1. The seventies launched the age of test scores. At school we took SRA tests, math and reading placement assessments, scoliosis and eye exams. At home there were confirmation study cards, body language and handwriting analyses.
2. For a full year, the four of us traced—and made minor life decisions based upon—our biorhythm cycles. Whether our energies were compatible with each other, or whether more than one of us were having might determine a trip to Great Adventure or if went to China Star resturant for lo mein and egg rolls.
3. The I.Q. tests began when I was 10, partly to have fun and partly to satisfy dad’s curiosity in eugenic connections in our intelligence. Other fathers and sons might go to ball games or shoot animals from tree tops. We administered I.Q. tests on each other.
4. The one I remember specifically was when I scored higher than him, something like my 138 to his 137. A real squeaker.
4a. “It makes sense,” he said, checking the answer key. “You have superior Aryan genes on your mother’s side as well as mine. You’re advancing the race.”
5. This is how approval tasted in our home, and I ate it up. Each mention of an eugenic edge I had over my peers was absorbed. There was an odd game I played in my head distinguishing between high abstraction and paternal pride, between exaggerations said for the benefit of the adult who said it and a genuine pep talk. But the logical way was not my way; perhaps luckily for me, I engaged with the world for humor first, and dealt with the logic later.
6. We sent away for membership information from Mensa, a society for people with super-high IQs. I felt happy that dad might belong somewhere, other than books and watching reruns of Meeting of Minds, the Steve Allen talk show in which actors played historical figures from different eras and discussed topics of the day. Maybe he’d find friends, a group of people he can relate on his level.
7. Our I.Q. results solidified a mythology I’d built around him as a noble savage shaman who, armed with just a high school degree and a stack of books, could outwit so-called ‘intellectuals.’
8. I picture him in one of those cliché scenes from action movies, the clunky exposition device in which a villain’s gendarme open up the antihero’s classified dossier—passport photo, transcripts, special-ops training photos, dishonorably discharched stamped on top.
8a. “You don’t seem to want to accept the fact you’re dealing with an expert in guerrilla warfare, with a man who’s the best, with guns, with knives, with his bare hands,” Richard Crenna’s character, Colonel Sam Trautmen, puts it to his superiors about the renegade John Rambo.
8b. (I had memorized and recited this in college.)
8c. “A man who’s been trained to ignore pain, ignore weather, to live off the land, to eat things that would make a billy goat puke.”
9. Dad made plans to attend a Delaware Valley Mensa’s Philosophy and Discussion Group on Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I knew dad read the best-selling philosophical novel-essay, subtitled An Inquiry Into Values, about “the fabulous journey of a man in search of himself.”
9a. Framed around a father-son motorcycle journey from St. Paul to San Francisco, Motorcycle Maintenance seemed like the perfect book for both of us to discuss. We could talk about, I dunno, maybe repairing motorcycles as a Zen activity, Plato and Kant, and new words like gestalt and Chautauqua, which I took to be a long conversation about something intellectual.
9b. Here’s my index card review:
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Pirsig, Robert M.
A mysterious trip through the mind of the author takes us from deep, philosophical thoughts to the weak plot desperately trying to keep throughout the story. Covers many things such as classical and romantic thought and how these collide as well as blend. What the book is in reality an essay or treatise on anything under the sun. The book is for me at this time very hard to read, but I believe I have received the general messages of the story.
10. I scanned through the second half of the book the night of his meeting, understanding little, to prepare for our own discussion group the next morning. Over breakfast, I asked him about the Mensa meeting.
10a. “I left early,” he says. “It was just a bunch of people bullshitting.”
10b. He hated the way the people talk, how they prefaced their remarks with “Basically,” which he imitates in a drawn-out moan: Baaaaa-sically.
11. I now imagine the way Delaware Valley Mensans spoke as the equivalent to how some of my professor colleagues and writer-friends, who adopt that strange upper-class tick of saying “sort of” and “kind of” as they finesse points in an interview or lecture.
12. I imagine dad traveling through time to attend one of my faculty meetings or readings, how his skin might curl, too, from these overwrought performances, the drinks clutched under glass bottoms, the forced affability.
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ratsandpharmacists.wordpress.com)
- This is NOT Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance (tinkeringfool.wordpress.com)