From the Skies

I don’t know if you missed it or not, but a couple of days ago there was a news item that stated there had been more than 12,000 lightning strikes in California in one week, which seemed to me to be an astoundingly high number. Especially since lightning strikes and wildfires go together. And there is no state that knows more about wildfires than California.

Then I thought … how do they know that there were 12,000? A couple of computer clicks and a phone call or two and I had my answer. There is a small office at the state capitol in Sacramento with lettering on the door that says Department of Revolting Environmental Developments, and yesterday I had a Zoom conference with the man who sits behind that door. His name is Arthur Schwarzenegger, who is a third cousin to the more famous Arnold, and is a holdover from that administration.

Mr. S. (we’ll call him that because Schwarzenegger takes way too long to type out each time) is a small balding man in his late fifties. His remaining wispy hair mostly sticks out from his head, forming a gray halo of sorts (and this is unnerving) and the hairs seem to almost writhe as we converse. His eyes dart constantly about the room, and he taps with a pencil on the desktop rapidly and without interruption. The muscles of his face twitch throughout the interview, independently of one another.

His shirt is badly buttoned and his cravat is tied poorly, which gives him a decidedly untidy appearance. We spoke under the condition that I not publish a word of the conversation, a promise that I fully intended to break at the time I made it, and this is the result.

Interviewer: Thank you for meeting with me, Mr. S, I know that you must be busy at this time of year. Am I correct in assuming this?

Mr. S.: Yes, yes, terrible busy. I can only give you five minutes.

Interviewer: Well, let’s get to it, then. I read that your state recently had 12,ooo lightning strikes in the space of a week. Is that number accurate?

Mr. S.: Yes, it is.

Interviewer: How do you know that?

Mr. S.: I count them.

Interviewer: You mean your office counts them?

Mr. S.: No, I do. Me. I count all of them.

Interviewer: Do you not have office staff to help out? Some sort of technology to assist you in this endeavor?

Mr. S.: No … it’s just me and a clicker.

Interviewer: But how … ?

Mr. S.: I sit out in thunderstorms at the place in our state that has the most strikes and click each time one comes.

Interviewer: And this is accurate?

Mr. S.: Very. I am warned of each upcoming blast by the fact that my hair sticks straight out from my head. So I never miss a one.

Interviewer: But, sir, you can only certify the lightning you can see around you, and California is a very large state. How can you …

Mr. S.: I extrapolate. Whatever number of bolts I see, I multiply by a factor to get the total for the entire state.

Interviewer: Is this factor a scientifically derived value?

Mr. S.: No. I made it up. Whole cloth and all that.

Interviewer: So this is a very soft number indeed.

Mr. S.: The softest.

Interviewer: Aren’t you worried about this? Your job, for instance, is that secure with you making things up as you go along?

Mr. S.: Look, I work out of this crummy office, by myself, with an ancient computer running Windows 95. When I am in the field, and I mean literally in the field, I wear rubber clothing, rubber shoes, rubber underwear, run wires from my hat to the ground as a precaution, and still I have been knocked down by lightning 37 times as of yesterday. What are they going to do to me?

At that, there was a crashing noise in the hallway outside his door, and Mr.S. dove under his desk with surprising alacrity for a man of middle years. He would not come out from under, and so we terminated the interview.

Even though my confidence had been shaken quite a bit, I was still impressed … 12,000 … that’s a lot of lightning, soft count or not.

******

******

Paul Simon is one of those artists whose music has been part of my personal soundtrack, always playing there somewhere in the background, and coming up louder whenever needed. This has been so since the day Sound of Silence flowed out of my car radio, and when Bridge Over Troubled Water was released … Hoo Boy … he and I were off and we never looked back.

Then the Graceland album – totally excellent, nest-ce pas? – yes it was and the title tune was so upbeat and all that it was perhaps a year before I really listened to the lyrics. And then, I thought Paul – you really suckered me there, didn’t you? That’s a darned sad song with words to make you think about your own … but, hey … so I waited for someone to slow the tune down and let us in on the feelings held in those naked words.

And I found someone who did just that, and did it beautifully as well. Her name is Kina Grannis and I put her version up there with Paul’s.

Might as well add the lyrics, here … you can’t tell the players without a program

The Mississippi Delta
was shining like a national guitar
I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the Civil War

I’m going to Graceland, Graceland
Memphis, Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland
Poor boys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland

My traveling companion is nine years old
He is the child of my first marriage
But I’ve reason to believe
We both will be received
In Graceland

She comes back to tell me she’s gone
As if I didn’t know that
As if I didn’t know my own bed
As if I’d never noticed
The way she brushed her hair from her forehead
And she said, “losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow”

I’m going to Graceland
Memphis, Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland
Poor boys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland

And my traveling companions
Are ghosts and empty sockets
I’m looking at ghosts and empties
But I’ve reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I’m falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
“Whoa, so this is what she means”
She means we’re bouncing into Graceland
And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Well, everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow

Ooh, ooh, ooh
In Graceland, in Graceland
I’m going to Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see
Graceland
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there’s no obligations now
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

Whoa, oh, oh
In Graceland, in Graceland, in Graceland
I’m going to Graceland

******

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