Southern Rail: Confessions of a fussbudget
December 24, 2012
Filed under Editorially Speaking
I have a disease that I don’t really talk about and that few know I’m afflicted with. But if you spend any time in my presence, the debilitating affects of this chronic problem are quite obvious. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce apprehension. This uneasiness is combated by the sick person (that would be me) through a combination of obsessions and/or compulsions.
Some OCDites engage in excessive hand washing or cleaning (not me; I wear the scooter grease under my fingernails with pride). Others are given to nervous rituals such as opening and closing a door a certain number of times before entering or leaving a room (nope, not me; living in a tent for years has pretty much eliminated the importance of doors). Some sufferers engage in unrestrained hoarding (not me, although I do maintain an extensive archive of at least three copies of everything I’ve ever written, you can still navigate through my shop and office and I don’t own even one cat). And while a preoccupation with religious, violent or sexual thoughts is common (and I was once a licensed minister), I’m not a man noted for having an excessive temper. And a preoccupation with sex—jeez, that’s a disease? So while some of the above symptoms may be borderline in my case, there is one that stands out above all the others—an inordinate attention to detail.
In times past I’ve tried to attribute such nitpicky behavior to my training in mechanical engineering. But it definitely goes beyond anything I learned in college. I do not have any problem with taking a project and twisting it through the millions of brain cells I have left (hopefully) for a few weeks before even putting pencil to paper. And then, after finally making that crucial commitment to take up ruler and protractor, taking that initial design drawing through a rigorous assessment, reevaluating different parameters of scale and angles, scribbling through a ream of paper in the process. I recently completed just such a project designing a new part for one of my Harleys. In the end, after a month’s long design process coupled with more than a week of fabrication trial and error, I ended up with a front brake line bracket that measures 3/4″ wide and less than twice that in length. Cost effective, no; not in the least. I could have bought one formed by a punch press in China, had it dipped in chrome and shipped halfway around the globe and saved myself countless hours of frustration and exhaustive analysis. But this finished piece of merchandise is one that came from the dark recess of my own mind, was filtered through my personal OCD regimen and then crafted by my own greasy fingernails. And no one else has one. I can build you one, if you have the time. Funny thing is, I mounted that bracket on a fork slider that leaks oil terribly. And I don’t have a problem with that. But that damn bracket had to be just right.
I once took the bottom mud flap skirt off the front fender of my Road King and spent more than two days carefully trimming 3″ off its stock length with a hacksaw and then hand filing it to a factory finish. Remounted it just appears as a 1/2″ wide strip of light gauge aluminum. I can build you one if you have time.
My latest project entails the construction of a set of custom leather saddlebags. Styled in the shape and size of a set of FLH fiberglass bags, they will feature interior lighting, a retractable spring-loaded lid tether and internal shelving. I’ve been working on the design and execution for a little over nine months now. And I’m almost finished—with the first one. The second side should go much quicker and may be finished in half the time as the first one. Want a set? How much time do you have?
Despite all this irrational behavior, OCD is often associated with above-average intelligence (see, there’s an upside to all this). And while I openly confess to being saddled with the idiosyncrasy of a high attention to detail, there are other personality quirks of OCD that must be maddening. These include the avoidance of risk taking, the tendency to take an inordinate amount of time to make a decision and an exaggerated sense of responsibility. But those three crippling traits will never be included in my collection of medical maladies—not as long as I continue to jump on my risky motorcycle at a moment’s notice and escape the shackles of maturity and a normal lifestyle. If I ever become paranoid at the thought of riding a bike, that’s when I’m truly sick.