These are some stories — not the greatest written stories in the world I will admit — taken from the archives of the Adventures of Biker Dude blog that I used to work on a couple of years ago. Since then, priorities have changed and I got a graphic design degree and trying to figure out some way to make a living doing websites and graphic design so I’m not doing as much writing as I did back then.
Staring at the Page…
I’ve been musing over what to write here and how to go about this blogging thing. I’m trying to figure out what’s the best approach. Do I want to fictionalize everything? Do I want to start out with description of who I am and where I come from? Do I really want to do this at all?
It’s not always easy to be creative. For me at least. The writers I’ve read in other blogs are good. Really good.
Do I really want to step out into a place where, once again, I’m a total newbie? A place where there’s going to be other writers and most of them have been published, and I’m basically just someone who knows where to find the word in a dictionary.
An hour goes by.
I’m sitting there in front of the computer, the fingers of my left hand tracing the rim of a cold cup of coffee. Just staring at the empty blog page, moving the mouse cursor around on the screen, tracing the letters of the alphabet one by one like I’m writing them in the air in front of my face. My brain a million miles away. A thousand germs of ideas mired in hesitation.
Biker Dude comes up and says, “Just write something. Write anything. Here, give me that,” he says as he shoves me aside. “I’ll put something up first. It may suck, but at least it’s a start. Otherwise, you’ll be sitting there forever, and I have places to go.”
“But, what if?..” I said, trying to reclaim the mouse from him. “Wait… don’t you want to..?”
He pushed my hand aside and threw me a look that said, “Back Off.”
So I did.
He gulped down what was left of my coffee, handed me the mug, and while I got up to make another pot, he sat down and began to type…
A Rendezvous in the Dark…
At 5:00AM, Biker Dude flew down the Walnut Street hill past the train station. He got low and aero to pick up speed. He shifted into high gear and raced to stay ahead. He crossed the train tracks and then jumped up onto the sidewalk to let an impatient taxi driver pass.
When he’d crossed the river and reached a point just south of the riverboat casino, he dove through a break in the bushes, and after riding a dirt path through the grass for twenty feet, emerged onto the bike trail. He shifted up a gear. Dried leaves crunched under the bike tires as he sped southward. A crescent fingernail of moon hung in the eastern sky. The paved trail surface was alive with moving shadows and blowing leaves.
The trail ran past a grocery store parking lot before plunging into the heavily forested area south of route 20. Under a streetlight, its dim bulb swinging by its wires like a pendulum in the wind, a family of raccoons gathered around a rusty blue trash can that had fallen over. Huddled together in the midst of cans and shredded hefty bags, they feasted on the remains of a White Cottage pizza box. They scattered as biker Dude approached. He smelled rotting vegetables and rancid meat and almost gagged as he rode by.
Up ahead, on the route 20 overpass, a Fed Ex truck crossed the river and headed east. Biker Dude rode under the bridge and squinted. His eyes had not yet adjusted to the darkness. The gray moonlight through the trees barely illuminated the line where weeds bordered the trail on either side. A tree branch reached out from the side and scratched at his arm. He ignored the distraction and focused on steering down the middle of the trail.
A hundred yards ahead and to the left, a rock crushing factory rumbled and quaked. It’s metal towers and buildings stood black against the sky like machines out of H.G.Wells’ War of the Worlds. Biker Dude rode into shadow behind the wall separating the factory from the bike trail. He’d ridden this way for five months, starting in May, when there was plenty of light at this time of morning. Now in September, though sunrise wouldn’t happen for another hour and a half, he kept his light off to save the batteries. He wasn’t worried. He knew all the twists and turns.
Besides, nobody was ever on the trail at this time of day, except him.
Suddenly, a dark, cat sized shape materialized just six feet directly in front of him. Like India ink poured into black paint. No details. Just a vapor of something darker than the surrounding shadow. A black ghost. A striped tail shot upwards.
Visions of bathing peroxide and baking soda flashed through his mind. He saw people holding their noses when he walked by; giving him a wide berth. Then he had another thought.
“Nooooooo…,” he cried out. But before he could steer around it or stop, he felt the pa-thump, pa-thump of his tires running over something soft… something furry… something alive.
His heart fell. Suddenly, he wasn’t so concerned about getting sprayed. He turned around to look, but all he saw was blackness. He braked a little. The clicking of the rear wheel slowed. He debated. He stopped and looked back. He turned first one ear, then the other and listened. “Give me a sign,” he said. “Snap a twig. Growl. Purr. Do something to let me know you’re okay.” But if anything was moving or alive, there was no way he could hear it over the sounds from the nearby factory.
He sniffed the air. Nothing. Just a smell of stone dust and diesel exhaust.
Years before, in the daylight, he had ridden over a squirrel that had darted across the path. In shock, he’d looked back expecting the squirrel to be lying there, its guts smashed, its eyes all bugged out, but no. It had gotten right back up and kept going. And skunks were more rugged than squirrels right? Well, they were bigger anyway. Biker Dude hoped that this skunk was, like that squirrel, tough enough to take on a speeding bicycle and live to tell about it.
Biker Dude got to work fine, but all day, he kept thinking. What if he had swerved. Why didn’t he? Why didn’t he have his light on? Would things be different?
He kept reliving the moment. He’d close his eyes and see the shape rise up, and then a tail, and then the sick feeling of a living being under the tires. He felt something on his arm and looked to see a two inch long scratch that he hadn’t noticed before. Probably that tree branch that he had been hit by. The blood had dried and started to scab. There would be a scar.
Requiem for a Skunk
Biker Dude downshifted and pedaled up the last small hill just before the wastewater processing facility. He smelled a slight scent of sewage in the air along with that of freshly mowed grass. He passed a man with a fishing pole and tackle box going the other way. In the distance a train horn sounded. He sped up to cross the Metra tracks at the top of the hill and then coasted down the gradual slope on the other side.
He thought of that morning when he’d run over the skunk. Feeling the sickly thump thump of the tires over its soft, furry body. He said a short prayer. “God, Please let it have lived. I didn’t want to hit it.” He thought of the skunk’s family, and how sad they would be if one of their members didn’t return… and he hoped.
He slowed enough to where he could see individual bees buzzing among the purple flowers on thistles and the petals of coneflowers which lined both sides of the trail; the petals now spotted with brown from an entire summer of direct sunlight.
He kept braking until the last bend in the trail; slowing to a crawl where he would normally be taking advantage of gravity and flying down. He sniffed the air for skunk but couldn’t smell anything except wildflowers. That was a good sign.
The boulder crushing factory was quiet. Its parking lot empty. No earth shaking, no rumble of heavy machinery, no sound like the ripping of rock into its elementary particles. Just silence and the slow click clickety click of the bicycle.
All day at work he’d been thinking about what to expect when he came around the turn and could look ahead to the spot where he’d hit the skunk. He’d said to himself, “Maybe I just ran over is tail. That’s all. So it won’t be able to spray anymore. A least it will still be alive.”
At lunch time he set down the book he was reading, closed his eyes, and saw the whole scene again. The dark blob in the trail. No time to react. A striped tail going up, the feel of the wheels over something alive.
Then his creative brain took over and he imagined a posse of skunks and raccoons and squirrels all waiting for him. Revenge on their minds. Heading him off at the “pass”, just around the bend where the alleged incident occurred. A chalk outline of where the body once lay. A crime scene investigating possum with a camera and magnifying glass scrutinizing the scene and collecting evidence into little bags held by his chipmunk assistants all scrambling back and forth to some kind of vehicle… his mind wandered.. what kind of vehicle could you create that chipmunks could pilot? He toyed with that image for a while and laughed at the silliness of it.
Then he imagined the skunk he’d run over, still alive, but hobbling around on crutches and bandaged head to foot standing in the trail as Biker Dude approached. A vigilante group hidden, like in Bonnie and Clyde, except this time a group of animals; poised to jump out from the sides of the trail in ambush. Armed with sticks and shards of broken bottles instead of machine guns.
He really wanted there to be nothing but an empty trail. To know it was not a fatal accident. But here he was around the bend, and ahead of him, in the middle of the trail, there was the skunk.
It lay on its side. Its mouth open in its last dying breath. Flies buzzed around and on its body.
Biker Dude stopped. He couldn’t touch it, that wasn’t very sanitary, especially after it laying there all day, but he wanted to at least get it off the trail into the brush. To a more dignified place than right out in the open where all could see.
He nudged his bike shoe under the skunk. Feeling its weight and stirring up a cloud of flies. Surprisingly, there was not very much skunk smell in the air. Just a trace. He flicked his shoe, much like a soccer player just lifting the ball in a controlled manner over the head of the keeper, and the skunk rolled into the weeds and bushes off to the side.
He stood there for a few seconds. Pondering the skunk’s life and its tragic and surely premature ending. Sure, it was just a skunk. An animal that most of the world wished didn’t exist. Yet Biker Dude felt for it. After all, he had not always been Biker Dude. He was once invisible. Shunned. An outcast and a loner.
A jogger came along the trail from the north. “Good job,” he said, as he slowed down. “I was wondering when someone was going to get rid of that thing. Yuck.”
Biker Dude looked at the man and shrugged. There was so much he could say. About the preciousness of life no matter what form. About how misunderstood skunks were. That they were actually very affectionate animals. He could also talk about how people do the same to each other as they do towards skunks. Shunning certain types or groups simply because they were different or didn’t fit with their own definitions of acceptability.
But he knew he’d get nowhere. That the guy would just look at him like he was weird.
The guy passed by, giving Biker Dude a thumbs up kind of nod. Biker Dude nodded back.
He took one last look at the skunk off to the side. He thought to himself, “Well, if nobody else remembers you, I at least will. Sorry old friend.”
He heard the train horn again, this time much closer. He heard the bells at the crossing behind him start to ring. He put his feet back on the pedals and continued down the trail toward home.
Something I read Recently
In one of the books I’m reading, “The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing, Vol II”, an article told of how one should start their story at the moment where the main character was teetering on the edge of something big. Where major change was imminent.
The author, Ray Sorrels, illustrated the concept with a table and a fragile teacup resting in the middle of it. He said that as long as the teacup sat in the middle of the table, it was safe. Nobody was worried about it, and there was nothing really worth talking about.
But, as the teacup was moved closer to the edge, tension mounted. Worry, suspense, anticipation all went up. People’s heart rates increased. They moved a little closer to the edges of their seats and watched. They bit their nails, they had to have a cigarette, they paced.
And when the teacup was poised on the very brink of falling over and breaking, at that moment, frozen in time, everything was about to change. In a huge way. Especially for the teacup.
That’s where the author of the article said to start your story.
He said to think of the teacup as your main character. Put him or her at the instant of that change, and go from there.
I thought about this. Especially being a relatively new writer and always looking for ways to motivate myself or make my task a little more doable.
And being a person with a lot of empathy, I put myself there too. I felt what the character was feeling.
This came really easy to me. I wondered why, and then it hit me: This very moment when my character is teetering on the brink of a huge change… I’m right there with him.
I’m on the brink of a major change too.
Considering all the work that goes into writing a novel or a story; all the time and energy and coffee and late nights and beautiful sunny days where I’m sitting inside racking my brains for just the right words… All the Ibuprofen I’m going to need. All the booze and all the cigarettes… all the missed soccer games and the dishes that never get washed…
It’s a huge commitment.
If… and that’s the big word.. IF… I make this decision and stick with it, not only is that teacup going to be changed… my character changed…
I’m going to be changed. I’ll never be the same. Good or bad, I will have changed, permanently.
I thought about that too…
If there’s going to be huge change inside of me, I can channel those feelings. If I look at what I’m going through and the flow of the story and the obstacles I need to overcome, I can pour those same feelings into my character. All the nervousness, the self doubt, the anticipation and excitement. All the frustration and struggle, and the successes and milestones. I can project through him or her what is happening inside of me.
And you know, I think this is what happens with all novelists and story writers. A part of themselves is channeled into the character, or characters, or story or setting or theme.
All of this is probably so obvious to you who are either professionals or have been doing this for some time. But for me, as new to this as I am to blogging, this realization is a revelation… an epiphany…
I see that I don’t necessarily have to be alone on this journey. My character is there with me. We’re travelers together. He or she follows along with every word I write and struggle over. And struggles with me to get it all said. And I’m sure we will have occasional disagreements. But, like in a real relationship, we’re in it together. He or she gets to explore the unopened rooms and talk to the police and chase after the crook and climb the face of the cliff and crawl through the tunnels.
And I get to carry the sticky notes and scraps of paper and laptop and spiral notebook and pencils and follow where he or she goes and write down what matters.
I just have to be willing to jump off the edge with them.
Out of Shape Dude…
Jeeez.. I don’t ride for a week, I fall a little out of shape, and next thing I know, I get this little note:
Who is this biker Dude I’m hearing about? Someone said he’s some guy who rides the trails all weather, all hours, and all seasons… chasing down Lance Armstrong types and making them look like their bikes are made of lead. Tangling with raccoons and truck sized dogs and flocks of carnivorous geese and squirrels hitching rides by clinging to his Wal-Mart sweat pants. They say when he comes down the trail, even mighty oak trees back off. And the reason Chuck Norris gave up bicycling was because he heard Biker Dude was out to race him.
They say he’s got a Charles Manson look in his eyes and fingers that twitch on the gear shifters like a gunfighter’s, whether he’s racing some psycho taxi driver brandishing an Uzi, or weaving down the trail avoiding toddlers on tyke bikes. And all while hauling a complete library worth of books all over northern Illinois.
Some lady told me he drinks Cherry coke laced with Nitro Glycerin.
And there’s a rumor that he was raised by ravens… another said it was coyotes.
A peregrine falcon once tried to keep up with him. No such luck. The falcon is in rehab now for severe depression.
I don’t believe any of it.
See, I waited along the trail today. In Geneva at the intersection of route 38 and the bike trail. Where many have seen biker dude zip past in a blur of blond hair, titanium, and Rolf Vector Pro wheels.
It was 5:45AM. The time when usually, right on schedule, Biker Dude passes through on his way to whatever it is he does. One rumor I heard was that he worked for the CIA eliminating foreign agents. Another was that the Navy Seals hired him as a tactical consultant. Anyway, I sat on a park bench, just past the exit from the tunnel that goes under Roosevelt Road, but before the foot bridge over the duck pond, The Mill Race Inn behind me; quiet and still. In the fog and darkness and falling leaves I waited; listening to the water gurgling under the footbridge and the humming of car tires on pavement as morning commuters sped along the Fox River bridge overhead.
I waited an hour, and there was no Biker Dude. The only people I saw the whole time were a runner and an elderly guy in a crusty yellow raincoat and squishy sounding shoes; a golden retriever trailing behind him on a leash.
I rubbed my eyes and thought of taking a walk over to a nearby Dunkin Donuts to get some coffee, when, from out of the tunnel comes this out of shape guy on a bike carrying like fifty pounds of stuff bungee corded to his front handlebars. His wispy hair plastered to his head by fog. From the sound of the guy, how he huffed and puffed, I figured he carried an oxygen tank and his own defibrillator. He sure looked like he needed it. He hacked like a total couch potato lifetime Pall Mall red smoker at the end of his first marathon. His eyes bugged out to the rhythm of his pedal strokes. I expected him to drop over at any second, but he kept wheezing on past me and south through Island park. I watched as his little red blinker faded in the distance. Then turned back to watching the tunnel again.
I waited for an hour thinking maybe Biker Dude forgot to set his alarm or something. Dang I wish I would have gotten that coffee. What a waste. Nobody showed up.
Nobody who looked like a Tasmanian devil on steroids zipping by like he was shot from a rail gun. The out of shape guy was the only biker I saw.
Hmmm… Biker Dude indeed.
Maybe he’s just a myth.
I bet even I could beat him in a race.
So he’s not in as good of shape as he used to be. Give him some time.
Today, Biker Dude got up early to put in some miles. Motivation: to lose ten pounds by late May.
He headed down the trail south of the route 20 overpass and, where the trail split into two, the left branch heading to Wheaton, and the right to St. Charles, he took the right.
Upon taking the St. Charles branch, one comes into a place, for about a quarter mile, where the trail zig-zags through a small, and densely packed, forest. The trees and thorn bushes are close enough to reach out and touch, and the canopy of branches and leaves above blocks out all light. Along with that, there’s a series of four short, but steep, hills that experienced riders call “rollers.”
It’s basically a quick, three dimensional, side to side, up and down, rollercoaster-like experience, depending on how fast one rides ride it.
This particular morning, Biker Dude rode along at a reasonable 14-15 mile per hour pace. It was a little hard to open up the throttle at five in the morning when, 1) he was as out of shape as Biker Dude happened to be, 2) he couldn’t see very well… and 3) when all you have for light is an LED pocket flashlight strapped onto the front handlebars. The flashlight liked to move around too. So along with the lack of any real brightness, there was the constant need to re-adjust where it pointed. Half the time Biker Dude steered with one hand and kept the flashlight in place with the other.
No big deal. He’d ridden this way hundreds of times. Not all of them in the dark though. But he knew the dips and curves well. And usually, there’d be nothing much to be concerned himself about except to watch that he didn’t slip off the sides of the trail as he negotiated the twists and turns.
As always when there was no competition nearby egging him on, he rode on auto-pilot. His mind off in another world. He thought about yard work that needed to be done and writing that needed revision. As well as the normal Biker Dude-ish thoughts: the number of calories this ride would use up, how far did he want to go that day, and how these dang spandex shorts pinched.
His focus was yanked back to the present when, as he passed a thicket of bushes on his right, there came a rustling. Then a growl. A low one with the bass turned way up. Then whatever it was jumped up from where it had apparently lie in wait and stepped out behind him onto the trail.
He figured it wasn’t a raccoon. Mainly because this animal had more of a macho sound than any raccoon he’d ever heard. A raccoon on steroids, maybe. But, contrary to all other animals’ behaviors, whatever this was decided not to run the other way, as raccoons and squirrels and skunks especially seemed to do.
No. This thing started chasing him.
Now, besides having to keep his eyes on the path and steer with one hand, he had to try to stay alive.
Then it barked. He felt the fillings in his molars loosen up. This was no ordinary bark. This bark shook the leaves on the trees. Some behemoth dog was on his tail. If he’d even glanced back, he’d for sure end up crashed or into the bushes, in which case, he’d be human flavored ALPO.
So he pedaled like hell, or as close of an approximation to hell given the circumstances.
But it continued to bark, and it was catching up.
He remembered what a fellow biker had told him once and decided to try to do some barking of his own, thinking, “whatever it is back there.. 1) it seems to be gaining on me and 2) Shit!.Shit Shit… and 3) maybe I can confuse it by barking back at it. Even though it can see me and I can’t see it and if it had a thinking brain it would know that it had the advantage.”
He tried that, thinking at the same time that anybody who might hear him going past their house, like say they were up and brushing their teeth or getting ready for work, or getting in their car, was going to think, “What the heck? Is that a guy barking? That’s it.. I’m moving out of this weirdo state.”
So, after a fierce chase of about half a block, Biker Dude — yes, he must confess, besides losing his voice trying to imitate a dog he got tired and all sprinted out — was caught. But, instead of taking a chomp out of Biker Dude’s leg, the dog pulled along side and just went wooofing past him.
It was like being passed by one of those Fed-Ex semis you see on the interstate. Where two semis, sometimes three, are strung together. A Great Dane, about seven feet long and as high as the bicycle cruised by looking like it was in slow motion.
It just wooofed and went by like Biker Dude wasn’t even there. No courtesy “On your left,” Just a breeze that, were this in some southwestern state, for sure would have had a bunch of tumbleweeds in its wake.
And then, like all the those before who have somehow gotten around Biker Dude somewhere, as soon as it passed him, it turned off the trail.
“Huh? Hey! I was just getting a second wind. No giving me a chance to try to reel you back in? What’s with that? ”
No. It just turned off the trail and crashed through an opening to the side and vanished into the dark.
The barking faded away behind him.
Or… maybe it was laughing?
Meanwhile Biker Dude’s heart was going a thousand miles an hour, and his legs felt like a melted hand full of gummi bears, and he still had at least another 20 miles to go.
“Wooof” is right. Or rather, “Woofed”
He sure showed biker dude who was boss.
Biker Dude’s Taxi Service..
When Biker Dude got to the office in the morning, he had an idea on how to make a little extra cash. He just needed to make a small investment in some equipment. He logged onto the internet and went to craigs list and composed a want ad.
“Taxi Meter wanted, cheap. Must be lightweight, titanium preferred.
Needs to be small, aerodynamic shape a plus.
Also, must be able to calculate cents per foot.
Any mounting hardware you can throw in would be appreciated.
Big plus if squirrel proof.”
He gave a phone number and times he would be available and published the ad.
He figured he’d offer rides to weary, or in a rush, or just plain lazy, animals along the trail; sort of like a bicycle taxi. He would do all the pedaling; all the hard work of pushing up hills and against the wind, and the animals could just sit back and enjoy the ride.
For a small fee of course.
He got the idea after what happened that morning on the way to work.
It was between Saint Charles and Geneva. South of Island Park, where, after a 100 yards of open trail that used to skirt the outer perimeter of a retention pond, the trail dipped into thick forest preserve.
Ahead, just across a wooden footbridge, by the side of the trail, a squirrel crouched.
Now Biker Dude has seen many squirrels before. He’s seen all manner of animals during is travels. Each one has its own set of reactions and behaviors when a rider approaches.
His intuition told him that this squirrel, as innocent and inconspicuous as it seemed at the time, had a plan.
It was almost like whenever he saw a chipmunk. Biker Dude just knew what it was going to do. Chipmunks were strange little critters. At least Biker Dude thought so. They’d crouch by the sides of the trail and wait. They would pretend to forage for nuts and seeds. Then, at the last second, when Biker Dude and his bike was upon them, right when the risk of being killed was the greatest, they would dart under the bike to the other side of the trail; Almost like they played a game of chicken with the bike wheels.
From the second he saw it, Biker Dude had a good hunch that this squirrel was going to do the same thing.
He noticed that this little dude had a gleam in his eye. He was no ordinary squirrel. He perched there like an Olympic sprinter in starting blocks before a 100 meter dash.
But he didn’t dart under the bike tires. No. Not this one. This guy had to outdo every squirrel, or chipmunk, that came before.
When Biker Dude was ten feet away, the squirrel started running in the same direction as Biker Dude; parallel to him at the edge of the grass. Like he was getting up speed to take the baton from another guy in a relay race.
Right when Biker Dude pulled alongside, the squirrel took a flying leap and grabbed on to Biker Dude’s right leg. He wrapped his arms around it. Biker Dude stopped pedaling and looked down.
He thought, “What the…?” The squirrel just looked up at him. Then looked ahead down the trail. His ears twitched in the wind and his fur blew back. He blinked his eyes.
After about thirty feet, when it had apparently gone far enough, or else realized the ride wasn’t as much fun as he thought it would be, the squirrel jumped off. He ran off into the weeds and bushes on the side of the trail.
Biker Dude shook his head and thought, “Now I’ve seen it all. Either that or I’ve finally gone crazy.”
He rode on. Feeling a little used. Not even a thank you. No thumbs up. No ‘See you tomorrow…’
And no tip.
He thought, “Unless he pays by the foot, I’m not giving that guy a ride anymore.”
Ahhhh… the joys of being a homeowner…
I remember when I first moved in. I’d hear some sound in the night and wonder what the heck was that? I’d get up and hunt it down. And then it would be only the furnace or sump pump or twigs brushing against the side of the house or a branch rubbing against the phone wire.
Kind of like how mothers are huh?Ones with babies at least.When there’s the slightest sound in the night, they’re up.Was that the baby? What does he need? Is he okay?Stuff like that.
Well… today..There I was, laptop set up at the kitchen table, hot cup of sugary coffee there at my left hand, all set to start working on a part of a story when I hear what sounded like a jackhammer noise coming from the south side of the house.
Not a continuous jackhammering. Just a staccato. Like bursts of fire from a machine gunner. Like the guy is just warming up and getting a feel for the thing until the real busting apart of the concrete begins.
So I get up and look through the blinds and… hmmm… nothing happening across the street. Maybe there’s something farther down. Like maybe a guy is busting up a driveway or a water main broke. But this IS Elgin.. and this IS the west side. Maybe it IS a machine gun.
So I’m looking out the window and then I hear it again.
Hey, that doesn’t sound like it’s outside. It’s coming from my house!
First thing I thought was that it was the sump pump trying to run but maybe the bearing had, over the years, gone bad, and it had seized up.
So I go downstairs thinking, “Oh shit. I do not need this.”
I jiggled the wires to the sump pump and… It started up.
Thank God that’s not broken.
Oh, maybe the prongs of the power cord just weren’t making contact. Maybe the vibration just worked them to a point where they weren’t touching perfectly. I could fix that. At least the pump isn’t seized. So I go back upstairs and sit back down at the computer.
Then the noise happens again.
And five seconds later again.
So now I look out the bedroom windows. Maybe the sound is coming from the front of the house and, like a cricket’s chirp, is just bouncing off something else and appearing to come from the south.
Nope. Nothing out there. So then I go outside. And while I was standing on the back porch, I heard the sound again. This time it appeared to come from the west. So I go and look down the street.
Nothing. Some parked cars and maybe a couple of garbage cans that haven’t been wheeled into their back yards, but other than that, nothing that could make a jack-hammer sound.
But hey, at least it’s not something wrong with the house.
So I go back inside. Sit back down and…
I could swear that is coming from my house. Damn. I gotta find out what’s going on.
Then I thought, I’ve been hearing raccoons on my roof, or large squirrels on steroids, or testosterone, romping around after 9:00PM. Maybe it’s one of them up on the roof, doing I have no idea what. Trying to break in? Having wild squirrel sex? Wanting to get in on some of the ten pounds of almonds I just bought at the Fisher Nuts Outlet?
So, I go outside again and, right as I was about to go get the ladder and investigate, I hear the noise.
I look up at the top of the house and I see… perched atop the chimney like he’s playing snare drum in a band and waiting for the conductor to point to him..
He’s just sitting there, hanging on to the side of that grating kind of thing and using the top part as a drum.
I went to get my camera but when I came out again, he flew off into the neighbor’s tree. But it was this guy. The Flicker.
What he wanted with my chimney, who knows. There’s no wood up there to peck on.
Maybe it was the almonds…
Biker Dude strained against the pedals on his way to work. Strapped to the front aero-bars of the bike, and looking like an out of place camel’s hump, was a hooded sweatshirt, a windbreaker, two pumps, extra inner tubes, rain pants and rain jacket, and a backpack with a half a dozen books, a lunch consisting of a can of tuna and a half pound of Swiss cheese, and a T-shirt and socks.
The bungee cords holding this mass onto the bike groaned. Stretched so tight they were ready to snap.
When he got to Batavia, he left the trail and rode the remaining 7 miles on the streets. The only traffic he saw was a group of joggers and a couple walking their Irish setter. A commuter bus dropped off passengers at the train station. A bread truck passed him and pulled into the White Hen Pantry alongside a garbage truck; it’s engine idling while the driver smoked a cigarette.
The clock tower of the village hall tolled 6:00AM. Plenty of time to get to work by 6:30. He slowed his pace; putting his mind, and legs, on autopilot.
Along the way, navy blue trash bins stood poised at the ends of driveways. Each big enough for two people to fit inside with room to spare. A line of them stretched down the street on either side. Some sat tilted, some turned, like a giant’s crooked teeth at curbside. Ready to be yanked up by the garbage truck. Some stood like empire state buildings sprouting up out of cities of trash at their feet.
Biker Dude remembered when he was a kid and how he and his younger brother would scout the neighborhoods looking for radios and bike parts. He still had some of those things back at his parents in the crawlspace. His looking now was half out of curiosity and half out of the possibility of a find.
He passed what looked like a brand new big screen TV sitting by the curb. The black plastic cracked down the side.
The next house had a white microwave oven whose glass front had been shattered. Whether from inside or outside, it was hard to tell.
A few houses later a refrigerator chilled out next to the shattered remains of a Styrofoam cooler and a plastic bag full of crunched up Budweiser cans.
A block later, on the other side of the street, sat a couch the color of burnt hash browns. Yellow clumps of stuffing spilled out of it like scrambled eggs. Its cushions stacked like pancakes to the side.
He saw picture frames and dried up tubes of acrylic paints. Swiffer mops, sponges, and dirt devils, Ripped stuffed animals and a broken pink Barbie car.
One of those singing Bass plaques lie facing the street. next to some fishing poles and a bean bag chair that looked like someone had used it for target practice.
Then, about a hundred feet ahead, on top of a cardboard box surrounded by glossy brown hefty bags and a set of green vinyl kitchen chairs, sat a large red book.
“Hmmmm,” Biker Dude said to himself.
He got closer and there was no mistaking it even from fifty feet away. It was a Merriam Webster hardcover dictionary. A big fat one. It looked like it was in brand new condition too. He downshifted and slowed to a stop. He took his fingered gloves off and stuffed them in a jersey pocket. Then reached down and hoisted the book up. He set it down on top of the mass of items strapped to the handlebars and opened it.
“Tenth edition… Cool.” he said, “I gotta snag this puppy.”
He flipped through the pages, looking up random words.
Approachable.. approbate approbation..
He turned some more pages..
Rest… restoration, restore..
He drank in the words on the pages. He thumbed toward the back of the book.
A screen door creaked and Biker Dude looked up. A man with fuzzy blue slippers and a brown terrycloth bathrobe shuffled out onto the porch of the house across the street. He scratched his head and looked at Biker Dude. Biker Dude gave the guy a thumbs up and smiled. The man squinted at Biker Dude for a second, then bent down and picked up a rolled up newspaper that lie on one of the porch steps. He took one last glance at Biker Dude, turned, and shuffled back into the house. The screen door snapped shut.
Biker Dude looked back down at the page he was on. He saw a new word he’d never seen before:
Valonia. Dried acorn cups from a Eurasian evergreen oak.
He thought Valonia sounded like a country. Like something that would be next to Transylvania. Where Doctor Doom went to school and was a kid.
He heard a train horn in the distance. “Dang.. I gotta get to work.”
He closed the book. He slipped his fingers under one of the taut bungee cords and pulled it up, trying to create a space. The book refused to fit. He struggled for a while, muttering curses at the moron who would put so much on the front of his bike. He worked from the hook end to where his fingers were. Creating slack. Finally, there was enough space underneath and he crammed the dictionary under it.
He put his feet on the pedals and began to ride away. He smiled. He’d saved a book from the certain unpleasant company of old banana peels and coffee grounds and broken up furniture and plastic bags filled with unspeakables.
He reached back to his jersey pocket to get his gloves. As he started to pedal away, he recalled a scrabble game he and his girlfriend once played; where she’d obliterated him late in the game with triple points on a word he had never heard before and that wasn’t in her dictionary.
He slammed on the brakes again and yanked the book from under the bungee cord and opened it. He flipped through the pages.
Hmmm.. I wonder if this edition has “boxty” in it?
Spiders In The Night
Biker Dude’s girlfriend looked at him like he had just said he just saw a UFO.
“No. Really, I can hear spiders.”
“That’s it. I’m dating a lunatic,” she said. “What… you’re telling me spiders can talk?”
“Yeah.. I mean, no… that’s not what I mean. Last night, I woke up around two o’clock and I heard this noise.”
“I don’t think I want to hear this.”
“What, it’s not a big thing. It’s just that I heard a little scritchy sound coming from the far corner of the room. And every maybe twenty seconds I’d hear it again, except closer. Like a mouse was crawling along the baseboard.”
“And this is when the spider talked?”
“No. Will you just wait?”
His girlfriend shook her head. “You’re nuts.”
“Fine, I’m nuts, just listen.”
She took a deep breath and looked up at the time. “Fine, you have one minute.”
“Fine. Anyway, the sound got closer and closer until it sounded like it was coming from the corner right by the bed. So I sat up real slow and clicked on the light. But there was no mouse.”
“Yay! No mouse, just a spider who said, ‘hi, can I use your bathroom?'”
“Ha Ha.. you’re a regular comedian. Listen, so I got up and looked behind the trash can, and there’s this spider sitting there. A big one.”
“Why do you tell me this? I don’t want to know these things.”
“It’s all right, I killed it.”
“I don’t care if you nuked it. Spiders are… Eeeeeew.”
“But the thing is, it HAD to be the spider that was making the noise along the baseboard. Which means…. I can hear spiders.”
“Well, yay for you. Maybe you could join the circus.”
“No. This is a good thing. Imagine, you’ll never have to see another spider again. If I hear them, I can track them down and get rid of them before they scare you.”
“IF you get rid of them.”
He kept going as if she hadn’t said anything. “You know, I think this is a huge plus on my ‘marriageability’ resume.
She stifled a laugh and looked at him over her glasses. “There’s three things I have to say about that. One, Nice try, two,I think you’re a lunatic, and three, there is no such thing.”
He looked puzzled. “No such thing as what?”
She put a skillet on the stove and poured some olive oil into it. “Huh?”
“What is there no such thing as?”
She hummed to herself and lit the burner.
She picked a carrot up of the counter top and started peeling it. She looked over at him, “Oh, I’m sorry, were you talking?”
“Yeah, didn’t you hear what I just said?”
“A marriageability resume. HA! That’s even crazier than hearing spiders.”
A Strange Morning…
Biker Dude woke up today…
Oh shit! The fiction gods are going to have a fit. Every wannabe writer too who has ever read about how not to start a story is already thinking, “Aha! It’s a cliche. You’re never supposed to…”
Give it a break.
Biker Dude woke up, and that’s when the craziness started, so that’s where the story is going to start.
Anyway, he sat up, then stood up and stretched. Wow, that was a good night’s sleep. The windows were all wide open and it was in the fifties. Perfect.
He knew he was going to be seeing his girlfriend that night, so he knelt down just below the bedroom window where, plugged into an outlet strip, was a timer. He was just dialing it to the current time when a rustling noise came from outside. Not just outside but RIGHT THERE. AT the window.
With the timer still in hand, he looked.
A blue jay sat perched on the flower box outside the window. It looked in.
It seemed to look at the timer like it was some interesting new gadget it wanted to try out. Then it looked up and saw that Biker Dude was looking at him just as curiously and it flew up to the wire coming to the house from the telephone pole.
It looked down at Biker Dude for about ten seconds, made a couple of skritchy chirpy sounds, then flew away.
Biker Dude finished setting the timer and went towards the kitchen. Before he even got there he heard all this cackling and screeching going on out on the patio.
He opened the blinds over the kitchen sink. There were at least 50 grackles out there. On the feeder, on the ground, on the roof of the garage and in the wood pile and the bushes next to it. They were on the back porch and two were exploring the old abandoned bird house sitting there waiting to be fixed or thrown out.
A group of sparrows were perched on the fence by the wood pile just watching while the Grackles monopolized the bird seed.
Normally Biker Dude would chase the grackles away, but he was still a bit sleepy and didn’t feel like going out there… yet.
He stepped away from the window, went to the stove top counter, and looked at the mail from yesterday. When he picked up an envelope, an ant, a big one, scurried from where the envelope was to under another piece of mail.
Biker Dude moved the other envelope, and, before the ant could get away, he smashed it with his hand.
The cat, who was laying by the refrigerator, got up and looked at him like, “what did I do?”
“It’s okay. I just killed an ant. You’re not in trouble,” Biker Dude said.
The cat lay back down, stretched, and started to close his eyes.
Biker Dude found a notepad. He wanted to write himself a reminder to bring his mom’s book with him when he went to visit her, and when he reached for a nice sharp pencil, another ant appeared from under it.
It got smashed too.
And then another and then another. It was like they were coming out of foxholes. A backpack sat on the countertop and Biker Dude moved it to make some room for the battle he knew was coming. Six more ants were hiding under it and went running in all directions.
Bam… Bam Bam bam…. bam BAMM!
They all got smashed.
What the heck? Biker Dude rubbed his hand, which by now was feeling a little sore.
Then he saw some ants inside the unzipped compartment of the backpack. It was a regular party going on.
He shook it, and six more ants fell off and scurried for the safety of the edge of the countertop or for cover under glasses cases or pencils or sets of keys.
They all got smashed too.
Now there was ant juice and bodies strewn everywhere. Not a good day for the ants.
And still more ants were inside the backpack.
Biker Dude decided to take the backpack out to the patio and dump it out. There must be some reason they’re so fascinated with the back pack, he thought. Maybe the cherry coke? Maybe the pretzels? Can’t be the water or the pencils. Not unless these ants are thirsty, and they’re writers.
He opened the back door and the multitude of birds on the patio scattered. They sat on the roof of the garage and in the lilacs just next to the woodpile and watched. It was a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock.
Biker Dude pulled items from the backpack one by one and ants dropped off each item onto the concrete.
He decided to leave no survivors to tell the tale and stepped on them one by one. Flapping sounds around him told him that new arrivals were gathering to watch the action.
Altogether, by the time he was done, at least sixty ants lost their lives.
When the pack was pretty empty except for the last ants hiding deep down at the bottom in the crevices, Biker Dude turned it over and shook it out and killed the last of them. Along with the last of the ants, shards of a cracked jawbreaker fell out.
Ahhhh… A light bulb went on.
One mystery solved.
Meanwhile, the birds just watched and waited. A few cackled their approval like crowds watching hockey enjoying a fight. But then when they saw that all the action was over with, they one by one flew away.
Biker Dude picked up the items and stuffed them back into the backpack. He tossed the remains of the jawbreaker toward the anthill just off the edge of the patio and went inside and sat down on one of the stools and thought, “Hmmm… First the blue jay, then the grackles, and then ants. What’s next?”
And then he heard a scratching sound coming from outside the kitchen window to the north, where the poison ivy patch grew. He got up to look, then stopped. “Do I really want to know what that is?” he asked the cat, who lay by the base of the refrigerator.
As if to answer, he heard in his head a snooty, know-it-all voice saying, “You should never ever start out a story with someone waking up.”
“You’re absolutely right”, Biker Dude said, and he went down the hallway and got back into bed.
This morning, Biker Dude looked out his window, after hearing the birds all squawking and chatting like there was a cat nearby, and who did he see standing atop the birdhouse like he was King Kong on the Empire State Building?
He stood there, straight and proud. Like he was the lord of all he surveyed. All below were his subjects.
Biker Dude said, “I don’t think so.”
Biker Dude went out there, armed with slingshot, to let him know who he was dealing with.
The squirrel watched Biker Dude as he approached. Biker Dude anticipated him trying to get away, but he was ready for that possibility. He had a stone in the sling shot and figured the squirrel had nowhere to go except down the pole that the birdhouse was on. “Ha! Plenty of time for me to get a shot off.”
But no. Not this squirrel. What did he do?
He went inside the birdhouse!
Now this birdhouse was a major fixer-upper. It had holes that were so chipped away that you could have driven a Volkswagen through them.
Biker Dude saw the squirrel in one of the larger holes, watching him. So he shot a stone at him. It missed maybe by two inches. Biker Dude thought, note to self, practice practice practice. Just then, the squirrel crawled deeper inside and didn’t show his face at all.
Biker Dude waited.. and waited… and waited some more. Meanwhile he heard the squirrel making sounds. He was either laughing at him… or swearing… “rassa frassa… freaking humans…” or maybe he was making a cellphone call to his buddies. But he wouldn’t show his face again.
Biker Dude supposed he could have stood there, slingshot in hand, all day long like it was the siege of Troy, and starved him out, but just then a jogger came down the sidewalk towards him, and he didn’t want to appear like he was some loony bird lover or psycho serial squirrel shooter, so he went inside for a bit.
After another jogger went by, ( geeez.. can’t a weirdo have a little anti-squirrel-privacy? ), Biker Dude went back outside, and the squirrel was still inside the birdhouse.
By now, there was a whole line of sparrows sitting on the wire watching the action. One of them had a bag of sunflower seeds and was flying up and down the line like he was a vendor and this was the Biker Dude’s version of the roman gladiators.
A voice announcing, “Today, for your viewing pleasure, we present, Man versus Squirrel.”
Biker Dude imagined them chirping encouragement to him. But despite firing a couple more stones at the hole, the squirrel didn’t show his face or vacate the premises. A collective moan went up from the birds.
Then Biker Dude had a brainstorm. He went over to the post that held up the birdhouse. The birds got all excited about this.
He put his hand against the pole.
The birds got louder and more excited. They dropped all the sunflower seeds to watch.
The squirrel came out of the birdhouse and climbed back onto the roof.
The birds went wild.
Biker Dude smiled. “I have you now sucker.” But just as he aimed, two things happened. First, one of bands of his slingshot snapped and Biker Dude was left with a useless slingshot, and second and simultaneously as the first, the squirrel took a flying leap toward a hanging branch of the nearby tree. It was like six feet away but the squirrel caught the very end of it, and like Tarzan climbing a hanging vine, got up into the tree, and onto the roof of the house. Meanwhile Biker Dude scrambled to reconnect the hanging end of the band to the slingshot frame. By the time he got it reconnected, the squirrel was gone. Even if he could have connected it in time, he wouldn’t have been able to shoot straight.
“Damn damn damn.”
The little bastard escaped.
Biker dude made a mental note to get the set of replacement bands he had seen on Amazon.com and had put off buying. Live and learn. All Biker Dude could do now was go slowly back into the house trying to maintain some dignity in the face of this crushing defeat.
But later in the day, Biker Dude had an idea.
He undid the bolts on the pole, lowered the house down and swapped the old worn out fixer-upper birdhouse with a new one that he had been meaning to put up.
So now even if he climbed up there, there would be no way the squirrel could get into the sparrow sized holes. And even if he did, there would be no way he could get out.
But alas, based on the big collective groan the sparrows gave him later as the crowd dispersed, it didn’t feel like that much of a victory.
Squirrel Wars, The Sequel…
Now that the squirrel can’t get into the birdhouse, he has decided to do the next best thing.
Eat the birdseed from the bird feeder.
Now it’s war.
First thing in the morning Biker Dude bent down the pet the cat. Then he went to the kitchen window and looked out. A squirrel was crouched on the platform of the bird feeder chowing down on what’s supposed to be for birds only.
Biker Dude’s first reaction was to run out there and nail the sucker with his slingshot. But he couldn’t remember where he put the thing. So he opened the back door and grabbed the first thing he saw that was throw able, which was a piece of firewood from the wood pile.
Well, by now the squirrel is off the bird feeder and on the fence laughing… or trying to laugh. His face so full of seeds they were spitting out of his mouth.
Biker Dude tossed the piece of firewood at him, missed, and the squirrel just vanished into the lilac bushes on the other side of the patio fence.
Round one to the squirrel.
Biker Dude went into his corner, or inside, the gather his strength and come up with a strategy.
First question was, How the heck did the squirrel get on the feeder? The thing is hanging in the middle of the patio suspended by a thin clothesline, and unless the squirrel is a tightrope walker, there’s no way for him to get to it.
Put yourself in the squirrel’s place, he said. How would you get to it?
Well, you could jump to it from the ground I suppose. He had seen a squirrel do a vertical leap of about four feet once to get a suet cake put there for woodpeckers, and this feeder is about four and a half feet up.
So he went out there and undid the eye bolt from the garage and raised it a foot higher. Then he did the same for the eye bolt on the house.
“Ha. Let’s see you get on the feeder now,” Biker Dude thought. “You’ll need to be super squirrel, or else start eating steroids.” ( okay, ignore the fact that Biker Dude talks to squirrels… hey, at least he’s not on a first name basis )
Sure enough, the next morning, Biker Dude looked out and there was the squirrel feasting as if he had breakfast reservations at Biker Dude’s Diner.
He ran out there without thinking, like a chef waving a meat cleaver, and all he ended up doing was swatting at the squirrel with his hands. Pretty useless. Pretty embarrassing too when he saw the neighbor lady looking at him as she got into her car.
The squirrel retreated to the roof of the garage to gloat. Biker Dude retreated into the house trying to keep whatever dignity he had.
Round two to the squirrel.
Biker Dude fired up the CAD program and started drawing. First the garage, then the house, then the clothesline and feeder and all the heights and distances and angles. He sent the file to the printer and then laid it out on the counter top. He looked at it from all angles. If he had some fatigues or camouflage he would have put them on too.
Hmmm.. Okay. He’s got to be getting to the feeder from above. Maybe he climbs the garage, and then hanging from his hands and feet like he’s crossing over a pool of hot lava on a rope, he gets to the bird feeder.
So Biker Dude cut and shaped some old plastic salad dressing bottles and fit them over the clothesline near the feeder; kind of like how ships have those discs on the ropes that tie them to the dock so the rats can’t climb up into the ship.
The next morning he looked out. Ha. No squirrel. But Biker Dude was not satisfied with the possibility of having won the battle. He still needed to know how the squirrel got onto the feeder.
So he watched and waited.
That got pretty old after five minutes, so he sat at the computer and did some work for a while.
Every ten minutes he got up to look outside. Maybe an hour later he looked and the squirrel was on the roof of the garage. Biker Dude backed away from the window to watch, thinking if the squirrel saw him, he wouldn’t make a move.
The squirrel seemed to be studying the feeder problem from all angles. But HA, he didn’t have CAD! He stood on the roof looking. Biker Dude could see him making calculations in his little pea brain. Then, after considering it, or else finally hunger getting to him, the squirrel backed up about two feet, got down like he was a sprinter in starting blocks, started to run and took a flying leap off the roof of the garage. He hung in mid air for a second like a pirate swinging from ship to ship with a knife clenched in his teeth. The he came down, right onto the clothesline, where he did hand over foot upside down until he was at the feeder.
Biker Dude went out and chased the squirrel away and then realized what he had to do next. Fix the clothesline so even if the squirrel couldn’t get to the clothesline, he wouldn’t be able to get a grip on it.
He went down to the basement and rummaged among his bike tools and extra parts and found exactly what he needed. He went out to the patio and gave the clothesline a thick coating of heavy lithium bicycle grease.
He debated whether to put a bed of nails or sharpened sticks below, and decided that, though it would be satisfying, it was a little extreme.
So far, it’s worked. No more squirrel stealing bird seed.
It took three rounds, and several days, but Biker Dude finally thinks the battle is won.
Warning to all squirrels:
Mess with my birdfeeders and karma is going to come back and get you.
The “Kas Wilton” Assignment…
Elgin Community College has a fiction class. It’s taught by a woman who’s written a novel and she runs it like a writing worshop, not a formal classroom.
One of her standard assignments is to write a story given the first line. In this case, “Kas Wilton went to the store…”
Some people’s stories have gone on to be featured in the school’s literary magazine published once a year. My story was written just for fun and a bit auto-biographical… and a bit not.
Here it is, just for fun:
Kas Wilton went to the Barnes and Noble. In the section where the writing books were he found a copy of Novel Writing for Dummies. He went up to the check out where a girl of about twenty stood chewing gum. He set the book down in front of her.
“Are you a member?”
“Huh?” Kas said. He had been staring through the window at three girls outside the store, the hoods of two cars were up and the girls were trying to connect the batteries with jumper cables.
“Are, you, a, mem – ber?” the girl behind the counter said.
“I heard you the first time, you…” He stopped himself, and pretended to cough. “Yes.” He opened his wallet, took out his card and handed it to her.
“Ummm..,” the girl said, and handed it back to him.
“Ummm, what? What now?” He felt himself sweating.
“We’re Barnes and Noble here. Your card is for Borders. See… B, O, R, D, E, R, S” Holding the card towards him. She blew a bubble with her gum and popped it.
“Oh… ” he took his card back. “Well, I guess I’m not a member here after all,” he said, and chuckled.
The girl stared at him with no expression on her face. She rung up the book and said, “That’ll be 17.53.”
Kas searched for his credit card. He could have sworn it was here. He had used it last night at the restaurant to pay for dinner with his girlfriend Janey. Not a very good dinner either. Janey did nothing but nag at him about getting a higher paying job. She wanted to stay home and start an online jewelry company and wanted Kas to help finance it. He looked out the window past the girl to the parking lot. The three girls were still there. He’d have to stop and offer his assistance once he got out of here.
The girl saw where he was looking and moved into his way. “Hello?” she said.
Kas glared at her, but she was already looking at the ceiling and humming some tune to herself.
He checked the pockets of his jacket. Nothing. He pulled out a handful of loose bills, but there was no credit card. By now, several people behind him were gathered and waiting in line. Someone behind him coughed.
“We take cash.” The girl said, pointing to the handful of bills.
“I know, I know… hang on, just a second.”
The crowd behind him was larger now and he heard some people mumbling and groaning. The girl sighed heavily and rolled her eyes. Kas tried another pocket inside the jacket. Nothing there either. By now, Kas felt his hair getting damp and beads of sweat creeping down along the side of his face. Fine, he thought, just pay cash and get the heck out of here, “Uh, how much was that?”
“Se – ven – teen dol – lars and fif – ty three cents.”
He handed her a twenty dollar bill wishing he had had a hundred so she would have to give him lots of change. She counted out his change and gave it to him slowly. She put the receipt and the book in a bag and handed it to him. Kas tried to maintain some dignity. “I’m a writer,” he said.
The girl rolled her eyes again, popped her gum again and said to the crowd behind Kas, “I can help the next person.”
Kas left the store, fuming, and glad to be away from that annoying girl. He’d have complained to the manager about her except he had a mission. He had decided earlier that week that he was going to write a novel. He headed for his car with his book and got inside. He thought there was something he wanted to do. What was it? Oh well. He started the engine and was just about to put it in gear when someone tapped on his window. It was one of the three girls he had seen earlier trying to connect the jumper cables. Kas rolled down his window.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “But can you help us. We don’t know how to jump start our car.”
Kas found himself staring. If this girl wasn’t a model, he was sure she would be some day. She looked like she belonged on the cover of Playboy, Or better yet, on the centerfold. His mind drifted, and he found he was smiling, really big and obviously.
“Uh… wha… er.. what did you say again?”
“We just need to know which wire to connect to.. or the battery or something.” Kas got out of his car and smelled the girl’s perfume in the air. He imagined himself a photographer and these three girls in a photo shoot in his private studio. He thought maybe he should be a photographer instead of a writer.
He showed the girl where the battery was. The terminals were under a plastic cover. He released the cover and connected the jumper cables for her. “Okay, try it now,” he said.
The girl inside the car tried it and the engine started right up. “Oh, thank you,” the first girl said, and came over to him and planted a kiss on his cheek. The other two blew kisses at him and waved. He stood there smiling and watched as the three girls drove away. One in one car and two in the other.
He was about to get back in his car when he saw a girl in a blue Toyota staring at him… no… she was glaring. He’d seen her before somewhere, but where? He racked his mind, and as he did so, the girl glared even more like she was trying to shoot bolts of fire at him out of her eyes. As his brain, and other parts of him, returned to earth, he thought, Oh, shit. He remembered where he’d seen her before. It was Janey.
“Janey.. uh… hi… what are you doing here? I was just…” he said.
“You asshole,” Janey said, and started to drive away.
Kas ran ahead and got in front of her car and stood there. “Janey, wait,” he said, and when she came to a stop, he walked to the driver side window.
He was just about to lean into the window to talk to her when she pulled his ring off her finger, threw it at him. “Keep your cheap piece of plastic,” she yelled , and when he scrambled after it to keep it from rolling into a sewer grating, she hit the gas and sped away.
Kas pocketed the ring and debated whether or not to follow her and finally decided if he was ever going to get some writing done, it was going to have to start today. He got into his car, picked up the book and thumbed through its pages breathing in the scent of fresh ink. “I know, I’ll write about what just happened,” he thought. “That will be a good place to start.” Then he saw that the three girls who he had just helped were across the street at the Victoria’s Secret, and he decided then and there to take up photography too. He got out of his car and went back into the store.
What Time is it Over There…?
Biker Dude’s girlfriend was gone. She was going to be working in Spain for the next four months on an exchange sort of program. She was teaching a Lit class at a college in Sevilla.
They had said their goodbyes two weeks ago when he took her to the airport.
Ever since that day, every time he looked at the clock, he did a fast calculation. Adding seven to the time. Then he would think, “I wonder what she’s doing now.”
When it was 6:00AM at home, it was 1:00PM there. He’d think of what she might be doing. Just finishing up lunch at some street-side cafe maybe… or walking home from the park… or carrying fruit and groceries from the market… or riding the rent-a-bikes to some scenic or historic view… maybe she was watching couples walk hand in hand by the “Almeda de Hercules.”
When he got home from school at 3:30, he’d do the math again. Hmmm.. 10:30PM over there. She’s probably at home reading and just about to call it a night. Maybe she’s on the roof looking at the lights, or by the river, watching boats go by and having a late dinner.
When he went to bed at night he knew that in an hour, when he was just starting to dream, she would be waking up and starting her day. He’d wonder what her plans were going to be. Where she would shop? What would she make for breakfast? What she’s be talking about in her class? Would she sit on her veranda and write, and, if so, what would she write about?
It’s odd, but for some reason the 4221 miles (yes, he did find a website that could calculate the exact distance between two cities on the planet) and the Atlantic Ocean really didn’t make him feel removed from her. The difference in time had somehow made him think of her in a different way. To try to put himself in her place and feel what she was feeling, see what she was seeing. And maybe because he was trying to focus on being empathetic, he actually felt close to her despite an ocean between them.
Was that why? Or was it something else? He didn’t know. But Biker Dude didn’t care. What mattered was the feeling. The knowing that miles were just a number and that real and true closeness didn’t factor distance into its equation. It was the same thing Golden Earring sang about in “Radar Love.” A connection between lovers that was always there no matter the distance or displacement in time.
Biker Dude looked up at the clock again just before he went out to go to school. He paused at the backdoor and before locking it, he wondered… could she feel it too?
Sometimes Biker Dude comes across as a bit of a tough guy. Well, okay, maybe that’s stretching it… a little.
But he really can be a hard riding, chase-you-down maniac out there on a bicycle. Out there on the road, or on the trails, he’s pure confidence. He’s not afraid of anyone. And if he happens to come across someone he can’t catch, he at least gives them a run for their money, and if they get away, oh well. No big deal. It just makes Biker Dude work harder at improving.
But in the social world, without the physical challenge of a race, he’s actually rather quiet. You would never know he has a split personality. He loves gardening and growing vegetables, he loves writing and reading, and he never used to, but now he does, have a soft spot for cats.
Another huge weakness Biker Dude has, and which nobody that rides with him, or against him, ever sees or has a clue to its existence, is that he’s a sucker for romance.
Last Sunday, Biker Dude’s girlfriend left for a four month trip to Spain.
All the way up to her trip, which was in the planning stages for almost a year now, he had been all for it. As soon as she brought up her thoughts that he might not be okay with it, he told her right out, “I don’t have a problem with it. I want you to go. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be okay.”
And he was. He even helped her with researching the books she needed, finding articles and reference about what she was going to teach, and he even converted much of the material she needed into Nook format so she wouldn’t have to carry so many books with her.
All the way up to the week before she left, he was perfectly calm.
At book club, one of the women, knowing that the time for his girlfriend to leave was approaching, asked him, “Are you going to be okay?” “Are you going to visit her?” “What will you do”.
He told them all that he would be fine. That he couldn’t visit her and that he thought this was the best thing in the world for his girlfriend. He pointed out to them how radiant she was these last several months. How excited and alive she was and so looking forward to this possibly once in a lifetime chance.
The whole last last week before she left, she cooked. And cooked. She made sure she used up everything in her basement freezer and in the kitchen refrigerator and she made Biker Dude take all of it home with him. Every day that week, he came over to see her. They played cards, they went for walks, they watched T.V., and they cooked.
They went to a cookout at some friends’ house and while there, a few came up to Biker Dude and asked the same question others had asked before. “Are you going to be okay?”
He’d nod. “Yeah.”
Then one night, two days before she was to leave, his girlfriend was hugging him as he was leaving.
“Are you going to be okay?” she asked, her face buried into his neck and shoulder.
“Mmmmm hmmmm…” he said. “There just won’t be any cuteness around here for a while.”
He felt her shake her head.
“But there will be the cat. He’ll be cute.”
He felt her nodding.
“But nobody’s as cute as you.”
She shook her head again.
Two days later, he took her to the airport, and when he got home, he walked in the living room, sat down, and looked at the cat, who looked up at him.
The cat just looked at him some more. He picked up the cat and held it close.
It had seemed to take so long to happen, but here it was. The date had finally come. Her trip was just starting and she’d be away for four months.
He turned on the computer and stared at the email page like he had done five and a half years ago when they first started writing to each other every day ten times a day. Back then, he couldn’t wait to see her again. He couldn’t wait to read what she might write. He’d hit the refresh button every minute.
He felt that same way now. Except that now, there was no way she could write. She was on a flight across the Atlantic. And when she got to where she was going, the seven hour difference would make real time conversation a challenge.
He paced the house only to find himself at the refrigerator over and over. Staring at all the food she had sent home with him. He picked up a gallon container of chicken tortilla soup she had made. He remembered all the time it had taken her to make it and how radiant she was the whole time. He recalled how she didn’t bother to measure every ingredient but just put in what she knew would make it perfect. And then how she had scoured the kitchen for enough Tupperware bins to fit all the food into. And then how she reminded him persistently until he took everything home.
He realized food and cooking were her love language. Whether she was conscious of it or not, this was her way of giving him a part of herself to sustain him when she was physically over 4000 miles away.
He popped open the soup bin and poured a bowl of it and put it in the microwave. When it dinged, he took the soup out, sat down with the cat, and as he breathed in the sweet aroma rising from the bowl, it was like his girlfriend was right there.
This magical soup. Never the same way twice. No wonder she didn’t bother with measuring carefully. She didn’t have to. All her recipes were sprinkled, doused, no… drenched liberally with the only ingredient that mattered and that no recipe book, no pantry, and no spice cabinet could provide…
Being Pulled to the Softer Side…
Today, Biker Dude sat at the computer working on a story. It was originally going to be about the time he was riding home from Aurora, and, just as he slowed to check out two women jogging — they were wearing skin tight, up the butt-crack lycra volleyball shorts, or hot pants.. except these were scorchingly hot… probably illegal in most states, but oh well… — just as he slowed down to take his time passing the two girls, a guy on another bike passed him by and said, “On your left.
The three most hated words in the world.
So he went after the guy, as much as he really wanted to go slow for a while and enjoy the view.
He caught up to the guy of course, and the guy turned around and saw Biker Dude in pursuit, and the guy started pedalling harder.
So Biker Dude got up out of the saddle and shifted into another gear and called out to the guy, “I don’t think so,” and….
…then he got distracted.
There, as he wrote, was the cat sitting by his side, on the floor at the cocktail table, looking up at him and purring.
“I can’t pet you right now, I’m in the middle of a story.”
The cat just looked back. It’s eyes looking huge and soft in the subdued living room light.
“I said, no. Now let me write.”
He tried to go back to the story, but the cat stayed right there to his left, still purring and giving him the eyes. Biker Dude could practically hear the cat’s desire to be held, and well, he was a cute cat. Why yesterday, as Biker Dude was reading and writing in the margins of the book he started a week before, the cat kept trying to grab at the pencil when he saw the eraser bobbing around over the top of the book. He ended up spending more time playing with the cat than reading.
Biker Dude thought that was cute. Especially since he himself was all about pencils. Earlier today the cat had done the same thing, and Biker Dude thought how this was a unique thing between him and his cat and books and reading.
He looked at the cat again and this time it meowed.
“You’re evil, you know that?” he said.
The cat just purred.
“Fine,” he said, and he took the cat into his arms and set it in his lap and petted it.
And he forgot all about the guy on the trail… and the two girls, and their shorter-than-short shorts, and all about the three most hated words.
He listened to the cat purr and felt his hands against its soft fur and made a mental note to himself.
Consider revising the blog titile to The Adventures of Cat Dude.
Ummmm.. Maybe not that much of a cat dude..
Coffeemake Repair Dude..
Early December was not treating Biker Dude nicely. It was too cold to bike to work, but instead of sleeping later, he still got up as if he was going to ride.Which all meant that when he drove, he arrived at work much earlier than normal.
He keyed himself in and shuffled across the cold concrete factory floor to his desk. He took his jacket off and hung it on the back of his chair and poked a finger at the ON button of the computer. He missed. He shut his eyes and rubbed them. Shook his head, opened his eyes, aimed, and poked again. The computer lit up, beeped at him, and soft ticking and zapping sounds came from within as the electronic circuits and programming came to life. Before the login screen had a chance to show its face, he’d grabbed two empty cherry coke bottles, and made his way to the cafeteria. To his friend and salvation.
He flipped the light on and there it sat. Empty. Dang. Usually there was enough leftover from the day before to microwave. Not today.
He popped the top open and lifted out the filter holder. Then he dumped out the grounds and filled the carafe with water. Threw a filter in, six scoops of Folgers, poured the water into the maker and pushed the start button.
After five long seconds, the coffeemaker started making a bubbling sound. Like it had asthma. Then the breathing became steadier. Water heated up and flowed. Like Frankenstein twitching his fingertips… like a car just started when it’s below zero, or like the computer booting up, it slowly came to life.
Biker Dude waited. He rubbed his eyes some more and leaned against the counter top.
Off to the side of the coffee maker lay a black piece of plastic. Biker Dude picked it up. Hmmm.. what the heck was this? It kind of looked like a black mushroom. Or a petrified mini jellyfish. It had a shaft and around the shaft, a spring. The mushroom’s “cap” was about as big around as a quarter. He pondered the piece from all angles as the coffee maker hissed and popped and coffee tinkled from the filter above into the carafe.
A toaster sat nearby on the counter top. Mostly chrome but with black plastic knobs for setting the toasting time. Biker Dude tried fitting the mushroom piece onto the toaster. He worked the toaster levers to see if something was broken. He even picked it up to see if the plastic piece had fallen out the bottom of it.
All looked okay. The piece didn’t really go with the toaster anyway. Not artistically at least. It was more of a art nouveau style, where the toaster was art deco. More sharp and angular lines.
The knobs weren’t rounded either, more like crowned. He set the piece down. The coffee was still brewing but there was enough in the carafe to fill his bottles. He reached for the carafe.
When he took it from the heating pad, coffee poured down from the filter holder and onto the heating pad. Steam shot up. The coffee crackled and popped. Dang!
He looked underneath to where there was usually some sort of stopper mechanism. All there was was a hole. Coffee streamed through from above and onto the burner.
All that perfectly good caffeine going to waste.
He grabbed a handful of paper towels, which fortunately sat within reach, and sopped up the still spilling coffee. He replaced the carafe and cursed.
Then he stopped his cursing and thought.
He came up with a new strategy. He hit the on off switch, and waited for the remaining water to use itself up.
Now he knew what the mushroom thing was for. It was so a person could remove the carafe while the coffee was still brewing.
When the remaining water was used up, biker Dude dumped the grounds and filter into the garbage can and took the filter holder out. Nothing but an open hole. No wonder. This spring and mushroom are parts of the coffee maker. But something was missing. They fit, but the pieces that had held them to the filter holder were gone.
He scrounged in the bottom of the garbage can. In the grounds he had earlier thrown out. Among stale popcorn and the remains of somebody’s mashed potatoes. There was half a baloney sandwich.. some wilted lettuce. Stray pizza crusts and empty pop cans and bottles… there was a condom, still in the wrapper thank God! Along with a few other items he decided he was just imagining.
But dang. No coffee maker part.
He could do one of two things.
Tell the office administrator the coffee pot was broken. But she wouldn’t be in for another two hours.
Fix it himself.
Driven by the need for a reliable coffee supply, he rose to the challenge.
He studied the part and how it fit into the filter holder. He searched his mind for something that would work, then cross referenced it with parts he knew were available here at work. At home this would be no problem. He was known for keeping a supply of “improvisable hardware” as he called it. But he wasn’t at home. Dang again.
He needed something with a rubber seal, preferably a disc, and if too large, able to be trimmed to size. He also needed a sort of clip or a holder to keep the seal in place. The holder was easy. In the tool cabinet sat a case with an assortment of O-rings. Dozens of different sizes. One would fit perfectly at the base of the mushroom and hold the seal in place against the spring. He found the right size in half a minute.
The other thing, the rubber seal, would be the challenge.
He thought a while more. Even closing his eyes to “see” the part in his mind’s eye. Like Jimmy Neutron, he went into “think” mode.
Then his eyes popped open and lit up. He knew what he had to do.
In the absence of duct tape and a Swiss army knife. Without a supply of rubber bands or paper clips… although a paper clip would have worked nicely instead of an O-ring, just wouldn’t have looked as professional… he used what he knew worked on all brands and styles of coffee makers he’d ever come across.
He’d fixed his girlfriend’s coffee pot with one once. (see picture)
The universal coffee maker repair part. Able to be trimmed and drilled and shaped into exactly what one needs in times of emergency…
a plastic pop bottle top.