More Bread for Mopping: Eating with Jimmy

fat kids

“Two fat guys walk into a restaurant…”

I don’t know what the punchline of that joke would be. It’s been so long since I lived the actual setup. The last time I had lunch with my friend Jimmy was over seventeen years ago. I miss our time together, our unhealthy attraction to food, my guilt for pigging out on the stuff and his utter shamelessness for bingeing.

I met James Tatsch at a party of Tower Theatre and Showcase Cinema employees way back in 1980 when I was a new Tower employee. I was my usual wallflower self–not talking to nearly all of the guests since I had just met some of them as fellow floor staffers and the rest being complete strangers to me–some Showcase Cinema floor staff and the remaining friends of Tower/Showcase employees. I would find a corner in this Midtown Sacramento house to inhabit or just walk around aimlessly–rarely stopping at a cluster of chatting attendees. At one point I wandered into a bedroom with a one-sheet of Lina Wertmüller’s 1974 film “Swept Away” on the ceiling. There sitting at a desk playing one of those now considered “old school” wooden labyrinth games was this morbidly obese man–older than anyone else in the party by at least fifteen years. (Yeah, that doesn’t seem much now that I’m 60, but the difference seemed significant at 23.) His isolation, WearGuard clothes, ankle-supporting leather hightop shoes, and his advanced baldness also added to his years, I suppose.

While I was stared at the sexy movie poster, Jimmy said hello. I said hello back and a perfunctory conversation ensued. While we talked–he working the labyrinth game and I staring at Mariangela Melato’s body. He rarely looked up when he spoke that night. He said his name was Wolfgang, a reinvention moniker after Wolfgang von Goethe–a name I would refer to him as until the last ten years of our friendship when I began to call him Jimmy–the name his family called him. I thought Jimmy was more endearing than Wolfgang or James.

He would only make eye contact briefly after he lost a game and just before he fetched the ball from the return and resumed the game. Was that rude? I don’t know. I liked that he was not so intensely engaged in our conversation. It provided an easy way out if it got uncomfortable and anyway, I was too transfixed by Mariangela Melato’s body. Later, I would find Jimmy fascinating, witty, charming, and–ultimately–tragic when others found him either weird, uninteresting or repulsive. Over the next thirty years, I found that most people chose one of the latter qualities rather than agreeing with my assessment of the man. We would become famous friends with many negligible things in common and one big one: we both liked to eat!

This post is about our friendship and mutual love for stuffing our faces. I originally wanted to write a comprehensive history of our friendship. Thanks to my poor memory I settled on the beginning and what I’m afraid is the end of our friendship and one element in between.

I have struggled with my weight since settling down with my wife. That’s not her fault. I have always been a little on the thick side. By the time I was in college–occasionally living (and nearly starving) outside the home–I was probably at my best weight. In fact, when I met Jimmy I might have been near my best weight. Yeah, I’ll blame my weight on him.

A few years into my marriage (in the early 1990s) I had gotten used to home-cooked meals again and was getting far too comfortable watching TV after dinner until bedtime. It was at this time Jimmy would come over about two or three times a month. We would sit and chat and often fetch fast-food dinners for the whole family. Other times he would buy some exotic food that he would share with my wife and I after the kids went down. We would sit at the kitchen table–Jimmy testing the tensile strength of the wooden chair he sat in–and chat and eat into the late night. So it was logical in that environment that I would gain weight.

Perhaps the best example of how the consumption of food was the bond between Jimmy and me was the night we chowed down somewhere in the ballpark of a dozen Jimboys Tacos. My wife had called from work or shopping to ask what I wanted for dinner. I replied, “Just bring home a shitload of Jimboys Tacos. Wolfgang (Jimmy) is here.” She didn’t disappoint. Jimmy and I ate somewhere in the vicinity of a twelve beef tacos along with some taquitos and plenty of Jimboy’s fake guacamole. We also emptied a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke (being on a diet and all).

It’s funny how, at the time, my wife thought that the whole scene was grotesquely humorous–two fat guys going through a sizeable greasy-orange bag of taco and taquitos, our bald foreheads glistening with sweat from the hot sauce we didn’t spare. Those days are long gone. Now, whenever I down a large flauta (basically a giant taquito) and prep myself for Flauta No. 2, she says in, with absolutely no humor in her tone, “You’re not going to eat both of those?” She’s right, of course. I’m a lot fatter and older than I was when I ate all those tacos and I need my wife to remind me of that, but I miss Jimmy and the free-wheeling taco jam; and hey, why did she buy two of these things when she’s eating a taco salad?

Then there were the excursions. About twenty years ago I had to surrender my driver’s license to the DMV after I started experiencing seizures that are usually suppressed by the medications I have been taking since I was twelve. This problem, it appears, has passed and I have my license back, but for nearly ten years I was at the mercy of my family and the horrible Sacramento Regional Transit District to get around. Jimmy–always wanting to be the hero–offered to take me out to lunch every so often and help me run some errands. We would sometimes go shopping at off-beat places: Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese markets where Jimmy–a student of linguistics–would try his hand at understanding the help that didn’t speak English. I bought stuff that I would have never purchased for my family. I’d show it to the household and Jimmy almost always took it home with him.

We would sometimes go to Morant’s Old Fashioned Sausage Kitchen where I would buy him some sausages and buy some landjäger for myself that I could take to work. (The stuff would keep without refrigeration for over a week!) Along with his bouts of Manic Depression, Jimmy suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and an obsession to know virtually everything there is to know German sausages. We got kicked out of Morant’s once because Jimmy asked too many questions and when the butcher at the counter was through answering questions Jimmy dished out some of his choice sarcasm and the butcher told him to take a hike, shooting me a look like I somehow insulted him as well.

Whenever we went to a sitdown restaurant I had the misfortune to have an attractive woman wait on us. Despite his looks, Jimmy was a charmer, but his charm didn’t woo the waitresses. They always said their boyfriends were at the bar or waiting outside in the car or was “a line cook here–right on the other side of those doors”–pointing at the swinging doors as if to say if I scream he will hear me and kick the shit out of you. These waitresses would tell this to Jimmy as he continued asking them questions that got more and more personal. They always kept their cool but I couldn’t help thinking the replies to these queries were thinly disguised “back off, fatso” lines, and that these smoke signals were also intended for me, too, though I usually kept my face buried in the menu.

And if Jimmy was serious about flirting with the help his ordering completely obliterated what remote chance he had with these ladies. He ordered as if he were feeding two people and a small child. Jimmy also asked a lot of questions on various items, keeping the waitresses at our table and away from their other customers. The kicker came when we finally ordered he insisted on keeping the menu–on one occasion having a tug of war over the menu with the waitress. Jimmy won, placing the big laminated thing between his gigantic ass and the chair. (I dare you to try to snatch that menu now, flustered waitress!)

The weird menu-hoarding thing was because he had to “pavement checked” the menu before surrendering it. It was his OCD–he had to thoroughly scan the information and the actual physical menu before he felt secure enough to relinquish it. Also, he always ordered dessert. No matter how embarrassed I was, I also ordered something after our large lunches.

Bread was another thing. Whenever we ate at a restaurant that served a complimentary basket of bread, we would buzz through at least two baskets. Jimmy would stuff the un-eaten slices in his “bagatelle” (a double entendre for the brown paper bag he would carry with him everywhere that contained his glasses, a magnifying glass, tissue paper–trifles). He felt absolutely no shame in requesting additional baskets of complimentary bread. The waitress would come by asking “Is everything alright.” Jimmy would always be polite and say “Oh, yes!” or “It’s all excellent. Thank you.” Unfortunately, he took that time to ask something about the waitress: how long had she been working there, what kind of earrings was she wearing, does that ring signify you are married? As embarrassing as this was, he would always top all of this by waiting until the waitress was about two tables away before yelling, “AND MORE BREAD FOR MOPPING.” I wanted to slink down under the table grabbing my Penne Rustica and the remaining slices of bread on the way down, of course.

I ran into a clip from Louis C.K.’s FX TV show “Louie” and immediately thought of my lunch dates with Jimmy. I’m not sure how the reader feels of C.K. after his gross sexual misconduct. I am sympathetic of his and all other victims of sexual misconduct, but I also am selfish enough to wish the whole thing didn’t happen so he can keep making standup specials, TV shows, and films like the indefinitely shelved I Love You, Daddy. Anyway, below is a clip that is the closest thing I have ever seen on TV to my lunches with Jimmy. Jimmy would be Bobby, Louie’s friend: utterly shameless in his gluttony. I would be Louie: willing to stuff my face with my friend, but self-conscience about it.

For some reason, the lunches with Jimmy stopped. Maybe Jimmy ran out of places where he was welcome. I’m not sure, but around that time I got a scooter and I was pigging out on burgers alone and reviewing them for this blog. One of a few big reasons I do so few Burger Scoot reviews these days is because the empty chairs around me remind me of our Saturday lunches. His visits to my home were also on a less frequent basis.

In 2010, Jimmy overdosed on Lithium–a prescription drug his psychiatrist prescribed for his manic depression–which he had been taking irregularly since before I met him. I dropped in on him at the request of a mutual friend who could not reach him and was worried. I found him in a horrible state. I called 9-1-1 and saw the EMTs haul him off in an ambulance. I visited him in the hospital a couple of times. When he was discharged from the hospital his sister picked him up and delivered him to an assisted living facility in Washington. I called him about a year or so after he moved to his new residence, but now his medications were being managed by professionals and I was no longer talking to my old friend. It was like the meds killed the manic part and left him just depressed. I spoke with him a second time, but there was no change. He didn’t want to talk very long and I suppose that was a good thing: the old Jimmy–the Wolfgang I met at that Midtown house party back in 1980, the guy I ate a shitload of tacos with and got kicked out of Morant’s with–was gone.

As I type this Vivian, my lab mix is eating her dinner behind me. It hasn’t happened yet, but as soon as she wolfs her food down–not too different from the way Jimmy and I would attack our food–she will drink some water. When she is finished lapping up the water she will return to the empty kibble bowl with her wet mouth and lick the bowl clean. Aah, there she goes! Vivian doesn’t need bread, her tongue does all the mopping.

I miss my friend.

jimmy2
After a Sacramento Symphony concert in the 1990s, I believe. Jimmy is center with his Women’s Philharmonic t-shirt, I’m on the right laughing my ass off at something I wish I could remember. Our mutual friend from the D.C. area, Carl “Mad Dog” Hattery, is on the left.

The Wobblies Past (and Present, I guess)

IWW

One night a few years ago I showed a 2-for-1 coupon for a local pan-Asian restaurant to my son. I wanted to know if he had visited the restaurant. He is a pescatarian, and places like this noodle restaurant are right up his alley. “Yeah, I’ve been there–many times,” he said. “It’s good. Our local chapter of the Wobblies meets there.”

Dad’s jaw dropped.

I wasn’t surprised that he would be associated with something like the Wobblies (Last time I checked he was still a Marxist.) I was shocked that the Wobblies were even around!

A week or so later I asked one of the officers of my local Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) organization if he knew the Wobblies (or the Industrial Workers of the World or IWW) were still around. He said yes, with a cynical chuckle. All I had to do was look online. The IWW has a presence on the web, but unlike popular political organizations like my DSA or progressive political parties like the Party for Socialism & Liberation and the Socialist Alternative party, the Wobblies don’t get a lot of coverage in the alternative press. Their history, however, is more vibrant than any other progressive organization in America.

Established in in 1905, by William D. Haywood of the Western Federation of Miners, the great Eugene V. Debs of the Socialist Party, and Daniel De Leon of the Socialist Labor Party, the IWW was comprised mostly of unskilled farm workers, miners, and loggers–many of these people immigrants. Unlike other unions, the IWW welcomed all working people–immigrants, minorities, women, and the unemployed. They advocated the overthrow of capitalism, placing workers in control of their own work lives. The IWW used walk-out and sit-down strikes, boycotts, slowdowns, and other forms of direct action to achieve their goals.

This excellent interview Arvind Dilawar did in Jacobin with the coeditor of a new anthology, Wobblies of the World. leaves out the IWW’s current activities and focuses on its significant past. This history of the organization is fascinating and–to a socialist like me–ultimately frustrating. This book is now on my shortlist along with Wobblies: A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World Edited by Paul M. Buhle and Nicole Schulman.

True to its name, the Industrial Workers of the World spanned the globe — an international history that has long been forgotten. IWW supporters in the early twentieth century. Even Americans familiar with labor history might be surprised by the slogan of the Congress of South African Trade Unions: “An injury to one is an…

via Wobblies of the World, Unite — Jacobin

Hi-V and my ugly safety vest

Early this month I had my third near collision on my scooter with a car. This time just like the first time the driver of the vehicle pulled out of a parking lot to cross my lane only to notice me too late. Thanks to me I stopped in time and didn’t hit the car’s left fender and go sailing over the car’s hood. And like the first time, the driver remained in my path–presumably gathering their wits. The first time this happened I was pissed, but calm and gave a kind of sarcastic bow with a flourish of my left arm as if to say, “Oh you first. I insist!” The third and last time, I violently waved the car away multiple times as if saying, “Okay, so you didn’t hit me. Congratulations. Now, get the hell out of my way!” Yeah, I was a little rattled. The third time was a charm. When I got home, I pulled the Hi-V vest from the hold under my saddle and put over my riding jacket and hung that jacket in my closet–as if the ugly safety vest was a part of the, previously, cool-looking jacket.

When I first got my scooter, I attended an intensive motorcycle safety program. The program was comprised of a night of classwork, followed by two full days of hands-on training at the company’s course with the company’s own motorcycles. If you pass the rider’s test at the end, you are given a learner’s permit. All you have to do from there is pass the written DMV test and you get your M1.

Easy enough, right? Alas, like everything in my life, nothing comes easy. Back in the mid-70s, it took me five times to pass my driver’s test. (No, gentle reader, that’s not a typo FIVE times! That’s got to be a record. Also, I almost killed the DMV employee the first time.) It also took me multiple attempts to pass my written motorcycle test back then. So you won’t be surprised to find it took me two times to pass the final riding test in this class. The permit cost me a crash & burn finale and a cracked rib!

The thing that has stayed with me well beyond this one of a multitude of humiliations in my life and the pain in my chest that came with it was the acronym I learned in the classroom. It has become a mantra whenever I catch myself daydreaming while I ride: S.E.E. or Scan, Evaluate, Execute. The Scan part is ongoing and should never stop, but the mind does wander. If the Evaluate is followed by the Execute it happens in a split second. If it doesn’t, you are either dead or the truck that almost crushed you had your Guardian Angel behind the wheel. Either that or you did some fancy maneuvering.

A second thing I remembered was the depressing stat that over ninety percent of all accidents involving motorcycles happen in intersections. (So much for being safe by staying off the Interstate.) The final takeaway from the motorcycle safety class was for the rider to always be visible to the surrounding traffic. That’s where Hi-V comes in. Hi-V, HiVis, or HV means high visibility wear or measures. I wore some Hi-V when I first got my Vespa with a learner’s permit–a cheap synthetic, black and fluorescent jacket that was always uncomfortable and hot as hell in the summer. I still use it from time to time since I can cram it into the hold under the saddle. Later I bought an expensive, bulky, but a breathable black jacket with a tiny fluorescent bead across the upper back of the jacket and no Hi-V element in the front.

OccupyI loved this jacket, but I knew when I tried it on I would need more Hi-V and I had just the thing for it. I was an armchair supporter of Occupy Wall Street–supporting the movement monetarily. I bought American-made products for the protesters through Occupy Supply. Occupy Supply, like the movement, is long defunct, but I was proud to support the campaign even if no one ever asks me what’s that design on the back of my safety vest mean. The problem is, you can’t make a safety vest look “cool.” I’m sure if anyone took a second look at the design on the back of the vest they probably thought it was some CalTrans sign or maybe a cryptic Seal of the Fraternal Order of TSA Operators. Occupy Supply supplied the Occupy activists in Zuccotti Park and in the other protest centers. If you bought two tents, they sent you one and another to an Occupy center in need. I ended up ordering a few items then I just started posting them money, when I could.

Time past and the vest got to be a pain; I would forget to zip it up and it would flap in the wind. When I had the time to pull over and zip it up, it would be rolled up into an impossible mess under my arms. I finally stowed it. After this last incident, I found the thing where I had left it. I also found this website that shows how critical high visibility motorcycle clothing is.

Oh, for the sake of inclusivity, the incident between the first and this last episode involved traveling in the left lane of a two-lane, one-way street (J Street in Midtown Sacramento, for local readers) and the driver on my right decided to change lanes with me presumably in his blind spot. The car forced me off the road not before I slapped the back door of the sedan before heading for the gutter. (I’m not a horn person and so forgot which button it was.) I have nightmares wondering if I would still be alive if we were on a four-lane, two-way street and he pushed me into the on-coming traffic. The kid behind the wheel turned out to be a student driver with a very embarrassed and apologetic mom trainer. The scariest thing about this situation is I could have been wearing a fluorescent clown suit, my helmet a revolving disco ball and it wouldn’t have made a damn bit of difference.

Another reason for the heightened concern with visibility, independent of the last incident, is that I have been racking up more miles than usual and many of them in the dark. I started an early-morning exercising regime recently. Before I turned over this new leaf I was commuting to work via bicycle and most of that commute was on bike trails and roads that saw very little traffic. Now, with the mornings so cold and the family not wanting my alarm to go off early enough for me to make it to the club on time via bike, I have been forced to ride my scooter. That doesn’t sound like a scooterist, does it? Well, it’s just the law of averages: the more I’m on the road, the higher the chance of an accident. And add to that the fact that it is dark–I’m harder to see.

This commute is not a scenic ride either. I love riding my scooter, especially on the River Road (California State Route 160) and Garden Highway, but I usually try to avoid the more mundane rides–especially when it is dark. Oh, and in case you didn’t know I don’t drive, so taking a car in is out. Why I don’t drive is directly connected to why I ride a scooter, but that’s a long story. Perhaps for a different blog post.

“But Jack,” you might say. “There’s the public transportation system.” This is Sacramento, I reply bitterly to the visitor from Chicago or NYC. We have SacRT–one of the most poorly served (and ironically expensive) transportation systems in the country. No, there is not a line near me that will get me to the club on time. Cabs are too expensive times three days a week and don’t you dare tell me to Uber it!

Maybe I should get me one of those belligerent stereo systems for motorcycles and have it installed on my ride. I could crank Slayer to eleven and play it all the way to the club in the five o’clock hour. Even some of the names of these products scream, Hey everybody, here I come, an asshole on a motorcycle. Don’t hit me!: “Reckless,” “Thunder,” and “Rumble Road.” At least they would know where I am. I also noticed most of these systems are waterproof so they will work on personal watercrafts. Aah, those things assholes ride wide open around 5-mile-an-hour limit boat landings. Got it!

The motorcycle safety trainer who failed me had a much more elegant way of listening to music (and chat on the phone) that would not help me here at all–a Bluetooth helmet. So he sounded pretty hypocritical in the classroom when he told his students they need to “always be listening to the traffic.” I guess the physics of traffic didn’t apply to him.

My friend and fellow State of California employee, Dave, does not like Hi-V. (Well, to be honest, neither do I. I just consider it a necessity.) Dave is a member of the Resurrection MC, a “one percenter” so a Hi-V safety vest would obscure or completely cover his colors and all the motorcycle clubs colors–their back patch and rockers are a critical part of their identities. Considering how dark they dress fluorescent green or yellow would just not cut it.

Dave was in a horrible accident some months back. This incident has absolutely nothing to do with visibility since he hit a car from behind when attempting to split lanes at high speed and the vehicle in front of him suddenly stopped when he was executing the move. His Harley hit the corner of the car and spun the bike violently around. By the time he hit the road he had five broken ribs and a broken shoulder. He walks with the assistance of a cane for now. I spoke with him about my latest incident and how I was now wearing a Hi-V vest. He gave me a dirty look and said something like I’m not helping to combat the specter of mandatory Hi-V legislation. Sorry man. I just can’t get into walking with a cane or in an electric wheelchair.

When I got my first promotion in the State of California, I was working in a small courier unit with a guy named Hector. Hector was a bit of a wild guy. He once rolled his girlfriend’s Honda Civic down an embankment. I don’t know the details. He could have been driving defensively and he swerved off the road to avoid worse damage. I’m betting he was pushing the edge of the little car’s envelope and he pushed too far. Years later, after he moved to a different agency, I attempted to contact him for information having to do with a project I was heading. I found out he had got in a motorcycle accident and was now a quad. I don’t know the details of that crash only that he was on a motorcycle. That’s enough for pause.

Then there’s my friend Mathieu and his accident. He was hit from behind at a stoplight by a woman in a Mercedes SUV. The big truck catapulted him and his small scooter six feet into the corner of the SUV in front of him where he bade his ride adieu and careened off to the right about 15 feet to the asphalt. Miraculously, he suffered no broken bones—just bruises and cuts and his recent back operation mercifully held. I wish I could say the same for his little red 50cc Yamaha Vino. The scooter folded in on itself–like The Hulk had played it like an accordion. Like a lot of riders (including me until recently), he wasn’t wearing any Hi-V wear, though one wonders if it would have mattered since it happened broad daylight.

And that’s the rub. Mathieu might have been hit even if he was lit up like a Christmas tree. The driver could have been texting or giving a Thumbs Down to some song that started on her satellite radio. I recall riding home on my bicycle just behind a guy with psychedelic-looking wheel lights on both his wheels along with a blinking headlamp, a flashing tail light, and a fluorescent-colored helmet and lycra top. A car came out of a parking lot and nearly hit him (and me) stopping at the last second. “Jesus Christ, how many lights do I have to put on this fucking thing until people can see me!” he yelled back at me in frustration.  He was right, but most likely the driver just wasn’t paying attention.

Update on Mathieu: he recently purchased a used SSR 150cc scooter. It broke down on the ride home from the seller’s house. A bad omen for any bike, but especially considering it’s a Chinese scooter. He took it to the right guy–the local legend of vintage scooter techs, Tim from Midtown Scooters. Mathieu rode it into work yesterday. He plans on applying a minimal Hi-V solution–reflective tape on his jacket. I’ve investigated the tape solution, 3M makes a Solas tape that seems to be popular.

So to avoid nightmares like Dave’s I keep lane-splitting to a bare minimum. As for Mathieu’s unrequested launch ‘n’ crunch, I am wearing a Hi-V vest, but am looking for more solutions to either add to or replace my current preventative measures. I have a black helmet and am thinking about maybe some of that reflective tape Mathieu plans to use. There are standard retroreflectors (like the kind that come standard on bicycles) and then there’s flashing lamps. The battery-powered LEDs for a helmet look good, too.

One idea that does not come from a DMV manual or a motorcycle safety program, but from the world of bicycling in traffic is waving your hand in the air in the situations that you may think a driver cannot see you. The idea is if retroreflectors, fluorescent riding gear, and even LEDs don’t get the driver’s attention movement will. This may work for bicycling, but I wouldn’t want to lose even a little control when I’m on my scooter.

So, I wear a safety vest, and as long as I don’t notice it and drivers do, I’m happy–I guess. Still, whenever I see my jacket with the vest the first thing I think is CalTrans, not a smart-looking motorcycle jacket. Of course, the other option is looking into Hi-V accessories for my scooter. I’m investigating fluorescent wheels or fluorescent-wall tires, but that’s a lot of money. There is also tape for your tires or wheels. My top case has retroreflectors on the back, but there are some top cases that have LEDs in them hooked up to the electrical system so they give drivers behind the scooter extra break lights and directional signals. Call me vain, but I would like to keep my current top case because it is the same Portofino green as the rest of my ride. (If my Dad had a grave he would be rolling over in it about now.) I’m passively looking into lighting up the retroreflectors so I can keep my current top case. I’m also looking into other measures for my ride, but it kills me to turn my beautiful Granturismo into a rolling neon “Eat at Joe’s” sign. I guess it’s all about balance.

 

 

Rolf Soltau and the Vespa Tech Workshop I may never use

I was looking up something about my Vespa. In grand Jockomo fashion I had forgotten what a particular indicator light meant on my scooter’s instrument cluster and after failing to find the information in either the Google or Google Images results I pulled up YouTube and entered the same criteria.

When the results came up, I saw something that instantly reminded me of my father and his legend, of my struggle with making new friends, and of the icon parked in my garage–the thing I’m trying to figure out, the thing I will never really figure out. I saw an image of Rolf Soltau on a Vespa. Rolf Soltau: Preceptor of the American Vespa Technician.

Immediately, I was taken back to the first rally I ever attended, IL Inferno Scorciante Due (or The Hottest Hell 2) hosted by the Vespa Club of Sacramento (VCOS). It was July of 2010, and I had recently purchased a used 2005 Portofino green Vespa GT 200L. On the Friday-night Meet & Greet, Billy, a member of VCOS, had walked up to me at Bonn Lair, an Irish Pub here in Sacramento, and shook my hand as if he meant it. He was so friendly, making it his honor to introduce me to all the club members that I nearly didn’t believe him when he said No to my query about becoming a member of VCOS.

It was Billy who, on the second day of the rally, introduced me to Soltau. We were now at The Shady Lady. Billy yelled in my ear over the music something like “I want you to meet Rolf Soltau,” as if I was supposed to know who Rolf Soltau was. Soltau looked like any guy in his mid-70s or so, but he was surrounded by adoring scooterists–many of them young enough to be his grandchildren. As Billy and I came closer, I heard others mention his name in reverent whispers. It was Déjà vu in the dark. Replace Vespa owners with Keaton Boat owners, The Shady Lady with a boat ramp or the Stockton Ski Club and Soltau with my father and it was the same thing. I was not fully aware of it at the time, but I was in the presence of a living legend.

Rolf Soltau was born in Hamburg, Germany. (As a student of journalism, I’m a man of dates, but as a particularly poor student of journalism, I haven’t been able to find an obituary or a death notice on the man. I only know he is dead because I accidentally stumbled upon the sad news in Modern Vespa one night some months ago.) It’s a crime that Wikipedia.org doesn’t have an entry for the man, but no one has come forth with enough information to post one, I suppose. (I would think someone at Vespa Club of America or his own Vespa Club of Los Gatos (VCLG) would have enough information to at least start a post. Hell, maybe if I ever find a death notice I’ll start one!)

Soltau worked for Porsche from around 1951 to 2000. In 2000 Piaggio (the company that owns Vespa) approached Soltau with a five-year contract to spearhead a training program for Vespa‘s newly formed North American division. Soltau trained over 700 technicians in five years across the U.S. and Mexico on how to fix these iconic scooters. He would go into semi-retirement in 2005 and work five more years in a similar capacity before finally hanging it up in 2010–around the time I met him. Soltau was living in the South Bay Area most of the time he worked with Vespa and, in retirement, was the celebrity (and I would imagine the heart) of the VCLG. He died in May of 2016. From the posts of that time period, it appeared the Vespa world wept.

So that’s who the old guy with the silver hair and glasses keeping the young scooterists in rapt attention was. Billy introduced me to Soltau. Billy told Soltau my name and what kind of Vespa I rode. Everyone stopped and looked at me with their judging vintage-scooter eyes. Soltau smiled and said hi and then said in a thick German accent, “GT 200? All you’ll need to do is keep oil in it, and it will serve you for years.” He smiled at me again then continued to explain how P125s or some other old Vespa needed so on and so forth. I walked to the bar and ordered some non-alcohol drink at an alcohol price while Billy and the rest of the vintage VCOS listened to every word that proceedeth from Soltau’s mouth.

That evening the rally moved to Midtown Scooters for a barbecue. Midtown Scooters is a tiny shop, in fact, it is a fragment of a larger property that is leased out to multiple small auto service business, but the word among the vintage crowd was that it is the place to get your older scooter fixed. “Tim is the only guy you want working on your scoot,” I recall someone saying when I asked how good the mechanic was. I doubt the person I was talking to knew I was one of the few Judases riding a newer Vespa.

I didn’t see Soltau there. I did meet someone else besides Billy from the VCOS though I don’t remember his name. He was tending the grill and explaining to me when Vespa cut over from the two-stroke motors to the four-stroke a little bit of its soul got lost or some BS like that. Despite that foreboding (and stupid) comment I decided to ask him if he thought someone would sponsor me with my late-model Vespa as a VCOS prospect.

He smiled, handing me a hotdog in a bun and said, “No. We’re a vintage club.” Then started in on how great it is to have a vintage Vespa. I wanted right then and there–hotdog in hand–to ask him rhetorically isn’t the whole reason the Vespa Club of America exists is to promote the Vespa product? Not these old ones (and maybe even not my five-year-old Granturismo, for that matter). Vespa does not get a dime from someone buying a rusty old 1966 Super Sprint. Of course, I held my tongue and ate the dog. My teetotalling ways probably won’t mesh with these excessive beer drinkers, anyway. After I finished the dog, I downed a diet soda and quietly mounted my ooooh so gauche GT 200 and left. Since I decided to never attend another VCOS rally (and hazard the chance of photobombing club members’ shots of all their K00L P125s, Super Sprint’s, and Rallys with my butt-ugly GT 200), I never had the opportunity to see Soltau again.

Belated vindication! Soltau is using a late model Granturismo in the attached videos. (Either a GTS 300 or 350; a Super by the looks of the detail.) Take that, VCOS vintage snobs! Soltau also took a swipe at vintage snobs in the first video, as well. 

Sorry for the rag-tangent. This post is sounding like it’s about me rather than the Master Technician. Then again this blog’s foundation is principally made with first person singular cement. Also, in the spirit of full disclosure, I never turned out to be a club guy. I tried to hang out with the Sacramento chapter of the Royal Bastards Scooter Club. A club that happily accepted owners of all makes/models of scooters–Billy! After only a few awkward meetups and a Rio Vista run gone sideways I was reminded there’s a reason I’m a loner: whenever I make an effort to become a part of something beyond myself someone usually pisses me off. I’ve been riding solo ever since.

Anyway, below is the ten-part Vespa Tech Workshop I accidentally ran across. Strange I didn’t find this earlier. I don’t think any of my usual readers are going to go through the ten videos lasting over six and a half hours. I’m posting it anyway because I’m a hopeless hero worshiper and though I only saw him for a moment (and occasionally see his immortal image on many VCLG Facebook posts popping wheelies, eating, drinking, smiling, and laughing with his club members) he was a monumental figure in the scooter world, though very approachable. Kudos to Ryan Kirk who recorded and posted these on his YouTube channel back in 2012. Will I ever use these videos? Me? Ha! I’m the guy who struggles to replace an inner tube on his bicycle! No, I don’t think so, but my model is mentioned throughout the videos, so one never knows. I’m just glad Soltau and Kirk had the foresight to record these treasures and share them with the shooter world!

Postscript: While watching these videos, Rolf answered the question that indirectly led me to the discovery of this treasure trove: the light on my instrument cluster is a diagnostic LED for the electrical system. Now to look up the flash sequence codes to figure out what my ride is trying to tell me. So I did glean something from these videos.Thanks, Rolfie! You were a mensch!

Clarification on Ice

hands

I have never made any unwanted sexual advances in word or deed towards a woman (or a man for that matter). Perhaps, my worst crime is occasionally letting my eyes linger too long on a woman’s body, but the recent sexual misconduct by men in the entertainment, political, news, and other industries has made me wonder if I have ever done anything that has perpetuated this problem.

I know of no incident where it was apparent someone was clearly inappropriate and I didn’t call the person out on it. See the emphasis on the word “clearly.” This post is about a moment I should have asked for clarification and because I did not, it gnaws at me from time to time.

About five or six years ago I attended a minor league hockey game with some members of my athletic club. The club sponsors these kinds of events from time to time. I always avoid the hiking and snowshoe events–knowing I will end up being the guy who slows everyone down, but I like the kind of outings that don’t require a lot of physical activity. So I was jazzed about going to a hockey game. We loaded up in an eight-seat van and drove to the Stockton Arena, Home of the Thunder. The Stockton Thunder was the city’s minor league hockey team at the time. (The Thunder became The Flames in 2015 when there was an NHL affiliate switch, and a new league was created.) The original plan was to see the Sharks, but the club couldn’t get tickets at a reasonable price.

When we got to the Stockton Arena, picked up our tickets at will call, and sat down near center ice, I ended up sitting next to a guy I’ll call Amir. From the ride down I was pretty sure we had precious little in common. He talked with other members about conservative politics, golf, club-league basketball, and Iran–where he was born. I, as usual, spend most of the trip to Stockton quiet.

I had never been to the Stockton Arena before that night and haven’t been there since, but I thought it was a great way to spend an evening. The tickets were reasonable, and I think that is that reason that it had a family feel to it. It almost felt like the Little League games I have attended. Kids roamed free occasionally touching base with mom usually to get money for a soda or dog.

I recall one girl, probably thirteen or fourteen sidestepping between the empty seats in front of us, blocking our view of the game momentarily, smelling of some fruity, floral perfume, asking her mom if she could sit with her girlfriend’s family. Receiving a satisfactory answer and some money for dinner, the girl sidestepped back to the aisle. It was at this time Amir said something to me. I guess he thought it was something I would relate to. It was something I initially thought was (unintentionally) funny, though I suppressed laughing. “Aah, girls at that age, they are so young and fresh.” Closing his eyes and making a long, closed-mouth animated breath, holding his hands in an upward cupping fashion.”I just want to drink them in.” He didn’t say another word on the subject for the rest of the game, but every time the teenager walked by us I wondered if the cupping hands were about. Was he simulating cupping flowers or breasts?

When I got home, I told my wife about the comment Amir made. I told her because I thought it was funny in the sense that it could be taken in a lewd way, but in the way he said it I was pretty sure it was innocent–an old man pining about the days when he was young, and so on and so forth. My wife didn’t see any humor in the words or the hand gesture. She said something to the effect that he should be happy in his older years. The moment seemed to me more like a non-musical version of Maurice Chevalier singing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.” but I wondered how I would have reacted if I had a teenage daughter. Perhaps I would have asked him what he meant and would have never found the inspiration to write this post.

I realize this is a very brusque post, but with the dizzying number of sexual misconduct incidents being reported recently reminded me of this episode some years back and I just wanted to write it down. Amir, or whatever his real name is, is still a member of my athletic club. From time to time we make eye contact often in the long mirror behind the locker room sinks. We exchange hellos. Maybe, he remembers me from the hockey excursion. He’s one of those guys who has a booming voice, so I know when he is in the locker room. He likes to talk with his basketball buddies, but never off-color stuff about females of any age. Maybe this is all my dark shit–interpreting a relatively innocent comment into something not so innocent.

The Breakfast(less) Club

breakfast club
Nope, not this kind of Breakfast Club

Recently, while flipping through my athletic club’s newsletter I found what I thought would be an exciting addition to the GX schedule, Breakfast Club. Alright, I exclaimed to myself, now we’re talking! All this Pilates, Step, and Indoor Cycling shit at my club was getting me down. Now we have something I can really get into! (Oh, by the way, for any of you exercise squares out there, “GX” is the hip way to say Group Exercise. You’re welcome!) Why the newsletter has a breakfast event in the GX schedule is beyond me. Of course, the club could be viewing the 1985 film directed by John Hughes, but three times a week, every week? They better be serving breakfast with that if they expect members to return.

I worked out a deal with my manager to come in a little later on these days so I would be able to make these foodie events that occur every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6 a.m. Even as I penned the email to him asking for the arrangement there was a cloud of negativity hanging over me. Man, I would have to get up really early.

Figuring out just how early I had to get up to make it there by 6 a.m. ready to go through the line picking my favorite items then sitting in the corner somewhere alone, not socializing, took some thinking. I came to the conclusion that I was not going to ride my bicycle as I usually do. Kind of a double-whammy considering the only exercise I get (save for walking my dog) was from riding to work and back every day on my bike. I would have to ride my scooter.

breakfast club film
Nope, not this kind of Breakfast Club either.

So, early Wednesday morning I hopped on my scooter and headed for the club–the Breakfast Club, that is! Well, as it turned out there was no breakfast to be found in The Breakfast Club. There is no long steamtable of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, and hash browns. No scones, croissants, and muffins artfully stacked for the participating members. There wasn’t even a carafe of coffee and individual servings of cream on ice. Nope, just a line of step decks and mats and a young athletic woman with hair the color of an almond croissant queueing music. We won’t be consuming calories in this breakfast club. We will be burning them. Well, I could do that by sleeping another hour!

So the young athletic woman with hair the color of an almond croissant is Bernadette. Her voice comes over the studio’s speakers with the house music telling us to get two sets of weights. I don’t remember how heavy, but that’s because I’m still thinking of hash browns. I look what the tall guy and the blonde woman with all the tats get and decide to get lighter sets. I take them back to what is my step deck and mat.

I flinch at the prospect of using the step deck. I have never been to a step class and have no plans to attend one in the future. Years ago my wife bought a step deck and an exercise DVD so she could practice at home. During one workout she wanted me to “work in” (to use weight room lingo) a few minutes just to see if I liked it while she sat out to catch her breath. I reluctantly agreed and about four steps into a routine I tripped and fell. I do not have the coordination to do this step thing, and I’m sure the chances of stumbling would only increase the more fatigued I become. As it turned out the step decks in this class was more of like tools to be used in other ways then stepping on and off: a bench for exercises like push-ups and dumbbell flys.

Along with fewer risers under my step deck and lighter weights, I also took the cautious (or is it wimpy?) approach to this first session in the actual exercises opted for modifications. When Bernadette and the other two overachievers did star jacks I started doing them until I literally saw stars then just did standard jumping jacks. When the class did high steps, tapping the step deck with alternating feet, I just lamely alternated lifting my feet a few inches off the ground.

The style of workout I believe is called H.I.I.T. or High-Intensity Interval Training: workouts that alternate between intense bursts of activity (also known as “burst circuits”) as well as fixed periods of less-intense workouts. I’m not a stranger to burst circuits. I did this style of workout in a weight room setting where a trainer had me go to multiple stations, lifting to fatigue, immediately move to the next station where I would work on another set of muscles. When I had hit all the stations I was awarded a short break to catch my breath and hydrate then repeat. Since the weight room routine was not called “The Breakfast Club” I was under no illusions.

When the hour was up Bernadette told us to replace our step deck, risers, and weights. After an hour of this torture, I’m holding onto my kneecaps feeling my heart beat through my eyeballs, and she wants me to carry her water. You’re so damn fit put this shit away yourself, I thought. I did as I was told and left The Breakfastless Club.

Friday morning rolls around and I make my way to the Breakfast Club. This morning their serving up Boot Camp nice and hot: a series of cardio-centric exercises including suicides, scrambled eggs, backward suicides, green chilies, butt kicks, about a half an avocado, high knees, onions, overhead squats, cheddar cheese, jumping jacks, sourdough toast, lunges, hold the salsa, reverse lunges, a side of bacon, push-ups, and house potatoes. (Just kidding, the edibles are the contents of a South of the Border Scramble or at least the way I order it at Cafe Dantorels. Oh, and the push-ups are the hard kind, not the ice cream confection.)

The torture this morning is dolled out by Scott, a tall redheaded, bearded fellow that does not remind me of any food except ginger, but not gingerbread because that’s not really a breakfast food in my view. Scott gives me a lot of one-on-one attention–kind of like a Special Physical Education teacher. I’m not keeping up with the three overachievers in the group, including the retired woman who is running suicides around me all the while talking to Scott how much she loves retirement. Shut up!

On the far side of the room, there’s this tall, thin brunette with long hair. The brunette does not opt to put in a ponytail that insists on doing all exercises with dumbbells in her hands. I want to yell across the room at her, “Hey you, Scott didn’t tell us to use weights!” Instead, I shoot dirty looks at her via the mirrors that virtually surround us. She is too busy getting ripped to notice my glares. Anyway, her hair is in her eyes half the time. The guy between Miss Dumbbells and me is the second-most out of shape person, but he is soldiering on better than me. I doubt he thought The Breakfast Club were foodie events.

~ A Yoga Interlude ~

I attend yoga at the club on Tuesdays and Thursdays so I could comment on the Thursday night class between Bernadette and Scott, but it was the usual–nothing different from all the other Tuesday and Thursday classes. I have been practicing on Sundays the longest. This yoga class–the one after Friday’s torture and the unknown but forboding Monday class was very different. We were introduced to our new teacher. Let me make a point here. I don’t cruise yoga studios with my eyes. Yes, there are pretty, young women I practice with, but I pay them little mind. I’m concentrating on my practice. However, the yoga teacher who walked into the studio on Sunday was mysterious, dark, shy, and she taught Yin yoga. Yin is a style where the practitioner holds asanas (poses) for long periods of time—anywhere from two to four minutes in this kind of class, though the more skilled hold them far longer.

Because of this style and the longer time spent on each asana, the teacher is able to walk around and make adjustments to her students’ asanas. So I am in a hip-opening asana with my head down nearly facing the floor. There is music playing, but it is soft, the lights are low–like they always are in practice–and I can hear her whispering as she walks around the studio. My guess is the teacher was adjusting her students. Suddenly I am hit with the most wonderful scent. It’s the teacher’s perfume. Then her hand gently caress my leg. She moves it forward whispering in my ear if this movement is painful. No, mystery yoga teacher, but do you really have to move to the next person? Wait, is my head in line? What about my arm? But she is off to another practitioner and I immediately feel her absences.

The class continues until we go into Shavasana (corpse pose)–the final asana of the practice. I don’t want it to end. We all lie there in the dark, eyes closed. Then I feel hands on both of my shoulders. She has noticed how rounded they are. (Thirty years at a desk.) Lee, a Sunday yoga teacher from a few years ago, discovered ole Quasimodo during Shavasana too. She tried to man-handle my shoulders flat like she was trying to get me to tap out. This angel was soft. Then she did something I haven’t been able to get out of my mind: she gently rubbed Eucalyptus oil above both eyebrows and then on my third eye (the Ajna Chakra). I almost spontaneously weep. She moved on to other people but laid there seemingly in another state. When Shavasana was over I quietly rolled up my mat and left. Now, that was better than any breakfast I have ever had!

It’s Monday and I’ve had five days to get over Brutal Bernadette, three full days to recoup from Suicide Scott and fifteen hours since parting with the mysterious yoga teacher and her incredible touch. I walk into the studio and see the step decks are out. I introduce myself to Janelle, the trainer for this Breakfastless Club. No part of her body reminds me of food in any way. Perhaps this is a good thing. She assures me this is not a Step class and that we use the step decks for balance and leg strength exercises.

As it turns out Monday’s Breakfast Club is a lot of leg exercises. Janelle also likes working out with weighted fitness bars. From across the studio, it looks like a black barbell without weights. Janelle tells us to grab one for some squats. It’s early in the workout so I’m thinking, “Shit, with no weights on it this should be a snap.” The first thing I notice is that it has a rubber covering–not just metal like a barbell. I grab one at the top end of the bar and it will not budge. Janelle walks over, chokes up on the bar a little, and easily pulls it out of the rack and hands it to me as if to say, “Easy now Gramps, this is really heavy and I can tell how old and fragile you are.” When I re-grip the bar she lets go of the fitness bar and I nearly drop it.

The Monday, 6 a.m. class used to be Power Pump (a total body workout with that emphasizes building strength and sculpting the body). But this isn’t Power Pump. Whatever this is it turns out to be fine, but the least favorite of the three classes. Perhaps coffee and donuts would bump the class up on my list of favorite Breakfast Clubs.

Janelle says she hopes more people come to the class so it can continue. Only one other person beside me showed up on this day. I want to point out to her if this were a real Breakfast Club attendance wouldn’t be a problem, but she’s sweet. Also, when I checked out the club’s website at work later in the day, I notice that this is the only class Janelle leads. I’m not sure if she’s an employee with all the security that brings or if she is an independent contractor. If the latter is the case and the class doesn’t hit critical mass she would be out of a paycheck. That would be a drag.

It’s Tuesday–in between Breakfast Clubs. I think I’m done with the jokes. When I see Bernadette tomorrow morning I seriously doubt I will think her hair is the color of an almond croissant. Maybe she’s a strawberry blonde. Mmm, strawberries. Like in strawberry vanilla pancakes!

This is only tenuously related to the subject above, but I saw this months ago and think it is funny and very touching so I wanted to share it here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.