By Scott Longman
Why should the mere otherwise-irrelevant shape of a woman’s face seem to matter so damn much to a young man? As life brutally teaches, the traits that actually matter are kindness, values, intelligence, accomplishment, health and experience. But, probably like most 20-year-old guys, I hadn’t yet come close to recognizing those realities.
We’ll call her Joni. One look at her, and I suddenly understood how Helen of Troy started and maintained that 10-year war. Full-stop feline eyes, unspeakably perfect cheekbones, the long draw down to the jaw, topped off with a set of lips fit to make Mick Jagger rethink his branding. Then add a stupefyingly proportioned top end to bottom end, connected by a tiny, bare waist. And none of this had been lost on her: immaculate care, tanning bed perfection, tousled, scripted dirty blonde, just enough makeup in just the right way. Minimal and undersized clothing completed the meteor effect. And oh, Lord, did she know it.
I already knew that she had a male following befitting a Greek Siren. I figured the only distinguishing factor I had was asking if she wanted a motorcycle ride.
There was only one, tiny problem with that: I had just bought the motorcycle and had never ridden one in my life.
Thank heaven, I decided to take it for a first blast before I asked her to get on the back. A buddy of mine and I had gone in financial halves on it, because we were both near-broke. The bike itself was a beaten up 15-year-old Honda 360, which we bought for an out-of-tune song. He had never been on a bike, either.
Me, him, she and half a dozen assorted friends walked out to the big parking lot where we’d walked it down the trailer, the stately waves of Lake Michigan as a backdrop. My buddy bravely went first. He proceeded through a careful pre-flight check, strapped on a horribly dorky helmet and slowly rolled off with a posture that brought the word “broomstick” to mind. He completed a circuit of the big lot without speed, incident or the slightest hint of respect from anybody.
Deep breath. My turn. That whole time, I’d been madly mentally working through the controls—clutch! front brake! rear brake! first gear, left foot up, no down, no the other way—
He handed me the helmet. Of course, I airily waved it away. Helmets are for intelligent people, unsodden in testosterone.
I fired up, held in the clutch, by good luck knocked it in first gear, wound up the throttle and dumped the clutch. The tires were ancient and hardened, which was further good luck, because instead of stalling the engine, the rear tire lit up with scream and smoke, and I was suddenly hauling ass. Leaning low over the handlebars, I wound it all the way up, then more or less accidentally managed the ballet of throttle, clutch and transmission to grab second gear.
Then there was this matter of the first corner.
I started getting on the brakes, but I didn’t want to lose so much speed that I lugged the engine. I stood no chance of figuring out my first-ever downshift on the fly.
To hell with it—I’ll just lean hard and carry the speed through the turn.
Well, there were two problems with that plan. The first was that the ancient, hardened tires were no better at lateral traction than they were at longitudinal traction. The second problem was that I had no idea WTF I was doing.
In the first several instants of that turn—as later reported by semi-reliable witnesses—I was epically badass.
And right about then, Karma, hubris, stupidity, lust, dry rot, Toyo and Isaac Newton got together and outvoted me.
Both tires gave way at the same time. The bike slid out from under me, grand-slamming the left side into the tarmac, and we together had a vainglorious, cheese-grater slide that ended by hammering under the back end of a parked truck.
A moment of shock and silence. The left handlebar grossly bent, the left front and rear turn signal stalks snapped off, and a layer of the left side of my corporeal self spread across the pavement. My left calf, thigh, forearm, elbow and upper arm were all streaming rivulets of blood, if “rivulets” means “a fuckton.”
I staggered upright, and gave one of those “well, of course this is to be expected” kinds of waves. I figured I had to try to bring it to as good a close as was possible, so I fired up the bike and completed the circuit. I still wound it all the way up on the straights, but took the corners dead slow.
It is remarkably hard to look cool when half your body is soaked in blood, but I did my best as I pulled up. She was already turning and walking away. I didn’t end up with Joni; I got the far better life’s lesson (allegedly).