The following excerpt is taken from the forthcoming book Spoilt By Bikers: A Year in Provence with the Hell’s Angels by J. D. Salamander.
Since I had first watched the movie The Wild One at the tender age of 40, I had always wanted to be a biker. So it was like a dream come true when I finally got accepted into the chapter of my choosing.
It was not an easy road, though. Many a night I had wept, my teddy clutched in my arms, my alma mater’s song spilling from my cracked lips.
But I had lots of determination and a trust fund.
And this was no ordinary bikers’ gang. These were the cream of the crop, an elite group of Harley riders. I had already read accounts of them turning down applications from doctors, physicists, moguls of business, and expensive French presses. One surgeon had been refused after it was discovered he’d once ridden his mistresses’ scooter. Another doctor, a plastic surgeon, had been turned away after it was found out that he did breast implants. The doctor even castrated himself and sewed on two saddlebags to impress the gang. Nothing. The bikers said they were morally against any kind of self-mutilation unless it was an art form. They even turned away a millionaire. Found out he was embezzling from his multi-million dollar company and had made a deal to sell South Dakota to the Saudis.
So it was with some trepidation that I sent them my resume, worried about how it would be judged. In high school I had had an honorable mention in the yearbook for keeping a tally of all the Red Sox’s games on my gym shorts. I had attended Princeton and graduated with an above average height class, majored in animal husbandry, and then gone on to work as an editor for a few progressive magazines. After much deliberation and a call to my mother, I decided to include the scuffle I’d had with another birdwatcher over the sighting of a blue-footed booby. I had snapped his pencil. (Incidentally, we had both been wrong. It had turned out to be a man in blue Wellingtons.) My wife also advised me to include the incident with the 10-pound bass I single-handedly wrestled ashore and held down until it expired. I even mentioned my bout with Soubrette’s syndrome.
I prayed my credentials would be enough.
After waiting a few weeks in sunny Barbados, I heard back from the gang. They were willing to meet me. A place was decided on that turned out to be a Ritz-Carlton in New York. I had to beg my dad for the airfare, accommodations, and a black leather jacket.
The bikers had rented the Honeymoon Suite and Cat Stevens — although the singer had been denied entry into the US because he hadn’t had a hit since 1978.
It was an uncomfortable introduction, since I forgot what my middle initial stood for and was taken back when each of the bikers told me their names: Mr. Pink, Mr. White, Mr. Orange, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, Nice Guy, Grindhouse, Pulp Fiction, Planet Terror, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, and Grease.
I had no idea they would be Tarantino fans. Turns out they weren’t. They hated his movies, found them too egregious and another big word I didn’t know. But they loved the self-referential treatment in all his flicks. And I could see why. Nearly every other word they said was a reference to Joyce’s Ulysses or Betty Crocker’s Cooking For Two.
They had e-mailed me that it was a BYOB meeting and so I had. And then wished I hadn’t when I pulled out my pack of Bud and beef jerky and the bikers plastered the table with vintage wines, expensive fromage, and baguettes.
On top of that, I was beginning to feel under-qualified and pathetically uneducated as they reeled off their degrees. Mr. Pink, the leader, had an MD, a PhD, MFA, BA, COD, ASAP, OK, and a full year’s subscription to the Nation. The one woman in the gang, Nice Guy, had three doctorates, two college kids, and a hysterectomy. Grindhouse was the president of an international corporation and held a UFO pilot’s license. Kill Bill worked for the CIA, FBI, KGB, SAS, IRA, BBC, NBC, and Time, Inc. and also in his spare time was a swabby on the USS Enterprise. Even the newest member, Grease, was a lawyer, pro tennis player, chain smoker, and American Idol star.
I felt a bit like that bug who finds out he’s a writer named Kafka.
In general, though, the interview went well. I made a few blunders that afterwards, with a ham sandwich I’d scrounged from a bin, didn’t seem that significant.
There was one mistake I’d made that I wished I hadn’t, though. It was when they asked me if I was a religious man and had replied yes, especially on Sundays and when the Red Sox play the Yankees. They had had to rephrase the question to “Did I believe in a God?” I replied I wasn’t sure ever since my home economics class had discussed the properties of canning. But I had read Stephen Hawking’s book about selfish black holes and was sorry to hear that he suffered from Cary Grant Disease, the one in which everyone mistakes you for Rock Hudson.
(God, did I curse Princeton for not educating me enough in movie trivia.)
But I left feeling like I still had a good chance with the bikers. They even discussed with me financial aid packages and the few scholarships available that were set up by old biker alums who were scamming the welfare system.
They said they’d get back to me in a few days.
Those couple of days were a living hell for me. But I kept the American Dream alive by wrapping myself up in the flag with a copy of Fudgy Tiddles’ All Men Are Equal — Except Those Who Go To Prestigious Schools.
A month later I finally heard back from the bikers at 3 in the morning. At first I thought it was my mother calling to tell me that dad’s venereal disease had cleared up. But was delighted when I heard Mr. Pink’s Brahmin voice telling me that I had been accepted in to the bikers’ gang on probation.
It was the best news I’d heard since the time my wife cried out in our lovemaking, “Hit a home run for me Babe!”
I was packed and ready to meet the bikers the next day on my ten-speed.