ALEX WALKS DIFFERENT in his cowboy boots. His stride lengthens and his hips sway. He says it's because the boots pinch his feet. I say it's because they bring him in touch with his inner rodeo star, which is several identity shifts away from his usual outer shrink. He sits down with us, props one foot on the fence like the Marlboro man.
"Well, they're great boots," says our friend Leslie. Leslie is an Episcopal priest. When she visits the farm, she doesn't wear her collar, though. She's off duty, so she's in a pretty pink top and slacks.
We are sharing a lazy summer evening, three overworked Americans enjoying the big exhale. We were going to barbecue some chicken, but the oppressive heat is definitely doing us in.
"It's wing night at Tradesmen's," Alex says. "They've got the best darn wings this side of Texas."
(See? Now he's doing howdy-pardner talk.)
"Let's go!" Leslie says.
"You think I can go like this?" I ask. I've been gardening, so I'm in a tank top, Alex's old jeans, which are about three sizes too big, and a backward baseball cap.
"It's Tradesmen's," Alex points out. "I don't think they'll kick you out."
On the way to the restaurant, something hits me. It's not only wing night at Tradesmen's. Because in the summer months, wing night is also . . . bike night. Bike night is when like 100 Harley guys and their women and another 50 Harley women and their guys come vrooming up to Tradesmen's, transforming it into a biker bar. We don't ever actually go to bike night. Bike night looks . . . scary.
And then I have another epiphany: We are taking Leslie to a biker bar. We are taking a priest to a biker bar. I point this out to Alex.
"Oh," he says. "Oh, dear."
"Maybe we should go to the Frosty Kiss," I say. "They've got burgers."
But Leslie wants to know why we can't just go to bike night. "I think God wants me to go to a biker bar," she says, laughing. Leslie has a good sense of humor. Leslie reminds you that God can take a joke, that He isn't quite as, well, narrow-minded as you walk around believing sometimes. Leslie married us. Leslie was an angel standing up there, inviting God to bless this marriage in whatever form people knew Him best. No one felt excluded, least of all Alex, a Jew, and me, a Catholic.
Ever since the wedding, we've become good friends with Leslie. We are three people who enjoy thinking about God, and our differing backgrounds make discussing heavenly matters all the more lively. Leslie always gets the last word, though. Because there's a reverence. We hold Leslie in a special place. Leslie is holy.
Leslie, I think, doesn't belong in a biker bar. We should have gone to the Frosty Kiss.
The Harleys here in the parking lot are lined up one by one, like giant shoes on a giant shoe rack. There is a lot of chrome. There is black leather everywhere. There are women in tube tops revealing Harley tattoos. Men in fringe. Everybody looks very menacing. The Harley people look at us: a woman in pink, the Marlboro man and a hip-hop wannabe.
"Well, now that I think about it, Jesus would hang out with the Harley guys," I say to Leslie. "I mean, in a way, aren't these your people?" I'm trying to turn this into a religious experience.
She looks at me, trying to comprehend.
"Some hog!" she says, looking at a bike adorned with little American flags. (Now she's doing Harley talk?)
The waitress seats us at a table on the porch, and there aren't too many bikers close by. I think maybe she knows to keep us separate. We look at the menu. We order the bucket of wings and the curly fry combo. The waitress hands us each a little ticket. "We're raffling off Harley T-shirts," she says.
"Cool," Leslie says.
Our waitress is joking with the bikers a few tables away. When she returns with our bucket of wings, she's still laughing, "Oh, my dentist. He's so funny."
Her dentist. Her dentist is a biker?
"Oh, half these guys are doctors," she says. "The other half are lawyers. Who else can afford Harleys?"
We study the faces of these leather-clad people. Beneath the fringe, there's a whole bunch of clean-cut rich guys and their women. Clean-cut rich women and their guys.
"Oh," says Leslie. "I'm . . . disappointed."
And why am I starting to feel like I'm at a costume party? The truth is never in the uniform.
The raffle begins with the announcement of the first lucky ticket holder: 749026. And so the night continues, a cowboy shrink, a hip-hop gardener, a priest all pretty in pink, a biker bar full of doctors and lawyers, all of us joined together in the most human of all endeavors: the universal pursuit of a free T-shirt.
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is email@example.com.