the true stories
Once I was sitting on the beach of the Gulf of Mexico. I was deep in concentration. The occasion was the building of my first sand castle. My sister had introduced the practice to me and this was my first solo attempt. In my opinion it beat the hell out of Lincoln Logs because one was not limited to work with pre-fabricated pieces.
The limitations were only governed by physics and as I constructed my ideas, gravity taught me what worked and what did not. I was around six or seven years old. Being prudent, I had chosen a building site far from the surf and well above the tide line. I was on a strip of Texas coast that runs from Galveston to Gilchrist.
Over the ambient sounds of the surf, the gulls and pelicans and the laughter of children that drifted on the steady sea-breeze, I felt a new sound in my body at the same time as I heard it with my ears. It was in the deep low register and I had never heard anything like it. I was facing South toward Yucatan and my castle sat between me and the sea.
The noise came from the West toward Galveston and I turned my head in that direction. Through the heat haze and salt spume, I first saw it as a mirage, several feet off the ground. Soon, I could properly make out the source of the ever-growing din. I had never seen anything like it before.
Like a herd of stampeding chrome horses vomited out of a thundercloud, came the better part of a hundred motorcycles. They were in a tight formation. It was a wedge-shape and there was one leader riding point. They were “tearing-ass”, as we used to say in Texas and the arrow was pointed straight at my castle. I stared at the chopped hawg in front. The sound was such now that it took over my body and the vibrations started to re-arrange the atoms of my young body. Electrons were jumping orbits, changing valences, creating new compounds and emitting sparks.
There was nothing to be done. The main body of the group toward the rear was too wide to ever outrun. I had not even time to stand from where I squatted. I looked at the man. He had aviator shades, tangled black hair and ear-rings. That is when I knew he wasn't going to change his course.
I pushed my feet in the sand to move my behind just enough to the North to not be hit by his foot-pegs. I watched his face and he smiled. The force of his wind bowled me over one whole revolution. I could taste the exhaust fumes and smoke. I anchored myself and spat. I watched the huge machine and rider get smaller and looked back at my castle.
One large track was all I saw and then the others were rushing past on both sides. They all held formation with the precision of an aerial stunt team and as long as I didn't move I was safe. I read the words “Bandidos – Galveston, Texas” on the backs of their jackets. Some had girls on their bikes and some of them whooped as they went past in a miasma of smoke, sand and thunder.
I disliked all loud noises and was frightened of motorcycle riders for the remainder of my childhood. Every time I hear the song, Ghost Riders In The Sky sung by Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, that morning comes back to me, clear as a Pyrex dish. I never held anything against motorcycles however, and I got my own motorcycle license when I was sixteen in Texas.
We are all being tested through our lives. There is also much seemingly random, inexplicable pure-d meanness. Or, is it? I was walking beside Wirt Road one sunny day in Houston, moving in the direction of the traffic. I turned around to look after hearing a car accelerating rapidly. A white car flew past and a black arm shot out its passenger window. With surgical precision, a hand connected with my chest, exactly over my heart. I spun like a top. The perfect red imprint of that hand lasted for about three days. I can still recall the man's laugh.
When I found myself in the throws of the 1982-3 recession in Vancouver, I moved myself into a hundred dollar a month rooming house in Burnaby. All that was left was my pick-up, my books, my stereo and my guitar. I was engaged to be married to my second wife but I refused to tie the knot till I had a career. I shared the hotplate with fifteen other people.
One guy was a stand-up comedian and very advanced in wielding the katana or Japanese short sword. He used to practice sword-fighting in full Ninja gear in the the back yard and one could hear him practicing his comedy act in his room in the afternoon. He had a maniacal laugh, a sarcastic pompous demeanor and was disliked by all.
The old Austrian woman who owned the place said she found him in his clothes closet after he first moved in. He was in a fetal position and unable to function. She pulled him out and fed him on latkes. He dressed well, was physically fit and handsome. I used to take his laundry to the laundromat in my truck because he couldn't carry it on his motorcycle.
There was a make-work program put on by the Vancouver City Police to help people re-qualify for unemployment insurance, as it was rightly called in those days. We were called Automark, and we marked peoples cars with etching tools and registered them to aid in returning stolen cars to their rightful owners and to prevent theft in the first place. We were given different locations and one day the crew was pleased to find out we were going to set up on the Park Drive in Stanley Park.
It was a beautiful day and the breeze off the sea was intoxicating. We all felt like bees full of honey and everyone talked of pleasant days they remembered from childhood as we worked. We were between Second and Third Beach and other than the Police cruiser parked with the sign advertising our services, all we had with us was what we carried.
Business was good for the first few hours and then it died down. Presently we heard two motorcycles. Everyone turned in anticipation of performing an etching on something other than a Honda Civic. I was soon surprised to see the comedian from my rooming house on his purple Yamaha and a beautiful proud looking Chinese girl on a turquoise Kawasaki. I told my crew I knew this fellow.
They rolled to a stop and let us mark their bikes. The gal began to head into Vancouver and the guy followed a short distance behind. After a hundred yards or so, he did something peculiar. He turned turtle abruptly and raced back toward the Lions Gate Bridge. Then he turned again, slowly jumped the little curb and opened his throttle, spraying fir cones and dirt.
He was on the shoulder and coming right at us. The people around me scattered behind the patrol car. I stood transfixed and utterly perplexed. I didn't budge and I'm not sure why I didn't. He made no sign of backing off. When he got about fifty feet away, he laid his bike down and it scratched to a halt a few feet away to my right. He slid in his leathers and nearly went over the embankment. As he gathered up his motorcycle, the gal returned and told him their date was over. Without a word, he roared off. It all happened fast. I couldn't explain anything to my workmates. I wondered, Why me? Why him? Why here? Why now?
A few weeks later, back at my rooming house, I was entertaining my fiancee. We were listening to my stereo and chatting at the little table and two chairs that were the only furniture other than the small bed. There was a tapping at the door. I rose and opened it. It was the motorcycle comedian and he was dressed in his Ninja suit. He carried his katana in its black lacquered case.
He entered the room a few steps and bowed. He went into seiza position (sitting on his heels) and ceremoniously presented me with his sword. He said it had it had drawn blood in battle and not to dishonor it in any way. As my fiancee stared in disbelief, he rose, bowed again and went to his room. He never spoke to me again and a few months later, my fortune changed and I was hired by Canada Post and moved out.
Another sword came into my life not long after and I will tell that story another time. A Spanish Officer's ceremonial dress sword. In between the two swords, I wrote this poem.
My blood sometimes whispers
The secrets of ancestral lands
My unconscious mass memory
Of the works of many hands
Of a place green and grey
Where there runs a restless sea
Three old women sit near a fire
While they weave my destiny
Steadfast, united, eternal,
All people who are my kin
Our arms are drawn for battle
And our cries still paint the wind
A man whose eyes spark hate
When you see him in the street
Has surely striven against you
And remembers his defeat
I have a gift from long ago
I can see what I don't yet know
I can hear what happened before
My foot traveled across your door
I can distinguish rich and poor
I invoke this ancient lore
When I need to reach beyond my yore
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.