Saturday, March 20, 2010

The First Verse

Even kings die, thrones rust
Skeleton bones turn to dust
Memories are blown in a gust
It's about how you lived when you were here
How you celebrated those years
Were you a follower? Did you try elevating your peers?
Were you sincere when you gave the prophets your ears?
But soon as trouble come you disappear
Listen here, were you real?
Did you show love that people could feel?
Did you have jealousy but keep it concealed?
Did you smile at your man's face
But all awhile wanted to take your man's place?
Moving around like a snake
I know you hate that term, don't call it that
See lately that's why the Priest been falling back
'Cause when the Revolution start
All those cliques that fall apart will soon be the devil's mark
And then the adversary will have a heart
The letter for Priest
My freedom of speech
Y'all read 'em and weep
The demons that keep you from the path just laugh
That's why my ink pad looks like stained glass
A collage of art, that shows scenes from the Nazarene's past

--Killah Priest, "Profits of Man"

Monday, March 15, 2010

Hell and Leather: Conclusion

On the Sixth Day, I changed the tires on my bike. I had gotten a set of race tires long ago and their moment had finally come. A man at the tire change spot told me that, yes, they were sticky, but their main benefit is in the mind of the rider, who believes himself invincible on rubber that greater men have directed to victory. It was a claim that a Hegelian like me was all to happy to hear.

Later in the day, the Black Buell showed up in a pickup truck from the distant past. We loaded my bike next to his and headed north. We spoke of motorcycles and philosophy. He told me the tale of why there are tusk marks from a wild boar on his radiator. I confirmed his suspicion that the secret of self consciousness lies in the need to go to the bathroom. We arrived at a suspect motel and set up for sleep. The only clear channel on the television improbably played Forrest Gump on a constant loop. Late in the night I awoke to Bubba explaining the different ways that one can prepare shrimp. One of my nephews has the same accent as Bubba. Sweet Home Alabama, I thought.

On the Seventh Day, we arrived at the track and found the last space in the pits. We enlisted in the Novice class and ran the track a few times behind the control riders. But I already knew the racing line. What was left was for me to ride it.

I toured the paddock. It was a rogues gallery of fast and expensive bikes. An BMW S1000. The coveted Desmosedici. One in particular caught my attention: A 2009 Yamaha R1, same model as the one that I owned for three days before it was totaled by a car. When I saw it, I felt the pang of a possible world. Some things are taken from us so soon. Others, we must endure for the rest of our short lives.

Out in the first session, I encountered only traffic. For the first time, I was comfortable passing bikes in a turn, on the outside no less. I rocked more speed down the straights than I had ever done before. By the time I came off the second session, the Green Ninja had arrived. He suggested that maybe it was time for me to try for the Intermediate class. This way, we could ride together. I had a control rider follow and evaluate me. He said my style was on point enough to move up. So came the first time that the Ninja and I would ride out.

We hit the track. I rocked exit first, in expectation that he would roll up behind me. At the third lap or so, I looked back and did not see him. Then I saw the yellow flag whose meaning was ‘caution, debris on the track.’ Then I saw the Green Ninja on the side of the track in the grass. He was mounted on his bike, looking down at the engine. He hadn't crashed. Looked like engine trouble. Later, he walked his machine into the paddock. The mechanic consensus was that he busted a cam chain. His bike was down for the count. The Green Ninja sat, overcome by the madness. His street bike had been grounded and now his track bike was destined for the shop as well.

The circumstances of his exit from the track were lame, but better by far than the way in which others ended their track days. As we sat in the paddock, the R1 that had made me nostalgic came into the pit on the back of the truck that retrieves crashed bikes from the track. “The back tire came out from under me,” said its rider. The sight of the wreckage reminded me of my own bike those months ago, lying shattered on a city street as I bled and cursed the sky. Whatever. It was time to ride.

Out on the track, the claims of the moto magazines and the commentators on the races on TV began to make sense. I had to muscle the Pharmacon Atlas into turns. But I had to be relaxed, lest my tenseness would transfer itself to the suspension and unsettle the bike. A few times on track, I was passed by faster men and women. I resolved to keep up with them and did a fairly good job. At one point, a red CBR passed me. I had seen him racing in the Expert class, yet here he was in the Intermediate session. I figured that this was my moment to make it happen. He flowed into corners like Rakim on the mic. He did not bother with the formalities of brakes and did not hesitate to accelerate off of apexes. He was a guide, but not a guardian. I attached my self to him for a few laps. Spent rubber from his tire flew up and pelted my chest. On the last lap, he increased in speed a bit and I rushed behind him. On a fast dual apex left, he disappeared and before I could call it off I found myself in a corner speed that I had not yet known. In a sharp moment of truth I stood the bike up and ran off the track. My notion of my abilities was corrected by the world. I had been tested and my limit was revealed on asphalt, sand and grass.

I went out for the last session and produced consistent times. The Buell had a bit of a party as well. We packed up and rocked exit for home. We shared a few comments on the day and rode the rest of the way with only the sound of the road and engine resonating in the cabin of the truck. I kept thinking about a conversation we had with a fast rider at the end of the day. He said that he went so fast around the dual apex left that he was sliding his back tire. He said that when he did this, he had to remind himself to hold the throttle, because if he let off speed, he would have crashed instantly. The tire would have suddenly regained traction and he would have been thrown off the bike in a probably violent highside. So he held on and rocketed around the same turn that I ran off of. As I considered his account, I became frustrated. Then I started thinking about Satan.

The myth the Devil is that of an angel that got a bit full of himself. So much so, that he figured he would rebel against his creator and maybe establish some new shit. It was the first transgression and probably the first ever sin. I thought that maybe it was also the first true act of will. Or at least the most powerful. A bloody angel forged some weapons and stared down a force that by definition cannot be beaten. It’s like standing in the sun and trying to not cast a shadow. He must have known that he could not have won. He must have known that his punishment would be great, perhaps the sickest sentence that anyone would ever have to serve. Yeah, but he was like fuck it, let’s give it a go. To know that your sword is too short to duel with God,but to still scream en guard in the face of omnipotence ... That is a will in which there is no weakness.

When I was on the track, I rocked the style according to my skills. But there was no moment in which I was in so far that I could not have called things off if I got spooked. I can make recourse to the fact that I was riding my street bike and wouldn’t be able to go to work or get around if I crashed it. I can speak on a general lack of skill and a need for more time to develop it. Perhaps these are good reasons. But the fact remains. There was no moment in which I committed fully, though I wanted to. I had neither the faith nor the will. My flaw on the track had been clarified as the flaw of my life.

We got to my crib and unloaded my bike. I bid farewell to the Buell and he began the last stretch to his crib. I was knackered. I laid down and wondered when I would next hit the track, if I would ever risk hell or highside for the completion of a corner. I wondered if I would ever say, fuck it, let's turn the throttle to the stopper, let's proclaim undying love, let's bring a life of possibility to its completion. Let's risk freedom.

On the night of the Seventh Day, I rested.

Hell and Leather: The First Five Days

Seven days of moto-centric triumph and defeat came to an end last night when I fell into an exhausted slumber while thinking about the War in Heaven.

On the first day, we gathered for the ubiquitous Sunday Ride. The scene was thick. The Green and Orange Ninjas, the Red Ducati and the Black Buell all put kickstands up on the journey. Some had travelled many miles for this excursion. And while all were more skillful than I was, only I knew the route.

Such a situation is moderately whack. Following a skillful rider is a good way to improve one’s own skills. Their lines of travel are instructive and the entry speeds that they set for their turns indicate all in their wake that, yes, it is possible to take a corner this fast. Not to mention they are the first to come upon and direct attention to road hazards. Yeah, leading is a job for the illest rider. But instead they got me, a cat who enjoyed the paradox of being the man who leads the way but is in no position to find it.

From time to time, I would catch the Green Ninja in my rear view. It would always take me a moment to recognize him, as he was not flying the colors or riding the bike that he normally does. Just the day before, his bike had been party to a moment of freedom for another rider.

Freedom, in our moto vocab, is a bad thing. It is a sudden and unfortunate separation of the rider from his or her machine, a self induced crash. If Macbeth rode a motorbike, he might describe such freedom as being “untimely ripp’d” from one’s wheels. It is not difficult to have such an experience for riders of the Kawasaki ZX-10. It is a bike that, as the magazines say, “doth not suffer fools.”

The Green Ninja’s homeboy learned this the hard way. On a straight stretch of road, he twisted the throttle to the stopper from a standing first gear. The bike reared up like an angry horse and threw him to the ground. Bike and body slid upon the tarmac, leaving plastic, metal, leather and skin along their path. It was a sobering reminder that we could easily put ourselves in situations that far exceeded our control, no matter what the three witches around the cauldron say.

On the Sunday Ride, we avoided Freedom in the way that humanity has always done so: conformity and submission. To the rules of moto riding, not so much the speed limit. Past the disenchanting speed of life, there is no judgement. The staleness of my world, the disappointment of my projects, the disillusion in my heart—none of these can penetrate the erratic echo of the wind outside my helmet. “Until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death!” Forever and ever, Amen.

On the Second Day, I sat with a Green Ninja and speculated as philosophers do on the nature of the moto. He finds God on the throttle. I don’t know about God, but certainly there is something there that I cannot name, something that Marx might call my opiate.

On the Third day, I traveled to the Green Ninja’s broken bike and dissected it, cataloging the parts that it needed for repair. I washed dirt from the metal and ran my fingers over the punctured engine cover. For a moment I sat in the hollow quiet of the garage next to the machine, wondering what it must have been like to unleash all of this bike’s power in single, tragic twist of the wrist. Pandora probably had a better experience opening that Jar of hers. Unlike the rider of the Ninja, she at least got to experience hope in the aftermath.

Hegel teaches us that an idea has not reached its completion until it has been objectified. The rational must be made real, he says. My moto theory had once again reached a point where I needed an environment in which I could test some styles. So on the Forth Day, I got the notion that I should try to go to the racetrack for a track day.

On the Fifth day, I worked out the details of travel with the Black Buell. The Green Ninja agreed to meet us there with his track bike, a Ninja identical to the one that was out of commision but set up specifically for track riding. Once again we would brave the racetrack at absurd speeds. I wondered whether there could be anticipation that was not also fear.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Call of Cthulhu

There is a quote from a Lovecraft story that casts skepticism on the supposed awesomeness of complete knowledge. It reads like this:

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age."

Styles like these are often found in fiction. The Indiana Jones movies always end with the title character taking one step less than his enemies toward knowledge. Like, no, don't look at what's in the Ark. Or don't reach too far for the Grail. Or don't hang around for the Aliens to tell us their secrets. Even in the great comic cosmic epic, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, we are told quite plainly that survival in a universe of this size depends on us not having a sense of perspective. Perhaps such styles are commentaries on human development, the critical cries of writers who have not yet learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.

Lovecraft, however, does it best. He romanticizes ignorance. He imagines terror and ruin behind the doors on which God should have put better padlocks. But look closely. Lovecraft’s narrator longs for a closed door only after he has had a look. It is the revelation of horror that halts his quest for knowledge. He has sailed the sea of infinity and turned back on a search for less troubled waters. Cioran says that anyone who kills themselves does so too late. So it is with anyone who has turned away from epiphany, revelation or answer. So, even if the narrator is right, his warning falls either on naive and deaf ears or those who hear clearly and sadly know to share the sentiment. On such a read, pessimism is synonymous with knowledge and ignorance is the unsatisfied desire for itself.

Mostly, I wish I never opened the door to Lovecraft’s ridiculous and flagrantly racist fiction. But, as with so many pained vistas of reality into which I have gazed, it is too late. Welcome, dark age.