Perhaps the girl who had been raped was part of the answer. I shall call her Jasmine, as she loved perfumes and bath oils. I believed Jasmine. The biker in front of me rubbed his crotch like a baseball player. I kept my eyes down, so I noticed. Staring someone in the face could be misconstrued as confrontational, certainly provocative. I didn’t want to provoke, and I was concerned about arousing the engine of destruction between his legs. His leather jacket and chaps on the floor emitted an odour akin to a horse or bull too long stabled. If I demeaned myself, knelt and pleaded, would he show mercy? It shames me to confess after all these years that I wanted to do it: I wanted to kneel before those boots that could have kicked my teeth out. By touching, by caressing, by rolling over, submitting like a cub in a wolf pack, my acknowledgement of superior prowess would deflect and soften the biker’s savage intent. My knees buckled and my mind abdicated moral resistance and reason, becoming blurred and riddled with glinting contradictions, bits of arguments and objections, here momentarily then instantly gone. Despite all my liberal humanist leanings, my admiration for Montaigne, yes, obedience and humbling myself before his black boots would save me from my own weakness.

How to say it? The line between anxiety and submission, terror and fascination, the yielding in the presence of mastery, is closer than I had imagined. I couldn’t speak; my thoughts swirled and tumbled and glittered like evanescent sparks of fireflies with alien desire, perhaps born out of the instinct for self-preservation commingled with the allure of masculine power, the definition of it embodied in leather gear and hairy bikers, the secret to fascist politics, the abdication of reason and self for the sake of mythological glory. If they didn’t kill, what was the worst that could happen? Buggery and blowjobs? Some males in the college experienced that regularly and didn’t seem the worse for wear. In the polyamorous mingle and mangle of sexual frolic in the ashrams, a man wasn’t less of a man because of his sexual activities. What did it matter who fucked whom among co-religionists or willing participants?

He grabbed me by the neck, knocking flat the fantasy of bootlicking humiliation to save my life or my ass, pulled me forward, and pressed my head almost into the cavity of the washing machine where jeans and shirts and underwear had twisted themselves against the side of the drum.

“They need drying, bitch.”

Nothing in my studies had prepared me for this. Literature was not going to come to my aid as I reached it and shook out a blue shirt, then boxer shorts of assorted colours, two pairs of jeans, work socks, the kind construction workers wore, and armless grey T-shirts. The second washing machine also rumbled to a stop. No doubt I would have to empty that one as well. Why would they have chosen to use two machines when one would have done the job as well, but I didn’t ask the question? The difficulty I now faced, combined with mind-wracking tension that must have visibly burned in my eyes, was the drying. The dryers required coins to operate. I didn’t have any coins on my person, although I was tempted to say, if they’d wait a minute, I could go back to my place for some quarters. But then they could have followed and committed mayhem and rape in my own apartment. Where did they rape you? As if locale mattered.

What means to soothe the incipient savagery in their breast? The charm of music not immediately available, and I imagined the kind of music they preferred didn’t include lutes and spinets or Joan Baez or even the Beatles. No: more down in the gutter bluesy lamentations, or Jim Morrison or Steppenwolf, maybe even some Nashville shit. What did I know? If breaking out in song had helped, I’d have attempted a Janis Joplin tune. Without quarters and sparing no quarter, they would act out the inevitable. They could beat me, pull my pants down, and bend me over a washing machine, drag me into the elevator up to the roof and heave me over. Death stared me in the face, as the saying goes, or I imagined it did so. I had fancied myself philosophically prepared to die, having recently immersed myself in Montaigne’s essays for a Renaissance literature course, so death was much on my mind: “The premeditation of death is the premeditation of liberty; he who has learned to die has unlearned to serve,” so the man believes in one of his essay. Well, it was one thing to write about death, being unafraid, and forming academic paragraphs designed to meet the approval of a professor, it was quite another to piss my pants over the expectation of a biker fucking me in the laundry room. I was too young to die. Drugs hadn’t addled my mind. I knew a bird when I saw one, and the limitations of human flight.

“Hope is a thing with feathers,” Emily Dickinson asserts. Although I didn’t believe in the soul, I guess you’d call the feeling hope, hope that perhaps they didn’t have death on their mind, just little power games and satisfaction derived from humiliating a weaker vessel of humanity. Obedience to their will delayed any spontaneous viciousness, so I began shaking out the wet laundry and piling it in the dryers. After shutting the door to the big dryer, capable of holding two loads of laundry and requiring a dollar worth of quarters to get the job done, I paused. I heard heavy breathing and smelled smoke. Both men had lit up, one a cigar.

“Ah, the machine…do you have any quarters?”

And would I have to wait until the job was done? How long did it take to dry clothes and suck dick? Two dicks in all likelihood. It was approaching two in the morning. I had a nine o’clock class. European Renaissance Literature. I had boned up on Montaigne, having just that evening finished rereading his great essay “On Cannibals.” If they weren’t going to beat or kill me, dismember my body and eat it for a late-night snack, just let them rape me and get it over with. I wouldn’t resist. I wouldn’t scream. I wouldn’t go to the college authorities, an oxymoron if ever there was one, I wouldn’t confess to friends. I wouldn’t even tell the woman, also a student at the university, whom I planned to marry, a bourgeois and counterintuitive move on my part, maybe even risible in the eyes of many college residents. Oh, there’d be pain, blood probably, but it would pass. The girl lived to tell the tale to whoever would listen. I don’t know what happened to her over the years, and it saddens me to remember the look in her eyes. Like a monk, I took a vow of silence.

Already I had compromised my deepest sense of integrity and self by imagining that I’d lick whatever they demanded in return for just leaving me alone unharmed. If they wanted to fuck, I’d cooperate; or if they wanted to play rough, then, here, slap one cheek. I would have turned the other. I was not necessarily a moral superior in any case, so what right had I to judge? Decline, yes, protest, yes; hope for the best, yes; but moral judgment did not sit easily in Free Alternative Academy. Violence was not my way of life, although like staring into the chasm, I could tip into it if I let myself give up any and all compunctions entirely. Already I had wandered into a dark forest of fantasy and unconscious desires. Far from fleeing that mythical ravenous wolf, I entertained notions of compliance and dalliance and satisfying its savage hungers. Was my masculinity expressing itself here? What was speaking here? Impossible to grasp a single minnow or firefly. How would the world be different if one biker or both fucked me? I wasn’t a girl. I wasn’t poor Jasmine. I wouldn’t feel the say way, surely, about violation. And I’d still be alive, pace Montaigne.

Zed blew cigar smoke in my face. I didn’t smoke much myself, at least not cigars, and the stench burned its way up my nostrils.

“You got change, Bub?”

At first, I thought he was asking me, and I said “no” exactly when Bub answered, “yeah.” What was it with these peculiar names? Bub and Zed. Even Brando in The Wild One had a recognizable name like Johnny. Some saving wreckage of hope floated into my mind on which I hung like a surviving sailor, breathless. If they had quarters, I reasoned, they wouldn’t then commit violence against my person. I could begin to recognize that I had been judging them through my own preconceptions and prejudices. Didn’t we all? That the story of the girl’s rape had affected me in ways I had not considered, that I believed her, and there had been no redress. That I had morally floundered in the presence of biker boots and muscle, my own sense of masculine inferiority heightened by an illogical, maybe even bone-deep fascination with otherness and power, and the mechanisms of rebellion. They could have kidnapped and kept me for their pleasures, subjecting me to their lust, or straddling on the Harley’s bitch pad behind the driver as they zoomed towards the horizon. When Bub inserted the quarters in the slot and started the dryer, it was clear that I would live to marry. Spared humiliation and yet feeling humiliated, I would also lose the freedom of the open road forever.

From somewhere down the corridor, laughter and music flowed into the laundry room like a shapeless spectral visitor, unexpected, for all three of us paused in our positions, not so much affrighted as momentarily taken unawares, and listened. A girl’s laugh, rather loud, not Jasmine’s, but upper register and, and pretending to be amused or happy; I heard the strain of it, just as I heard the deep-throated rumbling of the dryer, and the clicking of metal against metal, maybe a coin or chain mixed up with the clothes. That voice; she couldn’t have been far. The music more folksy than hard rock or heavy metal, it might have been a Pete Seeger ballad. Many gentle souls lived in the college, myself among them, people who believed in sharing and consensus, the elimination of power structures of any kind that thwarted our lives and suppressed our desires.

My eyes watered from the cigar smoke. Zed stood so close to me that I could count the hairs on his chest and hear the sound of smoke down his throat and smell his gum-scented breath and inhale the heady aroma of old leather. Bub hoisted himself onto a washing machine and raised one leg over another and farted. He didn’t look as if he was getting ready to fuck anyone. In fact, unlike Zed, he hadn’t paid all that much attention to me, nor I him. Zed had kept me fixed on his attention, as if wondering what he could do with me. I tried hard not to engage him by challenging stares, but I couldn’t avoid looking at him in front of the dryer, still checking out his crotch, nor did I miss the hardness of his blue eyes: not blue cinematic eyes, more like a smoky blue, opaque, filmed over, having lost their lustre. He could stare one down, though, and my free will began disassembling and scattering like a school of tiny fish. He cut through the bone and dismantled pretense and resistance. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, but I would have done whatever he wanted.

He took out a thin package of cigarettes and offered me one. Not a cigar, a cigarette. To accept or not accept. I hesitated.

“You don’t smoke?”

Not tobacco, ordinarily. I took the cigarette, and trying my best to imitate guys who accepted a light from another guy, inhaled strongly enough to get the tobacco burning, I managed to swallow the first puff of smoke without coughing. Perhaps experience with tokes had inured me to the sensation. Did this mean we were equals; friends at least? Did he no longer want to abuse me? I took another drag and jolted as if poked by a cattle prod when his hand caressed my neck. Not the same sensation at all as the neck pull to the washing machine.

“Nervous kind of guy, ain’t cha? Just some lint on your neck.”

The singing ended just as I realized that, far from resenting the shock, I had liked it. I can still feel the blood flushing my cheeks after all these years: that searing touch of the outsider, the rebel against any and all confining ideology: what are you rebelling against, Johnny? Whaddaya got? That fascination with someone who operated with a complete disregard of the rules and regulations the rest of us lived by, even in the radical educational experiment that ultimately collapsed under the weight of financial mismanagement, smothering debts, social disapproval, internecine conflicts, and a too, too soft heart. Unlike the history student and other residents who exercised their liberation and derring-do from safe academic seats, the biker was no poseur of alternative choices, no wannabe radical revolutionary, but the authentic thing itself, maybe criminal maybe not, an easy rider like Peter Fonda wherever fancy took him, and seductive like the abyss, and as fucking real as his leather boots on the ground and the stinking exhaust of his Harley.

My stint as watchman, two hours, was just about over. Zed turned to say something to Bub as the tumbril clunked to a stop. My cigarette had burned to a nub. Aside from removing the jeans and shirts, nothing more would transpire. I could leave without a word, neither Zed’s nor mine. I decided against emptying the dryer and watching the bikers cover their intimidating bodies with clean clothes. Through a perfect circle of smoke blown out of his mouth, Zed said “stick around, bitch,” as he himself opened the dryer door and extracted a pair of jeans, but freed from his imprisoning gaze, a sense of who I was and where my future lay gathered enough strength to make me step away.

One half of my brain, well, say, a quarter, resisted temptation by moral arguments: biker gangs were not gatherings of angels, at least not Heaven’s, and despite pictures of bikers bringing stuffed animals to children’s hospitals, we have all heard the horror stories: their drugs, murders, and nefarious activities. I don’t romanticize: at least, not now. And I look back at the incident with feelings softened but not clarified by time, and threaded with strands of longing and memory of fear. Occasionally bikers blast by my country house on their choppers on their way elsewhere, always on their way elsewhere. Sometimes a single, bearded, burly, booted and helmeted rider turns his head towards the aging man in the front perennial bed who wears gardening gloves and stares at the convoy. I wonder if he understands that fear can be overcome, that appearances and location can deceive, and there are manifold and various ways of travelling different roads towards alternative experiences. I like to think it’s Zed, unchanged by the passing decades, rubbing his crotch with one hand, his opaque blue eyes recognizing me momentarily through his dark glasses. His Harley roars past, the bitch pad unoccupied.


For all installments of “Bitch Pad,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. One
  2. Two