“What’s this goddam old broad doing in Banjo’s coffin?”
A PARTY FOR BANJO
It was nearly the last lap in the race and Banjo jockeyed his Yamaha into position behind the eight scooters ahead. His partner, Dave, had been lagging behind for several laps, making the crowd think he had engine trouble.
Up in the stands Alvin, Charlie and Dennis were cheering wildly along with the rest of the crowd.
Alvin was Humboldt County, California’s only one-man outlaw motorcycle club. He was a rumpkin and nobody wanted him so he had painted on his sleeveless jacket, “The Lonliest Onliest”.
His only friends were Charlie and Dennis, a couple of novice racers and Banjo and Dave, who had cheated their way up into the amateur ranks.
Banjo and Dave were down on the track now, working at another trophy for Banjo toward Expert status. They planned to help each other along until they could compete for big money in the National Championship Races.
Charlie and Dennis knew their two cronies were up to no good but Alvin was too dumb to be let in on it. He was yelling, “Pass em. Banjo, pass em” and “Get on there, Dave; there ain’t nothing wrong with your bike. They’ve already passed you three times, for pity’s sake!”
The pack had bunched up going around the turn and was approaching Dave again. He dawdled until the lead racer was almost upon him. Then he leaned into the turn and as the lead racer was just about to pass him Dave gunned his throttle and his rear wheel peeled to the right; catching the front wheel of the guy behind.
The lead racer zigzagged out of control and went down in front of three of the other racers. In a split second bikers were going ass-over-teakettle all over the track.
In the confusion Banjo made his way around the only two other bikes still up and streaked for the finish. Dave had gone down yards ahead of the rest and thought he was safe. While he was lying there congratulating himself, the last bike still in the race ran over his head and its rider turned a triple somersault before landing.
Despite the chaos no one was seriously hurt. Aside from sprains and bruises, all but Dave were able to walk away. His helmet had saved his life but he still had a badly wrenched neck and a head that felt like it had been run over by a logging truck instead of a lousy
A waiting ambulance pulled up to the side of the track and its driver and attendant removed the stretcher and rushed over to Dave. They put him on it and strapped him down. Then he shook the fog out of his brain and started squirming and yelling to be let loose.
The attendant tightened the straps and told Dave to quiet down and he and the driver rushed him over to the ambulance. They sat the stretcher down in the mud beside the track and commenced to collar a couple of kids who had climbed into the back of the ambulance.
By this time Alvin, Dennis and Charlie had gotten to the scene. Dave hollered for them to let him loose and they started to undo the straps. Then the attendant and the driver shoved them away and Alvin started slugging.
The five were going around and around and gathering a crowd. Dave was left pretty much alone except for a couple of kids who were asking him if he was dead.
While Dave was trying to get the children to loosen the straps the lead racer he had fouled limped over to the stretcher. He laughed vengefully and said, “You dirty bastard. I know you did that a’purpose. You’re a cheat and your mother is a whore and your old man squats to pee.”
Dave was enraged and he screamed, “Boy, are you ever a coward! Loosen up these straps and then call me a cheat.”
The angry racer then grabbed the stretcher and flipped it over so that Dave was face down in the mud. As Dave yelled and spluttered, the racer jumped up and down on the back of the stretcher while the children and some citizens looked on admiringly.
After a few good jumps he stepped off the stretcher as the police pushed their way through the crowd. They noticed the overturned stretcher and turned it right side up.
Then they moved to the side of the ambulance where Alvin and the attendant were punching each other and Charlie and Dennis were sitting on the driver. The police separated the brawlers and asked what the trouble was.
The ambulance driver led them over to the stretcher and pointed at muddy old Dave. “It’s this fella here who’s the cause of it all. Officer”, he said. “He had a wreck on the track and he might have a broken neck and he might have a concussion, too.
“Well sir, we put him on the stretcher to take him to the hospital and he didn’t want to go. So we strapped him in tight and were about to put him in the ambulance. Then his rowdy friends jumped us and pert near kicked the shit out of me.”
While the driver was talking Dave was spluttering and trying to get the mud out of his mouth so he could speak. He was lucky that only one of his nostrils was clogged with mud or he would have suffocated.
Charlie reached out to unstrap him but a cop tapped his hand with his riot stick. Poor Dave wasn’t going to be allowed to breathe or talk until this thing was settled. Knowing this he walled his eyes and looked pleadingly at the unresponsive crowd.
As Dave’s friends and the ambulance people and cops bickered back and forth one of the racer’s wives, wearing a motorcycle helmet, pushed forward. Pointing a can of beer at the ambulance driver she said to the cops, “Now I’ve heard nothing but crap from this guy. He should be charged with kidnapping. The kid plainly didn’t want to go and these two brutes just captured him like an animal and strapped him down. Everybody knows ambulance types-are naturally violent and crude and oafish.”
The driver replied, “Oh, shut your mouth, bitch. Let us get on with our work.” Then he and the attendant started to load the stretcher into the ambulance.
At that moment the woman’s excitable husband lunged at the driver, causing him to turn the stretcher over into the mud again. At this, everybody started fighting over the stretcher and cops, bikers, ambulance people and onlookers made a general pile on. In the confusion Alvin wrenched the stretcher from under the mob and dragged it away from the action.
A few yards away Alvin unstrapped Dave and helped him to his feet. Dave dug the mud out of his mouth and nose and staggered back onto the track to where his bike was still lying. Alvin pulled it upright and they wheeled it to Banjo’s pickup.
Banjo was there waiting for them with the winner’s trophy. Alvin congratulated him on his victory while Banjo examined Dave’s head and neck for cuts. He remarked on the sensational pileup and said they should go out to Freshwater to party and celebrate.
Dave considered that while he stretched himself and worked his head around to make sure his neck wasn’t broken. He decided he was going to be okay so he and Alvin helped Banjo load their bikes into the pickup.
By that time Charlie and Dennis had left the brawl that was still going on by the ambulance. When Banjo suggested they come along to Freshwater, Charlie and Dennis agreed and they and Alvin went to get their own bikes. Then they started up and pulled out of the race track area followed by Dave and Banjo in the pickup.
When they got to Myrtle Avenue they headed out to Freshwater, which is a little hamlet nestled among the forested mountains a few miles east of Eureka. Freshwater is a gathering place for bikers who like to take to the mountain trails.
Alvin and Charlie rode Harley 74 Choppers and Dennis rode a Suzuki. Alvin was the best open road rider because he knew how to take advantage of the Harley’s greater power. He was also a lot less cautious than the others and took more chances with the nervous motorists.
When they got to Freshwater they went into then tavern and settled down to party for a couple of hours before taking to the trails. When Alvin had a couple of beers he loosened up and told them what a great racer he was going to be once he was accepted in the A.M.A.
He pulled out an application blank and started filling it in like he often did when he was drunk. It was a waste of time because the A.M.A. had gotten several reports about him trying to enter races illegally and slugging officials and so he was permanently barred.
After getting a dozen applications from Alvin a secretary at the A.M.A. wrote him a letter on their stationary. It said, “Dearest Alvin, You are ridiculous and insane. We know you are an outlaw and cause riots at the tracks and are in jail most of the time. Don’t send any more applications because we just throw them away. We don’t want you. Signed, A friend.”
Alvin was so proud of the recognition that he put the letter up on his wall right beside his autographed photo of Roy Acuff. He still sent off applications about once a month and the A.M.A. threw them away as fast as they got them.
His reputation had started a year and a half ago when he first tried to enter his Harley in a race at the Bracut race track between Eureka and Arcata. The race was for amateurs and he had never even been in a novice race. He couldn’t have entered his Harley anyway as that race was for a different class of bikes.
Even so, he insisted on standing around and yelling insults at the officials and legitimate racers. After a while the racers got tired of hearing him. About a dozen of them overwhelmed him and tied him to a tree. Then they fixed his Harley in a way that would keep him busy the rest of the afternoon.
As Alvin told it: “They must have been fifty of em and they took my poor bike across the highway and flang it into the bay. It was low tide so it was just all ooky mud but when I finally got it out I was two days getting it cleaned up. I sure won’t race with those guys no more.”
After a lot of drinking and horsing around in the tavern they lurched outside and prepared to go on the trails. These are mainly old, overgrown logging trails but there are extensions of these trails made by bikers.
The trails are a favorite sport of the area’s motorcycle riders. They are a regular obstacle course and a test for any machine and its rider. There is always the element of surprise as when a biker goes putting along a familiar climb and hits a washout and pitches off into nowhere.
A little way past the tavern the bikers started up a steep logging trail. Alvin and Charlie were soon left behind. On the trails their Harleys were no match for the lighter machines.
In trail riding there is a lot of work helping the bikes over logs that have fallen across the out-of-use trails. They also have to be helped over washouts and up the steeper parts. Naturally the heavier Harleys were more trouble and slower.
With a lot of joyous hollering Dave, Banjo and Dennis rushed to see how fast they could get over the mountain to Greenwood Heights Drive. From there they would double back to the tavern and see how many beers they could drink before Alvin and Charlie got back.
They had gotten to the top and were going down a motorcycle trail when Banjo ran into a three point buck which had panicked and leaped into his path. The front wheel of the bike was bent and the deer’s guts were busted out and Banjo had a broken ankle,
Dave pulled up and stopped and began laughing hysterically. Banjo was turned off by this and threw a rock at Dave but missed. He yelled, “What’s the matter with you, Dave? You get such a kick out of seeing a friend who’s broke something? You must have had your head run over too many times, you son-of-a-bitch.”
Dave said, “I wasn’t laughing at you, Banjo. I just thought how funny it would be if I strung those deer guts around and said you was killed. I bet I could make Alvin believe that’s all that’s left of you.”
Both Banjo and Dennis thought this was a terrific idea. Dave and Dennis pulled out all the deer’s insides and draped them over Banjo’s bike. They even draped them from a tree limb overhead. It was a gory, sick scene and even Banjo thought it was beautiful.
They could hear the noise of Alvin’s and Charlie’s Choppers way down the trail so they hurriedly dragged the deer’s carcass off the trail and threw it into a deep gorge. Then Dave and Dennis helped Banjo onto the back of Dennis’ bike and they took off down the trail to the other road back. Dave stayed behind to tell Alvin and Charlie the horrible story.
When they finally made their way over the mountain they saw Dave sitting by the trail sobbing his heart out. As they neared the scene and saw the guts strung all over, even Charlie was shocked.
Alvin’s face went white and he asked, “What’s all this mess? Was there an accident?”
Dave winked at Charlie so he wouldn’t give away the gag and said, “Well, poor old Banjo beat us to the top and started down here. I was just over the ridge and saw it all. What happened, was, a little bird landed on the trail and Banjo turned aside to keep from hitting it. Then he fetched up against that stump and was killed instantly. He gave his life for one of the forest’s little creatures.”
By now Alvin was weeping unashamedly and Charlie was snickering behind his hand. Dave went on, “And his famous last words were, ‘Tell Alvin I forgive him for breaking all my mother’s windows’ “.
Alvin didn’t question how a person killed instantly could have any last words. He just blubbered and said, “Such a kind, dear person. Oh, what did I ever do to deserve this? Oh Jesus, I need a beer.”
Charlie examined the way the guts were strung around and knew it was an arranged joke. He asked, “Well, what happened to Banjo’s body and where’s Dennis?”
Dave said, “Oh, he’s probably at the mortuary by now. Dennis tied the corpse to his sissy bar and took off down the trail.”
Charlie got a stick and started undraping the guts from Banjo’s bike. Alvin also took a stick and arranged the guts in one neat pile. While Alvin was bustling about, Dave told Charlie what had happened.
When all the guts were in a neat pile Alvin said, “Now we’ll have to say a prayer over them. Then we’ll bury them with honors and later bring back a stone of some kind. Or maybe we should take them and put them in Banjo’s grave. What do you think?”
Dave said, “What I think is this”. He scooped up the pile of guts and turned around a couple of times and hurled them out over the gorge.
Alvin was horrified. He snatched up a tree branch and went chasing Dave around the stump. Dave was laughing and yelling, “Knock it off, Alvin. Banjo would want his guts thrown down the hill. That way he could feed the little creatures of the forest.”
Alvin stopped as if struck by an inspiration. “Oh, how noble”, he said. “Even in death to do kind deeds of goodness. It’s so beautiful.” Then he burst into tears again.
Charlie said, “Okay guys, let’s get Banjo’s bike down to the truck and go back to Eureka. What say we go a little way on the trail, then all run back and drag Banjo’s bike a bit, then go on ours some more. That way we can get it back in easy stages and we’ll be back at the tavern in no time.”
Dave said, “No, the best way would be if we all go to the pickup. Then I can back it about half way up the logging trail and we can walk the rest of the way here. That would be faster.”
Dave was pretty much the leader so they did it his way. When they got Banjo’s bike down the mountain they had a few more beers and left for Eureka.
While they were on the way back to town Dave was scheming a way to carry the joke further. He thought up a plan to go into one of the mortuaries and see if the director would go along with the game.
The director was to tell Alvin that the body was too mangled to bother with so his wife was going to use it to fertilize her garden. If the director wouldn’t cooperate Dave meant to tell Alvin that the director had given Banjo’s body to the Mission soup kitchen. Then the destruction of the mortuary would be the director’s fault.
Alvin and Charlie followed on their bikes as Dave turned into the parking lot of one of Eureka’s mortuaries. He parked and went in the back way after asking Alvin and Charlie to wait outside.
Once inside he looked around for the director. There was an open casket in the chapel all ready for a Monday morning funeral. Dave hollered but no one was around. This wasn’t strange as morticians are often away for short periods and don’t expect people to be lurking around ready to rob the place if they step out for awhile.
As he looked around the deserted funeral parlor Dave got the idea of his life. He went over to the casket and examined its tenant. She was an old dowager who had been on every Goody-Two-Shoes committee for the past fifty years. Dave recognized her and figured that with the old dowager he could pull off the best joke ever and with little chance of getting badly busted.
First he closed the lid of the casket. Then he went to the back door and beckoned to Alvin and Charlie. When they came in he said, “The director’s upstairs. He said we could take Banjo out and give him one last party if we bring him back by midnight. And you mustn’t open the coffin because the director says it’s too ghastly.”
Then Charlie spoke up, “Hey, man, isn’t this getting a little overboard? I like a laugh as much as the next guy but this could total us out.”
Dave told him, mainly for Alvin’s benefit, “It’s alright, Charlie. If Banjo’s mother should get mad, so what? Banjo would want a sendoff. Besides, I’ll take the blame.”
“Me too”, said Alvin. “After all, what are a guy’s friends for?”
Charlie still had a lot of reservations but he helped them carry the casket out to the parking lot and load it on the pickup. He and Alvin started their Harleys and went out into the street to make up the escort. Then, with the old dowager in her two thousand dollar casket snugly wedged in between two muddy motorcycles, the pickup pulled out of the mortuary parking lot.
First they went down to Fields Landing and caroused in a bar until about ten. The bar was filled with lumber people and a bunch of Japanese seamen off a lumber ship.
Alvin told them all the tragic story and some of the lumber people blubbered and the Japanese went out to the casket and bowed to it. They thought it was a beautiful story and got the bikers’ autographs.
After the crowd bought them several rounds of beer, even Charlie was feeling no pain. By this time Dave was crying along with Alvin for their poor departed Banjo.
Finally they staggered out and headed back to Eureka. They parked in front of the Vance Good Time bar on Second Street and the three drunken mourners prepared to take the casket inside. They grabbed it by one end and pulled” it straight out so when it came off the pickup it went crashing into the gutter.
Then they dragged it into the bar and Dave announced to all the patrons that they were going to have a wake for Banjo. The bartender knew them and figured he would have to call the police soon, as he usually did when they were drunk and partying. But he had enough curiosity to want to know what they were up to this time.
Dave got a couple of empty chairs from alongside the wall and they put the casket across them. Then they ordered beer and settled back to tell about Banjo’s accident.
It was about eleven and the patrons were pretty liquored up. They were a happy crowd and willing to get into the spirit of anything going. The tragedy of the young biker was welcomed with all the maudlin sentimentality they could muster.
As they grew more interested in poor Banjo’s fate, Alvin broke into a tearful recounting of Banjo’s virtues. With one hand placed on the casket and the other with a glass of beer over his heart he gave a regular sermon.
“Banjo was taken in the flower of his young age. He was a son in which any mother in Eureka would be proud.” An old whore at the bar was wracked with uncontrollable sobs.
“Banjo loved life and he drank a whole lot just to be a good companion to his friends. He loved everybody. And it was his terrific love what done him in. As Johnny Cash says in one of his songs, I think, ‘Greater love has no man but what he gives his life for a goddam bird’. I thank you.”
Alvin received a great round of applause. While he was taking his bows Dave rushed outside and came back with the water bag hanging on the front bumper of the pickup.
He said to the drunken crowd, “How about sending him to his new home with a bag of booze so he can treat all his new friends. It’s an old Viking custom and since most of us here are Swedes, and like that, our ancestors were Vikings.”
The Scandinavians in the bar dug on that and as Dave passed the bag around they poured in their drinks and ordered more. They didn’t know any more about Vikings than Dave did but it sounded like a great custom whether it was authentic or not. One logger bought a fifth of Scotch and poured it in and the others made a game of seeing whose drink would fill the bag to its top.
Dave had hopes of sneaking the casket back in the funeral home. He meant to put the bag of booze under the old dowager’s dress and leave it there. The booze would seep through the canvas bag during the night and Dave was imagining the uptight old lady smelling like a brewery at her funeral the next day.
When the bag was filled the bartender decided it was time to call the police. A joke was a joke, as far as he was concerned, but he had to look out for himself. If there was somebody in that casket, and it was found in his place, and he hadn’t notified the authorities he would be in trouble.
By the time the bikers had settled back with another round, four cops came Into the bar. They went over to the casket and Alvin told them not to touch it. One of the cops opened the casket and there was the old dowager, half sitting up at one end from the bouncing around she had gotten.
Alvin took one look at her and hollered, “What’s this goddam old broad doing in Banjo’s coffin?” He went to drag her out and a cop clubbed him.
The head cop knew all the bikers so he told them to get out to the squad cars. He told one of his men to wait with the casket until they sent a truck for it. Then he closed the lid and told the other cop to keep it closed.
While the bikers sat in the squad cars the head officer questioned the bartender. When he finished he took them to the courthouse and had them thrown directly into jail. He had recognized the old dowager so he figured the matter needed the advice of the District Attorney before he pressed any charges.
When the bikers were shoved into the cell Charlie yelled, “Hey, aren’t you going to charge us? You got to charge us with something.”
The head cop went up to the bars and said in a low tone, “Look idiot, I can charge you with body snatching, desecration, grand theft and a whole raft of felonies. If you insist I can set you up for a certain prison sentence. Or I can contact the D.A. Since this is a sticky thing, she being who she is, or was, maybe the D.A. will think of something else. It’s up to you.”
Dave said to the cop, “You just get on that phone to the D.A., man. And thanks. And you shut up, Charlie; “this officer is beautiful people.”
The D.A. was out partying someplace and it took a couple of hours to find him. In the meantime the bikers continued their own party in the drunk tank.
They had been in the tank so often that the police didn’t even bother to search them. Dave had smuggled in the gallon water bag full of booze and passed it generously around among the seven other prisoners.
At that time of night the prisoners were pretty much left alone. Unless someone screamed for help the police stayed out of the cell area. In the next hour the prisoners all got totally smashed.
One of the prisoners was a middle aged member of the Eureka City Council. He had been picked up drunk that afternoon in a playground where he was going around sniffing girl’s bicycle seats. They were keeping him to be examined by a head doctor the next day.
The councilman got up to give a political speech. When he told them he was on the Eureka City Council a hippy wearing a gang of ecology buttons went for his throat screaming, “You voted to put flouride in our drinking water. That’s rat poison! You polluter! Fascist! Up against the wall. Pig!”
The two drunks rolled on the cell floor clawing and punching as the councilman shouted, “The people deserve the government they get, you hippy degenerate!”
The head cop finally got through to the D.A. He told him what had happened and that it was just a drunken prank in horrible taste. The D.A. told him to throw the book at them and then the cop told him who was in the casket.
The D.A. went berserk and was screaming and raging out of control. He said he had to attend her funeral next morning and how was he going to hold his head up if the story got out?
The head cop asked, “Okay, then what should I charge them with?”
The D.A. yelled, “Don’t charge them with anything. Kick them the hell out. Any lawyer would make a circus out of this and we’d be in the news for months. We’d be the laughingstocks of the whole country and I’d never get to be governor.
“Next time you catch those bastards, charge them with everything possible. But on this one let them go without even a scrap of paper saying they were up to anything tonight. And by the way, don’t forget to run that old bag back to the funeral parlor.”
As the three bikers were going out of the jail area Charlie passed the nearly empty water bag to Alvin. Alvin took another long drink and said, “Hey, Dave, you never did tell me how that old broad got into Banjo’s coffin”.