Monday April 1, 2013

I guess I find a certain symmetry to life. We enter it helpless and, usually, we leave it that way. I only put one diaper on my father, but doing so made me think of his diapering me almost half a century earlier. The only real difference is that he used cloth.

Symmetry in life doesn’t have to be so stark. There is good evidence that humans and many other animals use it to judge physical attractiveness. Trust me. If both halves of your face look the same, you’re ahead of the game. S/he should find you more attractive. Why? We don’t know for sure, but a symmetrical body and face might indicate good basic developmental genes. Any kids will get those. My nose has a curve to it. Let’s just say it’s been an uphill battle.

There’s another kind of symmetry in life. We start slow, speed up, and then slow down again. That’s one reason many of us relate to the various "extremes" on TV. Extreme makeovers of any kind grip us. Extreme sports, for example, make us either reach for our snowboards, or reminisce about when we had reached for our skis. For those of us a little longer in the tooth, there are all those memories and the "why when I was your age, young fella, I could ...."

Recently, I went with a friend to look at a possible new bike for him. Everything was right: it had low mileage, had been well maintained, and was just a beautiful machine. His eyes were wide, his pulse was up, and small beads of sweat collected on his brow. He was done. But while sitting on it he had a little trouble locating the hard-to-reach side stand. He started to lean the bike without the stand’s being down. What followed was not very dramatic because he has strong legs. He kept the thing from toppling, and then pretty calmly got the stand down. But he had learned something. It’s a heavy bike -- maybe 80 pounds heavier than what he rides now. A big, heavy motorcycle can fall over pretty fast.

I find that I’m starting to think about a different bike, too. Oh, there are a lot of reasons. But maybe the real reason is that I think I need/want something lighter, with a lower center of gravity. My beloved BMW is way up there, with a seat height of almost thirty-four inches. It’s also got a big gas tank that when full adds to its "height." Like all motorcycles, when it’s rolling, it’s rock steady, but when those stabilizing, spinning wheels slow or come to rest, more of the bike is put in the rider’s hands, legs, and firmly planted feet. Sooner or later, an aging cyclist finds it a little harder to hold up more, sometimes a lot more, than a quarter ton of steel, aluminum, and plastic. A boy would have the same problem, but we’re good to go from 20 to 60. There’s that symmetry again.

Right now, I think I might ride through another season as is. But when it comes to a new, all-purpose motorcycle I have to face another set of problematic questions. Maybe chief among them, is whether I go with my head or my heart. The heart says I should find something exotic and different. That’s where those wonderfully romantic Italians like Motto Guzzi and Ducati come in. Even the staid British (via Triumph) are tugging with their replica bikes on something we might call our nostalgia circuits. The new Triumph Bonneville looks a lot like the old one, right down to the fake carburetor in the new one. Essentially, it’s the same motorcycle ridden by Steve McQueen’s stand-in in the classic WW II movie, "The Great Escape."

Counter that with a "sensible" Japanese bike. Honda has just produced a smaller, lighter motorcycle that gets great gas mileage (that appeals to the nature boy in me) but has all the design elements of the generic bike that it is. It’s gray and silver. How sensible. It has a handy cavity where the gas tank should be (the tank is below the seat, lowering the center of gravity). Your whatever can go in there. Sensible. "It’s just a big scooter," fume the diehard motorcyclists out there. So? Did I mention that it runs on regular? Let’s see now: maybe 70 mpg AND twenty cents less per gallon. Doesn’t that leave something left over for a trip somewhere? Yes it does, but what about that very sensible, modest acceleration?

And that’s the final symmetry in life. We’re born pretty dumb and some of us, in spite of our mothers’ best efforts, end up that way, too.

Bob Engel lives in Marlboro with his motorcycles, wife and cat.


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