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An Old Friend

Actually, we never did have much in common.

Take religion.

Now, I was a defrocked altar boy whose convictions varied between my normal atheism to militant Agnosticism when I'm argued into a corner. Militant agnostics say that they don't know anything about God, and you don't either, dammit!

Ian was sort of conventional about religion. He always went to church on Sunday, but he never much talked about it. I think he was about the only Christian I'd ever met who was capable of being polite about religion. Or at least he was always annoyingly polite with me.

And nobody ever had the slightest idea of what—if anything—Hasenpfeffer believed in. He had this talent for sidestepping whatever he felt wouldn't be personally rewarding.

Or take women.

I always tried like hell, but never got anywhere with them. Or even when I did score, they usually didn't want to see me again the next day.

I'm pretty sure that Ian knew that women were necessary for the continuation of the species, but he acted as though they were something that a rational man shouldn't waste his time on.

Like, once I brought these two girls home because I didn't know what else to do with them. They'd been hitchhiking in Detroit, a profoundly unsafe procedure. They were very young, very pretty, and very stoned on God knew what. Ian was sitting in an easy chair, reading my Scientific American, when one of them latched onto his leg. She was kneeling at his feet, babbling something about running barefoot through the forest together, and sliding down rainbows.

Ian looked down from his article, said "Rainbows lack structural integrity," and went back to reading. He wasn't queer. Just sort of indifferent.

Hasenpfeffer always seemed to have a woman within arm's reach. Even baching it with us, I don't think he ever slept alone. They seemed to follow him like flies going after shit.

Or, take politics.

Back then, I was an awfully liberal Libertarian and Ian was a conservative Republican. I'm not sure, but I think Hasenpfeffer was pretty left wing.

Or take partying. I like to drink and sing a lot. Ian was an absolute teetotaler about all drugs beyond coffee. And Hasenpfeffer did moderate amounts of everything.

Or take sports. Or hobbies. Or damn nearly anything.

Hell, I'm six foot six and Ian was five one with his elevator shoes on.

Yet when we met in the freshman registration line at U of M, we hit it off pretty quick. Hasenpfeffer had found this huge three-bedroom apartment and was looking for two people to share expenses.

We moved in that day. Oh, it was a fourth-floor walkup and the six-foot ceilings were—for me—an absolute pain, but it was cheap and that was the deciding factor. None of us had a family to fall back on for money.

I guess we did have something in common. We were all orphans.

Ian pulled a straight four point and had no difficulty in keeping his church scholarship. Hasenpfeffer had this talent for pulling dollars out of all sorts of organizations. But I was only an average student and I wasn't much good at filling out forms and begging.

I'd used up a small inheritance by the end of my junior year, and joining the Air Farce seemed like a better shot than getting drafted into the Army. They put me through a year of electronics school and then had me spend three years pretending to fix computers under this mountain in Massachusetts. They'd never even let me ride on a military airplane. . . . 

Towards sunset, looking up old friends seemed like a good idea, and my bike made a right turn into Rochester, a strange little town.

The locals claim that the engineer who laid out the street plan was drunk for eight weeks before he drew the first line, but I knew better. It takes large groups of people working earnestly together to do something that stupid.

The arithmetic average of the number of streets coming into an intersection is probably somewhere around four, but the modal number is three, with the next most likely number being five and after that seven. The whole town is like a quilt made by crazy old ladies out of random polygons. There's even one frightening crossroads called 'Twelve Points." No shit.

Right downtown, doubtless by accident, there are these two streets that cross at almost right angles, although one of them changes its name in the process. This oddity so astounded the locals that they built this big office structure there and called it "The Four Corners Building."

I passed it seven times trying to find Hasenpfeffer's address, and it was pretty late when I finally got there.

I recognized it right off when I saw it. It was exactly the sort of place he had to live in. It was an ancient clapboard mansion that had long ago been converted into housing for the perpetually poor class, students. It was painted barn red and had a yellow external staircase with fully eleven odd-angle turns in it that led up to the sixth-floor attic. I didn't have to read the mailboxes to know that Hasenpfeffer had to live on top. He was home, and—A Wonderment!—was actually alone, bereft of all female accompaniment.

"Well, Tom. The parallelism of truly linked souls." Hasenpfeffer hadn't changed much. The same blue eyes, blond hair, and straight features. Only now he had a full beard, his hair brushed his shoulders, and he no longer belonged on a poster advertising the Hitler Youth Movement. Instead, he was ready to compete in a Jesus Christ Look-Alike contest.

He was wearing this yellow scholar's robe with a garish collar.

"Huh?" My first comment to him in four years, barring a few letters.

"Your motorcycle. I saw you pull up. I have one just like it, but without the Ranger faring." He stood up and twirled to show off the gaudy cadmium yellow circus tent he was wearing. It had two broad strips of bright blue velvet running up the front, over the shoulders, and then meeting at the back of this oversized hood. Not that he could have put up the hood, since he wore this black tam-o'-shanter with a gold tassel.

"What do you think?"

"They make you wear that all the time, or just when you're on duty?"

"None of the above. I'm getting my doctorate in Behavioral Psychology tomorrow. That is why you came, isn't it?"

"Well, no. Just passing through. But I'll stick around if you want."

"You are out of the Air Force?"


"Any plans?"

"Uh, none, really." I didn't think that he'd understand about officers.

"Excellent! Then we can leave in two days."

"Leave? Where are we going?"

"No place in particular. I have a Department of Defense grant to study social interactions within motorcycle gangs. That's how I bought the BMW. Forming our own gang will be much pleasanter and safer than trying to join the Hell's Angels."

Great. Me they stuff under a mountain. For him, they buy a motorcycle.

"Hell, why not?"

"Excellent! Ian will be with us, at least at first."

"Ian McTavish? What's he doing with himself?"

"He got his bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering two years after you left, and a second one in World History at the same time. He has been working for General Motors ever since. He has three weeks vacation due him, and we're to pick him up in Michigan this coming Friday."

"Great. Who else?"

"No one. Just the three of us."

"So three people constitute a motorcycle gang? I mean, if you've got this paper to write . . ."

"I can pad it out a bit. No one reads these DOD things anyway."

Hasenpfeffer lent me a tie and made me wear it to the graduation ceremony. I thought it looked funny with a T-shirt and a leather jacket, but it was his show. It was about six hours of boring people proving how boring they could be, and after all that, they didn't even give him his diploma, just a blank roll of paper. The real one was to be sent later. Much later, as it turned out.

The party afterwards was worse than the ceremony itself, with all the grads and their families standing around while the professors came in, "made an appearance," and left as soon as possible.

I'm patient enough to put up with things like that for old friends. Once in a while. At least I didn't have to stand in formation.

In the course of the day, about a dozen slender young women came up to say goodbye to Hasenpfeffer. They each got a smile, a hug, and some vague promises about seeing each other again. He politely introduced each of them to me, but it seemed that I wasn't somebody that they wanted to meet. They each left as soon as possible.

That night and the next morning, we got all his stuff packed and a moving company hauled most of it away for storage. A half dozen more girls came by for their goodbye kisses, and one of them spent the night with him. He actually invited the last two of them to spend the night, but with me, since he was already occupied, but they developed pressing engagements elsewhere. They both left at a dead run, although one of them stopped to see if I was following, and to pick up a rock.

The two of us were on the road Friday morning at ten with a clear blue sky above us.

We took the short cut through Canada, and 401 is a good place for road bikes. I was glad that Hasenpfeffer had bought a BMW because people who own them don't much like rolling with those who ride all the lesser breeds.

It's not that we're uppity, so much, though pride has a certain amount to do with it. It's just that a BMW is about the only machine that can go on forever without breaking down. I had to stop running with a buddy in the service because his Honda had an average of three mechanical problems a day, and that sure ruins a trip.

But with good machinery between our legs, we knew that there wouldn't be any holdups, so we could afford the time to make about four beer stops and load up on that fine Canadian brew. I never could figure out how one people could make such great beer and such lousy cigarettes.


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