The other day, I run into Harry, a friend of mine from way back, an ethicist at the local university. A professor of ethics. Used to be.
He used to be a tweedy sort of a guy and had been since the day he was born. His parents are tweedy also, both academics. She, an anthropologist. He, a linguist. Both emeritus but not quite dead yet.
So I was shocked to see him in black leathers, with Harley Davidson logos distributed liberally across the uniform. I stopped him. We had a beer together. Turns out, he’s divorced. Another man is functioning as father to his children. Two girls. One fourteen. The other twelve, almost thirteen.
He’s living alone. A bachelor. No attachments. “Free as the open road,” he said.
“But what happened?” I asked. “You and Camille and Christine and Jasmine seemed so happy together. If ever a family was happy, yours was happy. I mean, I must confess to having envied your happiness, just a little,” I said.
Turns out, it was the shirt. A Harley Davidson shirt the two girls got him for Christmas, as a joke. A joke he was amused by at first. Oh, he laughed with them. He was socially very adept and made self-deprecating jokes about himself all the time. And so he laughed as hard as anyone at the incongruity of it. Him. A tweedy guy. A mild-mannered, polite, courteous, socially smooth sort of a guy. Wearing a Harley shirt.
But the following spring, he actually put the shirt on. Just to see how it felt. He wasn’t intending to wear the shirt, but it felt so suddenly and inexplicably good that fine spring day that he could not help himself. He went ahead recklessly and wore the incongruous shirt.
Soon it became his favorite shirt. When he wasn’t teaching, he wore it all the time. Camille found it embarrassing going grocery shopping with him. Doing anything with him, really.
And as he began to wear the shirt, he began to think. He began to wonder. He became quiet. He went for months without saying much of anything, whereas before, he was the most vociferous guy you’d ever want to know. Now he became silent and as Camille tried to coax the old Harry out, he retreated further and further into a rather taciturn and pre-verbal state.
Then he began buying some of the Harley Davidson gear. Some of the licensed gear. Which he wore more and more often, to Camille’s discomfort and then to her growing horror.
Soon, he was spending time at biker bars. Drinking cheap beer, which before he would never touch. Drinking it in mass quantities.
Then, in the spring, over two years ago, he bought himself a Sportster. He began riding with a local club. Began spending more and more time with the club members. Occasionally he wouldn’t come home.
Camille became frightened. Frightened of what was becoming of him. He drank heavily. He became angry easily now. He became loud and boisterous. He began sleeping with his female students. He didn’t even try to hide the evidence from Camille. From his colleagues.
He slept with women who frequented biker bars.
He began urinating in public.
Camille finally threw him out. Divorced him. He was fired from his teaching position.
Now he works installing wind turbines. Assembling them at the site. He enjoys the work. He enjoys watching the turbines turning in the wind. Round and round. He could watch them turn all day, he says.
“Bill,” he said, “I don’t know what it is. The life I’m leading now. It just feels right. It’s like I was made to live this life. Sure, I miss the kids. But I’m not someone they should be spending their time with anyway.”