The Eighth Man

In the mid-1960s our Zenith was tuned to WPIX-TV at 4:00PM. “Tobor the 8th Man” aired at that time. It was an Anime series about a superhero android with the brain of a slain police detective.

It was low budget, so the producers reused sequences of frames wherever possible. When Tobor ran – which was frequently, as I recall – they used a side profile of the hero, leaning into the draft of his own blinding speed. His entire body stayed stock still except for his piston legs, which pounded up and down like diesel cylinders.

One day during gym class in 1st grade we had to race around the perimeter of the gymnasium. All of the first-graders were there, boys and girls, and everybody was fired up for the contest.

The image of Tobor was vivid in my mind. I believed his running technique would give me the edge I needed over my classmates, so I leaned forward and did my best to emulate the quick, hammering motion of his legs.

The athletic kids pulled away in front of me. I was used to that. Then the average kids started pulling away too. This caused me some concern because it was among them that I normally jostled for position.

Soon, I was looking at the backs of the kids who had difficulty remembering how to put their sneakers on. I didn’t like the way things were going, but I persevered. I had faith that Tobor’s technique would prevail in the end if I stuck with it.

When the frontrunners came up from behind and lapped me for the first time, the chuckling began. By the time the rest of the pack had lapped me, the winners had finished the race. They stood along the wall, pointing at me in amazement, and roaring with laughter.

I felt humiliated, of course, but even worse, I felt betrayed by my hero. Why hadn’t Tobor’s technique worked for me?

I should’ve noted the possible complications relative to my not being a cartoon robot. But even allowing for that slight miscalculation, it’s fair to say that I should’ve considered abandoning my failed strategy before the race ended.

I wonder what I’m doing right now that amounts to the same thing as running like Tobor. What are the illusions I insistently persist in pursuing? What glaring evidences of futility am I ignoring?

Perseverance is not inherently virtuous. Perseverance has to be animated by wisdom; otherwise it’s a robot with no brain.



Two lava lamps rehearse their unhurried ballet on either end of the big console’s monitor shelf. Studio A is dark beyond the heavy, slanted glass wall that separates it from the control room. I can just make out the shadowed contours of the grand piano. Chrome hardware and brass cymbals glint faintly from the drum booth at the far end of the room.

It’s noiseless out there tonight because this is a mixing session. Basic tracks were recorded a month ago, and overdubbing finished up last week. Now the separate pieces – drums, vocals, guitars, more guitars, piano, strings, finger snaps – wait on parallel strips of two-inch 24-track tape for the engineer and I to shape them into four minutes of integrated beauty.

Each track will want some degree of doctoring, ranging from merely adjusting its relative level, to patching it through a pitch-fixing box. One track might trigger a digital sample of a different sound altogether. Mixing is an intuitive interplay of science and art.

Just as we’re about to get going, the engineer pushes his chair back from the mixing board and shakes his head. He mutters something about interns. The patch bay hasn’t been cleared, and the knobs and faders haven’t been returned to unity. This was the intern’s job following the previous session.

“Zeroing the board” is standard protocol in good recording studios. It’s achingly tedious to undo someone else’s settings, and it’s a momentum killer. An engineer assumes each session will begin with a clean slate.

This offers an analogy pertinent to spiritual health. It’s possible for the fragmented bits of a soul to be shaped into a life of integrated beauty. Periodically zeroing one’s interior is what’s called for. That’s when the Engineer loves to get to work.