You’re not gonna believe this one…
It was a mild spring day and I was taking the shortcut through Jimmy Daney’s backyard to get home. Jimmy and I lived a block and a world apart, and that’s why I loved him like a brother, even though we were only 16. Jimmy did not have an easy life. His father wasn’t in the picture, his mother was an insulin dependent diabetic, and he had to protect his sister at every left turn because she was overweight and the butt of many sad and snide remarks at Kingston High School.
But Jimmy had skills. He was a paper boy and a paper boy has to bang on the customer’s door and collect the money owed, not the excuses proffered by middle-aged big-gutted lazy guys who should have shaved three days ago. And Jimmy got his money. Jimmy had an Alaskan Huskie as a pet, and they were as inseparable as any boy and his dog. Think: Timmy and Lassie. Tommie Rettig never had it this good with Lassie – and Tommy Rettig was a friend of mine later in life when we both found ourselves designing software in Los Angeles in the 80’s.
Jimmy’s mom, as sweet and kind and gentle as a mother could be and asked me and Jim to help move some stuff into the basement. Didn’t take but 10 minutes. She opened up that tiny purse that women of the 50’s carried and gave each of us 20 cents. Jimmy was smart, he took his loot upstairs and promptly deposited it into his piggy bank. I was dumb and took mine over to the Miracle Mart for a bag of popcorn before dinner.
Something was different that day as I approached our home. The garage door was closed. It was ALWAYS open. My heart began thumping because I had more than inkling of what was being concealed. I had been after my parents for months for a Honda, a Sport 50 for sure. No sissie step thru’s for me. My heart started beating like a Mariachi band as I yanked on the garage door handle.
Inside was a pitch black Honda Sport 50. The One. The ONLY ONE. We had made several trips to the Honda store in Wilkes-Barre, and the somewhat slimy salesman Art had a habit of giving out one of the four keys on each bike’s key fob to a prospective buyer to entice them to take the plunge. They only had one white one, and one black one. White motorcycles were for poofters; so I pointed to the black one and negotiations were complete.
A couple of weeks before my birthday Art called and asked if I could come down to the shop again. It was a full court press by him to take the white one -- since he had already given a key to the black one to another potential customer. He even let me take it for a ride. I sure was hoping nobody I knew saw me; didn’t want to hear anyone pointing and screaming “Look at the poofter on that white Honda!” Nobody ever lives that down…
I went back, handed Art the keys and shook my head. That was that.
Just like cars, motorcycles have that ‘new car smell’. I groveled my mother for the key, promised to be safe, and started riding it around the block to get familiar with it. On my first circumnavigation I ran into Ira and Marvin heading home from school. They oohed and ahhed and Marvin chimed in “Can you do a wheelie for us?” I had no idea what they were talking about but after a bit of explanation I let it rip.
With the engine revving high, I popped the clutch. Immediately the bike went vertical, and I went horizontal. Unhurt, I quickly yanked the bike up on its feet and started looking for damage while Ira and Marvin howled in laughter (that they were able to make me look like and idiot). Fortunately, aside from a bent mudflap on the rear fender (easily fixed) my scooter was undamaged. With my BP and respiration slowly returning to normal I rode home.
I was the only kid in school with a motorcycle (I know calling 50cc a ‘cycle is a stretch, but no one could take that away from me). I was also the only kid in school who got a parking ticket the first time he brought the bike to school the next day. I left it boldly out in front of Kingston High School for everyone to see and what everyone saw was the ticket wedged underneath the passenger strap on the seat.
Now instead of having just Ira and Marvin laughing at me, I had the whole school. The next day Mr. Warner (our public speaking teacher) pulled me aside and led me to the back of the school. He showed me a spot he secured (with the principal’s blessing) for parking my Honda right outside his classroom where he could keep an eye on it for me. No way to repay kindness like that.
On Saturdays me and Jimmy would ride down to his uncle’s gas station down on South Main St. I helped pump gas, fill tires, and check the oil on vehicles in need. My mother was furious. Good little Jewish boys don’t work in gas stations. I wasn’t that good…
My pay was a hot dog from Abe’s across the street. How sweet it is. I learned rudimentary mechanics from Jimmy’s uncle, a friendly but sometimes gruff guy who didn’t suffer fools easily.
One weekend, me and Jimmy on my bike met up with Gordy Pethic on his Sport 90 (Gordy outweighed me by at least a hundred pounds and needed those extra cc’s), and Victor Perado, who rode a 50cc two stroke step-thru. We were a fearsome team, riding the Bridle Path down by the Susquehanna River. We loved the whoop-de-do’s – we got to get airborne for a moment, and that was as exhilarating as your first wet kiss.
Victor did something that day that no one in the past 50+ years has ever believed. But we were there, and we saw it, and it happened. Vic ran out of gas on his two-stroke. It would have been a long push out of the trail and up the dike back to concrete.
If you’re not familiar with the two-stroke engine, it mixes oil with the gasoline to burn and lubricate at the same time. They made a plume of noxious blue smoke that followed you wherever you went. Maybe it was bravado, maybe it was the last recourse against the thought of the long push home. Victor popped open the gas filler cap and gingerly balanced himself on the seat like a high wire act. He then unzipped his fly and began to pee into the gas tank! The birds stopped chirping, the crickets hushed up in reverence for this clearly once-in-a-lifetime-insane-gesture. Even the carp in the river held their breath for a moment.
Victor jumped off the seat, buttoned up the gas tank and hit the kick starter. THAT MOTORCYCLE STARTED RIGHT UP. In awe and reverence, all creatures large and small gave a tip of the hat to Victor as we rode back and up the hill. He made it home that day. We never spoke of it again. Who would believe that urine and oil would fuel a motorcycle? It would have been easier to tell our friends that we had been abducted by aliens or witnessed a dead body rise from the grave. They might have believed that.
But whizzing into a gas tank and riding home? That’s a stretch, I know. Four of us were there. Three of us witnessed it, it happened, and I doubt it will ever happen again -- but the stars aligned in 1965. If you find yourself over the dike near the river in Kingston, Pa., take a seat on the nearest tree stump and hang on carefully. If you listen very-very-very hard, you will hear the crickets still chirping about it.
Crickets don’t lie, ever.