Archive for March, 2009

The midnight rooster

A Russian historian recently claimed that Russians have historically sold out their freedom in order to conquer a great empire, and one of the government’s own favored media ovaries claimed that Russia had no choice between becoming an empire or a colony. And sure, it has become the largest country in the world, but most of that is uninhabited Arctic desert. I really don’t see how Russia has proved itself any more adept at empire-building, or to have sacrificed itself for any greater gains, than Canada, a country that calls its money the loonie and is so timid that it remained a colony for five decades after its colonizer had ceased bothering to govern it. But Russians must have convinced themselves that they possess a wondrous and priceless domain, otherwise they wouldn’t have piled up mountains of tanks and bombs to defend with such great vigor their birch trees and mud. They’re almost as bad as North Korea, about whom I recently saw a news item alleging “Tension on Borders”. That’s basically all North Korea is, a border plus tension.

People like Mitch Albom aren’t armchair philosophers but philosopher-armchairs. The sportswriter Bill Simmons said that a rivalry like Duke-North Carolina doesn’t depend on the people involved, that it’s all about the buildings and uniforms. Well, after all, the same thing has been working for the Catholic Church for hundreds of years now. Hearing and seeing the steady flow of Tyrekes and Dajuans in college basketball, I’ve realized that being a letter in a ghetto name must be a terrifying ordeal, never knowing what you signify or into what dissolute company you will next be thrown, jangling against your companions without pre-constructed harmony like chimes in the wind. If I could get full by pantomiming the motions of eating, I would have found my way to God.

The frog that crossed the sky

I believe that no one has simply had the courage to dive into the thicket and find out whether God is male or female, and I believe that beliefs are too serious a thing to be taken seriously. Winter has become a form of nostalgia. When a civilization is smashed something is crushed too in a grain of sand. Wind is the only part of the landscape companionable enough to travel with me. A sign in the dining hall the other day encouraging everyone to eat mushrooms enticed by listing all the delicious metals they contain. Walks on the street are replies. I stand between two cultures the way the Great Wall does. My dream is to climb inside a vase, protected forever by the sanctity of pretension.

I was not protected at all when I tried to fly into Denver yesterday in the face of exceedingly quarrelsome weather. The wind had filled the sky past the breaking point and broke forth in incessant heaves and blows. It kicked up so much dust on the ground that the whole plain looked on fire and smoking. For a target as wide as the earth the ground nonetheless seemed as elusive and coy a target as a minnow, as the plane lurched and danced and jerked back like a drunk trying to lunge in for a kiss on a reluctant date. There was an abortive attempt to go to Cheyenne to refuel; apparently the pilots ultimately decided, as I did, that braving the cyclone and the whirlwind still beats Wyoming. After twenty more minutes of buckling and disputation with the elements the plane headed to Colorado Springs. I wondered whether the situation would really be better there since it’s only like 70 miles away, but a sort of magic pall descended as we approached. I suspect, after all, that God favors Colorado Springs more than other cities. Though I might have reconsidered the in retrospect perhaps ill-advised decision to wear my “Jesus is my health insurance” shirt had I known we were going there. We eventually got back to Denver not too much behind schedule, though not before the airline people had given themselves the chance to make and break numerous silly promises. They kept saying everything would take 10 minutes: 10 minutes to land, 10 minutes to make it to Cheyenne, 10 minutes to Colorado Springs, 10 minutes to refuel on the ground. 10 minutes must be the airline version of the Five Year Plan: not so much a specific temporal prediction as a vision of a golden time in the near future when all good things will come true. If only I could get an airline to predict that I have 10 minutes to live I would be greatly reassured about my health and longevity.

Back to the steppe

A wet snow falls but blows over and fades from the ground within a couple of hours. It’s sort of like being invaded by Guatemala. Winter disease hangs over the whole city like some kind of minor Puritan retribution. God stands in the kitchen, not in the streets. I see an old beggar lurching from side to side down the street without bending his knees, as if a patter of earthquakes were shaking him forward. A human alarm clock, seeming to exist only to mark the passing of time, but slowly shorting out from being submerged in fluid for too long. Seeing the bums in doorways and alcoves makes the street appear like the barbarian sack of Rome in reverse, as if the gray walls of the city had advanced into the forest and were pillaging the ruins of the tribal camp. Which after all is basically the history of the United States. The best thieves don’t subtract anything, they add themselves. Watching the bums, I think that they may yet, like the Romans, wind up converting the conquerors to their own language and way of life. The world advances daily towards the nomadism of the homeless.