A text message sat on the screen of my cell phone.
Biker A: Did u hear what Biker B did?
I replied by thumb: No.
Biker A: He took his $ and left. U believe that crap?
I sighed. My conversation with Biker A was going to be long and having it by text message sounded exhausting. So I wrote back: Can you just call me?
Ten seconds later my phone rang, and Biker A, skipping all conversational formality, launched directly into bitching about Biker B. He screamed about how his partner was an idiot and was doing everything to destroy their business building sportbike-cruiser hybrids and café racer motorcycles. I listened, letting Biker A blow off steam. He needed it. But by the twenty-minute mark, I was getting tired and went to the fridge for a beer. As I popped the cap and leaned against the kitchen counter to take that fantastic first pull, my phone dinged through Biker A’s rant. On the screen was a text from Biker B that read: Biker A is destroying my marriage!
It was going to be a long day.
For the next two hours, Biker A and Biker B assaulted each other by text message. Both men were my friends, and after Biker A copied me on one of his texts to Biker B, Biker B followed suit and began copying me on his texts to Biker A. I was suddenly the moderator of their fight, forced to watch their volley of texts composed in a shorthand that as a kid I knew as the spelling of retarded classmates. At times the tiny speaker in my cell phone sounded as if it was about to explode under the load of incoming messages. Their texts started off about the business, but quickly degraded to mud slinging and by the end became:
Biker B: Ur a sack of shit.
Biker A: At least Im not fake. Everything about u is bullshit.
Biker B: Ur the bitch with a BMW & heated grips.
Biker A: Ha! I ride more miles on that bike than u ever will on that stupid chopper.
Biker B: Rigid frames are 4 real men. Thats why u dont own 1.
Biker A: Like my dad said, u can stack up turds nice, but its still a pile of crap.
The word “crap” in Biker A’s message had been replaced with a tiny icon of feces that looked like a Hershey’s Kiss.
As I read in disbelief, Biker C, who had been best friends with Biker A since childhood, and Biker D, who was Biker B’s new bestie, joined the battle. What had been a stream of texts became a torrent, spilling down the screen of my cell phone like a waterfall. My mind swam. The texts kept coming. My mind hurt. The texts kept coming. Sentences lost all meaning. The texts kept coming. Words jumbled. The texts kept coming. Characters became unrecognizable. The texts kept coming. My body’s reflex for self-preservation kicked in, and I closed my eyes before suffering an aneurysm. I took a deep breath and smiled, remembering an argument I once had with my wife. An argument I actually won.
For the first ten years of our relationship, Elizabeth had unrelentingly scolded me for being a crappy listener. Not so much with her – though that too was an issue – but mostly when we were around a group of people. After parties, for example, at which several people had talked to us, Elizabeth would want to discuss the juiciest parts of the conversation. She would remember people’s names and everything they had prattled on about, but I would recall little, referring to the people as “the woman with awful breath,” or “the man as interesting as cardboard.” My wife would frown upon hearing this and say, “You mean Jen and Mark.” My lack of retention in group situations frustrated her to high hell, and I began to think professional help was needed to hone my listening skills in order to save my marriage. But one day salvation came. It happened as Elizabeth and I were driving together listening to the radio. A report came on National Public Radio about new research on the differences in how the male and female brains register communication. A behavioral scientist had taken eight people and recorded them talking in pairs of two. Each conversation was on a separate topic and the two people speaking used each other’s name. The scientist then dubbed the four separate conversations on a single track so they played simultaneously. The tape was played for a group of test subjects composed of both sexes, and the results were clear: almost all the women remembered the people by name and what was being discussed in all four of the conversations. In short, the women were outstanding auditory multi-taskers. The men, on the other hand, had a much different response. They remembered no names, none of the topics discussed, and at hearing a bunch of people talking over each other, simply stopped listening.
I shut off my phone.
My heartbeat slowed.
A bluebird’s song came though the window. It was likely on our redwood fence shaded by bamboo, where birds usually perched.
Later that day, I decided to call Biker E. He had always been the “mother goose” of our group, planning trips and working on bikes when they broke down. He thrived on riding with friends, which was important, because such love allowed him to keep his sanity while being on the road with a bunch of childish idiots.
Avoiding my cell phone, which was still shut off, I used our landline.
“Look,” he said, “I want to stay out of this.”
“Well I’m right in the middle,” I lamented, “and don’t know what to do.”
“There’s nothing to do. Just let them blow off steam. They’ll settle down after a few days.”
“I’m looking at their websites now,” Biker E said, “and everything’s fine.” He had been on his computer the whole time. It was typical, and I had come to accept people giving me half their attention during conversations as they fiddled with some technological gizmo. I did it too.
“Is that your new iPad?” I asked.
“You like it?”
“Love it,” he replied. “It’s fast and fits into my saddlebags.”
“What do you think about the digital keyboard?”
“I don’t use it much,” Biker E said. “Most of what I do is through apps. The one for eBay is killer. I’m buying most of my parts there now.”
“I just can’t get into the iPad,” I said. “The file structure drives me nuts. I need –”
“Oh shit,” Biker E muttered.
“What?” I asked anxiously, but annoyed at the change in conversation.
“Go to Biker A’s Facebook wall.”
I walked to my computer and checked. There, glowing on the screen in digital print, was the post:
Biker B is a poser bitch
As many of you know, I recently started a business with Biker B. I want you all to know he’s a liar and a thief. He’s ridden my coat tails for too long. Respect must be earned. Biker B is the finest example of wanna-be biker douchebaggery and has poisoned every aspect of my life.
Don’t ever work with this dude or you’ll get screwed like I did.
You reap what you sow, bitch.
Below the text was a picture of Biker B working on his motorcycle. The picture had originally been used as part of an advertisement for their shop, but in the post it took on a much different meaning. It somehow seemed less sincere, less like a man simply enjoying the act of keeping his bike running well.
From down the block, I heard a motorcycle engine rev. “I gotta go,” I said to Biker E and hung up as I looked out the window. Biker B came flying down my street and locked up the rear wheel, leaving a long black skid in front of my house. He barely put the kickstand down before jumping off his bike and bounding up my steps. But before he could reach the front door and pound on it, I opened it and caught him off guard.
“I just saw Biker A’s post,” he panted. “I was at the corner. Stopped at a red light. Checked Facebook on my cell phone.”
“Calm down,” I told him. “Take a breath.”
“I can’t believe that son of a bitch posted that for everyone to see,” Biker B roared.
“Relax. Everyone’s not running to Facebook to read the post,” I said. “It’s not a big deal.”
“Hell it isn’t!” He paused, then continued at a more metered pace. “Lemme use your computer.”
“I’m gonna get that bastard back.”
“My blog,” he said. “I’m gonna rip Biker A a new asshole, and it’s easier to post from a computer than my cell.”
I put a hand over my face and rubbed my temples. “What ever you write is not going to help the situation. Yes, Biker A’s post was ridiculous. But you posting something in retaliation is just going to look petty.”
“There’s two sides to every story,” Biker B shot back.
“Yes, there are. But do you think people will see that? Or are they just gonna see two grown men bickering with each other?”
“He called me a liar. And a thief. And a poser. Bullshit! I started that company and he’s the one riding my coat tails. I’ve played nice, but that’s over. His post crossed the line, man.” Biker B caught his breath, then continued, “Lemme use your computer.”
“You’re being a bitch,” I said flatly.
“Me?” he fired back. “You’re the one who writes those motorcycle bromance stories.”
“Well,” I shrugged, “my wife does say I’m 49% gay.”
Biker B’s face contorted. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“The gay barometer,” I said matter of factly. “Zero means you’re straight and one hundred means you’re a flaming queen. Fifty percent is the tipping point. If you’re just below that, you have gay tendencies but you’re still straight. Above 50% and you’re technically gay. So 49% means I can appreciate drapery and a nice pair of heels, even write motorcycle stories with feelings, but I’m still attracted to women. One percent more and I’d like drapes and heels and penis.”
“Jesus Christ, you are gay,” Biker B said in amazement. “You might as well write poetry.”
“Never,” I replied. “I hate poetry. It’s forced, overdramatic drivel read by hippies and elitists.”
“Why the hell am I talking with you about this?” Biker B asked himself as he threw his hands up.
“I’d say you’re somewhere between 35 and 40%,” I said looking over Biker B.
“What!” he belched incredulously. “I don’t need to hear anymore of this shit. Are you gonna let me use your computer or what?”
“Sure,” I said in resignation. “You know where it’s at.”
Biker B stomped to the other side of my house and popped in front of the computer to compose his master rebuttal to Biker A. His typing came in fits and starts – one moment furious pecking at the keyboard, the next a long silence broken by a loud huff. At one point, I walked past the door to see him pacing the room and mumbling. He stopped in his tracks to nod and grunt as if agreeing with himself.
Sometime later, Biker B emerged from the computer room looking triumphant. He smiled and said, “OK. I’m done. I gotta get home.”
“Sure,” I said with half interest. “Hope whatever you wrote works out for you.”
The rest of the day, I stayed off my computer and cell phone. There was no need to read Biker B’s blog because his post was surely the same melodramatic bullshit about respect and trueness to the motorcycle scene that Biker A wrote.
That night I went to the kitchen to get my cell phone. I turned it on then lay it on the counter by the refrigerator as I grabbed a beer. I popped the cap and went for that fantastic first pull, but before I could take it my phone erupted in superimposed dings as texts messages flowed onto the screen. Seventy-three texts in all from Biker A, B, C, D, as well as a few newcomers, sat on the screen. I exhaled slowly and closed the app.
Taking the pull from my beer, I opened Twitter and scrolled through tweets. A long list of inflammatory messages between the Bikers began and appeared. Each was jammed with as much degradation and slander as could fit in the allotted 140 characters. Some tweets had pictures attached that had been taken by friends having drunken shenanigans, but were now being used to disgrace a fellow rider for public consumption. My mind began to swim again, and I threw the phone down on the counter, shrieking in exasperation.
“What’s wrong?” Elizabeth asked, walking into the kitchen.
“I’m dealing with a bunch of grown men acting like girls.”
“Is this about your friends and their business?”
She shook her head, then asked, “Are you OK?”
“Yes,” I sighed. “I’m fine. I just need to do something to get my mind off this crap.”
“Why don’t you work on your motorcycle. Gage is down for the night.”
“No,” I said thinking. “I’m gonna watch TV. Something about real bikers and how they act.”
“Like what?” my wife asked.
“Sons of Anarchy.”