaled that Spider had reached orbit.
Yet drama was unfolding in the hall. The real Cretin was not pleased with the service.
“Are you new at this?” I heard him ask in exasperation. This was followed by the kind of exclamation that accompanies getting bitten or nicked by surprise. “Are you a Girl Scout or something?” he added.
Jean put her finger against her lips, to signify silence on my part. And then she made very loud and convincing gagging sounds. In a voice that was less than pleasant, she said, “I told you not in my mouth.”
My response was a loud grunt.
“I want the one he’s got,” yelled Cretin into the stairwell.
Jean and I traded smiles, and I squeezed her hand before heading down the stairs. The look on Cretin’s face was worth the $25 I had paid to touch a woman’s breasts. But the punch line was yet to come.
There was a dispute over the cash in the alley. Cretin had given all $75 to Spider’s blond, with whom he had negotiated the price. His brunette yelled, “Who’s got my money?”
“I’ve got it,” said the blond.
“Give it to me,” she said. And with that, the brunette removed her wig and revealed herself to be a guy.
None of us could say anything for a full 60 seconds. Then Spider and I burst out laughing.
Cretin was furious.
Spider looked at Cretin and asked, “When she was bobbing for the banana, didn’t you notice the Adam’s apple?”
Both of us roared with laughter again.
“If I hear a word of this back at the bar, I’ll kill both of you fucks,” said Cretin.
All I could think of was that would have been my date, but for Cretin’s sense of being the alpha dog. And then again, he did pick the brunette specifically.
“I promise I won’t breath a word of this to anyone, until after you’re dead 20 years,” I said. “But then I’m going to tell everybody.”
Getting back through the tunnel can be a bit tricky. Ninth Avenue was the best bet, but Cretin was rattled and led us up to Broadway. In an instant, we were bathed in 20 stories of neon, nine blocks long, as we rolled into Times Square. Traffic crawled through here at the rate of two feet per week. I watched as the other two guys disappeared into a sea of tail lights, but opted not to follow. I thought I knew where they were going — back to the bar — and figured I’d meet them there.
There was something mystical about sitting on a motorcycle, surrounded by every glittering color of the rainbow, at an intensity that would never be found in nature. Horns were blowing... People were attempting to cross the street (through eight lanes of solid traffic)... And somewhere close by, the siren of a police car screamed. I loved it all. It took me forty minutes to cover the 2 miles to the saloon, and no other motorcycles were there.
Above: Times Square At Night. Picture from Wikipedia
Cretin’s paramour in doubt, Niki, was fuming at the bar. She had expected to find him there, so she could bust his balls again, and then was more pissed-off than ever because he wasn’t.
“Hey Niki,” I said. “I like your jeans.” This was the equivalent of saying, “Nice ass.” And she did have a nice ass... Nice everything, in fact.
“Were you with Cretin tonight?” she asked, in a tone that would have done justice to an enraged hawk.
“Was he waving his dick at some street tuna?”
I looked at her with eyes colored blue by the truth, and said “I can assure you that his dick had no contact with a woman tonight.”
“Really?” she asked.
“You have my word on it.”
Cretin, it’s been 20 years since you died. I’m telling everybody this story. But I'd give anything to ride with you again for an hour.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2012
This is one of your best stories. The devil is in the details and there are two many details to overlook in this story.
I swear I know this bar. Was "Cretin's" real name Bob?
Joey The Mouse
I knew a "Joey The Mouse" in Jersey City 40 years ago. If you are the same "Joey The Mouse," then you know what I know... And it is not for publication here.
Zap me on my personal e-mail... I'd love to hear from you.
I have experienced the Lincoln Tunnel, but no one like Cretin , unfortunately.
N from Leigh Delamere East bound Travelodge
He lived hard... He rode fast... And he died alone. "Cretin" was one of the toughest people I ever met. And I think of him every day.
He always had a girlfriend... Most of them were beautiful. And the ones that weren't cried as hard as the ones that were.
He once said to me, "Stop spinning your tires. Just write the stories as you see them.
Don't let anybody stop you... Because you run out of time everyday.
Thanks for reading Twisted Roads.
Truth is you popped when you handed the female toll collector the money while looking at Mary Todd's Tunnel ! Strange coincidence that your underwear band matches the NJ/NY stripe in the tunnel ? ( I read that in Wierd N.J. ) And, let me know when you're going to pick up these freakin fish heads I've been holding for 35 years. I'll take them out a day early so you can find my apartment in Bayonne. ......Bruce ( Jean )
I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Perhaps it was because I'm a native New Yorker. The 42nd Street I recall comes from my prepubescent days, when pre-porn movie theatres lining the street offered three Westerns, Three Stooges shorts, and reruns of The Invisible Man for the price of one ticket. After the movies, we would walk to Horn and Hardart's Automat for a five-cent hot chocolate or a crock of backed beans, and then hop the BMT back to Brooklyn.
Those were kinder, gentler, and safer times.
My "horn-dog" years avoided 42nd Street in favor of The Village, Jazz Clubs, and Singles bars. I'm glad I didn't know you then; we might not have made it this far.
PS I working on a story in which I use the word dick 37 million times, and each one refers to you.
I occasionally think back to that night in New York, and wonder what it would be like to take the run again today. What it would be like if Cretin had lived? What would Spider look like now in the second half of his 50's?
I could see Cretin and Spider on New Triumph Bonnevilles, and still curling their lips at my BMW. And Cretin would be saying "fuck" every thirty seconds at traffic that had multiplied by 10.
But I have no doubt we'd find a bar with a brass pole in it, and that Cretin would have his hand on a dancer's ass, and we'd go back 35 years in a second, and the fish heads you're holding for me would be fresh all over again.
Thanks for reading Twisted Roads, and for writing in.
Dear Dickie B.:
This is the first Spring in 8 years that you and I are not riding someplace, and I don't like it at all.
But I can tell you one thing... I am going to get a nice BMW K1200, get it lowered, and ride into New York City again. I'm stupid enough to cruise 10th Avenue again... But I want to hit McSorely's for an early lunch, around 11am, and ride up to Grant's tomb, then snap across the GWB ride the Palisades Interstate Parkway.
And if I do it with some hot pillion candy, so much the better.
Thanks for reading Twistd Roads, and for writing in.
The guys at work always know when I'm reading your blog. The "laughing out loud" is the give away!!!
Well who would have thunk. Cretin and I have one thing in common- ride a new Bonneville and sneer at BMWs. Well bugger. Thank you for being a good friend with good advice in complicated times.
Good story. The drives in and out of NYC were great. I have been to the Times Square area before and I think it is beautiful, almost magical with all the lights and the hustle and bustle of ordinary life there.
Your quest of the evening has mixed reviews for me as well as some of the details leading up to it. I guess me being female and all gets in the way on these kinds of things. But Cretin ending up with a "guy" made me laugh. I call it Karma. When you treat a woman with disrespect, Karma will always come around and give you a kick in the ass that you so richly deserve.
Still savoring your cigar book. I take it everywhere with me always holding it appropriately so that the others around me can read the title of the book which on numerous occasions has lead to some very strange looks. Add the almost constant laughter that I cannot suppress and well you get the picture here. If not..well the men are intrigued and the women cringe.
Can't wait for the new one. Is it ready yet?
I am pleased that you are the source of laughter at your local salt mine. don't hesitate to share the link with the guys if you are so inclined. I'm glad you got a laugh out of it.
Thanks for reading Twisted Roads, and for writing in.
Cretin really loved that Norton. He rode it for about three years, before he decided to "do some work on it." then it ended up in pieces... Like everything else in his life.
I can assure you that if Norton was still around today, as was Cretin, that's what he'd be riding. It is always a pleasure t chat with you, under any circumstances, and I know we will d a ride together in the future.
Thanks for reading Twisted Roads, and for dropping in.
Life has its dark sides as does humor and art, occasionally. Cretin often thought I was the Toulouse-Lautrec of the Bucket of Blood saloon. And I sort of felt that way.
The artist Toulouse-Lautrec often preferred the company of dance hall whores to the nobility to which he was born. (There was no nobility in Jersey City.) Cretin thought I should make the acquaintance of a whore or two.
He brought me to the seedier side of New York City three or four times, and in each case, showed me something different. And once or twice, he showed me something different in Jersey City too.
I am something of a mystic, and always was, when it comes to getting laid. I have had exactly two one-night stands in my life, and felt odd about both of them. (I still do.)
I always look for the magic, and am amazed when I find it. In two of my blog episodes, when I came into contact with hookers, I was astounded by their eyes and the depth of their facial expressions. I am always drawn in by the untold story.
It was Cretin who pointed out to me that to these women, I was nothing more than a fast buck and an easy mark. But I like to think at least one occasionally remembered something about me.
Cretin died like a true Visigoth, and faithful to his own code. He was the toughest man I ever met. And in the final chapter of his life — which is still shrouded in mystery — the women closest to him were those who walked the streets at night. And I do believe he was grateful for every moment.
Of the 18 guys I hung around with in that bar, 14 of them were dead before the age of 34. Two more died before they were 40. There is a time for every season... And a time to write about them.
Sometimes I feel like Chaucer, delving into the Canterbury tales. And unless I write about this stuff, even these guys will have lived to no purpose. Cretin was an expert on urban street-lore, and a legend in his own way. Yet even a expert can be fooled.
He was in no way violent nor threatening to the source of his embarrassment at that moment... Just furious that Spider and I had witnessed it. And it should be noted that I in no way pass judgement on any man whose preference is in this direction... But Cretin was as straight as a razor, and about as sharp.
It should also be noted that I was 19 or 20 at the time... And had the sense one would expect to find in a person of that age and experience level.
Thanks for reading Twisted roads, and for writing in.
I'm glad your getting some mileage from the cigar book. Most of the fa mail I ever got from that source came from women.
I can't believe it's been twenty years since Cretin's passing. He was the original Mad Dog and a great, great friend. I should kill you on his behalf for telling this story but I won't. Instead, I'll rest confident that he'll come back himself and haunt you till your last breath. He was truly one in a million and this was one of your best stories Jack. And, alas all true. I was just in the city just yesterday for opening day at Yankee Stadium and the Manhattan of the seventies was a very different place from what you'll find today. In a way it's too bad, as odd as that may sound. New York in those days was much more dangerous and dirty and decadent. Now it looks like Disney "Imagineers" have redesigned the whole place. Cretin would be lost there now as he was the furthest thing from a Disney character that ever existed.
I recognized your writing style in a pinch, and realize that you too have had about 10,000 snorts at the "Bucket of Blood."
I even remember the name the gave you at the bar: "Flash." It was either that or "Needle Dick, the Roach Raper."
We both knew Cretin at his best and at his worst, which was his best too. The world needs originals, and he was as original as they get.
You and I have need to hit JC on a weekday, in the late afternoon. There is yet another Bucket of Blood and we need to drop in and torture the bartender. He's the same one, but isn't there all the time.
Things are different now. We need to limit ourselves to no more than 20 or 30 drinks for the day.
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