Are we off-center? Is that a bad thing?

Eccentric? Good!

Recently I needed to unlock the hubs of my 1972 Jeep Commando to get her back into two-wheel drive without engaging my transfer cases and causing friction and wasting gas. This is an old 4-wheel drive SUV, and that’s what you need to do every spring (and in the fall, rotate them the other way, to the right to engage 4-wheel drive) – you don’t shift gears, you need to get out and rotate the hubs. It got me thinking about wheels, and axles. Axles are dead-center in a wheel, and do nothing but rotate the wheels on the road. They’re centric.

But to move the axles, you need a transmission connected to an engine that’s driven by parts that are eccentric (meaning, off-center) – the cams in a camshaft. Cams have their axles off-center, and they work because they’re not round and they move piston rods up and down or transfer rotary motion into linear motion in some way. The only way to create the dynamic motion in an engine to make it run is with cams. They’re round-ish, but more egg-shaped, and their axles are off-center, and that’s what imparts force and creates change.

 

Off-center in Maine

How does this get us to the people we’ve met and know in Maine? Easily. Mainers, you are blessed. You (we) are a community of people who are significantly off-center. My mechanic who spent hours searching for a fuel filter on our old Italian scooter, buried deep within the bowels of its engine, just to know where he could find it. Guys we’ve hired to do stuff on our property talking your ear off. A friend who would only eat cheese and bread. A dear (late) friend who wanted to haul me off to eat oysters and drink Bloody Marys at 3 in the afternoon. Many others with one quirk or another. Most of them are and were Maine born and bred, and are those we value especially highly. It’s a huge long list, and I know you have your own. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else in this country – so much genius, originality, spirited individuality, and quirkiness packed into one little corner of the U.S.

 

The wheel. It spins. That’s it.

 

 

Wheels and cams, such very different mechanical beasts, slide metaphorically right into 2016 politics. As I see it, though Bernie Sanders was anything but an eccentric person, his platform was a major league cam. Strongly off-center, far away from business as usual. Trump has shown himself to be both a wildly eccentric person and someone with a wildly eccentric, cam-like platform. Hence his appeal to voters who were sick of the same old stay-the-course shit and who wanted to “stir the pot.” Clinton stayed centric. Centric doesn’t change things. Sure, she wavered a little to the left, a little to the right depending on her audience at the time, but she was assiduously dead-center — which implies no change. The round wheel on the centered axle that does nothing. She lost.

Change happens in one’s life through eccentric effects. We best remember old friends, relatives, teachers or mentors who were “real characters.” We best recall conversations which were provocative, unusual, different. We most value dynamic energy that fires off sparks – not some round thing spinning uselessly in the air. And we know that nearly every inventor, scientist, writer, artist, politician and visionary in history who gave a kick in the butt to our world did so through their eccentricity.

A hawk hits the windshield. Then what?

Driving south on Rte 1 toward Brunswick last weekend, a pickup truck struck a low-flying hawk – right on the windshield. The truck continued on – a kind of a centric behavior that many others would consider normal. The injured hawk tumbled over onto the shoulder while the truck continued on, spinning its wheels.

Behind the truck was a caravan of cars that were ferrying a group of dancers down to a performance in Portland. The first car stopped by the hawk. The remaining cars did the same. The dancers got out, gently carried the hawk into the woods off the road and made it comfortable. They patted its feathers, stroked its head. Choreographer Kea Tesseyman, leader of the group, offered up a prayer. Another dancer sang gently to it. Only after the bird died did they return to their cars.

The unexpected, the unanticipated imparts a fresh energy to what’s around us. Acting off-center, however slight it may be, is at the very least a gentle nudge to the world, ripples through it in ways we may never fully understand or appreciate.

There it is.

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Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, humorist, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.