Quite where he came from, no body knew. He was mysterious like that. All that we knew was he rode in one day on a Harley Davidson, wearing a full-body leather motorcycle suit and was smack bang in the middle of a mid-life crisis. His hair was thinning on top, and dyed that coppery ginger colour which pensioners like and makes you look even balder than you are. In his early fifties, standing down in the forecourt like that, all 6 foot 3 of him, waiting for Mum,shades and a cigarette: that was Steve, RPM, soon to be known as The Rubber Prick Man.
He's fucking loaded! Mum said. He's always got cash-on-the-hip and aside from the shop he's got a house in Windsor, and a flat in Kensington! Fucking Kensington!!! But I gotta play this careful, let the arsehole give me things... not ask.
The shop Mum referred to was a Motorbike shop on the prestigious Fulham Road. Steve had secured an initial date with that boast, but to mum, who'd lived every kind of bullshit con there was, everything was talk until she'd seen it with her own eyes. Well, now she had seen it, had been escorted around and met the salesmen and mechanics before being sped of to Windsor where she was shown around the house and introduced to Steve's sister who lived with him. When she returned home she was a fluster of excitement. For the first time she seemed like she'd been on a proper date, unable to keep the marvel of it all to herself.
Yeah, he'll be coming round again tomorrow, she said. He's taking me to a posh restaurant, or so he reckons. She looked at me with a smug underface and a touch of hatred, like she'd finally made it, as if I'd never believed she would.
Steve visited almost everyday after that. He never came up to the flat but stood down in the forecourt, surveying the hordes of Irish gypsy kids who'd come out from nowhere and gather around his bike while he was taking his safety helmet off. Over off the balconies the older traveller men were watching the bike too, figuring out the fastest way to strip it down if it was ever left alone for five minutes. I'd seen it before, the gyspies going at a car or bike like piranhas, stripping it back to the bare chassis in minutes, the owner returning and staggering around shell-shocked not quite believing what was left in place of his beloved vehicle. So Steve waited down with the bike until Mum came and scared the kids away with her drunken hissing and language they could understand. And it was grace to Steve's daily stints waiting in the yard that he picked up the initial nickname of RPM, the neighbours not knowing his name and referring to him by the last three letters of his bike's number plate.
Steve wasn't guarded or wary about flashing his money around. He wasn't one of those types who plead poverty as a front to ward of prospecting gold diggers. Steve flashed his success around and seemed proud of it. He hadn't been born into money and his motorbike dealership was not a hand-me-down. He had built up his business over a lifetime and now wasn't going to dress down and pretend he'd failed. So Mum didn't have to play Steve careful; he began showering her in gifts and money without needing to be prompted. But 'giving' is not the right word. It was not charity, and Steve was not a charitable man. He was an entrepreneur: he invested money and gifts in Mum in order to get more back in return. I guess he priced Mum up and worked on a specific profit margin which he thought the sex and company was worth. And though Mum never had the need, she still in a roundabout way let it be known that she'd never feel like giving-out if that electricity bill she had sobbed about earlier wasn't settled first. To Steve it was probably nothing, though maybe somewhere, beneath the padding of his wallet, it saddened him. I hope. I hope so for his sake. Even the most scrupulous capitalists know that some things should not be paid for; that some things must transcend money to be really worth any thing. It's true, if you procure company in the wrong way, you may very well end up feeling more alone than the lonely.
Steve's major problem was that his life had become one long, ongoing transaction. He had gotten used to buying his way thru life. He understood that his money was the last attractive thing left about him and used it to get what his looks no longer could. He signed cheques and handed over notes for everything; put things in peoples top pocket to have them in his. The first time he met me and my friends he slid a small lump of hash into Paul's hand before walking off all hush-hush about it, the sound of rattling chains on his boots and jacket, the smell of leather left in his place. That's how he survived. But, in fact, he wasn't a bad looking man. He had a good head: a rugged, muscular face with slight side jowls. He was tall, had been well built (but was starting to overflow his waistband a little now), and he had that kind of warm, grandness in the skin which fame, money or moderate whisky consumption often affords. Physically the years were beginning to tell, but he was free of that hard ageing which comes through stress and unheated apartments.
In many ways Steve's Harley and leathers represented everything he wanted to be but wasn't. It was an acquired image that didn't quite seem to fit. The biker thing was his mid-life crisis. It was one final jab at trying to be the real deal, without the restriction of the desire for success taming his speed around corners. Now that he was successful – had other people running his shop, his days free, financially set – it was his time to really get down and live a bit of the real life he'd skitted around the edges of for so long. Of course it would be impossible. His safety nets were internal and nothing he could do to unhinge them. But he was trying. He was trying to connect with his real self, the animal, the being beyond material things, where it's just you and the gallows and death, where existence is magnified and life finally means a great deal.
So the image of Steve in those first days was of a cool, if slightly pathetic 53 year old man, someone with money, who smoked dope, dressed in leather and wasn't modest about talking about his Hell's Angels connections and how he could have fifty of them down at a click of the fingers. For a while we all lived off his legend, allowing ourselves to be fooled as much for us as for him. As mum sped off on the back off his Harley, her blond hair blowing up behind her helmet, short black skirt and no knickers, I'd spread the tales around, Steve's legend growing as he weaved out the estate onto more scenic routes.
My mother's idea of playing the long con was giving it away free for a fortnight before getting moody because a blank cheque wasn't forthcoming. Steve never grasped the idea that an expensive gift or fancy meal didn't translate itself into ready cash, and while mum was eating or putting the flowers in a vase she was just as poor as ever. Money was the real and only gift mum wanted, and without money she could never enjoy the finer things in life anyway, constantly thinking of the cost of such things and how she'd rather have the money in her purse. It wasn't money hunger, it was about independence. And that was her downfall: she could be bought (and everyone knew it). It's probably why she hooked but never reeled in the big fish. When your most intimate fantasies, stuff which often takes months or years to earn, can be acquired for twenty quid on the second date, it cheapens the thrill and kills dead the intensity of desperately wanting something from someone but not sure if you're loved enough to get it. So Mum didn't ask for money outright, but Steve learnt that if by chance he didn't pay mum for the loan of her body that suddenly that body would become unresponsive and unwilling to do anything more than sit crossed legged and drink his store of alcohol. And if my mother's downfall was selling off her love, Steve's was willingly paying for it – and always taking what he'd paid for.
As is common with all jobs, from salesman to doctor to lawyer to whore, employees begin to despise the customer. When you are at the whim of someone, constantly put out and yet forced to wear a customer-service grin, it's only natural to revile them, despise the prison they are to your freedom. Mum, as had happened with so many of her previous lovers, now suffered a vicious and cancerous hatred for Steve, despising the very mention of his name. And she didn't keep it quiet. After a glass of vodka her face would wash over with an evil manifestation of herself and life and everything in it would be viewed through a veil of hate and disgust. The most fantastic and lurid obscenities would fly out her mouth. Steve was accused of every vile crime and misdemeanour one could imagine and was ridiculed on just about every level of his existence. From the top down:
There was nothing which didn't finally disgust Mum and come under her scorn. But more than anything else, her most severe rancour, that which came between her first and second bottle of vodka, was reserved for Steve's super-glued-wallet and his apparent tightness of pocket.
It was a weekend and Mum was supposed to be spending it with Steve in the house in Windsor. Mum had been cursing the thought of it all week, saying to herself that he better make it worth her while. She'd already, previously, had words with Steve's live-in sister, and ever since had been silently brooding and building up a jealous hatred of her. Mum was convinced she was trying to force her out, turn Steve against her. Mum also despised the fact that Steve's sister was also his accountant and showed a mighty interest in his financial affairs. On that Saturday Mum flew into an initial rage when the sister asked Steve for the weeks dining receipts with mum so as she could declare them as business expenses. It was a bad time to have said such a thing: 3pm into Mum's drinking day. Wild drunk, Mum screamed:
Oh, I'm a fucking business expense now am I!! Well, I suppose ya better put down the finger fuck and the blowjob he paid twenty quid for too! Nah, din't think so. If ya'v got summin to say Barbara fucking spit it out.... Like, I'm a whore, is that it? Jealous coz I aint turned into a fat sexless ball like you. And don't think I won't fucking slap ya one coz ya his sister. Don't matter a fuck to me who y'are. He'll choose me over y'r fat fanny any day!
The mistake Steve made was taking his sister's side. Not in any real pro-way, but in trying to calm Mum down and saying she was drunk and didn't know what she was saying. Mum left it, but from that point on she sat stewing in an internal world of bitterness, nauseated by brother and sister and pulling ghastly drunken faces of repulsion if one of them so much as smiled at the other.
So it was no great surprise that Steve's car (Mum being too drunk for the back of the bike) crunched its way back across the forecourt that same evening. I was sitting out downstairs when it arrived. Mum fumbled the lock and stumbled out the back, having for some reason refused to sit in the passenger seat alongside Steve.
You fucking pervert!! She screamed in through the driver's window, Steve sat staring blankly ahead through his shades, motionless, as the breeze of Mum's hate swept over him. As Mum stormed off she did that thing that drunk women do, whipped her shoes off, nearly tripping over in the process, staggering on flat-footed and veering wildly. Somehow through her drunkenness Mum saw me and beckoned for me to follow.
That cunt's sick!!! She hissed. Then turning back, screaming: FUCKING SICK CUNT!!!
At home Mum sat down. She looked at me with a face like she had information that could blow my life wide apart, wondering if I could be trusted or not. Apparently not. She turned away, looking out the window, her tongue in the side of her mouth, as the last hour of light passed by.
It took a full day for Mum to break her silence and spit the story out. She told me how she'd gone for a lay down in Steve's room and while there had rifled through his cupboards. She then made a point of telling me that Steve and his sister shared the same wardrobe and sock and underwear drawers. She paused, staring at me, not even breathing. And that's when she reached down into her handbag besides her and pulled out a huge black rubber dildo, holding it by the base and eyeing its length like it was her nemesis. She said she'd found it in the shared drawers, concealed in a pair of Steve's sports socks and under his sister's folded knickers. .
It's Steve's? I asked
Uh Huh, she said. It's fucking HIS alright!
Though there was no evidence to suggest who the dildo really belonged, or what hole it was used in, Mum supposed a sordid, incestuous affair where Steve and his sister were going at it behind her back, finishing in a climatic double pronged fucking, Steve pounding away at his sister's front while the dildo buzzed away in her arse. To Mum it all made perfect sense:
the shared house;
the sister against her;
the sister being the firm's accountant;
Steve wandering around the house in just his pants;
the KY jelly in the bathroom;
the shared closet space;
the shared sock and underwear drawers;
the secret, perverted smiles.
Though, up until the weekend, it was all circumstantial evidence. But now Mum had some hard, concrete proof: THE DILDO.
That evening when Steve came around Mum was especially smashed for the occasion. Without wasting a second, unable to keep it in any longer, she produced the dildo, waving it about in Steve's face as she accused him of having an affair with his own sister and fucking her with the dildo in the arse. Steve was so shocked he kinda just froze, his body unsure how to react against such fantastic accusations. He made a few preparatory vocal sounds, but finally could do nothing but let out an incredulous laugh and put a hand to his head in disbelief. In the wrong drunken gaze, he could even have looked guilty as charged.
You've been rumbled, Mum said, dashing the dildo at his feet. RPM – The Rubber prick Man!!! Steve calmly stepped out the way of the dildo, then turned to leave. As he made his way out he stopped and laid a fifty pound note on the arm of the sofa. That's for the gas bill, he said without turning around. Mum stared at the note. The bridge of her nose ruffled. She was about to scream she didn't want it, but thought better of it. Instead she stood there steely silent, her eyes of hatred following Steve's back out the door.
That wasn't the end of Steve, but it was the beginning of the end. Now Mum had confronted him once and broken through the pride barrier of asking outright for cash (and getting it) she now had no qualms about doing so again and again. Steve always gave her what she demanded but it was obvious it was having a wearing effect on him and that outgoing expenses with no return was where he pulled the line on love or lust. In a way Mum got what she wanted: no fancy restaurants, no expensive flowers, no Harrod's chocolates, no shopping sprees – just the money instead. With Steve's worth stripped back to his wallet he became ever more of a prison to Mum. It may even have been that she'd gotten use to all the extra cash and could maybe not do without it if Steve were just to leave. As a consequence Mum felt totally submissive to him and so reviled him with an even greater vigour.
Steve, now down to mundane living, moody receptions, indifference, drunk-sex-only, a human cash machine, suddenly seemed out of place in and around such hopeless dreams. No longer dashing back and forth between restaurants, leaving with mum on the bike, enjoying every last second of life, he suddenly looked as unfulfilled and downtrodden as anyone else. In a series of steps his legend began to wane.
The first brick crumbled properly on the day Paul joined Steve out in the forecourt and paid him back in kind by handing him a joint to light up. Steve took the joint, looking quite unsure as to which end he should light. He finally guessed right, sparked the thing up, and took a series of quick long puffs which made him cough choke on inhaling. Paul watched him curiously, realizing that he'd maybe never smoked a joint in his life. Five minutes later, as Paul was in mid conversation, Steve flushed over white and spun around and projectile vomited. He became unsteady on his feet and said he was having heart palpitations. Paul helped him into the stairwell, where he sat in the dark, alone, for forty five minutes.
Steve's legend was further diminished by Mum refusing to ride on the back of his bike. She said it was uncomfortable, and with the winter on its way, too cold as well. So Steve had to visit in his battered red Volvo. Without the bike to sound his arrival or impress the neighbours he visits went mostly unnoticed now. That was just before his hip problem. He blamed Mum for that, saying that using the car had forced him to sit in unfamiliar positions for hours and had brought on tendonitis in the hip joint. The result was until the inflammation went down Steve could no longer wear his tight leather motorbike gear and had to limp around in a pair of ultra baggy, cotton tracksuit bottoms from the market.
But the blow which finally put pay to Steve's legend was the Hell's Angels fiasco. I think he could see that he no longer interested anyone, that in a few months he had gone from a leather clad biker with a sexy blond on his arm to an old man in comfy dress, driving around in a rusty shit heap with a filthy alcoholic slumped in the back who only wanted his cash and wouldn't give out even for that. In order to recoup some lost respect, he finally delivered on his boast of knowing the Hell's Angels and said he'd have them out to settle a violent dispute Mum was having with a second floor neighbour. Steve said that on Mum's nod he'd have thirty Hell's Angels at the neighbour's door. Without the slightest delay Mum gave the nod and then immediately staggered off to taunt the neighbour, warning:
The Angels are coming for You! Watch out!
It wasn't a bluff. Steve knew the Hell's Angels all right, and though there were nowhere near thirty who thundered into the estate, there was still a good dozen. They looked mean too. Until they removed their helmets and revealed themselves as a group of old men, not one pre-pension age. A bunch of scruffy old duffers filing up the stairs, smelling of piss and beer (mostly piss) and crowding outside the door of number 27. Mum was too drunk to see that this was some old crony version of the most vicious outlaws in the Western World. She stood at our balcony screaming some drunken obscenities out to the world about never fucking with me again! Steve, RPM, The Rubber Prick Man now made his way through the crowd of bikers on the landing two floors down. Once outside the door he looked at the ragtag, greasy army and gave the eyes, meaning You ready, Boys? There was lots of nodding and a couple of coughing fits, and Steve frapped hard on the door.
Come on, don't be a coward an open up, he shouted, with 15 men behind him. It's time to sort this fucking mess out.
Before Steve had the time to knock again the door opened and a fat middle aged woman came out in velvet bed clothes, and besides her, her scrawny pint sized husband, and behind him two dozy, half-dead, skeletal Alsations. The husband in vest, jeans and no socks or shoes leant over the balcony and lit a cigarette. Steve moved back and the Angels moved in. The fat woman, known to all as Podge, started screaming and shouting and pointing up at Mum. The Angels quickly took her in hand and calmed her down. As two held her an old man in heeled boots, a confederate bandana, and bow legs, said: Ok, we're here to listen. You tell us your side of the story and then we'll go and speak to your neighbour and see what she's got to say.
Podge began telling the story of a fridge her husband had sold Mum, how it packed in after two weeks and Mum wanted her money back. Now and again the husband would nod in agreement. The old Hell's Angel finished by patting Podge sympathetically on the shoulder, here here now, and sending a small group of men up to see Mum and get her side of the story. Mum ignored their questions, preferring instead to storm downstairs, arrowing in for Podge with a pointed finger, calling her a thief and a cunt and a liar. An hour later Mum and Podge were sitting together smoking and drinking and creasing up in laughter over the sorry state of the OAP Angels as they milled around, talking about bikes and asking Steve the price of certain repairs and modifications and odds and ends in his shop. Steve came over, as tall as he was when he'd first arrived on the estate.
Happy now ladies? Friends again? He asked. It's amazing what can be achieved by just sitting down and talking things out!
Soon after that Steve gave the official notice that Mum and Podge's dispute had been settled and that Podge's husband was going to exchange the broken fridge he'd sold us for one that worked. There had been no door smashed in, no flat ransacked, no husband and wife tied up and tortured, and no thirty man arse-fucking of Podge's 22 year old, crack addicted son, as Mum and I had promised him. What was worse, because of the commotion of the bikes, and the activity up the stairs and along the landing, the entire block had come out to watch the Angels go about their business. People here wanted to see blood flowing not some vigilante mediator group encouraging a dialogue between the feuding neighbours. Still, thrilled with the outcome, the Angels poured back down the stairs, walking around the forecourt giving high-fives and hugging each other. Then, in perfect synchronisation, they jockeyed onto their bikes, kick started their machines and roared off out the estate, weaving in single file towards their afternoon naps.
And with the Angels gone so they roared away with the last piece of Steve's legend. His number was up here. Now, even if he paid the local kids to watch his bike they'd rob it too, knowing that the stories of Hell's Angels and biker gangs was all a myth and that Steve was as alone and as powerless as the rest of us.
Steve hung around and continued seeing Mum for some months longer but now sneaked in and out the estate wearing a long black coat and sepia tinted glasses. Never knowing what the real deal really was anyway, Steve cut a lonely shadow as himself in those days. He had come seeking life and thrills and his real self, but it turned out that he had been his real self all those years and was rather looking for escape. With his tendionitis better Steve made one last visit on his Harley, turning up down in the forecourt on Christmas day and calling Mum out. Mum was surprisingly sober. At first she refused go down but finally warmed to the idea, slipping into a tight black dress and descended the stairs out into the Christmas chill. And for the last time Steve kick-started his own bike and sped off with Mum on the back, not knowing it then, but on the road to rejoining his old life, the shop, the success, the parts orders, carburetors and cylinder heads.
And as the unhappy couple sped away the Christmas jingle was in the air, drifting out and mixing with the mist. And then they sang a song, the rare old mountain dew, I turned my face away, and dreamed about you...
Got on a lucky one
Came in eighteen to one
I´ve got a feeling
This year´s for me and you
So happy christmas
I love you baby
I can see a better time
Where all our dreams come true.…