Thursday, July 18, 2013

Going Home

    So you think you can’t go home again. Is that the latest drivel they’ve been feeding you, friend? Well, I say you can. Don’t matter what condition you are in. Do what you’ve got to do, then make a flip. The same road took you out will take you back. You may want to change the route for the scenery. That’s what I did. Hell, I’m nothing special. I made it back…no brakes!


    In the damp and dreary around midnight I was driving down a small hill just outside South Paris on the Hebron road when suddenly I heard a big crash; and then the brake pedal went to the floor. That I was towing a sixteen foot livestock trailer complicated the driving. My truck, an old Dodge RAM, was not in its prime. In fact, it was a junker. I always drive junkers. It's a family trait. I was brought up to drive junkers. And now I was driving down a hill in a junker with no brakes!
    But I had knowledge; I had understanding. We are isolated and fearful, but nothing compels us to be dumb. The same isolation that causes us to be fearful protects us. Nothing being out there, what is there to fear? A dark and dreary road must be free of obstruction. On this dark road at midnight what traffic, what to bump into? Besides, there's always the bottom of the hill. And also the distinct possibility that the next second will bring good news. What compels us to invent a worse situation, a steeper hill, an intersection at the bottom, much traffic, a deadly crash?
    Why shouldn't imagination attach equally to the positive as the negative? It never seems to: a moment of fearful doubt attaches instantly to the negative. The heart squanders itself by threatening to choke whom it occupies. Death, injury, the end of the world! crash through the windshield. A delicate forehead puts a big dent in the dashboard. When in truth nothing much has happened at all except the imagination received a big shot of adrenalin.
   Instead, let's look to facts. Fact is, hydraulic brakes have failsafe built in. There is a large reservoir of fluid to back up what's in the lines. If you understand, you'll stomp the brake pedal to pump some extra fluid in the lines. So you stomp, and then you have pedal again, maybe just a little, but some. Then flip the emergency blinkers on and begin to stop; then tires squealing, pull over. Those are all facts, easy to do, no imagination required, no intellect required.
    What's next? Money is a big problem with me. That's another fact. If I called for a tow, that would cost me. And where would I leave the trailer? Beside the road? Not my trailer! It was a miracle and a soft-hearted wife that got me that trailer. Now, take a second, access the facts. Why schmooze with the imagination now? Nothing's happening!
    It took me awhile to figure it out. There seemed to be enough pedal, some brake pedal, at least. I went around looking for an obvious fluid leak. There was none. Maybe I could make it where I was going, load up with a ton-and-a-half of grain, and somehow, if I took all back roads and I drove slowly, I'd make it back home again. Could I go, do my thing and turn around and make it home again?
   Everything was not perfect. Was there ever anything perfect? I mean in the real world. I had left home with over a thousand dollars to buy grain with. They had trusted me with that money. They were waiting for me to come home with the grain to feed their animals. The emergency brake still worked, too. I could shift down to a lower gear. If I wasn't in too much of a hurry, I thought I could make it home.
   Time to put the Dodge into gear and give it a try. It wasn't too bad driving to the grain place, and I loaded the grain sacks in the trailer. Now that the trailer was much heavier, it was much harder to stop. I pulled out of the grain place about dawn. If you start early, when there's less traffic, your chances of making it home again are better, especially if you're loaded. No traffic, nothing to bump into, right?
    I wanted to give it a try; you can't tell me I can't give it a try. It was too complicated staying here. I had chores to do; people were depending on me; pigs and goats wanting to be fed.
   There was a long down hill on Wilson Hill Road. It's in Auburn just before you get to Lake Road. You probably know the place; it can get pretty nasty a snow day in January. Could I keep my speed under control on that long downhill? I was some nervous. I put the truck in first gear, pressed my foot on the emergency. I still had enough brake on the pedal to keep the truck safe and under control. Relieved that I had managed that obstacle, I was pretty sure I could make it home. From Wilson Hill I turned left up Holbrook. My next big hill would be just outside Buckfield. Hey, I was getting pretty good at this! I followed North Buckfield Road outbound from Buckfield and turned up Paris Hill Road. Now there was a hilly stretch on that road! I spotted a tractor going slowly down the road in plenty of time. I found that if you go slow, even if you don't quite have the equipment you left with, you can make it home again. From Paris Hill it was an easy stretch down Ellingwood to Tueltown to home. When you get home, somebody will be there. My wife said, “What did you do now? Broke the truck. We need that truck. That’s great.” But she opened the door and let me in. My grandson said, "Ahh, she lets you get away with anything.''


    The entire passenger side disk on the front brakes had shattered and broken in half, tearing off the pads on the calipers. Hell, there was nothing left! The new parts were a hundred bucks. That's one thing they do for you when you get home: they find the right parts. It's all in going slow. You make the flip. I did my thing and I made it home again. Look at me. I'm nothing special. No big deal. Pretty sure anybody could have done it.

Monday, July 15, 2013

What does work mean?

                                   What I heard was: “The old people didn't sit at their computers all day. They worked. They worked hard.” The man was adamant. I myself wonder every day about computers and work. Some people hate technology. How do gadgeteers talk to them? Why would they want to? The old people say that work should involve the hands. Any person at work should be employing his body—even women and girls don't get a pass—, especially the hands. And that's why, in their opinion, America is in decline. I know personally young people who would rather sit in front of their computers than eat. I have often wondered if that dedication can be transferred to the idea of work. Or are they actually doing work without being aware of it?
   K., a young man, a high school graduate, is sometimes required to participate in “chores”. He is thoroughly glued to the computer. While we work in the barn, he says to me a peculiar thing. “It is like my computer is calling to me.” Those few minutes away from the computer are hard for him. He has no interest what-so-ever in the work in front of him, which is physical work.
   K. says, “I've been thinking about setting up an invention that attaches over your head...(like a cap)...and it traces down your brain waves and makes a sort of map. Brain waves are electrical impulses. Why shouldn't you be able to transfer the electrical impulses on the map to a computer? Then you can clone computers, as many as you want...(which will act like you do).” He's always making these sorts of statements. “The stuff I think, man is it weird! If anybody else thought the way I do, they'd be sad. It's dark.” These sorts of statements are very common in geekdom.
  What he does on the computer mostly is play games. He plays these games proudly. It is as if a switch has been shut off in his brain so that the illusory figures on the monitor interact with real life. Bombs go off, bodies disintegrate in detail at 60+ frames per second. You can almost hear him sweat. He thinks he is at war, and this is real. To say to him that he is not accomplishing anything would make him upset. “Watch,” he says. He starts up a game. Within a few seconds he has all the enemy blown up. “See?” He says proudly, looking at the “victory” slogan printed on the monitor. It is a drama played out in millions of families all over the world.
   I have commented on this subject with a neighbor. His kids, two girls, do not seem to suffer from this particular obsession. I remember K. playing with a Game Boy for hour after hour when he was five years old. The neighbor said, “Too bad he couldn't find a job doing it.” He also noted the health risk. The lack of exercise and careless eating habits result in poor health.
   And yet I admire K.'s devotion. He doesn't care whether he starves. Because he is almost twenty, I remind him that he should get a job in order to make money and buy things. He is so far from the real that he says getting a job to work for money is “ridiculous”.  “It is hard for me to spend a lot of time working with stupid people.” He does appear to admire old things. His electronics are so outdated and slow they are trash. The fact that he could buy new stuff with the money he made at work does not seem to impress him much.
   On the other hand, K., though a very young man, is enjoying an obsessive pattern. He stays up all night and in the morning he is too tired to stand up. He could, on the other hand, be drinking and partying all night. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has apparently rejected his pattern as an addiction, although the drinking and partying is amply covered. Obsessive games playing was not included in the 2012 update. Many parents put up with it, in fact they inculcate it in their children because they indulge themselves similarly, and encourage it by example.
   A computer is an easy date; you can get somewhere with it just by pressing a button, and so there is a quaint impression of satisfaction that does not need to end in a hurry. There does not seem to be any age limitation: older men and women are similarly attracted; they think it makes more sense to stay at home with their computer than go to work. It can get so far out of hand that it is hard to get out of it. As one man said to me: “Something bad has to happen.” His wife moved out. He has two daughters. He managed to quit, and since then he has kept it within reasonable limits.
   Games bore me, but my writing is done on a gadget. My writing is way out of control. I should go to a psychiatrist. I deny that I am a games player, but I wouldn't call writing work. It is not a game because my greatest concern has to do with the meaning of culture. It is important to struggle with culture; it is not a game, it is a life and death struggle; whether a civilization declines or bubbles up depends on the outcome. I'd like to convince other people that they are well employed when struggling with culture too.
   Like any games player I am constantly trying to improve the gadget I employ. This is the part I call work: getting the gadget to actually do what I want it to is sometimes not simple. I also go to work; I have a real job; I enjoy the buzz and I enjoy my comrade fellow workers, and they are not stupid, no more stupid than I am. In my job I sometimes have to use my muscles. I can't sit around, and I have to get along. Getting along with my comrade workers is tricky and difficult at times. Getting along with the insane, convincing them to stop hurting themselves, is sometimes even worse than difficult. Unlike a computer you may not like what happens when you press their buttons.
   What I heard was: “The old people left time to play, too. Not too much though.” 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Jacky Brown

This is part of a long story called "Jerry's Garage". Another installment to come soon.

  The Brown’s lived off the road. Jacky has lived off the road all his life. There was a dirt road leading in to a dirt road which was the driveway to the Brown’s house. They tented out most of the first year they lived there twenty years ago. Amiel and Woody, who had been high school sweethearts, were not even married yet. Amiel was carrying Jacky. Jacky was born in the tent that Woody got from the Army Depot in Bangor. It was a barracks tent Woody set up on a platform under the trees. Woody cleared a place in the woods. He cleared out all the brush, leaving only the sweetest, straight trees. You could barely see the tent in the trees even from the driveway. The town never did come in to look. It was just too far off the road. Before the first winter they jimmied a trailer in amongst a clump of sugar maples. Woody got Nash Hadley’s loader and Billy Bucks was about the cleverest operator you might find for jimmying something through the trees just wherever you’d want it. It was November and the mat under the trees was fresh frozen, so you never noticed a sign of a bucket loader. Amiel was overjoyed with how the little grey house trailer fit in the trees. It was a starter home. To Amiel the words starter home had meanings that never got old. They had just enough money left to dig the well before the first snow, and Woody installed the pump and got the water running. That’s how they lived for ten years, outhouse under a tree. Linda, Skye and Freddie were born one after another. All the kids seemed to love the woods. Jacky was always in the woods; he always had something green stuck in his hair. He was out chasing a white tail or a raccoon; or hunting varmints with a 22. He wasn’t but ten before he was fishing and hunting with Woody. Jacky would let you know he didn’t like indoors too much. From the very first of the fair weather in summer he slept in a screen cabin he rigged up back of the house. Even when he had his own room in the house Woody built ten years later, Jacky disliked coming inside from the screen cabin.
  Jacky’s a skinny kid; a thin, bluish nose sticks out of a face drawn tight as a drum. He’d eat all day but he never seemed to take on an extra pound. Amiel thought he might be an angel: when he walked his feet hardly touched the ground. He wasn’t still but a punkin when he came to Amiel with the news that he had to make some money. Asa Judkins had him a pile of logs to cut and split. The boy was so little Asa took him on not expecting much. But he seemed to do all right. Alert as a squirrel, he handled the chain saw glibly, and his back was strong, and feet and legs spry. Then Jacky became in demand for cleaning up landings, for barn work, firewood, shed building; and rarely was there a day without work for before school or after. But Jacky’s first love was mechanic work. Any time Woody was up to repairing any damned thing in the garage, even at past midnight, he could expect Jacky, and he didn’t show up just to stand around. “Pa, I know how to do this. I can get in there. I’ll show ya. S’posta just fit in? I got it. Hand me that 3/4 inch box end. Now wa’chado. Okay. I’m right here now. I’ll put her in.” And so on, that’s the way it went. Jacky was so easy to bring up compared to the others, Woody and Amiel wondered if something bad must happen. Then Jacky had to be the first boy of all the kids to get his driver’s license. He had a little problem with the written and he had to take it again. Then he was off driving, and when eventually he passed the driving test, which he did the first time, and he got his license in the mail, he sat down at the kitchen table looking at it and looking at it for an hour. Then he took Skye for a ride into town and he bought her an ice cream. Jacky loved Skye. They were both tough hard working little people.
  Youthful mechanics have a bright, dirty look. When Jacky started buying wrecks to fix up, Woody knew that was not any way to get rich. But Jacky dived into the work, and he was clever about using the metal dump, and soon the junkyard people all knew his name. Jacky was hard and enthusiastic. He didn’t sleep in pajamas; he slept in his rags. Jacky lived in his rags. He didn’t even seem to notice that they were rags. What he wanted was the tools. If he had the tools he could make some money. He learned how to live this way because his parents lived this way. Woody always extolled to the kids the old days when they did not even have electricity. But the sacrifice was worth it. “The sacrifice was worth it, right kids?” Jacky and Skye always nodded and smiled. “Sacrifice is good for you,” Woody said.
  It just so happened on this day Jacky suddenly woke up with the notion that he needed to buy another car. A few days ago a T-bird in Jerry's yard caught Jacky's eye. You can always sell a T-bird looks decent even if it is old. The ones Ford built with the toned down 302 were good cars. Jacky was a fan of Fords, same as his father. His father always owned an F350 four wheel drive. Now Jacky was looking at work similar to his father's, and he needed something rugged in the driveway. If he could make four-hundred on the T-bird, with the money in the bank he ought to be able to find an F350, maybe not a diesel. Prices at the metal dump were up; he had a junker to haul in, but the card he had up his sleeve was a big red oak log had been down since late August. If he could snag it out of the woods with the old crawler, then he could get the T-bird and be working on it by nightfall. Jacky got up before dawn, and he was sitting with Mom and Dad. Jacky happened to mention the red oak, how it was money in the bank.
  “I was gonna pull it out with a couple of others for ready cash,” Woody drawled. “I don't expect to be working a few months this winter.”
  So Jacky eyed the ceiling. “Need ready cash this winter if you ain't working.”
  “Why? What you got in mind?”
  Jacky shrugged. “Nothin' much. T-bird in Jerry's yard take a sticker.”
  “Need a truck. You're old enough now.” Woody was always ahead of Jacky, he was always ahead of anybody.
  “O'Brien said he'd hire me if I could get there,” Jacky said.
  “Okay, Jacky. But you owe me.”
  After breakfast Woody took Jacky aside, out of the way of his mother, “You be careful. That log's up on a steep hillside. Twitch it from the side, and let it fall. If you're in the way it'll take out you and the crawler, too.”
  “I know, Pa.”