Wednesday, July 21, 2010

THE EPIC AFTERNOON

Jocelyn was about 10 years older than me. I had met her at my catering job when I was working for Martha in high school. She had told me I could drop by her house on our day off, and I did only to find her lying spread eagle on her bed, no panties and a peasant top, a fan blowing directly at her open vagina.

“Don’t get herpes, my box is on fire,” she advised me, making no adjustments for modesty’s sake.

I had met a lot of older people through my catering job, and my job at the town’s local theater where we all worked summers directing cars, handing out programs at show time, and selling candy and cokes at intermission. I got most of my high school friend’s jobs at the theater, and we had all taken to hanging out with older men, some of them 25 or older. We would find ourselves at their houses after the bars closed at 1AM. We would help them clean their marijuana by pushing it through cut squares of window screens stretched taught in wooden frames, opting out when they started to pass back and forth these special cigarettes. One of them promised me the next empty Almaden wine bottle, its womanly curves perfect for catching rainbow colored candle drippings, they were prized possessions proudly displayed on every cool older person’s coffee table that I knew.

I felt a little wrong hanging out with this older crowd, they were probably trouble, but my parents had raised me right (aside from the fact that they were blind to the fact that we were late night hub-bubbing with a bunch of barely employed grown-ups, watching them smoke dope while listening to Led Zeppilin records in their rented houses on the outskirts of town) – still all us girls had clear boundaries when it came to stuff like pot or Jack Daniels. We had much more class than that, we spent many a summer evening impersonating our parents, heading down to the beach before sundown – with a cooler full of ice, a bottle of white wine, cut up vegetables (or “crudite”, as Martha corrected me) and dip made from onion soup and sour cream. Miraculously, none of us got into any real trouble with these guys, although one of my friends made out and got felt up by one of them. I think he broke her heart until she met her high school boyfriend who she’s married to – to this day.

Still, the older set were fascinating, and I had no trouble fitting in, no trouble faking nonchalance when I met the sexy, powerful Jocelyn at my catering job – she was a heck of a lot of fun. A real tell-it-like-it-is broad, pretty face, her long thick hair cut in a shag. She had a bit of a weight problem that manifested mostly in the boob area, which served her well. She was popular with the guys, although I never actually saw one of them around during daylight hours. I’d never spent any time with her except for our 8 hour catering gigs; usually lavish weddings in Redding, or Greenwich where she would pop a Percodan on the way over to the job in Martha’s Suburban, later sneaking away with platters of jumbo shrimp during cocktail hour to be consumed back behind the garage, washing them down with the Cape Codder cocktails she would coerce the bartenders out of. I didn’t look to her as a role model, but she was entertaining in a dangerous way, I realized just how dangerous as she offered me a close up view of her blistered privates. It was a brutally hot August day, and the heat was really starting to get to me seeing Jocelyn in this position hogging all the fan’s air. I wandered out into the old turn-of-the-century house that she had rented out with some other older people and found the kitchen a room or two away. Now a safe distance from Jocelyn and her privates, I needed a glass of water – a guy, a house mate, I suspected, shuffled in, said ‘hi’ as he opened the fridge door, looked inside, and closed it – it seemed like he’d just rolled out of bed, although it was well after lunchtime. He had on a white t-shirt that was now grey-ish, and Levi’s, or Lee’s, those were the choices back then. His hair looked like Starsky, or Hutch, I don’t remember which one had the tightly curled brown hair.

“Hi, I’m Claudia,” I said, although he didn’t seem to expect an explanation as to who I was or why I was there. “Jocelyn asked me over, but she’s…. sleepy.” I didn’t know if he was aware of her current condition, the mention of her name didn’t seem to pique his interest.

“Don’t mean to be rude but I’m gonna jump on the day,” he said slamming the refrigerator door after taking one more hopeful look inside, “ever been on a motorcycle?”

He gestured with his head towards the door and I followed him out on to the gravel driveway. His motorcycle was there under a shady tree, he rolled it out on to the turn-around and said, “get on if you want, I’ll take you for a quick ride.”

I didn’t know if it was a great idea. My parents wouldn’t think so. Older guy, motorcycle, maybe it was a bad combination. Still, I had always been curious about them, these motorcycles. I had seen old-older guys on them up by the reservoir, riding around with serious looks on their faces, still you could tell they were having a great time. Jocelyn’s roommate, or whoever he was, he never told me his name, threw his leg over the bike, started it up, and head gestured again for me to take the space on the seat behind him, then pulling my arms around his waist.

Soon, we were riding down a back country road, one that I had taken a thousand times in a car usually on long Sunday drives with my Dad, but this was something different. My arms wrapped around a strange older guy’s body, gliding through turns, leaving the sweltering day behind us, giving way to a whirl of cool breezes, I looked up, a blur of vivid green leaves rushed over our heads, it was like nothing I had experienced. All too soon the motorcycle’s tires were crunching the gravel of Jocelyn’s driveway again, the adventure coming to an end as quickly as it had started.

That was the most fun I had that summer. Eclipsing those white wine spritzer parties at the beach, the baby powder sessions I had with my first boyfriend up in his room, those forbidden nights of cleaning seeds from the older boys pot and watching them “toke” their “doobs”, it just didn’t hold a candle. I never went back inside the house to say goodbye to Jocelyn that day, I don’t remember ever seeing her again. Maybe the herpes got the best of her, or Martha fired her for stealing shrimp, I didn’t care. I had gotten high for the first time in my life on the back of a motorcycle with a guy who’s name I never knew – but his bike and his Starsky and Hutch hair made that late August afternoon epic.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

THE BEAU

“It’s time for our ‘Naughty Nap’, “ declared my mom’s ninety-year old boyfriend after their lunch in the assisted living dining room.

I had heard that my mom had a new beau. The workers at her residence had mentioned it to my brother who kept close tabs on her. Apparently, they went to deliver this gent’s meds early one morning and discovered he had a guest, my Mother. She had been diagnosed with dementia a couple of years ago, had been recently tested and it had progressed to Alzheimer’s, it was confirmed. She still knew all of us, was joyful, but the short-term memory place in her brain showed little activity. The good news was her love life was in full force.

She introduced him to us as “Hank”. But his name was actually “Wendell”. He never corrected her. There was some other gentleman in the residence who’s name was Hank. This real Hank was hard of hearing, so the workers would use elevated tones when calling his name. “Hank! Hank!” Apparently this stuck in my Mom’s brain.

It didn’t seem to matter to “Wendell”. He was actually quite a catch. A retired Air Force pilot and Commander. Charming as heck, extremely witty, and still quite handsome at ninety. His sight had been declining at a steady rate for the last two years, no one could tell him why; at this point he could only see vague outlines of figures, he explained. It didn’t seem to slow him down. My mother introduced me as her daughter, “want to sit on my lap, little girl?” Wendell winked towards my outline with perfect comic timing.

My sister ‘n’ law commented how nice it was that she had found someone to hold, to be held by, I missed that feeling and marveled at how my mom had done it in her current state. Dizzy with logic, shower challenged, plucked from her home in La Jolla, relocated in a nice facility near my brother’s family. She knew no one, yet found love with Wendell. He told stories about his Air Force days. How he used to throw his Harley Davidson motorcycle in the plane to fly someplace wonderful for the day. He had written books, been a lecturer. He wore a crisp cotton plaid shirt, nice jeans, and a cool brass belt buckle he feigned taking off to hand over to me when I complimented him on it. The two if them now sat on a love seat, Wendell gazing at my mother with whatever eyesight remained. “Hank is very intelligent,” she said to me with a haughty tone I didn’t recognize. “And he’s extremely funny, don’t you think?” I did think! It didn’t matter than she didn’t know his name – Hank, Wendell, Captain Fantastic, it didn’t matter. I had never seen her this happy.

We took them to lunch the next day at Red Robin – me along with my brother, his wife and their two small kids. I turned to my mom, asked her if she was enjoying her lunch. She snapped at me, “Why wouldn’t I??” We were all stunned at her tone, the wind knocked out of me. My brother tried to engage her towards me, as she stared towards Wendell who sat on the other side of her working on his half of the grilled chicken sandwich they asked to share. He was doing his best to keep up with the stalled conversation.

“Claud,” my brother said slowly, “why don’t you tell mom about the really big company you’re working with, what was their name?” “Mom,” he attempted once more to gain her attention, “she was part of working on a very big website, Claud, tell mom about the website you wrote all by yourself.” Mom was patting Hank/Wendell’s thigh. I mechanically answered my brother’s prompt. Hearing my own words stung, it was useless, falling on deaf ears as she concentrated on removing the offending strings of red onion off Hank’s sandwich, placing them carefully on the edge of her plate.

We drove them the quarter mile from the restaurant back to the assisted living residence. My brother unloaded Wendell’s rolling walker from the trunk, I got out of the car to say goodbye. I would be leaving the next day; I didn’t know when I would make it back to Oregon. “Why are you getting out of the car, Claudia” my mom said nervously. “I’m just saying “goodbye, Mom”. “Oh, OK, will I see you again?” “No, I’m leaving tomorrow, I’ll call you soon.” “Oh, OK, Sweethear….” Her words trailed off as she turned towards her beau, who was standing with his hand extended towards me, waiting patiently to bid me adieu.

Friday, July 2, 2010

THE SHIFT

Scooters on my left/motorcycles on my right; here in the middle, the difference between the two go beyond shifting.

Scooter folks are mellow, there’s no Jack Daniels, machismo, posturing. Still, it can be a snooty club in its own right. “It’s not a Vespa” echoes the “It’s not a Harley” of the motorcycle world. Still, scooters feel friendlier, the mechanics hidden in rounded, simple architecture. Twist n go to the grocery store, heading home with two bags on the floorboards. At a scooter block party I attended 30 somethings introduced themselves, politely offering me a beer, asking my name. Biker parties are keep to yourself or else. My scooter mechanics had become fixtures in my life, their shop a mere 3 blocks away from where I lived. I met the owner one day before I was up on two wheels, he was on his ancient Lambretta stopped at the red light. “Come by the shop,” he offered up in his English accent, “we’ll get you up and riding,” he chirped before putting off as the light turned green.

My mechanic mentors guided me through 3 scooter upgrades, made me laugh, and gave me invaluable advice including; “sorry, they don't make a scooter that goes 2000 miles an hour, you won't be happy 'til you're up on a motorcycle.”

I suspected they were right. Scooters are great, but I would find myself looking longingly at the guys who pulled away from the light on their bikes with grace, speed, and control. Yet when my mechanics steered me towards motorcycles, I felt I was being pushed from my nest. Motorcycling is a big man’s world. I had talked to guys in the neighborhood parking their bikes, mentioning I had put money down on a bike I’d get a questioning look. I had been invited to ride with other scooterists more than a few times. I couldn't see a couple of guys on Harleys asking me to meet them on a sunny Sunday afternoon. But I had bought my first motorcycle – it would be delivered in the next couple of weeks. I felt excited, scared, and completely disenfranchised. My scooter days were officially over.

Today I walked down towards the block where my scooter mechanic friends have their shop. But I was headed towards the motorcycle repair shop that was up the same block. These guys turned out vintage Moto Guzzi. BMW’s, and BSA’s. The owner was outside on the sidewalk, mid-rant about some “dick” who promised to buy a bike but had reneged. I stood at a safe distance waiting for an opening, I would need him to check out my bike upon delivery. The uncomfortable customer who was the captive audience of his spew turned into his Greek chorus. “Yeah, what a douche bag. What a dick.” This didn’t seem to pacify the agitated owner, standing in a pool of stomped out cigarette butts. I turned away from the dark motorcycle shop and walked towards the friendly blue fa├žade of my shoe-box of a scooter shop down the block. Inside my mechanic friends stood next to deconstructed vintage steel scooters, chatting, chuckling, tinkering.

“Well, I finally took your advice and bought a motorcycle,” I announced with mixed emotion, I was going to miss these guys. “A 250??,” they joked. A 250cc is a starter motorcycle; I was treading lightly into this transition. “I predict one month,” the owner said. “Yeah, she’ll be knee draggin’ at the track by the end of August,” his lanky partner chuckled, “I can see her now all suited up standing next to a gold trophy twice her size.”

“So I guess I’ll have to find a new mechanic,” I shrugged. The two conferred through eye contact and reached consensus. “Fook,” the owner said in his Burmingham accent, “I don’t see why we can’t take care of you here Just order some different filters, that’s no big thing, is it?” Tenderness filled the shop for a moment before it was back to business. I walked back home feeling calm and excited about my new bike, motorcycle school, whatever was coming my way. It wasn't Scooters vs. Motorcycles, it would be what I would make it.