Sunday, May 18, 2008

Perfection Among Mortals

Yesterday, I witnessed earthly perfection. I saw something that was profound enough to be one of those things that sticks with you for your entire life. I didn’t know it was coming when I woke up yesterday. However, by the time I went to bed last night I had something I can point at and say, “That is perfection!!!”

It started as Gail and I were backing out of the garage on our way to dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings. I had the car about 6 feet out of the garage when I looked over and saw a box sitting on the porch. I stopped, pushed the shift lever out of reverse, yanked the parking brake and ran over to find a heavy box that had originated in Oregon.

I handed it to Gail as I got back in the car. She cut it open to find my CT14 Foxtail Shoulder Plane had arrived from Bridge City. I hadn’t purchased one when they first came out, but a few weeks ago I got to hold one. As I held it, I listened as Bridge City Tool Works owner John Economaki spoke of his theory that beautiful tools serve as an inspiration to perform beautiful work. Holding it that night, I felt the magic, and finally placed my order for one.

Yesterday while driving to BW3’s I felt teased as Gail sat in the passenger seat telling me how pretty the Foxtail is, and telling me how heavy it is, and I could hear her playing with the locking lever and the wheel that holds the front part of the plane and allows for adjusting the throat.

Rather than taking it into the restaurant, I left the plane in the car. Gail said she would drive, and I could look at it on the way home. (I am actually a five year old kid trapped in the body of an old man, and Gail understands how to deal with me). With the Foxtail out in the car, Gail and I sat down at our table, and that is where I saw a thing of beauty and perfection. It was not brass and chrome; it was brown. As beautiful as the Foxtail may be, and as great as its design may be…it pales in comparison to what I saw as I ate dinner yesterday afternoon. Yesterday on the huge televisions inside BW3’s I saw The Preakness, and for me it took me back to Italian days in May from a few years ago.

I am not a horse person, but one didn’t need to be to recognize the perfect dominance of Big Brown in the race yesterday. Big Brown was the favorite. Big Brown was EXPECTED to win. Big Brown’s reputation mandated that anything other than victory was complete and total failure. The weird thing is that everyone involved in that race knew that except for the horses. Big Brown has no concept of his reputation. He just knew he was jogging. All of the way to turn four, Big Brown was a horse that was doing a fun run. Then, with the urging of his rider, Big Brown turned to the other gasping horses and said, “Kids, what do you say we stop this strolling along and make a run for the finish. I bet I can beat you.” And out of the fourth turn, Big Brown started running. Instantly The Preakness became a race with one amazing horse and a bunch of ponies struggling to see who could come in second.

I have only seen one other thing like that I can recall. Before his retirement a few years ago, I had the privilege of seeing the greatest bicycle sprinter of all time: Mario Cipollini. When Mario’s team would form up the train to lead him to the finish, it was the most beautiful thing in sport. It was perfectly orchestrated teamwork that would take control of a bike race to put Mario where he needed to be with 200 meters to go. And when his final leadout man, Giovanni Lombardi¸ pulled off there was never any doubt that Mario would end the day atop the podium. At his prime, Mario was a man among a peloton of boys. Yesterday took me back to the Giro d’Italia’s of old. Because at the fourth turn of The Preakness I saw an invisible Giovanni Lombardi peel off, and the Mario Cipollini of Thoroughbreds, a horse named Big Brown, allowed me to experience again the joy of seeing athletic perfection.

We mortals do not get to see perfection very often. My new Foxtail is nice, and I know John Economaki is happy with this tool he designed. And as much as Mr. Economaki hopes this beautiful tool will serve as a muse that inspires the highest level of craftsmanship, I don’t know if the Foxtail will ever move me to tears.

The following is a language censored quote from a scene (available on YouTube) from the film Vision Quest, one of my favorite coming of age movies from my youth:

Elmo: I was in the room here one day... watchin' the Mexican channel on TV. I don't know nothin' about Pele. I'm watchin' what this guy can do with a ball and his feet. Next thing I know, he jumps in the air and flips into a somersault and kicks the ball in - upside down and backwards... the ^%$damn goalie never knew what the %$# hit him. Pele gets excited and he rips off his jersey and starts running around the stadium waving it around over his head. Everybody's screaming in Spanish. I'm here, sitting alone in my room, and I start crying.


Elmo: That's right, I start crying. Because another human being, a species which I happen to belong to, could kick a ball, and lift himself, and the rest of us sad-assed human beings, up to a better place to be, if only for a minute... let me tell ya, kid - it was pretty %$#damned glorious.

Yesterday afternoon, a horse named Big Brown did that same thing to me. Out of nowhere as I sat at a sports bar in Michigan I started crying as I witnessed the glorious moment when another creature on this planet achieved a moment of perfection that lifted me to a better place.

It made me think that perhaps I have what it takes to follow those dreams I keep buried down inside. Perhaps this is my moment to drop down to 168 and take on Shute…

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