Related Posts - Motorcycles: A Magnificent Obsession
Part 1 http://open.salon.com/content.php?cid=46840
art 2 http://open.salon.com/content.php?cid=47571
Part 3 http://open.salon.com/content.php?cid=50371
Part 4 http://open.salon.com/content.php?cid=51765
Part 5 http://open.salon.com/content.php?cid=55723
Part 6 http://open.salon.com/content.php?cid=56994
I subtitle this section of this memoir: “Where the Hell are The Directions?”
Part 6 ended with two very drunk, and one very tired (me!) motorcyclists finding that the two bikes they had bought from the Montgomery Ward catalog were completely unassembled. At that point I was feeling that I had taken advantage of Earl by talking him into this fiasco. But then something dawned on me that made me feel stupid, and angry. Here is the end of part 6.
Just a little note: After pushing the wheel barrow up the drive with the pieces of his new bike, it dawned on me that we could have just put the pieces of the bike into the back of Earl's pickup and driven it to the garage!
At that point I was the one who was drunk and pissed off. I had been too stupid, or drunk, to think of that when he first rolled the wheel barrow down the driveway. He never, to his dying day, admitted that he did that on purpose. Like hell he didn't!
Any way, we put the pieces of crates in the back of Earl’s truck and called it a day.
I wobbled into Earl’s living room and fell down on the divan. As Earl walked by from the kitchen to his bedroom, Wild Turkey still in hand, I yelled out, “G’night, Scarlett. We’ll think about this tomorrow.”
It was late, after midnight, when we got all the parts of the two bikes into the garage, kept them in two separate areas, and had gone to bed. Earl, always the early riser, was up and cooking breakfast by 7 the next morning. Such disgusting activities are anathma to a night owl like me. I had crashed on the living room couch in the clothes I was wearing the night before.
The noise and smell, ugh!, woke me and once Earl saw me stirring he always made sure that there was no way in hell he was going to let me sleep. So he puts on a vinyl album of Johnny Rivers and turns it up. Unfortunately, Earl had a great stereo system with 15” Infinity base boxes. So my hungover brain is treated to a nice 120 decibel concert of "Maybellene," "Baby I Need Your Loving," "The Tracks of My Tears," "Tunesmith," and "Help Me, Rhonda." By the time we got to "I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water" I was up and staggered to the bathroom to die. The problem is that at that age you don’t die, you just feel like hell. I kept some minimum toiletries at Earl’s for just such occasions and I brushed the fuzz on my tongue and walked back into the dining room.
Earl was sitting there bright and chipper eating a huge breakfast of eggs, sausage, toast, AND, a huge Bloody Mary. His drink looked pretty pale to me, but that happens when you make a Bloody Mary out of 4 ounces of vodka, a splash of tomato juice, an dash of worchestershire sauce.
I fixed a Bloody Mary that had 8 ounces of tomato juice, a splash of vodka and a lot of worchestershire. I didn’t mind a bit of the hair of the dog at 7 am, but I didn’t want to start the day eating the whole dog. Since I never eat breakfast and was sure to get heartburn as soon as this went down I checked my pockets to see if I had any Tums. Yep. (I carried Tums the way some people carry a billfold or Sen Sen.
So we worked out a PLAN. We prided ourselves on always having a plan. We would unwrap each piece, guess where it went on the bikes and lay them out in the rough outline of a bike on the garage floor. Actually, this stroke of genius came to me from watching, a few days before, the way investigators piece together a crashed airplane. Only in this case we would be putting the bikes together.
What we both thought was that in one of the packages would be a nice, fat, Assembly Manual. Who, after all would ship a complete motorcycle in parts without including instructions to put it together. Plus we would need the Owner’s Manual, and the set of tools that, back then, that came with every bike. The tools were irrelevant, but the Owner’s Manual was important for telling us how much oil to put in the bike, how loose to set the chain, amount of air in the tires, how to adjust the shocks and chain tension, and such stuff, plus the manufacturer’s recommended break in procedure.
So we eventually got started after Earl had another anemic looking, but oh so potent, Bloody Mary. He was happy as a pig eating……well, you know. He always was after a breakfast that would make a lumberman barf and a couple of stiff breakfast drinks.
As soon as we started unwrapping the parts we found out that any part that could possibly rust – and some that would not– were coated in a thick, dark brown layer of cosmoline. I swear it looked like some were dipped in that crap, not just sprayed on. If you have ever tried to clean up anything coated with cosmoline you will know that, while it is the best product to keep a metal part from rusting, or aluminum from corroding, it is absolute the compound from hell to get off the part. If you doubt me, just Google cosmoline and the first 400,000 entries are about removing this evil gunk.
Cosmoline gets on your hands, on your clothes, on anything it touches. So now we have, laid out on the floor, two Italian bikes, totally in parts and covered with brown, waterproof, crap. We are so pissed about finding the overkill on the cosmoline application that it wasn’t until we quit cussing, yelling, and throwing things that I said,
“Hey, Earl. Uhhhhhh. Was there any Assembly manuel in your bike parts? How about an Owner’s Manual? No. Me neither.”
“Shit!” (Don’t wince, that was over 25 years before I went to seminary.) By now we had been at this mess for about an hour. It was around 9 AM, and I knew just what to do. I said nothing, turned and went into the kitchen and fixed me a pale, Earlesque Bloody Mary! Well, I was pissed and somewhere the sun was just going down. Here’s to where ever that was!
Thus fortified I plunged back into the garage prepared to attack the cosmoline with, with, with what? Gunk engine cleaner would work but wouldn’t do painted parts any good and had to be sprayed off with water. Gasoline would do it, but I wanted nothing to do with that in a garage with two guys who were more likely than not to forget and light cigarettes. We tried kerosene which worked pretty good, but was pretty smelly and tend to hang around in the air and make me sick to the stomach when I use massive amounts of it. So I decided to go down to the hardware store and get a couple gallons of mineral spirits, to the auto supply and get some spray cans of brake cleaner. Earl was glad to see me go. It gave him time to fix another “not so Bloody Mary.”
The mineral spirits worked, as did the brake cleaner on the smaller parts where it got into spots that were impossible to get a brush into. But it still made a hell of a mess and did not give up its attachment to the parts without a sticky fight. It took several hours to get all the parts clean and placed in the spots where they looked like they should go. I decided not to thank the geniuses at Benelli for most of the rags we used.
At this point I need to point out two things. While you couldn’t tell it by looking, neither Earl nor I had just fallen off the turnip truck when it came to motorcycles. While we had never seen this particular motorcycle, we had, together and by ourselves, stripped more than a few motorcycles down and rebuilt them. Here we at least had the engine and tranny completely assembled, the forks were assembled, the main wiring harness was in one piece and was color coded to the connecting wires in the headlight, etc.
The tires were already on the wheels and we assumed, and were right, that they had tubes in them. They would need balancing but that is not difficult. And, the rear sprocket was already attached to the rear wheel. The drum brakes and shoes attached to the wheels. These were not modern disk brakes which made it easier with no hydraulics to contend with.
And, my biggest fear was unfounded: Instead of just throwing all the nuts, bolts, connectors and fasteners into one big confusing package, each package had a small cotton pull string bag in it with the small connectors and fasteners associated with each part. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that. When I found that out I was almost, but not quite, willing not to kill the first representative of Benelli I ever saw, not that any were likely to come to Bowie, Maryland.
So, in fact, it took us longer to get the parts out of the boxes, get the packages open and to get the damned cosmoline off the parts than it did to put the bikes together. Another surprise piece of good luck was that the oil sump had a dipstick in it so we could figure out how much oil to put in it. We started with Ethyl gasoline. Later we learned that regular would be fine. We took the top cap off the forks and found that they were prefilled, all to the same level. So we ran a dowel down inside the fork and recorded how far to refill the forks if we needed to later. We added distilled water to the batteries and were pleased that they did not need any additional acid , so we put them on the charger for an overnight trickle charge.
We started putting the bikes together in late afternoon. We had mine together by about ten that evening and Earl’s together by about midnight. They looked good, looked like they were put together right. Everything seemed to work. Even the primitive balancing we did of the wheels looked good, which ran free and true on the bikes.
I was grateful that Earl had, according to me, “wasted thousands of dollars” on one of the best garage shops man had ever seen. I wasn't going to give him the pleasure of admitting that. But there was nothing that we had to go out and track down in either tools or parts. Miracles do happen! Or, in this case, Earl was the miracle by having put together a state of the art car and bike repair shop.
Since it was getting late and we had only been drinking, or as we called it, sipping, since 7 AM, we looked at each other with a Cheshire cat grins and said almost in unison: "This calls for a drink!" Turned out he meant a celebration.
He dug out an unopened bottle of Remy Martin VSOP aged brandy, not the best, but far better than I would ever buy (I told you I was cheap a few dozen times, didn’t I?). Anyway, as I have hinted in earlier posts in this series Earl had this admiration for... no, that is not strong enough, Earl has this "need" for certain standards of civilized behavior that at first confused me, but that I later found to be both rather quaint and endearing.
He, to look at him, just didn’t look like he gave a damn about much of anything. But there were these rules he made up for himself that over the years he had made a part of who he was. Perhaps, and I am just guessing here - but it's a good guess - perhaps he needed to prove to himself that he wasn’t really a just a worthless hard scrabble kid from the Palouse of Eastern Washington, and that he could feign class with the best of them. He had no illusions that the acts of the high and mighty were rituals that meant much to them. But Earl had never been high and mighty and rich and well born, so as he chose the ones that would be his, these pretenses meant everything to him.
And so, Earl decided that getting those bikes together constituted a special event. A Sinatra album goes on the turntable and old Frank starts swinging with "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Luck Be a Lady," " My Kind of Town," "New York, New York" and "My Way." At least those are the ones I remember he liked best. My memory isn’t that good after all these years but I remember the things that count. I remember that was one of the things we both agreed on was this: there was nobody who could sing like Frank, then and now. He was still playing “records” when we visited him shortly before he died and Frank was still numero uno with him, and still is with me.
Then Earl disappears into the kitchen and comes back with the brandy, two giant Washington State yellow delicious apples (sent by one of his kids from “Home”?) and some Brie, already at room temperature and very soft, which means had this in his mind sometime earlier in the evening and took the brie out to soften!
So there we are. Two guys who grew up dirt poor half a country apart, him a hard scrabble kid of the Palouse and me a tenant farmer’s boy from the rolling plains of Kansas, both of us filthy dirty sitting in two leather chairs, listening to Sinatra, sniffing and sipping VSOP brandy from huge brandy snifters, smearing Brie on crisp, juicy, genuine Washington State apples.
Neither of us say anything for the longest time. Earl opens a drawer and comes up with an unopened pack of Gauloises, opens it and shakes one out for me and one for him. Now, I HATED the taste of Gauloises, but this was his moment, his proof of conquering the Palouse and all the people who told him he couldn't, his proof that he could be as sophisticated as the best of all those who held him in disrespect as he grew up, all those who told him he would grow up to be nothing worth talking about – and I wasn’t about to spoil that moment.
We lit up. He lifted his glass, and I lifted mine. He is pretty sloshed by now, but his voice is still clear, his movements show no sign of being drunk, and he says, not looking at me but at someone a continent and decades away, “How do you like me now, you pricks?”
Then he turns to me and says: “We’ll have those suckers running tomorrow!” (Actually the word wasn’t “suckers,” but it sounds similar.)
“You bet we will Earl, but as soon as I finish this brandy I’m going home, going to take a shower, sleep in my own bed, and not set the alarm. Nobody there is crazy enough to wake me.”
A few songs later Earl walks with me though the garage to the Honda. I start it up, put on my leather jacket and strap on my helmet. “Good night. See you tomorrow afternoon.”
“Good night. Careful with that Honda, we got a big day tomorrow”
As I am riding away I look in my mirror and Earl is standing there in the driveway, brandy in hand, Gauloise perched between his lips looking up at the starry sky. I’m not sure what he was thinking but I imagine it was along the lines of non illigitamus carborundum. The kid from the Palouse was finally in a world of his making. That was worth celebrating. And I was glad to be part of it.
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