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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The engine sputtered. Then ran. Then sputtered worse and cut out.

My motorcycle began quietly rolling down the highway, losing speed to the surrounding traffic. Some folks gave space as I worked to cross four lanes of commuter traffic, but most continued past without slowing. One man came close behind me then aggressively switched lanes to pass on the right with his horn blaring. It was horrible. Powerless. Alone.

My bike came to a halt on the shoulder of the highway a quarter mile from an exit. There was no gas station near the ramp, but it was a quiet place to work on the motorcycle, so I pushed until gravity allowed the bike to coast.

The slow jaunt gave me time to examine the debris along the highway. First came the rubber shrapnel of an exploded truck tire. Large sections of sidewall lay intermingled with fragments of tread protruding rusted steel belting. Next came the head of a shovel. It looked unused but for the jagged stump of wood where the handle had been broken off. I wove my way through these until a crumpled lady’s brassiere appeared. It was purple and I ran it over in a moment of childish enjoyment.

The exit led to a frontage road that intersected two city streets in a confused jumble. Avoiding the mess, I coasted the motorcycle onto the sidewalk and stopped under a tree. It was summer and the sun was high. If I was to be broken down, it was best done in shade.

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Wolfman“Jesus Christ, it’s hot,” I bitched to everyone in the room. The whole day had been sweltering. And now the night was too. It was odd for Culver City, a part of Los Angeles where the weather is tempered by the Pacific Ocean.

“Be quiet and have a beer,” my wife Elizabeth said, handing me one as she came from the refrigerator. She took a pull from hers then plopped onto a velour sofa that had started life chartreuse green, but over time darkened from oil stains and grinder debris.

The sofa sat in the lounge area of Caleb Owen’s shop, a two-story building dedicated to building motorcycles. The front half housed tools and bike lifts and was only one level, leaving twenty feet of open space for a hoist the previous owner used to pull car engines. The back half was separated into an upstairs loft used as a bedroom, and a downstairs lounge where we sat around a coffee table made from the window of a DC-10 airplane. Motorcycles in various stages of repair sat throughout the shop, some finding their way into the lounge to act as chairs. My son Gage ran among them chirping with excitement at the freedom to touch the bikes.

“Did I ever tell you about my dad and the wolfman?” Caleb asked Elizabeth.

“No, but now I need to hear it,” she said sitting forward and putting her beer on the table.

From a young age I loved horror movies, especially the campy old black-and-white ones from Hollywood’s Golden Age. The allure of a story with the wolfman was too strong and so I blurted, “me too,” with boyish excitement.

Caleb’s wife and her brother nodded in silent agreement. They had surely heard the story countless times, but allowed another telling for guests.

“Alright,” Caleb said looking from person to person. “It all started on a typical day. My dad had just gotten home from work and did what he always did right after walking in the house – he stripped off his clothes.”

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The nut slipped from my fingers and fell. The little bastard went right into the pocket near the starter motor, a deep nook where small things easily hide. It was not a terribly important nut, just one from a battery terminal, and posed no threat to the motorcycle as it sat quietly. But once the bike was barreling down the road at 70 mph, that nut could make its way into the open primary and damage a pulley or even explode the belt. To make matters worse, it was aluminum, so the magic wand with a little magnet on the end for removing steel bits from tight places was worthless.

God damn nut.

But the real issue was not a rogue nut. It was the sloppiness that came from feeling rushed. Since my son had been born, time spent working on bikes grew scarce. Riding too. Being a father occupied the bulk of my time, leaving little room for tinkering on two-wheeled joy. So when I did manage to get into my shop, everything was done at a fevered pace. The pressure was on. The clock was ticking.

And nuts were dropped.

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Prison“Me and my friends went,” Cecilia said.

“My friends and I,” my cousin corrected his daughter.

She stared at us with the blank look of a teenager being corrected for something deemed insignificant. Behind her, the Pacific Ocean could be seen through plate glass windows that covered the wall of the restaurant we sat in at the end of Huntington Beach pier. As we ate breakfast, fishermen baited and cast their lines over the railing in hopes of a morning catch.

“What does it matter?” she asked no one in particular, so I answered.

“It matters because people judge you by how you look, how you act, and what comes out of your mouth.”

“They do? Are their judgments right?” she asked me.

“Sometimes yes, sometimes no. When they’re right it can avoid pain and heartache. But when they’re wrong it can allow fear and ignorance to close their mind to meeting new people.”

“That’s horrible,” Cecilia gasped.

“But it happens,” I said. “I’ve judged people and been wrong. One time I was very wrong.”

“When?” she asked.

“He was an ex-convict,” I replied. “A man who had been sent to prison at a young age as a drug addict and thief. I judged him before he even spoke, assuming I knew the person he was. I was wrong.”

“What happened?” she asked.

“Do you really want to know?” I questioned her question.

Cecilia nodded, showing more excitement than she had in days.

“Well,” I said, “it started with a motorcycle trip to Mexico.”

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Great acts of heroism are chronicled in the annals of history.

Divine acts of charity elicit sainthood in religion.

Breakthrough acts of intelligence warrant the Nobel Prize in science.

Then there are the outstanding acts of stupidity. These must be cherished and remembered, kept alive through stories told among friends on barstools and by campfires. They are the glue that bond buddies.

One time I was lucky enough to witness a colossal act of stupidity and it happened at Green Day’s music studio in Oakland, California.

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