A Twelve Bar Story.
"Hensley's is that way."
T-Flo is pointing me straight ahead, but it's late, I'm all twisted around, and I can't tell north from south. Part of the gang is heading up to Pee Wee's to party at The Dome, others are heading down to Cardiff to hear Fonda's band. I really want to going to go, or something... But I just hit something invisible. This must the wall I keep hearing about. My inner needle just hit "EMPTY". The red light is on. This E-ticket ride is rolling to a stop.
The only muscles that still work are the ones that keep me grinning, and the only part of me that isn't exhausted and buzzing is my bike. Oh wait. Even the bike. The Spoiler is somehow slower and heavier than it was at bar number one. How can a bike gain weight? All these levers and pedals and shit are confusing. I'm pointing south?
A fog of disinfectants and deodorizer floats like a pool over the scarier smells at the Care Center.
It spills out to meet you when you shove your way in through the double doors. Odd, but by the time you get to the end of the hall you don't seem to notice the smell- at least not as much. Mom's in 21A, and she lights up when I walk in.
"Are you going to your bike thing?"
Funny what she remembers.
"Probably not. I don't really feel much like partying."
"I think you should go. When am I coming home?"
" I'm not sure. We'll see."
"Is my Binky OK? Will you bring her?"
"The dog's fine, Mom."
"Are you going to your bike thing?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe."
" When can I come home? I want to get home to my doggie."
"We'll see. I gotta' go. Gimme a hug."
And I'm heading down the hall, past the folks in the chairs in the doorways. I smile, and some smile back. Others just stare. And the scary goddamn thing is- some of these guys are my age. Younger. Nobody chooses to come here, and only a few can choose to leave. Most are past any choosing at all. I'm past the nurse's station, through the double doors, and it's dark out. It takes a few minutes for the cold rainy wind to blast the smell away. But the gutsick lingers.
This is a U.T.O.L.- a Universal Task Of Life. The UTOL's are the common lot of all people, in all ages and times. They are our legacy- the forge that shapes our souls, the price we pay for being human. This one is new to me. This task- dealing with an ill and aging parent is now mine, as it was once my mother's task, and my father's. That these tasks are universal makes them in no way easier.
When can I come home?I want to get home to my doggie.
But she's not coming home. Sometimes she knows it. And the dog has been gone for a long time. I never tell her.
And so. I head out into the wet creeping traffic. Home, and dinner with Mary. And the gutsick lingers. Go party tomorrow? No.
So I get home, and shoot off an e-mail.. "Not in the mood. Too much crap goin' on. Probably won't go."
The Voice does not come to me often, and often when it does I recognize it only in hindsight. But sometimes it speaks quite clearly in its own soundless way. I have learned to never refuse it. I clicked off the e-mail, but The Voice simply said, "Go." So I turned in early Friday night. Saturday morning I strapped the chopper in the back of the pickup, dressed for the cold, and headed out. I still didn't really feel like going. The Care Center is just a couple blocks off the freeway. Stop, and give Mom a hug before hitting the road. And it rained on and off almost all the way down through Orange County. Rain would give me a perfect excuse to bail. If this rain doesn't let up by the next off ramp- And then it lets up, and I'm pulled like gravity toward Carlsbad.
The long bikes are gathered at Henseley's. I recognize a few. Go inside- Some familiar faces. Soon we're back out in the lot, and it's on! Twelve bars. Seven hours. Riding, smokin', drinkin', jokin', talkin' story, laughing like hell, T-Flo's singin', and Funky Monkey Dave is dancin' on his broken leg. That whistle like a spoke shot through the eardrum, and the shout, "SADDLE UP, WE'RE ROLLIN"...
Right- or was it left- through the parking lot across the street, down the alley... SAFETY MEETING! in the alley, behind the park, under the on-ramp. Sitting on that secret little terrace watching the rain catch fire in the sunset over Escondido. The beer flows; the bowl goes round and round. The afternoon is gettin' all kinds of dreamy, and it's rollin' downhill fast. The thin warmth of a mid winter's sun has run ahead and left us. We're at five, or seven, or something, but there's food at bar number nine. Food. I was so hungry I'd have eaten road kill. That carne asada burrito deserved a medal of honor for munchworthiness. Bar ten. Should we lock up? Like who's gonna' mess with this crowd? Yeah, but safety first- We gather around the fire pits at the bars. And then one last time we're rolling again, weaving and shouting and laughing, careening into the lot- HOLY COW- this is bar number twelve, and we're all in the victory circle of this marathon boozin' shmoozin' smokin' jokin' laughin' rolling riot of a rumble.
Who's gonna' mess with this crowd?
And some poor slob wants to fight the whole Chopaderos Outlaw Bicycle Club.
No- not kidding. He's gonna call the Hell's Angels and everything.
So Pee Wee tries to reason with the guy. Keep in mind, Pee Wee could pick this guy up with one hand, and stuff him into an inner tube. Doesn't matter. He won't see reason. Wants to kick everyone's butt. Resident counselor T-Flo consults with Jack Daniels, and proceeds to talk the misguided soul off the ledge of inappropriate behavior.
Meanwhile we're gathered in the back room at the G-Spot. T-Flo finally gets back there, and Reverend Kickstand addresses the crowd. The Reverend hands out the XII Bar patches-first to the members, then to the prospects, Then to the hangers on and the wannabe's, and the next thing I know I'm standing up there, and Holy Cow I'm gettin' a patch!
... And then it's over. Wait. This thing ends? Everyone's going their separate ways- some home- others to The Dome, or down to Cardiff- I'm going to head out with- wait. No way. Where exactly are we? I've been following the bike ahead all day, and now I'm not sure where the hell I am. I'm pointing south?
"Hensley's is that way."
T-Flo is pointing me straight ahead, but it's late, I'm all twisted around, and I can't tell north from south. OK- Straight ahead, maybe a mile. OK.
And I'm rolling on the Spoiler heading south. Now I know where I'm going. I'm sure of it now. Suddenly the whole night is quiet except for whoosh and clink from the chopper bike on the pavement. The cold has teeth, and it's biting my skinny ass big time. But that's OK, 'cause it's blowing some of the cloud out of my brains- waking me up for the long drive home.
The truck's up ahead, and the truck has a heater. Got a patch in my pocket, and I've heard The Voice. I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life...So I heard, and so I chose, and so received. Here is the Blessing of this one Christmas Season: Life. Life as it is doled out to us- one day's worth at a time. Sometimes it's a pillar to post slam between the grief that breaks your heart, and the joy that lights your soul. Life in the fullest, richest, and most abundant sense. For what greater pleasures have we in this life than eating, drinking, talking and laughing- singin' and dancin', and ridin' with family and friends? These are also UTOL's: the Universal Treasures Of Life, and in these things is wealth beyond what money can buy. The UTOL's- tasks, and treasures are two sides of this one same coin. My purse is full. My cup runs over. Screw the cold. I haven't felt this good since I can remember.
And Merry Christmas.