Sunday, April 13, 2014

Finding terms

With apologies and much respect to Jaume
Over at my other online presence with the somewhat rude name, something kind of interesting happened recently: A post I'd put up back in mid-2011 started getting plucked out of the galaxy of photos available and - by my standards, at least - blew up. It's now logged over 430 likes and reblogs. I haven't done the math, but I wouldn't be surprised if that's close to half of everything else activity-wise put together there, if not more.

The photo for that post (found and used without knowledge or permission of the very talented photographer) is above. The caption I added to it reads, "Someone somewhere is having more fun than you. Whatcha gonna do about it?"

It seemed like a good-humored jab at web-browsing passivity and once-removed fanboyism at the time. In light of its newfound prominence and popularity, it's now becoming a pretty harsh mirror to my own current situation.


So I'm sitting here on a lovely Sunday early afternoon, finishing what hipsters call brunch and what I call a lunch composed of breakfast foods and beer. It's spring break; school is out until next Wednesday. Plenty to do in the next week and a half, but for now it's time to find some peace and come to terms with the stress of the last few months.

Someone somewhere is definitely having more fun than I am, because I'm not having much fun at all. Owing to a number of particular reasons which will not be listed here (discretion is the better part of valor, etc.) life has become extraordinarily stressful and frustrating. The stoic in me has somehow managed to absorb the damage and continue going in the face of what amounts to an everyday tempest, but I know a toll is being taken in the process.

I sort of keep up with what's going on in the automotive world. I'm half-following the entire GM recall debacle, I've been paying attention to Formula 1 results, I'm waiting for the new Miata that's supposed to be unveiled here in New York in a few weeks. But a lot of that pleasant everyday obsession that used to be a prominent part of my consciousness has gone by the wayside for now, out of necessity.

All of that fondness and interest in great and attractive cars and motorcycles and the rest is still in my mind somehow, in the same way that all the German I learned so long ago is still probably in there and waiting to be reactivated. Really, though, it needs to stay back a bit for now. I have many other urgent situations and demands literally in my face every day.

We won't even discuss my inability to allow for the time and mental capacity to write something meaningful here lately.

I didn't think it would be this way. Indeed, I thought it would have almost been reversed; back in September I would have been certain that by this time I would be an owner-operator again. Instead, the push to purchase anything with wheels remains deferred as I deal with such humdrum if useful efforts as paying off my credit card and staring down my student loans, never mind a rent payment out of all proportion with reality and the ability for my remaining income to be dissipated with depressing ease.

I've been getting a ride to school most mornings in the back seat of a Ford Edge driven by a fellow teacher, and that statement contains all of the enthusiasm I am able to summon for that particular machine.

Daydreaming doesn't help. Actually, no; daydreaming makes it worse, much worse. It activates the craving, the addict's necessity, and with that the realization of just how vast the distance between this and that remains right now. To have made this great step forward into finally having a sense of a place in life - and coincidentally the accompanying salary that was supposed to put some patiently-awaited wishes within reach - and then face all of this has just been harsh.

Unfair? I dunno. What's fair? How are these things supposed to work? Had I just missed the point for a very long time? Doesn't matter, really. Such is life.


Maybe it would be a bit easier if I didn't have a particularly present and annoying yardstick by which to measure the gap between faded expectations and damaged reality: the Ferrari 308.

Photo: Mbzt via Wikimedia
I've managed to build up a carbureted 308 GTB - an early one, before the weight went up and catalytic converters complicated things -  in my mind as some kind of summation of everything I find wonderful and alluring about cars. With the right understanding, it's a paragon: the very mechanical engine and chassis of a medium-displacement endurance racer recalibrated for street use, a simple and tastefully-fitted (and surprisingly roomy in the right ways) interior, and bodywork that happens to be one of the loveliest Modernist sculptures of the last fifty years, all available for about the same price as a midlevel Japanese sedan. That last part is the hook; by grande marque standards it's well within the realm of the possible. Any number of magazine articles over the last few years have happily promoted this idea. Somehow I know that as a math teacher of primarily central European descent I should be wanting a 911SC or 3.2 Carrera instead, and I definitely have my longings for those as well, but I remain fully under the spell of the 308.

And every time I think of one I sense that it has somehow become ever farther out of reach. Never mind the sense that prices appear to be climbing, never mind the logistical puzzle of keeping one in good shape and protecting it from various threats; the general idea of ownership of even this, the most accessible and reasonable of Ferraris, seems to be growing ever more distant as I come to terms with reality.


Reality. Ever those barriers, ever those burdens, ever that inextinguishable lure to go onward and put up with the indignity of the everyday in hope of finding some sense of grace and majesty, however distant it may seem.

I've studied enough Buddhism to deeply appreciate how wanting is dangerous and how grasping makes things pass through your grip like a fistful of sand between fingers. The problem as it relates to those of us who identify with speed, with sensation, with this enthusiasm for the synthesis of form and physics and human experience, is that motor culture is intrinsically based around the idea of want. We want something, we want to have something, we want to do something. And we never stop wanting. Camille Jenatzy, the turn-of-the-century Belgian racer, named one of his land-speed-record cars "La Jaimas Contente" - the Never-Contented.

That eternal pursuit requires numerous and varied resources and decisions. That's probably the obvious reason why true gearheads are rare in society, especially in the middle adult years as speed-freak adolescents age and put on the yokes of parenthood and career climbing and civil responsibility. It takes effort to care about this even in the absence of ownership, to follow the news and do research on a favorite ride and compare notes with others. It also takes money, inevitably, and time - two things that get reapportioned to other needs too easily and frequently, if often with very good reason.

If it is impossible to stop the desire, I long to at least mitigate it, or have it reach a sort of armistice with the everyday. I want to find a comfortable equilibrium before I lose much more. I want to find some sort of convergence between costs and availabilities. I want to lose that sickening longing for a 308 and find genuine comfort in something less dear. I want peace.

Reality is an interesting machine in itself - not always a beautiful one, but one which remains endlessly fascinating, with so much to it that a lifetime isn't enough to figure it out. And it keeps moving, keeps changing, is never content in its own way.

Maybe that realization and its implications are enough for right now.