There once was a time
meant something to me
NOTES: Got the news today that Robert Pirsig has died. When his book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” was published in 1974, it became an unlikely best seller, and an iconic work as the counterculture was fading away.
Like many a child of the 1960s, I read the book, and pondered its ponderous philosophy of “Quality.” As the son of a mechanic, I resonated with his idea the “classical” personality, who pays close attention to his machine and makes sure it runs at peak efficiency. I wanted to be like that.
But I realized I fell more into the category Pirsig calls the “romantic personality,” that was more focused on living in the moment at the expense of rational analysis.
To this day I’m not sure if “Motorcycle Maintenance” is a great work on the level of Plato, or a pop phenomenon. But I sure thought a lot about it.
The primary reason I perked up my ears when I heard the news today is more poetic than philosophical.
You see, the very first date I went on with my wife was at the Blue Heron Café in Minneapolis, a hippy-dippy veggie establishment that was operated by Pirsig’s ex-wife, Nancy James.
Who needs online dating services?! The first time I saw my future wife, she was glowing. Honest to Pete. She was bathed in a golden aura, sitting a darkened auditorium, listening to the chaplain of the U.S. Senate speak about living “the deeper life.” We were both independently reading St. Augustine’s Confessions. (Is that weird or what?) We were both footloose and fancy free and unencumbered by any other relationships.
After I finally screwed up the courage to ask her out, among other things, we discovered that we had the same favorite restaurant in common — the aforementioned Blue Heron.
So, of course, we had to go there for dinner there on our first date. Which we did. I do not remember the main course, but I do remember drinking a bottomless glass of herbal iced tea.
Then on to the second part of the date, the initial screening of the German World War II movie, Das Boot.
In case you don’t remember this classic, starring Juergen Prochnow, 90% of it took place on a German submarine. Close quarters, high tension, and lots of dripping water. Lots of water.
I was quite sure that it being a sophisticated foreign film, there would be an intermission when I could go to the restroom and relieve myself of all the iced herbal tea.
When the movie was finally over, and the final sub was sunk, we both sprinted for the bathrooms.
Quite the romantic first date.
Somehow we survived this inauspicious beginning, and 35 years later are still together.
So, tonight, I raise a glass of herbal tea to you, Robert Pirsig. Godspeed.