Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chapel Hill, N.C.: Schwag capitol of the world.

This story needs to move on a little more quickly so that we can be on-track with the XL600R theme soon, see, that's what this here blog is all about. It's not about my personal fantasies and stories as a child. It is about that bad-boy Bart Simpson attitude towards life, the spirit of adventure and of course, all of the neat toys that we utilize for our mischief whether it's a slingshot or a moped.

After job stuff fizzled out in Wisconsin, my Dad was in the midst of reading some "inspirational" books, such as In The Spirit of Business. Dogged by unemployment, my dad wrote the author of this book a detailed letter asking what he thought we should do next. To his surprise, the author wrote back. We lived under the impression that fancy authors of books do not actually write back to letters from commoners such as ourselves. What he wrote was detailed, warm, and sincere. He invited my Dad to come and check out Chapel Hill as a potential destination. I remember my Pops' excitement when he had a phone call from the guy. It was a bright ray of orange light in a life that had become dull brown and stale in the summer air of Wisconsin, up on the windy hill.

I started 5th grade at New Holstein Elementary that year. Our teacher, Mr. Preston, although similar in appearance to Mr. Dewhurst, gave us a lot of homework, no time to finish it in class, basically a paper pushing jerk by comparison. With my grades slipping, we decided to move to N.C. that fall.

When we got there it was a lot different. A cramped 3rd story suburban apartment, 4th and 5th graders in the same classroom under a teacher and assistant, Macintosh computers with our own personal 1.44mb disk labeled with our name on it, heat, lots of pine trees, Black people and ethnicities other than white, and a whole new set of colloquialisms.

The Minnesota/Wisconsin accent, "oah, heay, doantcha noa?", was replaced by a southern accent, "wutchoo talkin' about, boah?", and "Y'all" took the place of "you guys". Neither of these sets of cultural boundaries affected me as an original Michigander, but I sure was more accepted and looked up to by the Wisconsin kids than the North Carolinians.

As part of the whole slinghot-toting Bart Simpson boyhoood mischief that was a part of being a badass, I started to become fascinated by paintball guns. In 3 years time, I had myself a job stocking shelves to make enough money to go out to an official field and splat people with paintballs all day every saturday. Soon I had a paintball gun of my own, purchased by the one and only Rasheed Wallace...'s brother. It was a cool sport.

Later my brother moved down and started printing business cards. He had some printing experience starting in graphics class in high school, and he even made breathe-right strips on some similar equipment.

Anyway my brother quenched my thirst for beer around this time in my life. Moosehead, a canadian beer, is owed credit a the first beer I got completely wasted on, or for my becoming a man. I liked to smoke some weed too, which I did plenty of in High School since it was then easier to find.

I was going to enter a graphics class where I'd be able to learn some of the printing skills my brother did in high school. There was a mistake, though. The graphics teacher was double-booked in a Cisco Systems computer networking class. I had the option to join that class or not much else.

Cisco had us on a computer the whole time, and an online course was the main daily activity. They were not smart enough, however, to limit our internet acess to that site only. So this is where I got into 2-wheeled vehicles again. I asked my dad for a loan, and got on e-bay in my Networking class and looked at Tomos Mopeds. Sure, I failed the class, but I got the moped, so who cares?

It was a spray-painted blue Tomos Targa LX with a 50cc engine and 2-speed automatic. I putted around on it and got stoned when I could and even putted over to this chick from Alabama's house a lot and made out with her one night. It was so cool riding away from that, I felt like I was the man.

Later I witnessed the awe that was the Yamaha Zuma. It had a wider range belt variator that gave it the acelleration of several gears all in one smooth motion, and had way better pickup than my puny Tomos. Mike and Jenny were the owners of it, a really cool couple who I spent a lot of time hanging out with. I got to test ride it at our mutual friend Kenan's house, who was my neighbor.

I was green with envy when Kenan got one. I finally found one used for less than him, and didn't wreck it like he did, so I got the last laugh. I had to get another interest-free loan from my dad, and paid him back $100 each month, or at least most months. Lots of fun was had on my machine, and I even replaced the plastic floorboards with aluminum diamondplate, and made a rear box of the same. At it's height of tricked-outness, it had a 70cc Polini kit and a Leo Vinci exhaust, but I blew the kit because I re-used a piston pin clip. Back to 50cc. I also upgeared the final drive. I think I could do 50 on it, because I was still unlicensed though, I only tried that on the 45mph speed limit highway once, and I kept up fine.

I moved out of my parents house into a big party house. I worked at a bar in addition to my frozen yogurt job, and got half price drinks. I was making all my own food so between that and the drinking, I fattened up to 180, the most I've ever weighed. Not much, I know, but I just remember being like, "whoa, where the hell did that gut come from?" I eventually moved out with the urging of my brother since one of my housemates was dealing coke and there was a potentially serious ashtray/garbage can fire downstairs. At least I had learned to do VCT tile when I did the kitchen one month as my rent.

I moved back in with Mom an Dad for a while. Later I moved back out and into a small, cheap basement apartment that was only $450 with utilities. Best of all, thoug, was that one of my good friends, Dianna, lived next door and it was a cool little 1950s apartment building that the current landlord actually had a hand in building. In his 80s, he still did all the maintenance.

I had my s-10 truck at this point, but I wanted something better than my little old Zuma. I started reminiscing about the old YZ80 or whatever it was that I had originally ridden, albeit breifly. I remember lovingthat style, and decided an early-to-mid- 70's Honda XL250 would do the trick. I perused Craigslist every day, and even put an ad out. "Wanted: old Honda XL 250 or similar for $800 or less, needs work is OK." about 3 weeks later, I got an e-mail from a guy who had a 1983 Honda XL600. He emailed and said he had just contacted another guy looking for the same, and that if I got back to him first, it was mine. He told me that the other guy had gotten back to him first, but the plans to meet up eventally fell through. That guy had a family emergency and couldn't make it. So I got the complete bike for only $50! That was hardly the end of it though. i will never be able to fully add up all that I've spent on it for parts. It has been a labor of love, and well worth it, too! I now consider this to be the perfect motorcycle.

The Saga Continues...

Later my brother and friend were seen tinkering with several other bikes. One was a bigger bike. My brother was making me nervous with this one that he decided to take down the hill that we lived on and into the curve of our driveway as fast as possible. He made a bunch of attempts, why, I don't know. The best I could imagine was that he wanted to burn some rubber and tear tire around the curve. What he did instead was get a big huge scar that he still has on his shin, and give me a scare.

On one of his attempts, he leaned hard and tried to push the rear end of the bike hard through the turn, expecting it to skid. What it did instead was maintained traction, and flung him off the bike sideways, and his shin caught on one of the footpegs on the way over. I thought he was head, but he got up and exclaimed, "Shit!" and we observed his bloody shin and the deep wound. I was relieved.

In time, I got to ride a moped with success. I didn't jump it up the ditch like my brother and his friends did, or like I did on my BMX bike. I began to write stories about kids my age who posed as 13-year-olds in order to ride their mopeds around, and they rode all over, hopping up the mopeds, running into trouble, and getting out of it, making time to find abandoned houses, treasure, and junkyards to source parts for their bikes. I wrote the story all down on big paper. I was going to have my 4th grade teacher bind it in a book I had gutted, and read it aloud in class. He was a cool teacher and painted the solar system on the back of the classroom with paints he had mixed at the hardware store, gave us enough time to do our homework in class, told us the truth about facts of life "You will be offered drugs in high school", told us gripping stories about his coming of age, and read a little of a novel to us each day.

I submitted my story to him, which included apart about the boys on mopeds that was apparently controversial. See, i got so much into my writing that I forgot that a teacher was going to read over it. I gave him the story on my big sheets of paper to be later rewritten in a book that he was going to help me bind. My mom used to work at a bindery. He called me to the back of the class in a stern voice that made me nervous. It made me feel like I had done something wrong and I was in trouble. All I was doing was writing my little book. He said, "Joel, do you think this is appropriate for class?", in a voice that indicated that it clearly was not. "Umm, No?" I answered by default. He didn't really tell me if it was just a part of the story or the whole thing that was not appropriate for class, so I just clammed up. He handed it back to me and told me I needed to rewrite it and then he could bind it into a book and read it to the class like he said hw would. I was shocked and confused. What had I written that was so bad? I later read over it and I remembered that the boys were in the forest in one scene. They had just spotted an abandoned house, and were on the trail to it when an old man emerged from the forest. He asked "what are you little brats ding out here?", to shich the little boys replied, "shut up, you sack of crap!", and pelted the old man with rocks and peeled away on their mopeds. "That must have been what was so bad", I thought, "I used the word 'crap'". I never wrote any more to the story since I was so shy, and I was afraid of what Mr. Dewhurst might say, or what my punishment might be for writing stuff I wasn't supposed to write again.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Early Days

Between 1989 and 1995, my family and I lived in New Holstein, Wisconsin. We had just moved there after taking a trip to California that my Dad got fired from work over. There was some confusion over time off that he had been allowed, and then denied, by no fault of his own. As the old adage goes, "Fuck it, you only live once". My Dad had worked for a rotary broom manufacturer back in Michigan, and now we lived in Wisconsin so he could keep working in rotary brooms.

We lived on a 5 acre "hobby farm" with a 2-story house, complete with basement, full-sized barn and 2 sheds. I rode a BMX bike and listened to Motley Crue, AC/DC, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Candlebox, Collective Soul, Cypress Hill, and Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks. I drew my own version of the cover of one of Dan Hicks' records where the seductive-looking worm lady coming out of the apple is offering a pack of Marlboros, in Crayola markers. I watched Tale Spin, Goof Troop, various Warner Brothers cartoons, The Simpsons, and Home Improvement while I ate Cool Ranch Doritos in the Papasan chair with the afghan blanket. I played with my stuffed dog, "Yuppie Puppy", and my tape recorder at the same time. He offered advice on life and when my Mom yelled at me to to turn off the Led Zeppelin guitar solo, and I said that she was the one who should be shutting up, he agreed. "She sure should", he said, in a tone of voice not unlike Tony in The Shining.

One day, my brother's friend had one of these motorcycles made for people my size over. Like some of the other ones that friend had, he started it by sticking a screwdriver where the key goes and turning it on that way. One day I was walking around fantasizing about building my airplane to fly back to California in, or making a map that led to buried treasure. They were putting around on this Yamaha YZ80 or something, and I was probably jealous that I didn't have one, while also afraid to ride it. Once they offered me a ride, I sheepishly accepted. They taught me how to shift through the gears. The more weird modifications I saw that he had done to it, the more bashful I became. They had taken off the clutch cable, so now I not only had to slam it into gear to take off, but I also had to find my way back to neutral if I wanted to stop. My heart was thumping away as fast as that little 2-stroke engine probably was.

I climbed on, and gingerly snapped it into gear. Time stood still. The whiteness of the barn's foundation in the full Wisconsin summer sun dazed me. I looked down at the gear shifter and tried to remember what they had told me. "One up, two down. Or was it two up, one down? Two up..." WHAM! In a daze, I heard murmuring voices around me. "Whoa! Are you okay dude?" one of them said. I looked up to see the white barn foundation wall in front of me, a metal post right next to the wall, and the bike, with it's wheel wedged right in the gap between the two. They were impressed with my macho first attempt on a bike. After they knew I was ok, they turned to the bike. "He even kept it running!" My brother's friend was astonished that the engine had not stalled. They flipped it upside-down like it was a BMX bike whose chain needed tightening, and spun the front wheel to see if it was bent. "Nope!" They asked me if I wanted to try again, but I was scared of it now. They were nervously impressed with me, as much impressed as relieved that they did not get me hurt and have to explain it to Mom and Dad. I declined and went inside to watch cartoons. So I was off to a slow, shaky start.