Full Denim Jacket

(Note: I first posted this a couple years ago on my old Life O’Wryly blog. I’m moving it because I’m more comfortable here. This is different from narble.wordpress.com. Why? Just because.–jrs)


I recently had lunch with a dear friend. It’s a bi-weekly get together and the talk ranges all over the spectrum of two minds who revel in critical thinking and getting it right. We dabble in physics, technology, sports, literature, life in general, and even politics. We’re both of a mind that politics should be for the people, so there’s lots of common ground. I don’t like talking politics, really, because I don’t really know who I am politically. I guess I’m an Eisenhower republican. At least, I’m comfortable saying that. It is vastly vague, but my friends on both the left and right nod as if they understand what I’m saying. I’m not sure I do, exactly, but I find the label fits me like good boots.

But that’s not what this is about. This is about loss. I wrote a couple weeks ago about it from a very personal place and I guess I’m not done. Some would call the loss I experienced that lunch day as trivial and perhaps it was, but it still broke my heart.

I’ve ridden motorcycles for most of my life, save for a decade, or so, when my kids were young. Fifteen years ago my lovely bride and I bought a Harley and have been grateful ever since. Friends and I have ridden all over Western North America during these last fifteen years and I will jump on and go at the falling of a chapeau. My summer riding jacket was new when I got the bike. It’s a standard Levi jacket, no big deal, but it has traveled with me for sixty-five thousand miles and is now held together with new denim in places, a lot of leather patches, and miles of memories.

I wore the tattered thing into the restaurant and hung it on a peg like a badge of honor. I’m proud of it. It’s been maintained when it could have been just thrown away and replaced. It’s like my own personal flag, much like the “freak flag” David Crosby sang about back in the Seventies. After lunch, I carried it out because I knew the heat of the day had crept in, as promised by the weather guys, and I knew I wasn’t going to wear it on the way back to work. I folded it carefully and put it in my port-side saddle bag. I threw a leg over and remembered that I’d locked the ignition and the keys were in the jacket pocket. Shit O. Deer. (Thank you David James Duncan.) So I got off and rummaged in the bag, pulled out the jacket, and got the keys. I felt a little hurried because lunch had gone on for a while and the sooner I could get back to work, the sooner I could finish my time and head home. I did not refold the jacket as carefully as I had. I just kind of wadded it up and stuffed it in there. The lid of the bag was hard to close and I knew there was quite a bit of strain on both the hinge and the latch. No matter. It would hold.

I finished the work day and headed home. I took the freeway, I-5 north, because I had a stop to make on the way and that was the most direct route. Heading up that hill to Portland, I can blow some of the carbon out and my bike does love a good snort. I can only guess what happened because I never saw it. I’d come up behind a big chip truck who was following two idiots. I dropped a gear and grabbed a big handful. My beautiful black machine flexed and took off like a big tractor shot from a cannon. Exhilaration. I pulled back into the center lane, eased off and settled into the last climb that defines the northern-most lip of the Willamette Valley. Suddenly, there was a mid-sized green car next to me with a pretty girl leaning out the window.

“Your bag is open,” she hollered. I reached behind me and, sure enough, it was. I snapped it shut, gave her a thumbs up and shouted “Thanks!”

Then, there was another car along side with the driver doing a charade that looked like he was pulling a coat around him. I waved and nodded as it dawned on me that he was probably talking about my jacket. Aw jeez.

There was no place to pull over. A truck lane yawned, but that was no good. Traffic was bunched and the next exit was two miles up the road. I decided it best to live through the ordeal and get off there. Sure enough, when I was able to stop, my beloved jacket was long gone. Grimly, I found my way to I-5 south and roared back to retrace my path. I did that twice, a seven-mile loop each time. Nothing. No jacket to be seen. Sick at heart, I rode home and sat with my chin in my hand, grieving. It was just a dumb old tattered Levi jacket I kept telling myself. All things must pass. The feelings brought my mom and dad back into focus and I just felt sad and lost. Enter Philosophy. I vowed to go check again on my way to work in the morning, which I did with the same result.

When there is no real alternative, we all seem to shrug and do whatever we can to deal with loss. We have choices. We can let loss overwhelm us or we can press on. It was a microcosm of what I’d gone through with losing my folks. Not as profound, certainly, but loss is loss and it’s weight was substantial. I’m sure the loss of my folks piggy-backed right aboard with this new setback and added some extra weight. I gave thanks for the pleasure the jacket had given me and more thanks for the memories I would always have from wearing it through heat and cold and dust and torrential wet. I found some comfort there.

I made it through the day and wearily threw my leg over for the ride home. I decided to take the freeway again. What the heck. I just putted up in the slow lane at about fifty-five scanning the breakdown strip. And there it was, twenty-four hours later, crumpled in a blue heap by the side of the road. All the rally pins were gone, broken and scattered by thousands of cars and trucks. The safety-pin-and-beads American flag was twisted and crushed beyond recognition, but the jacket was there and whole and fixable. I yelled “Thank you!” all the way home and even after I got there. It was a blessed feeling and lifted my heart to a lightness that made me downright giddy. Happy? Oh my, yes.

What I can take away from this, and you can too, is to keep trying, even after your rational mind gives up. Yeah, it’s just a dumb old jacket, but tell my heart that. There is a lesson here that I will be sorting out for a long time to come.

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