Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Feng Shuiing a Classroom and a Motorcycle Story

I am not a man's man. Despite my mechanical ability to single-handedly replace a clutch on a Corvette or do fifteen hundred year old Shaolin Kung Fu forms, as soon as people see me they are pretty sure I am not a man's man, and as soon as I open my mouth and speak, it becomes a certainty.

I am not a girly man. I am not effeminate and I have a deep voice, but as my wife Peggy put it when I asked her if I was a manly man, she replied, "No. you're a punkin." I guess she's right, because a manly man wouldn't have become a middle school teacher and then spent two days scrubbing, cleaning, and feng shuiing his seventh grade math classroom.

Here is what I have done so far. On the wall beside my desk is a photo of a motorcycle wheel. You see, I once owned motorcycles. My first was a 1965 Honda CB 160 purchased when I was eighteen which I used to go to my part-time job and then to the university. It was a wonderful, little, dependable machine. I was so broke and frugal I rarely purchased gas. I just pulled into gas stations after hours when they were closed and drained the hoses. That was back when they didn't lock up the hoses. The Honda wasn't fast, but it got me around.

A fellow employee at the plastic processing company where I worked had a motorcycle fender-bender on his 1958 Harley Sportster and he was devastated that his wife happened to be on the back, and he sold it to me out of anger at the motorcycle. Lordy she was a pretty woman, and I didn't blame him for not wanting to be responsible for damaging her in any way. He fixed up the Sportster to better than original condition; his machinist cousin buffed the crankcase covers until they glistened, then dropped the carburetor about a quarter of an inch and retooled the intake manifold so it could breathe in a little more quickly, then he sold it to me for $800. That Sportster was fast. When he turned over the ignition key to me, he showed me how to accelerate off the line, though I already knew. You put it in fourth gear, revved it and almost immediately released the clutch. Fortunately, he told me a few more things I needed to know. One, you bent down over the gas tank and hung on for dear life, and you didn't bend down for aerodynamic purposes. The engine didn't give a rat's @$$ if you were bent over or not. You did it so you could hang onto the bike. If you sat up straight, the only way to hang onto the bike was with your hands and fingers, and they weren't enough. That bike pulled hard away from you. He also warned me that the back end would feel loose. If I accelerated quickly enough a few times, I'd begin to think the back wheel was loose because the rear tire "waggled" as it tried to pass the front tire. It wasn't loose. It just felt so because the rear wheel was trying to pass the front of the bike and it made a serious "waggle." I got a free wheel tightening from a Harley shop mechanic with a torque wrench just to make sure. That was an incredibly fast machine, but it had several problems. One, it had a tiny gas tank......cool looking, but not functional. Two, it guzzled gas. He told me he got eight to ten miles per gallon and I was stupid enough to think I could nurse it along and get better mileage......Not! It guzzled gas idling in the driveway, fer cryin' out loud, and who wants to own a 1958 Harley Sportster and not enjoy the kick-in-the-seat-of-your-pants thrill of goosing it on a green light. Three, my father hated loud motorcycles, and at the time he lived in a sixty year old house with aging putty on all the wooden window panes. Every single window pane in the house would have rattled and a couple of them might have actually shattered if I had goosed the throttle when I pulled into the driveway. Fortunately, I kept the Honda because I was too busy to sell it. Then I realized the Sportster was financially draining me. You see, there aren't enough gas pump hoses in Houston to keep it filled, and I found myself actually paying for gas during the day, long before the sun set and the gas stations closed up shop so I could drain their gas pump hoses for free. I actually had to pay for gas two times in one day. Luckily for me, the fellow who sold it to me, who was also named Walter, regretted selling it to me, so I sold it back to him after one month. His wife was never going to get on it again, and I couldn't afford it. That was in 1967 or 1968 when muscle cars were the rage, and it sure was fun humiliating them in drag races. A Corvette would pull up to a red light, gun the engine, and I'd glance at the driver and then nod. I'd always check to make sure no one was running the red light when it turned green, and as soon as it was green, I'd goose it and pop the clutch. I never saw the tail lights of any car. Well, not exactly. I'd get it up to ninety or a hundred or so, and no telling what the actual speed was because Harleys had notoriously defective speedometers, and who could actually read the thing when it at sixty mph it looked like you were viewing it through a jiggling bowl of Jello. Anyway, I'd get it up to what I thought was about ninety or a hundred and then sit up and ease off the throttle. About five or six seconds later here'd come the Corvette pitifully roaring by me. I never got a ticket, but a GTO I drag raced did because he kept it to the floor and roared past me. A mile up ahead, a cop was pulling him over. I considered it a short drag race and never agreed to drag if there were cars ahead of us or there was no safe straightaway.

My third motorcycle was a British motorcycle, a 1969 BSA Starfire. It was somewhere in between the Honda and the Sportster, and it was a wonderful bike. Experts complained about the Lucas electrical system, but I never had any trouble. The driver sat up real high off the ground compared to a Harley, and it was more beautiful with a rider sitting on it than on the kickstand by itself, and that's one thing I loved about BSAs and Triumphs. I puttered with it a lot, as you're supposed to do with a British machine. It wasn't fast, but one time a cop pulled me over just to look at it. I was relieved it wasn't a ticket, and he asked me a lot of questions about it.

I wanted a photo of that motorcycle because I owned no photo of either of the two bikes before. A friend of mine named Casey was a fine arts photographer and I asked him if he'd take photos of the bike, and he agreed. He got his Olympus camera and started shooting away, developed the photo, matted and framed it, and wrapped it up like a Christmas present. I excitedly opened the package and found a photograph of only the front wheel. I was a little shocked, and I tried not to show my disappointment. He talked so much about his love of that shot that I saw the beauty of it too. That BSA had a huge, beautifully spoked, front wheel with Dunlop rubber and a chrome fender. It was, as I now reflect, the prettiest part of the bike, although I also loved the huge, front headlamp which was bigger than a bowling ball. I treasure that photo, and it sits by my desk in every classroom I have taught.

I have my desk in the back corner with my BSA wheel on the wall to my right, 26 desks arranged so no one can hide behind the monolith, two tables in the back to work with small groups, and on the walls are eight castle pictures, nine pieces of art work I purchased from elementary school children, three times tables charts, my Americana corner (the U.S. flag and posters of the Star-Spangled Banner and the Pledge of Allegiance), two blank bulletin boards ready for students' work, a photo of three F-16s with the words "Rush Hour" above them and below it a photo of the Wright Brothers' first flight of the "Flyer" at Kitty Hawk, an unusual photo of a nautilus, and a small poster celebrating our trip to the moon. A computer monitor sits on the desk, and I am blogging on it for the first time.

I am almost ready for seventh graders.

PS My father didn't like the BSA, especially when I pulled away with the exhaust pipe pointing towards his house with the rpm above four thousand and the throttle wide open. I could almost see his face.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Reading this with my coffee this morning was so much fun, Punkin.