Who needs a school bus, really? It’s a metaphor for the forces that pull the child away from the family, elevate the peers, and establish an interchangeable authority figure who literally and figuratively takes them away from the house. I’m glad the bus didn’t come for a third day. Dang glad! Damn near ecstatic!
But she went to school anyway. I emptied out a closet and moved everything out of the family room in preparation for the carpet cleaners. (Like I said: lots of stuff going on here at Jasperwood. I’ll tell you why in a week.) They also did ducts, and since I’ve never done the ducts, I figured the ducts should be done. The crew showed up – three guys, one of whom was holding out an Amazon box. At first I thought: this Amazon Prime is better than advertised. But that was part of their general modus operandi: here to help. They’re not alone. In the last few months I’ve had the plumber, the deliverymen for the washer and drier, the stone guys, the deliverymen for the china hutch, and a few others I can’t remember at the moment, and in each instance they were painfully courteous, cheerful, forthright, true, brave, etc. The fellow who led the crew today had a certain military bearing – the buzzcut and the Suthun accent and the use of “sir” may have influenced my impression, granted. He asked for a tour of the house to locate the vents, and off we went.
“That was about the quickest I’ve ever had that done,” he said when we were finished.
“Sure. 'Vent's there, there, there, there.' Usually folks take a while remembering where the vents all are.”
“I know my vents,” I said.
Well, I do.
They opened the main intake vent, and there were mutters of approval: clean filter. Gabba hey, one of us. I excused myself to let them work, and 20 minutes later he returned: “I’d be happy to charge you eighty-nine dollars to clean your vents,” he said, “but you don’t need it. They’re clean as it is.”
This is like the fellow at the oil-change place saying “drive off, sir, and have a fine day; your oil has another 3000 miles in it.” I was impressed. Then the tackled the carpets, and while they did a decent job they were unable to lift a patch of dog bile. That’s in there for gud, he said. He seemed pained. The man wanted to leave the carpets clean; it was a matter of honor. He was like the stone mason who did the wall yesterday: he talked for ten minutes about rock and its virtues. Loved his work. Now, neither of these fellows probably has much in the way of formal education, but they were both more cheerful and engaged and interested in their work than 80% of the white-collar guys I meet. Why not? Every day’s different, every challenge unique. In the end I cut them a check for $59, which seemed small. Three guys, an hour’s work – can’t be much money in it. But he tipped his hat and let himself out and wished me a great day.
Yes, yes, I know, they all live in terror of the home office, it’s all a sham, etc. Or not. I just recall the grim Soviet-flavored mood of people in DC, the sullen indifference, and it makes me glad again to live here. I forget sometimes what an effect it has on your mood when everyone’s generally pleasant. From Hell’s Heart, I Glare At Thee gets old. Immediately.
After I wrote a column and some checks – the stone wall was finished today, after two days of work – I finished up a video editing project then wandered down to the bus stop. I find myself sitting on the stone wall I commissioned four years ago. Now it has a purpose. Nice. The bus was late, but that’s okay. Halfway up the street to Jasperwood we stopped in the grass to look at the stuff she’d gotten in school; one of the papers was a picture with everyday objects hidden in the drawing. Find the wishbone, find the spoon, find the nuclear centrifuge, etc. It took a while, but we found them all. Then we read half a book – she’d checked out Madonna’s “English Roses,” which all the girls love – and then we headed back up the hill. I checked my watch: we’d spent an hour on the lawn, just reading and playing and looking up at the planes and clouds.
Lucky, lucky us. Lucky, lucky me.
So. Next Monday.
I think I’ll post the movie I threw together right after 9/11, cobbled together from footage I TiVo’d. I think I’m safe, and won’t have to field angry emails from people who think it’s biased or skewed or ignores the big Caterpillar bulldozers that miraculously appeared on the site within 24 hours, proving that the Shadow Government (Illuminati, Bavarian Masons, PNAC theorists, and the ghost of Jack Ruby’s dog) had pre-positioned materiel to cover up their nefarious plan. I probably won’t watch the ABC movie, because it’s been edited to conform to the complaints of complainers and reflect the fact that the MinProd chocorations were always 15 grams, not 20.
I don’t think this is the “veiled threat” some are calling it, because there’s no way on earth the Democrats would introduce legislation to strip Disney of its broadcast license. It’s like threatening to interrupt the broadcast with winged monkeys. Disney lawyers would say, correctly, well, you and what army of winged monkeys? But I don’t recall Congress getting so deeply involved in the content of a specific television show before. Chilling effect? Heck no, not if the result is the truth. And who can possibly be against the truth.
Just so you know: 9/11 reset the clock for me. All hands went to midnight. I’m interested in what people did after that date, and if the movie shows that before the attack one side lacked feck and the other was feck-deficient, I don't worry about it. It's like revisiting Congressional debates about Hawaiian harbor security in November 1941. Y'all get a pass. The Etch-A-Sketch's turned over. Now: what have you said lately?
While working and doing various things the other day, I lent an ear to the radio. The morning host was talking about pessimism, and how he’s sick of it. Sick! I agreed. It's not just specific pessimism about specific issues, which is sometimes apt and wise, but the overall glumness you get from the news media. Of course, you can find glumness anywhere. Swaths of the right are pessimistic about America because immigration will result in the national anthem sung in Toltec by 2018, and chunks of the left are pessimistic because Chimpy McDiebold may serve out his term without impeachment or interment. Everyone’s glum about something. But I listen to the news on the radio every hour on the hour, and it makes me want to saw ditches into my wrists. It’s the needling worrisome hectoring tone of the newscasters that annoys me. There's a a woman who handles the morning shift on ABC; she emotes every syllable, infusing them with a sense of impending disaster, and then she hands it off to Vic Ratnor, who likewise leans into every phoneme with worried urgency, regardless of whether it’s an oil shortage (which could rekindle inflation!), a discovery of a new oil field (which could cost billions to exploit!) or a study on the effect of global warming on popsicles (which could stain the rug!) The two of them could make a flooded antihill sound like the end of the Republic.
The news is never good. If the economy’s up, there’s an expert on hand from the Institute of the Possible Downside warning about unforseen pressure on the bond market, softening housing, hardening tensions, turgid wage growth, and explosive release of inflationary pressures. Have a cigarette. Was it bad for you?
TV news gives me the same impression, which is why I avoid it. All those earnest faces. Good evening, we’re deeply concerned, and powerless to do anything about it. Although we hope you infer from our brows the need to contact someone, and urge action on this issue. Now here’s a baby giraffe.
The formulation seems simple: The continued existence of problems at this late date in human history implies that we’re regressing. We’re screwing up, we’ve lost it, and we wander confused amongst the morass of the malaise and vice versa. Hard times, brother. Hard times. I’m not saying they should pretend we live in the Republic of Happy Bunnies Who Pee Champagne, but for God’s sake, sometimes you’d think the bread lines snaked from the Hoovervilles to the soup kitchens again. I’m probably confusing the sugar-coated recollections of early youth with actual history, but I grew up with a sense of optimism and confidence in the country. That really makes me sound like Mr. McFartus shakin’ a whittlin’ stick at the jaunty-hatted younguns, I know. But the icons in my dim early youth, either by absence or presence, were JFK and Humphrey. They weren’t defeatists, and they didn’t give off that rank stink of anger.
Of course, someone who's angry about different things is always unbalanced, right? I’m sure I’m regarded as a delusional tool because I worry more about Islamicists than global warming. But it comes back again to that theme I blathered about a few weeks ago, the idea of the eternal adolescent strain in American culture; to the adolescent, the cynic is the truth-teller. The optimists are the fools. (It takes an adolescent to think that people who believe in nothing are the best judges of those who believe in something.) It’s all a pose, for the most part, but after a while it feeds on itself. Pessimism produces its own coal, stokes its own furnaces. Optimism is harder. Optimism takes work. You have to roll your own.
Hah! The iPod just kicked on that fine messy song “Tubthumping.” I get knocked down. But I get up again. I get knocked down. But I get up again. You’re never going to keep me down. That's the spirit, ya commie buskers! I don’t listen to that song and wonder “what has he done to get knocked down?” I salute the boozed-up shouting chanty brio of the sentiment, which is the distant cousin of Cagney snapping of "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy." Really. Chest out, chin high, eyes bright, up yours if you're heart can't find the tinder to shout hoorah. Look: there’s always a place for the bitchers, the carpers, the griefers, the snipers, the angry marginal sorts flinging poo from the cages of their own beliefs. But it’s not the pessimists who will save the West. It’ll be those who believe the West is worth saving, and not because it is the least horrible option whose defense must be prefaced with endless apologies, but because it really is the best hope we have. Would you rather be a libertarian in China? A Christian in Sudan? A Zoroastran in Iran? A lesbian in Saudi Arabia?
But - but we supported the Shah, and -
Yes. Interesting how supporters of the Shah didn't storm our embassies or wage a 30 year Death-to-America campaign after we cut the Shah loose. Reset the hands. We can argue about all manner of strategies now, but there's one division that counts more than any other, and it’s fundamental and pervasive. Pessimism or optimism.One’s very satisfying. The other’s hard. I’d say we don’t have any choice, but we do, and that choice may undo us yet.
May, I said. I’m naturally pessimistic, and I hate it, and fight it. Cautious optimism: methadone for cynics.