Just outside of a town (who’s name I don’t remember) in the great state of Northern California there lived a while ago one of those kind of men who are apt to keep a .32 caliber pistol in his boot, an original ’48 Panhead motorcycle in the garage (both of which once belonged to his grandfather), a clan of lean cats living in the barn, and a swift to sleep duty dog laying in an overgrown yard. His stew (often) had more vegetables than beef in it and most nights he ate the remains cold with bread. Bean soup on Fridays, eggs and bacon on Saturdays, and an occasional chicken on Sundays (more as a delicacy than a rule) made up the rest of his diet.
His attire consisted of a couple pairs of overhauls made of heavy denim for working, three pairs of dark blue straight legged jeans for every day, a pair of leather cowboy boots made by hand by a local boot maker down Sonora Mexico way, a half dozen black tee shirts for the weekdays (though these all had tiny holes in them), a broad-brim cowboy hat to keep the sun off his face, and a good wool double-breasted suit and a shirt and tie for holidays and funerals. His homestead was moderate and provided him a meager living if he grew a cash crop.
His family consisted of his widowed sister named Anastasia, Ana for short, who was of around sixty years of age and who cooked (though not well) and kept house (about equal to her cooking), a niece not yet twenty by the name of Marie who attended the local community college and worked part time at the White Hen, and a boy of about fifteen named Benny who worked for him both in the field and at home and who could tune the Harley as well as use a cutting knife. The boy was no relation to the others but had come to live at the farm for a week as a foster child when he was five years old (for which the state paid) and because he had nowhere else to go he just ended up staying on (and the state kept on paying).
Our man was about fifty years of age and of stout constitution, but wizened and gaunt, an early riser and a heavy smoker with a permanent hack. He had gray chin whiskers so long they often became entangled on the steel buttons of his bib overhauls; this served to tears to his eyes at those unfortunate times. Only a few straggled hairs grew on his cheeks though he never shaved. His nose was red and nondescript; it had the look of having been broken and poorly set a number of times, which indeed it had been, most often after having consumed one too many shots of Jack Daniels with beer chasers and getting mouthy with someone either bigger or perhaps just a little less drunk than himself.
They say his surname was Johnson or Johnston (accounts differ on this) but if a person was pressed to say, it might be a reasonable guess that his name was Johansson. This, however, this has little to do with the story as most people just called him Jon. What you really should know is that the above named man in his leisure moments (which was most of the year) gave himself up with such passion and delight to reading books of sorcery that he almost entirely neglected planting a crop or working the farm.
In fact his craze for this type of literature became so great that he sold many acres of arable land in order to buy as many rare books as he could find on eBay and Craigslist. Above all he preferred books written by Carlos Castaneda, a disciple of the famous brujo Don Juan Matus and considered by many to be a great sorcerer himself. The clarity of Castaneda’s writings and the wisdom of Don Juan made him value those books more than his cats valued three day old bacon grease; especially when he read of Don Genaro flying around the tree tops and the apprentices lining up and jumping from a cliff into the blackness below.
He was not quite convinced that anyone could gather the totality of self while plummeting to earth in pitch darkness for no matter how great a brujo Don Juan was it seemed inevitable that the apprentices would end up a heap of bloody flesh at the bottom of the cliff. Nevertheless he praised the author for concluding his books with the promise of unending adventures. He often debated with the bartender Ned Turner at the local pub—a man of learning who had graduated from Notre Dame while manning the offensive line—on the relative merits of lucid dreaming.
Ned himself claimed to have dreams in which he knew he was dreaming and yet could act of his own volition and go where he would. But the barber, a man who went by one name, Boner, maintained that no one could interact with waking people while in a dream, and Ned himself had to admit the truth in the barber’s statement. This caused our man Jon a small deal of consternation but he put it off to his friends’ inexperience in such matters.
It was true that he had never yet managed to lucid dream even once, but every night before going to sleep our man carefully set himself up to look at the back of his hands as soon as he came to the realization that he was dreaming. It’s also true that he didn’t quite know how to go about setting himself up to see his hands so he lay in bed for several minutes with his eyes shut, visualizing the back of his hands. He’d been doing this for a year without success but he took comfort in reading where Castaneda wrote that it took Don Genaro ten years to see the back of his hands in his dreams.
In short, he so immersed himself in those sorcerers’ intrigues that he spent whole days and nights over his books; and so with little sleeping and much reading his mind dried up to such a degree that he lost his sense of reason. A rather steady regimen of smoking the most potent marijuana in the world (which he grew for medicinal purposes on the south slope facing the creek. At times it seemed to help fight the depression that set in after his wife passed on three years back) also added to our man’s state of general confusion to the point where he no longer knew for sure what was real and what was an illusion or if indeed it mattered a jot either way. Having lost his wits he stumbled on the maddest idea a madman ever stumbled on. He found himself compelled to become a sorcerer’s apprentice like Carlos Castaneda and his cohorts.
And since there were no sorcerers living near his home, he felt compelled to hop on his big two-wheeler (despite having no valid driver’s license for several years now) and head for the open road in search of adventures and magic. Having not ridden for many years, our man had to gather what he deemed to be essentials for the trip. His grandpa on the Jones side had once been a biker back before the lawyers and doctors came to dominate the road on their expensive machines and the old man’s leathers were still tucked away in Grandma’s cedar chest.
The old gal just didn’t have the heart to throw his things out after her husband had put down the bike to avoid a group of children crossing the road and slid into a guardrail headfirst. Though Jon was a tad taller than grandfather Jones, the leather jacket fit, as did the old boots. It should perhaps be said that the chaps looked as though the man wearing them was expecting a flood and the boots hurt his toes when he walked any sort of distance but he reasoned that since he planned on riding, not walking, the boots would serve him well.
No matter where he looked, though, he couldn’t find a helmet. Even though the great state of Northern California had no helmet laws, the renegade state of Western Arizona did, and so having no money to buy a new one, he resolved to construct a helmet from a WWI German soldier’s helmet that his great-grandfather had brought home as a souvenir. There was a bullet hole the size of a finger in the back of the helmet, it was stained red inside, and it had no visor, but he managed to construct one out of Plexiglas and clear tape interspersed with glue.
In order to test its strength in a crash he took up a miniature baseball bat with Head Tamer written on the side of it and struck the helmet smartly. The visor shattered into a dozen pieces with one of them flying up and striking him directly in the left eyeball. Not only did his eye hurt each time he blinked, it dismayed him to see how a single whack destroyed a week’s work. Nevertheless he set to work constructing a new visor, this time using spokes from an old bicycle wheel to give it added strength. Wiping the persistent tears running down his cheek from his injured eye and having completed the visor he put on the helmet, deeming it strong enough to withstand a minor crash, and without making a second test with Head Tamer he considered the helmet ready and road worthy.
On his orders Benny the boy spent two days tuning and cleaning up the old Panhead while our man spent his time smoking kind bud and thinking of a name for the bike. It didn’t seem right starting such a momentous adventure on a bike with no name. After considering hundreds he settled on Chiesa de Or San Michele, or just Chiesa for short.
This name he found on an old marriage license he discovered folded in one of the hidden pockets of Grandpa Jones’ leather riding jacket. The paper said the marriage had taken place in a church in Florence, Italy by that name and he liked the way it sounded as the words rolled off his tongue though he couldn’t be sure he was saying them right. He thought the name of the church sounded feminine and he always thought of bikes as women.
[to be continued...]