October 5th, 1974. 1:00 PM
I was just south of the Ohio border in what used to be the idyllic suburban community of Hadenville, Kentucky. It was once one of those miracle towns that sprung up quickly when the post-war economy of the 1950s was briskly making its way across the country and throwing out opportunities like some sort of money-spinning Johnny Appleseed, leaving nothing but growth and prosperity in its wake. But with all of the innovations in this suddenly fast-moving world, the factories that employed Hadenville’s residents eventually found themselves outdated, and figuring turnabout was fair play, turned their backs on the people who relied them.
Now the small houses stood on either side of the street like battle weary warriors, too useless and scarred to fight, but too hardened to back down. Decrepit and wobbling on their foundations, it was as if each were waiting for the other side to crumble so they could do the same without losing face. The chipped, faded paint and unkempt yards would normally be enough to convince one passing through that this was a ghost town, but being that it was a Saturday afternoon, a game of baseball was being played in the street by some of the local kids, and this – along with a smattering of various parents pretending to watch the game, while really just smoking cigarettes and gossiping – was a sign that life goes on, even in the most bleak of rural environments.
Not wanting to get in the way of the game, or have a homerun hit interfere with my car’s windshield, I parked Shirley about a block and a half away from the house I was there to visit.
Though each residence was remarkably similar in appearance, I didn’t need to study the house numbers to figure out where I was going. Four spotless, chrome-enhanced Harley Davidson motorcycles were parked in the front yard, and three men were tossing a football about, while another was in front of the garage struggling to set up a small barbecue grill. The men all had something in common in that they were in need of a bath, shave, and haircut. What really made them stand out as a team, however, was their clothing. Whether they were wearing denim or leather jackets, they each had on their back the same visage of a grinning demon placed below the word “Scalawags,” and above the phrase “Motorcycle Club, Kentucky Chapter.”
I cut across the front lawn, and walked in between two of the monstrous bikes while giving a friendly smile to the guy manning the grill. All the while attempting to ignore the almost-threatening looks he was throwing at me. I then edged my way between two women sitting on the steps to the front porch – a sort of makeshift, miniaturized bleachers where they were pretending to watch both impromptu sporting events – and was just deciding where to knock on the ramshackle screen door when my current customer saved me the trouble by swinging it open and giving me quite the painful slap on the shoulder.
“Mr. Louviere!” he said, though he pronounced it lew-ver, putting the emphasis on the first syllable. Then he yelled to the guy who was now pouring charcoal from a bag: “Jo-Jo, hold off on that ‘til I attend to my business.”
October 5th, 1974. 1:05 PM
Silver Jones was a silversmith. The first time I had met him, I pointed out the humor in this, and even though his laugh was loud and boisterous I could tell he had no idea what I was talking about.
Though he stood a couple of inches shy of six feet tall, his barrel chest, a voice that pounded through your heart like the bass drum of a marching band, and the fact that he was the undisputed leader of The Scalawags made him seem as imposing as if he were the top faced carved on a 12-foot totem pole.
As far as I could tell, Silver Jones owned four books, and it wasn’t the content that made them such indispensable possessions, but rather their page count. For they were being used in lieu of a missing leg to keep level the couch on which he offered me a seat.
“How’d you like a beer?” he asked. And in my four-word answer I made two mistakes. The first was, as I was so used to being offered coffee or tea I had committed to a positive response without hearing him complete the sentence. The second was in how force of habit had caused me to answer:
“That would be lovely.”
I’m sure there’s no need to point out why I considered this a rather embarrassing faux pas, but luckily Silver didn’t seem to notice. He just yelled to the back of the house: “Hey, Darlene, get our guest here a cold one, would ya?” Then, after turning back to me, “Now what I’m interested in today is some frilly stuff. You know, for the ladies. And I’m also making a bunch of those alligator clips with the feathers hanging off ‘em – you know, a roach clip for your doobage, or just to hang off your rearview mirror. I’m guessing some beads and stuff would probably look good on that, what do you think?”
“I think I can help you out,” I responded, opening up my display case.
“You see,” he went on. “Next spring we’re going to be hitting the road, going to a lot of the rallies. And I’ve made some new pieces -- again, for the ladies -- and I just need the proper accoutrements to kind of accent them. Hold on a sec, I’ll show you.”
As Silver left the room, his wife entered from the kitchen and handed me a cold can of cheap beer. Darlene was an unusually skinny woman with long hair that went down to about the center of her back. The bottom eight inches or so gave testimony to a bad dye job that she was currently letting grow out. On her left arm she had a tattoo displaying a bad rendition of a famous cartoon woodpecker who appeared eternally ticked off. What the hell are you lookin’ at?!? it screamed via a caption balloon above its head.
I immediately looked away.
“Now, take a lookie here at what I got, see if it gives you any ideas.” Silver had reentered the room, carrying a square piece of plywood of about two feet on each side. Resting on it were samples of his work in silver. He was a talented artist and a fine craftsman, there was no doubt about that, as each of his pieces showed detail and precision that was lacking in some of the more expensive works I had seen. His subject matter, however, did not really suit my taste.
“This one here’s an angel, you see,” he said, holding up the largest, about the size of my palm. “And she’s biting the head off this snake. I figure to put it on a necklace, and maybe some nice pink crystals, or maybe some freshwater coin pearls would give it a kind of a heavenly, ethereal feeling.”
“I’m sure I’ve got whatever you need,” I replied. “Let’s just put some things together and…”
“Oh,” he cut me off, holding up another piece of his oversized, silver artwork. “What do you think of this one? See, it’s a bat, but it’s got boobs, and is wearing a bra. Or maybe that’s a bikini top, I’m not sure.”
“That’s my favorite,” were the first words Darlene had spoken to me so far.
“It’s really…classy,” I lied.
“Yeah, I outdid myself on this one.” Then he just stared at it longingly for about 20 seconds.
October 5th, 1974. 2:30 PM
When Silver Jones asks you if you’d like a cold one, the word “one” apparently doesn’t mean any specific number. Each time I finished a can, Darlene would get up without saying a word, and bring me back another. Since she would open each can while still in the kitchen, I figured it would be rude not to accept them.
So, about 90 minutes and four beers later, Silver Jones had picked out all he needed to turn his chunks of silver into fine (his words) pieces of jewelry.
“If you ever get down North Carolina way in May, we’re going to be at a huge rally there. You should stop by and see what you helped me turn all this into.”
“If I do, I will.”
“No you won’t!” He slapped me on the knee hard, and his laugh was as strong and deep as a lion’s roar. “But that’s okay, you’re still a good guy. Hey,” he said, changing subjects faster than Darlene could open a beer. “Did I tell you about Lolita?”
I threw a look to Darlene to indicate that his wife, though silent, was still in the room; just in case he wanted to tell me about something he may not want his wife to know.
“I don’t believe you did,” I answered, more meekly than I would have preferred.
“Well come on, then, let me show ‘er to ya.”
And with that, he was up and out the door.
October 5th, 1974. 2:35 PM
Even though he was walking at a leisurely pace, Silver Jones’ stride was so that I had to jog slightly to even attempt to keep up with him. As we moved across the front yard, one of the men tossing the football yelled out to my host.
“Hey, Silver, come on man, can we eat yet?”
“We’ll eat when I say we eat,” he said, not even looking at the man. But then when we got to the garage, he yelled at the guy who had set up the grill and was now sitting in a rusted lawn chair and appearing quite bored. “Yo, Jo-Jo, what the hell you doing, man? Me and my buddy here are getting hungry. Light that sucker up.”
Silver then lead me into the garage, and pulled the chain of the single, naked light bulb which hung from the ceiling. It didn’t add much light, but the sun was streaming in through the garage door at the proper angle where I could see well enough.
The garage was noticeably better organized and cleaner than Silver’s house. But then again, I was sure he’d spent more time there, so it made sense in an odd way. Three or four shiny red tool chests were placed neatly against the walls, and above his workbench was a pegboard where the outline of each tool was now surrounding the apparatus it was meant to be. Off in one corner was an acetylene torch, with the hose wrapped tidily and resting on the top of the tank.
The most obvious object in the room, though, was right in the center of the garage, and covered with a grease-stained sheet. Silver walked up to the object, turned to me, cleared his throat, and trying to sound very regal said, “Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to present to you Lolita, queen of the open road!” And with that, he quickly pulled the sheet off of a motorcycle, as if displaying to a society crowd a masterpiece of art. And though I was not a crowd, nor admittedly of the society sect, what I saw would have to fall into the category of masterpiece.
Driving around the country as much as I do, I’d seen my share of motorcycles: small bikes, big bikes, new bikes, and old bikes. But never had I seen anything with a kickstand that was quite as stunning as what I was looking at that moment.
My mind was spinning over the concept that each of the parts that made up this thing would actually work in tandem to make it run. Each pipe, wire, coil and spring weren’t just for aesthetic purposes, they would really do something that would enable someone to ride this beast; they were where they should be to perform their task, and yet each one shined on its own, like a diamond in some ass-kicking tiara.
My breath had been taken away so that it took me a few moments to realize that Silver was talking. And since I had missed the beginning of what he said, and he was chattering away so quickly, I didn’t even try to keep up with him. Numbers, CC’s, parts, models, makes, and various phrases that began with the word “customized,” were coming out of his mouth with so much excitement, and at such a rate, that strangely I suddenly realized how I had sounded to my mother when, as a boy, I would come home from the theater and ramble on relentlessly about how much I enjoyed a cowboy flick. Eventually, though, Silver said something I could comprehend:
“So, what do you think of ‘er?”
“She’s, well, she’s beautiful.” And it felt good to be honest about Silver’s work for a change. “But what’s that?”
I pointed to the ground where there was a growing circle of liquid beneath the bike.
“Oh, crap.” Silver leaned down and ran his fingers through the viscous liquid before sniffing them.
“Oil?” I asked.
“Oil and gas,” he replied. Then he topped off his anger with, “Dangit!”
We both just stood there for several seconds, looking at perfection…with a leak. Now that Silver was quiet, we could almost hear the drip, drip, drip of Lolita’s life-blood seeping out of her.
“Well,” Silver said in resignation, as if I were the one needing to be consoled. “Whatcha gonna do?” Then, after a pause: “Let’s eat.”
We walked out of the garage, and the series of events that happened next is still a bit sketchy, so I’ll do my best at piecing it together from what I remember and what I was told later.
Jo-Jo had just finished soaking the charcoal briquettes with an amount of fluid dictated more by machismo than by what the label recommended. He took a step back, lit a match, and threw it at the pile of black cubes.
I ducked to my right as a whooof of flames erupted from the small circle of metal, and at about the same instant I heard the crack of a baseball bat followed by the warning “heads up,” a beat later.
I looked up and saw a baseball traveling at a rather high velocity in the direction of my head. I ducked and repositioned myself in a move that I thought was quite graceful, causing the ball to land harmlessly beside me. At this point I blame myself for consuming the beers that Darlene had given me, for my shift in weight was not nearly as polished as I had thought, and I lost my balance, falling on top of the barbecue grill. We both made a rather undignified crash onto Silver’s lawn.
I remember lying still for a moment, and realizing that the only thing I had really damaged was my pride. No immediate aches or pains, and I could wiggle my toes just fine. So I started to stand back up, rather embarrassed, and said to whoever gave a damn that I was fine.
“You sure you’re okay?” Silver said, giving me a hand up.
“Yeah, no problem.”
Then, as I was receiving my second dirty look that afternoon from Jo-Jo, one of the women sitting on Silver’s porch offered a bit of information. She said it as casually as one might tell another that their shoe was untied.
“You’re on fire, you know.” Then she took another drag from her cigarette.
Silver and I both threw a quizzical look in her direction, but it was Silver who put the words of the sentence into a meaningful sentence first.
“Oh, crap!” he said, and made a few whacks at my back with his hands before backing up away from me.
That’s about when I both understood the weight of what she said, and felt some heat on the back of my head.
I craned my neck, and noticed that I was giving a piggyback ride to a wall of flames.
I do remember spouting off a series of obscenities as I took my jacket off and threw it as hard as I could. I meant to throw it down, but instead I threw it upwards. Then, apparently, one of those crisp October breezes decided to grace us with its presence, and it took hold of my jacket, sending it straight into Silver’s garage.
Instinctively I ran towards the flaming garment, wanting to stop out the fire as soon as it hit the ground. It was around that point I lost consciousness.
I was later told it was due to the explosion.
....................to be continued.
© 2006 Brightlings Beads and M. Robert Todd