I've feared this moment for a long time. Over a year ago, I began this blog and promised you all a story about bikers and my attempts to understand what it is to be one, on the inside where only the permitted are allowed. I can't exactly explain why it's taken me so long to get back to this but in simple words I can only say that the experience of going back in time isn't pleasurable. In the period since my last entry, I mounted two exhibitions of the work, suffered a major creative failure related to this project, fell into a depression, lost the woman of my dreams, survived 2 suicide attempts, had my life threatened by a man who previously tried to save me, and finally was excommunicated from the club that has for the last four years been the center of my life. It's impossible to explain what these things all have to do with one another in one sitting, especially since I'm relying on a highly unreliable memory that's probably laden with bullshit but this work has given to me as much as it's taken from me. So I feel I have a duty to myself, to the people involved, and to the work itself to tell this story to the best of my abilities.
(Continued from May 26 2014)
...the night that Javier left me on the corner, I waited for about 15 minutes, which seems even longer when you have no where to go. If anyone reading this has ever had to go somewhere unfamiliar to buy drugs then I think you'd understand what I’m talking about. You’re already where you’re supposed to be--which is nowhere in particular, in the middle of the night, around the corner from a place you don’t want to be seen in front of. Everything is completely foreign. And you’re trying not to call attention to yourself, which means you’re being completely obvious. You’re sweating, and because it’s the middle of the summer it doesn’t seem right that you’re palms are cold as dead fish. What was I doing? How did this fit in with everything I've ever learned about photography and of life? I had no fucking clue, no journalistic training. I was unprepared. What the hell would I say to these guys if I got to meet them? I think this is cool and I want to take pictures of you? Looking back I can see that this was destined to be an immensely educational, yet painful clusterfuck.
Thankfully after waiting alone with my own agonizing thoughts, Javier showed up. It was selfish but at the time I was grateful to change the subject.
“Yo Shadi, man, they said it was cool,” he said. There was joy. There was relief.
“Yeah, but tonight's not a good night. They want you to come back later during the day.”
Shit, I thought. I’m getting strung along, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I had to play it cool and let this unfold. Was it really going to happen? Or was I going to walk away from this empty handed?
I brought Javier back to my apartment. It must have been around midnight. We had a six pack, a bag of weed, a blunt, and some coke. Those in the social justice disciplines might consider this a debriefing but personally I’ll be honest, I had all this built up tension so I relished the opportunity just to get high with the guy. The entire night was anticlimactic, but I knew there was still a chance. As we proceeded to get high, Javier explained to me that because it was close to the weekend, the shop was full of people. They needed me to come back during the weekday when it wasn't so crowded. He continued to entice me with the details of his many experiences, speaking of his expertise in wrenching sportbikes, of coalitions, and of his association with a dark murky figure that sounded like the boogey man rather than a biker. At this point I still didn't know where this was headed but I figured he kept this going because a) I paid for drugs b) he still intended to introduce me to these bikers c) he still planned on robbing me or d) all of the above. (Correct answer: b)
Javier was fucked up but I liked the kid. For some reason his personal accounts of violence didn't scare me off. It intrigued me. I couldn't imagine how someone that little could pull a store clerk over a counter because of a personal slight, or assault much bigger men as he did. He had this unsettling way of furrowing his eyebrows whenever he described these conflicts as if fighting back the rage of the original moment. No, something bigger than us made it possible to cross paths and enter the club as I did. I remember taking him out to a photography function and a dinner with my mentor and my then-just-newly-acquainted fiance to celebrate the commencement of my first professional project. We were all excited. Probably because no one realized what lay ahead. For a year or two after those initial meetings in 2011, I would occasionally run into Javier and his twin brother on the street (who always gave Javier shit about missing work) and I’d tell them all about the progress I made in the project. He opened the door for me and I wanted to repay him by showing him what I was able to capture through the lens. I think he appreciated it, but ultimately he had more pressing concerns.
At a certain point I saw less and less of him and as the time between each encounter became longer his appearance deteriorated. His face: his eyes, his teeth, his voice betrayed a serious addiction that unfolded in slow motion until the unspoken truth made it almost impossible for us to stand together and hold a conversation. It looked as if he hadn’t slept for weeks. This was the young man who helped me find purpose in life. He would later avoid me, and I allowed it leaving me with a sense of guilt and shame. I still see Javier’s twin, who later fell to the same addictions as his brother who's since disappeared. Unknowingly, the night he took me to the shop I crossed the threshold into a world of dashed dreams. It's a cloud that hangs over anybody who grows up in the hood and as you'll see, the different responses to it range from the achingly beautiful to the heartbreaking.
The next week, Javier and I met up on a lazy August afternoon. I sat there sweating, and checking my watch every few minutes across the street from where his fifteen year old girlfriend lived with her mother. A group of her friends, who lived there too, came outside to smoke blunts and I asked if they’d seen Javier. He texted me but I hadn’t heard from him since.
He went somewhere, they told me, but he’ll be back.
Ok, I said. I was supposed to meet him here a while ago. Do you know if he’ll definitely be back?
Yeah, yeah. Definitely, they assured me.
I still think of those first uncertain days whenever I walk down that block. The broken down house they lived in gone. Torn down in 2013. A new building in its place.
When Javier showed up he apologized and explained that he’d been on a mission.
I asked him, Are you still down to introduce me to the club today?
Yeah, he said. And as we walked there he warned me to pay attention and no matter what I saw or who I saw I needed to follow his lead and be cool. We turned onto the street where the bike shop was and during the day it was just like your old neighborhood bike shop. Plastic seats in front of the storefront window, a display case of motorcycle parts and goods just behind that, a service counter set further in. Javier greeted a man sitting in front of the shop on one of the chairs, introduced me, and then we crossed the threshold.