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Ghost in the Machine

Originally uploaded by Nollij.

Well here it is, the Matchless. I've been meaning to write something for and about my dad for months now, but I guess I'll start with this and let the stream of consciousness flow from there.

As long as I can remember, my dad talked about the Matchless he owned before I was born. In all my years, I never saw one. Not on TV, not in a book, not on the Internet. I came to think they were like the Pegasus: a mythical creature. Add in a touch of wistful longing in his eyes and voice every time he talked about his bike, and you've got an instant legend. It probably explains my love of motorcycles to this day (well, DUH!).

The day after my dad died, I was coming out of Woodlands Market and crossing the parking lot when I spied this immaculate Matchless. I was… thunderstruck. I stopped dead in the middle of the lane when I realized what I was looking at. All the hairs on my body were standing at attention and my nerves started jangling so hard I had a dull roar in my ears. (No, it wasn't the Matchless; he hadn't started the engine yet.) My spine felt all… fuzzy. I somehow managed to get my feet moving towards the bike and stammer something to the rider. For the life of me, I can't remember exactly what I said. I know there was a compliment, a mention of my dad riding one, a question of year, and possible something about a unicorn or pegasus… it's all a bit muddled now, like the echo of a dream. I don't remember the riders name, but he had a huge and very bright white smile against his dark skin. I don't remember his face, but his smile I'll never forget. He let me take a picture (damn cheap shit cameraphone!) and he told me it was a '68 (or did he say '69? Ah yes… jangled nerves speaking…)

I watched him for a few minutes as he suited up, started the bike and rode it away. A profound sadness crept up behind me and ripped something out of my gut as he disappeared down the road. The taste of red wine drunk with a penny under the tongue was lingering in my throat and I had to swallow hard to push down the lump of grief that was threatening to choke me. Unbidden, tears stained my cheeks and for some reason, I let them stay there, as my face suddenly felt like I'd been standing in front of a blast furnace with the door open. It was one of the few times I've ever let the tears just chill there: it felt like a silent salute to Steve. I would never again talk to him about motorcycles, the adventures he'd had on his Lambretta while riding around Europe in the 60's, never more hear the stories of the Sunday Morning Ride, never hear the stories of his adventures with Crazy Mac. It HURT and that was new. It was real pain I felt in my chest… I was more raw and more alive than I'd ever remembered feeling before.

Just then a crow alighted on top of the Woodlands Market sign. Now, crows are not an uncommon sight in Marin. They are everywhere, but they are rarely alone, at least in my observations. This was a lone crow, It was just above my line of sight and it's timing was uncanny. Crows (and Ravens) are often associated with death. They are carrion eaters AND they're all black. That's enough for most people. Crows to me though are fascinating birds, and they are evidently connected spiritually with my family. Without going into a pedantic level of detail, suffice to say that my late uncle Jimmy had the crow as his spirit animal, and he's visited his children, myself and my brother in crow form since his death in 2006. The arrival of the crow was like the point below the exclamation. Unlikely as it seems, another layer of gooseflesh rose up under the first: I was starting to feel like a frightened porcupine. I got in my truck and wept for a few minutes and after that… after that I really don't remember much of the rest of that day. I made it home without further incident, and life went on.

I've yet to see another Matchless since that day, or even the same one. Was it a ghost? Are shitty low res cameraphones capable of picking up ghosts? Maybe…

Steven English Hopper, RIP
9.20.1942 - 8.06.2007 (64 yrs, 10 mo, 17 days)
Gone, but never forgotten.


Me said...


Excellent entry. I read it, re-read it, read it for Amy... and found myself smiling, with tears in my eyes.

"Gone, but never forgotten" indeed.


nollij said...

Thank you Scott. I had tears in my eyes when I wrote it and the fountain is leaking as I write this. Hug Amy and Chloe for me and then wrap your arms around yourself and squeeze. You're a good man scott, and you honor me with your comments on my blog.

You're achievements in weight loss are a huge inspiration for me and they will help ensure that you're around a long time for those who love you. I think if my father had ridden a bike more, he might still be here. A life well lived is a beautiful thing and you're an Endymion in the making. :)