ThankYouMy first sexual let down came when I was ten years old. My parents and brother were out of the house, and I was alone watching television in the family room. Clicking through the channels with the dial on the face of the TV, I came across a PBS documentary on pregnancy. It was just starting, and the announcer revealed that the show would culminate with the birth of a baby. I was hooked, held in rapture at the promise of seeing vagina for the first time.

It was 1984, well before the days of internet pornography, and none of the boys I knew had gotten their hands on a nudie magazine. A few boys claimed to have seen their female cousin naked or a neighbor girl through a window, but none of them could describe the vagina clearly. One kid said it was a little container girls had between their legs to hold their things. He knew this because his older brother was always talking about his girlfriend’s “box.” Another boy from an Italian family of bakers argued it had something to do with bread because he had seen his mom pointing at her crotch and complaining about a yeast problem. I needed to see a vagina and make sense of all the stories. This show was my chance to do so and become a respected authority on the topic at Bala Cynwyd Middle School.

After an hour of boring documentary crap, the moment came. The camera showed a woman sitting up on a gurney soaked in sweat and screaming. She was surrounded by a doctor and nurses dressed in white. I got off my belly and moved towards the screen on my knees, getting close enough to make out the green, red and blue phosphor dots. The nurses moved about the woman as the doctor barked out orders. The frame cut to between the woman’s legs, and there it was – a massive bush of dark pubic hair encircling the purple crown of a baby’s head. Bloody secretion squirted from her crotch as she howled. The shriveled baby shot out of her before the scene cut to the doctor cutting the umbilical cord and handing the child to the mother. The doctor’s face filled the next frame as he pulled down his surgical mask to reveal a theatrical look of relief.

I turned off the television in shocked disgust, vowing never to touch vagina.

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GreatDaneHank was my first son, a gentle soul that kids loved and animals were attracted to. We were inseparable, spending every moment of our day together except when I went to work. They wouldn’t accept his kind because, well, Hank was a Great Dane.

Hank was what most folks would consider a lemon. He had Addison’s disease and dilated cardiomyopathy, demanding a regimen of shots and pills. His large brown eyes, which when pointed directly at you, were slightly crossed. The top of Hank’s head had ridge that made him look as if he were wearing an ill-fitting yarmulke. His fur was brown with a black mask, which meant he was a fawn like Scooby Doo though unlike Scooby Hank’s ears weren’t cropped and hung like an elephant’s. A dense swath of curly hair ran along his back like a bad toupee. But Hank’s gentle disposition and lumbering playfulness made him a neighborhood superstar. During our walks folks I didn’t know would approach us and stop to swoon over Hank, clearly knowing who he was as I stood to the side, ignored.

My dog had more friends than me.

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MW3Smoke rose from the cigarette in my mouth. It burned my eyes, transforming the setting sun before me from orange to a pale brown. I wasn’t a smoker, but the alcohol coursing through my veins drove me to stop and buy a pack. I stood in front of the 7-11, smoking and staring at the sun

The sun dropped below the horizon as I finished the cigarette. I lit another one, then started my motorcycle and headed home with the cigarette dangling from my lips. It bobbed in the wind, periodically releasing ash and sparks over my shoulder.

Elizabeth walked onto the porch as I pulled into the driveway. She watched me get off my bike, then said flatly, “You’re drunk.” I had not stumbled or said a word. I had only made eye contact with her and yet she knew. After fifteen years together, my wife could tell whether I had been drinking from subtle changes in my behavior that others never noticed.

I lied. “I had one beer.” Actually it was true if I ignored the bucket of liquor that accompanied that beer.

She frowned, seeing though my bullshit. “I thought you were gonna lay off?” When she realized I was not going to answer her question, she continued, “Are you coming in for dinner?”

My son Gage ran from the house on the stiff legs of a two-year-old and yelled, “Da!”

I lied again. “Not now. I want to mount that rear fender.”

“OK. It’ll be on the stove when you’re ready. Gage and I are gonna eat now.”

They went inside the house and I headed for my shop. Once inside, I grabbed the bottle of gin tucked among motorcycle parts on the shelf. I filled my mouth then sat on a stool with the bottle between my feet. I lit a new cigarette and stared at the motorcycle with no intention of working on it.

The smell of Loctite came to me. It was an odor intimately tied in my brain to working on machines. Combined with the fresh wave of alcohol from the gin, it was now relaxing me. I stared at the motorcycle on the lift before me, running my eyes over the curves of sheet metal which mirrored the wheels and engine. It was a lovely form that caused my thoughts to drift slowly. They floated here and there, eventually coming to my first motorcycle and how I had cajoled my Old Man into buying it for me.

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My wife lay on the road, her motorcycle in pieces beside her.

A taxi driver stood nearby smoking a cigarette, oblivious to how a sound had saved his life.

Elizabeth might have been pregnant, but we did not know.

I was scared.


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Russian“You’re what?” the bearded man asked with a crumpled forehead.

“A plutonium physicist,” I answered gasping.

A battle had just ended between twenty-four greasy bikers with wiffleball bats in a penis-shaped ring called the “Coctagon.” I was out of shape but won and after being handed five hundred dollars had slipped away amid the chaos. I was standing alone catching my breath under a scraggly Creosote bush when the bearded man had ambled over.

“How the heck did you become a biker?”

“I’m not a biker,” I answered, breathing heavily. “Just love to build and ride motorcycles. Started when…I was fifteen. Long before—” I took a deep breath then spoke through the exhale, “—I started collecting obscure science degrees.”

“And what possessed you to get in there?” The bearded man pointed over his shoulder at the scattered remains of the chalk lines in the dirt.

“I wrestled in college,” I said then took a deep breath. “And I’ve been drinking.”

“So you build motorcycles, have highfalutin papers, and wrestle. That’s quite a combination,” the bearded man said, rubbing his graying chin. “Never heard that one before.”

I stood up, breath returning. “It’s led to crazy stuff.”

“Like what?” the man asked.

“Grab us beers and I’ll tell you over there,” I said gesturing to a picnic table turned pale from years in the Southern California desert.

The man ambled off.

I sat at the picnic bench and felt the evening breeze wash over my skin. Sweat evaporated, leaving a chill on my skin that balanced the burning in my lungs.

The bearded man returned with beer. “Name’s Frank,” he said and shook my hand.

I returned the greeting then took a long pull of beer. Waves of relaxation passed through my chest and into my arms. “Are you sure you want to hear this?” I asked. “It’s about a run-in I had with a KGB agent in Russia. Not motorcycles.”

“There’s enough of them things around here,” Frank said, looking at the sea of bikes around us. “I wanna hear something else.” He took a seat at the picnic bench and waited.

“OK, then,” I said. “It started with a trip to a secret city in Russian called Sarov where they made nuclear weapons.” 

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geek2“Hold on,” Gilby said. “Let me grab the sheets.”

“Don’t rush,” I told him as he limped from his family’s guest room.

It had been one year since Gilby’s motorcycle accident. His left leg was broken when a man driving a pickup pulled in front of him, and Gilby, unable to stop his bike in time, hit the side of the truck. The man fled, and Gilby was left with a shattered tibia.

Gilby returned with a stack of linens. He dropped them on a chair and began making the bed. As I watched, the moment turned surreal, the air rarefied. Though I had known Gilby for years and slept in his house, the situation hit me – a man who played with Guns n’ Roses, who had once been lowered in a helicopter to a stadium of waiting fans, was making my bed after a day of riding.

To battle my sudden fit, I helped Gilby pull the fitted sheet over the mattress and brought up a comfortable topic. “My knucklehead’s coming along,” I said. “The springer forks and wheels are mounted on the frame. Now I gotta figure out the front brake.”

Without stopping his progress on the bed, Gilby replied, “You need a drum brake for a Harley between 1936 to 1948. Those are the years before they went to telescopic forks. The drum mounts on the star hub with five 7/16-inch bolts, and the backing plate with the brake pads anchors to the springer forks with a shackle bar. There’s also a sleeve and spacer you’ll need.” He paused to unfurl the quilt, then continued, “You can rebuild an original brake or get an aftermarket model. Either way, you’ll have to radius and trim the pads. But I’ll help you with that.”

I smiled. Gilby’s narrative of ancient motorcycle parts had broken my stupor by reminding me of the first time we spoke. And as I dropped a pillow into its case, my thoughts drifted to that day and how it was then he unknowingly put me at ease by revealing a trait most peculiar for a rock star.

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“I pooped myself,” my wife said sheepishly.

“Really?” I giggled, laying in the driveway next to my motorcycle and a pile of tools.

“It’s not funny!” She furrowed her brow in warning.

“All right. All right.”

“It happened so fast. I thought I was done, but after I left the bathroom I suddenly needed to go again and, well, I didn’t make it.”

Elizabeth’s confession was no surprise. Pregnant women have endless problems regarding the bathroom and my wife was no different. During the third trimester as the growing baby stole space from her bladder, Elizabeth would waddle to the bathroom every twenty minutes only to emerge unrelieved because she managed only a squirt. It was an unrelenting cycle for her of discomfort and disappointment. She generally kept a sense of humor, but as time passed and the pregnancy took its toll she started losing control of her functions.

“It’s just a little crap, honey,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.”

“But it’s so embarrassing.”

“We all have accidents.”

“Pooping myself?”

“It’s nothing a shower and washing machine won’t fix.”

“Easy for you to say. You didn’t just soil your pants.”

I put down my wrench and looked my wife in the eyes. “It’s time I share something with you. Something that happened during my trip to Manchester.”

The English city had been ground zero for the most foul, most heinous incident ever to beset me as a grown man. It was a dark memory that sat in my closet sharing martinis with cackling skeletons.

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