Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dead Poets

It comes
when no one
is watching.

Just that moment
in a torrent
of time.

Milliseconds
that
last forever.

Eternity in a bubble.

Come
fall back
with me.

The siren call
unlaces me.
I am a ribbon
in a hurricane.

Whipped by chance,
borne up by force.
Choices are such
cruel jokes.

Don't tempt
the razor
to cut your throat
but
sing so loudly
with it at your neck
that even
Dead Poets
will rise and turn
to see
at whose feet
the wreath is thrown.

Or,
be lost.

No one hears it
so
offer it
as though the blade
were held
to your son's
pulsing throat.

Be ready.
Do not disappoint.

Cry out.
Make the last note
clear.

Like a long
whistle
in the dark.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

That Guy

I am not a frequent flyer so I considered it a privilege when, last month on a short flight from Oakland to San Jose California, I actually got to sit next to That Guy.

Well, it wasn't exactly next to him, but in a small confined space like a commuter airplane, aren't we all seatmates, so to speak? And, for That Guy, were were indeed, all in this together.

That Guy? Who is That Guy? Well,if you don't know, you may want stop reading now and wait for the next post, but I'm guessing that both of you, dear Readers, know just who I am talking about. No, not me, of course, even though I can't claim never to have been That Guy, but you have met him, and more than once. You've had to sit next to him on a plane, ride in his cab or sit in on one of his meetings.

He's the guy who is too loud, too outspoken, too insensitive to the needs of others and is far too in tune with his own feelings and opinions. Opinions, alas, are not like assholes. Assholes have way more than just one opinion.

That Guy doesn't need to know anything about a subject, or at least no more than enough to have already made up his mind well past the point of change. Change isn't even a realistic possibility for That Guy. That Guy's most popular subjects are, of course, sports, politics and religion, often in that order.

Despite having (at least) these three popular and seemingly easy subjects to choose from, That Guy usually has taken the time to become an expert on just one of them, though depending on how drunk he is, he may try to connect two or more of the three. Sports and religion are the easiest to link up, but it isn't hard to imagine what political dialog at the bar or Fox News might sound like sans the language of gridirons and concussive campaign web hits.

Still you have your purists, like That Guy on the plane. He was a Sports Guy, and a one loud Sports Guy at that. Worse, he was a One-Team-One-Sport Guy, which, as we all know, is the most obnoxious kind. Worse, even, than the Religion Guy preaching on the corner, who, while as rabid and gesticulatory, is at least thinking of something grander than himself, however fanciful that vision may be.

By contrast, That Sports Guy is focussed on just the one thing. His Team. With a capital T, naturally, because It is The Thing to be Worshipped. It is also The Thing to be Paid For. As in tickets, hats, jerseys and most of all stupid squanderous bets, entered into in the worst and most ambitious kind of ignorant hubris: simple pride and vanity transformed into the false promise of monetary reward. In a word, faith.

But in this faith there is no hope for salvation, only for the next Sunday, for the next Super Bowl (that someone else's team is always seems to be playing in) and for the next season. No one is really a winner in this game.

And it's not just That Guy who's got a losing record. In the end, even (especially?) the players lose their much larger bets, having in their youth unsuccessfully put up a pair of knees, say, for a couple hundred thousand dollars that was gone before they were middle-aged. Ah but who cares, right? Not That Guy.

So this Sports Guy was all That. And he knew it. He even said so.

"I'm That Guy," he said as we settled into our seats at the beginning of the flight. It was a point of pride. He then talked at the top of his lungs for the entire hour or so that we were on that plane. He recounted every drunken episode from every drunken Sunday in the past drunken year. He talked about his 'Old Man' and the 'Old Lady' like he was a dockworker from On the Waterfront. Well, Brando he was not. That Guy, he was.

Thinking perhaps that it was a bit too quiet as we waited to get off, or perhaps that we hadn't already heard, he spoke up again. "I'm That Guy," he said. "If you don't like it, there's nothing you can do about it."

Ah, true that. Well, almost nothing.

I hoped that the San Diego Chargers would kick the Forty-Niner's asses that evening. And lo and behold, they did.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tools Make the Man

As both readers know well, I am no master craftsman. Although I own a fairly complete set of tools, it is safe to say that when it comes to using them, I'm fooling myself if I say that I am in any way skilled.

Take something simple, say, like a wrench. Now this is a tool I've used a lot, but sometimes it feels like it's the first time I've ever held one, let alone mastered its use. I routinely look carefully at a nut or bolt, walk back to my tool kit and pick up the wrong wrench. I walk back to my work, discover that it is either the next one up or the next one down, but not this one. Then, I walk back to the toolkit and attempt to chose the right one. Often it is that damn third time that is the charm.

Oh well, at least I'm getting my exercise.

Some tools, however, I use so infrequently that it really is like the first time when I pick it up again. Yesterday, I picked up such a tool, a little 3-inch angle grinder. I've used this little power toy maybe two or three times since I bought it back when the car in my driveway was a partially disassembled MGB.

I used it for the first time in three years just the other day, when I cut down the angle iron that I used to make a frame brace before we lifted the body off the chassis. Yesterday, though, I had some serious work ahead for this tool--cutting the rusty body pans out of the frame--yet my lack of experience was to be no hindrance to the task.

When I first bent to the task, I was hesitant and sloppy. I revved up the cutting wheel and locked in the 'on' position, but when I touched it to the welds, I let it skip and bounce a bit. The result was a jagged line that actually missed the second weld.

Sparks were flying everywhere and I had to stop and wait cautiously for the smoke in the frame tunnel to fade away. A fire inside the frame would have been particularly hard to put out, to say nothing of the damage that it would do.

So, when the smoke cleared, I went back to work, this time resolved to use the tool with a bit more confidence. I began really cutting into the rusty bumpy steel intersection between the pan and the frame. It felt less like steel and more like bread. Instead of a sawing motion that I would use for bread or meat, I began to drawn the spinning blade back in a straight line as I applied downward pressure to the steel. I began to feel the material as something less than steel, more 'cuttable'. Soon a neat line appeared behind the blade and I was making good progress.

Better than that, I was actually learning to use this tool. It felt great.

It wasn't to last too long, however. Depending on how you look at it, the fact that the person who welded in the pans the last time (it was NOT a stock installation) was so unskilled or lazy (or both) with the welder, that half the pan was not even welded in. After I cut through the first half, the pan just peeled back and off the frame. In less than an hour, I had the left floor pan off the car.

The right half will be much easier, of course, because now I have acquired just enough skill with the cutting tool to make it barely so. I will be fooling myself if I allow myself to believe that the skill is anything more than rudimentary. After all, I won't be cutting out floor pans on a daily basis, so whatever skill I manage to develop next weekend will surely be lost before the next task comes along.

In spite of this sober approach to my tools and my skill at using them, I am never so fully engaged, so deeply happy as when I have a tool in my hand and I'm learning how to use it. I think this is a deep, primordial urge, something so basic that it compels me despite my lack of skill and experience. Holding and learning how to use a tool--teaching myself as I go--makes me more than a shade-tree mechanic. It makes me human.