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Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Story That Never Was…

A spring day in the ValleyThe Valley was a bit breezy today, and as Gladys and I turned into the headwind on the Lower Loop Road, she began to mutter: “You think you can; I know you can’t; you think you can…  no, you can’t.” I wished I had left her behind in the garage and gone for a walk instead. Gladys is not an encouraging sort of companion; she has a mind of her own and doesn’t hesitate to speak it. As I began my ride, I failed to heed the message in the restless branches on the trees and shrubs, so I guess I had it coming.

When I put my back to the breeze on the Upper Loop, I hoped for some cardio relief. The tailwind helped and almost took the wobble out of Gladys’s forward progress…on over the bridge past Kevin Olson’s house where I wheel up on Eric Benshoof puttering around some machinery.

Eric is the owner of “Hell’s Demise,” the vintage Harley Davidson I posted about when I met them in the Valley last August ( “Beauty and the Beast,” 8/27/2011). From time to time I’d see him there at Kevin’s shop doing some metal work on a trailer and would stop and chat for a while. During one of our conversations I brought up the topic of the notorious motorcycle fraternity, the Hell’s Angels. In the course of our chat I called his attention to Tom Wolfe’s book The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test and the chapter where cult figure Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and his band of Merry Pranksters meet up with the Hell’s Angels and encourage them to switch out their sacramental beer for “Electric Kool-aid” (Kool-aid laced with LSD). Eric was unfamiliar with both the book and its author. Because of his interest in motorcycles, I thought he might be interested in the subject, so I ordered him a copy. When the book arrived, I dropped it by Kevin’s place, requesting he give the book to Eric the next time he saw him. Kevin delivered the book and when I next talked to Eric earlier in the year, he hadn’t had the chance to start reading.

Today I see he’s at work on something, so I give him a friendly greeting and a Gladys ting-a-ling as I cruise by, but an “I’m up to page sixty-five,” turns me around. Eric has started reading Kool-aid Test. A discussion of my favorite topic—books—ensues. We discuss Dickens and The Tale of Two Cities, Eric’s recent experience with the Victorian master. As I’m telling him about another “on the road”motorcycle book, the next door neighbor strides toward us, a panicked look on his face. “My bull has a stick stuck in his nose ring!”he exclaims. If I remember my cattle breeds from my high school Vo-Ag classes I believe the neighbor’s bull is a Hereford, a thousand pound beefsteak that looks like he’s just the man for the job, no matter how large the herd. The neighbor rushes into the mechanic’s shed and emerges with a red plastic bucket containing some sort of tool. Now I’m not much on bull behavior, but returning to the bullpen carrying a red bucket seemed a bit dangerous to me, especially if an animal has a compromised nose piercing. "Do you need a hand?” Eric asks. (I hope he’s referring to “his” hands and not mine.)  Neighbor mulls this over for a brief moment and decides against assistance, waves us off; apparently he and his bull prefer to handle their problems “in house.” He hustles off to bring nasal relief to his stocky Hereford. I shout after him, “What do we do if he starts chasing you up the road?” The over the shoulder answer: “Do you have a gun?” “Just my pepper spray,” I reply. That’s all the encouragement I can offer as he paces off down the road, the plastic bucket swinging at his side. Eric stares at me, and I know he’s thinking the same thing as I: “Just up the road a great story’s about to be born.”

Relieved to be on the sidelines, Eric and I continue our book banter, and given the bull situation, I refer to a book title that seems timely: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig, a book about much, much more than the mechanical upkeep of a motorcycle. The core issue in Zen…is whether quantitative criteria can be applied to literature to determine just what makes good literature “good,” and bad literature “bad.” Pirsig likens the problem to a dilemma, a situation in logic likened to an angry or charging bull as in “on the horns of a dilemma.” The word, Pirsig explains, is Greek for “two premises” and if one chooses one premise he’s likely to be gored by the second. But Pirsig throws a third possibility into the mix: the head of the charging bull. As I consider the neighbor’s dilemma, I realize it’s not a dilemma at all--not an exercise in logic with which he’s about to deal--but a real, so to speak, problem “in the flesh”: he could be gored by either horn or both, head butted, tossed in the air, run down by a thousand pound stampede and trampled. (One or all these possibilities, by the way, would be a great story for The Ripple.) Pirsig advances yet another way one might deal with a “dilemma”—choose not to enter the arena at all. “Personal problem,” the bull’s owner could say to the Hereford, as once I did to a skunk I encountered years ago. The skunk had been rummaging in the camp dump and somehow gotten its head trapped in an empty jelly jar. Personal problem, I decided. No, having a panicky bull on one’s hands is not the time for logic, but for good old commonsense and a little foresight before unsticking the bull: “Can I outrun the bull and clear the nearest fence?” Or “Can I make it to that tree…?” (Pirsig also suggests throwing sand in the bull’s eyes, even lulling it to sleep with a song, options which explain why his book is about Zen and motorcycles, not bullfights.)

Eric and I had just embarked on another topic when the neighbor strolls leisurely up the road toward us, relief in his step and a smile on his face. He answers the quizzical look on our faces. “He got it out by himself,” he laughs. Personal problem…solved.

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