I like to think of Vin as a kind of ancient bard telling the story of Ulysses around a campfire. He was a master scene-builder, and could seduce a listener into the story of a young pitcher, just called up from the minors, making his debut. He would make that story something like your own, epic and inspiring and familiar, so that you felt something like kinship with the struggling kid out there on the rubber.
I don’t raise bees anymore but I’m still working on my Theory of Everything. In physics, the big TOE is meant to unify general relativity (all the big stuff) with quantum theory (all the little stuff) to create a grand unifying theory of the whole enchilada. Mine probably isn’t as ambitious, and I realize I’m running out of time to get it distilled, but I did have a breakthrough yesterday while sorting gear for a couple of fly-fishing trips in the coming weeks. I realized that surfing and fly-fishing share some unifying moments.
On June 17, 1859, an otherworldly blast of hot wind blew into Santa Barbara, California, from the northwest. Within minutes the temperature rose to 133°. Cattle fell over, birds dropped from the sky, and old men toppled over in their adobe doorways, dead right there. Or so the legend goes. It’s an interesting story, this sudden simoom, even if the pointillist schools of modern thought have sought to debunk its veracity, dot by dot.
And so it was that shortly after breakfast, on an otherwise bluebird morning, that Rosa had started up an accusatory harangue at Wayne, Jake, and Francisco. Francisco had once raised chickens in Mexico until an avian flu wiped out his birds to the last rooster and, post bankruptcy, his wife ran off with a tour guide who specialized in Aztec pyramids. Francisco, who came across the border in 1983 with five dollars in pesos, worn-out huaraches, and a plastic jug full of water, sat watching very intently and finally told Wayne that in his considered opinion Rosa was a Chihuahua-born witch and was casting spells on them.
Yesterday I woke up in the dark to a sound like jet airplanes directly above the house. It wasn’t airplanes. It was a sudden, heavy, and sustained gust of wind through the dark ponderosas. Then came flashes of lightning that lit up the room, like some scene from a horror movie, and then basso-profundo rolls of thunder that vibrated the floor and woke up the dogs. And then the morning sky, still dark but ripening, opened up with hailstones.
There is a family of mountain bluebirds that nest in a birdhouse in our yard every year. They come in spring, take up residence just long enough to raise other mountain bluebirds to flight, and then they are gone. They leave about the same time the blue-green swallows arrive, with their manic and dazzling flights. This year the bluebirds came when I was having my morning tea and devouring great scoops of Robert Penn Warren–who wrote so brilliantly about cypress swamps and southern pride as a damaging curse, and of course about those nearly Jurassic birds that stretch their necks and scull the swampy southern air for lift.
Some of you might remember Jean-Marie Colombani’s heartfelt headline and editorial in Le Monde, on September 12, 2001: Nous Somme Tous Américains (We Are All Americans). Later, in an interview with NPR, Colombani was asked how conscious he was of the American reaction to that headline. “I don’t know,” he said. “I wasn’t aware of nothing. I was just conscious that we were entering a new period of our history so we had to be strong in the way of expressing it.” And it is with that same spirit, of strength, conviction, and awareness that we have clearly crossed into a new period of history, that I am proclaiming, one day before my 51st birthday: We Are All McEnroe.
When the poet John Berryman leapt off a bridge in Minneapolis he was sober. He’d been largely drunk up until that morning but he was scarred forever by his own father’s suicide and probably every tall building looked something like a hell-hole.
We showed up early because we expected a crowd. We were right. There had been a bird nest over the front door to the Montana Club but in the opening hubbub, not nearly as violent as a Black Friday crush at Walmart, it crashed to the ground and was promptly stomped. An old man in front me said, “Well, at least you know what they are feeding you in here.” He meant it as a joke and I did laugh. But there had been eggs in the nest and the yolks were a smear on the concrete.
I won’t bore you with details of 18 hours in delayed flights, an unexpected stay in Denver, or any of the weird third-world adventures accompanying domestic travel that are now routine in modern, robust, and according to President Joe Biden, the excellent economy and upward trajectory of the United States. This is the same man that tries to shake hands with thin air, but I can tell you that if you want to be treated like a human being, or expect appropriate customer service, do not fly United Airlines. If you decide to fly United Airlines then what happens to you next can only be your own fault.
Putin is, of course, a kind of Great Khan and the oligarchs he has both made and sustained will substitute nicely for the lesser Khans. What unites them through time isn’t just wealth or extravagance or absolute power, it is a world view, and Putin’s embrace of Eurasianism should have been heeded by successive American and European administrations but wasn’t.
Perhaps most ominously in this interview, Hill was asked if we are on the brink of World War III. Her answer: “We’re already in it. We have been for some time. We keep thinking of World War I, World War II as these huge set pieces, but World War II was a consequence of World War I. And we had an interwar period between them. And in a way, we had that again after the Cold War…All of the conflicts we are seeing have roots in earlier conflicts…people shouldn’t delude themselves into thinking that we’re just on the brink of something. We’ve been well and truly in it for quite a long period of time.”