- Love This
- Yahoo Mail
- Facebook Messenger
- Copy Link
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. It hailed hard for about ten minutes, enough to cover the ground outside and turn the world momentarily white. And when the hail finally stopped it began to rain again.
Our oldest dog has always been afraid of thunder. He’s blind, and deaf, but he could feel the thunder in his bones. He put his chin against my knee where I stood in the window, watching. Later, at lunch, sitting in my pickup in the rain, I gave him some beer-battered French fries and half of my sandwich.
This morning we also learned that President Joseph Robinette Biden fell from his bicycle. At a dead stop. He got his foot caught in the pedals, apparently, and down he went while an ocean of auto-shutters went suddenly cyclic. This is an important metaphor. In 1902 Teddy Roosevelt was tossed from his laundau when Pittsfield Electric Railway Car #29, a runaway, broadsided him on South Street. A horse and a Secret Service agent died in the collision. Roosevelt, thrown from his carriage, and whose face swelled up like a basketball, brushed off some dirt and horseshit and then went about the Presidential business. This is also a metaphor.
George Bush choking out on a pretzel wedged in his throat and slamming his head into a table, Joe Biden falling down, or up, as the case may be, various flights of stairs and toppling over on his bicycle while at a dead stop, are sizable clues. To something. They are clues in the same way that photos of Putin fly-fishing shirtless in the Urals, sitting at one end of a table thirty yards long, or judo-tossing a mope are clues. They aren’t definitive of anything, necessarily, but they are clues meant to point us in some direction. Maybe the better investigative term is leads. Aren’t they? It’s possible to make too much of optics in the same way it’s possible to make too little of them. The larger point is that in the era of JR Biden—and he will be the brightly painted totem for this bananas epoch–up is often declared to be down, down is sworn to be up, and personal responsibility is for suckers who don’t have a billion twitter followers. The point is that as of this writing the nation lacks appreciable ballast, and ships without ballast tend to capsize.
The long and fruitful days of summer approacheth. Not without evidence I begin to fear we are, collectively, in a race to the bottom. We are third-worlding the grand experiment. A series of simple questions: is anything easier than it was five years ago? Ten? Fifty? Is anything less expensive? Are there less criminals in the city park? Does a pound of meth cost less? Are there fewer school shootings? Recently, it took me four different phone calls with polite but sad-sounding women in the Philippines, and two more with stupid-sounding people in the United States, to change the pin number on my debit card. Fully half of each of those conversations was me punching various numbers into my phone, or telling a robot “Change pin number” or telling it “Yes,” or “No,” or “customer service,” or declining to conduct the call in Spanish. In the end, when I had survived an hour in this digital labyrinth, I was greeted by a coked-up robot who told me that my call was important, but that it would be at least an hour before a human would make it to the phone.
I hung up. My pin number remains unchanged.
Also, I filled up my truck with diesel yesterday, an overt act of deranged consumerism that cost me $200.00. I would argue for more horses but apparently bovine and equine flatulence is wrecking the environment and the price for a ton of hay is probably going to reach 500 bucks before the end of summer. So it’s a wash. Also, I note a strange trend in marketing these days, which offers the idea of staying in your home as a great solution to most problems. If the thing they are selling you keeps you confined to quarters the world is a better place and your life has improved. That’s the message. Watch for it, and for the jazzy jingles that sell it.
The good news is that toss-toy season in Yellowstone—that brief window of time each summer where urban morons who think a Patagonia puffy jacket and a Co-Exist bumper sticker make them spiritual black belts, and that they can cosmically commune with bull bison who traditionally give zero fucks–and so end up gored on viral Tik Tok videos–has been forestalled by flooding. The park is closed. This secretly delights the Park Rangers who also hate tourists and want it all for themselves, but will be just another economic trapdoor for those towns around the park where tourists are sincerely despised but who depend on summer sticky dollars. Red Lodge, where my wife and I have spent considerable time, became a riverbottom overnight, and we’ve all seen video of intact houses floating down the Yellowstone.
Cue the climate deacons.
Whether it rains or snows or we descend into long cycles of drought, or flood, or get battered by tornados, the town cryers go about banging their triangles and the climate priests crawl into their vestments and proclamations of doom are read in the public square. Repent, for the end is nigh! These people are stuffed so full of doom and despair and apocalypse, and even superstition, it’s difficult for me to see them outside of a religious context.
The climate Jesuits may be driving EVs, sipping soy lattés and condemning, with extreme prejudice, the Joel Osteens of the world, but their rackets are built on the same principle, preach the same fevered promise of apocalypse and a singular path to eternal salvation, and operate relentlessly on a penitent’s understanding of sin. It’s true enough that all new Gods—particularly if they are meant to replace the old ones–must be slickly packaged, marketed, and sold with a promise of grace. And it is the rare builder of a new temple who tolerates a skeptic. What they also share is a seething hatred of anyone who questions their message. They lie about that, but it’s true. Forced conversions, torture, murder, or enslavement are always a part of that equation because whether it is Zeus, Allah, or Science, all Gods and their priests tend to share the same essential diktat: thou shalt have no other Gods before me.
Also, as George Carlin noted before he gave up and turned into an unfunny vessel of anger and darkness, God always needs money. Joel Osteen, Black Lives Matter, and the Sierra Club share an excellent business model. They are on an endless quest for converts and heavy tithers—and pushing their tracts–because money doesn’t hide itself in the bathroom walls of a megachurch and more importantly Teslas and toney houses in Topanga Canyon aren’t going to just buy themselves.
I hate to say it, as I sit here clinging to my guns, my old religion, and weird notions of independent agency, but in many ways we, the vast majority of us, are simply Billy Budd. We’ve been pressed into service. That’s the genius of Melville’s story, of course: we all want to see ourselves as Billy Budd. He was always the tragic hero, too beautiful to live, whose flawless performance of his duties and insouciant refusal to take a knee drove men to madness. It drove them to murder. But there is something else, something key in his character that I think is closest to the mindset I must find as I am pressed into service in this strange era. Melville wrote of Billy: “As to his enforced enlistment, that he seemed to take pretty much as he was wont to take any vicissitude of weather. Like the animals, though no philosopher, he was, without knowing it, practically a fatalist. And it may be that he rather liked this adventurous turn in his affairs, which promised an opening into novel scenes and martial excitements.”
I don’t think I’m a fatalist. Not yet. But I’m also not sure, which may be the sound of one hand clapping. Yesterday we hung the hummingbird feeder—1 part sugar, 4 parts water—and this morning the hummingbirds were attacking it en masse. I could see only beauty in it, not fate. And I lean heavily toward the promise of novel scenes and the potential for martial excitement.
The thing is, I’m falling in love again. It’s spring, despite the thunder and hailstorms and relentless wind off the Cascades, and I have not been able to resist the success of my favorite baseball team. That’s been a stormy relationship because several years ago the players on that team committed an act of politics I found personally insulting. It was insulting enough that I turned away. Forswore them. It was a bad divorce. I filed for that divorce because, like Billy Budd, I will die with my hard won integrity but I will never take a knee. Ever. I don’t think Abe Lincoln, who signed the order creating the Secret Service on the day he was assassinated, would either.
Thing is, I haven’t been a baseball fan for fifty years because I’m interested in a Major League Baseball team’s politics. I watch because of the rich history of the game, the bang-bang plays at first, old grudges renewed with chin music, and plays at the plate. I watch because I love a great hitting streak and a perfect game broken up with two out in the bottom of the ninth. I love the occasional bench-clearing push and shove, and Derek Jeter bashing his face while selling out for a foul ball in the stands. I love a grown man catching a foul ball and giving it to some kid he doesn’t know. I love Billy Martin getting in George Brett’s delicate bubble by way of pine tar, and I laugh at corked bat scandals and Rollie Fingers greasing up a fastball. I love Joe Niekro tossing off an emery board as if the entire world couldn’t see him do it. I love the ugly, beautiful, infuriating, hilarious–this is our crazy family–spirit and promise of a charming game that can’t end in a tie and has no game clock. So when they did that, when they put all that aside for a cynical, corrupt, and opportunistic political brand and insulted me with assumptions, I turned away the same way I would turn away from a good friend who could not stop putting alcohol above everything else. At some point, he made his own bed, and at some point he has to sleep in it alone.
But this spring I’m back. I have forgiven but I have not forgotten, and that’s a good place to be. I’m back to a glass of wine on the back porch with the dogs in the afternoon, watching the birds in the trees and the horses in their secret world down at the barn. I’m back to afternoons in the sunlight, listening to baseball on the radio with my wife, and musing absently about the first aerial dogfight, down in old Mexico, where the pilots flew lawn mower engines, wore big mustaches and goggles, and shot at each other from open cockpits with pistols.
Truth is, we’ve come through a long, dark, night in the last few years. Most of us. Some of us didn’t make it. But I don’t have to tell you about it because you were there too. The pain, anguish, and uncertainty are real. They always have been. But so are the joys and the triumphs and the ability to fall back in love with something. Fatalist or not, sober or stoned, I have to believe there is light up above. I just can’t bring myself to do otherwise. To be certain it’s faint—it’s always faint. It’s like that weird phenomenon when you look into the night sky and can only see a star by looking slightly away from it. And so I’m just doing that thing, standing outside in the dark and looking, looking askance, looking back again. There is a star there, I know it’s just right there, but the sonofabitch won’t let me look him in the eye.
Jim Cornelius says
That’s a fine piece of writing. Again.
Craig Rullman says
Thank you my great friend.
Well dammnnn. Bummer for my Birthday. Reminds me of Small Gods by Terry Pratchett. Sorry expected more of your individualism hard nosed hard won attitude. Most often a light of sanity & clarity in this crazy screwed upside down world. Guess it wears all of us down temporarily at one time or the other. Enjoy the rebirth of hope in nature’s continuation of life. Sorry not recanting & I continue to boycott NFL & others for GP or old time patriotism if nothing else. Also continue to believe ” nothing is free”. Salute soldier looking for better days & hard headed sanity & clarity in bad days ahead. Tired of all these endless miles of bad roads & demented drivers myself. Maybe I am just plain too old for this shit. Looking forward to your next report. P.S. This place in time reminds me of some forward S.F. writing & poetry from many many years ago. Trees do not talk.God does not answer & that poem (?) was about the theory of planet Earth breaking loose from its orbit. And how humans tried to cope with all things outside their scope of “normal” existence.Interesting thoughts & readings. Nope do not even remember the authors name. Too many years & those miles of bad roads. Do remember the theory & gist of the let’s suppose or what if. Pretty sure I read that in the early 60s
There you go an old lady’s meanderings.
Craig Rullman says
For me this really is a statement about “individualism hard nosed hard won..”. That’s what powers it. And I also think it is a positive message, not a bummer. Can’t blame you on the NFL and others. Each of us has to handle that our own way. For now, I’m loving baseball again. If they go half-cocked again I’ll cross that bridge. Anyway, appreciate your thoughts, keep up the “old lady’s meanderings,” they are appreciated.
Quixotic Mainer says
Pratchett is forever one of my top favorite authors. I feel like as time goes on the points he makes are getting ever more relevant!
This one might be my favorite, thus far.
Craig Rullman says
Thanks Sham 🙂
John M Roberts says
Somehow this causes me to hear Marlene Dietrich’s croaking contralto, telling us she can’t help it.
Craig Rullman says
I didn’t even know that existed, but just listened to it. Marvelous. Thank you.
David Gonzales says
Stellar as usual. Beautifully written!
Ugly Hombre says
Good stuff !.
I guess the bufflos’s did’nt get the message there suposed to be cute and cuddly. The bears did not get it either- internet must be been down.
The next time Lonesome Joe goes for a bike ride, if he came out with training wheels on his bike and a beanie hat with a propeller on his head- his polls would go up and the republic would get a much needed laugh.
The Climate change cult and the BLM mansion dwellers are beyond my kin- I don’t understand their minions either If you fly around in a jumbo jet while hollering that the worlds going to end and buy multiple million dollar homes while blowing the mustache about being oppressed- something is rotton in Beverly Hills.
I hate talking to a G.D. Robot- its another punch in the beak for geriatics buzzards who are to dumb to run a smart phone. No one answers the phone anymore- I remember six ring standby now its sixty- and you have to talk to a robot that can’t understand your gurmpy mumbling. You holler “I want to speak to a human being”! Sorry I did not get that can you repeat? you punch 0 or 1 and listen to the music they designed to give you a migraine.
Then you give up and write them a letter on parchment and make a copy so you have a record and that only works if you can find a address which seems to be classified.
Modern times snafus and snares every damn G.D. where
Quixotic Mainer says
Awesome article! I have to admit I haven’t thought of Billy Budd in years, but now that you bring it up I can’t unsee the comparison.
My take on the whims of pop culture and it’s mass marketed politics is best summed up by the Havamal. If you have a friend, but can’t trust him; laugh with him and enjoy each other’s company. But watch him, and repay any unkindness with the same.
Here’s to novel scenes and martial excitement!
Erik Dolson says
Well done. Thank you.