On the Centrality of the No Helmet Law: A True Story

Once upon a time I was in graduate school. I studied history, which was an error. I should have studied anthropology. It doesn’t matter–it was a long time ago. I was in my 20s, and there were quite a few older students in the department. These “adult” learners were invariably interesting, having backstories and life experiences far richer than my own. One of these older students was Gary.

Gary was probably in his mid-late 40s at the time I knew him and he was a biker. Black leather jacket, boots, the whole deal. Gary was a live and let live kind of character, not the sort to get too worked up about pretty much anything. Except one topic. Helmet laws. Gary hated helmet laws. Hated them to the core of his being. On this topic and this topic alone he would become immediately vitriolic. A biker’s right to ride without a helmet was, to Gary, the very essence of freedom. It was the whole point of being an American. Gary was up to speed on the state of helmet laws pending helmet legislation all over the country. This was in 1999, and George W. Bush was running for president. What did Gary think about Bush? Well, he’d say, when Bush was governor of Texas he didn’t support efforts to pass a helmet law. Therefore, he’s a good dude. That’s it, I would ask? That’s all you need to know? That’s all I need to know, he said. Gary was a true single issue voter.

I marveled at the clarity, the pointillistic precision, of his politics. Would life be better or worse if approached in this manner, I wondered. For the most part it seemed life would be immeasurably better. To know what matters and have that thing be so easy to quantify and discern must free one’s mind up in so many ways. The truth was I envied Gary’s outlook.

Later that year Gary’s brother, also a biker, died in a motorcycle accident on a New Mexico mountain. It was a sad day for the department and for Gary. His brother was a biker and a cop, and I happened to walk past the church where the funeral was being held. There were dudes in Hell’s Angels jackets and cops in dress uniform side by side. Gary came by the graduate student office a day or two later. Yeah, he said, a funeral like that is the only time you’ll see bikers and cops side by side. He talked about his brother and how much he loved his motorcycle. I offered my condolences, but then curiosity got the better of me, as per usual.

“Gary, I have to ask, was your brother wearing a helmet?”

“Of course not. He died like he lived, free.”

“Does the accident make you think any differently about helmet laws?”

“If anything, it makes me more opposed to them. The right to ride without a helmet is what makes a biker a biker. Without that, we have nothing. My brother would feel the same.”

So there you had it.

=====

That was 20 years ago, and I still think about Gary and his views a lot. The Kinks tell us that it’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world except for Lola. Gary felt that is was a mixed up muddled up shook up world except helmet laws were the devil’s doing. My own life since meeting Gary has involved navigating one grey area, after another, after another…I still envy his moral clarity.

Un-facetiously, if you were to be a serious single issue voter, what would that issue be?

FIN

Works Cited:

The Kinks, “Lola”

Image Credit:

https://www.rideapart.com/articles/244878/will-albertas-helmet-exemption-for-sikhs-raise-insurance-premiums/

New Albums for January 2019: Better Oblivion Community Center

Well it’s a new year and we already have a nice batch of cool new records. This year I’m going to work on staying on top of new releases each week and listen to more new music than I have since 2003. That’s the goal. I won’t post super long write ups because the point here is just to flag up some good stuff for your consideration.

First up is:

Better Oblivion Community Center, s/t

A two-hander between the young and super talented Phoebe Bridgers (of boygenuis) and Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes). This is an efficient and across the board excellent set of songs. The duo harmonizes beautifully with Bridgers taking the lead on more than the half the songs. It has Americana tinges and fits nicely in Oberst’s canon, however also at times sounds more like the experimental indie rock on a band like The Walkmen (See “Exception to the Rule”). I miss the Walkmen.

The lyrics are excellent, raw, personal. The band sets the tone on the first song, “Didn’t Know What I Was In For” where we have this tongue in cheek verse:

I didn’t know what I was in for
When I signed up for that run
There’s no way I’m curing cancer
But I’ll sweat it out
I feel so proud now for all the good I’ve done

Followed by a quick retraction:

I didn’t know what I was in for
When I laid out in the sun
We get burned for being honest
I’ve really never done anything, for anyone

On the uptempo “Dylan Thomas” the band seems to nod to the angst-filled zeitgeist like a lot of art these days, but in a refracted, allusive, and clever way:

These cats are scared and feral
The flag pins on their lapels
The truth is anybody’s guess
These talking heads are saying
“The king is only playing a game of four dimensional chess
If it’s advertised, we’ll try it
And buy some peace and quiet
And shut up at the silent retreat
They say you’ve gotta fake it
At least until you make it
That ghost is just a kid in a sheet

It’s every bit as good as it sounds.

This record features plenty drinking, heartache, self-loathing, and snark–in other words all of the great themes of rock ‘n roll and there isn’t a down song in the bunch.

RIYL: Bright Eyes, Phoebe Bridges, Dawes, The Walkmen.
Start With: Didn’t Know What I Was In For, Dylan Thomas, Dominos.

I’m Reading Anais Nin’s Diaries

63C63FA0-BFB7-4149-8162-DF4ADB674C84.jpegSo basically I’ve been on hiatus after a decent spurt of fiction.  I apologize. In advance.

I could manufacture a list of excuses for the lack of content and all would be relevant. But the thing is, I’m reading Anais Nin’s 1947-1955 unexpurgated diaries called “Trapeze.”  That’s what I am doing.

Anais Nin is high level. Anais Nin is a dangerous writer. Anais Nin is fucking excellent.  Here is a little bit:

“One handles the truth like dynamite. Literature is one vast hypocrisy, a slant, deception, treachery. All the writers have concealed more than they have revealed.”

“My father died mad. He did not understand what happened to him. I want my suffering to be useful. I want the novel to teach life. I want the novel to accomplish what the analyst does.”

“Great lovers never trust each other.”

And…

“The diary cannot ever be published.”

So that’s it.  I’m reading Anais Nin. New material is on the way.

Works Cited/ Referenced:

Nin, Anais.  Trapeze: The Unexpurgated Diaries of Anais Nin, 1947-1955

Some Things I’ve Learned by 44: A Poem

6AD91397-DC97-465E-808C-E0BD7853ACF3.jpeg

There’s a lot I don’t know

and a few things I might

life’s a hell of a show

a bit tough to get right

well, some folks they want you

and other folks don’t

some folks they will

and other folks won’t

you’ll get plenty of chances

you’ll blow the best part

you’ll twirl at some dances

you’ll get shot through the heart

some folks you can trust

up to a point, more or less

others? trust’s a bust

they’ll split the joint, leave a mess

try and tell the truth

you’ll take blow after blow

don’t tell the truth and

no one’ll save your soul

anything’s possible, in dreams

who’s better than you?

everyone, it seems

but it just isn’t true

they’re all full of bull

faking til’ they make it

so just push when they pull

baby stand when they sit

cause no one knows shit

and everything’s thin

I’ve been around a bit

a never was, a has-been

but that ain’t you baby

it ain’t me anymore

no one can save me

I’ve outlasted the war

so all you got is today

and maybe not that

that’s all I’ve got to say

take the meat, leave the fat.

FIN

An Open Book: A Poem

Today on thekyotokibbitzer we are continuing with our excavation of the poetry on our first blog. As stated, we didn’t really know what we were doing when the blog kicked off, however one way or another some interested, and perhaps interesting, folks came around and contributed to the action. On of these was young Micheal Lyon, who I hear is still alive and kicking. Good on ya’ Mike.

A student in the English class of one John Innes, Mr. Lyon heard some stories in which I was included and these appear to have struck a chord. We wish to state, without equivocation, that all these stories are pure fiction. The purest.

Nonetheless, there is, as they say, perhaps “something of the spirit” in M. Lyon’s salvo and my subsequent response. In the interest of having our b-sides in print we are re-publishing the original piece in its entirety here. It’s an oldie, and a goodie.

Here’s the original:

Editor’s Note: For reasons passing understanding, one M. Lyon has decided that Mr. Thomas is a fit subject for a project in romanticization. To his great credit, he sent me a request for information in verse. I have posted his request and my response.
“M. Lyon‘s Project”
M. Lyon
Pt. I
I heard a legend of a man,
a man who was quite great.
He is the focal point of my master plan,
and the reason I’ve cleaned my academic slate.
I once heard he lived in a closet for a year;
only appearing at 4.
This mere fact made my purpose clear,
I must write fiction until I simply can write no more.
Pt.II
Yet there is a barrier in my path
simple lack of facts.
I need to know some info,
on a thing about your high school days.
I’ve abandoned my pattern,
and probably my meter,
but who gives a crap,
I’m just trying to get some facts.
Did you ever toss a man in a river?
perhaps on his birthday?
In freezing cold Washington,
on a Thursday? Tuesday? Maybe never?
Who’s to say?
All I know is this:
A story is brewing,
about a man who graduated in linen.
The story will forever go incomplete,
if I cannot muster some details.
About your senior year of high school.

Note: This is my response to Mr. Lyon’s project.

“An Open Book”
M.S. Thomas


Not really in the mood
but you’ll think me quite rude
if I don’t make a reply
around me on the plane
folks eat, are entertained
no one’s writing save I

So I’ll take a look back
to days at the dog track
where I ended up by mistake
thought we could beat the odds
just silly teenage sods
there was no money to make

I know not if J.I.
has spun a pack of lies
concerning my personhood
Yes, I wrote poems for girls
who told me they were pearls
ah–but they weren’t any good

About a cold river,
+ the rest of his quiver
of myths and exaggerations
Well…if someone was shoved
it was done out of love
or of congratulations

So to upstate New York
in a trenchcoat–what a dork
but the world took pity
the life there was fine
but naught was on the line
should have gone to the city

I did two things quite well,
needing something to sell
I wrote brilliant excuses
‘bout ridiculous capers,
couldn’t finish my papers
I claimed aces, held dueces

My second great skill
is one I hold still
I fell for crazy ladies
locals, Russians, and Turks
they all drove me beserk
with a boatload of maybes

Four years in the dorms
and countless reforms
led to little of note
I left sans a sob
a plan or a job
and without my trenchcoat

~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~

Here was M. Lyon’s response to my response to his project.

Read more

Half Hours on Earth: A Poem

Singapore, October 2018.

Over at @kyotokibbitzer on Periscope we like to “play the hits,” as any self-respecting radio station should. New content is, I promise, on the way soon, however in the meantime we are playing not so much the hits but rather the B-sides from my first blog Classical Sympathies. On Sympathies the longer pieces of linguistic anthropology got the most attention, followed probably by the pieces on the film My Dinner with Andre. There was some original poetry on the site as well, some of my own and some from talented contributors. It is, in my opinion, all worth looking back at.

Here is “Half Hours on Earth,” which I wrote in Auckland in 2009. There are a lot of mussels served in Auckland, incidentally.

The theme is pretty obvious; the poem is about an encounter, or, more precisely, an event, during which time, for me, compressed itself almost to a standstill. You have probably had this experience if you have been knocked of your bicycle by a car or something like that. When this happens over a half-hour, that’s a bit of a different guy.

Anyway, here is the poem, unchanged since it was written in 2009. I’ve always loved a good b-side. Hell, I even like the bad ones.

The quality of experience in half hours
is not uniform.
Some half hours are simply wasted
in others, something occurs
and leads into something else.
Other half hours pass quickly
they are maintenance,
but leave little residue.

Half hours on earth
what are they worth?
I don’t know.”

With the occasional half hour
something actually happens,
in the Raymond Carver sense,
something that matters.
The air is charged and thin,
butterflies roil one’s viscera
and something is on the line.

Half hours on earth
what are they worth?”

These electric half hours
even those isolated in time
are frightening, or better
giddily upsetting, and dangerous.
They sear themselves into the memory
more–they ripple the fabric of the cosmos.

Half hours on earth.”