—From the Fool—
My brother really meant it. Last week I called him and he was upset because he’d got too rich and paid all his debts and didn’t have anything to be worried about. I thought I heard him say maybe he’d buy an elephant.
He really meant it. When he went down to bail our sister out of jail, he told her he’d done it. “Course I mean it’s in process, cause there’s lotsa red tape—lawyers, impact studies, bribes, that stuff.”
Turns out that for him an elephant isn’t that expensive, maybe $30,000 from Thailand, though it’s not cheap once you pay the postage. And then add up the feeding costs and maybe getting two or three more to keep company, it would start to add up. But it still wouldn’t amount to the level of debt that would keep his blood pressure up.
But then he realized that an elephant, even at a bargain price, would give him what he needed: constant worry. What if it went on a rampage, caused a billion-dollar lawsuit, got sent to a foster home? How many guys could you hire at minimum wage to walk your elephant? How would you shovel out hundreds of pounds of dung a day and where would you shovel it to?
The great thing, he said, would be that, when he woke in the middle of the night, he’d be thinking about his elephant’s bowels without a thought to the upcoming election. “Anything but eight more months of that!” He might have a point.
I couldn’t afford an elephant, but I might check out pot-bellied pigs.
I call them “The Guys.” You know, those tricksy pranksters who hide things in plain sight, giggle when you give up the search, then (sometimes) give it all back. This week they outdid themselves.
I had spent many hours working on a birthday gift project for two of my friends, recording a bunch of my favorite poems to put on CD. When I visited Flora in Milwaukee last month, I’d read a couple of poems to her, and she remarked on the big difference between hearing and reading. Of course, that’s the whole point of the Oral Traditions salon that brightens our life every couple of months, and the idea popped into my head of doing this.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve used my recording gear, the last project having been the score for Lear, and it took a while for me to get up so speed. Last year I had a hard disk crash, and I’ve had problems with the new one, which is of a different generation from all my other gear, but I had absolutely no idea what was waiting for me. The Guys, of course.
The computer that’s central to my recording is quite old, as these things go, one of the quaint iMacs that sits on a half-ball base, and the new hard disk is such a hotshot that it requires an adapter to plug into the old-fashioned Firewire port. I set up a new project for the poetry and recorded raw files with no problems, then trimmed and edited and set about doing the “bounces” that convert files into the form for CD playback.
These bounces happen in real time, so I’d set one going and go do something else for a couple of minutes. At some point, I came back and found that my background screen had changed and the Finder wouldn’t work. In other words, my rig had lost its mind.
Restart? No help, same outcome. Worse yet, not everything had a backup. After rejecting fainting as an option, I grabbed a laptop and used it to fire up the iMac as a target disk, a workaround that bypasses the target computer’s operating system and addresses its internal hard disk directly.
I plugged a 64 GB flash drive into the laptop and began copying files. Hours later, I shut everything down, booted Disk Warrior, tricked the iMac into opening its drive, and tried to begin the process of trouble-shooting. No boot. Nada.
I got the disk ejected, turned around to put it away, and suddenly the iMac started up all by itself, normally, and everything was as it should be. My project is now finished, I have a good set of backups, and The Guys can still be heard snickering.
Bill, Erica, Ken, Morning Glory, James, Taj, Peggy, Gayl, Gor. It’s been a year, or a year or so, of departures.
Ranging from intimate friends over decades to casual friendly hellos at parties. All but a very few have been younger than myself. Some have gone after long struggles, others with the dash of an ocean wave or a motorcycle swerve. Some, at close hand; others just a sad whisper on Facebook.
I’ve heard people talk of the moment when “mortality” became real to them, but for me it’s been a long chain of moments, thankfully scattered over many years. First, I suppose, is the point at which the child becomes aware of something called Death that’s not just a storybook notion. Dunno where that was for me, maybe my mother telling me about an aunt in Kansas who caught fire with her two small kids from a coal stove. We had a coal stove then, and I stayed back from coming close.
Then you encounter it in the news and in the Korean body counts, where we’re killing lots more Commies than they’re killing us, so death isn’t so bad, it’s more like the baseball scores. And then suddenly you’re hearing your stepfather making funny sounds and jerking around, and you tell your mom he’s making funny sounds, and she tells you to run and get the neighbors, and then they’re carting him out of the house. But you never liked him anyway, so it’s a welcome change.
Then some girl from your class is absent a lot, then word comes that she’s died, and your class writes a card — a thank-you card or a get-well card or a condolences card — to her parents and you all look sad, but Kathy Bogardus wasn’t really that popular, so it isn’t that big a deal.
Professors die. Relatives die. Well, people die. Literature is full of it, and denial-of-death is part of our social dysfunction and at least we personally have transcended that, we hope. But then you celebrate your fortieth birthday, and suddenly, yike, shit, zounds, I’m actually mortal. I thought I knew I was, but now there’s a whole new portal of knowing it. It’s when other people die around you. General Pickett has ordered, “Charge!” and as you see your friends dropping around you, a new level of comprehension dawns.
And then your son becomes forty, and the knowledge deepens.
We adapt in different ways. I’m sufficiently armored against adverse emotion to lose myself in the pragmatic. What should be kept, what should be thrown away? What projects are undone? What’s on my mental computer that’s not backed up? The old Boy Scout adage: leave your campsite in better shape than you found it.
And if you’re camping with a companion, there are the questions of “What do I do with your stuff if you disappear in the night?” Or what do you do with mine? Not to mention the emotional factor, which you can never be fully armored against, even if you’re me.
Meantime, you check the email to see the latest passenger list. You reach over to the other side of the bed. You look into the mirror.
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© Bishop & Fuller 2016