Monday, April 19, 2010

I Have Heat!

Maybe someday soon I'll generate some light. But I've been driving around all winter on the assumption that I need a new heater core (OK, I'm being metonymic or something. I mean my car needs the heater core, of course), and that it would either take days of my time (plus skin off my knuckles and a lot of frustration) or lots of money to replace it. Then I found this post on the Internet telling me what I wanted to hear. And I believed it.

Sure, I could be using this event to grasp at some deeper meaning. Like perhaps that my dealer is just trying to rip me off. Well, I dealt with that in my last post, plus these are the guys who gave me 300K miles in the first place. I think their diagnosis was just a generic bandwagon certainty, like medical diagnoses, and a lot of other diagnoses, for instance. It certainly doesn't mean I'm more clever than they are. Sure, I got lucky, but what the hell does that mean?

OK, so there's more. On the way over to Canada (hey, I apparently like border crossings, plus it's where I have access to a garage, and it's a nice day, and I wanted to see the beach . . . . ) where I was going to work on the car, I pulled off to the side of the road to let a siren squealing cop go by. But the cop pulled off after me, and the very nice officer told me I had gone through a red light. I know I had pushed the limit of yellow, but these intervals are pushing my limits, and I was pretty sure that I hadn't gone through any red light. It's not something I generally do, unless I'm really daydreaming. She let me off - I was grateful. More good luck!

My sister tells me that in Seattle now they just take your picture and you don't even get a chance to tell your story. Well, in this case, I think that would have played in my favor. Who knows?

I do know that without a mental picture of what was really going on with the heater core, I couldn't have fixed it. This is the same thing that enabled me to deal with stuck bolts and parts on the other old VW I'd been working on in Seattle when I was out there recently. The young fellow I was helping was almost certainly stronger than I am, but didn't have the experience of having done this particular kind of work before. Without that felt sense of how much ooomph it will take to crack a bolt, you're just wailing against a blank resistance, and are as likely to break something as to break it loose. Which in fact did happen plenty of times. I'm just sayin' . . .

That's what I was seeking out on the Internet. That's what's so difficult to find on the Internet - actual understanding when you go seeking recommendations to fix cars, say. Rather than pompous certainties from people who are reaching just like you are.

I'm going to try to hang back from pompous certainties myself, and am certainly not about to ask you to just believe me. To take my word for what I know. I can tell you that the picture in my mind, so to speak, involves what they call a vapor lock combined with an alternate path for the cooling liquid to take in case this path (through the heater core) is blocked.

Getting the air out turns out to be very tricky, since the hoses aren't at the highest spot on the car. But it does explain the strange pattern of sometimes some heat and sometimes none, which was happening in a way quite contrary to the theory offered by the dealer's mechanics, which led to the conclusion of a clogged heater core.  Indeed, clogged heater cores are a "known problem" with this car, and so why would they want to look any further?

You can see where I'm going with this, right? Wrong! I'm not about to second guess my medical diagnosis, although it was a bit disconcerting to call today and find the message saying "if you require advice about your blood thinner medication, you may dial 1 immediately," almost as though they were either targeting me with the message machine, or the whole world is now on blood thinner medication for some strange reason. OK, maybe I'm doing a little bit of second guessing, but I'm not about to stop the blood thinners. Yet.

So here's the way I think it goes. You can't really understand anything without some more or less narrative frame in which to assemble the relevant facts. Well, from which you can decide what's relevant in the first place. These narrative frames differ culture to culture, and over time in the same culture. I know this. It's what I studied in college, among other things.

So, I promised you a ghost story. It follows. First, though, I want to give a little context. This is a story I translated from the (classical) Chinese about thirty years ago, during that same period when I was living aboard my newly acquired old wooden sailboat. I did the translation while living aboard, as a matter of fact. And it was published, which makes it my only published writing, er, translation, I mean, you know, published and cataloged in the Library of Congress kind of published.

I should have picked one about foxes, which are often the ghostly apparition of lovely ladies, speaking of cross-cultural congruences, given the number of foxes, automotive and literal, which grace my life, and have graced it lately, but instead I give you a very generic ghost story. You will see that it reaches not only for sense in the form of strange happenstance, but you may not know that it does actually, historically, reach for narrative sense in the manner of a form to tell stories.

As in the West, storytelling is also the invention of the romantic in China, to make a mild pun, which I think simply means a kind of happy ending tale. Something to give a sense of where we're going, along with an enhanced desire to get there.

I guess that sense comes from making conclusions, shapes, points. Actually, though, sense comes from a kind of congruence between the facts "out there" and the metaphorical shapes with which you might contain those unruly facts in and by your mind. Narrative fiction must, in fact, conform to the shapes lots of people have, and these people have to want to read it. That, in particular, is where the dialogic part comes in. You can't get meaning all by yourself, I'm afraid. No, actually, I'm NOT afraid. Indeed, I'm so not afraid that I used to sleep in graveyards when I would travel by bike or motorcycle. They were always peaceful, and had mown grass to pitch my tent. But I digress.

At some future time, I'll write more about the interesting contrasts between Chinese and Western literary solutions, and how these remain quite evidently relevant to events in current history. It's pretty useful stuff. Well, not just useful, but downright critical, given the impending and potentially catastrophic occasions for misunderstanding cropping up around intellectual property, censorship, legal protections, teaparty anger and the like. But first, the story (next post).

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