He pushed the broom with deliberate strokes, stirring up cigarette butts, leaves and windblown trash under the long row of bristles. Music from the still-crowded bar made its way to the sidewalk he now cleaned meticulously.
No Clue they called him, the newest prospective member of this venerable motorcycle club. Prospect for short anonymity. Fitting, he snorted, considering the mining exploits of this dream-weary town.
But prospector implied individuality, self-determination, something he relinquished tonight. For all of its revelry, this was a serious club that demanded attention to detail. And no one knew this better than its prospects, if not initially then soon.
As he swept, he continued to question the logic of his decision. He had spent his entire life avoiding arbitrary authoritarianism.
He opted out of football and its towel-pecking order in favor of the then little-known (at least in his small neck o' the woods) sport of soccer. He dodged the military although many friends entered to prove themselves. When he made it to college, he and his ilk rumbled with fraternities rather than pledge them.
But this was different, he told himself, the opposite in a way. This was more than membership in a club, even one steeped in tradition. To him this was a push back on conformity, his last vestige of working-class grit in an otherwise white-collar life.
He had decided to forsake the comforts his cubicle afforded - luxury cars, sushi lunches and wine tastings - for two wheels, tamales and shots of Jameson's.
A young but respected member appeared in the doorway and inquired how the first night was going.
"Alright, I guess," No Clue admitted. "To be honest, I've never much thought of myself as a club joiner. Please tell me this is worth it."
"Like anything else, it's what you put into it," replied the member, getting on his bike. "If you're into motorcycling, this is the place."
After sweeping up, the prospect went inside to gather bottles and cans from behind the bar. Bathroom garbage followed. Then the kitchen. Then sleep.
Two-thirds of all meetings, work parties and club rides. That was the minimum required of all applicants. Show up early, set up, break down, take orders and clean up. Repeat, this time faster with fewer instructions.
The load was large on every prospect, but No Clue had joined at an especially inopportune time. Two months into his three-month probationary period would be the club's 100th anniversary, an event that had been in planning for years.
As one of the oldest motorcycling organizations in the nation, its centennial would garner immense recognition within the community. Which in turn required real work.
The clubhouse received a facelift of no small proportions, with new paint and varnish inside and out. A new trophy case was built. New lights were hung. Every piece of memorabilia - from the vintage cycles hanging from the ceiling to the ancient ribbons and photographs that adorned the walls - got the attention it was due.
No Clue threw himself into the club, working weeknights and weekends, sometimes 16 hours in a day. Whatever was left to be done, typically the least desirable tasks, he took up willingly. The club became his focus.
In truth, the work never scared him. Although it'd been years since he made a living with physical labor, he was familiar with it and kept himself in shape to handle it.
No it was humiliation he feared. It was this fear that drove him, sometimes too quickly too hard.
By now, he had already been chided for lapses in memory, forgotten tasks in hectic times. He had been called handicapped, for instance, by an older member for failing to retrieve something fully and quickly. Just another slip resulting from an overload of multiple, simultaneous requests.
This insult alone, which came early in his probation, nearly ended his try. He fought back a diatribe of his own that would have no doubt led to expulsion or violence or both. And he almost didn't care. Almost.
So No Clue sought to avoid all such potential conflict simply by exceeding everyone's expectations all the time.
On one particularly anarchic group ride through the city that saw more than a hundred bikes streaming through, he was told he would be needed back at the clubhouse early to prepare dinner for the members and their guests. On the last leg of the trip, he worked his way toward the front of the pack.
Now among the first half-dozen riders, he was ready to leap forward whenever an opening appeared. But his plan went awry when the leaders of the group made a sudden left turn that he and a couple others before him couldn't follow.
So he tailed the two riders, who had begun splitting traffic at a rapid clip. Quickly, it became apparent despite the valiant riding of the fellows in front - one of whom was banging a suicide shift on an Indian while dodging rearview mirrors - he would have to break out to make it back first.
No Clue shifted hard right into the opening between cars one lane over and wicked the bike up. At 50 miles an hour splitting through 35-mph traffic, he saw the light well ahead go yellow. He cracked the throttle.
At this point, we should likely review some fundamental concepts of physics:
While we might debate precisely when the prospect reached the point of no return, the claim can be made he crossed this the moment he sped up, upon his initial commitment. At 50 going on 60 going on 70 near instantly, all of the braking in the world would have either had him sliding slowly through the intersection or, at best, halted in the middle of it just as the onslaught of cars began.
Knowing this and also fully aware four-wheeled obstacles would be ambling into his path before he would get there, No Clue made the somber decision to press on, let it ride. He felt his years of experience would lead him past any of the slow-moving cages about to confront him.
And then the unexpected materialized in the form of a bright red Ducati. The other rider, unseen between cars parked waiting to go straight across the road the prospect was rocketing down, launched from the now-green light as any self-respecting motorcyclist would do.
In a blur, these two missles began hurtling toward the same point in what must have seemed an inevitability to anyone watching. No Clue clamped down on his brakes so hard the back end of his bike became light. But his machine would not be stopped. It would barely be slowed before impact.
As the prospect shot into the intersection, the other rider then just yards away, spotted him and locked down his own bike. An opening!
No Clue saw his chance and pushed the left handlebar unimaginably hard, sending the bike sideways. Nipping past the Duc's front tire, he swerved hard right to upright his bike, leaving the red rider cursing in the cross street.
No Clue couldn't stop shaking as he headed to the clubhouse, his hands still quivering when he walked into the kitchen. He wasn't first. Hell, he wasn't in the first dozen back, but all of that seemed pointless.
After some ribbing over his tardiness, he worked the night as best he could taking some comfort in the belief no one from the club had seen his dangerous foolishness. He had already promised himself to post a public apology on a local message board in an attempt at atonement.
Then toward the end of the evening, one of the more revered members - a past president - approached him and said, "You know you almost killed that guy."
"Yes, I know," No Clue responded forlornly. "I was trying to get back here first to set up."
"If that's trying, lose it or get lost yourself," the member said dryly. "We don't have room for people who can't handle their rides."
Once again the prospect left the clubhouse ready to quit, feeling he had made an enemy of the ex-president and anyone he told of the near vehicular assault.
But the following meeting he was there. Having written and posted that apology, he pondered his ability to leave at will. This isn't the service, he chanted.
Every step, every proof of his abilities was answered with a new challenge. When No Clue learned how to fetch dinner, prepare and disassemble the meeting room, and clean up after everyone without missing a beat, the heat intensified.
Now some officers had taken to insulting him openly in a show of frustration. After one meeting, the secretary of the club waited for the prospect to finish sweeping before tossing the remains of his dinner on the floor.
When No Clue shrugged off the added work with a sideways smile, he was pelted with a food wrapper. Again he tried to make a joke of his predicament, jovially attributing the latest attack to the sitting president. He had obviously done it.
But the president halted the banter with his response.
"Are you making accusations, prospect?" he demanded, to the hoots of onlookers. "We can step outside if you are. Don't let your mouth write checks your ass can't cash."
No Clue was dumbfounded. He didn't know whether to try another joke or take this matter seriously. After a couple of seconds, anger took over and made the decision for him.
"Are you kidding?" he shot back, clenching his fists. "I need to know now because if I take you up on it, the last thing I want to hear you mumbling as you pick up your teeth is, 'I wath only joking.'"
Alas, that last line was never heard anywhere but in the prospect's head. His initial question went unanswered. In his hesitation, the din of the clubhouse had swallowed his inquiry. If the president had heard it, he didn't show it.
Finally, the centennial weekend arrived. Riders from all over the region joined the club for a block party, group rides and heavy, heavy drinking.
The prospect alone picked up more than 30 cases of beer. Liquor flowed equally freely. And this was just Thursday night! He got home Friday night at 3 o'clock Saturday morning, took a two-hour nap and returned to prepare for the all-day street party. By the end of the weekend, No Clue had spent as much time at the event as anyone, doing everything from running trash to tending bar.
Even his most ardent critics were swayed by his efforts, thanking him at every turn. His beers were paid for, dinner was on the house, and an equal share of the bar tips was thrust into his reluctant hands.
For the first time, No Clue felt what it might be like to be a member. And boy did he like it. There's something about watching 'Mad Max' at a crowded bar while cycles do burnouts at the door that gets the blood flowing.
But it was not to last. As a final chore, the prospect decided to sweep his sidewalk, which was now in complete shambles.
After collecting all of the paper, plastic and broken glass that littered the iconcrete, he noticed a familiar form in the doorway. It was this dreadful bitch of a woman who had been giving him grief all weekend. A longtime member who hadn't made a single ride, meeting or work day since he'd been there, she forced him to ask permission for entry every time he ran an errand.
He took note of a street cone in her hand and shuddered. Sure enough, she wanted him to wear it, with a video camera rolling.
The prospect recoiled but couldn't get out of this. She was beside him and moving the cone up to his head. I'll shove that fucking thing up her decrepit ass before I put it on, he thought.
He knew, however, that refusing her request would negate all of the work of the weekend, every mark of his dedication.
So he ate what remained of his dignity and held the cone up, just above his head. This still wasn't enough.
"Drop it," the old bat coaxed. "Put it on, put it on. Just like a hat."
And with that, he let go. The camera rolled as traffic breezed by. The seconds were painfully long; she had gotten her jollies within a minute.
It was over but the prospect was now seething. He could barely stomach the ridicule of regular members who actually contributed to the club alongside him. Taking shit off this lazy cunt was simply too much. He sat on the edge of the sidewalk trying to figure out what to do.
At first he resolved that any group who would have this vile person didn't deserve him. He was perversely pleased with the idea of going down in the books as the hardest-working prospect to ever quit the club. Nice.
But then he recounted the times he and those he knew had been considered ignoble, treated like dirt because of their appearances, because they rode bikes. The sudden No Vacancy signs. The rude waitstaff. The impromptu lane changes. The unwarranted searches.
And he realized all of this hazing was a check. If you've ridden long and far, you've encountered some of this, the world's way of charging us for being different.
To not only enter this subculture but lay claim to it, proudly declare it your own, you had to be willing to show you can suffer, have suffered.
At last, he knew he was among his fellow outcasts, outlaws. Any departure from this would be false, make believe. After years of denying it, he begrudgingly admitted he was a biker.
No Clue sauntered into the clubhouse and took a seat at the bar. Behind it stood the cone-happy cackler and the club president, who himself had remained cool to the prospect for the duration of the anniversary.
After taking the prospect's order, he returned with the beer. Then, surprisingly, he put out his hand. No Clue reached for it.
The president grabbed him by the forearm and pulled him over the bar into an embrace. Everybody stopped.
"We kept throwing things at you because we just couldn't believe what you could do," the president whispered. "You should know, you're in."