One Twist at A Time

This Father’s Day I called my father-in-law about a stuck bolt on my motorcycle and ended up finding catharsis.

Let’s roll it back.

These past six months, my wife and I have been battling a mysterious illness that has thwarted attempts to treat or diagnose it. We have no idea what it is, but it means my wife falls down sometimes, can’t walk and is often bedridden. The saddest part is my wife is a wonderful poet and writer in her own right, but this malaise draws up a fog that stops her from comprehending words like she used to. Apropos for the wife of someone working on a Gothic novel, but there it is, the universe loves irony.

A lot of people don’t know it, but illness strikes at everyone around the person suffering, not just the patient. I have had to take up a lot of the household tasks as well as my day job and my writing career, which leads me to a malaise of my own: the thirty-something’s propensity to want sleep more than going out or “having fun.” The illness also creates problems with our family, and strains the first year of our marriage. Thankfully our friends have been more than understanding that we can’t have as much time for them as we used to.

Around my 30th birthday, I decided that in spite of everything I was going to do something that was meaningful to me to commemorate. Ironically I purchased the bike originally from Cycle Therapy in Manhattan, and it has become my go-to for stress. Like my wife needing the nearby beach to forget about her problems, my bike is my vacation from things I have no control over, like having my driver’s side mirror taken out on the highway by a truck, in slow traffic, with yards of buffer. Or having the boiler spill toxic smoke into my lower level apartment. Or being the only one who knows just how bad my wife has it, because she doesn’t trust anyone else with her debilitating symptoms. Just a taste of the things that came about my first month as a thirty-year old.

Alice, in the Uhaul

I own a 2000 Ducati Monster 750 that I bought around my last semester of college. She is bright yellow, and I call her my “Risotto Rocket,” or Alice to my loved ones. I was working as a movie projectionist at the time, and I paid for my bike in layaway installments. It is my first bike ever and far too torquey for a beginning rider- when I took delivery, I rode in second gear through Manhattan, never exceeding 40mph. She is colloquially known as a “street fighter” or a “naked” which means somebody decided to rip the fairings off a murderously fast sport bike so it can zip between cars and buildings. Alice is terrifying and beautiful and has lain fallow for years, because I did not have the money for her upkeep. Alice makes me feel like I am in another world.

My wife, even through a haze of nerve damage, is a whiz at budgets. When we re-examined our income in light of our tax return we discovered there was a tiny sliver that i could use to rebuild my motorcycle, if not to actually get the insurance and other things I’ll need later to ride her. Part of the joy of a real motorcycle owner comes in tinkering and customizing your ride. It’s supposed to be what you look like on the inside. So we hopped over to the Uhaul, took a ride out to my mother’s and strapped Alice in.

it’s the left bolt in the battery case

Once I got her back to my place I discovered the previous owner or the bike shop hadn’t really done anything to Alice, at least nothing permanent. Most of the parts were in good shape, except for the battery, which I had attempted to replace years ago and instead spilt in places. So, new battery coming, that’s fine, lesson learned. But I’ve left her for so long there are a number of parts that need replacing: carbs to clean, brake lines to purge, clutch oil to change, motor oil to replace, timing belts to change, not to mention all the customization I’ll be putting in. The frame is rusted superficially from the paint stripped by acid, so I have to unbolt everything from it, get it sanded down and repaint it. So I pulled on some gloves, found my old Corolla tools and got to work.

And was instantly defeated by a rusted bolt in the battery box.

Not too many people have poked around in a 90s-naughties Ducati, but the airbox and battery box cover most of the vital parts in the bike. That beautiful trellis frame is filled end-to-end with a black, immovable plastic held on with four screws. The battery acid I had spilt corroded the screws at the bottom of the box, which meant it had gotten stuck.

The good news is I was able to homebrew a penetrating oil to loosen the bolt.  If anybody’s used penetrating oil before, it takes a day or more to really work through the rust. Now, I didn’t know this, so I was constantly in fear of rounding the hex head of the screw and getting it stuck for good. I would go in, add a little oil, afix the allen key and give her a twist. When I didn’t have the torque, I moved to a hex extension and socket wrench.

One twist at a time.

While this was happening, my wife decided try her hand at it, and that’s how we discovered it takes several attempts alternating undoing the screw with adding more oil to even move the part. Still it was tough going and we are still afraid that damn screw is going to strip on us.

One twist at a time.

If my father was alive he might have a few ideas. A lot of the tools I found are actually his, from years ago. So instead we called my wife’s father, who had a few ideas, then her mom got involved, and suddenly it felt like the whole family was getting together to extract one slightly broken screw from Alice and no rust or illness was going to stop us.

That feels bloody good. That feels like some of the rust is flaking away.

Like my wife’s invalidity and her occasional bad days, that screw is going to be a problem for a while. It’s still in my motorcycle. My father in law found a nut at the bottom but that doesn’t help, since it feels fused to the frame tab. It’s a little embarrassing that I haven’t gotten past a simple fastener, and mortifying that it was my mistake that stuck it there. As of today, the allen head is rounded and I am filing it down to get the thing out. No one method is going to work- we have a few we’re ready to try, and that’s comforting. But I think for a guy who is teaching himself motorcycle maintenance at the same time as learning how to care for someone who needs me and loves me, and editing my first novel and sequel for a re-release, I’m not doing too bad.

One twist at a time.



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