IMPORTANT NOTES FROM JUSTIN:
US Tour Day 70, Part 1: The Motorcycle Ride, A New Season
My grandpa Paul has been talking about getting a Harley as long as I can remember. He used to ride with a motorcycle gang called the Vampires back in the 50's and 60's. Two years ago he bought a brand–spanking new bike—he had to order it a year in advance just to get the one he wanted.
So, since he got the new and especially improved mega–fancy bike–o–matic with super gliding anti–something special injected leather side wind–deflecting technology I've been bugging him to take me out on a ride. Every time I ask he's sort of avoided the issue. It's as if I was the fattest, ugliest girl at the party and I kept asking him out and trying to hold his hand and he didn't want to hurt my feelings by just turning me down directly.
Maybe he thought attrition would set in if he ignored me long enough? Maybe he thought I might ask my other grandpa to take me out instead? (Not likely, since my other grandfather is DEAD and has never been on a motorcycle in his life. Sure, I'm creative, but no way I can teach an urn full of ashes to ride a motorcycle.) I think the main thing has been that grandpa Paul thought he would look like a big homo daddy out on a chicken–catching run with a faggy looking boy such as myself on the back of his bike. Not like that would have been a bad thing, depending on what sort of image grandpa wanted to portray.
Many times I've wondered if I'd ever get to hop on the back of the motorcycle—a sexy contraption costing more than my entire college tuition. When's it gonna be my turn?
Ah, but soon this wouldn't matter anymore, though.
He went with my mother and grandmother to pick me up from the airport when I flew in from Portland yesterday. We went out to eat Chinese food straight away—a family tradition any time we all get together. That was where he asked me for the first time if I wanted to go for a ride on his bike.
Now, that wasn't the first thing we talked about. He had to warm up to the conversation first. He started out by calling me a sissy a few times, and—gesturing at my septum piercing—reminded me (in case I had forgotten) that he'd "like to rip that faggot ring" out of my "fairy face." He says this a lot, although sometimes he transposes the words fairy and faggot. So, certain days I have a fairy face, on others I have a faggot face. Some days I have a fairy ring, on others I have a faggot ring. But, I never have a faggot ring at the same time as a faggot face. And there's never a fairy ring in my fairy face. He's must very careful not to create any dangerous homo–same–word–relationships in his sentences!
He then told me that "I'd never last a minute in the joint" and that my "ass would be a man–pussy so fast."
"Your asshole'd be so stretched out they'd need to put a fucking shim in it." He touched his forefingers together and thumbs together and spread the space between them open like a circle to demonstrate size. I saw his false teeth shine out a huge smile in that space opened up between his giant hands—his dramatic reenactment of my future anus. My mother and grandmother gasped. I grinned, loving it.
I thought it was great fun. Grandpa Paul loves me very much, and I know that's why he teases me so much. And I know he only teases me to my face. When I go with him to meet any of his friends they tell me that all he does is brag about me. So, I don't mind the teasing. Actually, I think it's pretty funny. [Plus, I get to learn a lot during the ribbings. He's like an artistic influence and reference book wrapped into one. Full of phrases like meat flaps and hummer, grandpa Paul is a sort of historical Colloquial Thesaurus of Inappropriate Language for Every Occasion.]
After making sure I was aware of the fate of the lowest part of my gastrointestinal tract, the time was right. He popped the question, "So, when you gonna go out for a ride on my Harley with me this week?"
I'd been waiting for that since the day he bought it! I wanted to go as soon as possible! Tomorrow morning!
A night passed, and so we went. I donned my leather motorcycle jacket. I hadn't seen it since I was about 15, which was when I stopped wearing it. My mom had kept it in the back of some closet since then, untouched. I would have thrown it away years ago, but my mom wouldn't even throw away the little circles of paper that came out when I used a hole puncher. She would insist that I'd be happy that I saved them someday, and that maybe she might use them in some project that would never happen. Mom was smug about having the jacket handy, as it justified her pack–rat habit.
Aren't you glad I kept this for you? The real answer was both yes and no.
The yes: It still had the things in the pockets from the last time I wore it—a love note from my friend Nichole Scheler, a sketch of me by someone I've long forgotten, a receipt from the store I used to buy Doc Martens and hair dye at when I was a teenager. There was a Super Chicken button on one lapel. I'd bought it in Hollywood on a trip there with my mother.
The no: I felt awkward wearing this heavy, black time capsule. It seemed so inappropriate for me now. I was wearing someone else's jacket, and not in the fun let's trade clothes sort of way. I felt awkward and self–conscious. I think I was worried that wearing it would make me turn back into that person again or maybe someone would find out how geeky I used to be—much like the fear I felt in first grade when I fell into a pond on a school field trip and soaked my pants and had to wear a pair of Greta Alvin's jeans instead. I was scared that simply by donning her garment I might actually turn into a girl, or maybe people would start relating to me as a girl even though I would still be a boy.
It sounds crazy. But, putting on my old jacket brought that same feeling back to me. I wanted to explore it more. No time for that, though. Grandpa was waiting and it was time to get out on the road. He handed me the crudest, skimpiest eggshell of a helmet I'd ever seen. This thin plastic shell couldn't deflect a hug from a fluffy, adorable bunny, let alone a collision with asphalt at 80 miles per hour. I imagined my mother and grandmother each crapping out a litter of puppies at the thought of me wearing this unsuitable and illegal joke of a helmet. This made it so much more satisfying to put the 'skid lid' on my obviously disposable head.
And we rode. We rode past old California oaks, outliving generation after generation on their rolling hilltop homes. We rode past reservoirs, silent and glassy, smooth surfaces reflecting the cold winter skyscape. There wasn't much talking as we went—what can you hear over the roar of wind and the explosions of exhaust pipes? So I listened to that and smiled, satisfied.
We went to some of grandpa Paul's hangouts. I met his friends, I heard stories, I experienced a different side of him. I tasted the life he had outside of being a husband and a grandfather, and that was the amazing part.
So often we relate to our friends and relatives as only that—just a friend or only a relative. We forget that our mother is also a woman, and that to many she is a friend, a boss, an employee. Parents forget their children aren't just children. To others these 'children' are friends, lovers, students, teachers, artists. Our friends may also be parents, enemies, healers, saints, sinners. I got to drop the title 'granpda' and learn about this man I've known my whole life as just Paul, a popular man who's loved everywhere he goes, a man who is ferociously protective of his colleagues, a generous spirit always looking to help his buddies, and a guy who is trying to figure out his life the same way the rest of us are.
The crisp California air lounging with the oaks on the rolling hills chilled my nostrils; it's perfume brought back to me every memory of my many Novembers in that place. But, I knew then that even that big breathful of memories would be dwarfed by the new memories that'd be forged in the new season—the season of understanding that starts on the day we realize that the people in our lives are not what we thought, but are instead so much more than we can explain with our tiny titles.
Here's to the new season!
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