Journal Entry 0004

Writing Down A Dying Falcon

The autumn sun turned its customary corner here in town today. Low light blinks and fades to fool the mind with thoughts of time. Eucalyptus tree trunks are peeled smooth of summertime bark, revealing orange, rusty shades that somehow soothe my thoughts.

I had an important medical appointment scheduled for early this morning, but a robot voice called me at the last possible second to say that one of the two machines that were last night planning to scan my body for impurities and mortal sins committed had refused to operate today from sunrise until sunset. I wasted little time entertaining irritated feelings, because the true source of my irritation has nothing to do with robots or their relatives. Instead, I pushed away as best I could the worry over health concerns that these days tries to consume what little energy a man has left at his disposal.

I walked out to board my blue pickup truck — this vehicle being the one pseudo-masculine badge I’ll ever own — and there discovered that one of her feet sat fat and ready to limp the way I limp when I walk out to meet her.

“Good,” I thought. “Yes, God exists, and God is mean and clever. I’m meant to visit the garage, that place of oil and grease and false bravado.”

When I was seventeen years old, I owned a 1960 Ford Falcon. I polished her. I painted her from a spray can, the kind of can you shake before using, a little metal ball inside rattling as you wave the container and anticipate the poisonous fumes that signal the fact that blue-collar labor is about to occur.

Almost every weekend I’d have to drive my lovely car to the local Sinclair Station for repairs. Tiny engine, old and prone toward death, but noble in her desire to prolong her lifespan.

I knew nothing then about motors, cogs and pistons, cylinders or overhead cams. I still know nothing about any of those mechanical mysteries, except that they hop and bop and clang and clop beneath the hood. I sometimes talk as if I understand motor oil and own grease inside the creases on my hands, just so I’ll sound like a man and not the the literary wimp I am.

A man, a man to me, that is — he was probably no more than twenty-three years old at the time — named Steve, or maybe Jack, or Sam, but not Carmine, Silvio or Rosario, not in the small New Jersey town where I grew up, a man whose job it was to hold the weekend fort at Lou & Walt’s Sinclair Station, invited me into the garage to watch him work. I think I felt grateful that my Falcon was a cripple, because its unhealthy tilt toward oblivion afforded me a chance to watch wrenches, air guns, ratchet thingamadoos and screwdriver thingamabobs perform their tasks while held by an expert.

So what’s that memory have to do with anything? Nothing at all, or maybe everything. Maybe I’m unconsciously comparing my own old thingamadoos and thingamabobs with those that Steve or Jack or Sam used way back then. And then again, of course it’s true that my precious 1960, hand-painted black Ford Falcon died after a courageous fight for survival, a fight I’m waging now almost a half a century later.

Change the subject, but not really.

A forced sense of humility:

Yesterday morning, I gathered up my plastic platter of fruit, cheese and crackers, carried the artfully arranged concoction (concoction?) to my truck, and drove us both to the meeting of my face-to-face critique group. Before I departed, I edited a story I’ve been writing for the past month or so, just enough so that I felt the tale presentable.

Read whatever you write aloud, so the advice goes. I honor that advice with almost anything I write (although not for journal entries such as this one today, to hell with it, I say). Usually, I love the sound of my own voice. Ain’t that dumb? Recently I recorded a short, sarcastic tale that still lives on this site. A few people asked me for a copy, and the reviews were rave, just as I expected they would be (As well, I take it that those who listened to my reading, yet failed to respond or react, were merely awestruck and without the words necessary to describe the utter state of pleasure they experienced.).

So, before I steered my pickup truck toward the house of my critique group’s host, I read my story out loud. “Hey, now that sounded good,” I told myself. “The few places where I tripped over my own pencil point are easy to correct. I’m ready.”

But I was not ready, and neither was my story. I learned a lesson when I read the story aloud a second time, this time to the group assembled. The story stank. It fell flat. It was too long. Less would have been more.

I watched the wrinkled, worried and downright constipated expressions on the faces of my listening victims, and if it weren’t for a long-held habit of “seeing things through” I would have stopped reading somewhere — anywhere — mid-sentence and cried “Mercy, please forgive me my sins! I promise to go to church and confess this evil deed!”

Lesson learned: Yes, read what you write out loud, but before you think to hold a group of writers more talented by far than you as a captive and kind audience, pay a different victim to listen and react. React by way of a constipated, pained expression, or by way of an approving — sincere — smile.

So who died first? The author, or the black Ford Falcon? The medical robot, or the worried old man? The literary wimp, or the Sinclair Station?

I don’t know. Not yet.

And I’m not about to read these words aloud, because I’m afraid to discover any answers today.

Tap, tap, tap.

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