THE SHRIEK ORDINANCE

by Chris R. Morgan

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I’m not sure if this counts as a local hero, but he’s definitely a legend, not so much now, but for a good few years after he left. He was called “Shriek.” No one knows why. Certainly motorcycles don’t make that kind of sound, and he himself almost never spoke. I wouldn’t say “Hey” was his catchphrase; it was an all-purpose word for him. It was his favorite salutation, his favorite pickup line, his favorite Bible verse, and his favorite Shakespeare quote. He didn’t need to speak, I guess. He’d ride around town in his sputtering powder blue Triumph; he’d stop, take off his helmet, and let loose a shock of platinum hair, so thick with pomade it looked like a dying, molten beast. No one I know ever saw him take off his goggles. He leaned up against the side wall of the First Unitarian a lot.

I don’t know that he ever worked. Betty took good care of him. Betty was his girl. She was nice; no one really took notice of her until she started wearing black every day under some kind of flannel or plaid thing, the “Betty look” they called it. Can one have a look if no one wants to imitate it? That was about the time she became his girl. She went to school, she stacked books at the library and faked sick at gym constantly; he didn’t do anything. When he wasn’t riding around with her he was spinning donuts in a cornfield and challenging anyone he could to a game of chicken. He would just idle in front of someone and rev his engine. Occasionally someone would accept, someone just ambitious enough to actually want to run him over, but fights with other kids kept breaking out and cops pulled curfews.

His only trick was wiping out all the time, skidding and rolling in the dust a good 10 feet at least. Betty was at his side instantly with whiskey, a bandage and some peroxide, her padded breasts jutted out like deserted silos. He just kissed her and limped away to God knows where. I don’t think she really loved him that much, at least not enough to finish writing his name in studs on the back of his jacket. When he flew by the clearest thing you could see were those bright, shining dots of S-H-R and less than half of an “I.” Some say she had a crush on a science teacher, others on a Postmaster General. I guess all that really matters is that you fall in love with someone who will treat you right, and who at least has a social security card.

Betty moved to Minot, got married and remarried. A neighbor of her mom says her son is now a drifter professionally.

People argued for a good couple of years if he really did what they said he did to that other girl. “That bitch thinks she can trash Shriek because she got into Radcliffe,” the sophomore girls would say. “Let’s egg her house; she lives five houses down from me.” Things like that. He skipped town, was tried in absentia to impart a moral lesson, the judge’s speech was definitely written in 1955. Then the football team choked on a 35-yard field goal, then the mayor’s cat got run over, then the members of the Lutheran church burned down the Presbyterian church. Before Shriek there wasn’t much fun to do in this town; after Shriek everything was different. It’s like the world was a stomach he purged himself from as we willfully got swallowed into.

No one knew he was 34 until a bit later. He wound up in Missouri where a cousin, or someone, lived. He worked in a machine shop or as a busboy. Then he got in trouble again.

A tri-state tabloid picked up the story. It caused a minor sensation when his mugshot was all over the front page. In the end he was just some mahogany-haired schlub who hogtied a cocktail waitress and tried to attach handlebars to her ears. They sent him to a state hospital before it closed sometime in the ‘80s.

We’ve since passed some very strict bike ordinances.

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