Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Alter egos, monkey, railroads and dark strangers

Night before last I watched a movie from 1946. See a Dark Stranger. It was black and white, set in Ireland and the Isle of Man, about spies and showcased Deborah Kerr. And there I sat turning my head when old UK trains happened in a scene. Many of those railroads (if they were in Ireland) disappeared in the 1960’s due to a move called “rationalisation.” Go figure. Don’t get me wrong, the plot of the movie was great and the acting was great. It is hard to believe that Irish people could hold a grudge about Cromwell as portrayed in the movie since he caused problems for them hundreds of years ago.

No it is not. Think about it. We have Islamic terrorists upset about ancient history, folks in the South still railing about losing a “civil” war (hard to believe a war might be defined “civil”, and in our own backyard folks who dislike the Clintons for various and sundry reasons. Heck, even a few folks who hate current Bush. So I guess it isn’t hard to imagine Irish folks hating Cromwell.

So my old monkey mind jumps from limb to limb and starts wondering, why do we hold onto some limbs as hard as we do? If we hold onto them long enough and we stop moving, right?

I’m guilty as charged. I am an expert at getting riled up and holding grudges. Current targets (today) include the Post Office, and Verizon support. I’ve been told to “let it go.” But it just feels so damn good having a target for my upset-ness.

I can only work with the facts that I’m given. In some instances I infer other facts that might be. Of course they might not be too. That usually lands me in trouble. Right now I’ve got a “minor” issue with a railroad wiring “problem.” Some people might say I’m facing a “challenge.” No way, it is a problem!

Sometimes when an engine goes down a section of track the electrical system goes into “SHORT” and shuts down. That’s no way to run a railroad! Last night after much hair pulling, testing, mumbling a few choice words and consternation, I think I found the problem. Only while going in one direction would a wheel, only on one loco tender touch two pieces of rail at a turnout (some folks call them switches) and cause a short. That means I have to move one piece of rail about .02 of an inch. A small bit between success and failure. And it is often a fine line between happiness and unhappiness.

By now you might see it coming. Much of our lives are spent assessing our reality making value judgments and then deciding whether to be happy or unhappy. Some of us are prone to even do this for others- without even being asked. I love to give away advice free!

I was convinced when I built that turnout that it was flawless. I’d checked it and double checked it. I’d run trains through it with no issues. Then months later I start having problems. I was convinced that I’d done absolutely everything correctly during construction. Everything. In a sense I had. The universe laughed and tossed a locomotive tender at me and said, “Chew on this!” I had to move the end of a rail a mere .02 of an inch. Two hundredths of an inch!

In our day to day lives the universe is full of surprises. The surprises are even more infuriating when we haven’t got enough facts to understand them. In my decades of life and decades of model railroading I’d never had a wiring problem that came down to such a small fraction of an inch. It was there waiting for me. Is it any wonder that I can’t fathom more complex systems or the inner machinations of interpersonal relationships? Which brings me to the Monk Ki tale of the day.

“Master Ho Ha! Master Ho Ha!” the thundering footsteps of Monk Ki are only fractions of an inch behind the bellowing voice coming down the hallway. Master Ho Ha, happy to be alone for a few moments reading a discarded issue of some American tabloid called TV Guide, sighs. “What now?”

“Master Ho Ha! Master Ho Ha! Are you in there?” Monk Ki’s voice rattles the door on its hinges.

“Never a moment’s peace. Just a minute, I’m sitting.” Master Ho Ha finishes sitting and flushes the toilet.

“What is it Monk Ki?” The old man slowly opens the door to see perhaps whether his student is on fire or just raving stark mad. No such luck, his student is standing there holding a photograph of some mountains.

“Look at this picture!” The photograph is thrust at the old man in a blur and stops so close to his face that he finds it impossible to view it. He grabs it and holds it at arms length.

“Yes, a photograph. Mountains. Nice.”

“Look closely! There, see?” A stabbing digit descends onto the picture. A few points in the halftone stand under the fingernail.

“Smudge?” The old teacher looks at his student.

“Anama Li!” his student smiles. “I found her.”

“I’m sorry, I just can’t see enough detail. I wish I knew more. If it is her, she certainly knows how to hide in the mountains.”

“I’m positive it must be her.”

“Everyone dreams. Did you know that in January 1986 there was a television show called “Murder She Wrote” and the broadcast told a story about some people who got sick from eating strawberry jam?”

Monk Ki looks up not knowing what to say. “Anama Li!”

“Ah yes, she is sweet. Just like jam. I wish I had seen this television show. Sounds like wonderful entertainment. Thank you for showing me your picture if that is Anama Li it certainly is not her best photograph. I wonder if we have any jam in the pantry.”

And so often that is the story of my life. I’m always hoping for a story in the little details. The story might be there I’m just not good enough to see it.