People occasionally drop me a note or friend me up on Facebook and say, “Hey! I used to love your ‘Bitter Little Man’ column when you were at Motorcyclist.” I always love fan mail, everybody loves a little pat on the back. But hey, that was a long time ago … and I’ve been cranking out new pearls of wisdom every three weeks here on MO for a year now. Hey, Lama, how about a little something, you know, for the effort?

Maybe I’ve lost it. I’m just not as bitter and angry as I used to be, in spite of the fact that the state of the nation is considerably more ridiculous than it was then. Back before 9/11, we mostly restricted our stamping out of non-approved sects to Branch Davidians in Texas. Now that we’ve taken the act international and launched the Department of Homeland Security (Orwell couldn’t have come up with a better name), there are even more reasons for me to go off the reservation. But I mostly don’t. Combative is just our American, nay, human, nature.

In extensively researching this column, I watched the 1957 sci-fi thriller 20 Million Miles to Earth, in which an alien lizardman creature larva is brought back from Venus with predictable results. Back on Earth, when the spaceship commander has the still smallish creature cornered in a barn, he says to the cringing female love interest, “Actually they’re not normally ferocious unless provoked – hand me that prod!” Did it ever occur to anybody for even a second to offer the newly hatched creature from Venus a big bottle of formula or a ham sandwich? No, and soon enough we’re battling the thing through the streets of Rome with tanks, flamethrowers and bazookas.

There’s that old saying: A man who isn’t a liberal at 25 has no heart. A man who isn’t a conservative by 35 has no brain. I disagree with that assessment, but anger is sort of the same deal. If you’re not angry at the world at 25, you have no heart or brain; if you haven’t learned to let go of a lot of it by the time you’re 50, you better enjoy writing manifestoes by yourself in a tarpaper shack in Idaho and know the difference between cover and concealment. (Judging from the reviews, I must be the only guy who really enjoyed Robin Williams in Angriest Man in Brooklyn. Vicarious anger is the way to go.)

Maybe I was a little angry, but it wasn’t my fault man ...

Maybe I was a little angry, but it wasn’t my fault man …

Outside of our little band of motorcycle ne’er do wells, nobody much wants to hear it. Especially the ladies. Going negative triggers their “poor provider” instinct, even if going negative is one’s stock in trade. Anyway, the love of the fairer sex showed me the error of my ways. That and the Paxil, which I devoted a whole column to, circa 2000?

I only took the stuff for a short while and loved it, but I had to give it up because, while it made me feel like Putin, it also sort of stymied what passes for my “creativity,” which reinforces my idea that people who are happy all the time are just not very attuned to their surroundings. It also messed with my libido, and that’s never good. More dangerously, it took away the reservedness from my nature. Being assertive is really only a good idea if what you have to say is complimentary to those around you, especially your peers and workplace superiors. Paxil bypassed my filter – and it felt awesome – but honesty is not always the best policy. For instance, instead of saying, “Thank you for your constructive criticism of my tank bag review,” I might say something like, “YOU SURE AS F**K SUCKED EVERY MOLECULE OF LIFE OUT OF THAT, DIDN’T YOU!?” There’s a good reason why nature makes some of us introverts.

When I suddenly began pushing back, my ex-wife phoned up my doc and demanded he cut off my supply immediately. Good times. Anyway, something flipped a switch in my brain or maybe it’s just the natural aging process, that made me understand that lashing out and fighting the Man was not the path to long-term serenity. Well, I still fight Him whenever I can, but always with a smile on my face, a song in my heart and a planned escape route. I used to be disgusted, but now I’m just amused. I used to self-medicate with alcohol and tobacco. Now I hop on my bicycle and knock out 11.7 miles around the Back Bay. Then I sit down and self-medicate: The endorphins or whatever they are really add to the buzz.

This is how happy I am now. (Photo courtesy BBC)

This is how happy I am now. (Photo courtesy BBC)

Among the things amusing me lately are the speed with which new buzzwords enter the lexicon thanks to the internet. Reach out is a good one. “I’m going to reach out to the plumber to come fix my leaky faucet.” “Let’s reach out to the waiter to see if he’ll bring us some food today.” Etc. What was wrong with “call” or “contact” or “yell at”? Suddenly everybody’s reaching out. I don’t want a hug (wait, maybe I do?), this is not the Trinity Broadcasting Network. I just want you to respond to my email or whatever. There is one context in which this phrase makes sense. “If you don’t stop saying scenario and branding and literally, I’m going to reach out and strangle the uvula out of you.”

Facebook is actually pretty awesome; who knew all those people were alive and still living next door? But why is the only button LIKE? Where’s the DISLIKE, the BULLSHIT! and STFU buttons? I suppose it’s the modern equivalent of “if you can’t say anything nice…” My mom died this morning. LIKE!

Is anybody on LinkedIn besides me? That’s a rhetorical question. Everybody and their dog is on LinkedIn endorsing each other for everything they’ve ever done. Can Bob find his ass with both hands in the dark? Yes, he can! 23 people endorse Bob’s ability to find his ass. You must be the only guy who remembers the night Bob required assistance from his cute new admin assistant to find his ass in the dark and how harassing co-workers was really the only skill Bob brought to the workplace. LIKE! If people wrote on LinkedIn what they say at the bar, it would be filled with things like, “Carlo’s about as qualified to be a Creative Director as I am to be a drug-sniffing canine or the first female Sherpa,” or “A million monkeys on a million typewriters would all do better work than Bill within 15 minutes,” or “Diane is a veritable font of ignorance and a one-woman Berlin Wall in the path of progress.” None of those will advance your career.

A thing to bear in mind is that 100 is the average IQ, meaning that half the people you come in contact with every day are thicker than average. (Or is that median?) They have to work too, to keep the economy humming, and they dislike you for being a smug smart-ass even more than you deplore them for picking their nose in the Range Rover in the left lane and being Senate Majority Leader.

Here I would anger the cop by pointing out to him “dumb ass” in this case should be two words, since “your dumbass” implies another person that you’re in charge of.

Here I would anger the cop by pointing out to him “dumb ass” in this case should be two words, since “your dumbass” implies another person that you’re in charge of.

I bet you thought I’d never get to motorcycles, didn’t you? In spite of all the silliness in the world and the roadblocks thrown up by groupthink and the current Keystone Kops, I’m seriously moved lately when somebody or some clan overcomes all of it to build something like the new Yamaha R1 or H2 Kawasaki or KTM Super Duke or Buell 1190 SX, all of which really do literally fly in the face of modern civilization, for reasons inexplicable to 99 percent of the populus. Like a Rembrandt or Beethoven’s Ode to Joy or the love of a beautiful creature of the opposing sex (or the same sex if that’s your deal, not that there’s anything wrong with that), a good motorcycle transcends all. I think I’ll be able to maintain as long as I can get in a few rides a week. Halleluja.

  • Ser Samsquamsh

    The difference between raging adolescent anger
    and your new avuncular weltschmerz is similar to the difference between sharp
    cheddar and a pile of rancid milk. Anyway, I LIKE! your musing on key life
    learnings, Mr.Burns.

  • DickRuble

    “for reasons inexplicable to 99 percent of the populus” — I certainly hope you do not run into any populus on a motorcycle (the genus of poplar). The populace wouldn’t understand.

    • john burns

      we all specifically left that in there to test you, Dick. Nice work.

  • Craig Hoffman

    Thanks for the laugh, as usual!

    Motorcycles are not understood by the general population – they perceived as too noisy, dangerous, challenging and uncomfortable, which is the general population’s loss. The general population is comprised largely of a bunch of pussies who have forgotten, or perhaps never knew, how to really live.

    Bikes of all kinds, from dirt bikes to touring boats, are all special, and associating with them makes me feel alive, which seems to be a small miracle once one’s age ticks past 50 from what I can see. Thank God for my motorcycles, the experiences they provide and the people they have brought into my life. Without the bikes, no amount of Paxil, Zoloft, booze or even healthy living would compensate for cumulative psychological damage caused by the everyday grind that is life.

    It occurs to me, since I am not rich and therefore do not have money to buy my happiness, that I would be pretty burned out and unhappy at this mid life stage without my bikes. I honestly do not understand how the general population makes it without bikes. I read medical records for a living, and there are a ton of depressed people out there. Zoloft is a big seller. I submit that a motorcycle induced adrenaline hit is free and it is better.

    As Morgan Freeman said in Shawshank Redemption, “get busy livin’ or get busy dying”. The old cliche is true. Ride to live, live to ride.

    • DickRuble

      You can buy a lot of fluoxetine for the price of a Ducati.

  • JMDonald

    It is a great time for motorcycling. It just gets better and better. These are the good old days. It is our advanced age that better enables us to appreciate it all. Ride on boys.

    • Evans Brasfield

      I’ve been saying these are the good old days for a while now! I’m glad I’ve finally stumbled on to someone else who understands.

      • JMDonald

        Today we have anti-lock brakes, modern tires, light weight super strong alloys, electronic controls, waterproof light weight textiles, vented aerodynamically sound helmets along with the benefit of 100 years of engineering expertise to put it all together for us. There are a thousand bikes out there of all types at a price point for anyone’s budget. We are indeed blessed.

  • MrBlenderson

    Great piece. Reminds me of the bumper sticker “If you aren’t completely outraged, you haven’t been paying attention.” Lately I’ve been thinking more like “If you’re completely outraged and aren’t doing anything about it, you’re just an angry asshole.” Anger serves some legitimate purposes, but most of the time it’s just baggage. Stress-causing, life-shortening baggage.

  • Old MOron

    Well, the Bitter Little Man gave us all a voice, and we love him for it.
    If you’re not so bitter nowadays, you’re just as ironic:

    “When I suddenly began pushing back, my ex-wife phoned up my doc and demanded he cut off my supply immediately.”

    And just as clever:

    “…and they dislike you for being a smug smart-ass even more than you deplore them for picking their nose in the Range Rover in the left lane and being Senate Majority Leader.”

    And you’re still fighting the good fight, with a smile on your face, a song in your heart and a planned escape route. Keep it up, JB.

  • Oslo Norway

    Cripes, John, even Jesus kicked over a table or two. Some days you gotta knock a few coconuts together to get them to listen…

    • john burns

      kick tables knock coconuts? That’s assault and could also be a hate crime Oslo they will put you away!

  • Peter Collins

    John, you can’t be an angry man and drive an old school Jag. The two things are simply incompatible.

    • john burns

      maybe that’s why I love it, it cures road rage? I might be ready for the XJR supercharged version tho, if I stumble across a nice one…

  • They had me on the Prozac many moons ago and I know exactly what you’re talking about in terms of an absent filter. I’d walk along, see a rock and think: This rock could go through that car window.” Smash. No reason for it; it was just a thing to do. They took me off the Prozac after I had a camp fire in my living room.

    But I’m muuuuuuuch better now. Motorcycles been berry, berry good to me.

  • 2015

    Excuse the non sequitur. The engine plate would be more efective if it read, ‘They FORGED Me To Hate’, instead of “They Forced Me To Hate” Thank you for reading.

  • Dale B.

    Closer to 60 now than 50. Excellent read JB.

    • Dale B.

      But I still wish they would take the V-Rod motor and build a Concours 14 or FJR or R 1200 RT or Trophy… Oh, stop, wait, there’s that “Bitter” you are writing about. Let it go Dale, let it go…

  • Rusty Baffles

    Oh hey that’s gotta be a ChopperDave points cover! He’s still recovering from his crash, but recently got back to work casting metal again. Whose engine was that?

    Great column; I am not sure why my favorite writing comes from motorcycle magazines but I think it is a synergistic combination of intellect and content. I feel like I would enjoy reading Burn’s grocery list, I’ve enjoyed so much else from his pen. Thanks!

  • Jack Meoph

    Serenity NOW!!!

  • Tod Rafferty

    Welcome, John, to the pinochle game here at Pleasantville Manor. They treat us very well, you will like it. And not to worry, there will still be plenty to angry up yer stomach, with the forming up of another sideshow of political crackpots. We elders may take solace in the knowledge that the Monkey Wrench Gang is alive and well, and that our children will come to see us when they get home from the war in Latvia. Good times.


    Join the club! Welcome to middle age-or worse…..But relax. Even Abbie Hoffman (suicide) and Jerry Rubin(sold out to the establishment) eventually came around. Just the normal aging process, nothing to worry about….

    • Old MOron

      Oh man, I was in 8th grade when I read “Do it!” What an experience.

  • MarkKalan

    Well said Mr. Burns!

  • Backroad Bob

    Another classic, JB. You haven’t lost a step. There’s still a chance to make your millions with that sinsemilla stuff.

  • SRMark

    I looked at that picture of Sir Elton on the carnival bike and the Beatles’ “All you need is love” popped into my mind. You have a strange effect on people, Mr. Burns.

  • Alan G

    excellent john!

  • John B.

    I think that’s the first time I laughed out loud while reading a motorcycle-related article! LIKE!