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James Brody
September 7th, 2004, 09:08 PM
David Buss turns up everywhere, even in Spring-by-god-City.

I visited a Harley showroom four months ago. I explained my age - 62 - to the clerk and my wish to sit on a Harley before I die at 63. She let me climb on a Sporty and a Softie (engines off!) and directed me to a motorcycle training course. I enrolled, attended, and after 20 hours, got a perfect written score but failed the riding test. Nonetheless, I'm allowed to ride between sunrise and sunset if I also wear a helmet. (Passing the riding test lets me ride after dark and without a helmet! The logic is peculiar and national in scope except it's meant for bikers and I want to be one of them, a yearning which is, itself, a sign of incompetence.)

I went next to my insurance agent and met his assistant, Erin.

Erin, lean, blond, and lively, rapidly announces dozens of opinions in a resonant baritone, and shows me her doll...a witch on a broom...but she reverses it, the black dress is cut like a hospital gown and the doll's buns are bare. (A bewitching moon!)

I mention bikes and insurance and Erin describes her guy, Spike, who also rides bikes. He is a judo expert and makes Samurai swords. When asked why not guns, Spike explained once that he likes to be very personal and watch up close when he hurts someone. (Erin prefers a pistol although she doesn't carry.)

She ordered him a Harley for about $23K but Spike is so talented a mechanic that he will quickly modify it. "It's Spike's way of making something his own. He is SO well-rounded!" And Harley's record is such that experienced bikers tear down new ones, after paying premium dollars and rebuild them for safety and reliability, especially the earlier AMF models. They also buy a second, non-Harley so that they have a bike that works. Egad! A fortune for an indoor hobby!

I'm jealous and notice that her engagement ring probably cost less than a fortieth of what she spent on his bike. (He may even have taken it from his mother.) I listen for more.

Spike has a mortgage problem with his ex-wife and Erin won't marry him until THAT woman's name off the deed! (She apparently doesn't mind the three kids that he supports.) Nonetheless, Erin is happy even if her wedding is delayed until mid-2006. Time doesn't bother her. She remarks, "I'm in no hurry. Whenever I go past a mirror, I think, 'Damn, I look good for 33.'"

I agree.

Notes: Insuring a '95 Suzuki Marauder 800 would cost me $600 per year. The bike costs $2200, a helmet another $150, and another bundle for boots, jacket, and gloves. (EMTs and road crews like leather because it keeps the blood in and the cinders out when you fall. Nylon leaks, especially if you're having a seizure from a broken neck.) I probably should first pass the riding test...I was always the first cut in basketball tryouts and, in an easy course, once got a C in social dance. I still spaz with new tasks when there is an audience. For example, cute servers in a cafeteria even now lead to dropped milk cartons! For my grandson and son and cat, I must NOT do this.

I bought the damned bike...9 years old, 440 pounds of blue-specked black and a soda-fountain of chrome, with 4100 miles. A Suzuki Intruder 800...the name, color, and fit of the seat match both my soul, my butt, and my stubby 30 inch inseam. Tennyson's Ulysses, to seek, to find, not to yield, came to mind before I gashed my forehead (twice!) not on Spike's blade but on the top edge of the windscreen, and shit myself, also twice, during my first runs on a public road...an odyssey of 7.2 miles. Like the old woman who swallowed a fly, I died of course.

My son is instructed to sell the Intruder to Fred...

References:
Buss, D. (1994) The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating. New York: Basic Books. (There's a 2003 edition that tells you more but with far less punch.)

James Brody
October 2nd, 2004, 09:33 PM
Dr. Helen Fisher writes books about the neurochemistry of human love but she liked the following paragraphs and agreed that her observations can apply to attachments between man and machine. We may sense these changes as demons or obsessions and our abilities both to sense one and to love, fear, or curse it are consequences not only of chemistry but also of statistical physics. Organizations, whether of electrons, Democrats, or ideas, acquire self-interest and come to life when they get positive feedback. Obsessions, thus, began at least 14 billion years ago and are in the structure of our universe; this particular love story started six months ago when I realized that I?m 62 and never sat on a Harley. I visited a showroom, warmed the seat on a reconditioned Sportster, and picked up a rider...
---------

The salesclerk, a fading blond named ?Nancy,? touched my forearm, learned that I?m a psychologist, and softly listed her problems but refused to sell me a bike, referring me instead to a Motorcycle Safety Foundation riding course. I spent $10 for a permit, instructors, and use of a bike and helmet in class. I got a perfect score on the written exam but acted like a cat in a shower during the riding test. In one section, I was supposed to 1) accelerate to 12 mph, 2) apply front, then rear brakes when I reached the pylons (BUT NOT BEFORE!), 3) disengage the clutch, 4) drop the bike into 1st gear, and 5) keep my head up and focused on a tree at the far end of the lot. I accomplished all of #5 and some of #2 while accelerating too much, braking too early and forgetting about both my left foot and 1st gear. For 15 seconds, I did nearly everything that I swore not to and flunked the test. The alcoholic instructor was ready to fall off his wagon.

Several weeks pass.

Both my pride and my urge to prove something to my father?s memory order me back for a retest. I, obviously, NEED a bike for practice but, just as obviously, I don?t and, to hell with dad, I decide to forget the whole thing. I, however, do not allow for the stubborn passenger that I picked up on the Sportster. She smiles when her kin roar past my house. She agrees when I call myself ?chicken? for acting like my anxious mother who scared easily when I took risks and often hurt myself. My free-rider parasite also laughs when I suck in my belly, flex 62 y.o. biceps at the bathroom mirror, and recall the prom date that I had with a beauty queen. ?You?re not only spastic but an old spastic!?

Free Rider soon taps my shoulder in every vacant minute of my day and whimpers on the floor of my soul at night. I sense that she will cost me a lot more than $10 but I give in and we visit showrooms, sit on bikes, and talk deals rather than call an exorcist. I buy manuals, distinguish the noise of thumpers from V-twins, and read about all the ways that I could die from braking too fast or not fast enough. Every biker I meet instantly tells their favorite gore tale and I acquire new jokes: for example, the bicycle lane? That strip in the middle between the yellow lines! Or, a real woman rolls her own tampons and kick-starts her Harley!

The trainer bikes were 125 cc, like riding 12 bags of cat litter and intimidating only if you never sat on anything else. Free Rider pouts at my lack of guts while I shop for one of that size but brightens up and hums when I fall in love with the second woman whom I?ve ever truly seen. (The first was an Austrian blonde in a gondola in Venice in 1957.) This second Eve is a Suzuki Intruder 800, a svelte 440 pounds against my 145. I don?t immediately catch the symbolism of ?Intruder?; instead, I think of our Navy jets and their pilots who once launched from carriers at night and bombed military sites in North Vietnam. She?s 9 years old but her blue-speckled black paint, mirrors, aluminum wheels, and pegs have no rust, bug stains, or scratches. Free Rider and I also admire the windscreen, highway bars, drive shaft, and chrome put on as if it were whipped cream. She won?t be embarrassed with me in public: we want to believe the odometer?s 4100 miles.

If alive, Intruder would whisper, ?I haven?t seen you here before,? rub my right shoulder, learn my name and income, and lie about her age, children, and sexual diseases.
Intruder, however, with Free Rider?s applause, picks me up with my imagination. (There is no jealousy between the two women, they should be identical twins!) Without so much as turning Intruder?s key, I hand the clerk $50 to keep her until my buddy rides her. Rick, a good friend for 5 years and a Harley jock for 30, first recommended a forgiving dirt bike and then a Honda scooter but I was insulted both times. He?s a religious guy and now understands that I?m possessed: he agrees that Intruder?s a good first bike even if a rice burner. Free Rider moves my lips and we admire his good sense and I immediately quote Internet sites that back him up. He rolls his eyes.

God now speaks through the U. S. Post Office: a bank advertises interest-free loans! Of course, I write a check for $3000 and Praise the Lord when She speaks again - the check clears the day that I write it. I hand $2200 to the kid at the store, another $130 for a helmet, a couple hundred dollars to the state, and $300 to a blonde at Nationwide. I am too scared to ride my new girl home: I ask the kid at the store to put her in my garage. (Hey, did you need help on your honeymoon?!!!)

I go 20 miles in two weeks and lay her down in two creative ways at less than one mile per hour. You can copy the first wonderful trick! Simply squeeze on the right lever with your fingers for the front brake and, at the same time, roll the throttle towards you as you lower your palm from taking up slack on the brake. You both lock the front wheel and feed her more gas: the back tire pushes forward and tries to pass the front one while you fall! A Harley jock comes around the corner immediately, checks my sanity, and helps me to pick her up. I ride her home, hammer out the bent left peg, and mourn the scratches in the highway bar that kept her off of my left Achilles.? I master the second wonderful trick when I ride damp tires onto an oily wooden floor in the garage, slip sideways, and bend her right peg. I lift my girl with a deer hoist and pound her out once more. (The pegs match again but with a slight upturn like chrome mustachios!) She forgives me when I promise not breast implants but level pegs and polish so that she won?t look old when she meets the other girls.

We stay off roads until my right wrist position is always perfect. In my gravel driveway, I straddle and walk her with the clutch partially engaged, stop her, turn her around, and do it again. And again until my left foot finds the shift lever and neutral or first gear every time. I feather her clutch and throttle at low speeds and adjust engine speed as I take her up or down a gear. On Sundays we practice on the parking lot at a nearby elementary school until I no longer pop her clutch and skid the back tire when downshifting. I also start to do things without saying them first. My butt knows exactly the feel of 12 MPH and my right fingers and foot get into line, I brake first the front and then rear wheel after I pass a marker in the asphalt. My left toes nudge her into first before every stop. And as any newborn baby or fencer knows, when I turn my head to the right, my brainstem reflexes automatically extend my right arm and foot and the bike leans and tracks smoothly in that same direction.

I become something of a bird, rising into the wind rather than hiding from it and moving just above the ground before climbing surely upward and next gliding downward, spiraling left or right while leaning into turns, and scanning every direction for opportunities and threats. The neural systems with which hawks scan for mice and monkeys scan for hawks now find smooth paths for me through the stones, cracks, and ridges in the asphalt.

As taught, I take command of the spaces defined by travel times of 2, 4, and 12 seconds and eventually ride not just to stay on but to get somewhere. There are, however, still panic moments in turns when I yell at myself, ?LEAN, YOU MOTHER!? and impatient ones while I wait for long breaks in traffic. Nonetheless, the Intruder, Free Rider, and I find synergy about six months after I first sat on the Sportster. There are few conflicts or split decisions and I look out for them as much as they for me: as in a really great lay, I lose my self and, at the same instant, find it again as they and I become one. Meanwhile, I pay the bank $15 per month until next June for this threesome.

References:
Fisher, H. (2004) Why We Love: The Nature and Future of Romantic Love. NY: Holt & Company. Helen writes well and often about the science that underlies our passions. And she?s a heck of a nice lady!
Kauffman, S. (2000) Investigations. NY: Oxford.