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They Stole the Old Man's Motorcycle

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Friday, March 4, 2011

They Stole the Old Man's Motorcycle


It’s early in the morning.  I might be six years old.  Maybe younger than that.  I think my brother has been born so I am at least four.  Though I am not sure how well I could remember this if I am four.  It’s hard to get the facts straight since everyone I might ask is dead.  My brother is not dead.  But he wouldn’t remember.
           
We moved from our crappy little place on the Turnpike, and now live in the ranch on Longview Drive.  I like this house.  Even now ranch style houses make me happy.  Maybe because this is before it all turns to shit.  Or maybe it already has turned to shit but I am too young to know any better.
            
My father stands without a shirt talking to the police.  I am in awe of him.  He is a big man with big arms, strong, imposing.  He is so dark from working construction, blowing up rock in the hot noonday sun, that I tell my kindergarten teacher that my father is black, the prospect of which is so horrific to our small town roots that my mother drags him to parent/teacher conference so everyone can see that he is, in fact, white.  There are no mixed marriages in Berlin.  In fact, there are few minorities, persons of any color. 
            
My father stalks between the police who do their best to calm him down.  They grant him room, a wide berth.  This exchange he has with the police is very different from the ones I will form with the cops when I am much older and criminally inclined.  Small and insignificant, I will cower in their presence.  My father does anything but cower.
            
“I will fucking kill them,” he says.  “I know who took it.  I will find them.”
       
Calm down, the police say.  There is nothing we can do.  This is how they operate.  You are better off staying away.  They use his last name.  They address him as Mr.
            
He lights a cigarette, brushes the long hair from his eyes.  My father is a fighter, trains to be a boxer.  His favorite is Roberto Duran.  Hands of stone.  When I start following boxing, I’ll see why.  They even look alike. 

My father has a giant tattoo on his left biceps of an eagle.  It is dark green, almost black, clunky, ugly, put in place to cover the gang insignia, though I will not learn he was in a motorcycle gang, had left the motorcycle gang, had to swear a pledge of secrecy, until many years later, some details filtering in after he’s dead.
           
“I’m not scared,” he says.  “I’ll get it back.”
            
The “it” is his motorcycle, his beloved Harley.  That I know.  I know because he woke us up screaming. He’s ridden me on the back up the Chamberlin Highway many times, even if I am six.  Or younger.  But he’s just a kid, my dad.  He might be twenty-six, maybe twenty-seven.  They had me when they were young. 

Our garage was broken into during the night.  Now the cops are here, taking his statement, even if they tell him repeatedly that he has no chance of seeing his Harley again.

Our house is fairly secluded, on top of a hill.  It is not as big as the house we will move into in a few years, after my parents’ divorce, after their remarriage.  Still it’s a nice house, in a nice neighborhood, on the outskirts of suburbia, nestled in the country.  It’s not the sort of house where random strangers pry open garages and steal motorcycles.

Tall trees stand behind our house, like they are standing guard.  Behind them, down the ravine, sits a pond where my father will take me fishing a few times, until he stops doing that.  Or maybe he already has.  My father’s German Shepherd, Atlas, barks in the long dog run.

“I’ll catch them, and I will kill them,” my father says again.

When the police ask if anybody heard anything, I say yes.  “Yes, I did.”

My father looks over.

“I heard Atlas bark,” I tell them.

A police officer asks me when I heard this.

“When I went to go to the bathroom,” I say.  “It was still dark.”

The police officer writes something down.

“And I looked out the window,” I say, “and...there was a big red truck on the front lawn, like a fire truck.”

The cops look at me like I have two heads.   

My father swipes his hand.  “Don’t listen to him.  He’s stupid.  He didn’t see anything.  He was fucking dreaming.”


4 Comments:

At March 5, 2011 at 9:07 AM , Blogger esther said...

Joe,
This post triggered a memory for me (sappy stuff ahead). As you know, my pop was a NYC firefighter. He is tough and gritty, but kind. We were lower middle class. I never had new sneakers, let alone a new bicycle. One day my father filled out an entry for a new bicycle at Burger King--and weeks later he won. It was a brand new Huffy. Jet black with read trim, puffy leather seat, and a front plate that proudly read "Huffy." It looked like the Batmobile to me. Of course, I had to split the bicycle with my brother, James. He was 1 year older--his bicycle privileges were more Batman and mine were more Robin.
Anyway, the bicycle was stolen--about three months later. My father was more upset by the theft than we were. His family had been violated--and his only real stroke of good fortune was ruined. He vowed to get the Huffy back for us. He sleuthed around the neighborhood. Got a tip from some local kids, and found it. He had to exchange words with the thief's father--but thankfully, not fists. He bought home our bicycle. A hero to us, twice.

 
At March 5, 2011 at 10:36 AM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

I think you have your next Lip Service piece, Esther ;)

 
At March 8, 2011 at 2:51 PM , Blogger Sean said...

Hey Joe, it's Sean. That was my comment--somehow Esther must have logged in on my computer and I didn't notice.

 
At March 8, 2011 at 3:03 PM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

Sean, I thought that was far too sappy to be Esther! Makes sense now! ;)

I didn't think her dad was a firefighter (did I know your dad was?) Come to think of it, I she doesn't have a brother, does she? Man, I feel dumb.

 

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