MAY 1999 Part 3
The sun came out this evening, but offered no apologies. It had the character of someone who knows he’s in disfavor, but hopes the force of his personality will make up for his mistakes. He hopes we’ll be happy to see him. Look, everyone - Mr. Sun’s here! Instead he gets hard looks, indifferent handshakes. And then in the kitchen a drunk gets into an argument with Mr. Sun, and punches him. Screams of pain! GOD IT HURTS IT’S SO HOT OH IT HURTS SO MUCH And then everyone looks at Mr. Sun with naked hatred. Just go, will you? Just - go.

Let me walk this metaphor back a few steps. The sun came out this evening, but offered no apologies, because it isn’t sentient. It’s a distant ball of gas incapable of speech, let alone an exchange of social niceties designed to mask and dissuade aggressive behavior. It -

Ah, to hell with it.

Woke from my nap this evening and heard the peeping of birds and the ear-piercing shriek of children; looked at the window and saw a glow outside the shades. Sun! After days of dimness, this looked like a gift, a release: the prison gates were open again, go out, walk free. Of course, the sun made a cameo appearance last evening as well - within minutes, the sidewalks were full of neighbors. Dozens of kids on Big Wheels, chatting moms, romping dogs . . .then the clouds came and scowled and everyone slumped inside to endure another night of pizzling rain. Today was no better. But like I said, the sun came out near the end of the day, and gave everyone hope for tomorrow. All over the city you could hear the gentle clack of razor blades being put down, of running water washing away the dotted lines on people’s wrists. There is hope again.

Sat outside and read “Gates of Hell,” a cheerfully named account of the defense of Thermopylae. It’s fiction, set in ancient Greece, military literature. Manly stuff with manly virtues, with a scattering of period detail that makes it all seem like actual history - not knowing much about the period aside from the history-class basics, I have to take the author’s word. This sort of book doesn’t usually appeal to me; I generally avoid military histories because I know I cannot possibly match the valor & character of most of the people involved. And I don’t like getting enthused about these matters lest I seem a wannabee, and military wannabees are pathetic. And scary. Every day I step outside to take the air with a couple of vets, and when they tell tales of Nam, I shut up. I have Boy Scout stories, and that’s it. When they talk about sleeping in wet tents, I can understand, having slept in a wet tent here and there - but it wasn’t a four-year experience with the threat of death hanging over every day. Any story that ends “and Mom and Dad picked me up at the end of the week” does not qualify as a tale of hardship.

Typically for men of my generation: I’m glad I didn’t have to serve, and I wish I had. Speaking in retrospect, of course.

I knew a few who volunteered; had one as a roommate, actually. In college. He had spent his stint in Germany sucking wedges of hash the size of new potatoes. Those were the pre-Reagan days of the military, the days of the Hollow Army. Now we have an overworked military exhausted by too many deployments and demoralized by a change in the culture. It’s the French Fried Army: fried on the outside, mushy on the inside!

With wisdom like that, I could be a soundbite pundit.

Today was inconsequential but productive; tomorrow, another column, another supper, another nap, another night hunched over the machinery . . . but: sun. Tomorrow’s clear and warmer, and I expect when I walk outside in the morning to visit the creek with the dog, the memory of all those dreary days will be gone, replaced by the lush bright sight of a fresh May day. We forgive the sun every time. And the son of a bitch knows it.

Sun, sun, sun; will it never end? More than 14 hours of blaring light today, unceasing, undimmed, merciless, hateful. People are walking around in confusion and fear, followed by strange dark apparitions that seem to mock their every step; scientists call them “shadows,” and explain them away as natural phenomena, but still the goodfolk of the land are unnerved. These “shadows” leave us when we enter buildings, then fall behind us when we emerge again; within the safe cool walls of our buildings, we fear these shades are milling around, conspiring, trading tales of our journeys, plotting some revolt when we emerge again into the pitiless blare of the yellow eye above. How I long for a cloudy day, the comfort of rain, the solitude of a walk without the long gray ghost trailing behind me.

Joy! The wireless has announced we are due for storms tomorrow. Rain again! Blessed relief. I shall now celebrate in the accustomed manner of my people, and bang my head against the wall until the blood sheets down in a crimson Niagara.

I’m trying to decide if I should listen to less radio, or more; read less papers, or more. The news is bad - it is the job of the news to be bad, of course; every paper might as well run 100pt headlines every day that say Things Suck, Thousands Die - but has an unnerving quality lately. Put simply: no one is in control, except for people who shouldn’t be in control. I think if you polled most of the second-in-commands at NATO, they’d admit in private they have no idea what’s going on. (It is the curse of most nations in most times that the first-in-command always believe they know what’s going on.) Russia is an utter mess; Yeltsin is a blurry immobile drunk who makes Brezhnev look like Jim Carrey. Of course, the news was bad last year, for utterly different reasons; then, the Asian crisis was going to sweep the globe, and we’d all be living in birch lean-tos within a year. But there’s nothing like an uncertain war, waged uncertainly, to spread disquiet. I’ve no faith in the country’s leadership: none. Zip. If Bill Clinton told me there was a mosquito on my forehead I’d swat my cheek.

Lo! The Looming Abyss! Well, I’ve always thought the abyss was just a step ahead; I have some sort of catastrophizing dread-gene buried deep in my bones. When I was six I woke up in the middle of the night convinced I had heart cancer. But there are times when you envy the morons, the cheery souls who bounce from day to day bitching about co-workers and reruns, the sort of people who you find in small Wisconsin bars at age 74 smoking Pall Malls and cackling over last night’s pulltab haul.

O, ‘tis a curse to be Deep.

No, it’s just a pain to be nervous. Part of this goes back to the Great Disillusionment that happened sometime in the last 5 years - the realization, which strikes most everyone at some point, that human nature is not going to be fixed in your lifetime. Damn. Anyway, it’s a stupid mood to have in the spring, what with Minneapolis and the creek lush and overgrown, the blue skies spattered with birdsong, the creek burbling its sibilant lullaby. These things outlast any of us. But they are not good, or bad; they simply are. Natural beauty is amoral, and the Romantics to the contrary, it doesn’t mean anything, it just is. (I mean the 19th century artists, not the 80s rock band.) (What I like about Yews! / You really know how to bud! / When you put roots down / In the ground / Taking substance from the mud! Yeah!)

Actually, no. I take it back. Human nature is not perfectible, but people can act in more perfect ways. Reading this book about the Spartans, I realize that the ancients would have laughed if a foe bombed the wrong building, or apologized for killing civilians. The entire point of war was to kill civilians. (After they’d been raped or robbed.) I’d venture to suggest that the West still manifests signs of the long slow halting crawl towards Enlightenment. But that would be chauvinistic and disrespectful of other cultures.

Where I am going with this? Simple: to bed.

A storm is moving in, and it doesn’t care who knows it. The trees are full of gossip, but half the time their worries come to naught. Tonight, however, a storm would seem correct - a warm day and warm night are best followed by a 2 AM storm, a sharp crack of thunder, a troubled mutter of thunder. In the hours before a storm, normal sounds seem nervous and somewhat frantic - the car whizzing down the street a few blocks away sounds like it’s fleeing; the quick tinkling jangle of dogtags makes you think of a beast and a man heading for shelter, not a pair of friends out for an evening’s stroll.

Which reminds me: it’s been a while since I’ve headed down to the creek at midnight with Jasper. I think we’ll take a walk when I’m finished here.

Oh, I’m finished here NOW. Been sitting at the machinery most of the night, banging out pieces for various jobs & obligations, taking time out to explore the fascinating world of Rollover Buttons. There’s something odd about crafting small minute meaningless interface adjustments while listening to a radio interview with a Lubavitch rabbi - he’s describing events of unutterable cosmic significance, and I’m adjusting graphic elements by two-pixel increments. The more time I spend in Photoshop the more I am convinced that God is NOT in the details, no matter what the philosopher said. God is in the generalities. Details are the devil’s domain.

Who said God is in the details, anyway? Mies Van Der Rohe, I think. Interesting quote, given that the man’s architecture had no details whatsoever.

Grilled a succulent pig-tubule for supper tonight. It’s a piece of meat about a foot long, four inches thick; it cannot possibly come from any contiguous part of the pig. It must be reformed chopped processed nitrate-soaked flavoring-added pressed shaped hogflesh. Delicious. But it looks disgusting when you buy it - encased in plastic wrap, it resembles a shaved Wookie phallus. The dog was interested in the meal, but he’s interested in all meals; still, some wafting spirit from this one made him lick his muzzle for half an hour before I gave him some scraps. I even poured residual pig-juice on his Iames Dry Offal-Flavored Nuggets, which led to another round of hopeful muzzle-laving. He ate until he was completely sated. Half an hour later he decided he had to eat a bee. Ah, the Great Predator. He stalked, and brought down, the Noble Bee, then aacked and spat as its bitter taste bit his tongue. Still, it was prey, and must be consumed. Crunch. Crunch. He spat out a thorax, regarded it with regret, then ate it. Somewhere a colony of bees is without crucial pollen-location telemetry; for them, Jasper’s snack was like a spy satellite lost in orbit. But that is why there are more bees than dogs.

Revisited an old quote in the paper, but was pleased to read it again: we idolize most those virtues we lack. It struck a nerve, since I’m reading this account of the Spartans, and nodding with grim approval at their Manly Rituals and ways of inuring themselves to phobos, to fear, to dread of combat. I know full well I’d fill my breeches at the thought of being a cook for such an army, let alone a soldier; so why do find some of these ancient qualities so notable, so impressive? Because we idolize most those virtues we lack. But why? Perhaps because we want to be judged by what we would like to be, not what we are. We want our aspirations to count more than our actual accomplishments. And there’s a built-in safety device - I may be none of the things I admire, but at least I am good enough to admire those things deserving of admiration. It sounds good, it sounds oh-so-human, but that’s really the curse of the 20th century: your admiration of esoteric certainties precludes any criticism of the actual effects of your actions. I.e., if you admire the concept of an egalitarian society, that excuses us from any unintended consequences of your policies. Sure, the Soviets killed 40 million citizens to build a modern society, and yes, they failed to build that modern society, but their goals were noble, and what was America doing? Building better washing machines.

I’ll take the society that aims low and overshoots the mark than the one that aims at heaven and shoots its fellow man in the head.

Off to the creek - dark, frightening, full of trees with arms and the ghosts of squirrels long dead.

The microwave is sick. I might have to put it down soon. Oh, I’ve been through this before, as a kid; my dad bought a microwave in the late 60s for use at the station, a means to cook sandwiches for hungry travellers. It was a powerful beast; when you set it on high, people on the other side of town felt their fillings twinge. I used to love to play with that machine, roasting various experiments on lazy summer afternoons. I always learned something, and the blisters on my skin usually went down by nightfall. One day I went to the station and the microwave was gone. Dad said he’d sold it. Sold it! I don’t think I ever forgave him.

Now I have my own, and I love it dearly, but I think it’s ill. The rotating plate doesn’t rotate - it goes an inch to the left, then back to the right, as if shaking its head in confusion. Last night it had an accident - burned a bag of popcorn. I hope it’s not suffering.

People tell me I should wait a while, then get a new one, but it won’t be the same. I know this microwave. I know its quirks, its personality. I know how to reset the clock when the fuses blow. Every microwave is different; they all have different interfaces, and I tire at the thought of training myself to adapt to another one. But I have to face facts. It has to be put down. We’ll meet again, in the Rainbow Kitchen.

Sorry - I need to compose myself -

Okay. Just came back from sitting on the porch, listening to the planes whine and grind their way through the clouds overhead as I read this account of Thermopalae, a battle long concluded. As I sat down at the computer the talk show host on the radio was playing “The Green Berets” for grins; as it played I thought back, way back, to childhood, of banging out the chords of that particular jingo hymn. The sheet music had a picture of Barry Sadler on it, staring unblinking into some foreign sun. (I only mastered the opening chords; after that I had to pick out the melody single-fingered fashion, much to the disappointment of the aunts who’d assembled to hear the performance.) When the song was done, the host described how this was the first piano piece he’d learned how to play. Hmm, I thought. Not really a coincidence, but close. I was thinking of the Green Berets and the Spartans, how each age has a warrior class, how different eras value this class, and how many people in the 60s must have ground their teeth at the sound of the song. The host took a call from a guy whose parents had ground their teeth at the sound of the song. Hmm. Well, we’re all thinking alike tonight, then.

Did the BBC interview. I had four segments to my bit. The host asked four questions, each of which led directly to my segment. It must have sounded as if I was improvising brilliantly, when I was just unspieling my planned routine.

In other words: the radio is reading my mind tonight, or vice versa. I think I’ll listen to some CDs now.

Last night after posting the Bleat I went for a midnight walk with the dog. We paused on the bridge and listened to the water rush below, a great gargling torrent heading for the falls. No other sound - no planes, no sirens, no cars. A perfect evening, warm and humid, a perfect respite after weeks of rain.

Then the rain began again.

We headed back into the woods and ran the last lenght before the rain really pelted down. It was still raining this morning. It was raining at noon. It rained harder from one to five. It stopped raining half an hour before sunset - a mere smear of purple on the horizon - then it clouded over again. Rain predicted through Tuesday, with cooler temps. Half the city is on the verge of screaming and the other half wants to kill something. It’s not the rain so much as the knowledge that this precious interval of Outside Time, this holy gap between winter and winter has been diminished and sullied. SCREW IT! I’m moving to Arizona.
Well, no.

Went to work, wrote a column. Tomorrow: rain. Saturday: Sun! And I’ll be indoors all day at a wedding! Great! Fabulous! Kill me! Now! Sunday, rain, which is fine, since I need to paint the basement, again. Given the wretched job I did with the primer, I’ll have to add about 30 coats to smooth things out.

Have to write - it’s a seven-piece week, and I’ve three to go. Later ~