I’m having dinner with my mom. There’s something I need to tell her, and I’m not sure how she’ll take it. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. For me, it’s great. I haven’t felt this free in years. But for others—loved ones—it’s a source of anxiety and many dull, tired conversations. I suspect Mom will be surprised, but ultimately she’ll learn to live with it. She has to. She has no choice. The only thing I can’t quite anticipate is her anger. Will she even be angry? Will she accept what I have to tell her? Or will she storm out of the restaurant, a kind of red tunnel vision guiding her toward the source of her dread.
I arrive early, as I often do when having dinner with my parents. They’re divorced, but together in the sense that they never allow their kids to pick up a check. So I always take advantage of the free meal and have myself a drink beforehand. Tonight it feels especially appropriate. I’ve already told Dad. His response fell somewhere between “It’s your life” and “I have no choice but to accept it.”
After nursing my beer for about a half-hour the waiter says, “Is it just you tonight?” A not-so-subtle inquiry as to the reason I’m sitting at this two-top drinking by myself, not eating. Even if I had chosen to dine on my own I’d be offended by this question. Eating and going to the movies: What social engineer decreed these fundamentally solitary activities must involve company?
“My mother should be arriving any minute now,” I say, and then reach for a sip of beer. Shoo, I think to myself, and he does. I’m sure he’s a decent guy—I’m just not in the mood for banal service sector chitchat. My mind is on the confession. Mom must know I have something to tell her. The way I sprung the invitation on her, out of nowhere, when she’s the one who usually arranges these dinners. Not to mention, mothers always seem to know when something’s awry.
I see her walk into the restaurant with a gigantic, glowing smile on her face and it’s all business. The first words out of her mouth have something to do with the traffic, or the route she took to get here, and something about redheads going extinct because of global warming. I’m a redhead.
“Heard it on the news,” she says. “Strangest thing.”
“Well I’m skeptical,” I say.
“Well I’m never taking the Mass Pike into Boston again,” she elates, dropping her purse into the booth. “All I had to do was jump on Route 2 and hook up with Mass Ave and voila! Easiest thing!”
“And there’s no toll.”
“Exactly!” she concludes, but before she even glances at the menu it emerges, that motherly suspicion that something is not quite right: “So what’s up?” It’s not asked in the trite, colloquial way that expects an equally trite response. She asks it with her eyes digging into my own. Her smile fades and she wants to know now, right now, what exactly is going on. But I can’t get into it yet. I don’t want it to seem like the only reason I arranged for this dinner was to drop a bombshell on her.
“Oh not much,” I answer. “Just been really busy. I’m glad it’s summer now.”
She reads what’s going on and accepts it. “I know! My vegetables are sprouting!” She is genuinely excited about this, and my sick mind immediately registers the phrase as a sexual euphemism. “The itty-bitty peppers and tomatoes are so cute! I can’t wait to eat them!”
“What else are you growing?”
“Oh, a lot: Squash, romaine, cucumbers, beans, jalapeños. It’s a big garden—Oh! And Jim and I just joined a local farming club.”
“What’s a farming club?”
“I don’t know exactly, but we pay a certain amount each month and we get to go to a local farm and pick our own fruits and vegetables straight from the ground!”
“That’s pretty cool.”
“Yeah, and it’s all organic, so there are no chemicals or pesticides or anything.”
The waiter approaches, “Can I get you something to drink?”
“Ah, yes! I’ll have a vodka martini straight up with a twist, please.”
“And for you?” he turns to me.
“Another one of these,” I say, shaking my beer. I down the rest of it in a throat-straining gulp. The waiter leaves.
“So how did you get here?” Mom asks, clearly trying to direct the conversation back to the source of her concern. “I thought you sold your car. Did you get a ride from someone?”
Now all I can think is, at least I’m not trying to hold a lie. Between her cross-examining and my father the lawyer, I never had the chance to develop the skill. My brother, sister, and I—we’re all terrible liars. “Actually that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Well, I didn’t only want to talk about that. I like having dinner with you. What I meant was, I wanted to tell you something.”
“Oh god,” she blurts. Her smile has turned into a full gasp.
I freeze, genuinely surprised at her surprise. “What is it?”
“You were fired,” she says.
“You got laid off, then—what’s the difference anyway? These politics. Oh gosh, Tyler! You lost your job!”
“No, it’s not that.” I reach for the menu and bury my head in it, an attempt to downplay her concern, or maybe I’m looking for a heavier drink… Bad idea. “Trust me mom, I’m securely employed.”
“Oh, then I know what it is.” Her voice is softer now.
“I don’t think you do,” I say. “Unless you’ve been on Facebook in the last 24 hours.”
“Tyler,” she reaches her hand across the table and places it warmly over mine, which is still fixed firmly around the menu. The waiter arrives with our drinks and I reach quickly for the cold, bubbly solace of my Belgian-style white beer. Mom does the same with her martini, then continues. “Tyler, I will always support you. I hope you know that. I love you no matter what. I always wondered why you were always single, such a handsome boy, now it makes so much sense!” She lowers her voice, leans across the table and looks me square in the eye. “Tyler, I don’t care if you’re gay.”
“What? No, mom, I’m not gay.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, mom, what? That’s not even—why would you?”
“Then what is it already? What did you want to tell me?”
“I bought a motorcycle!”
A heavy pause. “You did what?”
“A couple weeks ago. I rode it here, actually. It’s pretty awesome.”
“You—what?—but what if… How do you even know how to ride a motorcycle?” She asks this as if it were some rarified talent reserved for astronauts and Nobel laureates.
“I took a weekend rider course, got my permit and license and everything.”
“Wait, so you sold you car and used the money to buy a motorcycle?”
Mom leans back to take a breath and a deep sip from her martini. I can see she is flummoxed, although I don’t know what to make of the fact that she is more surprised by my buying a motorcycle than my suspected homosexuality. The presumed layoff is another thing.
“Tyler, I used to be a nurse. I had friends who worked in the ER. Do you know how many horror stories I’ve heard about motorcycle accidents? How many deaths?”
“A lot, probably.”
“Young men, like you, rolled into the ER with the lower halves of their bodies just… gone! And they’re looking up at these doctors, into their eyes, and begging them ‘please, can you put me back together?’”
“Like Humpty Dumpty!”
The waiter returns. “Would you folks like to hear our specials? We have an excellent chickpea fritter with a parsnip puree.”
“We need a few more minutes,” Mom sulks. “My son just told me he bought a motorcycle.”
“Oh really? What kind?”
“Honda Shadow VT750.”
“Beautiful, that’s a nice ride. I used to ride a little 250 Rebel.”
“I learned on one of those.”
“Not quite a Shadow but certainly fun.”
“Is this really happening?” Mom’s getting indignant, but I don’t feel so bad about the confession now that my mind’s back on the hog waiting for me outside—that dark, dutiful workhorse cinched to a cantina, its owner free to mount at any moment for a heroic dash into the sunset. Awesome. “I don’t understand Tyler. You get panic attacks whenever you get on a plane.”
“I admit it’s a bit… ironic, or something.”
“What made you want to get a motorcycle? I’ve never even heard you talk about it.”
“It’s hard to explain,” I answer. “I guess it’s been building for some time, like an urge, you know? Also, I’ve been told twice, by two separate crushes, that I’m not the motorcycle type. So there’s that. I guess I wanted to prove them wrong.”
My mind drifts, briefly, to Katie and Maria, the chic illustrator and French violinist, both of whom chuckled at the prospect of my owning a motorcycle. I daydream, in an instant, about the two of them—just a single person, for the purpose of this fantasy—riding pillion on the back of my Shadow. She blows me a kiss but my back is turned to her. I’m a bold heartbreaker shorn of all duties and loyal only to the road. This is my fantasy, and I don’t think I’m alone. Even in rider school they taught us to always look cool: Never ride straight into a parking space, they said. You want to back into it. It doesn’t look cool if you have to back out of a spot before leaving. Very true. Also, drop into neutral at a streetlight. It looks awesome when you kick it into gear before buzzing off. Absolutely.
Mom does have a point, though—about the danger. I fully grasp the irrationality of this hobby. It’s dangerous, pure and simple, but part of that danger is why it’s so cool. Flying, as Mom points out, is not dangerous—at least statistically speaking. But it still feels dangerous, and so I feel justified in the fact that I must drown myself in meds to tolerate a single commercial flight. On an airplane, you don’t feel that vast tunnel of air whipping against you. You don’t hear the guttural rumble of the engine as you roll back on the throttle. You don’t feel free or at peace or in control. You feel a slave to whatever destiny this particular flight has in store for you. I accept the danger of riding a motorcycle because I’m in control, and it’s worth it.
“What do you think? You ready to order?” It’s the waiter again. He’s having trouble holding his patience.
“Oh gosh, I still haven’t looked at the menu,” Mom says, picking up the menu for the third time. “Just another minute. I’m sorry.”
The waiter leaves and I see now Mom’s never going to breathe easy about this. I can tell she’s not really reading the menu, but rather swarming her head with gruesome thoughts. The best I can do is reassure her. “Look Mom, I’ve been riding my bike—as in my bicycle—for many years now, in the city. It’s not the same, but there are similarities, like your invisibility to other cars, the need to keep your head on a swivel, even the handling, to some extent. I’ve passed that reckless phase and I can apply the same attentiveness to riding a motorcycle. And I do. I’m not messing around, Mom.”
“I don’t know… Well, like you said, there’s not much I can do.”
“There really isn’t. The bike’s paid, registered, insured. And I’m an adult.”
“What did Dad say about it?”
“He said, ‘I don’t like it, but you’re a grown man and I can’t stop you.’”
“I need another drink,” She returns to the menu and begins genuinely looking over her options. A thought strikes her and that smile she entered the restaurant with is beaming across her face. “So can I see it?”
After dinner, I take Mom out to see the Shadow. Her first reaction is one of delight. “It’s gorgeous!” she elates, and I agree. Of course it’s gorgeous—it’s a V-twin 750 cc cruiser with shiny chrome piping, an elegant grey-on-black fuel tank, round elevated mirrors, and a beach bar. It’s the catch-all seal to my polka-dotted manliness. “So how does it work?”
I get excited at this and begin calmly taking Mom through the steps of starting a motorcycle. “First,” I say, as I strap on my helmet and mount the bike, “you make sure it’s in neutral. Then, you open the fuel valve, turn the ignition, which is right next to the engine on this bike, and hit this red starter button.”
With that, the engine rumbles into an idle. It’s a bit choppy so I pull out the choke and explain to Mom that the cool weather makes it harder for the engine to turn over. It needs a second to warm up. Then I close the choke and slowly pull back on the throttle. The engine purrs into a fine, even roar, and Mom is smiling in a way that bears both excitement and uneasiness. A passing dude with headphones regards us with abject indifference. It unnerves me a bit, and I feel like a softie trying to impress his mom by pulling a lever on a noise machine. Shake that thought.
By now Mom has removed her smartphone and, from what I can tell, is making a home video of her son on his brand new motorcycle. It’s starting to feel a little uncool. I smile but I know it can hardly be seen beneath my full face helmet, which relieves me somewhat, because smiling while mounted on a 750 cc cruiser is not cool.
“Alright, mom. I’m gonna drive—I mean, ride—I’m gonna ride off now.”
“Okay, love you!” She’s looking at me through the screen of her iPhone. I half expect her to start jumping up and down like a Japanese schoolgirl with her hand in a V sign. Jikai mo otanoshimini!
“Love you too, Mom.” My shout is cut off by the sound of the engine as I push the throttle to the limits of first gear and kick it into second. A dark thought creeps into my skull and makes me chuckle: I imagine pulling into traffic and getting flattened by a passing semi—my dreams of engineborne masculine assertion crumpled by the sidewalk, a gasping mother hardly able to register the cruel irony of her Thursday night dinner with Ty Ty.
But there’s no terminal truck collision tonight, just a smooth creep onto Mass Ave. I can feel Mom clocking away at her highly sharable video. An hour later she sends it to me and tells me how cool I am. A day later she posts it on Facebook and all of her friends write flattering comments beneath it. For a moment, I don’t feel like such a man. It doesn’t feel cool anymore. But then I remember Katie and Maria, so I head outside to catch one more glimpse of my motorcycle before bedtime.
Tyler Wells Lynch is a writer, of some sort. When he’s is not covering the ins and outs of the consumer tech industry, he’s busy propping up a nonexistent career in literary fiction. He is the founder/editor-in-chief of WhiningPast.com, a bumbling homebrewer, an amateur music producer, and a Jack of all trades—master of none. His work has appeared in Vice, The Awl, McSweeney’s, and too many forgotten hard drives. He spends a lot of time worrying.