Monday, January 21, 2013

The Dragon Is Loose On Twisted Roads...

I love the feel of naked women, motorcycle handlebars, and the keyboard of an Apple computer. I do not regard these wonders as things to be possessed, but things that possess me. Nothing in life has brought me greater satisfaction than wild romance, wild rides, and writing the story of both. Yet it appears my luck has run out lately.

I am giving up on women until the summer and possibly longer than that. I had thoughts of hitting on one in particular but have decided to give her the pass. Like a surfer on the beach in Hawaii, where the waves are four stories tall... or like a skier peering down a near vertical drop, ripe for an avalanche... or like a S.Q.U.I.D revving the guts out of a crotch rocket at the beginning of Deal’s Gap... I look at her and my mouth gets dry. She is stunningly beautiful in a cultured pearl sort of way, full of charm and sophistication. Her perfumed embrace could be heaven’s prelude or the portal to an emotional chipper. There was a time when I would have danced on the edge of that challenge— with a drink in my hand. Now, I think, “One false step and it’s in the chipper for our hero.” I think she can only take me in micro-doses before throwing up anyway.

This is a bad sign and I have decided to concentrate on “Plan B.”

"Plan B"is a emotionally rewarding relationship with a sensitive, semi-retired, slightly tanned, 45-year-old pole dancer, who can look at me in that sizzling way, and say, “I decided to do a proper tune-up on your ‘K’ 1300GT.”

My Favorite Things: Apples

She’ll be perfect if her tramp stamp reads, “K Bike Postage.”  I hope to meet her on a ride between the Jersey Shore and the Pacific Coast this summer. The odds are slightly better that a more understanding woman like this won’t take offense if I occasionally fart without filing an environmental impact statement. It would be really cool to end up with a petite redhead who was an expert welder and an authority on the Chicago Manual of Style. Then again, I wouldn't mind meeting a demure blond who knows how to keep a low profile at bike events.

I used to think nothing could match the breathless excitement that comes from undoing a brassiere for the first time. Then came the day I opened up the throttle on a BMW K75 and passed a long line of trucks on a curving stretch of Pennsylvanian interstate. I was doing 70 mph as I went by the first rig at the end of the line. The speedo read a cool 108 mph as I eclipsed the eighteen-wheeler at the front— 12 trucks later. You have reached a certain level of maturity (wisdom) when you’d rather twist a throttle than massage a breast. One is a lot less dangerous than the other.

There was no vibration. The engine growled with Teutonic confidence. The tires were new and perfectly round. Handlebar inputs were as subtle as telepathy and the bike banked on a suggestion. Molecules of wind toyed with the bare skin at the collar of my jacket as my transformation became complete. I was no longer a man but an emotion. The kind of emotion Patti Smith oozes in Because The Night.

The trucks were in my “No Zone.” In fact, anything that was mundane or rooted to the earth was now in my “No Zone.” This included one job, one relationship, one stalled writing project, and anything that wasn’t on the stretch of road in front of me.

By vibration-free I mean the rage that was the engine output found its way to the back wheel instead buzzing through my testicles. Still the ride was far from smooth. The surface of the road was marred by half-assed repair and outright neglect. While thousands of jolts were swallowed by the forks and a Works Performance Shock on the back, the larger cracks, heaves, and seams gave a spicy flavor to the ride, reminding me why I was a god above the sheep in the cages around me. Though there was a good three-quarters of an inch to the red line, this was maximum effort for the K75 and anything else would have just been noise.

All of this happened on the first day I took a motorcycle on an interstate, after not having ridden a bike on one for 30 years. There is something about a motorcycle that just says, “Let the damn thing go.”

I have been a professional writer for more than 30 years. In the early 1980s, my weapon of choice was an IBM Selectric typewriter that could correct a mistyped character. That was replaced by a Brother electric typewriter that presented a line of text on an little LED screen, and which could delete an entire line of text, even from the typewritten page. At the time, I was working for a white slaver of a publisher who wanted me to use a word processor. Writers are superstitious by nature and change is as welcome as a dose of clap. I came into the office to find an early word processor (with a tiny blue screen) on my desk.

“The entire company is switching to these,” said my boss proudly, “What do you think?”

“I think you should shove it up your ass,” I replied. (This is a true story. I don’t like my writing process to be disturbed. Believe me, the way I compose is peculiar enough.) He was back two years later with another bizarre invention. This one was an ivory plastic cube with a gray screen on it, that sort of lit up, and was accompanied by something called “a mouse.”

“Wait until you see this one,” he said. “It does simultaneous composing and typesetting, it will give you a printed copy to hold in your hand, and the hard copy will look like it came out of a print shop.”

It was the first Macintosh computer by Apple and I fell in love. The machine came with no directions. It worked intuitively. It worked the same way every day. It required no code. It never broke and it never broke my balls. I have had four Apple desktops and three laptops in 30 years. I believe that my current laptop, a MacBook Pro, is the finest computer ever made. I cannot imagine life without it. I certainly can’t imagine struggling through life with a PC. If my only option was to compose on a PC, I’d have stayed married and been dead by now.

The MacBook Pro’s illuminated keys and polished aluminum case feel like the finest brassiere silk to my fingertips. Composing on it is one of the five earthly comforts. The other four are the taste of French kissing in the office, the aroma of exquisite cigars, the bite of Irish Whiskey, and the the sound of a hot motorcycle winding up for the pitch.

The way I compose has driven three women and two publishers to madness. I first go into a kind of trance that entails drinking 9 cups of coffee, watching old black and white movies, smoking a few cigars, and generally doing nothing, while some part of my brain — a part not directly connected to anything — tries to figure out what the hell it is that I want to say. Then suddenly, it come out like a torrent, washing whole villages and civilizations downstream.

I was once commissioned to draft Congressional testimony for a client looking to impact some obscure legislation. It was due at 2pm. My editorial assistant was a lover whose intellect was substantially larger than mine. She said, “They are going to fire your ass though a cannon if you don’t meet that deadline.”

I was sitting in a comfy chair at the time, watching Jimmy Stewart in Mister Smith Goes To Washington. This Hollywood Classic had just reached the point where Jimmy Stewart, a junior Senator from someplace, stood up, pulled an apple out of his pocket, and launched a filibuster.

She: “Are you nearly done with the testimony?”

Riepe: Nothing

She: “Have you started it yet?”

Riepe: Nothing.

She: It’s 11:45am. You have two hours and 15 minutes.”

Riepe: Nothing.

Jimmy Stewart finished speaking, and I said, “Honey, could you take dictation for me?”

I spoke for 11 minutes. She emailed the text to my office, 20 feet away. I cleaned up a few points and sent it to client. It was approved on the first take. It went to Congress in its finished form at 1:57pm.

She: “Why the hell didn’t you do this yesterday? You’re making me crazy!”

Riepe: “This movie wasn’t on yesterday.”

I never learned to type. I use two fingers. The forefinger on my left hand works the shift key. The forefinger on my right hand does everything else. I have written two books, 395 short motorcycle stories (actual count), and millions of words this way. I have written hundreds of press releases and speeches (on site at conventions) this way. I write a monthly column this way. I answer email this way. I have always done it this way... until this weekend.

The arthritis that is turning me into a gimp has now spread to my arms, hands, and shoulders. There are days when I cannot hold a pen in my right hand to autograph books. There is a wheelchair parked at the edge of my desk. I regard it as the ghost of “Arthritis Future.” Right now, there is a box of cigars sitting in it. I will take the LeBrea Tar Pits or the gas pipe before I sit in this fucking chair. (That is a promise.)

If you combine my odd composing style, complicate it with the pain of arthritis, and add to it the postpartum-type of depression that followed the release of my new book, you’ll understand my absence from this blog. The book was a success from the word “go,” and was received with overwhelming enthusiasm from just about everyone who bought it. The “really liked it” crowd ran about 99.44 percent to the .66 percent who politely said, “This is shit.” I couldn’t keep up with demand and won’t have that problem solved until February. But I didn’t anticipate that. I worked myself int a funk wondering what people really thought.

My new book sold out three times before Christmas! There is a waiting list for the next release!

The lack of blog activity here sparked concern among a number of my readers (none of whom have ever left a comment). Banding together on a BMW MOA (Motorcycle Owners Of America) forum, they determined that I had turned into a giant shapeless mollusk. They assumed I was stretched out on a shit house floor, blinded by a whiskey rage, with ineffectual slime stalks resting on a keyboard.
They were 66 percent right. (I wasn’t drunk.)

These incredibly sensitive guys — led by Mark Morales and Chris McCarthy — rallied 18 or 20 others into buying me a Dragon Dictate for the Mac program. The assumption was that arthritis would ultimately leave me a chattering head in a 10-gallon aquarium tank. This program would enable me to dictate my memoirs, observations, and stories — even as a severed head in a tank. It was suggested that they could put my head in a top case and ride me around too. Chris McCarthy offered to take my head bowling. (This has a sinister ring to it.)

I have never been so flattered and so honored by readers in my life. This was more significant to me than winning a Pulitzer Prize. (I am saying this because I am fairly certain I am not in the running for a Pulitzer Prize. If, in fact, I am being considered for a Pulitzer Prize, let me say that the honor paid to me by these kind readers could only be surpassed by a Pulitzer Prize.)

The Dragon Dictate For Mac arrived last week. I was so excited, I squeaked. It was followed by another box that was a more deluxe headset and microphone. I opened each and poured over the abbreviated instructions. I had visions of sitting with my feet up, cigar in hand, while a captured Dragon took note of every word and turned it into text.

The installation went as expected and the program came alive. First, the microphone had to be calibrated. That took about 90 seconds. Then I had to read 12 paragraphs of a short story (provided), so the computer could learn my accent. At the onset, I checked the option for “British Accent” and British Spellings.” I guess I still had hopes for impressing the woman in the opening paragraph. I have a Jersey City accent that makes me sound like Leo Gorcey, and the program kept asking, “What? What did you just say?” Then it automatically recalibrated itself for a “low brow, New Jersey accent common to urban Morlocks.”

The program steered me into a highly simplified tutorial designed to get you dictating like a fascist leader in record time. The best way to describe the manner in which the program takes direction is to compare it to the way telegrams were originally composed. (As I write these words, I realize there isn’t anyone under the age of forty-five who knows what a telegram was.) All punctuation is stated. Each simple sentence ends with the word “PERIOD.” Yet in composing an email to a friend today, I described a former relationship (not my last one) as “juggling loaded pistols with a woman whose period lasted 7 years.” I couldn’t complete the sentence as the program kept typing “juggling loaded pistols with a woman whose.”

Then there is the other challenge: I talk to myself. I intended to write, “The bike leaned into a turn so tight that I nearly split my pants. There is something wonderful in being able to reach out and touch the pavement, sliding by at 80 miles per hour.”

What the program typed was, “The bike leaned into a turn so tight that I nearly split my pants. Who the fuck is going to believe I ever leaned a bike over that far? There is something wonderful in being able to reach out and touch the pavement, sliding by at 80 miles per hour. But I wouldn’t know shit about that.”

The program also has a hard time believing that a human can be as scathingly vicious as I am. It translated the word “douche bag” into “elected official” and thought I wanted “insurance company lawyer” for the phrase “that fucking scumbag in the suit.”

This dictation program is amazing as it works in every Mac application. I answered 40 emails today in the time I would have typed responses to four. The instant spell check is really good. I plan to spend an hour a day with the manual, memorizing every command option. I intend to write the sequel to Conversations With A Motorcycle without ever touching the keyboard. In fact, I intend to write it with a cigar in one hand, a drink in the other, and a brunette (or a redhead) in my lap.

I cannot adequately thank the BMW MOA Forum of guys — the Posse — who made this possible. You guys snapped me out of a tedious malaise. Some of the folks who contributed to this project comment regularly on this blog. Others I have just met (online) for the first time. Mark Morales is a great guy and Chris McCarthy... well Chris McCarthy is some kind of a guy too. Chris is likely to become a recurrent theme on this blog. I would like to ride with all of my blog readers sooner or later — but if I can ride at all this summer I will meet up with Chris.  I suspect he has visited a number of locations mentioned in my book, within an hour of my last being there.

There will be an interim blog post in two days. The madness is again on me. I’m sorry I was gone so long.

Readers Pictures Will Start Running Again in Two Days.... 

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