Carrying the Milk

****Author’s Note:  the other day I was out and I saw two kids walking.  They were about a quarter of a mile from the high school and school was out.  Classes had been dismissed about a quarter hour before.  One of the young men was carrying a full gallon of milk.  I assume he had stopped at the nearby convenience stuff and picked it up on his way home.  What caught my eye was how he swung it as he walked.  It was super teenage carelessness personified.  His casual nature told me he had done this before.  As I watched I wondered, what’s his story?

 In my helmet, through the smoked visor I can still see him as clearly as if I were looking at him right now.  Untucked green tee, brown hair to the shoulder–slightly greasy, no bangs, just hanging down covering half his face.  Wearing jeans and a pair of black vans; walking accompanied by am unremarkable friend I cannot remember for the life of me.  Well, it was another boy but nothing stood out.  Maybe if his companion were swinging a gallon of milk as he walked it would have made him memorable too.  He swings the milk like a happy girl swings her purse carefree in a 60s magazine ad sort of way.  Big smile.

The incongruity of the moment was striking, like finding a diamond in gravel; so unexpected and unique, a Norman Rockwell with a twenty first century twist.  The milk boy seems under no duress.  There is no angst, no hurry, no burden of breaking from tradition, this is a rote act that has been finished before and will be finished again.  Practiced.

Has he ever spilled the milk? What happened if he had?  Did he get beaten?  Socio-economically he is heading to the trailer park.  Is there a Father there?  Or only Mom? In winter’s bite does he put the milk in a snow bank and share a few snowballs with friends, launching that barrage of unbridled childhood joy?  Does he forget the milk and have to run back and dig it out of the snow?

A fourteen year-old amongst single wides.  He could be slave, serf or king.  If father is gone he could be the man of the house, fending off hunger or suitors.  The outside was a baby but lurking inside could be broken, brutal experience.  The old men might call him hooligan or terrorist and he could guilty of both or neither.  Kindly widows could expect him to cut whatever lawn there maybe–or he could root through their grandma garbage hoping they threw things out on their expiration dates.  Extortion and protection could be his bag.  He could be the guy who tagged the stop sign or the one who puts the garbage cans right when they’ve been wrong.  Waiting at home could be mom or sis or no one and he might find that disappointing or thrilling or not care at all, all the while intercepting his grades and notifications from school.

Does every scenario end with hair in his face boy running a meth lab or trafficking in black-market babies or human organs?  No.  He could just be an average kid who comes home to very few things and almost enough love.  Average, or just below.  Happy.  Could be that too.

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The Gas Station

***Authors note: often when on a bike I watch other riders and I wonder what they are thinking, or how they imagine themselves.  Some things we do just have no appeal to me.  I am not a fan of large groups, or wearing club vests, or plotting my mileage with GPS.      This fiction is what I wonder might happen in the lonely mind.  This piece actually took an unexpected psychological turn.  

Philip is using a wet, soft cotton cloth to clean his mirrors.  This was the one he used on his bodywork and other shiny surfaces like his helmet but not his visor; there is a separate cloth for that.  The soft cotton cloth is really just a clean white diaper.  It has three panels, the center being dual layered because it is where business is conducted. This is good because that gives an extra layer of padding when he really needed to increase pressure on a tough spot.  Bugs.  Bugs are tough spots and sometimes when you rubbed them out you wound up with chunky parts, brightly colored bits of insect armor, adhering to the cloth and you had rinse, rub and repeat, then wipe things dry with another white cloth.

Once done the wet cloth (diaper) goes into a sealed plastic to be taken out and washed at home while the dry cloth (diaper) went into another identical, clear plastic bag for later evaluation to see if it needed cleaning as well.  They always did but you had to give them a chance.  It’s what Jesus would do.  He, like the Bhudda, is under a tree in the shade although there was the risk of sap or bird dookie falling on the clean machine.  Philip is willing to risk it.  His fuel tank is now full, his mirrors clean and all he needs do is clean his visor, log his GPS data, reset it and he can be off.  His routine is stopped by the sudden backfire of a car.

Bang!  Loud.  Instinctively he ducks his head a little, like a startled turtle, head not all the way retracted just pulled in a little.  There is a scream.  A woman.  And hollering.  A man.  Dragging a twenty something girl out of the front door of the minimart a man stops next to the pump island. “Nobody follows, got it?  I fucking mean it!” He fires a round back into the mini-mart.  Philip cannot see where it goes but his mind sees an exploding can of Pringles.

The man starts dragging/carrying the girl as he demands, “Which one?”  Philip knows which one. The girl’s car is a ten or twelve year old Honda Odyssey van.  He had noticed it when he came out after buying a liter of water.  All those minivan things looked like SUVs that had shrunk in the wash and dried ugly.  Realizing now he has noticed the man too.  He was here when he pulled up.  Sitting under the same tree Philip was now under.  Philip had noticed because the man didn’t seem to have a car.  He was just sitting in the shade.  Was this a spur of the moment thing or had the man been waiting under the tree?  Could armed robbery and kidnapping be a spur of the moment idea?  You surely had to have a plan if you were committing armed robbery and kidnapping.  The man now has reached the van with the girl and has her keys.

Didn’t see that  happen, Philip thinks.

The side door violently slides open banging and bouncing on its stops and the girl thrown in like a bag of potatoes, carelessly, maybe even with bad intent, like he was trying to bruise the fruit.  Running around the front of the minivan the man climbs in, almost dropping the gun as he brains himself on the roof of the door.  “Shit!” yells the man backing up a step and reinserting himself into the van.  Should have ducked, thinks Philip, surprised to realize that he is crouching behind his bike using it like a shield.

With a huge rev the van starts.  It shakes as the man tries to release the parking brake and get it into gear.  Philip can see him bang his gun on the dashboard, frustrated.  There is more muffled yelling in the car and suddenly the front end lifts up under power; in gear and on the gas the van’s tires squeal in surprise on the smooth concrete.  The overweight clerk who had taken Philip’s money runs out of the store.  “Someone stop him!” She shrieks.  It is a command, not a pleading.

Philips mind reels a tad because she so sounds like his mother when she, in frustration, would stalk the house screaming commands and demanding pity.  “You better get out here now!” She would holler, “How can you do this to your mother!  Get out here now!”  It would have been better if she was drunk or a junkie.  But she wasn’t.  Dad had called her a shrew before he had disappeared.  It took years before he looked up the word.  Dad was right.  She was mean because she could be.  Cruelty was mapped into her DNA.  All his childhood had been spent trying not to be mentally or physically injured.  now, his brain is frozen.  It’s a tone he and his sister knew too well: comply or flee.  Either way you were probably going to get smacked around.  “Someone needs to stop them!  He’s getting away!”

She hit “away” like a fastball on the meat of the bat, hard.  Somewhere, inside Philip, the little boy in his outfield took off at a dead run for the fence.  Without thinking he jams his helmet on and jumps on the bike, turning the key and thumbing the starter.  A solenoid hammers home, electricity flows and the motor turns and sparks, roaring into life.  Sweeping the side-stand up there’s a satisfying clunk as the bike slots first gear.  Turning the bars full lock left he drops the clutch and makes a turn so tight and clean it shocks him.  Hooking his toe under the shifter he hits second as he starts starts up the grade to the road.

The bars waggle gently in his hands and the suspension, now fully extended, lifts the front and the tire skims just above the road.    The power wheelie has stolen his focus and the intersection to the main road is right there and getting bigger fast.  Chopping the throttle brings the front back to earth and he brakes and tries to turn.  The bike won’t turn in.  Fear boils in his mind.  A single thought comes to his mind: press.  He does.  On the inside grip.  The bike drops its right shoulder and leans into the turn.  It rails.  Impossibly faster than he ever dreamed it could.  Parts of the tire that have never touched the pavement grip and bite and hold on as the bike makes a sweet arc and stands up as Philip starts pouring on the coal.  He is in third gear and already going faster than he ever has in his life.  The tach is tickling the redline as he catches fourth.  A nagging voice in his head warns not to rev so high, it may be designed to rev that high but you shouldn’t really do it… A metal Pegasus the bike flashes past traffic flying down the center of the road.

In the haze and simmer of the road ahead he sees the minivan.  A dot at first the van grows rapidly larger.  Too fast!  Philip squeezes the brakes.  Nothing seems to happen.  Squeezing harder the motorcycle pitches forward and settles on the front suspension.  The van still gets too big too fast.  More squeeze.  The front bears down, fully compressing.  The nose of the bike seems buried in the asphalt and Philip braces with his arms certain the bike is about to wash out the front of flip forward.  It doesn’t.  Releasing the brakes the front lifts back up and he settles in behind the minivan.

Inside he can see the girl crying and rocking, sitting on the floor between the passenger seats.  Looking into the rear view mirror of the van he makes eye contact.  The driver brake checks him, stomping on the brakes to get him to smash into the rear of the Honda.  Philip grabs the brakes in panic.  There is a clicking sound he’s never heard before, the brake lever pulses and instead of getting larger the minivan’s size stabilizes and starts getting smaller under full acceleration again.  Thank God the guy didn’t stop, Philip thinks.  He has no idea what he would have done facing a gun.  Ahead in the distance he sees flashing blue and reds.  Coming the other way, could be on the way to the gas station.  Philip realizes they might not have a description of the car.  The lights are on a motor officer’s bike.  He should stop turn on the hazards, flag the cop down.  It’s the safe thing to do.

Without slowing Philip takes both hands off the bars and stands on the foot pegs waving his hands above his head.  His bike slows losing distance to the minivan.  A state trooper on a Kawasaki C14 flashes by but is hard on the brakes, the big bike squirming as it decelerates.  Philip feels a moment of true fraternity, of empathy.  Hands again on the bars he sits back down looking in the mirror and sees the trooper make a tight sanitary u-turn and then it’s just headlights and red and blues getting bigger.  Looking forward he matches speed with the minivan.  Before he can look back to see where the trooper is the trooper is beside him with a thumbs up and then snaps his wrist up to say, back off.  Philip rolls out of the throttle letting the bike slow with engine braking, something he always avoided, theoretically to keep engine wear down.

Pulling in the clutch he rolls to a stop in a wide part of the road.  Shutting off the bike he puts the side-stand down.  Planting a foot he slides off the bike and nearly falls down.  His legs are jello.  He realizes he is shaking all over, quivering really, with excitement and fear.  A wailing siren comes closer and a Dodge Magnum skids to a stop next to him.  The trooper flashes a quick OK hand sign.  Philip nods yes and waves the trooper on.  In a swirl of gravel and the smell of burning rubber the big Magnum is gone.  Philip looks down at himself.  He left without his gloves and his visor rag is back at the station.  At his waist his riding suit is tied in a square-knot.

He had sped. Gone too fast.  Cornered too fast.  Without gloves and, he realizes, without his helmet strapped on  Popping off his unsecured helmet he hangs it on the bars.  An odd sense of shame settles on him.  A confusing fog.  He was pretty sure had just done a righteous thing in all the wrong ways.  If his riding pals and Internet buddies found out there would be qualified praise.  He would be a hero and a goat.  And there would be nagging.  How could he be so reckless and heroic at once.  He had been riding in a long sleeve t-shirt.  Bending at the waist he vomits whatever water he had taken on at the gas station.  Chunks of banana and granola are along for the ride.  Adrenalin does what he had heard–and now he knew.

The road is deserted for a moment.  No one saw him puke.  Indignity avoided.  Tugging at the knot at his waist he unties the arms of his riding suit then unzips his legs and steps out.  There on the road side it makes him think of a snake skin, a shed.  He used to find them around his grandpa’s place.  Bull snakes mostly.    He looks at his naked hands. Runs his hands through his sweaty hair.  He feels better.  The shake and puke is over.  The feeling is one of survival, almost triumph. Pulling the key from the ignition he unlocks a hard case and pulls out the mechanics gloves he carries, putting them on the seat.  Turning he picks up his riding suit.  Damn thing had cost over a thousand bucks.  It was just in case.  A prophylactic.  A body condom against the world.  Carefully he untangles it and with equal dignity folds it into a neat rectangle.

There is a small rock outcropping ten yards off the road.  Carrying the suit he walks over to it, looking for a crevasse of some kind.  There is a crack large enough to do the job.  Back at the bike he puts on his helmet and the mechanics gloves.    How far had that punk got?  He wonders.  Starting the bike he smacks it down into first, throttles up, dumps the clutch and let’s the bike do what it was designed to do. do what it was designed to do.

Bum’s Rush

Lately life has been giving me the bum’s rush

barreling me along, off my footing

on the edge of balance

a touch panicked

unable to settle or grab something stabile.

A trip, not a fall.

Grab the bar, get torn off.

Grab a stool, drag it along.

Door jam just tears the finger nails.

A hand on my neck

Twisted arm, folded wrist. 

Asphalt and air.

I am a Dog

***Author’s note:  Riding a motorcycle is a fairly solitary endeavor.  Even with a passenger you’ll find long stretches where you’re alone in your helmet.  During those hours introspection comes fairly easily.  This autobiographic piece comes after a long ride where I was pondering my public image and the truth of who I think I really am. 

I am a dog and that is the unfortunate truth.  Back in the day I would go out on my bike looking for a fight.  I had a moderately quick ride and a big attitude. I was working pretty much six days a week, fourteen to sixteen hours a day.  Sunday was my day off and I would head to the hills and ride like immortal twenty-year-olds ride.  I cared deeply about my speed, particularly corner speed.  I rode a 550 and you had to wring its neck for any of its ponies to leave the barn.  I loved finding bigger bikes, 750s, 1000s, 1100s, and try and make their lives hell by watching them pull away in the straights and then climbing up their backs in the turns.  The most precious thing was to slap a pass on them when they slowed before tipping in.

It was always orgasmic for a road to tighten up and then as the big bikes slowed, pour on the coal.  If felt good. Done right it was a velvet shot of macho.  Muy mas macho.

 Welcome to my humanity.

 When we talk about ourselves we often shade the true.  We embellish or diminish ourselves in an attempt to control our image.  We bend truth to fit the audience, perhaps to fit in or, to not stand out, we dull our own edges so as not to cut others and expose ourselves.

 I am a dog.  I occasionally pee on the carpet or steal food off you plate when you’re not looking.  I like to sleep on your chair and chew on your slippers.

 I ride under protected.

 I ride too fast.

 I flip people off sometimes, but they deserve it.

 I start too fast and brake too late and too hard.

 I’ve used the opposing lane to increase my speed.

 I’ve crossed the double yellow.

 And ridden in the tiny lane between the paint.

 You run?  I will chase.

 And I’ll do it again and again and again.

 Why?  Because I’m a dog, just like you.  I like to be comfortable, fat and happy.

 I protect my turf and family.

 I bark when startled and I will bite if need be.

 I enjoy speed and the sensual pleasures of launching, turning and braking.

 I love sticking head out into the wind.

 I generously lie to people.

 I willingly let misconception become fact.

 I let false facts thrive.

 Why?  Because I am a dog.

 I want to be happy.

 I want to be comfortable.

 I want to eat too much.

 I want to sleep too much.

 And

 I want to be loved for who I am, not what I do.

 Bad breath, shedding, chewing and scratching I want to be loved

 For who I am.

Not what you think I should be?