Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Of Amulets and Things

It’s probably worth explaining about a much witnessed but little understood phenomenon that occurs among bikers.  It’s the wearing of various types of amulets.  These are items that, when hung appropriately on your person or bike, may or may not help you arrive safely at your chosen destination with bike and body intact. 

So, let’s run down the items a fairly typical biker (me) might carry on his person or bike.  This is not to say I am a superstitious person. I am not at all (yeah, right). Nonetheless, I don’t want to be caught on the road without something that just might matter. Having pointed that out, let’s take a look at the paraphernalia that adorns my bike and jacket.

First, the bike:  Shortly after I bought my first Harley, my family bought me a good luck bell to hang on it.  It’s a little thing about the size of a large thimble.  All of them look silver and there are hundreds of different designs.  As the story goes, they don’t work if you buy them yourself.  A loved one must give them to you.  All have the same purpose– to ward off evil things like accidents and potholes.  They seem to work really well for everyone who hasn’t had an accident and everyone who hasn’t hit a pothole… yet.

Gotta Have Metal… On the Jacket

Next, the jacket:  I have a leather riding jacket, genuine Harley-Davidson®, the Nevada model.  First let me point out something significant about this jacket.  I love it.  It is clearly one of the greatest leather jackets made by man and no, I am not getting any grease by mentioning this.

My HD Nevada is loaded with zippers and as a result, zipper pulls.  It has the regular front zipper, two front pocket zippers, two front ventilation zippers and two rear ventilation zippers.  It also has two zippers for cinching up the sleeves around the wrists.  That’s nine if you are counting.  Four of them are ideal for hanging lots of zipper pulls:  the two front pocket zippers and the two front ventilation zippers. The ventilation zippers, when in their usual position, are right at the two front snap pockets on the chest.  So here’s the rundown on what I have hanging off those four.

On the left ventilation zipper:  A silver Saint Christopher medal given to me by my wife Julieann around 30 years ago.  Hey!  He is the patron saint of travelers, right?  Also, there is a small engraved silhouette of Mickey Mouse.  This was given to me on a key ring 10 or more years ago by my daughter Samantha. The front is engraved with “Dad” and on the back it says “Love Sam 95.”

Sam was seven years old when she gave me that.  In fact, she would still be seven today if she would have minded my instructions to “stop growing” then.  I guess wanting her to remain a little girl forever is just one more thing I can’t have knowwhatimean Vern?  Anyway, these two gifts of love have to be good for you, right?

On the right ventilation zipper:  A small gold-encapsulated statue of Buddha.  A friend gave this to me almost 35 years ago.  He was a Thai kick boxer and we became friends while I was assigned at Utapao Air Force base on the Gulf of Siam with the Air Force.  In addition to my Air Force day job, I was working part time managing stock in the Officer and NCO Club warehouse and he was one of my crew.  He had a wife and two kids and they lived in a one-room shack on stilts. I was honored to be a dinner guest there once. 

In gratitude for the dinner, I later invited him and his wife to join me at the outdoor theater on the base and take in a movie.  It was a fine setting very near the beach.  It was fairly unique in that you could buy beer along with other more normal concession items.  In fact, we used to check the movie times to gauge the amount of beer we would buy. For example, if it was anywhere over 2 hours long I would buy a six pack.  If it was under 2 hours, I would buy 3 or 4 depending on how hot it was outside.

When we attended, I bought some popcorn and beer for the three of us and we proceeded to enjoy the show.  I recall he was so overwhelmed with the gravity of the occasion; he leaned over and gave me a Thai kiss.  This is done by placing your nose on the other person’s cheek and sniffing deeply.  I was pretty stunned by that act but then, I was also grateful I had remembered to shower that day. 

On the left pocket zipper:  A fairly large chrome ZZ Top logo.  These guys have made most of the good biker music that exists.  Also, a .44 caliber bullet, gunpowder removed (I think), that is affixed to a chain.  I can’t exactly explain this one.  I saw it in a small store in Virginia City, Nevada and thought it would look cool hanging off my jacket.  I guess these two are not purely for luck.  They are just there to help maintain the essential badass image.

On the right pocket zipper:  This is the granddaddy of them all… literally.  It is a hand-made brass fishing spoon with the hooks clipped off.  It has red and white feathers hung on it to help attract a fish. It is not really garish.  In fact, it is pretty tasteful looking for a fishing lure.  My grandfather made it 50 or more years ago.  On the back he used a hammer and punch to stamp the word “Tomy.”  That is because he made it just for me, though he forgot about the spelling.  I probably don’t have to explain why this should be considered a good omen, even though I have had mixed results with this one.

Hooked on Leather… Really

For example, a couple years ago, on a Fourth of July weekend in Tahoe, I was getting ready to take the Harley for a ride around the lakeshore.  I was on it and getting it all warmed up when I realized I needed to get something out of my right jeans pocket. It was pretty cold so my hands were a little numb, sort of anesthetized you might say.  Many would argue my brain probably was too.

So, there I was sitting on the bike, trying to jam my right hand in my jeans pocket.  It was a tight fit so I was being pretty forceful.  All of a sudden, the hook on Granddad’s fishing lure pierced the webbing between my thumb and index finger!  In fact, it was in past the barb, which meant it wasn’t going to come out too easily.  Earlier, when I had cut the ends of the hooks off with pliers to dull them, I had not removed enough.  So there I was, physically attached to my leather jacket.

I got off the bike, grabbed my tool kit out of one of the bike’s bags with my free hand and walked back to the room with my right hand literally stuck to my waist.  I went into the room and explained the weird occurrence to Julieann, Samantha, our good friend Don Brunelle and a couple other folks who were visiting with us.  So, there was a little shocked pregnant pause while everyone mulled over my stupidity and then Don and I set about trying to remove it.

First, we drove it through the webbing past the barb. Fortunately my hand was pretty numb during this part of the process.  Then we were trying to cut off the barbed portion with a pair of pliers equipped for that sort of thing.  It didn’t work because the hook was made out of a kind of tempered chrome and we were having a hard time getting good purchase on it with the pliers.  You see, my hand was in the way. 

Finally after a long time messing with trying to cut it, we broke off the offending barb by bending it back and forth several times at the base.  Then it slipped right through my hand.  

The whole process must have taken 15 minutes easily and I will bet my Grandpa, who passed away over 30 years ago and my Dad, who had passed away a few earlier, were both up there somewhere laughing at me the whole time. 

My jacket also has a riding angel pinned on the lapel.  My daughter Samantha gave it to me and it is there to protect me when I do stupid things.  This means I often call on it for support.

So there you have it.  Amulets and other assorted tacky stuff hanging all over my jacket and bike.  Hellofa deal, isn’t it?!

My vest is similarly loaded with stuff, including genuine signatures from Willie G. Davidson and his son Bill.  But that, as they say, is another story.


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