Thursday, November 6, 2014

How many more?

I'm sitting outside in the Florida fall night. I've just watched the sun go down in front of me and the full moon is rising behind me and Paul Bowles is asking, "How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless." 

I try very hard to get outside, to watch the full moon rise. To just smell the air. It is a constant battle.

A good friend and former instructor of mine is a good ol' Carolina boy. He flew OV-10s for a piece, including a stint of scaring himself half to death during Desert Storm. He retired some time ago and became a simulator instructor, which suited him. He did a great job of inducing chaos in the ride, some of which stemmed simply from his desire to learn what different buttons did on the fly. You were guaranteed to learn something about flying - sometimes only if you really dug deep and then made a leap of faith. But no matter what, the down home banter was worth the visit in and of itself.

He told me and a copilot once about how he'd gone home to the mountains for the holidays. A relative was a park ranger. So, my friend asked him, "Do you ever, you know, go home at night and find yourself thinking about work?" He narrated the reaction. "So, he just looked at me like I had a dick growing' outta my forehead. So I guess, no, he doesn't think about work when he goes home."

For many of us, that is a foreign concept. We're always thinking about work. And if it isn't work, it is some other scheme or project or hope or dream. Another friend of mine calls them mind movies. And they are awfully cinematic when we concoct them, but I've yet to have one turn out the way I imagined. Even some of my most incredible and memorable moments were just over too quick and I was too consumed in doing and managing what was going on to fully enjoy it. So, now I'm left with just a few snapshots - like the one from my last flight in a C-130. I led a 3-ship on a low-level route that started by Monterey, California and flew south along the coast past Big Sur. I remember at one point looking off the left wing and just being awestruck by the mountain peaks rising above us and the surf crashing below. That lasted for about 2 seconds until the nagging feeling that we must have been doing something wrong crept in and I busied myself checking our position and the charts and the restrictions. By the time I'd convinced myself we were legit, the best part of the ride was over.

We all want those memories, but even more, we want a legacy. We want to be immortal in some small way. We want to be remembered, looked up to, carried on. Also, we want to not be known for screwing the pooch - speaking in the terms of one of my earliest favorite movies, "The Right Stuff." Or as Alan Shepard was depicted to have said, "Dear Lord, please don't let me fuck up."

We are addicts, as I wrote in an article some months ago, all of us. Like Bubbs in The Wire - and Jimmy McNulty, and Tommy Carcetti. Always looking for the next fix, in whatever form it may be. As I wrote then:

If there was one positive note in that Wire finale, it was Bubbles. The most vibrant scene of the entire series shows him at a Sunday morning farmers’ market. The colors are sharp. The sounds are lively and soothing. You can feel him coming alive again, as he reads the day’s Sun. His struggle is featured on the front page in a story entitled “The Road Home.” Perhaps it is only a coincidence, but the front-page banner advertises a feature called “Life During Wartime.” 
In the end, a new cast of characters moves into the roles of those who passed on. The roles are the roles. New people will keep filling them. You cannot change the game, as addicting as it is to rail against it. And they are all addicted: to the junk, the money, the power, the chase, the identity… to the game. 
But, you can walk away. While Bubbles cleaned himself up, he lived in the dark cellar of his sister’s house, behind a bolted door. In Bubbs’ last scene, he is standing in the darkness, looking up into the light as his sister holds open the door. He climbs those cellar stairs into the sunlight and sits down to a meal with family. I have spent enough time in the cellar. It is time to shake off this fruitless addiction and head into the light of the living.
This, too, is an aspect of the theme of the novel and why I want to title it The Earth Remains Forever. The game is a big cycle and there isn't much new to it. You have to play it in some manner, but there is no "winning" it. The only win comes outside of the game.

One morning, driving to Macdill AFB, I was with all of the other cortisol drenched zombies - trying not to get killed on MSR Tampa as they sped and swerved in their oversized pickups thinking only of themselves, their importance, and their aggression on Bayshore Boulevard - one of the most scenic drives you could imagine. In this, my eyes settled for a moment on a jogger who was stopped and stretching. Her face was bathed in a rosy pink and she had a look of complete wonder and peace as she gazed east. I followed her gaze to see the massive red ball of the sun climbing once again out of the sea. It was beautiful. If it wasn't for her look, I'd have missed it, like nearly everyone else on that road. 

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