Not even slightly about Harvey Weinstein

Decades ago, when I was younger and taller and faster and dumber, I found the big red Guzzi parked on a carpet of flattened beer cans and discarded condoms in the alcove under a staircase at our Mission-style barracks on Fort Sill, leaned down to the clubman bars, and rolled her out onto the wet asphalt.

Bill Doll’s 850T in Kansas City. My bike had a lot bigger fairing and a much smaller tail. Photo cheerfully absconded with from the most excellent Wild Goose Chase Moto Guzzi in Seligman, MO.

Nothing smells better than the air after an Oklahoma thunder bumper, and the shaven nubs of hair up the back of my neck bristled with anticipation as I pulled black, G.I. work gloves over my zipped-down jacket sleeves and snubbed up their wrist gathers. On post, I was ready fodder for work details, G.I. parties and generally getting my ass smoked, but nobody outranked anybody on the road. On the highway, I was freedom and motion and joy. I was a piece of my own mind. I was thunder after the storm.

With my chinstrap snugged down and firm foam pinning my ears back, I didn’t hear Sergeant Huggins at first, so he yelled again — and louder.

I didn’t want to be like Huggins and you don’t, either. Also he wasn’t a supervisor of mine. Just another NCO who pulled the short ticket and landed on weekend Charge of Quarters.

He was a sergeant, though, and I was but a butt-policing Specialist 4. That difference of just one pay grade was also the whole world. Huggins was a non-commissioned officer, a man who could issue lawful orders. I was a full-bird private, occasionally in charge of my own self and certainly no one else.

I didn’t like Huggins much. He was a loud, fairly stupid, overweight, African-American “supply daddy” who used his ethnicity the way he used his rank and his position as keeper of the stores: not as a lever to open understanding, but as a club to take what he wanted. From the balcony, he gestured sharply upward.

“Take off your helmet!”

It was Friday afternoon. Last formation had been released. My riding rig was in place and on-point for 80s America: jeans and a Langlitz jacket topped by a full-faced, flat-nosed, bright red Simpson helmet.

That Simpson roared like Boeing’s wind tunnel and gave me horrific headaches until I slivered out enough forehead foam to make room for my already scar-lumped, Neanderthal brow, but I felt so cool when I snapped down its sable-dark visor. Like a real rider. Like a man. Invincible. Proof against hailstones, Junebugs, social ostracization, and even (if I made it through the post gate fast enough) K.P.

Sighing, I reached out and shut down the T-3’s twin-points, Magneti Marelli ignition. I pulled off my gloves, diddled my double D-rings, opened my visor, eased off my specs to set them on the tank, then tugged the Simpson up and off my head. Army regs for combat-deployable units meant never having to apologize for helmet hair. In the sudden quiet, I looked up at him.

“Yes, Sergeant?”

“You listen to me when I talk to you!”

“Roger, Sergeant.”

“Why weren’t you listening?”

Because you yell just to get attention. Because I’m released from duty. Because I had a HELMET on, idiot. Because you’re not in my CoC. Because this bike runs louder than a self-propelled 155mm howitzer. Because you’re just bored on C.Q. Because…

“What can I do for you, Sergeant?”

Huggins grinned like we were suddenly bros or something, but he was in uniform and I could feel the minutes of my riding life dribbling away. The ozone was draining out of the air, and I had to go smell it before it was too late, pushing it up my nose like G-d’s noblest laughing gas. Ram air is for the edge of exploration, for that gravelly streak next to the shoulder of the 1.5-lane road winding up the side of Mount Scott, last thing you’d see before your wheels leapt for their final freedom and your life — or at least the valley floor — flashed before your eyes. I needed to go.

“Lemme ride your bike, man!”

“Excuse me?”

“Lemme ride your bike!”

“Um… sorry, Sergeant. I don’t really loan it out.”

Context isn’t always vital. Nobody needs to explain why you don’t just demand the keys to someone’s ride, but I will because what the hell? He’s probably dead by now or irrelevant like me, and Huggins isn’t his real name, anyway.

I’d saved the $1,600 for my Goose, found at a non-brand sport bike shop in Norman, over five long months that were bedeviled by a terrible fear that someone would buy it out from under me. It wore its stock tank, a hand-formed monoposto tail section with a diamond-tuck perch, low bars, instant-rust Brembo iron brake disks and a twin-headlight, factory endurance racing fairing for the apparent purpose of making the sidestand unusable so that it was risky to park anywhere but on flat, level pavement. Having finally decided that I wasn’t good at saving money, I sold my 4.11-geared, four-speed Camaro to buy the bike. Hey, a plan is a plan; not all of mine are well-considered.

“I ‘on’t care what you think you do!” He was scowling now. Sergeants — certain kinds of sergeants, anyway — take it personally when thwarted by their lessers. “You got da helmet right there!

“Lemme ride your bike!”

He was up on the balcony, yelling down. I was in the parking lot, pointed out toward the distant storm. There’s really nothing better than riding into a storm.

When I yanked my helmet back on, he started hustling down the stairs. I’d be lying if I said otherwise, so I’ll admit that my stomach fluttered. I am (or was) a pretty good boy. I lived by the rules; hell, I’d voluntarily raised my hand and sworn to live by the rules.

SGT Huggins reached the bottom of the stairs, grabbed the rail and pivoted around it. I shoved on my glasses, pulled on my second glove, and cranked the bike. Glorious, cracking throbs of internal combustion echoed out of the alcove behind me, under the stairs.

The stairs that were bearing Huggins in my specific direction.

My visor exploded with angry sergeant face. I glanced up from the tach, using only my eyes.

“WHAT are you DOING?”

“Going for a ride, Sergeant.”

“DON’T YOU RIDE OFF WHEN I’M TALKING TO YOU!”

My throat was pretty dry — must have been that darned ozone, or maybe exhaust gases — so I swallowed hard before wisping out, “I was released at last formation.”

“I SAID I WANNA RIDE YOUR BIKE!”

Right about there, I decided I was done. All the way done. Standing to my right side, he probably didn’t see me clunk the 850’s lever down into first, nor see nor hear it. She was a shaky, juddering, noisy beast, the Guzzi; she was all I had; and I loved her to an unnatural degree.

I looked Huggins in the face, tossed my so-called military career on the table, and yelled back at him over the pounding exhaust note.

“CAN I RIDE YOUR WIFE?”

It’s hard to kill a well-tuned Guzzi in first gear, no matter how scared you might be (not that I was scared, mind you). Huggins, not possessed of world-class reflexes, swiped at empty air when he tried to grab the stubby bar as it passed him, headed out to test the wet pavement adhesion of Pirelli Phantoms that vaporized every thousand miles in the southwestern heat.

Of course, I reported to the battery First Sergeant after PT and chow on Monday morning, called out to report after first formation. Our conversation was cordial and avuncular from his end, quietly observant from mine. It ended like this:

“What you need to take away from this is respect for NCOs.”

“Top, I absolutely respect–”

“You shootna raised your voice to Sergeant Huggins.”

“First Sergeant, did you hear what he–”

“Son, you cannot talk to an NCO that way, under any conditions.”

“That’s my bike, Top!”

“Not under any conditions.”

“Roger, First Sergeant.”

My first and only Article 15, it went unsigned into Top’s desk drawer and never saw the light of day again, as far as I know.

I pulled extra duty that week. It cut into my riding time, but I didn’t miss any thunderstorms.

The next time Huggins pulled CQ, I was his assigned ACQ. Never did find out whether that was at Huggins’s request, or if Top was just underscoring the point.

Huggins ran me all up and down the barracks and admin areas that night, doing chickenshit tasks from which CQs, who have a 24-hour duty day, are customarily exempt.

All night long, between smoke sessions and shit work, he jabbed me about my motorcycle.

“I wanna ride your bike.”

“Sorry, Sergeant.” I went on polishing the urinal flush lever to a high state of military preparedness.

Later on, we were sitting at the CQ desk together when he broke our uncompanionable silence.

“You gotta lemme ride your bike, Specialist. You know I love that thing.”

“She’s not running right now, Sergeant. Bad spark.”

“Hunh. Well, you let me know when my boots are ready. I wanna go for a ride!” He grinned at me. I dipped my soft, old diaper into the water, then kept on polishing. Tiny circles. You never really get anywhere, going in tiny circles. Wax on. Wax off.

We talked next in the second-floor hallway.

“I was just down there, lookin’ at your bike. Got the keys in your pocket?”

I pretended I couldn’t hear him over the floor buffer. He grinned and put his hand up near his ear. “Can you hear me?”

Putting my head down, I just kept on buffing. Shining the floor was a lawful order. When you’re part of the system, you do what you’re told.

None of this, of course, has anything to do with Harvey Weinstein, but it’s not about motorcycles, either.

Huggins didn’t even like motorcycles.

 

Comments

  1. Crisse en calice en tabarnak en toute le monde … (when the keyboard slider says français and it ain’t polite, you KNOW I’m pissed.) Not at you. It’s six kinds of illegal for him to hump your ass, but he woulda humped your Italian twin-cylinder girlfriend from here to Topeka but for the lack of keys in his meathooks… and given the power dynamic there would’ve been sod-all you could have done. At least your top was willing to sit on the 15…

    But that boy is what combat boots are *for*, other than walking.

  2. Y’know…I believe even as a PFC my response would have been. “How does it feel to want sergeant? Because you can want until hell freezes over. This is MY damned motorcycle and ain’t even god his own fucking self ever going to ride it. Much less a nonriding NCO and if you don’t like that I’m sorry. But that’s the fucking rules. MY RIDE and NOBODY not even my mother rides it. Do what you can but fuck no you ain’t riding it. I’m not being disrespectful, those are the rules. Deal with it” Yeah I was a pain in the ass private and a ball buster as an NCO….I never reached the exalted level of “DA promote and DA demote” because I didn’t politic and I didn’t cut slack.

  3. Montana Jack says:

    Great post, Jack. A major flashback to my military days. Nothing like it – I’m a too-young 19 hear-old in Nam, combat assignment, my dad has passed, and I’m on emergency leave headed stateside. Waiting for my flight outta Saigon, when a couple of Louies in fresh greens bust my hump for not jumping at the opportunity to carry their duffle bags for them. 47 years later and I still daydream about the responses I could have trotted out for them. I mean, what’re they gonna do? Send me to ‘Nam?

  4. Hey, Buddy!
    You know I respect the hell out of you being Army, and I even spent 3 months at Fort Sill myself in artillery training (USMC did that then; best fucking food I ever had; just a corporal and there I was eating Denver omelets, filet Mignons and carved tomatoes filled with curried tuna salad! This was the 80s and in the Marines you were allowed to challenge a higher enlisted rank in a smoker, or simply by removing your uniform blouse and announcing to other enlisted present that the fight was fair and agreed upon: it was impossible to back down, even if it meant a horrible beating. I tolerated a beast of a Staff Sergeant much like the ass-hat you describe who rode me for nearly a year before I peeled off my blouse and in front of six other cannon-cockers of my battalion i reduced him to ash; he got in a few good hits, he was much bigger but I had pent up so much rage as he had fucked with me so much for no real reason that in the end they pulled me off him.
    I think they should still allow that, Jack; I hate bullies but there are so many in the military and law enforcement; we should allow smokers, one man against one man, to settle shit that otherwise simmers until it becomes deadly.
    Your friend,
    Sean, USMC Ret.

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