Humming Inaudibly In The Rain

Yesterday was supposed to be a rainy one here in dry and dusty Paradise, but what materialized was little more than a spatter. I think that probably the loneliest job in this part of the world would be that of an umbrella salesperson. You would do a good business ten days out of the year and then nobody needs you or wants to talk to you for the remaining 355.

Robin and I carry two umbrellas in our car, which I don’t believe we’ve unfurled even once in the nearly seven years we’ve lived in Colorado. They are the sort of devices which open just large enough to protect one person. Not the Singing in the Rain sort of parapluie at all, where two people who enjoy each other’s company could easily find shelter together.

But use them or not, we carry the umbrellas wherever we go, just in case … . You never know, do you? Which reminds me of a story.

I was a medical student spending a rotation at the old Hennepin County hospital, a relic of the 19th century which is long gone, but which was a wonderful place for a med student to be. It was a sweltering July afternoon when a very old man wandered into the Emergency Department dressed for January.

He was wearing long underwear, a wool shirt, wool pants, long wool overcoat, a large muffler wrapped around his neck, a “bomber” sort of hat, warm gloves, and overshoes. He was looking, he said, for the King of Poland. Why he thought the King would be hanging around the “General” we never found out, and we didn’t want to break the poor guy’s heart by telling him that Poland hadn’t had a King since 1795. So we changed the subject.

What we did ask was why he was wearing so much clothing on such a hot day. His answer was that he was indeed a bit warm, but “when you leave the house in the morning, you never know what’ll happen before you get back there.” We all agreed that his logic was unassailable, and we directed him toward the welcoming arms of our social services department.

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Mr. Biden seems to be pleasing about half the people, and displeasing the other half. Which means he’s probably right where he should be. Conversations on television often talk about our nation’s leaders, but in actuality they rarely do. Lead, that is. Most of the time they are running about trying to find out what it is we want, and then attempting to get in front of that movement.

The hard part, for them, is discerning what our wishes really are and where we’re going. Because finding consensus in a flock of more than 300 million critters is not an easy thing to do.

What has happened is that the character of the herd has changed. We used to resemble sheep, but now we’re definitely more like cats. Nearly un-herdable, we are.

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This past week Robin and I watched a two-part series about Mark Twain’s life, on PBS. It was excellent, and (against all odds) I learned quite a bit about his life and his work. It wasn’t hard to teach me, more like writing on a blank slate, but that’s another matter entirely.

Mr. Twain was the kind of guy I wanted to grow up to be, but instead I became me, and now I am stuck with myself. He was a brilliant writer, humorist, family man, stage performer, and sharp observer of the American scene. I think my eyes were first opened to the depth of the man when I ran across the short piece of writing entitled The War Prayer. Up until then for me he was represented in my head by the indelible characters of Tom and Huck and their friends. Which is already pretty awesome, when you come to think of it.

But The War Prayer, which came into my field of view during the era of the Viet Nam conflict, was a surprise. A passionate antiwar piece if there ever was one.

You know, PBS is like those places in the U.S. where you can pay to wander around and sometimes stumble across a diamond. Not everything archived at PBS is such a treasure, but I’m going to spend more time in there, because there are those occasional gems … .

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