Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance: Chapter 3: Ghosts

 

Our fearless crew of riders barrels forward into a descending storm.

 

The Narrator describes eerily as the gray and foreboding clouds descend from the heavens and begin to engulf the landscape which they can witness clearly here on the level ground as they speed along the road. Small rain drops begin to pepper them and bolts of lightning strike the ground around them. As if that’s not scary or dangerous enough, they decide to step on it so they can “beat” the storm. Quickly they ramp it up to 90 miles per hour. The Narrator alludes to the fact that the rain drops feel like needles at 90. And he also describes, with a sense of pride, the musical note of his motorcycle engine and just as it appears he is getting lost in his riding zone (see chapter 2!) a nearby lightning strike illuminates a farm house and water tower.

 

His reverie is shattered.

 

And now the story takes a turn for the strange.

 

After the farmhouse whizzes by he falls into a spell in which he experiences an odd sense of “deja vu” and other senses of familiarity in which he keeps referring to the “he” or “him” who has been here before, here on the road. “He’s been here,” the Narrator thinks. And quickly winds down his speed while John and Sylvia race ahead.

 

Chris asks his father why the sudden slow down and all he can tell his son is “too fast.” Naturally the little Evil Knievel protests, but they continue driving on at slower speeds and eventually catch up with John and Sylvia just outside town. The Narrator keeps mentioning that this disembodied and unknown “he” has been here and you get the sense that the Narrator has visited the town before as well.

 

After meeting up on the side of the road, they decide to pull into town and the Narrator mysteriously propels them toward a hotel which they would never have seen or noticed without his foreknowledge. John asks the Narrator about that; how he knew about this motel. Did he stay here before….and the Narrator merely volunteers that he doesn’t remember.

 

As they check in at the front desk, Sylvia watches the Narrator and notes that he is pale and asks if the lightning shook him up. He looks like he saw a ghost.

 

Ghosts are the theme of this chapter.

 

Later they eat dinner at a local diner then trudge back to the motel patio and it turns out that John has bought a bottle of whiskey and some good ol’ 1970’s vintage fun is about to ensue. Thankfully Chris’ presence prevents this story from degenerating into a raucous and swinging Love American Style philosophical debacle. Chris keeps it clean.

 

Chris is amped. The ride, the food…he’s ready to have a campfire. He wants to sing songs and tell ghost stories. The adults are tired from driving and they just want to drink up. Chris persists with his ghost story requests and he knows what he’s doing, because a few swigs of the demon juice and now his father is ready to talk ghosts alright. Philosophical ghosts!

 

Chris must be thinking his pops is a real buzzkill because instead of talking about spirits of dead people, the Narrator launches into a deep philosophical diatribe with the ostensible question being “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it…” and spends a good deal of the time treating the group to his monologue. A monologue wherein he questions and doubts the concrete nature of reality; where our thoughts are but fluid expressions of our interpretations of the world and where our world view is basically stunted by the boundaries and mores imposed by mankind’s reliance on the cognitive legacy left behind by previous generations of mankind. It is deeply mysterious and plays out like some strange campfire ghost story minus the strange apparitions hiding in the shadows.

 

Their little pow wow comes to an abrupt end when Sylvia, amazed (and erotically intrigued?) asks the Narrator where he gets all his ideas.

 

The Narrator then describes to us how he thinks he might have gone too far. And he steps back, ie, shuts up. John makes small talk about the mountains.

 

And just like that, talk of philosophical ghosts is over. Sylvia’s amazement will have to wait another day.

 

And again I must twist this cool little philosophical motorcycle venture and turn it into smut, but I will not be surprised if Sylvia and the Narrator hook up (if they haven’t already) while John is out buying marshmallows or taking a shower. Actually, this is the 70’s, so maybe all three of them will join in the marshmallow-fest in a very “The Ice Storm”-ish kind of way.

 

The chapter concludes when the Narrator and Chris retire back to their room and Chris still persists in talking ghosts. He asks his father if he’s ever known a ghost and as usual, the Narrator skirts the issue. Interestingly, he finally surrenders a little info…he tells Chris that he once knew someone who searched for ghosts. And he found a ghost, then became one himself. Hmmm. This story is going odd places, isn’t it? And in a final mysterious touch before they go to sleep…this person’s name was “Phaedrus.”

 

Oh so mythological. As Chris falls asleep the Narrator is laying there in his own thoughts and suggests that he could have told Chris a ghost story, once he knows well…but the thought is too frightening. And now he really “must go to sleep” and Chapter 3 ends.

 

 

Synchronicity and a Moment in Time (or what?)

Now I don’t normally think about this sort of thing. In fact, I don’t really know what I’m insinuating with the use of the word “thing.”

I think we can all agree that life, in general, is like an endless row of dominoes which wind their way over the landscape of our lives, a persistent chain reaction that was kicked off when the doctors pulled us out of the womb way back (for some of us, wayyyyyyyyyy back) and this steady unfolding of events persists right through this very moment, a chain of events which has brought you to this blog, this post, this word and when you’re done here, you will hop onto the next stepping stone that will lead you to yet another mini-chapter of your life.

Some chapters are large and life-altering, others, trivial and miniscule and even random…but these steps, when summed and tallied and latched together, form your life. Form the events that bring you to any one point in time.

My point being that each moment is a congruence of an infinite amount of variables, in your life and the lives of others, a moment which is the mathematical sum of all and every. A specific moment represents all and each and their union, now. Of infinite values dictating time and space and energy, coalescing over days, weeks, months, decades…to bring you to this spot you are in now, sitting at the computer, waiting at a traffic light, falling off a bridge, inseminating a girlfriend…INFINITESIMAL.

Portrayed as such it sounds fiercely impersonal and random.

Disparate elements coalesce and merge by chance. That is my belief.

But what of those moments which seem too perfect, too fitting, too mysteriously harmonious as to refute blind chance? What do they tell us about the nature of existence? Or, in a purely random world, they tell us nothing except that even randomness can bring about occasional perfection. It’s the Law of Entropy. Theoretically a pot of water can unboil. Theoretically. Theoretically strange baffling shit can happen. Even if it’s only strange and baffling from our limited perspective.

Case in point and the reason I’m going on about this:

Today my son had a bowling tourney in West Covina, approximately 20 miles east of here.

The plan was that after bowling, we would go see Paranormal Activity (of all movies) at one of the local theaters in the West Covina area in order to make full use of our Sunday time. I’m efficiency-minded that way even if my plans usually turn to shit.

There were quite a few showings in the West Covina area and I printed them out and carried around the folded printout with me, confident beyond a doubt that we would be watching that movie in West Covina. The only question was the time. It depended entirely on when the bowling was over, and as it turned out, bowling was over at 12:50 or thereabouts. I studied my printout and the perfect choice once we packed up and made the drive was the Edwards West Covina 18 where the movie was showing at 1:50.

I am familiar with the neighborhood (or so I thought) but I made the mistake of asking around and received some helpful responses which only served to plant confusion and doubt in my mind. If I had not asked and simply gone with my gut, I’m sure I would have found the theater; as it was, I became turned around. Very turned around…as in hopelessly lost.

My son watched in disbelief as I began roaming streets we had never seen, streets I bragged about knowing; he watched as the clock raced forward. Not only did we miss the 1:35 showing, we missed the 1:45 showing, the 1:50 showing, a multitude of closely-spaced showings in the area simply because I could not find one single street I knew. After 30 minutes of driving I found the 605 freeway.

Good news, I knew where I was; bad news, I was miles from West Covina. I’d literally fucked up the plan and my efficiency was foiled once again.

Trying to make the best of it, I smiled and shut my mouth. I called information from the freeway as I headed home (it was about 1:40 I guess?) and the operator told me that Paranormal Activity was showing at the Pico Rivera Krikorian Theater at 2:50. OK, once again, in the spirit of making lemonade from lemons, I smiled and told my son we would go see the movie in Pico Rivera at 2:50.

Pico Rivera was south of there, by a good 10 miles, down the 605 freeway. Let’s eat lunch at Chili’s I suggested; should give us just enough time to eat then catch the 2:50 show. But the damn drive was longer than I expected…by the time we reached the vicinity of Chili’s it was about 1:50 and we weren’t even parked or seated yet. This comedy of horrors was just beginning, apparently.

Waiting at the light, I spotted a Der Wienerschnitzel on the right. After all that driving and confusion I sadly realized that there is no way we would be able to eat a full sit down meal at Chili’s and still have time to make the trip to the Krikorian theater, about 10 minutes away, in time for the movie.

My son was sighing. How about we just grab something at Der Wienershnitzel I groaned. Partly due to resignation and boredom and amazement and most of all, hunger, he agreed haltingly. It will give us more time to make the movie I offered helplessly and slightly humiliated. I pulled into the parking lot.

We ordered our food, sat down with it and laughed at the afternoon, at the mess I’d created and the sheer volume of tiny mishaps that had befallen my plans. As we started to eat I thought to call my mom with the gruesome details, thought she’d appreciate the train wreck (especially since she was at the bowling alley and listened while I hashed out the movie plans). Within moments of her picking up the phone and beginning of our conversation, my jaw dropped, for walking through the door of the restaurant were my uncle Tony and his wife, Rosie. Tony, my mom’s brother; my mom who happened to be on the phone with me.

Now my uncle Tony does not live terribly close…it’s not like we live in the same neighborhood and run into each other all the time at the grocery or video store. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever run into him out and about. I see him at birthdays and holidays and other family events, but I don’t keep in constant touch. And the area of Washington and Rosemead, where the Lowe’s he was headed to is located, is packed with eateries. Packed with them. Der Wienerschnitzel is just one of many unlikely dining possibilitiesy to run into a relative you don’t see terribly often, even when planned.

Amazing? Hardly.
Curious? Hell yes.

I find myself considering the many possibilities and routes that led to our encounter. The simple twists in fate which brought us here to this most random of restaurants in the most random of cities at the most random times of day. Beginning with the bowling tournament and a succession of events which unfolded directly and indirectly and which brought me and my son to this spot where we run into some relatives we usually don’t run into. And he appears within moments of my phone call to his sister.

And I got to thinking…there really is nothing to separate or distinguish this meeting other than the fact that I happen to be related to the man and woman who walked through the door. Anybody can walk through any door at any time of day in any location who you might theoretically have a previous connection with. Does it signify anything? Do we lend value to happenstance merely for easily comprehended and conscious awareness of certain attributes which tie us together?

If John Doe walked through that door to buy a hot dog, would I have any inkling, would he have any inkling, that perhaps we passed each other in the aisles of a Sears back in 2004?

There is a whole strata, a layer, of hidden reality and knowledge which eludes our awareness yet which might tie us all together, a mass synchronization which loses any sense of awe-inspiring connectedness simply because it’s invisible to us. A sublayer that does not emerge into awareness because maybe I don’t ask for directions which is more normal for me. It could have been as simple as that. I don’t ask, I go with gut instinct, I find the theater and we watch the 1:50 showing of Paranormal Activity in West Covina while my uncle strolls into Der Wienerschnitzel in Pico Rivera without my knowledge or awareness, the sublayer of our shared reality, the branching road of reality which we did not share.

And we missed the trailers and the first 2 or 3 minutes of the movie because the operator said 2:15, not 2:50.

Peculiarities.

East L.A. Makeover: Stage 3, The Kitchen

Well, this is groundbreaking.

Instead of waiting to complete one room before moving on to the next, I’m starting a new stage now while the bathroom is still in progress. Stage 3, the kitchen, will begin in the background while I put the finishing touches on the bathroom, but they will run concurrently for now.

Good move or just impatience?
Who knows.

I’ve been straightening out the bathroom and my progress is a low drone, a sure but unspectacular progress. I won’t buy a shower head until next week and rather than delay stage 3 any further, I’ll just start it now!
I’m the boss, I can do whatever I like. Power trips are great.

As I state in the video, I have to work around the 6-legged critters who use my apartment as a highway rest area. Those suckers have won the turf war in my kitchen and I’ve gladly relinquished control of my cupboards to them. I will do whatever it takes to store my pots and pans and dishes and silverware outside the cupboards and drawers because frankly I don’t enjoy the prospect of a roach swimming in my cereal.

Also, I have massive amounts of cupboard space in the kitchen which goes unused because the top two shelves are unreachable for someone vertically challenged as I. I bought a step stool from Home Depot recently, my ticket to NBA heights, so the top shelves are now fair game.

Take her away, David! Toodles…I like the sound of that.

****
addendum:
Before anyone gets the impression that my place is swarming with insects, let me clarify and state clearly…it is not. I have seen 2 roaches in here in the past month which I’m sure is too many for a lot of people, but hardly the level which I might have insinuated in the video. Just wanna clear that up.

A “Hanky Panky” recollection of Hank Williams, Sr.

Back in 1995, just 30-years-old, I moved into a small, non-air conditioned one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood on Orange Avenue, just a very short walk from Hollywood Boulevard. Hollywood was still years away from the massive renovations and rebuilding it is experiencing today. I was degenerate and out of control and I suppose it was pure luck which saw me through (in one piece).

So it was very fitting that 1995 saw an album release titled “Hanky Panky” from The The.

This was also in the days (it was only 14 years ago, but it seems ages in so many ways) when I bought physical CD’s from the record store. Being in Hollywood at that time, most of my musical purchases happened to be from the Virgin Store on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights or from the legendary Tower Records store further west, down in the hustle bustle of the Sunset Strip.

Ah Hank Williams, what can I say? “Hanky Panky” was a dark, haunting rendition of some of his well-known songs. Sitting there, listening to them in my dimly-lit Hollywood dungeon (for it did give that vibe), I experienced a completely tumultuous and morbid type of epiphany: misery and self-pity in hand, life sucked. So you may as well sink further into the gutter, and drink up while you’re at it. And I did! I managed to keep a job even though I stumbled in through the doors and clocked in daily, many times still exhaling the fumes of the previous night’s bender.

And listen to “Hanky Panky” I did, absorbing Hank’s hard lessons, imbibing of his tragedy and nearly making it my own.

I remember the CD case with that faux Hank Williams gracing the cover. I read the liner notes repeatedly and they included a short biography of the man and his ultimate demise. Best thing was the lyrics. An album which includes the songs of Hank Williams must, absolutely must, include lyrics, his poetry, written to guide you through his music.

He was an American poet.

Who cares if he didn’t tell us what we wanted to hear or feel or think….it was very real and very painful and agonizingly affecting.

Who knows what every happened to that CD? I’ve moved a few times, married and divorced, changed jobs…it could be anywhere.

It’s 2009, however. I don’t even know if those stores are still there and I know for a fact that the area of Orange and Hollywood looks radically different now. They’ve cleaned Hollywood up, sanitized its image for the tourists. Swept the misery under the rug and embraced Disneyification. Commercialization eases the pain, doesn’t it? If only it were so!

But Hank’s pain will always live, like a fractured landscape immune to the power of the bulldozer.


Jail time for Hank

And now, with a few clicks of the mouse, “Hanky Panky” can be all mine again, downloaded at premium internet speeds.

editing 10/24/09