Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: Chapter 1: The Chautauqua

The Narrator bemoans the “technologization” of mass media and draws a distinction between modern and historical strains of national consciouness. His tool of differentiation is something called the “Chautauqua” which, he accuses, was displaced by the advent of fast-paced radio, television and movies. A subtle revolution he is not overly fond of.

According to Wikipedia, the Chautauqua was an adult “education movement” which prospered during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. They served mainly rural America by bringing entertainment and culture to these forgotten areas in the form of “speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers, preachers and specialists of the day.”

The article also cites similar points the Narrator made in dishing out blame for the decline of the Chautauqua: namely radio and television, and even the automobile.

Essentially, modernity. The disjunction between the idyllic past and the frenzied present, this is one of the predominant ideas I came away after reading chapter 1. Or was that it?

There is an undertone which I sense, and hints to me, that Pirsig’s message is not quite so trite or palatable. The narrator uses a metaphor of river banks when describing “channels” of national consciousness…and whereas the old channels (Chautauqua’s included) ran deep but narrower, the new channels (television, etc) run broader and faster but shallower.

And against this backdrop, he spells out his aim: this cross country trip, as detailed in the novel, is his own Chautauqua.

What will we learn?

A Leo the Drunk Moment in Time

September 30, 2009
6:45 p.m., Pershing Square, downtown L.A.

Ah beautiful Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles.
Photos do it no justice.
To say the least.
Just like you would not click the shutter
on a steaming pile of dog turd
you would not, should not, click
the shutter on anything having to do with Pershing Square.
I see it, walk through if, the meeting point, ground zero, for the homeless, the drunks, the criminals, a real potpourri of L.A. finest specimens
like a human conglomeration of cast-offs and sinners and dead-enders.
And here is where I land
on the evenings that I take the bus.
Catch it right at Pershing Square, 5th and Olive, on the corner, in the heat of Rush Hour.
At 6:45 p.m. always a
nice and large-sized crowd of eager beaver bus catchers waiting anxiously for the bus which bears their magical
number and
which signals in a Pavlovian way
And there I wait like Pavlov’s homesick dog itching to hitch a ride on the eastbound 40 into my palatial East L.A. estate and away from work for yet another
13 hours.
Put such
it resounds with depression and futility.
but it is what it is! Ah what a charmed bit of wisdom that is, I love repeating it like a mantra as I stand there amidst the business people in suits and the homeless in dungarees and all the others who could fall anywhere in between, just
the Nun Out of Convent lady who
is dawdling along the curb.
In the book of Plain and Sexless, she is the Introduction. She looks (to me) like a nun who has escaped the convent for a day and slipped into an odd civilian get up, loose and wide polyester dark slacks, a pair of sandals built with the intent to comfort rather than intrigue and a featureless and bosomless top of which I can’t even remember
the color
now. So remarkable it was, not.
And her hair, her hair
looking like it had never met a brush it liked
and right now
nor a shampoo either.
Drab, flat, a part, perhaps, ricochets unevenly down the so-called
center of her scalp.
a Nun Out Of The Convent. Skin as pale as porcelain but not nearly as charming nor attractive, more like skin as pale as a porcelain toilet, more fitting really. Just an image that you
don’t want to
take to bed with you especially
if you’re doing some “entertaining” tonight
wink wink
Nun Out Of Convent, 5 years in the shade, style borrowed and copied right out of the Fall, 2009, issue of Nondescript Fashion, and done well, in that case….
Holding a couple of designer looking shopping bags and really
she could be any office-working pencil pusher chick who just clutters up the sidewalk after 6 with casual wear and good sensible fashion sense albeit in a slightly (actually very unattractive) way. And
as I’m prone to do
while waiting for line 40
and go home
and get away from all these scary people,
back to the people
where I live who are equally scary
myself included, so what I’m prone to do is zone out. Zone out. Push my surroundings
into the garbage heap
of my soul and here at Pershing Square
my heap grows at a rapid and frightening pace.
And my zone, my reverie, my Pershing Zen moment
by a man
one of those guys who hangs around Pershing Square, not homeless, but borderline indigent maybe????? Hair well-groomed maybe a former gangster or maybe just someone who never really desired anything
other than a wall to sit against
which is what he was doing when I walked by earlier, a Mexican dude with a moustache and a crew cut kinda style, wearing a navy blue t-shirt and blue jeans like a uniform of sorts
sitting against the wall talking to another similarly groomed guy.
Well this guy
broke my spell
because he was yelling, barking
at Nun Out Of Convent lady!! He was pissed and scary as he yelled at her.
And the reason?
Why yell at the poor nun lady?
Why she was picking trash of course! So much for the plain non-descript mild-mannered corporate automaton I thought she was no she was
picking trash
she had spied a 24 ounce can
of Mickey’s. Not even the big mouth bottle, nope, the 24 ounce can
which sat empty in the trash can
apparently, she need extra bucks apparently to buy more
items from the Nondescript Fashion Catalog
she is salvaging empty beer cans, empty malt beer cans, from the filthiest trash cans of them all
the ones in Pershing Square.
All for a California Redemption Prize.

times are tough.
“Fucking bitch!” he yells, “That’s my beer!”
He plies it from her hands (she actually gives the can up quite easily not willing perhaps to go to battle with Leo the Angry Drunk over an empty beer can she dug out of the depths of the trash can). Leo the Drunk walks in circles holding the empty Mickey’s beer can cussing at the Nun Out of Convent, reminding her that he paid for that beer and what the fuck does she think she’s doing with his beer.
And in a very disturbing
and fitting coup d’grace, he slams the
can to his mouth and chugs the last 2 drops. That will show the bitch to mess with his
beer and he stomps around victoriously after that like a dog which has just
taken a big dump on your freshly cut grass, yes he stomps around, he parades angrily with the empty Mickey’s beer can in his hand, the Alpha King of the Urban Jungle!

And in a fit of generosity
he walks to the Nun
and hands her the empty can. You can have it now he tells her.
Hands her the can and walks away now that he’s pissed all
over the Convent Fire Hydrant.
And the nun…wipes the beer can with tissues and cannot seem to find a place to put it in her bag, she just cannot find a place to tuck it away.
And in a final fit of creativity.
She pulls out an empty Yoshinoya bag and stashes the beer can in there and finally shoves it into her large purse.
Done, ready to cash it in and piggy bank her savings!

Beware, there is a fallen nun riding a bus in L.A. tonight who is carrying a purse which contains a discarded Yoshinoya bag which contains an empty Mickey’s 24 ouncer. And she might be sitting next to you!

Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: Chapter 1: of red-winged blackbirds and leaky faucets

Nothing highfalutin or pretty, just the facts. The flowery stuff later.

So yeah, you got this guy who goes unnamed, Robert Pirsig uses the nameless and sorta faceless narrator 1st person approach. He’s driving a motorcycle through the Dakotas or Minnesota, somewhere in the Great Plains, and it’s hot as shit, so it must be summer.

The narrator has a fondness for birds and ZWD (zoning while driving) but unfortunately, his 11-year-old son and motorcycle companion, Chris, doesn’t seem to share the same aviary enthusiasm. So he continues to zone and describes at length his proclivity for winding roads and rural highways that time (and the State Transportation Department) has forgotten. He observes that the immediacy of driving a bike is freeing and quite unlike observing the passing scenery from the compartment of a car and from behind glass. Alarmingly, he mentions how on a motorcycle it would be possible to reach down and touch the road with his foot as he flies along at 70 mph. Yeah, you do that Mr. Narrator and I don’t think this book will extend much beyond chapter 1.

Turns out they are following a couple of other riders, old friends of the narrator, John and Sylvia Sutherland, who despite sharing the narrator’s interesting in cross country motorbiking, absolutely do not see eye to eye in the field of motorcycle maintenance, hence the title, or a portion of it. Chapter 1 does not really reveal much about the Zen but I think I can see where it’s going.

The narrator alludes to the fact they are all headed to Montana, but maybe he and Chris even “further.”

His relationship with the Sutherland’s is nuanced and filled with thinly veiled antagonism and sadistic curiosity, it seems. The narrator seems to delight in deconstructing the Sutherlands if for no other reason than to elicit apoplectic reactions from John when the subject of maintaining a motorcycle comes up. You see, John, and his wife, refuse to learn the art of motorcycle maintenance. The narrator is perplexed until a revelation dawns…the Sutherlands are anti-technologists!

They have truly made a break from society, the married two of them, and the narrator, while intrigued, continues to insist on tooling around his motorcycle.

My favorite scene from the chapter happens when they pull over to rest at a park. They dismount from the bikes leisurely, kinda chill, take in the hot humid air and Sylvia stretches her legs and begins to drive the point home to the narrator that all the motorists going the opposite direction that morning (ie, they were all going to work, it’s obviously a weekday, a Monday morning, no less) looked so sad. Face after face in the long “funeral procession” looked sad. And she fixates on that. Trying to understand something that is supremely simple, really. But which she won’t allow herself to understand. Seriously man, it’s as if she revels in the fact that these weekday commuters were miserable and she was (symbolically) headed in the opposite direction. And she won’t let the thought go and the narrator shrugs it off nonchalantly and murmurs something about people “working to live” and then he changes the tune, the thought, and it’s obvious he doesn’t give a flying fuck what Sylvia is yapping about.

The dichotomy of self-reliance as a tool of technology surfaces here.

It’s only chapter 1 but I sorta started to think maybe it’s not technology that is at issue in this book.

John Sutherland and his refusal to fix faucets or tune his bike is portrayed as the helpless, bumbling character while the narrator is fucking Bob The Builder on steroids, tuning everything under the sun with his bottomless kit of tools sitting in his bike.

The narrator; John Sutherland. A contrast. More later? I’m sure.

A youthful folly Moment in Time

September 28, 2009
8 p.m., a residential street in the East L.A. area

Walking oh my oh my
my nightly walk, well not nightly, but many nights, when I can walk
and now, the 90 degree days are gone from L.A. for the time being
and hopefully for a year and
to feel the fresh cool air on my face and arms and legs tonight
was like
taking a shower after a long, hard day bent over in the dusty fields, like washing the grime from my skin the grime of hot sticky days
and now it’s cooling down and walking in the night cool air was oh so refreshing and floralizing. Yes floralizing and I love words like that words that don’t mean much
and why is it


is that a UFO something breaks me snaps my reverie in two.
A UFO surely up ahead, half a block down the world drowned out by my headphones but I can see and what I see
is a light, jumping and bobbing and furriness and the light is a blueish tint but small
as I draw nearer my music blares in my ears
but the light is small it is like one of those bulbless lights, the LCD kind
and it is
illuminating 2 little runty piece of shit yappy
dogs that are running around
in the middle of a dark street
and besides them a figure and the flashes of a metallic object
so out of place there in the middle of the dark street
for the streetlights aren’t really light
they murmur, they coat, but they do not illuminate
and this little light bobbing and shining on the dogs
and the metallic instrument in the hands of
the figure
a boy, as I get closer, it’s a boy, 13 ish, not a thin boy, not obese, but big, the kind
of big undefined boy who has more flesh than bone, the kind of boy
who always seems flushed from heat and over-exertion, one of those boys, that’s
this boy
with the dogs
and the scooter
a scooter.
In the middle of the street he rolls his scooter back and forth while
he waits for the dogs to pay attention to him
and not each other
and he has this bluish halogenish light, a small light not large enough to be
of any real use other than to beckon me
from a block away like an
alien spaceship
and the light
is tied to a harness
which circles his scalp.
oh my
oh oh my
it’s like a miner’s hat
only not a hat and
not a miner

only a minor
a minor with a thing wrapped around his head that makes him look like an eery late night cyclops
there with his scooter and toy dogs that
will not obey him
In the middle of the dark street.
What a spectacle
as the dogs finally bore with each other
and begin trotting along down the middle of the street while the large fleshy and undoubtedly red (it is dark) boy
steers his scooter up the street behind them
keep his cyclops wrap-around light
pointing straight ahead
so as to light up the street but only barely signalling his comic and self-unaware early teen presence.
For it is impossible, impossible to look cool or anything
approaching coolness
with a flashlight-sized glare
affixed to one’s head.
explain this
to your friends in 10 years, go ahead, would love to hear that

East L.A. Makeover: On deconstructing the living room closet and mice

There’s an old saying: the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. Without going into the etymology or subtle interpretations of this really bleak truism (another post, another time), I’ll just state that as it pertains to household maintenance with a healthy dose of children thrown in, the essence of the thought is resounding and irrefutable. What I’m saying is, DUDE, feel free, be my guest, please, go ahead and make those plans about what you plan doing to your “pad” this weekend; if you happen to have children, you better pencil them in very, very, very lightly. And I mean almost invisibly. Because if you have children, chances are you’ll have to take an eraser to those plans mighty quick.

I’m just neutrally stating a fact. If you have children, and you take the parental role seriously, there is no other way. Your children and their plans are the only thing in your life written in clear and permanent ink.

So why all the bullshit and why am I waxing so philosophical?

Well the weekend that just passed was it…it was to be the complete fruition of stage 1 of my “East L.A. makeover”, the complete cleaning and revamping of my living room closet.

Uhm, throw in 2 major school projects that needed to be completed by Monday and a small bit of pure laziness on my part, and it was a toxic brew of inaction! There was no way I was about to tackle this closet while I had to guide my son through various exercises in writing and gluing and thinking and designing, and there was no way I was going to tackle the closet when by Saturday morning I was already dreading the prospect of opening that door to hell (before I’d even heard of any homework!).

Amazingly, I decided to do something about stage 1 last evening, perhaps for fear of looking like a total slacker who is all bark and no bite before millions of my blog readers. While my son was finally resting following the completion of day 2 of his homework ordeal, I ventured into the closet and pulled out all the bedding and books. Hey, you gotta start somewhere, don’t you?

Let’s just say this “weekend” project might, uh, take a little bit longer than planned. Mice and men.

That’s a lot of warm shit for someone who lives in L.A.

Yes, dramatized, got a problem with it?

Remember what I said about “folding?”