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Wednesday, Jul. 13, 2005
Never fails to amaze me that I can be so haphazard in regard to making an entry or two, and how long it takes me to get up steam for another rant. But also, how fast my mind is fading. Attributing a Revolutionary War hero and his speechifying to a 20th century politician’s soundbite. Now THAT took a leap of faith. Thanks to Dichroic for patiently setting me straight. Again.

I’ve always had a good bit of faith in people who are put in charge. The preacher at the church, the principal, the head mechanic at the garage. I don’t suppose it’s completely out of line to expect diligent and reasoned performance out of those who have risen to the top of whatever game they’re practiced in. In fact, with the possible exception of lawyers, I’ve been blissfully content to follow along with the program set before me for darn near all my life.

I was on a flight to Atlanta one time, a company trip to inspect some construction project we had going on down there. Anybody who’s ever flown into that city knows - it’s one helluva busy airport. They stack up planes in the sky like they’re on an off ramp for the freeway and just blow ‘em in, one right after the other.

Due to the fact that I was sitting at the window on a clear day, and the plane happened to be banked just so, I could actually see two or three planes flying in front of mine lining up for their approach. All of a sudden the jet took this ridiculous bounce, like running over a curb in your car at a fair clip, and sphincters tightened audibly all over the passenger section.

“Sorry folks,” the pilot said over the intercom. “Fella in front of us left a little jet wash for us to run over, heh.” And he said it, of course, in the same soothing manner he’d used when informing us of our cruising altitude an hour before. So soothing and guileless that you’d probably never guess, as soon as he clicked off his mike, he and the co-pilot had a dialogue that would make a sailor blush.

In the aftermath (it sounds so very blasé but I can tell you for a fact that some very experienced passengers went dead white after this one) you were left to wonder, just what the hell? I mean, are we really gonna be okay up here or what? What the heck are these flyboys doing up here, anyhow?

Of course it all ended very routinely, we glided into Hartsfield with a minimum of fuss and herded ourselves into the terminal and by the time we found the baggage rack, it was all but forgotten. One of those conversational jokes for later on at lunch with the project manager. “Gee, thought I was gonna have to parachute my way in here for minute there. Sumbitch drives a plane like it was turn four at Daytona, for crying out loud.”

Now maybe if that sort of thing happened to me a lot, and if I was not too keen on flying in the first place, maybe my little inner voice would start chirping away. “Hey, knucklehead. Might be prudent to, you know, take the train from now on. Drive the car. Hell, walking might be an adventure, who’s to say?” and other prodding insights. I might get totally delirious and start thinking that there was a conspiracy afoot. “You know those lunatics up there in the pilot seat are up to no good. Why, they just had that big crash in Dallas a few weeks ago. ‘Paper said there was no good explanation for it. Yeah, I’ll just bet there wasn’t.”

That hasn’t happened. I’ll still fly. Lord knows whatever pilot I draw is bound to be better at it than I am.

But ever since that day, when I encounter an otherwise very balanced and pleasant person whose lips draw back in fear at the very mention of a ride on an airplane, I’ve been a little more cognoscente. A tad more understanding. Gone are the days when I’d give a hearty laugh and say, “What? You’d rather sit in a car for 12 hours than cruise down to Atlanta in 90 minutes and read a magazine on the way? C’mon, get with the program. I can fly down, eat lunch with the man and take in a movie in the time it‘ll take you to get to your first gas stop.”

I don’t do that anymore. Getting with the program just took a hard bank to the left and ran over some major jet wash in my piece of the sky.

It might have been when the Attorney General casually remarked that, “The Constitution is an outdated document.” Oh? That’s a helluva note. Seems to have worked pretty well for us little guys up until now.

Or maybe it was when, for the ninety-’leventh time an additional tax was stuck on cigarettes. Smoking may be a nasty thing to you. I’m not saying it’s the most advisable habit to take on, and it sure raises hell when you light up at a wedding, but for Pete’s sake. Why is it an automatic gesture on the part of every body of lawmakers to tax the bejesus out of a farm crop just because you can? And then turn the profits into subsidies for the by-now wailing farmer?

We take off our Nike’s in airports now, as suggested by a large youth with a 9mm.

We take the news of tracking devices in every sort of personal object, from a car to a visa to a cell phone, with a shrug and a weary nod to “That’s the price we pay.”

I don’t think it’s too awful a thing to say that - there’s a whole bunch of pilots out there, but nobody is flying the plane.

Last week it was July the 4th and I gathered the kids and wife and did what I’d been doing for the past many years, perfecting the art of grilling flesh out of doors and waiting for the potato salad to be put in a bowl. Looking over a backyard with a dog sprawled in happy agreement with the world, black fur pressed against green grass and eyes shining on rapidly emptying plates. I spilled sauce on the grille, beer on myself and looked over to find the neighbor doing pretty much the same thing.

And I had to start thinking, and listening to that damned chirping voice.

“Nice, eh? Better enjoy it while you can. Next year you might not have starter fluid for the charcoal. Might not be allowed a fire at all. Might be fighting the powers that be over some idiotic identity card issue or another. Might be mourning one more soul for getting in harms way on a bloody bus.”

There may be many more cookouts, I pray to God that last week wasn’t the Last Barbecue. That something awful, something pent up and raging isn’t about to come crashing down on us with the flail of a gas nozzle or the flash of a weapon, and the solemn words of a voice over the intercom saying that it will be all right. That it was nothing but a bit of the old jet wash. But that we need to be very vigilant. Yes. And very brave. Because otherwise, somebody else wins.

Nobody is winning at this. Not any of us. When it comes right down to it there is no gain or success in stamping the foreheads of un-sheared livestock and whispering, “This will all be over soon, and you’ll be back in your warm stall with all your friends and just for tonight, an extra pail of feed.” There is no big eraser at the end, no switch to throw.

I don’t like to think about tucking a loved one under each arm and stumbling into this vast cavern. I don’t like lurking around where it is still dim and hearing the nervous calling of friends, the lighting of matches and the conversations that end in question.

I don’t know the ending to it, anymore than I know the ending to this little speech. But it is what has been thrust on us, and I’m not too crazy about the ride we’re taking anymore.

*It drives home C.S. Lewis' observation that all evil is ultimately banal. And it reminded me never to give any slack to a politician just because he or she happens to be sincere, pleasant mannered, or honestly committed to a cause.*

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