05 February 2016


Pour yourself a breakfast whiskey, I'll tell you about the time my dead brother and I hid a motorcycle in the dressing room of a sewing shop.

Jake had a dysfunctional aversion to rules, no idea where he picked that trait up from. Classic youngest child, as you would assume even if you hadn't been following along. The five siblings in my family span a small stretch, with a gap of sixteen years between the oldest and the youngest. The two eldest of the brood both flew the nest to engage in their own regurgitating obligations before the last kid even started school. The remaining three were within five years of each other, and this paragraph must contractually end with a sentence about Jimmy.
The early departure of my big-hairing, big-dreaming sisters forced me into the odd-birth-ordered role of a middle child. It's not where I would self-identify, but it is where I am. Behind Jimmy.
Fate made Jake the youngest, but it was Jake that made it fucking matter. This son of a bitch didn't listen for shit. From a very young age, he just sort of did what he wanted rather than what he was told. He was very polite and respectful about it, barely ever argumentative, and then he'd simply go on doing things how he pleased.
With that shit-eating grin.

Before I started middle school, we moved to the next county over and the adjustment was a little much for my older brother. We relocated from a quiet, small town with a few thousand people to a tiny, comatose village where the 2014 population was 71. There were no stores, red lights, or even gas stations, for miles. The post office was in someone's basement. There was a church on both corners. Hell, it was a little much for all of us. But Jimmy took it the hardest. Within a short time, he repacked and hightailed it to the extra wing of the eldest siblings nest, back to the golden land of hoagie shops and Schwan's deliveries.
Which left Jake with me.
We got partial custody of a dirt-bike in the split though. Meaning we could ride it, under the condition that we understood that it would always be Jimmy's.
Man, we went everywhere on that fucking thing. It was some junk brand bullshit, like a Kawasaki mini-80 or some nonsense, but we beat the balls out of it. There was a stone quarry nearby, and as soon as the gates closed at the end of the daily shift we would zip around the half-ass barrier on a well worn tire-path. The rock piles were fifties of feet tall, at least a dozen of measurements. (I have no idea how high it was. It still looks like a million miles to my childhood eyes.)
It wasn't the mounds of shale that we were there to tear apart; it was the old, empty reservoirs tucked back against the blasted away mountainside.
Fucking dirt bowls.
These long-since dried up pools were nothing but dry-packed earth; a dirt-bike's wet dream. Exactly four other children in the village shared our love of motorsports and/or defying authority, and soon on the regular our gang was riding dirty.
And muddy.
Shale-dust covered.

The quarry, understandably, took up issue with our journies into the depths of their playground. They gave reasons such as"safety concerns," "blasting zones" and "not a playground," and sent 'Ol Officer Watson to usher us out. By that time, Jake had graduated to a 125cc piece of garbage and I was relegated to the mini-80. (My little brother had outgrown me in both height and size by early adolescence, it's not like I had a choice in dirt-bike engine size at that point.) Officer Watson didn't spend much time chasing us anyway, he'd just spook us enough to make us scurry home; where he'd show up for coffee and to tell Mom what we were up to.
We were't allowed to ride in the quarry any more. I mean, it had always been posted No Trespassing By Law, but now Mom said, so it was really No. The quarry installed a new gate, and then a new road, to keep interlopers out. Once the watchful eye died down, we snuck out under the cover of night, pushing our bikes until they could be kick-started away from nosy ears, and navigated the new obstacles blocking the way to the old reservoir playground in the back.
The bastards had filled them in.
Where there had once been beautifully proportioned basins, the peaks carved with grooves from hours of kick-assery, there was nothing. The sloped hills of packed dirt had been dozed level; the dips all filled with broken shale and childhood dreams. Without any dirt on which to ride his bike, Jake resorted to the pavement. The law got mighty tired of chasing his eleven-year-old ass around the single road that winded it's way around the village. When the township finally threatened to issue Mom a fine, she took the dirt-bike away.

So it's their own fault they had to pull him over on a riding mower after that.

Boys and their antics, people tended to chuckle.
Country bucks make their own code, the authorities shrugged.
Jake never heard a rule he couldn't bend, a law he couldn't weasel out of; but his approach to criminal mischief eventually became so creative that the State Police would get involved. He nearly beat me to his first real arrest; luckily his burns were severe enough that the judge overlooked the fire-bombing. An arson charge at twelve years old totally would have trumped my lowly B&E at fourteen.
Accumulative totals put his juvenile record way thicker than mine, so I call it a draw. Sure, he may have a few dozen violations for motor vehicle/farm equipment incidents, and a handful of community service hours for misconduct, and that stuff with beating a dead horse; but it just so happens that my charges were a little fancier than his. I got the judge that used big words.
Throughout our teenage years, both Jake and I cultivated a deep mistrust of the authorities and what I would call a "rebellious side" and what court documents called "a detriment to the community." We had grown rather close through a common goal of avoiding getting caught, and developing the knowledge of what to bring the other at juvie. Beef jerky is a strong bond.

Soon after my high school graduation, a string of things occurred that altered my trajectory. After a series of particularly troublesome visits by various detectives, sergeants, a pastor, and an old probation officer, I didn't see much opportunity to untangle myself from that life. It was high time I shipped up, shaped up, and wised up.
So I did.
And then I got knocked up, and then showed up at my brother's door. Well, it was my door. he had moved himself into my bedroom at Mom's. While I had entered my twenties trying to salvage some good from my mistakes, he had dropped out of school and started turning wrenches in a garage.

I had a daughter.
He had more motorcycles.

We put the crib in the corner of the living room, a worn brake pad under the left leg so it wouldn't wobble. Jake made a mobile by hanging an old stuffed Pooh from the wall by a noose; an effigy of time gone by. I went to work with Mom, she had opened a sewing and tailoring shop on Main Street in the county seat a few miles away. I learned the trade from my mother, with my own daughter in tow, and became quite skilled. I grew rather fond of sharing the days creating with Mom set to the backdrop of toddler giggles. A way perhaps, to repay all the tears that my illegal empire surely cost her.
Mom would start her day earlier than I, so each morning I would load the carseat into the back bucket of Jake's '85 Trans Am and he'd give me a ride to town. There was a nice little picnic area right next to the river and if the morning was nice, we'd stop on the way to enjoy the view for a moment.
And get so fucking baked.
Most nights after work, Jake and I would have a beer while Mom made dinner. Or Mom would take the grandkid for a walk in the woods while Jake drank beer and I made dinner. It pissed Mom off to have beer in her fridge, so Jake kept his 40's in a cooler on the porch. He'd drink one before telling Mom he was going to "run across the bridge" (his best friend lived on the opposite bank of the creek), and then you'd hear one of his motorcycles roar to life from the driveway.

I guess he grew tired of pushing them to the road before starting them.

I'm surprised they started at all, as many extra parts there were laying around. Jake had a dirt-bike, a street bike, and an old school bike. Every one of them was in a perpetual state of rebuild, and an entire fourth could be assembled with the leftovers in his bedroom. There were shocks on the floor, heat shields by the door; a chain for a paperweight, holding down the notebook pages of hand-drawn gears, and crayon-based wiring diagrams. A wardrobe in the corner leaned open from the weight of a frayed banana seat; brake cables coiled on the windowsill gave the image of a sun-seeking reptile.
I used to go in and lay on his bed while he was gone, having raided his stash and being quite ready to nap. I'd doze off now and then waiting for the whine of gears in the driveway to indicate I could drink another beer; waking every now and then to pull a headlight assembly from beneath a lumpy pillow, half listening to hear if the phone would ring and Jake would need a ride. Usually he was at a bar, or needed pulled out of some mud. Occasionally he lost his keys, or a wheel; and at least once a year he got picked up from the police station.

Every so often the phone call was different.
I'd tell Mom to keep an eye on my sleeping child before grabbing my "juvie-kit" (clean clothes, band-aids, pick, beef jerky) to make my way to help him out of a predicament of sorts. Sometimes it was an upside-down Ford Probe. Sometimes the DEA would be there in fifteen minutes. Sometimes the fire started "before he got there." Sometimes the paramedics don't know where the road is. Sometimes it was beating a dead horse.
Local law enforcement had wisened up a bit since the days of good old Officer Watson, and they paid attention to what Jake was driving pretty regularly. I've come to understand, in the years since he has died, that scrutiny probably contributed to his irrational cycling through motored vehicles. Every few months, Jake would work some ridiculous deal trading his wooden bed F150 for full-side Blazer and a snowmobile. Or his Camaro and a mo-ped for an Accord and a Ninja. At the time, I likely contributed it to his mechanical obsession; but now I'm more convinced it was to throw the law off his tail.

The call instructed me to meet him behind the Opera House.

In real life that's not nearly as dramatic as it sounds, but holy fuck. That's nice, right?
Like spies.

The Opera House was the old building on Main Street that housed, along with the barber shop and the health store, the sewing shop that I had come to call half my own. We had expanded over time and now had a larger shop, complete with multiple dressing rooms, for those days when both the town's lawyers wanted their pants hemmed. Or, gasp, two brides on the same weekend.
I showed up to the Opera House and unlocked the door. Out front. Without being seen. Because it was after 9pm on a weeknight and there's not a single motherfucker on Main Street. My paranoia convinced me that there might be a faint siren from the direction of the police station a few blocks away as I stepped into the shop, so I left the lights off and quickly made my way around the sewing machines to the dark exit in the back room. I turned the lock and kicked the bottom of the door to slide it open; years of ivy growth on the other side had long since claimed the doorway and concealed the entrance from unknowing eyes.
My eyes adjusted to the darkness of the alley to find my brother curled up to a wall tucked under a rusty, forgotten fire escape. His black Ninja Zx-6R glinted silently as he leaned on the seat, poised to flee if needed. Jake looked relieved as I brushed the ivy aside to open the door wider, and he offered a shit-eating grin as he maneuvered the motorcycle towards the door.

"Give me a hand, would ya?"

I moved to the left side and grabbed the handlebars to steer while Jake gave a push to get the front tire over the small step. It was close enough to not fitting without the added frustration of the clutch cable snagging on the antiquated lock of the creepy back door, but we worked with silent haste to move the motorcycle into the room. A few minutes later, the kickstand resting on a piece of discarded plywood, the Ninja was safely nestled behind the dressing room curtain.
Jake changed his shirt and we each sat at a sewing machine, noiselessly chewing on beef jerky as our heart rates returned to normal. Sporadically a set of lights would reflect through the shop window and my little brother and I would instinctively duck behind the desks, caught in the same game of Flashlight Tag we started when I was nine.
Once the street was empty again (it was a school night!), we slipped out the door and into the dark. Once in the car, Jake leaned over and pushed a few buttons on the radio, as if concealing a 400lb street-machine behind pastel-striped panels of fabric to avoid police detection was a perfectly reasonable evening. Neither of us spoke, and my gaze settled on the motorcycle helmet perched on Jake's lap. It tapped slightly against the gear shift as he found what he was seeking on the radio, turned up the volume and leaned back in his seat.

I looked out the front window and put the car in drive; both of us singing as Main Street faded from the rearview mirror.
"The first day of the rest of my life
 X stand behind the mic 
like Walker Kronkike 
Y'all keep the spotlight 
I'm keeping my rhymes tight 
Lose sight of what you believe 
And call it a night"

I miss him.