Monday, July 23, 2007

People in the Sky

So, what's new? Nothing. Mowed the yard, drank beer, ate pizza. That's as good as it gets. Some will disagree, but must concede I'm a man of my word. I said I was going to do it and I am. I'll weed-eat the yard before mowing (takes about an hour) and I'm already sweat-drenched. Wouldn't hurt to take a short break. So I open a beer and then I'm wondering, "Where'd that go? Better have another." But I get back to it and mow till I'm done (takes about two hours). Time for another, and another. Then I blow off the sidewalks, put everything away, and sit down on the backstep for another. I sit there smoking and drinking and watching the people take their evening walks and the lizards come out of the azaleas to play out their territorial dramas on the sidewalk. The males have red throats and spend a lot of time blowing them up like balloons. If I were a female lizard I'd be impressed.

There is some cause for sadness. After 17 years of keeping the same one going, I finally broke down and bought a new mower. The old one still runs, but when I pulled on the starter rope a couple days ago, it unraveled into the magneto chamber, so I decided to hell with it. The handle and the self-propulsion broke years ago, but I kept the handle together with an ingenious combination of hose clamps and nuts and bolts and shims. I let the self-propulsion go because I like the pushing and pulling. It's a good workout. Here's the dead one, a Murray body and a Briggs and Stratton 5hp engine. See the duct tape on top of the engine housing? It kept the debris filter from flying off. Someone ought to say a eulogy:

And here's the new one in all its shiny red glory. It has a key-start ignition, 6.75 foot-pounds of torquemada, which tranlates into 6.5 horses of pure mole-mulching power:

As the last man in the area (save for my next door neighbor, but he's too old to make fun of) to do my own yard, I'm known as the Lawnmower Man. Sometimes it's the cricket-killer, or the man with the grasshopper guillotine. Mr. Insect-O-Cide. Sometimes it's just Blade. Of course, they don't say these things to my face. I get it by the backdoor. I have informants. They're honest people who still admire the effort, seeing the hypocrisy of others who take pride in a landscape they pay somebody else to work on. What they do to make the beer taste good I have no idea. Not much, it looks like. They leave in the morning, come home in the evening, turn on the electronic distractions, end of story. They probably don't drink beer anyway. Too blue collar. Wine and cheese, I imagine. Bottled water. But you wait. They'll need some artery-drano not too far down the road.


Bernadette came to visit last weekend. It was a heartbreaker. We played golf and I won. I had hoped that would never happen again. Awful to watch. The swing was still beautiful, gorgeous really, but it's a game of fine-tuning, and the dogged discipline of relentless practice. If you want to be good at it, make it your religion.

She likes her new life though. She makes good money and is actually in charge of running an institution of sorts. She doesn't have to live in hotels and has a steady circle of friends, which has always been important to her. She likes people and people like her. It's been that way since childhood. She thinks the world ought to be one big happy family. She didn't get that from me. All I ever told her was that Jesus loves the little children of the world, and made her go to church. Like I told her in a recent text-message, "You're too sweet to be my daughter." And she says, "No I'm not. You have a very kind soul when u want to let people c it, and u should more often." She is of course almost certainly mistaken, or confusing me with someone else, but ain't that just like a girl? What a heart-warmer. Here she is during her visit home, lying in bed and pretending to read William Faulkner's Light in August:

She brought the dog, of course, who practically leapt out the window to get at me as she was pulling into the driveway. We have a bond. Here's Cedar on the back of the couch, alert:

And here he is at rest:

And here he is lying on her legs, unhappy that she is pretending to read Light in August:

He will eventually start pawing the book and put an end to it.

The only thing better than beer, pizza and yardwork is having her around. That's it. Just her presence. She doesn't actually have to do anything to prove her worth. Here she is again lying on the couch watching TV; every now and then she turns one of these smiles on me and I'm on the stairway to heaven. Reminds me of when she used to be here all the time:

Speaking of daughters, I have another one, and she's coming to visit in about a month. She visited a friend in Ohio recently, and wrote us a letter on the flight home:

Hey Mom & Dad, I'm writing you this card as I "enjoy" my plane ride home after visiting J__. This is the smallest plane I've ever been on...apparently it's Continental 'Express' I'm flying. I really lucked out on my seat, too, all the way at the back in the very last row. But it's a window! So I don't need to take drastic measures, such as passing out, just to get a seat change.

(She's done that before, but not on purpose. She doesn't like being crowded.) She talks about her friend a bit and her wedding on the Sieberling property, a mansion now a historical museum, Mr. Sieberling having been one of the co-founders of the Goodyear Tire Company. I guess it was the nearest thing to a church they could find. Then it's back to the plane:

I wish this plane didn't rattle so (damn) much. It feels like we're a tiny little mosquito buzzing and swerving through the sky. Do you like how I inserted a swear word into the sentence previous to the previous sentence? Did you like the previous sentence? Oh God, what is this altitude doing to me?

You can see why I like her. She's been given talents in more than one area. She's also beautiful like her sister, so I'll post some of her after her visit because I know you're addicted to pictures. It's a visual world and you have succumbed like everybody else. For example, here's one of the camphor tree at night (the one that Sam the squirrel visits - I think his home's in one of the oaks out front) and I'll bet you can't stop from looking:

And here's one taken from the front yard so's you can appreciate the beauty of a Florida evening without a hurricane:

Can't get enough, can you?

While we're on the subject of dogs, this one saved a toddler from a rattlesnake. Took the bite himself and survived after his head swole up to the size of a grapefruit. A chihuahua, no less. The link is to a two minute video in which dog and toddler appear. I present the evidence, you decide. Here's a picture of him:

But watch the video.

Bern was driving down the interstate a few weeks ago and some guy was tailgating her real hard so she pulled over to the right lane (she figured he was doing 80 or up) and then brake lights start coming on and she has to swerve onto the shoulder to keep from rearending someone and sees the van who was behind her tailgater start rolling over and over, literally bouncing off the highway and into the median, finally landing right side up. It was so awful, better than a Hollywood movie, that she pulled off at the next exit and phoned her mother in tears. "What should I do?" Really shaken up. Didn't even want to get back on the highway. Her mother told her to go back and, if she thought the tailgater responsible, try to get the guy in trouble. So she did. What she couldn't believe, nor could the cop who told her, was that the guy in the van had some injuries but was able to walk away. That means no one will be charged with anything serious. I say charge speeders with assault with a deadly weapon, depraved indifference, something. That'll slow them down.

Speaking of depraved indifference, Bern's not too happy with Michael Vick. Seems he faces 350,000 dollars in fines and up to six years in prison, if the charges are true. In addition to the charge of inflicting death by torture on a number of animals, a cbs story says that "Fifty-four pit bulls were recovered from the property during searches in April, along with a 'rape stand,' used to hold dogs in place for mating; an electric treadmill modified for dogs; and a bloodied piece of carpeting."

Of course, we try to imagine someone doing things like this to a dog like Cedar, and we can't even get the imagination started. Your mind won't let you do it. Of people who like to watch animals tear each other apart, I've often wondered how far they are from enjoying the same with people. I'll bet not too. I don't see why a taste for cruelty would be impeded by the species barrier. At least the reason is not an obvious one. You can read more here, but I ain't puttin' up no pictures. Here's a page of Google images if you've got to see them.

Speaking of terrorism, I put up a little post at WWwtW about Cheney's decision to have planes shot down on 9/11 and it generated some comments. You never know about these things, but it turns out people get protective about their prerogative to kill innocent people in a good cause. The next night, purely by coincidence, I'm sitting in front of the TV like most of the semi-civilized Western World and A&E decides to re-run its Flight 93. Not the theatrical release, but its own version, made before the theater thing, which I've never seen because I don't want what this one left me with diluted. Maybe I'm a sentimental slob, but it's quite powerful, the acting uniformly superb. I recognized some of the players, but none by name. You see things like a 16 year old girl named Elizabeth calling her Mom by cellphone: "Mom. We've been hijacked. I'm calling to say good-bye." Her mom sits on the ledge of her bay window in her nice suburban home with her back to the street, where kids are playing in the sun. We hear some of the conversation, but then the camera moves outside. What we hear now are the shouts of children, but all we see of her, from behind, is the shaking of her shoulders in the agony of farewell. Another woman's moving about the house when she hears on the TV that some United planes have been hijacked, and she searches frantically through some papers looking for her husband's flight number. Yet another talks to her husband awhile, and when he finally breaks off - "We're going to do something" - she collapses to the patio floor. The last thing Todd Beamer does before his famous "Let's roll" is say the Lord's Prayer with some black lady back at airline headquarters. It's the kind of thing that makes you want to go hug your wife and kids. For a long time.

And that's when it struck me what I hate so much about terrorism, the kind of hate that tempts the suspension of certain moral inviolables in the desire to take retribution. It's not just the killing of innocent people - or the compulsion of a death-cult-murder-suicide mentality, or the promise of some absurd to the point of demonic afterlife where you get all the women you wish you could have had in this one - in which they take pleasure. No, they simply luxuriate in the knowledge that they have come down into your home, the woman's domain, the place of peace and rest where children and dogs (and grown men) find love and protection, and that those you leave behind will carry this knife through the heart for the remainder of their days. Not one will go by when they don't think about it. They have emptied a part of her soul, left her children bereft, and they revel in it. Terrorism destroys the home.

You all think when I'm sitting out there on the back steps with my beer I'm just being self-indulgent, a sort of mini-version of eating, drinking and being merry for tomorrow we die. Yeah, maybe some of that. But sometimes I put things off longer than I should have and end up sitting in the dark, and after all the people have gone inside and the lizards disappeared into the bushes, there's not much to do but sit there and think and stare at the sky. I think a lot about my girls and how my family will never be all together again - now that they're all grown up - except for the occasional Thanksgiving or Christmas; and about my parents now deep into old age and edging toward the horizon; and about a brother who died 50 years before his time. Last weekend I was out there in the dark and staring up at a big moon - three-quarters or full, I can't remember - and saw a vapor trail coming out from behind it. It wasn't, of course; that's just what it looked like. At the front end of the trail was a plane, a passenger jet I assumed. The lights blink in a certain way and the engine roar has that way up sound. There's nothing new about air travel, I've never known a time when it wasn't there, yet still I'm amazed at the fact that there are people in the sky. My wife and daughters fly with some frequency, so sometimes when I see those jets up there I say a prayer for the passengers, even for the drunk who might be harrassing the stewardess, and hope that they all have someone waiting at the other end. I say it because all they want, even if they don't know it, is to get home.

There were some more things I wanted to talk about, and it would have been fun, but there isn't time.


Elena LaVictoire said...

The wedding your daughter attended sounds like it was at the Stan Hywet mansion in Akron. I could walk there from my house!! It's very close to my home. Wish I'd known she was in town!

TS said...

Great post Bill.

Christopher Blosser said...

second that.

William Luse said...

I think you've got the wrong city, Elena, but I'll check on it.

Thanks, guys.

Elena LaVictoire said...

I'll bet it was.

I'm hoping to see Othello there next month. I'm also going to shoot my son's senior pictures on the scenic grounds and gardens.

Susan B. said...

I enjoyed this post. I was considering commenting on your WWWtW post, but I really don't think I should.

William Luse said...

I think you're right, Elena.

Okay, Susan. Whatever you think's best.

Lydia McGrew said...

Good post, Bill. Sobering. And I think perhaps all the more sobering the more I thought about it. Because Mohammed Atta and those chaps weren't, I think, particularly constrained to kill people in that relatively quick and, in one sense, impersonal way because they would have had any qualms about _literally_ coming into a house and kidnaping and killing the women and children. They did it this way because it was spectacular and killed large numbers at a time. And in fact, thugs like Atta and his gang have indeed murdered, raped, tortured, and killed individual people in far more targeted and personal attacks throughout the world. So I think the view of these guys as "bringing death into the home" is more than just a metaphor, because that's the kind of people they really are.

William Luse said...

Yeah, I used to wonder how people got that way, but not any more. I'm under no obligation to empathize with the diabolical, but only to know it when I see it. And maybe the fear that you can't 'know' this kind of thing unless it's already a part of you.

Anonymous said...

The proper term is "jury-rigged". When the proper masts of a ship were damaged by storm or shot, new masts would be felled upon landfall and secured by a very complicated knot called a "jury-knot" which would hold fast all the neccessary guys to keep the mast upright in high wind.

William Luse said...

Yeah, that's the proper term all right.