Friday, June 24, 2011

Getting Dirty Daily

If I suggested that either of my readers hazard a guess at my most frequent thought, one of you might be forgiven for blushing, but in truth, you would have overreached in your assumptions about my nature.  Only just, however.  That thought is there, and it is frequent to be sure, so despair not in your conclusions.  Just re-order them.

My most frequent thought would have to be about metal.

This is not news to either Reader, nor would it be surprising even if you had just begun reading this journal. References to my Green Ghia project are beginning to figure as prominently here as references to Lynda, Pierre and Death--respectively the impetus, the catalyst and the ongoing inquiry that have driven my writing for almost four frantic years.  A reader recently commented that I write with a sense of urgency, and this is true.  I often feel that my last word will be my last, and that spurs me to write more, and faster.  Time is not waiting for me to get ready to write, though that's all I feel I've ever really done.

But I am not writing about writing today.  I am writing about metal.

I see now that one of the most delicious and satisfying aspects of working on my car is the variety of metal that I encounter.  Metal of different sizes and shapes, to be sure, but also different weights and gauges, textures and surfaces.  Metal is a delight to touch, to hold, to manipulate, to own, and I relish moment with each piece.  Now I am engaged in the particularly satisfying process of cleaning, buffing, painting and priming all the dirty, bent, rusty and ragged pieces that I've been pulling off the car for the past eight months.  This is where the reverie lives.

As I touch each piece, withdrawing it from it's labeled baggie to examine, clean and paint it, I am drawn into an unconscious state of ecstasy.  I am momentarily detached from the ordinary flow of life.  It's as if I've paddled off into an eddy at the river's bank, able to watch it flow by but also able to rest and contemplate the water itself.

With the steel in my hand, head bent to the task, I feel lost in the warmth of the fire that made the metal; I revel in the resistance that it offers to my malicious efforts--scraping, buffing, grinding, sanding; and I take deep satisfaction from rendering it clean, polished and fresh for use.

Use has a lot to do with my motivation and the pleasure I here describe.  I am not a sculptor.  I am not assembling from the raw materials a new creation, but rather I am like a modeler, putting together what is essentially a big kit.  That the kit has a function however, is a fact that really does drive my intentions.  Or is that, my intentions to drive?

My goal with the Ghia is to rebuild it, to bring it back to life and drive it.  My intent is not to restore it to a new-like condition, or to create a show car of any kind.  What I want is a car that I can drive.  This is a particular make and model of a car that I have intensely desired since I was in my early teens, so the goal is to finally have that car I have wanted all these years.

I could, of course, go out and simply buy a fully restored car.  This might even be cheaper than what I am doing, since I could probably get a really good, drivable vehicle for less than say, $7500 (though $10-12K would bring home a real sweet drive) but then I wouldn't get the satisfaction of playing with all that metal.  And, sure, I could have purchased a car with a little less rust, one a little less to do in terms of re-assembly, but the reasons are the same and, quite frankly, the rust and grime just adds to the fun.

Fun?  Is that what it's about?  Perhaps.  I heard Tom Hanks say recently that if he could have another career, it would be as a tour guide at famous historical monument (he didn't say which one).  He meant that he really enjoyed talking to people and helping them.  In one of my jobs, that's pretty much what I get to do, and I love that.

But, when you get right down to it, if I could have had another career, it might have been as a VW mechanic, busting my knuckles and getting dirty on a daily basis with all that metal.  Would that have been fun?  I don't think so.  I have no illusions about the income and/or lifestyle of the typical mechanic, and I would not have been satisfied with that.  Part of what makes it fun (as being a tour guide might be to the wealthy and famous Mr. Hanks) is the fact that it's not what we really do for a living.  I hesitate to call it a hobby, since I just can't lump what I do of the evenings in with the guy who's building birdhouses down the street, but I guess that's what others see it as.

I think of it as a passion, and the metal is calling to me even now.

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