When I was a kid my heroes were TV cowboys: Hopalong Cassidy, the Cisco Kid and Roy Rogers. Later, at the movies, I discovered knights in shining armor, King Arthur, Lancelot, Robin Hood, El Cid and in the funny papers there was Prince Valiant. Mrs. Miller’s high school English class unsealed the classics to this mutton-headed kid who fell in love with Ernest Hemingway and Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s classic, Don Quixote de la Mancha.
As I have grown from a child to an adult, sculpting my persona with particles from my heroes, reality has spiraled from cowboys, to knights, to men of mystery, to spies, to soldiers and back again. Any one of these heroes might take over for a while but not in totality because each had a flaw. The TV cowboys were fun but they were not to be taken seriously. Being compulsively serious, knights could be tedious in their single-minded quests for the Holy Grail. Hemingway’s main characters, although remarkable and thought-provoking, all die in the end and are not much fun to emulate. Real people make poor heroes; they all have feet of clay. That left Don Quixote and although fascinated with his commitment to truth, honor, idealism and enamored with his disdain for realism, as a young man my life passage and his were far too removed from one another to understand what made him tick. His philosophy would have to be saved for later.
Today, still looking for heroes, after great consternation and disquieting bewilderment I have come to the conclusion that I am far too “Politically Correct” in my search. If any originality is to ever come of my life, “Politically Correctness” must be more than curtailed or curbed; it must be demolished, shattered, obliterated, annihilated, razed to the ground and totally destroyed.
As a result I have again returned to the classics and have re-reminded myself of the one hero, Don Quixote, who only until now have I realized was perfect. Because of his age and senile decrepitude, because he was an old man, I had never totally understood. But now, with some age under my belt and my brain being warped and completely malleable I understand the nuances of this man and as of this minute I am dedicating the rest of my life to following in the footsteps of Don Quixote de la Mancha.
“Wait,” you ask, “Wasn’t Don Quixote that crazy old man who makes a stupid mismatched suit of armor out of rusty old junk, rode a beat-up old nag and went out to fight giants only to get his ass kicked by windmills?”
“Yep,” I reply, “That’s him.”
“Wasn’t the age of chivalry long since dead and gone by the time he decided to become a knight-errant and didn’t everyone think he was crazy?”
“He was nuts, right? Well that’s stupid; who wants to fight windmills?”
“He did… and… I do.”
Don Quixote found himself living in a time where history had passed him by. Giants, dragons and knights were a thing of the past and had been outmoded for a hundred years, yet he decided to go out and look for what he was missing, look for adventure, look for a meaning to his life and look for wrongs to right. Through his antique books filled with courtliness, gallantry and bravery, Alonso Quixana (his real name) becomes obsessed with the outdated chivalric code of honor, wished to do heroic feats and decided on the idealized mission to become a knight-errant. In order to redress all manner of wrongs he takes up his lance and sword to defend the helpless, destroy the wicked, undo wrongs and bring justice to the world. Before dawn, without explanation he leaves his home to become Don Quixote de la Mancha, a great man, a great knight-errant, who would find adventures, create deeds filled with nobility and become a man of wisdom. What could be more heroic?
I want to do something heroic and with the disappearance of the expectations of youth what better time for me to don the trapping of chivalry, polish my armor, mount my noble steed of transportation, say goodbye to impediments of fashion and popular thought, become a knight-errant, and go out into the world righting wrongs and slaying the dragons of deceit. For years people have been saying that I was irrational and bizarre and didn’t fit in the time period I was living. So be it. My response is, “Heroic absurdity looks pretty good when compared to the trappings of servitude to the ‘great god normal.’ What did being average and conventional ever get anyone?”
Don Quixote polished his helmet and put together a suit of armor.
I added a new visor to my helmet, cleaned my leathers and put together my riding gear.
He fixed his saddle and elevated his spavin horse into a knight’s charger by changing its name to Rocinante.
Naming my Harley the same, I did maintenance, cleaned every crevice, changed tires and renewed the battery.
He educated himself with every story about saving damsels in distress and finding adventure that would create honor.
I educated myself by turning off the news, stopped watching YouTube, removed my Facebook account, unhooked the computer and smashed the cell phone.
Of course Don Quixote needed a squire. Because of his prodigious imagination Sancho Panza, a local pot-bellied peasant whose gross appetite and vulgar wit, served as the foil to the mad idealism of his master.
For his lady fair, a dull, plain, sturdy farm girl from his past was elevated in Quixote’s fantasies to the center of his chivalrous strength and justification. Her name became Dulcinea del Tobosa, “…her rank must be at least that of a princess, since she is my queen and lady and her beauty superhuman, since all the impossible and fanciful attributes of beauty which the poets apply to their ladies are verified in her…”
I have neither a squire nor a lady fair. On the road maybe I will find both, perhaps at the first mini-mart/gas stop or at a café advertising “Home Cooked Food.”
Not being a great knight-errant and without Don Quixote resolve and dedication, I wonder, “Doesn’t there have to be a real world out there, somewhere, where life means more than what I am seeing at the mall? Doesn’t there have to be real people out on the road, people that are also looking for life without explanation or complication?”
It is both Don Quixote’s and my quest to find them.