A Man is a Man by His Actions

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I’m a boy from the slums where livin’ is rough

Fought daily for survival, you’ve got to be tough

One on one is expected, but one against many is too

Arise and keep swingin’ or they’ll walk all over you

 

If you can’t take a fall and quickly bounce back

You’ll never earn respect, and they’ll never cut you slack

You learn to be ruthless, when ruthless is called for

But don’t let it change you, not deep in your core

 

Being ruthless is not the same as being mean

It’s taking others down, but keepin’ it clean

Purely for self-defense or in defense of others

Continue to respect life: fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers

 

From slums to foreign soil when fightin’ for “Uncle Sam”

For freedom and G.I. brothers… fuck the political flim-flam

Busted and bloody, but I returned standing tall

But don’t give me no praise, give it to those who gave all

 

Dad said, “A man is a man by his actions

not from his years on Earth;

he sweats courage and bleeds honor

and guards integrity for all it’s worth”

Dad in Navy

Old School Ways (Pt.2 of 2)

Three days after Josh’s return the West Coast Old School Rod and Bike Show is being held down south at the L.A. Fairgrounds. And Josh decides to act on Skinny Pete’s claim that his wife attends all the sub-culture events.

Naturally, Billy Joe is not about to let his brother go it alone. So he and Kathy tail the Willys in their ’69 Charger, a Petty’s rebel classic. And they drop a dime to Skinny Pete for a Rat Pack crew muster, though they have no idea if it did any good. All they can do is leave a message.

 

The biggest change the brothers see as they pay the fare and cruise the grounds is the sheer volume. In the six year hiatus since their last attendance here, the large corporations have bought their way in, hell bent to profit off the growing craze. They are strictly business, as usual, and totally callous to the reality that their very presence violates the original sub-culture beliefs.

I doubt a third of this mob even knows what beliefs this culture was founded on, Josh thought, while exiting the Willys and keying the alarm.

Billy Joe and Kathy quickly rally up with him.

“Kathy is wondering if you feel like the old black hat gunslinger walking into a church barbeque.”

“I might’ve,” Josh said, “but nobody here knows what the inside of a church looks like.”

The trio eases along with the sea of similar looking, if not likeminded, humanity, and Josh has to admit it is good to be back. The sight of row upon row of custom and garage builds reignites the old spark that has lain dormant for the past half-dozen years. And, except for the oversized franchise tents that dwarf the small independent vendors, he even enjoys browsing the abundant fare dedicated to the old school culture. There are parts, service, and design specialists.  There are jewelry, leather goods, t-shirts, hats, and every other kind of apparel and accessories proudly displayed and hawked. And the cartoonists, photographers, and tattoo artists appear to only have one challenge, how to stave off carpal tunnel syndrome while trying to handle the onslaught of customers.

Likewise, there is no lack of variety of concessions on the Midway. However, with the rising temperature, the lines for libation, especially the beer wagons and wine cooler coaches, outnumber the basic catering trucks three to one; though Kathy, a health food nut, calls them “grease fried choke and pukes.”

In addition, no old school event would be complete without the various eye candy specialties and gawker events. The standard T&A tents with a stream of Bettie’s and Veronica’s trying on the latest nylons, silks, and satins unabashed and unashamed before the oogling eyes and stretching flies of the congregating adolescents. Or the more mature — though not much more — events, like burlesque reviews, follies, wet t-shirts, foxy boxers, or the ever messy mud or suds wrestling.

Josh, and his kin, prefers to take in the actual rod and bike shows, the burnouts and drags, and then catch the jammin’ rockabilly concerts.

As the day wears on, the initial reason for the trip takes a backseat to the enjoyment the brothers find in reconnecting with each other and their roots. Kathy even unpuckers, as the underlying tension appears to evaporate, and she begins to enjoy each moment. That is, until a couple of peach fuzz Romeo’s display their latest poster acquisitions to a youthful group of likeminded wannabes within sight of Josh.

Both posters are of the same model, striking different poses by different old school customs. However, it is not the rods being promoted, but rather the sexy, almost non-existent, lingerie. And the model, under contract with the old school apparel franchise called Lucky Seven is Sue Dell, though she is now promoting herself as Suzy-D, one of the Lucky Seven vamps.

Josh had seen the Lucky Seven tent when the trio was walking around the fairgrounds earlier, but they adhered to the unspoken rule of never patronizing any corporate establishment. However, entering a corporate domain for purely personal reasons, like a search for answers, is understandably an exception to the rule.

“Oh shit!” Kathy said, watching Josh head out of the concert area, closely shadowed by her husband. And she quickly pulls out her cell.

The franchises don’t need to convert the hardcore old schoolers. Approximately two-thirds of the event patrons are wannabes or weekend hobbyists, and they flock to the main brand names, as Josh says, “ like turd flies on a fresh dump.”

Ten o’clock at night and crowds are still pouring in and out of the Lucky Seven tent as Josh steps through the entrance. He quickly notices the cashiers are by the exits, which means the only other line, near a back corner, has to be the autograph table.

Billy Joe arrives as Josh begins to circumvent the crowded lines.

“You realize we’re in enemy territory?”

“Yep.”

“Got a plan?”

“Improvise, adapt, and overcome.”

Billy Joe chooses not to reply as the autograph table comes into view. Sue is sitting behind the table wearing another Lucky Seven “fuck me” lingerie outfit, similar to those on the poster she is signing, but with the addition of a cape draped over her shoulders. And standing just behind her is Conrad Rydell, an old acquaintance of the approaching brothers, a perfect yin to Josh’s yang within the sub-culture.

Rydell’s presence tells the brothers that the six other goons blocking the sides of the table, preventing any overzealous fans from getting close enough to cop a feel, are Rumble Punks, the club Conrad began after Josh unceremoniously sent him scurrying out of the Rat Pack.

“Fuck!” one of the Rumble Punks said, then turns to Conrad. “Hey Radman, it’s the Reaper!”

Even from about 30 feet away and peering passed some autograph seekers, Josh and Billy Joe catch a brief look of panic before Conrad is able to compose himself. He gained confidence in the fact they out-number them seven to two, and have dozens more around the fairgrounds.

Sue, on the other hand, surprises the brothers — though they don’t make the mistake of showing it — when she casually turns, maintains eye contact, and grins like the Cheshire Cat.

“Well, well, if it isn’t the Legend himself,” Conrad began. “Thought you were in for four more years.”

“Cunt Rag Rydell,” Josh said, staring him down with his Reaper like gaze. “Shut the fuck up. This has nothing to do with you, or these other Rumpled Pantywaists.”

The crowd of autograph seekers turned looky loos silence themselves in anticipation of this unexpected entertainment.

Josh doesn’t stop until he is practically nose-to-nose with Conrad. And Conrad’s face shows both the fear of Josh, as well as the anger at his paid bodyguards for letting his enemy waltz right through. And yet, he realizes in an instant that caution is indeed the better part of valor — so he steps back without further delay.

Josh, satisfied that the immediate threat has been nullified, finally looks down at Sue.

“You got something to tell me, Baby?”

Sue has been taught by the best. She knows when to hold, when to fold, and when to lay it all on the line.

“Things changed, so I had to improvise, adapt, and overcome, like you taught me,” she said while matching her husband’s unwavering gaze. “And that fucking Mexican hellhole you were in kept stamping my letters ‘return to sender.’ But everything’s on the square, Daddy-O.”

This revelation surprises everyone present, except Josh, who now has the puzzle pieces in place. So when Sue pops out of the seat, throws her arms around his neck, and kisses him passionately, he returns it with equal passion.

“Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?” Sue Dell whispers to her man.

Billy Joe begins to realize what is going on, and the crowd, who has no idea, still let out a raucous cheer.

“What the fuck’s going on?” Conrad yells above the ovation.

Josh maintains eye contact with Sue. “He’s not too bright, is he?”

Sue smiles and kisses him again.

Fear or no fear, Conrad reaches around and draws a 9-mm semi-auto Glock from beneath his jacket and swings it around, intent on using it.

However, before he is able to bring it up to face level, as planned, two barrels are roughly introduced to each side of his head.

“Do you think this is a good day to die?” Skinny Pete said as he cocks the .44-magnum pressed against Conrad’s temple from behind. Wet Willie, another Rat Packer, copies the move on the other side, and Conrad quickly gives in and gives up his piece.

The less courageous onlookers begin to exit the area, opening up enough room for Kathy to finally side up to her husband, and wonder why Josh is allowing Sue to embrace him.

“I’ll tell you later,” Billy Joe said, after seeing his lady’s curious look. And they continue to view the proceedings together.

“You ready to go home, Daddy-O?”

“I was just waiting for you to ask,” Josh said, starting to turn.

“He doesn’t have a home,” Conrad said, relishing the fact. “You’ve been living with me, bitch — and even that ends right now!”

Sue glances at Josh. “Would you like the honors?”

“Go for it, Baby.”

She then stares down Conrad with nearly the same intensity as her husband and mentor.

“Perhaps this would be a good time for you to remember that the money for everything you think you own came from selling Reaper’s house. And, if you recall, it’s all in my name.”

The gravity of the situation finally sinks in and Conrad slumps into the nearby chair.

“You didn’t really think we’d never find out who sent those Tijuana Locos after us, did you?” Josh said. And all the blood seems to drain from Conrad’s face. “So we put together a little plan to get even.”

“And you didn’t really think I’d betray the man who killed those three bastards who tried to rape me, did you?” Sue said, while stepping closer to the wretched form slumped in the chair. “He lost six years of his life protecting me from scum you hired. The least I could do was make sure you worked your ass off, with his money, to have him set for life when he got out.”

Sweat begins to roll down Conrad’s cheeks and his whimpering mannerism over shadows any pretense of manhood.

“But — but — you made love to me?”

“No bitch, I didn’t,” Sue said while wrapping her arm around Josh’s waist. “Reaper said you would never catch on. The only man I’ve ever loved and made love to has finally come back to me. You — I just fucked.”

As the brothers, their ladies, and a dozen Rat Pack Rodders begin to muster together before heading out, Josh looks back at Conrad.

“Even a pussy like you should’ve known an old schooler would never let a wannabe win.”

Old School Ways (Pt.1 of 2)

The local thermometers are about to break triple digits in Bakersfield, as a lone passenger exits the 3:30 bus at the old Vineyard crossing on the outskirts of town. Hundred-plus temperatures are the norm here from mid-May to mid-September. A dry heat, so the travel agents claim, as if it makes any difference. And yet, considering where the new arrival has been for the last six years, he actually felt comfortable enough to keep the black leather biker jacket on that matches his boots.

It takes but a glance to realize Josh Brackett is not a man to be trifled with. He grew up fast and hard. He is confident, skilled, and independent. In fact, with him, freedom is no mere word; it is a character trait, impossible to quell — even during his recent mandatory stint under the guise of government control. He is a rare breed, rarely remembered by physical attributes. He is remembered, by friend and foe, for the gleam in his eye, the fire in his heart, the hunger in his belly, and his unquenchable thirst for life. And he is remembered for the words that he speaks, and the actions he takes, because he rarely speaks or acts without a purpose.

As the bus departs, leaving a cloud of diesel fumes in its wake, Josh turns to view the lone establishment set back on its lot across the road. In its day it had been a thriving service station: six pumps, three full-service auto bays with hydraulic lifts, and a detail bay at the far end. But that was decades ago, before the I-5 redirected the flow of traffic. In fact, the rest of the establishments that once inhabited the lots around the crossing have long since disappeared, reclaimed by the farms and vineyards.

Josh makes his way toward the station with his easy but confident stride, and he notices that the large orange ball with big blue numbers no longer sits atop the 50-foot pole. He can’t help but think how conspicuous and out of place the lone pole looks among the surrounding fields.

Like a damn morning hard-on, he thought. Wasted and useless.

Josh gets halfway across the cracked and ill-patched blacktop before a man working in a grease pit in an open bay notices his approach.

Stepping on the lot is like being time-warped back to the fifties, though a lot grungier, and the man climbing out of the grease pit is no exception. The straight-leg button-fly jeans, semi-white t-shirt with a Marlboro box rolled in the short sleeve, and the greasy slicked back hair resembles the retro look of Marlon Brando or James Dean.

“Well, fuck a duck!” the grease monkey, Skinny Pete, said. “Is that you, Reaper?”

“Rumor has it.”

The two quickly shake hands then decide to abstain from the macho decorum, and give each other a hug, considering the long absence. Within minutes they’re inside getting reacquainted, and sucking down some cold brews.

“I’ve already discovered things ain’t the way they should be,” Josh said. “I need to know if you and the crew still got my back.”

“Shit, Reaper, most the guys don’t even come around no more,” Pete said before downing the rest of his beer, and grabbing another bottle from the six-pack on the counter. “Some moved away. Others sold their rides. Hell, it ain’t the same anymore.”

“In six years?”

“A lifetime ago for some of us.”

Josh grabs his second bottle and glances around the old place. Technically, it is still a working station, but primarily it has been the main hangout for the Rat Pack Rodders for nearly twenty years. Josh had been the club president until six years ago, and he was used to seeing at least a dozen or more old school rods and bikes around the place at all times. At the moment, Skinny Pete’s 1963 blue and silver Plymouth Savoy with a blown 426-Hemi is the only vehicle in sight.

“She still looks righteous,” Josh said.

“Balanced, blue-printed, and totally re-bored.”

“What’s her top-end?”

“I’m guessing — maybe two and a quarter,” Pete said then gulped down the last of his second bottle. “Ain’t reached it yet. Pickin’s are slim. Not enough left to play.”

Josh steps from the office to the auto bays and stares at the long back wall. It’s practically a shrine to the club: photos, trophies, ribbons, news clippings, and magazine covers. Over half the honors belong entirely to, or are shared, by Josh.

As Pete came near, the three words he was dreading finally came up.

“Where is she?”

He followed Josh’s line of sight, ending at a cluster of photos, each with a similar scene with Josh, one of his many prize winning builds, and his wife, Sue Dell.

“I lost track awhile ago.”

Josh turns to face him.

“Don’t give me that shit!”Josh said with a look and tone that quickly reminds Pete why they call him the Reaper. “Where the fuck is she? And why is there a strange family in the house I paid for?”

 

Skinny Pete never had any interest in war-time interrogation, but by the time he drops Josh off at his brother’s place, he is sure he has experienced the third-degree. And he honestly doesn’t know where she is. The only bit of useful information he felt he could pass on without getting his jaw busted, is that Sue has become a regular at all the old school events.

Old school rods, old school choppers, and even old school drags: a sub-culture within the vast and varied world of man and his customized machines. And yes, there are those who can point to a small contingent of the more curvaceous sex among the modern ranks of vehicular enthusiasts. However, within the old school sub-culture, such a find is a mere curiosity — not to be taken seriously.

Old school has never merely been man and his machine. It is a belief, a way of life. Thus, the serious enthusiasts do not simply tinker with their metallic toys; they equally covet the style and traditions of decades past.

Josh’s brother, Billy Joe, is both happy and sad at the sight of his sibling. They have always been tight, and the six year separation has taken its toll. But he knows Josh’s return will only bring trouble.

“Why didn’t you call?”

“Wasn’t planning on coming this far so soon,” Josh said. “Seems nobody thought to warn me what my homecoming would be like.”

“We thought you still had another four years.”

“Good behavior.”

“Was it rough?”

“Weren’t no picnic.”

Josh has a way of staring that can unnerve anyone: even his brother tries not to make eye contact too often during these times.

“I’ll have Kat make up the spare room,” Billy Joe said. Anything to get a short break, as he quickly departs — but soon returned, wanting his brother to know he will stick by him through this ordeal. A brother’s bond is hard to break.

“Supper’s still warm if you’re hungry.”

“I can eat,” Josh said. “But I’d rather see what I have left first.”

“Sure thing.”

 

Billy Joe’s shop is right behind his home, so they tramp through the backyard, across the alley, and in the back door. It is a high performance racing shop, sales and service on one side, building race cars on the other. After Big Daddy Don Garlitz and Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney signed Billy Joe’s t-shirt on his ninth birthday, he swore he’d never do anything except build Pro-Stock, Top-Fuel, and Funny Cars when he grew up — and he never has.

Ironically, it is not the selection of quarter-to-half-million dollar professional race cars sitting in the bays that hold any interest at the moment. The brothers walk passed them to the far bay, and stand beside two similarly shaped vehicles under matching car covers.

“Told you I’d never let anyone harm the twins,” Billy Joe said, as they each grab a cover and yank.

Twins yes, but identical, no.

Josh has built many bikes, rods, and racers, but when it comes to his personal preference, he favors the ’41 Willys, like the two that stand before them. One is an old style nitro-burning, straight axel gasser. The other is an old school cream-your-jeans bagger, pretending to be all show and no go, until it pulls down their panties and spanks them in the quarter-mile.

“You ready to eat now?”

“Go ahead,” Josh said, as he unlocks and enters his prize possession. “I’m gonna stay here awhile.”

Billy Joe nods, heads to the door, takes a last glance, and exits.

 

“I thought you said he was going to come in and eat,” Kathy said. It has been two hours since her husband returned alone, and she doesn’t like leaving food out.

“Cut him some slack,” Billy Joe said. “Those cars are the last thing he’s got that feel like home.”

“I’ll never understand how you guys can love a hunk of metal so much.”

“You put enough blood, sweat, and tears into anything, and it’ll grow on you.”

“If you say so.”

“Ain’t much different than you fretting about the food and dishes,” Billy Joe said. “You want everything in your kitchen cleaned and in its proper place before you hit the sack.”

“I’ll concede that,” she said. It was the truth. The den, on the other hand, was definitely Billy Joe’s. It has all the latest electronics: a complete entertainment center, flat screen TV, and two computers. Kathy redecorated the rest of the house with a distinct nostalgic feel. The kitchen and dining area is decked out with stainless steel, vinyl, and Formica similar to the old malt shops and diners, the American Graffiti look. And she is sure the rest of the house would make June Cleaver proud, as if it were purchased right off the set of Leave It To Beaver. Kathy doesn’t love everything about the old school sub-culture that her husband eased her into after they began to date, but she went crazy over the nostalgic styles. It had been a little before her time, but she grew up watching reruns of all the old shows. The original carrot-top, Lucille Ball, of I Love Lucy is her favorite.

“You gotta understand, Baby — that ride he’s sitting in, and built with his own hands, won him enough pinks to buy that house in L.A. that he just found out he no longer owns.”

“That’s a hell of a homecoming.”

“Yep.”

“You should’ve told him,” she said, than walks up behind the sofa, embraces her husband, and gives him a kiss. “I’m going to take a shower.”

She exits.

“Yep — I should’ve told him.”

 

[*Will Josh find his wife and the answers he seeks? Check out Pt.2 of Old School Ways to find out.]