Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is one of those books I read and appreciated deeply. I might have liked the concept of taking apart machinery and putting it back together. Like some Zen goddess, I love figuring out the interdependent intricacies of how things work. How one gear sets everything in motion or how one belt can stop everything with a halting screech after a long drawn out almost inaudible squeal, or whirrrrrrrrr. I like to know how things work and why. Machinery, electric wiring, cars, people…..myself in the world. Well, maybe a Zen goddess just quietly accepts the intricacies and whirrrrrs and finds her place without question.....
There are times when Damn it all! I just want things to work. I want to rely on something or someone and I don’t want to put much thought into it all. I equate this to my early upbringing as a Queens girl. You turn on a faucet the water comes out, Hallelujah Jiminy Crickets the world is a beautiful place to be! Don’t ask, don’t tell, I don’t need to know, just keep the gears moving and tell me where I need to be a cog and in what wheel. I didn’t need to know where water came from or how or why. It just did. All the time. Without fail.
I lived for several years in Western New York on a farm (don’t ask). The lovely charming couple that sold said farm, built a darling modernized, contemporary ranch across the street and maybe 500 yards to the left. They neglected to disclose that the barn across the street that was now neatly partitioned with their modern contemporary and darling ranch house, also contained access to the well that supplied sufficient water to the house and surrounding farm acreage. They closed off this particular well when they sold the farm and took it with them, leaving me with access to a hand dug 25 foot well from perhaps the Neolithic time period, or maybe if I’m feeling generous, it could have been from Medieval times. The 2500 square foot house I purchased in the late 1980’s with an interest rate of 13% at a time when it was believed rates would continue to climb… was not meant to operate with a 25 foot hand dug well. Needless to say, I started to understand that water actually came from somewhere, or it did not. Often, water came not. On that farm.
Water is not something I like to be without or give much thought to. Transportation, or the lack of access to it, is another area that I don’t have a great deal of tolerance around. Queens. Girl. You know how it goes….You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl. Subways, buses, feet. Mobility is an important thing. When you move beyond the five boroughs, however, transportation options are limited and never guaranteed. You can’t really take them for granted. I have not lived within the 5 boroughs in over 28 years, give or take a week or two just to be clear. And I purchased my first car while living within access to all of this readily available public transportation because I liked the freedom afforded in a vehicle you can call your own, even if it was a rusted, cold-war-orange-colored '72 Saab 99 from the days when Khmer-Rouge was in existence, as well as Czechoslovakia, and Nixon was in office. The ignition was on the floor of the car, the roll top sunroof would occasionally blow open mid ride and the small hole in the floor of the back seat would occasionally make me think of the Flintstones and how they operated their mode of transportation. The previous owners, beat this car down, on the cold, snow and salt covered roads of Burlington, Vermont during 'Nam. I only say this because it sounds nostalgic and important. I purchased it in '83 for $200.00 with a ball of wire, which might also sound nostalgic, Khmer Rouge no longer existed, Nixon was a dirty word, and Czechoslovakia was morphing into the Czech Republic or Slovakia.
I learned how to replace the driver’s side window after some rowdy, Met's fans broke in and stole my boom box. (I lived at that time, within walking distance of Shea Stadium, which is now likely called, Disney, or Bloomberg, or Kardashian, or maybe it's Citicorp Field-who can keep up?). Anyway, I’ve been a Yankees fan since. I learned which auto parts stores in Astoria carried various and random parts I needed. I learned which garage in Williamsburg stayed open late on the weekends. Long before Williamsburg was a place anyone ever went to, let alone became a desirable zip code. I learned what I would need to do, if I needed to abandon it on the road side, if it got to the point that it died, as it sometimes did, and could no longer take me to Montauk, or Robert Moses Beach, or Bear Mountain State Park for a Sunday drive. (Occasionally, it’s handy to have relatives in the police force to help you figure out covert operations on the cheap.) I learned how a 49 cent fuse could make all the difference between abandonment and saving grace.
I still feel occasionally put off by the inconvenience of needing a car and knowing they are not always dependable or reliable. And so I like to imagine myself a Zen-like goddess that can sometimes fix and repair cars in my care. A few years ago, I figured out how to replace the heat accuator motor in my Ford Windstar. I felt thrilled and accomplished and was happy to have a very slight and nimble 13 year old at my steed, to climb in through the radio access door to replace the pieces that I purchased, with grace and speed. We worked together as a very compatible team and saved a few hundred dollars and felt quite zen like in the process. At least I did.
Fast forward 4 years and my slight and nimble car repair companion hovers 7 inches or so above me. He can’t exactly maneuver himself through any bypass doors or curl up under the pedals to screw in a component or tighten a wire or two. Worse? As my car is in the repair shop I am borrowing his vehicle. And, sadly, in spite of my love for jerry-rigging and Zen-like repair and maintenance, he can’t be bothered. The more computerized all of the wires and electrical functions have become, the harder it is to fix a darn tooting thing in a car these days. And he has other things to do with his time.
Last week I had the thrilling pleasure of taking his car to the shop to be fixed. After he pulled out one radio to replace it with another hub woofing, bass beating, ass-kicking version of the first….he was a little dismayed to discover, A) the new super sonic sound machine doesn’t work. B) he can’t restore the old radio to its functional, operating place in the world and C) now his dashboard lights are no longer working. After going a tad nuts about why it is ab-so-stinking-lutely not safe to drive without dashboard lights I require that he get it fixed. Which means he said “Yup”, but that’s as far as it got-until I decide to take his car to get repaired while I am recovering from minor surgery, because well, when else do I have a free day? As I was waiting for his car, cheerily even, believe it or not, I decide to throw in the inspection and an oil change. I’m scheduled to come in, and I’m asked to come in at specific time, because it will be done in a speedy quick jiffy, if I do. Maybe 20 minutes. The car had spent some time there prior to my visit so everything was already figured out. I come, when I am directed, only to find out the needed part wasn’t ordered. I am assured that isn’t really a problem because they can send someone right quick…Right quick turns into an hour and a half. Lunch interferes and adds on another hour, the return from lunch is when it’s discovered that the wrong part was ordered, and hence delivered, and low and behold, they won’t be able to get the right one until next week.
And, what can you do really? We rely on these cars, we have to keep them operating, right? In addition to the other problems, now the shop somehow added a new feature. The parking lights won’t go off. At all. The suggested remedy in the meantime is to pull out a fuse, to turn off the lights so they won’t burn out the battery until the right part comes in. OK fine. Worse problems exist in the world. My car will be ready for pick up….tonight. No? Monday? OK that’s inconvenient but….Tuesday? Oh you just discovered after having it in the shop for 8 days what’s wrong? But you prrrrrooooommmmmiiiissssssedddd. I’m whining. I’m frustrated. My son is getting impatient. I have been borrowing his car and popping open the hood to pull out the fuse for three days now. (Just for the record, his real problem is the body component module and the pricey reprogramming with the scanning device available in only 3 GM certified garages across the state, jerry-rigging is a long shot, but a much cheaper alternative if it works. I’m not sure why I know these things, but I do. It could relate to Queens, and my humble beginnings and desire to be self-reliant and financially savvy, but my siblings don't know this stuff, or give a Queens-sized rat's ass about it….)
This morning, in the rain, with my bandaged, booted, post surgery foot, I am yanking out the fuse. I am wondering how my life became this strange and odd comic book version of the worst case scenario. And yet I’m happy. Truly. Calm even. I think that bunion on my right foot might have been altering my entire well-being, my disposition, and my outlook on life. The way brain tumors might. Or TBI. This is worth investigating…but not right now. I head into school, put in my time. Have an enjoyable day. I am nearing the end of the car borrowing, fuse pulling, transportation transition and I am all the happier for it, until, I go to start the car and the battery is dead. When I was finished yanking the fuse, and getting all happy, I apparently neglected to turn off the headlights.
Can this really be my life? I’m wondering. And yet I’m not even frazzled. It’s really just laughable at this point and I've discovered help is not far away. Ever. I suppose the laugh is on me, in me and through me or emanating from me. This has become my life and it’s filled with people that I can rely on and depend on for help, to listen, to laugh along with. Which can only mean one thing really...I am operating at full capacity, finally, and I am functioning once more, with others, like a well-oiled machine. Zen and the art of love, friendship and 49 cent fuses have been my saving grace.