Saturday, May 6, 2006

The Old Man and the Ether

so i decided to muck around with the bike yesterday, see what i was going to have to order to get her started. it was a beautiful day. i grabbed a beer and did an inventory after dropping the battery in. no connection when i turned the key. i found some 20v fuses and replaced the main and starter fuses. under the seat i also found an ancient bag of road tools that i neglected to notice before. best yet was a deep socket bit so i could pull the sparkplugs and check them. after i changed the fuses i got some juice but she still wasn't firing. the choke is frozen and i'm a little hesitant to force it. i open the tank and drop a siphon tube in to pull out some of the fuel from last year i never bothered to bleed, but it was dry as a bone. i'm sure the petcocks over the course of months were leaking enough to drain the whole damn tank. so i'm thinking at that point it might be worth running up to the gas station and putting a half gallon of fuel in just to see if it's the plugs (best case) or the carbs and/or jets (worst case). that's i looked up and saw the old man.

i may have written about the old man across the street in some previous post on a nightly adventure with my junkie neighbor. my other neighbor kate and i sit outside on the stoop and rather than watch television we drink wine and watch the old man do things--when he is out of the house, that is. the classic event is lawn-mowing. the old man has a pretty nice hump going on, and moves kinda slow and his house is literally falling apart, but fuck if he's going down in an old folks home. and if you tried, the old man is the kind of guy who would be sitting on his porch with a shotgun. thats what i fucking love (woops...heart rather) about've got white trash neo-nazis picking fights with the yunkers at hogans, you've got two point five condos going up down the street and then you have this old dude and his wife (kate maintains that its his one knows) living in this haunted house with a plywood roof, shit all over the porch, overgrown grass, and an eerie red light in the foyer that sets an ambiance to the whole thing.

anyway, when the old man mows the lawn its great, its a hoot. he'll push the mower foward for three feet, then let go of the self-propeller, rest, then push it another three feet. the grass is so damn high that it takes a good long while. one time he got pissed at the lawnmower for some reason and took a swing at one of the plastic chairs on the porch. kate and i watched cinematically. he was yelling some things. then he came back and turned the chair back over, sat down, crossed his legs like cosmo kramer and lit a cigarette. he took one drag of that cigarette and i swear he didn't put it to his lips again until the entire khattam thing burned to the butt. the whole time he stared out from the shadows and kate and i stared right back at him but i don't think he really saw us. he was somewhere else. God i would have loved to know what was going through that head.

so anyway, this guy's kind of an urban legend (at least among me and gary and kate and joe). he's got kindof a white amish beard, but only on his chin. his pants, of course, are up pretty high. he wears a black capped hat and has all sorts of shit in his shirt pockets, pens and notebooks and tire gauges and such. the only time in three years ive had any genuine interaction with him was when i chased a taxi down for him and his (sister?) that had gone past their house. they said thank you.

but this day here he was, here we were, him amazed that it is a three cylinder, asking whether it's a two stroke or four stroke ("it's a four. two's are illegal now, you know." i tell him. he is amazed, esp. when i tell him its because they pollute more. he says that is ridiculous.)

he asks, in genuine dialogue (cause you know sometimes how old men just like to talk like you're a piece of wood or something spinning some old tale about remembering their first penny-farthing bike--"back then, (in 1890) we didn't have "tires." we rolled around on khattam cast iron rims. now those bikes were made to last, not like these newfangled pieces of junk with their "chains" and their "brakes." ) ...he asks if it's turning over and i say no, i was about to get some gas though.

"you need some starter fluid. that's what you need. back when i was your age we used ether, but they don't let you use that no more." (yeah, no shit. can you say "meth lab fireball?")

wow, that's amazing, i said. he tells me "now where's your air filter?," and i show him. i take off the wingnut holding the casing and we both say, "well, this can't be it, there's no filter in there." but sure enough that's the housing...have i been running the bike this whole time without an air filter? i could have sworn i had the guys replace it the last time i was in. oi. well, in any case the old man tells me to soak the airfilter in ether or something like that, i say okay. maybe he'll invite me over some day and i'll bring over some beer and we'll sit on his porch. maybe he'll be grateful for some male company and for the chance to get away from his nagging wife-sister. word, maybe, O.M. and i will get real tight. he'll lend me his truck when i need it and i'll introduce him to my girlfriends. hopefully too we'll become such good friends that he deeds his haunted house over to me so i can live out my dream of settling down in roxborough and raising a family with little tykes running around in the 1/4 acre yard, a beautiful garden, and a portrait of the old man over the fireplace. and everytime i use ether to clean the air filter on my 1927 Indian, i'll think of him and the way he got pissed at the grass for growing some fast and beat the shit out of that plastic chair.

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By Shusaku Endo

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