Thursday, September 25, 2003

Have you ever seen a film get caught in the projector, and stop running? Maybe you have not really experienced it, but have seen video of that it looks like. You’ll be enjoying your regularly scheduled program, then all of a sudden, all the motion stops. If you are in the room, there is usually a screeching as the drive gears tear the filmstrip. Then, just for a second, the picture gets very bright. As the film stops, the one frame being projected begins to melt. The image gets clear, bright, then turns brownish. It bubbles and boils, the brown turns to little circles of brown with black edges, then the whole thing melts. The image disappears, the bubbling celluloid begins to burn from the intensity of the projector’s light, and it all breaks down into a bubbling, oozing mass.

When I close my eyes, this is the process I believe my internals are undergoing from the chemotherapy. My cells are bubbling and boiling down, turning from an image of regular life, into a bright burning bubbling ooze.

Yesterday I had some emotional side effects. I’ve been told to expect depression, anxiety, you know, the ‘normal’ stuff. I felt bad, and I wanted something I could not have.

In Austin, on Avenue F, just north of Koenig lane, there is a little white frame house. The swing on the porch is actually sitting on cinderblocks, it just never got hung up. Except you won’t notice this, cause if you go there, you go in the back door, just like everyone else. You have to know to pull into the alley. Parking on the street is off limits, it’s a bus stop after all, and we cannot hold up public transportation. But if you pull around back to the alley, be sure to get very close to the workshop door. You know, to leave space for other cars to go by.

Get out of your car, or off your bike, the walkway runs between both the workshop and the small garage. Since you parked by the workshop door, you will walk by that nicked corner. I did not pay enough attention once, and my old Yamaha RD fell over. The handlebar scraped the corner trim. The gouge is only an inch or so, but it’s still there. Sure, it’s been painted white, over and over, you’ll still see it, hopefully it’ll remind you to make sure the kickstand is on firm ground, especially if it looks like rain.

The workshop is a long affair, running parallel to the ‘small’ garage. As if to make up for size, however, there is a homebuilt carport on the end of the small garage. He built it at another house, and moved the carport when he bought this place. After all, you’ve already built it, why not? I am told it was strapped to the Volkswagon Double Cab Pickup Truck, and moved from Fruth Street shortly after the purchase. I do not know, but it has been there as long as I have known him. It’s also painted white. Probably not the same shade as everything else, just whatever was on sale when it needed to be painted. White is close enough.

There used to always be a red Corvair under the carport. I’m told he got a Geo wagon now, but the Corvair is there in my mind. It’s yellow, after a repaint/restoration job, but underneath, it’s red. I know. I’ve ridden to the races in it enough. It’s a red car. It probably need an oil change too. Maybe I’ll get to it if I have time.

Check the door on your left now. Is the light on? Can you hear the radio? Is he out in the workshop machining things, cleaning or polishing? Maintaining some arcane bit of the past? Nah, not tonight the shop is dark. Keep on to the house, there’s a faint glow of light in the window.

Finally hit the gate at the end of the sidewalk. Its more decoration than actually to keep things in or out, pass through it into the tiniest backyard, and you’ll see the house. Classic post war. Just like all the other houses in the neighborhood, hardwood floors, bathroom in the center, sure, some are upgraded, but for the most part, three bedrooms, one bath, framed and ready to go.

Except this one is different. …. This is where I want to be.

Open the screen door, not too far, it hangs on the aluminum awning. Knock? Nah, we belong here, just barge in. As you open the back door, you can see down the dim hallway, past the master bedroom, into the kitchen. Why on EARTH does he use those low wattage yellow bulbs? I cannot see a damn thing. But I know where I am going.

The hallway smells like, well, like dirty socks, peanuts and light beer farts. That’s just the smell. Anything else and I would not recognize the place. Unless it is Thursday. Thursday is laundry day, and the sock smell will be gone. For a while. If you glance in the bedroom, there is a huge platform, with a skinny mattress on it. The headboard has some heat lamps sticking out of this crazy light fixture. They are on adjustable stalks, so you can position them. He claims it was for warming up wild nights with hot wimmen, but now, you know, the heat lamps are to warm the torn muscles, ease the pain of broken bones, give comfort to racing injuries from the past. Tatty old chair, and the TV. Damn the TV. If it weren’t for the TV, he’d get out more.

Pass into the kitchen, and it is almost right. Yep, there he is, Pearl Light beer in hand, grizzled, bald, cold, complaining. His hands hurt. He misplaced his glasses. Why didn’t I call first? Racing motorcycles is not kind to an old body.

But then you see it, and smell it. OMJs famous Spanish Rice. There’s a big pot on the stove. Who knows how long it has been boiling and simmering? And what’s inside it? Rice, tomatoes, chicken, sausage? I do not know, but he can tell you, exactly. To the teaspoon. It is duplicated exactly, every single time. And it always tastes the same.

“No No No, Charles, it is not ready, you have to wait! There is a formula. You are so impatient!”

We adjourn into the dining room. The chalkboard takes up the entire wall between dining and kitchen. Years ago we worked out jetting and timing advance on it. He taught his son mathematics there. We discussed gear ratios, and illustrated possible lines around tracks. Now, it is a giant phone book. People’s information stored on chalk, just to be handy.

We’ll sit at the table, I can picture the chairs. They are yellowish, with a floral pattern. Around a 50’s dinette. Or is it 60’s? Oh, and there are stacks of paper everywhere. There is junk mail here that’s older than I am. It may be kept for a number scribbled on the back, or the color was pretty, I do not know. If we could recycle all the old paper on that table, he’d probably be able to add another bathroom with the space regained. But we’ll just shove it aside, and sit and chat.

All the stories have been told. Someone got sick this year, and so and so won the GP in Macau, and did you hear about the new Japanese technology…. But I am not here for the stories. I am here for the comfort. Smelling the rice. Being in my friend’s house. Being able to sit and know, here is someone who believes in me.

Of course we cannot wait for the appropriate formulic time. We dip into the pot of rice early. Spoon up two bowls. Have another Pearl Light. Oh, it is delicious. Yellow saffron, rice, small bits of meat, tomatoes. Spicy, but not too hot. After it’s sat in the fridge a day or so, it will be even better tasting, but to sit in James’ kitchen with a fresh bowl of Spanish rice….

I live over 1,500 miles away now, in California. I have a nice house, a fiancée who loves me, and am surrounded by wonderful friends. But yesterday afternoon, really badly, to the point of tears, I wanted to not be on chemotherapy. I wanted to not have cancer, and I wanted to be in two places at once. I wanted this life I have, but I also really wanted to be able to sit in James kitchen. Where everything is okay. And the rice is really comforting. And have another Pearl Light, and talk about how dang fast Eric Falt is going this year, and discuss the merits of a 1964 Honda 305 Superhawk. Where Joe Galletti is just a phone call away to fix anything, and Chris Thomas can cheer me up by talking smack with Jim Learmonth. I wanted to be in James kitchen, with my friends, and a bowl of rice.

I just wanted to be okay for a little while. Where the film keeps running, and the blood cells don’t bubble and break down.

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