I left Portland on August 21, it’s September 26. There are 31 days in August.. but I arrived in New Jersey two days ago.. carry the one..
Days 34 & 35: Bayonne, New Jersey.
I procrastinated on this stop because I had to prepare myself for the emotions involved in this part of the tour. It’s where my father lives with his wife. It’s where I was known as the weirdo. It’s where my mother’s heart was broken and her sanity loosened when her sister died. It’s where my family’s mental illness and drug addiction issues were notorious amongst the city police department.
Mom and I left Bayonne for Central Florida because she wanted me to have a better life. There was a lawsuit in 1991 which names her against the city police department for the abuse and neglect her sister was suspected to have received while held in the city jail before she comitted suicide in her cell. My mother was afraid that if I were ever stopped by a local cop, the last name we share along with her siblings (who were also regularly in police custody) would be a detriment to my well being.
The last time I came through was 1999 on a road trip with a friend, six years after moving away. We made a swift couple of visits to my father’s apartment, and with an aunt.
I hesitated to call until the day before I would arrive partially because this trip isn’t conducive to making solid plans, and largely because I had to prepare myself for the possibility of rejection. It was a bit of a surprise that he sounded enthusiastic about my visit.
When I arrived at my father’s building the following day, I had to pause and breathe and wipe away some tears. Part of me didn’t want to give my time and energy to a person who only calls me because his wife tricks him into it by dialing my number and handing him the phone.
I call him a few times a year to listen to his speech pattern and how he articulates because my mother and I seem to speak different languages. I can hear him. He makes sense to me. I talk about our familiar topics to maybe show him that I’m worth reaching out to. We’re both cabbies. We both love riding motorcycles. We’ve read some of the same sci-fi authors. We use similar logic to problem solve.
I talked him into showing me his dust covered Sportster. His garage wasn’t conducive to photography, and it was a hassle to try and get the bike out, so I’ll just tell you about it. The original tank was eventually swapped for a larger one and the seat he intends to use is one from his mother’s bike from the 1950’s. The story is that she was already riding before she met my grandfather. The seat was from the new motorcycle which was his wedding gift to her.
Inside their apartment, I coaxed him into showing me some of his guitars. He was excited to pull a few out and play them for me. His wife set an air mattress and linnens in their office, we ordered a pizza and I stayed the night.
The following day, I wandered around Bayonne solo. My father had the day off, but opted to sit in his chair, smoke Newports, drink coffee and watch anime on this beautiful day. His loss.
This city is tiny. What would take my little legs all day to get from one end of the park to the other now happens in 20 minutes. The kids from the neighborhood were in school. Everywhere was so quiet.
I made my way to a Dominican restaurant and talked about the differences between Cuban, Dominican and Puerto Rican food with another patron. We talked a bit about the trip I’m on and my hope to find a job in the motorcycle safety apparel industry. He made it clear that he would very much like to take me out on a date. I inquired about his profession: he’s a Bayonne cop. Time to go.
Another park which faces the Newark Bay was where I sat and reflected on the day, on my history with this city, and looked for a non-smoking place to rest for the night. My helmet and ‘stich still hadn’t fully aired out from the thick Newport funk they absorbed overnight. I took off my boots and chatted with my mother on the phone.
Back to my father’s smokey apartment. He and his wife wanted me to stay another night, but I couldn’t breathe. It was a huge relief when an aunt in Linden offered to let me stay with her family.
I rounded up the few things I had unpacked. My father and his wife helped me carry my gear down the stairs and to my bike. We took turns hugging before I suited up. I think my father’s eyes got a little misty.
I wanted to see my father because I wanted to understand why he doesn’t make an effort to reach out to me. I suspected it was because he didn’t believe I was worth his time. I learned that it’s because he doesn’t reach out to anyone and there’s nothing I can do to change that. His loss.