One of the dumbest things I have ever done is try to learn how to ride a motorcycle. I damn near killed myself one night.
When I was 19, I got pinched for driving drunk from a party in a fancy neighborhood. It was past 2 in the morning, and the cop said I changed lanes without signaling. I couldn’t have made it easier for him if I tried- not only was I driving like a one-eyed fool, my nearly new pickup sported a bumper sticker that said “Liquor In The Front, Poker In The Rear”. Har-dee-har. I took the officer up on the offer to do the alphabet backwards, blew a .18, and was promptly arrested at the scene. They brought the canine squad to investigate the vehicle, hoping I guess for a banner night with one collar, and they found and seized my Whip-It canisters. I had acid somewhere in the vehicle, but that was not found. I was released on my own recognizance after processing, and my Whip-Its were returned to me because I guess it isn’t a crime to have chef’s equipment on you.
New Jersey slams you pretty hard for a Dewey-they have insurance trouble there, you see, and in addition to the fines and suspension you have to chuck $3,000 into the insurance pool to get your license back. I was a part timer at a grocery store near home at that point, and I believe my response to the insurance “surcharge” was Fuck That. Having a car was seriously not worth the scratch. I just walked everywhere like I did B.C. (Before Car) since everything in Morristown was 10 minutes from home. Soon, going to college in Union became difficult, though. I lost focus and dropped out. What followed were some dark times I’d rather forget. Thanks, Clozapine.
Fast forward a few years, and I am in the chat rooms of Yahoo! looking for women to talk to. I found one in Tennessee who thought I was amusing, a few years older than I was and a teacher. This had to be about 1993-94.
Raise your hand high if you found love in those A/S/L-spangled rooms regardless of the distance.
No, don’t, that’s embarrassing. I would find my more local wife through it several years later in Georgia, and that has a happy ending. But it was kinda ridiculous to chat up someone 700 miles away. We should have stayed friends to avoid even further embarrassment. But eventually we got to chatting so much that we professed our love on Messenger. Phone numbers were exchanged. She sounded cute! I would eventually hatch a plan to go to Tennessee and sweep her off her feet. Major mistake. I would not be lifting her off anything. Four hundred pounds of gross- I’m not a catch but this was more than I could do. There wasn’t enough moonshine in the state that would have gotten me into bed with her. It was a rough couple of days there, having to stay with a woman you said you loved who obviously knew you thought her too corpulent to get near.
I changed my job situation several times during this period. I guess I was working a lot more than when I first gave some thought to this story. At one point I had a full time gig at a bank processing deposits and I was working at the local country club as a cook. I would end up fired from the bank and living above the kitchen, ejected from my home- partly because of a stepfather whose hearing bordered on bat-like and partly because I was an inconsiderate, thoughtless, drunk asshole who took all of his sainted mother’s goodwill and squandered it by closing the bars and coming home rattling doors and fumbling up the stairs wasted every night.
My job at the kitchen was the scene for quite a cast of characters. The head chef, David, came to every shift coked up and high but he was a cool cat, one of the funniest off-the cuff people I’ve ever known. His sous chef was a tall, hardworking rednecky type named Wade. Next in line was Roy, a real spaced-out character with a particularly large head who was not all there upstairs. David was merciless to Roy, christening him “The Rock”, which was shorthand for rockhead. I don’t know how Roy bore up under David’s daily withering wit. I was glad for Roy, because I am certain I would have been David’s target without him around. Now Wade picked on me a little (and there’s no blaming him-I could not even put a sandwich together, as hungover as I was daily) but was generally a nice guy/father figure who at the end of the day had a kind word or two to say to me to help a damfool out and I owed both him and David a lot for putting up with me.
My time at the club would not be possible without Helen and Elliott. Helen was a big drinker at my preferred pub who took me in when I got kicked out of my house. Helen, a blonde in her late-thirties I’d say, had a little wear on her treads. You could tell she had been a looker in some faraway decade but being a drunk took its toll and had hardened her natural beauty. When I found myself homeless, she would put me up behind her couch for $50 a month-rooms in town were running $400 or more and I couldn’t afford that at all. So I took what I was given, lacking the self respect to do better. Helen and I were both itinerant waiters and we worked a couple of gigs together, and then she introduced me to her on/off boyfriend Elliott, a burly tough who got me a cooking job at the local country club she waited at. I soon learned that Helen had more than one vice. She and Elliott would smoke crack, fight and fuck regularly, while I fought Helen’s Yorkie for breathing space. I still hate those little yip-yip dogs to this day. Elliott was David’s connect so a friend of Elliott’s was a friend of his no matter how many times I failed to do the simplest of tasks. Thank goodness for connects.
But the story is about my all-too brief stint as a motorcyclist.
I was still living at home at this point, early in my storied career at the country club. Like I said, I didn’t want to drive a car again. Wade said he was looking to sell a motorcycle real cheap though, and I thought that might be the answer to my problems. I would still not be street legal until I paid that surcharge, but as an old moped enthusiast I figured, could a motorcycle be any different? I could get away with it.
Those familiar with the workings of a motorcycle knows this is hilarious. They aren’t the same thing at all. They both have two wheels and the similarities more or less end with its structure.
At first, I could barely get through my eight minute commute to the bank without stalling that damn thing because I lacked the hand/foot coordination to switch gears. Not a good thing if you are trying to hide yourself from the traffic cops. But I still rode daily, never fully mastering its machinations but I remember developing a bit of confidence on it as long as I didn’t have to go far or go fast.
I only had the ‘cycle about two months, though. One night when I was on the phone at home with my new Tennessee love, I ran out of beer at some ungodly hour and got the dumb idea to hit package goods, merely two miles away. I was drunk as a skunk, and reasoned like one- the plan was to hop on the motorcycle with minimal exposure and be back home in two shakes of a lamb’s tail before anyone noticed me. Now those of you who have ridden know that once you do “get” your motorcycle, it’s damn fun to drive. There’s a certain ergonomics to riding that feels just right when it all pops into place. I got kinda brave on it at the end there, leaning lazily into tough turns like a pro. But this night, I was ill-prepared to handle the loose gravel that salted the runup to the bridge over the interstate. I leaned in to the left deep without braking, six tall boys of Bud between my legs and the wheels couldn’t get traction on the gravel. Unable to steer, I began to careen toward the tall curb on the other side of the road.
BAM. I hit it doing at least thirty. I flew over the handlebars, skidding and tumbling across the sidewalk with exposed skin all over. If it weren’t for the helmet, this would have been a hospital trip or death. The riderless ‘cycle went over me and crash landed into a hedge in someone’s front yard.
I was drunk, so my first impulse was to leave the scene. I wasn’t ready for my second DWI just yet. I ran home and called a friend with a pickup, who helped me get the twisted wreckage out of the yard. Miraculously, no one in that house had heard my entrance into and out of their property. The Lord protects drunks and fools. I got back home, unloaded and hid the motorcycle.
It was time to look at my raspberries in the upstairs bathroom. And I had fucked myself up but good. I got some supplies for bandaging from the hall closet, because I was bleeding in at least three or four places.
Tape, tape, gauze gauze, band aids, gauze. Here. There. Everywhere.
I must’ve looked absurd, because my poor mother came into my room not long after I finished and was aghast at the condition I was in. I told her it was no big deal, but she did not agree. My strained efforts at first aid were not appreciated even a whit. I got back on the phone with Tennessee and relayed my adventure. We laughed it off. Someone should have lost respect for somebody somewhere.
You know what? I can’t tell you what happened to my package goods. I don’t remember rescuing them from the scene. Kinda out of character for a drunk. My little story would have a tidier, perhaps more humorous ending if I had searched the yard for my tallboys before I ran from the scene of the accident. I sure could have used the anesthetic.