On to Madrid, Chapter 8

 

          As I headed south and began to pick up a hint of spring in the wind, I believed that my hard times were behind me and that new and good things were up ahead. Feeling good on the motorcycle, passing through the towns along the Bay of Bayonne and seeing spring flowers in window boxes on  houses; all the beauty of the road healed the loneliness of the previous months.

          It wasn’t long before I reached the Spanish border north of Bilbao, the heart of the Basque country, Pais Vasco. All of a sudden, I was hearing Spanish instead of French and it felt warm and familiar. It was getting dark as I passed through Bilbao. Men in berets were on the corners and sidewalks, people going home from work. The road was thick with trucks and diesel fumes which actually smelled good to me.

          On the other side of town, I found a place to stay for the night and had a meal served by a Spanish girl about my age. Boys she might have known were not staying in hotels, however modest, or riding a new motorcycle. They were in school or, more likely, working. And my blazing red hair stood out. We had a couple of words as I tested my Spanish. Luckily, I couldn’t remember how to say, “Will you marry me and have my babies?” My upbringing, thick with fairy tales, gave me the ability to see things as they should be, or could be, or would be but rarely as they are. This has its own beauty in the realm of feeling. And so, with the Spanish waitress, I could imagine all her feelings for her without her help, and was almost persuaded to settle down right there. But I pulled myself away, tragically, and with scenes of Romeo and Juliet playing in my mind, I fired up my steel horse and pointed her south to Madrid.

          The early spring weather was still cold even in Spain and I found a mountain range between me and my destination. In the Sierra de Guadarrama, north of Madrid, there was snow on the ground in places but the sun was out and not much wind. I passed through piney woods where sunlight cut through the dark straight trees and made the forest floor glow. At the crest of the mountains, I could see the road to Madrid stretching out before me.

          A blast of warm air hit me and the cold was gone as if I had suddenly entered a different world. The sun sparkled and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky as I started my decent. The road itself was new, with long gentle curves and not car in sight. With all the hard miles left behind, I cranked the throttle and flew down that mountain at a hundred miles an hour yelling at the top of my lungs “Yahoooooooooooooo!”

           Before I knew it, I was traveling through the outskirts of Madrid seeing signs that said, “Veintecinco Anos de Pax,” ( twenty-five years of peace), a reminder that Francisco Franco’s fascist rule had kept order for the twenty-five years since the Spanish Civil War.

A Bat

 

In Bangladesh

He got in through the mesh.

It was a bat

A bat rolled up in a mat.

Was he dead or just in bed?

estivating or maybe meditating.

 

He looked mummified.

I had to clarify.

He was quiet;

too long on a diet.

No mosquito no fly

had passed by

while he took his rest

in that comfy nest.

 

I picked him up.

He felt cold.

He looked old.

I took him up on the roof

and, just for fun,

put him in the sun

to soak up the rays

of that equatorial day.

 

Slowly he woke.

I gave him a poke.

Crawling on little bat feet,

far up from the street

up there on the roof,

and then…….poof.

He was in the air

without a care,

flying in circles around me,

flapping his wings mightily.

I was with him entirely.

 

Just a couple of feet off the ground

he flew round and round

round and round

with a flapping sound.

 

He got his bearing.

I was just staring.

He shot straight out.

I tried to shout,

“Hey, you were a wreck

And now you are just a speck!”

 

Ricker Winsor

Bali, Indonesia 2014

 

 

Culture War Scene 1

 

Buddy: “Hey Maureen, what’s the holdup with the pancakes? Get your ass over here and at least warm up our coffee.”

Junior: “You can’t talk like that Buddy. Come on!”

Buddy: “Relax limp dick. Didn’t you ever hear of Italian foreplay? “Hey Marie get over here!” Ha Ha Ha. Maureen is ok. She is used to it. The only reason this dump has any business is all the men sitting at the counter looking at her ass making pancakes.”

Junior: “Maybe so Frank but didn’t you ever hear of women’s lib and what is appropriate and so forth? Sexual harassment?”

Buddy: “You commies better watch your ass or we will round you up and send you to Guantanamo.”

 Junior: “Take it easy Buddy. I thought this was a free country. You can say what you want, first amendment and all that.”

“Maybe but it has gone too far Junior: Black Lives Matter bullshit, homo marriage, men becoming women. What will be next?”

“It’s not 1950 anymore Buddy, sorry to tell you. The world has changed and still changing more. You can’t stop history. It is like a big wave. You either go with it or you drown.”

“When we were kids, we could say the Lord’s Prayer in school, the Pledge of Allegiance: One nation under God. The Libs won’t let that happen now.”

 “Like I said Buddy, “The Times They are a Changin” to  quote Bob Dylan. How right he was and never more than now when it is all happening so fast.”

“Trump was trying to get us back to core American values. What a fine man he is.”

“How can you say that Buddy? It amazes me that people can’t see him for what he is, an ego-driven liar who only thinks about himself. He represents everything that is wrong with America and the American system.”

“I could say the same thing to you Junior. How can you not see that he has the best interests of the country at heart. America first!”

“We don’t live in the world by ourself Buddy. We all are in it together. If we don’t understand that, we really are doomed. Nothing will make it more clear than the consequences to the environment happening now. It is sure to get worse every year.”

“Don’t panic Junior. There are more fish off Montauk than ever and the water in the Sound is cleaner than it has ever been in our lifetime.”

“Yeah, maybe Buddy, but if you look at the bigger picture it is not so pretty.”

“A Commie like you probably thinks China is better. They are the biggest polluters in the world.”

“They have lifted millions of people out of poverty since 1949, millions. Definitely it wasn’t easy and a lot of people suffered. But they did it and part of how they did it has to do with the pollution you mentioned. Energy, factories, jobs, pollution, like that. Now they are focusing on cleaning up the environment. They realize they have to do it.”

“You can’t believe anything they say Junior. It is all controlled. Nobody knows what is going on there.”

The Lonely Cafe

           In the Catskill Mountains, in a tiny valley between two steep hills, there is a small café on a flat spot next to the road. I refer to it as The Lonely Café. In the morning Maureen and Clara serve sourdough pancakes to hard working men who grub out a living in the hardscrabble area. But not all are local. Some others have their breakfast there from time to time.

          The Lonely Cafe is only a couple of hours from New York City and people come up to visit the famous health spa and fat farm in the town, or to fish, or to spend time at their second homes in the country. Every morning I start my day there reading the paper at a corner table and listening to conversations.

In Paris with No Money Chapter 7

          The rain stopped sometime in the night and a reasonable morning followed. After cleaning my bike and thanking the people at the hotel I headed for Paris with no money but with enough gas to get there. I had the address of a man Mark and I had met on the boat. That was all I had. His name was Bernard Goode. He was a waiter who had worked at a French restaurant in New York.

          Bernard was living with his family in an old apartment building in a poor neighborhood. It was a long walk up many flights to the one room three people called home. Bernard’s wife was there. She had heard of me and Mark, but Bernard, who spoke some English, was out working until late at night and her son was still at school. So, she parked me next door with the neighbor whose name was Florien. He was happy to greet me and invite me into his room which was even smaller than theirs. And we commenced to try to communicate.

          He showed me pictures of his favorite cats from the past and pictures of his favorite friends, men who had visited Paris and enjoyed his company. This was all beginning to challenge my naiveté and make me nervous but I kept hoping for the best. Florien had a shelf of curios and statues above the bed and a statue of Adonis. He kept pointing to it and poking at my thigh as if to say my thighs were as nice as Adonis’s, a great compliment he seemed to think. I did whatever I could short of slapping him to signal that I didn’t like that kind of attention but it wasn’t working.

           Hours passed and Bernard was still not home. The inevitable moment arrived, bedtime. It was a small bed. I told him, “I’m sleeping on the floor.” He protested and said he would sleep on the floor. That was ok with me. But as soon as I was drifting off to sleep, sure enough, he slid in between the sheets. Not wanting to panic, I hoped for the best. And he was behaving himself. I couldn’t sleep but I was very tired and eventually I began to drift off. And then….

I felt a hand reaching over to grab for my cock. I bolted upright like a jack in the box on a tight spring. My head hit the shelf over the bed and all the statues went into orbit. I know some hit the ceiling. Florien flew out of bed and hit the wall. He was terrified. I told him “You stay on that floor or I kill you.” By the way, you can say this in any language and people will understand it. Actually, I felt bad because I scared him so much and he was a nice person. But I finally got a good night’s sleep.

          Next morning Bernard was home and his son too and I told them I wasn’t spending another night with Florien. They understood and the four of us shared their little space for the next two nights, the son and I on the floor. Their son, Andre, was a good kid, a bright kid who was interested in everything. He was about sixteen so we were actually close in age.

          Eventually, I reunited with my friend Mark who took me to his little place. I immediately collapsed with chills and a fever and then a long, long sleep, more than twenty-four hours. When I finally woke, I was ok again but my condition had scared his landlady. She wanted me to leave. My restlessness drove me on toward Madrid where, at least, I knew the language.

On the Road to France, Chapter 6

          Even Italy is cold in March and this was England. My leather jacket kept out the wind but my dungarees didn’t. There was no windscreen or fairing on that classic motorcycle I was beginning to love so much. I got as far as I could toward the English Channel before pulling into an inn that was also a pub. I didn’t have much money and I couldn’t get any more until Paris. I took a cheap room and ran the bath but found that, by the time it filled up, the hot water was only tepid. I got in and stayed as long as possible but couldn’t get warm. After a sandwich at the pub and a dreamless sleep, I was ready early the next morning early to head for Dover, to board the ship, and to France.

          Finding some rags, I cleaned the cold March mud off my precious Triumph, shined her up, and got on the road. And this time it wasn’t long before I saw the white cliffs of Dover shining from a sun break through the heavy gray clouds over the English Channel. I was on the edge of hypothermia. The power of a few sunrays and a calming of the wind were welcome and important. I saw the beauty of those chalk cliffs, the sun lighting them, and felt the warmth spreading over me at the same time. On the boat I found a warm bench near the engine room and fell into a dead sleep.

          On the other side, in France, I drove for a while to get away from the congestion of the port and found a café where I could warm up and get something to eat before the long leg of the trip coming up. I didn’t have much money left. A spoiled child from a privileged and sheltered background is not well prepared for certain realities of the world. At that café I paid with my last traveler’s check and accepted the change in francs with perfect trust.

          The road was cold again as I traveled south to Paris. France wasn’t any warmer than England and it wasn’t long before I had to pull over. There was a frigid, light rain falling. The only shelter was a big haystack in a field and a storage shed which was locked. I wiggled into the hay for a while but that didn’t work. I had no choice but to move on.

          The rain got worse and night closed in. I was freezing when, finally, I got to a small town with a little hotel and café. That was when I realized I had been cheated earlier and that my money was gone. Only the goodness of the French people in that cafe saved me. They could see the shape I was in and gave me a room in the attic somewhere and a little food. In the café, someone bought me a couple of glasses of wine that warmed me while the freezing rain outside poured down in torrents. Maybe the people in that café were warmed too by their own kindness. It was a nice moment for very weary stranger on the road. I slept in peace in the little attic room.

Lonely in London Chapter 5

 

          I had been living in a lonely room in a boarding house. I walked up five flights to get to it. In the two months I was there, I don’t remember seeing other tenants. There was a hot pan where I cooked lamb chops and a shilling meter for heat. It was cold and, with that heater, only one side of me got warm at a time. The cleaning lady was my only friend. I heard someone in another building practicing the piano.

          It was a big change in my life becauseI realized my introversion, actually enjoying my days alone at the museums and the films and the theater. But I was young and lonely too, so much so that I would see someone on the street and be sure I knew her but also know with my sane mind that it wasn’t so. I was just lonely. I kept moving, doing things. That saved me. I went everywhere in London.

          Finally, the money came through and with my fist full of cash, I hustled over to the far side of town to the Triumph shop and bought the bike, a leather jacket, boots, a helmet, a pair of goggles and gloves. It was evening by then. I had the guy at the shop drive us both over to my boarding house.  I only theoretically knew how to operate a motorcycle. Added to that was the pressure of a couple of other facts. My landlady was on the warpath because I was a day into the next month and she wanted me to pay the whole month. Basically, I told her,

           “It ain’t gonna happen.” She countered with,

          “You bloody Americans think you own the world.” And I said,

          “Yeah, maybe, so what?”

          The other fact was that I had luggage and a guitar, which wouldn’t go on the motorcycle. I didn’t buy saddle bags, (probably because they didn’t look cool), so I had to ship all of that ahead to Madrid, my final destination. This had to happen fast before my landlady could figure out how to squeeze me for the rent which, by now, I didn’t have anyway.

          That night I was up very late reading the motorcycle manual and up very early getting my bags to the train station and then, finally, trying to start the motorcycle and make my way to the English Channel and the boat to France.

          The motorcycle started and I began to know how to drive it in the London traffic and to feel a little more empowered and excited about the road I was on, what it would lead to up ahead. And I didn’t even have a change of clothes.