Brake, Broke, Broken

We stop to fix our brakes, a spider and our focus…

A recent day-trip ended with the discovery of fluid sprayed out on the pavement under the car’s front right wheel. I’ve seen it all before, and the prognosis is terminal: a leaking brake line complicated by a drained bank account.

In a way, the news came as a double-edged blessing. It’s gonna’ cost me, and I’m indefinitely grounded. However, this also means my car’s many driving duties are on hiatus, and I, too, being the only driver, can enjoy a vacation from traffic and urgent favors. Now I walk. I walk where I want, and for my own purposes only. For me, now, poverty is a refuge. It’s just too bad that they took out all the barbeque pits here in Kingston – a walk through the woods and a barbeque is this man’s idea of wealth. My refuge is now a renovated cage.

The car has a pinhole leak in the brake line, which, without repair, bleeds pressure from the hydraulic system controlling the calipers that squeeze the brakes. No pressure, no brakes.

A brake line’s pressure conducts force, behaving like an incredibly flexible solid; a push-rod capable of taking any turn without buckling. That is, so long as the brake fluid is under pressure – otherwise it wilts into an impotent trickle.

I know of the workings of brakes from any of the last several times this has happened. And from one time specifically, when driving pizza. That night was saved by cutting the left hose completely off, screwing a body screw straight up the end and clamping it tight. An amputation, then ligation. The brakes started working again on the remaining side, and although tugging a bit to right when braking, were safe to get me home.

My story doesn’t stop there.

Months later, at a local grocery store, a black widow spider found its way to a load of fruit, which eventually found its way to my brother. He kept the spider well as pet until one day when it came to a protracted halt in its cage. Upon investigation my brother found that its exoskeleton had been punctured in the abdomen by a ne’er-do-well earwig. My brother called me, and I called the internet for answers.

Although there weren’t many pages on Spider Repair, many references were quick to point out that spiders work partly on hydraulics. A puncture resulting in too much blood loss is terminal for a spider; which seemed the likely outcome in this case, as our spider was immobile. Desperate times called for desperate measures. It needed repair, and we were the ad hoc hacks.

We anesthetized the spider by cooling it in the fridge slightly – it was a black widow spider. We needed a hole-patching material that was tolerable to the spider’s bloodstream. (I feel it important to note that an episode of the old Star Trek series comes to mind called “The Devil In The Dark”, involving a maternal silicon-based lifeform, the phrase “NO KILL I”, a Vulcan mind-meld – “PAIN!!” – and some quick-setting plaster). Knowing that humans can use Krazy Glue as stitches for broken skin, we proceeded to place a single neat drop over the wound in the spider’s tiny abdomen. It worked, and the spider recovered completely, saved by the metaphor.

The glue is the screw; the exoskeleton of the spider is skin; the cold is the anesthetic; the legs are the brake’s calipers; surgery is repair, and so on.

The point of this story is the point of metaphor itself, and ultimately all of my work here or elsewhere: metaphor is an equation in principle. Find the same principle in one subject, and that knowledge base can be translated through metaphor into another. These translations have a strong mathematical quality to them, like the one we all(?) explored as children when we translated the concept of a house into that of a box, carrying with it the concept of door. We ignored the many differences in shape, size and material, yet all of us, independently, somehow arrived at the same equation. [If you didn't play in this way with boxes, you really missed out.]

The universe started out with a small number of principles and nothing new appears to have arrived since. A handful of dimensions, material states and mathematical operations provides for the essence of many of our words – for example, a stream, roughly put, is a fluid movement (distance over time) of a series of points (A.K.A.: line segment) along another series of points. Substitute “fluid” with “fixed” and you begin to define words like “chain” or “train“. And in the cognitive process, the concepts of liquid and solid freely transform themselves through metaphor, readily becoming grouped with distance and time in metaphors like “stream of consciousness” or “train of thought“.

On a broader level, take the fields of transportation and communication: the two involve all(?) forms of movement, the first of a mass, the second, essentially, a movement of energy (signal). The two are so similar in principle that we use metaphors like ‘information superhighway’ ,(CNN’s) ‘Pipeline’, ‘streaming video’, ‘computer port’ or ‘data bus’. Down to the finest details, transportation and communication parallel each other. Why not? Even light itself, as old as the Big Bang, is both particle and wave – a moving mass and moving energy. And whether one is speaking of transportation or communication, a distance between two points must be traversed. The universe’s roots are always showing.

We are so firm in our belief that “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” that we made it into law. Thus, however complex it may appear to us now, everything that has occurred since the inception of the universe is simply some form of compounded reaction. Knowing that all things, then, are descendant of the Big Bang (or if you wish, Creation), and aware that there has been no new cosmic blood since the dawn of time (another law), we can say with human certainty that all things in the universe are related to each other through that first moment: the universe is full of cousins.

We call these cousins metaphors. It is our open-mindedness that allows us to see them freely, and our divisions that blind us to them. The cousins we choose to hang around with at any given time can help us place ourselves – as a society, or as individuals therein. The study of this specific aspect of contemporary metaphor is the very purpose of The Metaphor Observatory.

However, the study of universal geneology must take a break. A green fog currently obscures the Observer’s lens – my brakes are broken, and I am broke. Ironically, my life is at a standstill because my car won’t stop.

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