Monday, May 31, 2010

Wheels: Part 2

Before those fracases between this boy and his motorized machines, skateboards came on the scene. I don’t know exactly who first thought of the idea; perhaps it began in California. All I know is the big kids on the block started toting pieces of two-by-sixes with roller skates screwed or nailed into them. Us younger kids in my neighborhood found a long two-by-four and affixed a couple of pairs of roller skates to it and the entire block of kids (I don’t remember the actual count) climbed aboard and headed down the street. My friend and I were the last to fall off. Being a child of limited athletic prowess, I saw skateboarding as a new potential competitive advantage. My father may have recognized this too; whatever his motivation, my dad graciously bought me a red steel-wheeled skateboard at the local department store. I’ll never forget the piles and piles of the cloned board on sale there—a clear example of American capitalism at its best. Once in hand, I wasn’t about to test my new board on just any sidewalk; so I asked (whined, bugged, and nagged) my brother to drive me to the infamous Coonsmiller hill—a formidable downhill run in front of the local high school of the same name. My brother had earlier ridden successfully down this same incline on his top-flight rubber-wheeled board carrying a girl on his shoulders; he even got his picture in the newspaper (my brother did all the cool stuff—although our mother didn’t think so). Naturally I viewed Coonsmiller hill as the only acceptable venue for my new skateboard’s maiden voyage. Standing on the top of the precipice kind of took one’s breath away. It wasn’t so much the initial plunge that unnerved me—although it was terrifying--but the right-hand turn at the end that I needed to negotiate into a large driveway where delivery trucks entered to bring supplies to the school. My brother did it with a girl on his shoulders, so a scrawny kid on a brand new piece of equipment should be able to do it—no problem. I would never know because about half way down I hit an eruption in the sidewalk. I vaguely recall seeing, out of the corner of my eye, splinters of red painted wood, ball bearings and screws flying out from beneath my board as I leapt for the safety of the lawn. “Dad’s going to kill you,” my brother intoned as he inspected the damages. But as you can see, my dad didn’t kill me; in fact, he bought me my own top-flight rubber-wheeled skateboard for Christmas that year. I would use that board in many adventures until I grew out of the pastime. It was a fine piece of engineering. However, unlike today’s boards, my old rubber-wheeler couldn’t tolerate even tiny grains of sand on the sidewalk. Even the slightest amount of sand would stop the skateboard dead—the skateboard, that is, the rider kept right on going. But despite its short-comings, my skateboard was fast and relatively agile. All my years of honing my skateboarding skills would eventually come to fruition when I successfully surfed the waves off of Waikiki beach during a college vacation in Hawaii. But that’s another story.
My experiences with skateboarding provide a great metaphor for the price of excellence. It is all too easy for us to skimp on cost for critical tools in our lives, or take short-cuts in our education, or, most importantly, treat our relationship with God as only a Sunday morning fix. We will discover that the price of replacements and repairs of cheap tools far exceeds the initial cost of high-quality products. Trying to learn something by taking short-cuts, avoiding tiresome exercises, or attending schools having poor reputations will leave us uncompetitive and frustrated in our work world and struggling to keep pace with our peers. Treating God as someone we encounter only on Sunday mornings will leave us spiritually dead. Jesus put it this way:

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!”

Monday, May 24, 2010


[This new story is a slight departure from my usual fair in that it is true. And I would like to dedicate it to my father, Arthur R. Kokko. As always, the reader will have to come back to the blog every Monday to get the entire story. Racers, start your engines!]

Everything’s a metaphor. I wasn’t the first to say this. Some wise person, I don’t recall who, once said it. It’s true. We can discover truths about our world, what we are, who we are, and why, by simply uncovering the many allusions that exist with people, places and things. We often overlook this vast resource of wisdom because most of us are too busy striving to be the other guy’s metaphor. I rekindled my own interest in metaphors when I purchased one. I bought a sports car.
The fact that I was middle aged at the time was purely coincidental. You think not? I’ll have you know that I am the poster child of safety. I avoid risky behavior at all costs. I even hate roller-coasters. So how does a sports car with all its pent up mayhem draw a person like me, who is quite at home in the hub, to venture out onto the wheel. I don’t know…. Okay, it was a mid-life crisis. In all fairness, though, I have always loved fast wheels—especially if I’m in control.
My first car was a dull gray peddle-car. I don’t know the specific model of car it was supposed to be, but I didn’t care because it was my first ride. I’ve been told that I had spent hours with a hose and sponge trying to make her shine, but to no avail. There’s definitely a metaphor in there somewhere. I’ll leave it to the reader, though, to ponder what that metaphor might be.
A little later in my childhood, I went through a phase of collecting and coddling Matchbox cars. These were the originals made precisely to scale by Lesney Products in England. I sold my pristine collection for about an order-of-magnitude gain over the initial investment. Not bad, but I should have saved the boxes. I would have profited even more had I saved my meager Hot Wheels collection. But Hot Wheels were my expendable cars that I would paint and crash without mercy; hence I bequeathed to myself only a painful memory not unlike what someone today must experience as they recall the time they traded in their low mileage ’67 Mustang for a new Pinto.
In my Tween years I graduated to gas powered model cars; the first one being a replica of the famous Ford GT. The car was so fast that the only way you could use it was by tethering it and watching it morph into a blue ribbon until the gas ran out. Not much fun, but very visceral. The second was a dune buggy that came with changeable gears. I spent most of our short tenure together cleaning its fickle engine and polishing its blue metal fleck finish, while trying to figure out some way of making it go faster than 0.00001 mph. I later sold it in a rummage sale. I didn’t tell those naive new owners that they could start the buggy going, have lunch, and return an hour later to find it had advanced only about two feet. Perhaps they wouldn’t have cared; not everyone buys vehicles for speed and performance. And doggone-it, the toy looked really cool. I never heard from them, so I guess they were happy.
One could probably glean many profound metaphors from my early exploits with cars. Collectively, I see them as a metaphor for transcendent value. What I mean is this. We have come to believe value is a subjective expedient of the moment. It isn’t. Value is both objective and transcendent. Value is found with a rarified heart, like that of a child. Value is lost to us and distorted by our expectations and jaded cynicism. But value remains true and constant, even though our perception and appreciation of it changes.