The Gremlin Bell

One of my coworkers is a quintessential biker. He’s a gentle giant with political views far right of center and a Copenhagen circle worn into his Wranglers. He rides a purple Harley with a shag carpet seat cover, and thanks to the neon lights mounted to the undercarriage, he’s been accused of being a Village People impersonator with assless chaps by a few of my other coworkers (usually behind his back). He’s a great guy that doesn’t even like disco music, but that’s not the point.

I was smoking a cigar by his motorcycle when the sun reflected off of something silver on the bottom near the front wheel. I’m a sucker for shinny things like all other mammals so I bent down to get a closer look. It was a little bell about the size of a pecan. I remember snuffing out my cigar and running inside to ask what the hell it was for (running, because I have an OCD way of dealing with curiosity) and I was told that it was a bell to keep the road spirits, the gremlins, away. Yes, he said, almost every biker has one.

Holy shit; what a strange superstition. I guess there are all sorts of peculiarities that go along with the bells as well. You can’t simply go out and buy one; it has to be gifted to you by a loved one (preferably a woman) but she can go buy one whenever she wants. They’re about ten bucks online. It has to be fastened on the bottom near the front. I guess gremlins are really short and don’t attack from the rear.

I remember the first time I saw a motorcycle accident. I was ten or so riding with my dad through an Alaskan summer day in his shitty Honda Civic when we came upon the scene. It looked as if the biker had run into the back of a BMW and a few police officers were following him around trying to get him to lie down on a stretcher. He had no idea where he was and blood was streaming down from a crack in his skull like yoke from an egg. His subconscious had taken rein and he was moving around like a confused robot. We drove on.

There was a recent accident in southern Colorado that everybody’s been talking about. I spoke with five members of a Mexican rig crew that saw it first hand and I guess it was a gruesome travesty. A man and woman from California were riding their Harley on a road notorious for its twists and turns when they ran head on into a pickup truck. I was told that there were “body parts all over the road”. Those weren’t my words, but when someone says “body parts”, it invokes a deep seated visceral response that I try to shut myself away from. It dilutes the human aspect of the wreck in some way. C3PO faced the same fate numerous times only to be carried around in a black mesh sack on the back of a wookie so he could be put together again humpty-dumpty style. And that’s where my mind goes after hearing of such a thing; to childhood toys and PG rated movies.

I know it makes no difference in the real world, but I wonder if either of the bikes in the two accidents I just described were equipped with gremlin bells. I’ve been looking at every Harley I come across in parking lots or at gas stations and every single one of them has had little silver or golden bells dangling upfront near the asphalt. I imagine the riders smiling as a sister or a daughter or a wife hands them a small gift wrapped box with well wishes for their safety.

I’ve also noticed something else. None of the bikers I’ve seen with the little bells on the bottom of their bikes wear helmets. I guess a tiny silver bell is manly but a “brain bucket” isn’t. I even asked once, and the rider said “all a helmet does is give you an open casket funeral”. I’m nearly positive such a sentiment is bullshit, and simple physics will prove that a helmet is infinitely more effective than a shinny bell, but whatever. Superstition is an ignorant bitch and my arguments will never convince one of these badass Harley straddling road warriors that they should wear a helmet. I wonder how many of those daughters or sisters or wives would rather give their loved one a slightly larger gift wrapped box that could actually save a life instead of appease a superstition.

There’s a completely different type of rider on the streets as well; the fast and furious crotch rocket type on their Ducati’s or their Kawasaki’s. I’ve yet to find one with a bell on the bottom. A helmet with a dark black visor actually completes the aerodynamic look these guys are going for. I’m sure it’s pure coincidence but I’m pretty good at finding irony where there isn’t any, but do you know which brand manufactures most of the helmets I see this second type of rider wearing? Bell Sports. I guess if you’ve got “BELL” stenciled on the back of your helmet in big bold black letters, you don’t need a little shinny one to ward off the gremlins.

I took this picture of a Harley between two gas pumps, and if you look closely at the bottom near the foot peg, you’ll see the gremlin bell.

The Gremlin Bell


It’ll sound like a cheeky battle in semantics but to me, “mother” is more of a verb than a noun. I was watching a documentary on ring-tailed lemurs a few days back when the idea really crystallized. A mother lemur had a baby that simply couldn’t hold on with its weak little claws. She’d try to walk and the little thing with its indistinctly ringed tail would fall off and whine for assistance. I don’t know why creatures with opposable thumbs and strong jaws can’t carry their young, but I guess that’s not an option open to a mother lemur.

If an adult lemur is separated from the pack for too long, the others will attack it as an outsider. Usually the will of the pack serves the greater good of the group, but I can’t see the logic in this behavior; maybe it’s simply the result of a short attention span. Anyway, the mother lemur was falling further and further behind the others in her pack and her baby kept falling off. A quandary. She could abandon her offspring to a slow death by way of starvation (or a quick one via predator).  She could stay behind with her love and mother’s milk and hope strength eventually came to her baby’s arms. She sat in the middle of her torture looking back and forth between her options with beady eyes that had a calculative look. The narrator said that scientists used the moment to prove that primates have emotional hurtles like we do; that they have ingrained maternal instincts. It was proof that all mammals love.

The mother lemur stuck her ringed tail in the air like Pepe Le Pew and left her child in the dirt. She walked away to the wailing of her baby as she chose inclusion over the next generation. I’ve seen worse on the nightly news so don’t judge our primate too harshly. Babies both with and without fur have been left to nature’s stoic mercy. My point is that mothers don’t always mother; sometimes they reproduce and turn away. That makes them something else, something separate and not necessarily worthy of the honorific “Mother”.

Moving from one place to another is frightening; the familiar is infinitely more preferable to a creature of habit. When my wife snapped and decided that we’d be moving to the lower forty-eight, to say I was hesitant doesn’t quite cover it. But her mother started packing. I loved Alaska, but my mother-in-law had lived it. She was born there. She survived the quake of ’64, and a statement like that just sounds momentous. That’s the type of thing toothless old men say with reverence. Alaska was her home in every meaning of the word, but when her daughter wanted to leave it behind for the Land of Enchantment (barren desert), my mother-in-law followed; she Mothered.

Vicki has been there through it all and lent her hand. She’s seven miles away from her daughter but three thousand miles away from home, from the rest of her pack. Through the tough times that nearly tore Terra and I apart, she gave support when Terra wanted it and played devil’s advocate when she didn’t. When our absolutely lovely daughters were digging in our souls for blood, she stepped in as a sitter and tried to match her energy to theirs. It’s like fighting the sun with a flashlight. When Terra has been down and crying in the dirt, Vicki never weighed the options like a lemur on a forest path. She’d sit and wait and let the rest of the pack be damned because her child was in need. It’s a different level of love, really, its self sacrificial, and scientific proof isn’t necessary. I’m not quite sure why some women have it and others don’t. I’d hate to think that it’s genetic or inborn or a result of environment because that would cheapen it. There’s something mystic with that level of devotion, but either way, Vicki is more than deserving of the title. She’s truly a Mother because that’s what she does.

Both of my brothers-in-law with Terra and Vicki:

Mother’s Day Blog