Whatever! – Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
The battle against perfection goes on ...
I have a lovely Shoei Neotec I got about six months ago, which I have worn extensively and adore a little more every time I wear it. There aren’t many helmets I can wear for 12 hours at a stretch. It’s a beautiful cranberry sparkly color, but it didn’t take long for it to fall off my motorcycle seat onto the pavement, where the paint got gouged on the rear – a little ding. Dammit. I know there are people out there who would follow the rules and mail the thing to Shoei for inspection, like you’re supposed to do. I am not one of them.
One of my favorite lids ever was a Criville-painted Shoei X-9. I ran over a piece of FOD on the 405 one evening, holed the crankcase on a CBR1100XX, and began smoking like an ME-109 on the History Channel. I’m going in! Mayday! I set the Shoei down on the tilt-bed wrecker to help the driver get the bike up on there, and when the thing was done and he was lowering the bed, I remember hearing the sickening sound of fiberglass being crushed. I hadn’t wanted to put it down on the dirty ground, see, so I’d set the Shoei on the nice clean tow-truck rails the bed rests upon. Such split-second reasoning reminds me of my friend Happy’s armchair psychological diagnosis that I have “a need to fail.” There could be something to it.
I think I’ve just seen enough beautiful things go to seed that deep down I must feel it’s wise to go ahead and get the initial damage out of the way. Last year I bought a ’97 XJ-6 Jaguar on the advice of a friend who knows his Jaguars, and while I searched for a while to find one in great shape and with 67,000 miles, I also made sure the one I finally bought already had a few minor scrapes and paint chips. One, it drove the price down. Two, I don’t want to be the guy responsible for knocking off Venus de Milo’s’ arms.
The interesting part is that my Jaguar expert friend is just the opposite of me, a perfectionist. Bored readers may remember the old Jagrolet I already wrote about a time or two, a mongrel 1972 XJ with a small-block Chevy. It was actually a pretty fun fair-weather hot rod, but you wouldn’t want to have to depend on it if you were a mailman. The drivetrain was solid, but it was all the little things that went wrong, the things we’ve come to depend on in our cars. Heat when it’s cold. Windshield wipers when it’s raining, and a defroster so you can see where you’re going in case the wipers are working. Those amenities would let you down in the Jagrolet, but I drove it for years anyway. Hey, it hardly rains here, it never gets cold, and I was usually on a bike. Also I must’ve enjoyed finding creative new ways to patch vacuum fittings and other strange automotive artifacts you can’t get anymore.
I was having my Jag-expert friend help me fix the lights once (he understood electricity too, and even owned a multimeter!). Trial and error was my method. I’d used a grinder to get the old high-beam switch loose from the rusty floor, which turned out to not be the problem like I’d thought; I just bolted the thing back in place when I was done. The lovely carpet was going to cover up the gouge I’d left in the switch anyway, and I was happy as a clam my pal had fixed the lights. We can drive after dark! I’d only had to grind away part of the mount to get the bolt loose, and with a new bolt the thing was solid as ever, practically, with the added bonus of being able to switch from low to high beams without having to get out and rearrange wires on the headlights. An invisible gouge was the least of the Jagrolet’s problems.
“Um,” my friend asked, “are you going to drive that thing that way?”
“With that disgusting mangled high-beam switch.”
“Yes I am.”
“I couldn’t drive it that way.”
I thought he was joking at the time, but later realized he was completely serious. Perfectionism, I have learned, is an actual psychological diagnosis that can be a seriously debilitating problem.
How did I get this way and how did he get that way, complete opposites?
I remember my dad’s new ’72 Kingswood Estate wagon with flip-up third seat and disappearing tailgate. I must’ve been 12 when we were all set to go on our annual road trip to Florida one summer. Everything was loaded up, man, including my little brother and sister in the back seat, when dad decided it was time to back out of the garage for the final countdown. He’d told my younger sibs he didn’t want to hear another peep out of them, so they didn’t tell him one of the back doors was open as he slipped her into reverse … crunch. Crack!, went car door on garage door frame.
We drove all the way to Destin and back with towels shoved in the door to staunch the airflow in the bent, barely closeable door, and while I assume Pops must’ve been fuming, he really didn’t show it. He was a Depression-era dude determined to enjoy his two-week vacation. He did go back in the house and crack a cold one before he finished packing.
Some of the cars that preceded the Kingswood were worse even without crash damage. The AMC Ambassador. The Dodge whatever-it-was with the huge fins. In the ’60s, “car trouble” was always a legit excuse. Naturally, with his knack for horseflesh, my dad helped my big sis pick out her first new car when she went to work (in the ’70s, it was normal to graduate high school, go to work, purchase a new car and move into an apartment) – a shiny new red Chevy Vega! Do any of those cars survive in original form?
I used a chunk of GI Bill to purchase my first new bike, a VF500F Interceptor for $2749. One day when I was still wet behind the ears and the road was still damp from last night’s rain, I started down a steep hill, tried to ease on a little front brake – and slid all the way to the bottom trying to shield my new bike from the asphalt with my body. It actually worked pretty well – wet pavement can be remarkably stiction-free – but the bar end, footpeg and muffler did get scraped up a little on the left side, and the clutch lever got bent. Didn’t really occur to me to replace any of it. Enough people had told me that motorcycles were for crashing, so it seemed normal wear and tear, really. None of the motorcycles I knew were without flaws (especially the used ones I’d had before the Honda), none of the cars either. None of the people who owned them were flawless either, now that I think back. Everybody was missing an important tooth or a finger or more than a few brain cells.
Meanwhile in California, where the weather, vehicles and people are way closer to perfection and the competition is fierce, I can see how you’d grow up with a far different attitude. Like the old Eagles song says, there is no more new frontier, we have got to make it here. Part of that involves setting the bar really high for yourself and your kids right out of the starting blocks. Applying pressure. A little of that’s a good thing. My SoCal-native perfectionist buddy went on to become a major player at a big magazine, and owns a fleet of perfect cars and bikes he fastidiously maintains. Me? I’ve got my own little happy place here at MO, where we strive for perfection but also run columns like this one.
On our little Yosemite expedition last month, my kid was adjusting something – fishing gear or iPhone or whatever – with his (my) nice matte-black Arai on the seat of his CTX700, when yes, bonk, it rolled off the seat and hit the asphalt. Now it’s matt-black with a nice white chip on one side. I almost said something nasty, but bit my tongue. Let he who is without ding cast the first expensive helmet. He’s a California kid, but he’s got the Alabama DNA. It’ll be interesting to see how it works out. Knock on wood.