Monday, April 15, 2013

"M" is for Motorcycle

Today's post is an excerpt from the book I'm working on.  And by "working on," I mean "mostly shamefully neglecting."

A shaft of amber light filtered through the ancient glazed window of the shed and illuminated a sea of swirling dust motes. Jay sat on a stool at the motorcycle’s flank, leaning into his work as if he were milking one of the dozens of cows his father told him used to populate the farm. But instead of milk from an udder, he emptied ethanol from the float bowl of a carburetor.
His mind wandered as he worked, muscle memory aiding nimble fingers.  Motorcycle. It was his favorite word. Like his second-favorite word, rifle, it evoked its object perfectly. Rifle is slender and spare and handy. The rhythm of the word, with its heavy emphasis on the first syllable, is like a rifle's report and echo, or the cycling of a lever action. Motorcycle is even more rhythmic. In a happy accident, its four syllables mimic the rocking, reciprocating cadence of a four-stroke engine: COMBUSTION, exhaust, intake, compression. MO-tor-cy-cle.

Motorcycle. It’s a solid word, substantive. It has mass, but not too much. It conjures a rider's view of treetops passing overhead in the gleaming fuel tank and stubby chrome handlebars with black, ribbed rubber grips that the hands fall to naturally, as naturally as Jay’s feet fit in the old new-in-the-box Frye boots that Jason had dug up and given him. 

Jay felt the overpowering sense of how greater was his machine than the sum of its bits and pieces. What peculiar brand of alchemy did the Italian ingenieri and operai di fabbrica employ all those decades ago that could give such life to an assemblage of inert parts?

Even though Jay had grown up with the motorcycle his grandfather first bought new off the showroom floor after his return from the Vietnam war, he was struck by question of whether there was an odder thing for a twenty-year-old man to possess these days than a fifty-six-year-old Italian motorcycle, even if said possession hadn’t been illegal on at least two counts. 

These days, Jay's life seemed to him like nothing so much as an assemblage of oddities, so the motorcycle fit right in.



  1. Jerry ~ I enjoyed your excerpt. This line especially struck me: "It conjures a rider's view of treetops passing overhead in the gleaming fuel tank and stubby chrome handlebars with black, ribbed rubber grips that the hands fall to naturally..."

    I AM a motorcyclist. And, I know this view and feeling.

    Annis xo

  2. It's hard to explain, isn't it? But we try.

    Thanks for being such a faithful visitor.

  3. Guess it's a guy thing, though once years ago I rode an old motor cycle that had a side car...pretty cool. A-Z

  4. Don't tell that to Annis, above, or to my sister-in-law. Although, in fairness, they probably don't wax rhapsodic about drum brakes and cooling fins.

  5. I am fascinated by motorcycles, though I have never ridden one. John Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Maintenance, the subtitle of which is An Inquiry into Values. Sounds like your book may be headed in a similar direction. I look forward to reading it some time.

    1. One of the purposes of my book is to try to convey that fascination to people who aren't interested. It's years since I've read Zen, and I've purposely not read it in order so that I can honestly say I didn't plagiarize it. But maybe I should read it again; it would be embarrassing if I had the main character set a flock of red-winged blackbirds aflight on a ride! I think what Zen did was "give me permission" to write a gentle, quiet book that doesn't pander to those who require continual, high-octane entertainment. I do remember his exposition on quality; that stuck with me.

  6. Very nice. Thanks for the excerpt. A man and his bike, what else is needed?

  7. Thanks, Joan. Agreed; one of my phrases from the first chapter is " in balance on two wheels." Or woman, of course. Right, Annis?


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