“No, I’m from Iowa: I only work in outer space.”
Your sober art reporter thought he escaped to Storyland upon entering the modestly scaled environs of Somerville’s Brickbottom Gallery to view “Toys and Games.” In through the front door, past the seating arrangement in the lobby, a sharp right and… there they all were.
Entranced, I didn’t need coaxing to accept Curator Pier Gustafson’s offer to ride one of the “toys”. As I straddled Jeff Smith’s “Slick Willie,” instinctively gripping onto dolphin-slick sides, I realized that I had laid aside my clipboard and ballpoint. They say that a man with a clipboard (an early prototype of the iPad) can go anywhere… but apparently not “everywhere.”
I needed all four limbs as I clung, insect-like, to that a moment before had moved my only to contemplation. “Slick Willie,” if it were indeed a one-dimensional child’s toy, would be made of extruded plastic, one of many rolling merrily off an assembly line. But not this “Slick Willie.”
If it weren’t for the sunken nails and visible joinings, one could believe that the curving sides were “woven” rather than painstakingly pieced together by the hands of a woodworker. And, in this reporter’s opinion, that’s how art should be: effort concealed below the illusion — available, even delicately so, to analysis, but only when you are in the mood.
I wasn’t in the mood because, one, I didn’t have my clipboard, and, two, did I mention I was being pulled by the above-mentioned curator, Pier Gustafson? Now, just looking around at the curatorial I could see that Pier had a very tenuous grasp on everyday reality, yet he was the man guiding the rope, leading me grasp “Sick Willie” who, I was sure, submerge any moment into nether regions where only my clipboard would float to the surface.
It must have been the steadying hand of co-curator Jessica Straus that rescued me. Not that Jessica is more hard-headed than Pier when it comes to everyday reality — witness their seamless collaboration in subverting reality. It might have been her female empathy, or the fact that she, too, had been whirled around by Pier — an experience that would awaken empathy in a board.
Anyway, good for me that I landed safely on all fours, there to gaze up at the creations of a wizard who calls himself “Skunk.”
Skunk “repurposes” old machine parts into endearingly menacing figures that, thankfully (I felt at the moment), don’t move or invite one to move. And yet, that are so ingeniously articulated that “Hathor,” for example, and “Lucky,” which stand facing one another, are laden with potential movement. Hathor’s elbow hinges on a gearshift; Lucky’s polished cranium, pregnant with thought, has been refashioned with from the chrome headlight is a long-ago “repurposed” handlebar.
Straus and I agreed that pretty much anything Skunk puts his mind and hand to has “attitude”. Whether it’s Lucky’s out-thrust pelvis or Hathor’s coiled stance, you don’t view them as assemblages — instead you move around them as you would beings with personality and intention.
Julie Levesque’s “Cow” is described as “marble dust and toy.” It doesn’t have any of Skunk’s cunning articulations — and every joint of this “toy” is buried beneath seemingly billions of motes of white “marble dust” — and yet it seems alive enough to moo — eternally.
Sly wit, bold wit, “repurposed” wit, wit full of pathos and point is everywhere, not only evident but tapping you on the shoulder with invitation in this densely layered exhibit. Craig Bloodgood’s multiple examples of games, intriguingly crafted with more or less polish, are downright exhibitionist. I, for example, was pulled over to “love Comptor,” a roulette wheel that wears the elegant calligraphy of its heart on its sleeve. The typeface I’m using doesn’t hint t the rejection of “Loves Me Not,” or the warm acceptance you feel if the wooden arrow you spin click to a stop on a delicately carved “YES.”
Kevin Van Aelst’s “paper” airplanes zoom overhead, proudly displaying their brand names on shirting material. Sewn and buttoned-down, “Old Clothes” carries the rush of wind of wind tunnels where it was birthed. In the video “Lost and Found,” Kim Mikenis fashions brazenly low-tech scenery and characters into a fanciful and poignant narrative.
David Columno’s “Le Train du Cerveau (pour Robert Zanre),” dedicated to friend and fellow artist Robert Warner, rolls quietly through your head on wooden wheels, brushing up against every region of the brain, minutely labelled pennants flying flying in elegy.
Packaging of sinuous basswood caresses pedestrian contents in Jessica Straus’ “BYOB (Bring Your Own Bingo),” compelling you to look again, to re-evaluate the pedestrian. Pier Gustafson’s “Build Your )wn Cunareder” invites you to reconfigure its decks with moveable parts, majestic and tiny.
In “Chicken is the Life of You,” Gina Kamentsky engineers the wheels and gears of that age-old conundrum “Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” from theory into satisfyingly hand-cranked contraption, American! Invention! Solves! Problem!
Off in a corner, Brian Winters’ “Que Sera Sera?” places a daringly assembled cast of characters on a trembling stage, dramatizing the hair-trigger point at which our earth’s climate now stands. Also, by a quote from Dr. Seuss, and endless scroll of carbon-black doll’s hair unravels as if to emphasize the “doctor’s” inescapable logic.
The artist known as Skunk puts a new spin on old bicycle parts and odd bits of junk.By Joel Brown
The Space 242 gallery in the South End was crowded with freeloaders last Friday, but there was no problem spotting the artist known as Skunk. He dressed like a cross between Kieth Richards and the Mad Hatter, in oversized black galoshes, black overalls with a blinking R2-D2 toy in the bib pocket, and a black top hat with a skull design on the front. He grinned his friendly, snaggle-toothed grin, his unruly hair damp with sweat after bicycling to the opening from his home in Somerville.
His bike stood by the door: the Cloudbuster, with its seat 5 feet off the ground, a working stereo, and a big mirror ball. It weighs 200 pounds, and he rides it, he said, “every day that it’s not snowing, every day I can stand the attention.”
In a way, customized bicycle choppers were his first sculptures. Now three years’ worth of artworks are for sale in the gallery: Robots made with bodies made of old gears and vending machine parts, little creatures made from spark plugs or welded bicycle chains. An arsenal of “ray guns” includes on called “The Kenny G Eliminator,” a comical blunderbuss that used to be a clarinet. Skunk likes to say he’s blurring the line between art and toys.
“I’m having fun making the stuff, and I just want people to have fun playing with the stuff too,” said Skunk, 38. “the nice thing about it is, if anything breaks, I can just weld it back together, And believe me, I have.”
His work, both grimy and whimsical, brings to mind a shotgun wedding of Mad Max and Doctor Seuss.
“Kind of my natural habitat is broken bike parts… and sometimes people bring me shiny things out of the trash,” Skunk said. “I’m not really interested in polishing things anymore. Everything has a dirty feel to it. I cover it with a polyurethane coat, and the great kind of mixed with that and makes everything kind of dark and rusty and used. I’m a big fan of ‘Star Wars’, and their sci-fi thing is, it’s a used universe.”
Skunk’s elaborately detailed ray guns evoke the Victorian-styled science fiction known as steampunk, a term he learned only recently.
“I don’t know if I have a name for [my] aesthetic or not,” he said. When he’s creating his pieces, “it’s like 2 in the morning, so my sub-conscious is probably more in control than anything else.”
Whatever it is, it works for fans.
“I like the metalwork, it’s different,” said gallerygoer Brian Zola of Hull. “To see how he makes art out of it. instead of intended use when it was originally made, all the different screws and sprockets.”
“What has been done with this show is take to to a whole ‘nother level, taking these wonderful pieces of metal like bicycle chains and hears and pieces of old kitchen appliances and actually giving them life. And it’s humorous!” said Deni Ozan-George of Roxbury. The robots in particular… just have such personality.”
The components “seem to have been put through some sort of alchemical process, so that you can see where they come from, but you still gasp in surprise because of the way they’ve been combined. They’re real little beings,” Said her husband, Brian George.
Skunk works at Seven Cycles, a builder of ultra-high-end titanium and steel bikes in Watertown. He’s been everything from a finisher and to welder to graphic artist for the company, which lets him use its equipment after hours for his art. “I can’t thank them enough,” he said.
He is best known around Boston, though, as the ringleader of SCUL, the bicycle “chopper gang” he founded in 1996. With Skunk atop the Cloudbuster and anywhere from 10 to 50 fellow members on their own customized bikes, the group still rides through the city late on Saturday nights, turning pedaling into happening.
“My bicycle as far as I’m concerned is no different [from the other work], except it’s not really art until it starts rolling down the street with the disco ball going,” Skunk said.
SCUL has its own slang, protocol, and nicknames. Skunk git his because he wears black and because of his early devotion to Dumpster diving for discarded metal. He and his friends call it “skunking” because the animals were often doing the same thing, but for food. Real names, he said, are “like swear words” to teh group, and he’s not giving his up.
His bikes and his art are made of reused materials, and he’s a “junk food vegetarian,” fond of pizza and Diet Coke. He likes the suggestion that he’s sort of a green version of the Hell’s Angel — but he acknowledges that his choices aren’t necessarily high-minded. He stopped eating meat, for instance, the he simply couldn’t afford it.
“I’m not exactly politically or environmentally motivated, though I do think it’s important to do the right thing,” he said. “You do what makes sense to you. If I feel like I’m environmentally responsible, I’m a happier guy.”
He began making art for art’s sake for the birthday present of a SCUL comrade known as Moose. A little moose welded out of bicycle chain was a big hit, and Skunk’s imagination began to expand.
The first creation to greet gallery visitors is Mobot, a burly robot with glowing red eyes, built from a stack of General Electric breaker boxes. “They were all in the trash at one time,” he said. “Must have been an electrician cleaning out his basement.”
No surprise that a guy who calls himself Skunk should be unpretentious, but he may be the only artist with a South End gallery show who un-ironically cites “The Far Side” as an inspiration.
“There’s a ‘Far Side’ cartoon that I keep thinking about, where it was, like, this little boy standing in front of this giant robot with big claws, and there’s a shop teacher in front of him, and he says, ‘Hey, squid brain, my project is ready for grading!’ ” Skunk Said, laughing at it all over again.
“I want one of those! I want a big robot that sits in the corner of the room and looks absolutely intimidating. And that’s what Mobot is,” he said. “People come over now when they join SCUL, and it’s at my house, so they come in and they’re like ‘Oh my God!’ They walk by a room and there’s this 300 pound robot in the corner with glowing red eyes. The reaction is priceless. It’s fun to make people happy, that’s really all there is to it.
Skunk invents robo-artLuke O’Niel
Since the dawn of time, kids have longed for one thing: badass robots to come to life and be their friends. Until science figures that one out, we’ll settle for imagining adventures with the metallic sculptures by Somerville artist Skunk, many of which are made from discarded bicycle parts. Our inner child spoke with the artist about how totally awesome his work is.
Some of your metallic robot sculptures are exactly the type of thing I would have gone crazy for as a kid. Is that what you’re going for: Harnessing boys’ inherent destructive imagination?
I am hoping that people see the constructiveness in my work. Creating something out of garbage isn’t necessarily difficult, but to create something out of garbage that no longer resembles garbage embraces the very essence of constructiveness. … I suppose some of my
robots have a mean look in their eyes, but most of them are programmed to dance, not destroy.
You say you want to blur the line between art and toys. Where does that desire come from? Do you feel like adults aren’t encouraged to indulge their playful sides?
Many adults are too self-conscious to play freely. … Kids make forts out of dining room chairs and blankets, time machines out of refrigerator boxes, and superhero outfits out of bed sheets. My youngest friends remind me of what I’ve forgotten whenever I talk with them. People forget that kids aren’t people-in-training, they are as much of a person as any adult, and they have a lot to offer as genuine friends. But I’d say the biggest motivation for mixing art and toys is a selfish reason. I love making things that are fun!
A lot of them have evident personalities. Do you construct them with stories in mind? Do you have back stories and names for each of them?
All of the bots have a name and serial number, engraved somewhere near the back of the foot. As far as the stories and adventures go, my bots are born the day they are made, so the stories are yet to come with the new owners. I imagine them as robotic orphans looking for good homes.
Sam NejameGallery 242
Many Bostonians know Skunk by sight. He is a man hard to forget. You may see him on his way to work perched on a tall bicycle constructed from two frames ingeniously welded together. And at night if you hear disembodied soul music floating through your window, Skunk’s bicycle mounted stereo is likely passing through your neighborhood on its way home.
Despite his somewhat intimidating appearance, when I meet the man with the raffish grin and Dickens-ian stovepipe hat, he is friendly and makes me a cup of coffee. He glances around the sun-dappled room full of his elaborate robots and ray guns and says he believes everyone should be their own super hero. Skunk dresses accordingly.
Kitted out with size 14 boots sprouting what look like porcupine quills, a copper belt buckle the size of a JRR Tolkien paperback and an errant oil dab on his nose, Skunk reflected. “Life should be well lived.” Then he sips his coffee and pulls out a large pair of scissors, spins them on his finger and reinserts them like a six-gun into his modified Black overalls. He is a man unafraid to admit his skill with a sewing machine matches his skill with a torch.
Long on humility, Skunk refers to himself as “goofy” and to his friends as “nerds on bicycles.” Adored by children, he sees it as his job to create environments in which adults feel safe to play. It’s no surprise Skunk takes his inspiration from Science Fiction. In his first gallery show, Gallery 242 features his galactic robots made almost entirely from recycled metal parts. His previous works include pieces for the Boston Museum of Science related to the 2006 Star Wars exhibit. The welder turned artist credits the robot he made for Anthony Daniels (C3PO) for taking his work to a new level.
Although Skunk briefly attended the University of Maine and was accepted at RISD, he says most of his artistic education has come from more than 15 years welding some of the world’s most sought after titanium bicycle frames for Seven Cycles and Merlin. What started out as a lark—actually a moose made out of bicycle chain—has grown into major creative projects of increasing size and complexity.
If you visit, expect to meet “Mobot,” 300 pounds of interior lineman constructed of electrical utility boxes and glowing red eyes and a neck massage gizmo for a brain (think hum); “Lucky,” built out of a nickel slot machine found in a Western Massachusetts landfill; and “Hathor,” named after an Egyptian goddess. “I like her a lot, but while I was welding, a piece exploded and an ember burned a hole in my pants. It went down into my boot. I took my clothes off as fast as I could… most of my robots are friendly, but Hathor is definitely not.
Not afraid to get dirt under his fingernails, Skunk is someone who puts the art in artisan. He is unflinchingly proud of his precise sturdy welds, which make worn drill bits, saw blades and bicycle parts come alive. When working on robots, Skunk says he knows when they’re done because, “They talk to me.” His Charles Dickens reappears as he chirps under his in his robotic voice “beep.” He looks up a little embarrassed and glances at the fish tank. “Of course, it helps to do this late at night when your critical eye gets a little drowsy.”
Captain’s Log, Star Date 11.03.01 mark 11 hours. Having found myself in uncharted territory, I latched on to a passing band of marauders who allowed me to accompany them on their own mission into the Cambridge System. Halfway into the mission, the group’s leader, Fleet Commander Skunk, set a course for the Kendall Constellation. The other ships followed quickly behind, and soon the entire wing was in orbit around an erupting planet. While in flight, many of the pilots removed their space suits. The Kendall Constellation had many full moons tonight. I did not know what to make of these strange customs nor of my guides for the evening, this band that calls themselves SCUL.
The Subversive Choppers Urban Legion (or SCUL, as the ever present skull insignia suggests) is a response to the city’s over-reliance on more traditional modes of transportation, or “The counterculture to America’s love for the automobile.” Though their name suggests a motorcycle gang something akin to the Hell’s Angels. SCUL is a group of hard-core bicycle lovers. But you won’t find any pansy-ass ten-speeds among SCUL’s fleet of over one hundred bikes. These bikes, “choppers” as they are called, are all handmade, mostly using pieces scavenged by the group’s members. SCUL’s philosophy: “Most engineering goes on the axiom that form follows function. This is not the case with the bicycle chopper. We let form prevail, and make the function happen forcefully. If we tried to create efficient, easy-to-pilot machines, the result would be a normal bike.” This aesthetic ideal manifests itself in some pretty incredible inventions: double-riders, low riders, tall bikes, bikes with raised back wheels and lowered front wheels and vice versa, even a double-decker bike in which the rider, sitting on the uppermost bike, pedals backwards, setting in motion a sequence of wheel and gear rotations that causes the lower bike to push the whole contraption forward.
You may recognize the group as the band of hoodlums that rides through Boston, Cambridge, and surrounding areas on weekend nights from April through November. I crossed paths with SCUL several times last summer and have been in awe of their artistry and obvious sense of irony ever since. After months of sending out feelers for an “in” to the group, I finally tracked them down through feature articles on the internet. As it turns out, SCUL is one of the more famous chopper gangs in the biking world. They’ve appeared in the Boston Globe, the Phoenix, and on Channel 5. And recently they turned down a spotlight with “The Outdoor Life Network, the cable station that ignorantly wanted to lump the group in with “recumbent” cyclists. ( As one SCUL member explained, “[Choppers] are as far from recumbents as recumbents are from normal bikes.”) Yet attention and notoriety have not gone to the members’ heads. They graciously agreed to let the fledgling Counterpoint reporter accompany them on their last ride of the season. So, on a recent Saturday night, while many of my classmates were filing off the Senate Bus for the social scenes at Harvard, MIT, and BU, I borrowed a friend’s K-Mart special and pedaled off, map in hand, to find SCUL”s center of operations.
The SCUL mothership, “Fort Berkeley”, is a green Somerville Duplex that seemed intentionally remote and hard to find. After stopping several confused strangers for directions, I finally arrived, out of breath, on the address on my map, only to find the place apparently deserted. A lone and very unpleasant looking canine greeted me at the gate. My email instructions said that upon reaching the house I should “pet the dog” as the dog is remarkably friendly.” Assuming this was some sort of code for admittance, I held out my hand. It began to bark. “Beast!” a voice from behind the gate, “it’s okay.” It was NoWay, a long-time SCUL member and one of the few with whom I had exchanged emails. NoWay escorted me through the gate into a backyard redecorated as a shrine to the bicycle. Spoked wheels lined the walkways like picket fences and broken gears, handlebars, and bicycle chains were fashioned into sculptures at every turn. On the back porch a dozen twenty- and thirty-somethings sat around drinking beers and offered me one. No sooner had NoWay introduced me to some of the other members–Moose, Sparky, Mad Dog, Mucus, and DeadByDawn–than the dog began licking my hand. I felt like one of the initiated.
For the evening’s festivities, I was awarded the name “Maggot1.” All SCUL members ride under a pseudonym (though some of them, like WalTor, are none too concealing). You must complete an entire ride with the group, however, before you can choose your handle. (At least I got to be Number One, though. The other two first-timers had to go by Maggot2 and Maggot3.) For a mere five-dollar donation, I was allowed to ride one of SCUL’s own choppers as well. But selecting a chopper turned out to be more complicated than choosing a flavor of Ben and Gerry’s at Super Stop and Shop. Each machine is a complex combination of creativity and humor: Suicide is a bicycle seat perched atop two twenty-foot stilts, at the bottom of which are attached two very tiny wheels; Insanity is a normal sized bike, tilted back a bit with with a six-inch front wheel extended five feet in front of the back one (and waving a tiny American flag in front); TrippleNipple is a reverse tricycle. And that’s just to name a few. Aided by NoWay’s expertise, I strolled down the row upon row of choppers liking the basement of Fort Berkeley. Many of the bikes were too large for my five foot, four inch frame; others afforded too little steering control (I needed one hand to take pictures with during the ride); and still others had sustained too much damage during recent God Fight Derbies to be taken out on a mission (more on derbies later). I settled on Circus Peanut, a short, extended-front-wheel chopper given its moniker probably because of its rainbow paint job, glittery banana seat, wide handlebars, horn and streamers make it look something a circus clown might ride. It suited me perfectly.
I guess before I continue I should expand on SCUL’s detailed hierarchy and nomenclature. SCUL members are known as “pilots,” and their choppers are known as “ships” (or, more specifically, “fighters”). A group of ships is called a “wing,” and each wing has its own “commander.” All of the ships in SCUL are part of the “fleet.” Non-SCUL vehicles include “bogies” (unidentified bicycles) and “trandports” (cars and trucks). Pedestrians are known as “civilians.” When SCUL members go out for a ride, they call it a “mission.” Possible destinations include the Allston System, the Somerville System, and the Cambridge System. Missions are usually restricted to the MA (Massachusetts) Galaxy, except for the Annual Century Ride when members ride the one hundred miles from Massachusetts to Maine. A dictionary of terms can be found on SCUL’s web page, and familiarity with some of the more common phrases is essential on order to ride the gang. If this is all beginning to sound like the lingo from the latest Star Wars episode. SCUL’s creator, Skunk, was inspired by other themed chopper gangs he had heard of and went with the idea of a space marine gang because he was a big fan of sci-fi series. But SCUL’s origin is little more opaque.
According to WalTor, “Skunk just woke up one morning and decided to become a gang.” If you’ve met Skunk, this doesn’t seem so implausible. Sparky describes him as “always having some project going. he guy is just never still. He never sleeps, which is good because he gets things done–building choppers and stuff.” The night before I met Skunk, he had not slept, but when I walked up to him and introduced myself at the pre-ride meeting, he seemed to be functioning at top speed. Apparently, he had needed to stay up all night finishing the Annual Cog Awards, miniature statues made of welded bicycle parts that are awarded to the outstanding SCUL members of the year. Skunk’s frenzied welding and the flaming tattoos licking up his forearms reminded me of Vulcan hammering lightening bolts for Zeus in the pits of Hades.
According to Skunk (whose own mother even refers to him as Skunk now), the process of starting SCUL was a little more gradual, “When I moved to the city, I realized it’s really impractical to have a car. And them my brother gave me a Cruiser and it is definitely the best bike I have ever had, even though it was just one single-speed coaster bike, and I was like ‘This thing works!’ as opposed to a ten-speed that you buy in a department store.” For Skunk, his brother’s gift started a new love affair with bikes: “He showed me how much fun you can have on a bike and not take it too seriously at all.” After seeing his brother make a chopper bike, Skunk said, “I want to do that.”
That was in 1995. Now SCUL has over ninety members, a nation wide reputation, and a soon-to-be-released series of trading cards, and yet the organization is much less centralized than when Skunk founded it. He still leads missions and organizes events, but only when other members don’t take the lead. Fort Berkeley is currently below Skunk’s house, but that may change soon, too. The evening of our ride, Skunk received notice from his landlady that SCUL could no longer meet at Fort Berkeley. Apparently, there had been too many complaints from the neighbors. So during the off-season this winter, SCUL will begin looking for a new base of operations. According to Skunk, the gang will be back in full force as usual next April. “SCUL is much bigger now than just the bikes,” he said in the one brief sound bite he afforded me. “It’s become more about the people. So that makes me think we will be around.” The group seems to have forged some strong connections. Members often see each other outside the regular rides, meeting to watch movies at a member’s house or even for Sunday brunch. During the awards ceremony, Skunk became so emotional describing the achievements of the Iron Cog recipient, Vomit (winner of SCUL’s highest honor), that he had to leave the room and asked WalTor to take over the presentation. WalTor, poking fun at the group’s intimacy, later said, “I was unemployed and repulsive to people until I became a SCUL member, and now look at me.” As another member jokingly put it, “If it wasn’t for SCUL, I would be hanging out in Harvard Square like a loser every Saturday night.”
So rather than hanging out at the square that Saturday night, I rode with SCUL. The official ride began at ten-thirty (“30 mark 10 hours” in SCUL Speak). About fifteen of us left the Broadway Bicycle School, the location of the closing ceremony, and headed down Broadway through Union and Inman Squares. The first thing I noticed while riding with SCUL was how much cooler I felt riding a chopper than riding a normal bike. When I ride my ten-speed through town, no one waves to me or cheers. But when I rode a SCUL bike, surrounded by my gang, little children stopped, wide-eyed on the street; they tugged at their parents’ shirtsleeves and asked if they could have a bike like mine. Well-dressed couples out on dates held out their hands for the whole line of us to give them high fives as we ride by. I was even more respected by other vehicles. Normally, I always have to be on guard while riding through town for the occasional aggressive Boston driver. But with SCUL, the other drivers waited while the whole posse rode through a red light.
Not everyone SCUL encounters thinks the gang demands such deference. WalTor told me how often he hears the word “loser” from the occasional onlooker. The worst, Skunk says, are the drunks who want to ride a chopper, claiming they used to own one themselves when they were children. But I didn’t encounter any of these detractors on my ride. On the contrary, as we passed Harvard Square, a group of obviously inebriated college athletes danced out into stalled traffic to tell us how “rad” we were. I knew, as I waved at my Wellesley classmates waiting in the cold for the Senate Bus, that my new mode of transportation was “rad” indeed.
Riding with SCUL is not just one long parade past an admiring crowd. The parts of the ride that most people don’t see are the numerous excursions. Our first stop was at Kendall Square. A block past the T stop, Skunk darted into Kendall Plaza. The little square (that is actually a circle) just before the Longfellow Bridge contains a steel fountain in the shape of a planet. As if on cue, the other riders, barreling down the street at a breakneck pace turned inside the circle, dragging me with them. Then, like the cars at the Indie 500, we raced around the circle in the small walkway between the fountain and the benches that line the exterior. Add to that fifteen racing bicycles all with extended front wheels and decreased steering control. After several minutes of this, a man and woman on a motorcycle drove up the square and parked to watch SCUL’s performance. One of the members, Sparky, thinking that an audience deserved to see a good show, stripped down to his silkcreened SCUL underwear and continued his flight path while smoking a cigarette. Skunk joined him in his display, and a few other members ripped off their shirts as well. Considering that it was only forty degrees outside and I needed to take photos, I left my clothes on.
Donning all clothes, we hopped back on our bikes and rode to an empty lot near MIT for our next detour–the Dog Fight Derby. I should have known, based on the title alone, that this was something a novice might not want to participate in. The objective is to stay on your chopper for as long as possible without putting your feet on the ground. The only problem is that all the other cyclists are trying to disqualify you by yanking off the piece of caution tape that is tied to your neck or by knocking you off balance. I was beginning to wish I had chosen the chopper with the steel battering ram attachment rather than my unassuming Circus Peanut. I managed to stay in the derby for nearly fifteen minutes, though, by circling the perimeter and avoiding becoming a casualty myself by not even trying to take out the other riders. However, once Skunk caught on to my strategy, I was dead meat. He rode straight at me at high speed. There was no chance to outrun him. Fortunately, he didn’t run right into me, the way some derby contestants do–he just rode so close that I was knocked off balance. He told me I should feel no shame, though; I had been taken out by one of the best. The derby continued for the better part of half an hour, and in the end only the truly competitive and blood thirsty remained. The object, of course, was not really to win, but to ride.
After the derby, I was getting tired. It was already 30 mark 1 hours and growing colder, but SCUL still had plans to ride to Bunker Hill that night. Though I desperately wanted to finish the mission and earn my new SCUL name, I took the opportunity to be escorted back to Fort Berkeley by WalTor, Diva, Mucus, and DeadByDawn who all had to rest up for work the next day. At it turns out, SCUL’s members have infiltrated every part of society. While many work in bike shops, others are public school teachers, parents, and one is a counselor at an adolescent psychiatry ward. However, the appearance of hard-core bikes is not just an image these member don for a few hours each week. For most members, biking is a life-long passion. Riding back to Fort Berkeley that night, I felt some of their passion rubbing off on me. But, just as I was beginning to get the hang of “popping wheelies” on Circus Peanut, we reached the Fort. It was an incredible letdown on the rude home to be on my old bike again. I seemed totally unremarkable to everyone on the street, and I felt even a little vulnerable without my gang surrounding my bike. So, I am looking forward to next season when I can ride with SCUL again, hopefully as something other than Maggot1.
Captian’s Log: Having said good-bye to my new friends from SCUL I set a course for home. I am sure my life in the Wellesly System will seem incredibly dull in comparison to that of a chopper fighter pilot. I am confident, however, that I have not seen the last of this species, and in the meantime, I will continue to work on my “wheelies”.
Sarah Ligon ’03, has been officially awards the name of “CrazyMaggotReport” by SCUL. Her current rank is the organization is that of Aviator First Class, thirteen points from the bottom of the roster.