Little noted in anthropological circles is the kinship between the preindustrial, bush animist and the modern, urban, apartment dweller (sub-species homo sapiens apartmentopithecus). The animist, desiring light, might rub two sticks together and petition the god of fire; seeking information, put his ear to the ground and wait for vibration. Apartmentopicthecus, in need of light, flicks a kind of stick by the door, invoking the wall god Electra (of the city); searching for information, he puts his ear to a phone and receives waves. In difficulty, the animist calls on the powers of the shaman. Awash in sea of troubles, apartmentopicthecus calls the all knowing Super (intending many things, but quick resolution of the troubles not likely). How well it is that either understands the nature of the forces relied on is a matter to be considered.
So it is that Newbie Mr., recently of home-owner designation, but of the apartmentopictheci in origin and by longstanding let there be no doubt, confronts the operation and maintenance of his and Newbie Ms.’s new 37 foot motor home.
It has been suggested to Newbie Mr., by the way, that he provide some sort of name for what is rather too generally and commercially classified as a recreational vehicle. He had suggested “Gladys,” but was reminded by the Ms. that such is the name of Cheryl and Eli’s darling pit bull. Of late, he was inclined toward Moondog; however, given the MH’s existing for the Mr. as something of a black box, the inner workings of which remain an awesome mystery, he is more currently inclined, in homage to the late, great Kubrick, to regard it as Obelisk.
Newbies Mr. and Ms. have apparently begun their journey in probably a full year’s haste – and dangerously so.
Obelisk, then, when approached as to its operation offers up the following. There is, to begin, a rather surfacy CD of epic Demillian dimension. Of certainly greater penetration is the collection of operating manuals, probably 30 in number (with one or more manuals for each system of the vehicle), occupying a canvass carrying case larger than President-elect Obama’s national security briefing book. Somewhere about page 75 of the primary operating manual – and days after taking up habitation in Obelisk – one encounters the injunction not to operate the motor home until one has read all of the manuals. Newbies Mr. and Ms. have apparently begun their journey in probably a full year’s haste – and dangerously so.
For even more delightful than the sheer breadth of what awaits in the pages of operation is the tone in which guidance is offered. Nearly every page enjoins the reader, with the aid of the frightful and trianglularly enclosed exclamatory warning and danger sign, that engagement in the activity one is about to begin can have dire consequences. Indeed, drawing open a cupboard door in the kitchen area – and from what area of living does one hope to receive greater comfort? – Newbie Mr. is greeted on the inner part by fully three blaring triangles and exclamations explicitly declaring “Danger! Warning! Danger!” (Hal? Is that you? Hal?) Getting anything wrong, one is clearly meant to be informed, is an unhappy event that can lead not only to “serious injury,” but also – just so you know – “death.”
Well, okay, then.
Thus it is that Newbie Mr. approaches, for instance, the operation, for the first time, of the water heater, which may or may not have a pilot light or electric igniter, may or may not operate by electricity or propane gas or both, and may or may not be 6 or 10 gallons, all depending on Newbie Mr.’s particular motor-home model and floor plan, device manufacturer, and personal astrological sign. It would perhaps worry the Mr. less were it not that the manual, in obligatory operating instructional manner, directs him to initiate operation by employment of the “remote” on/off switch without deigning to inform him of where the remote switch is remotely to be found. And, of course, triangles nearly hover in the air.
With the initial engagement of each system, then, Newbie Mr. is put in mind of the observing physicists at Alamogordo, during that first nuclear test in 1945, when, theoretically, they could not be entirely certain that
the splitting of the first atom would fail to start an atmospheric chain reaction that could incinerate the earth. (Admirably – particularly of those inclined toward incineration – they possessed the ironic detachment to place bets on the outcome.) The Mr. reaches for each switch and knob recalling J. Robert Oppenheimer as he gazed fearfully at that first mushroom cloud, himself recalling at the moment the Bhagavad-Gita, when he muttered, “I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.” Newbie Mr. is faintly comforted to know that any erroneous gesture by him – freighted now with such cataclysmic possibility – will leave him neither subject to remorse nor available for recrimination.
Banning, California; November 2008
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