Saturday, August 20, 2011

A clumsy search for Zen

Apologies to Steinbeck

Big Oak Flat in Tuolumne County in California is not a poem or a habit or a dream. It does, however, emit a definite stink if you stand too close to the portable toilets in the gas station parking lot, and if you happen to be there at just the right time on a fine spring afternoon, the quality of light may indeed evoke a peculiar nostalgia for a time when you still believed  that making sense of life was something  in the ballpark named Possible. That’s about it, though; as far as deep philosophical pondering and the like, no matter what knothole you look through, I doubt you’ll come away with any insight into the human condition beyond what you already have. In fact, I am not at all certain that new insights have been possible since about 1945. So if you do look through that knothole, you’re just gonna see the same old wooded area behind the fillin’ station that’s always been there. Bring your own Zen in a sturdy steel vacuum flask tucked into your right saddlebag.

If you were to ask me how it was that I came to lose my mind, I might give you some obfuscatory answer like, “Don’t burden me with your extraneosities.”Or “Melvin eats blubber.” Or “Define mind.” Maybe I’d even try to answer truthfully, but the sad fact is that I simply do not know. So if you were to ask me that question—how did I lose my mind—I would simply say, “Yes.”

I came to terms with my loss of that which cannot be empirically proved and subsequently grew tired of my old gig—the one I’d been working at for a quarter century—so I quit and decided to become a private investigator. Not an officially licensed P.I. like Thomas Magnum, but one who looks into things without the strictures of state oversight or the constraints of having to answer to a client, or of even knowing what it actually is you’re investigating.
I decided to start this new line of work immediately, so on a brisk Saturday morning, I and my brother left Herd City and headed up into the hills. I will spare you any account of the places I have excessively described before, save for the mecca of western hemisphere truth-seekers, the wall at the Shell station in Jackson:

After searching in vain one last time for any small vestige of the old  Honda dealership where our dad bought our first dirt bikes back in '67, we left Jackson and headed south through some other wide spots. San Andreas was one of ‘em. We didn’t see much there except some tourists from Canada, and we were “aboot” to mock their vowels as needing to be voided, but I figured that would just be mean.

Southward, on to Sonora, and the mood there was edgy.
A kid in a straw Stetson flagged us down and said there was gonna be trouble in the center of town any minute, so we headed there directly. It turned out there was no trouble, really, just a few folks who took their talk radio a little too seriously and had trouble tracking reality (we were not yet familiar with their puppet masters, the Koch brothers, nor did we know the full extent of the vitriol and outright treasonous elements their movement would support in the near future). On this day they were just a small crowd jumping around trying to get vehicles to honk if they supported their bizarre cause.

It took us about ten minutes in heavy traffic to pass through town. I heard two people sound their horns, but one of them was just impatient at a couple of gawkers slowing down the line.  Most passers-by either ignored the protesters or gave them what is apparently the foothill version of the Bronx cheer. We put this case in the easy-solve column and concluded that although there are a few eccentrics (like anywhere else), most folks in Sonora are pretty level-headed. Little did we know then that nationwide, the numbers of the Koch brothers’ minions would continue to swell.

We got to Big Oak Flat later that afternoon, after stopping off in the Old West town of Chinese Camp to look at some deserted buildings. After filling up the bikes, we rode to the back of the lot to make use of the facilities. Ever since the big biker riot of ’06, the proprietors of the Big Oak Flat gas station have made customers use the outhouses.
I can tell you with near 100% certainty that these particular outhouses are the filthiest, most disgusting portable toilets on the west coast.

An old guy from the Goldwing riding club decides against opening that door.
The proprietors of this establishment will never get one more dime from me. If Tuolumne County could afford a health department, I’d call ‘em in on this. Sincerely. The one redeeming quality of that particular destination is the fence in the back. There you may find several different and conflicting views of the woods behind the lot. A comparison between these may yield higher truth. Or not.  Probably not, because I don’t think any of us can ever really know precisely where we stand on any continuum at any given moment, and the context we seek is, by necessity, embedded within contexts perceived and modified by countless others.  Still, pondering such things is what keeps me alive.

Post and photos © Pseudocognitive, with profuse apologies to John Steinbeck (and apologies of a medium nature to Robert M. Pirsig)

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