CODVID RHAPSODY

Somewhere in the cosmos it must be possible to detect the grand rhythm of the planet Earth emanating from its core to its jungles. Imagine the ear-to-the-seashell sound swarming up on some imaginary, very delicate measuring instrument able to detect human audial interaction from, say, the crowds at Piccadilly Circus to the bird squabble of jungles and the roar of Victoria Falls.

Then, on our side of the planet, from Time Square to the prairie where a lone rancher might, at this moment, be sitting strumming his guitar on his rickety front porch. Just imagine it! And let us not leave out the roar of the waves breaking along the ocean and gulf coasts and in the rocky shoals of Lake Superior and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Blended, it might all resemble the effusive finale of our National Anthem. Or “God Bless America.” Or, perhaps, “America the Beautiful.” We might her crickets chirping along the ridges of those “Purple Mountains majesty.”

So what sound did the virus make at the moment of its release? The release of that otherwise silent, invisible-to-the-naked eye microbe?

I speak of the virus that has, for over a year, brought the entire planet to heel and put every mortal in pandemic mode, including, for instance, occupants of any ocean-going ship who might fear one of their fellow voyagers might be transmitting this unseen microbe at the three-inch rim of the glass of Sherry they’ve just gently proffered you. My imagination envisions such unimaginable things.

Yes, what sound did it make? Was it the airy rush of a laboratory tray being opened in the wrong manner under the wrong circumstances, breaking some lab protocol at exactly 3:23 p.m. one Wuhan afternoon? Was it the faintest of sounds made by a shattering beaker?

It was that sound at that moment that has for so long hindered our civilizational interactions. There is beginning to emerge, reluctantly, a scientific consensus that, unbelievable as it seems, the billion-plus occupants of Planet Earth at this moment early in the 21st Century, have seen our lives tranformed, possibly irrecoverably, by the Goof Heard Round the World.

How might one write that in Chinese? For there seems little disagreement that the virus began in Wuhan, China.

Now we have a new report that investigators have not been able to conclude just yet that this virus didn’t somehow begin in nature, not as an accident. They cannot at this point prove it didn’t jump from an animal to man. That was the theory favored and foisted on us at the outset — by experts.

Yet, last January 4 — I write here on August 25, 2021 — New York magazine carried a cover story by Nicholson Baker that concluded that the corona-virus pandemic could well be the result of a laboratory accident in Wuhan. On January 15, the U.S. State Department released a fact sheet about the virus’s origin that drew no conclusions, either, but added one curious new detail:

The U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the (Wuhan Institute of Virology) became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses. This raises questions about the credibility of WIV senior researcher Shi Zhengli’s public claim that there was ‘zero infection’ among the WIV’s staff and students of SARS-CoV-2 or SARS-related viruses.

It has been reported that “from the first days of the pandemic, the Chinese government arrested doctors, suppressed warnings, and denied that the virus could spread one person to another. We have heard that Chinese officials have dragged their feet with the World Health Organization. Xi Jinping and the rest of China’s ruling cohort clearly don’t want a full and thorough investigation.

What is the sound of lies? Of that dark, loud, repetitive, broken-rhythmed rhapsody?

FAREWELL, RALPH. I HARDLY KNEW YOU.

I have few to no readers of this blog that I know of. There is a loyal writer and old friend and classmate in the Pacific Northwest. Thank you, Frederick. I’ve just discovered through Ancestry.com, an Irish cousin living in England and I think I can now count him among my readers.

This is okay. When I’m ready and feeling more “public,” I can certainly try to draw people to share what might be common emotional ground with me. I don’t like getting too political.

But many times, I asked myself as I poured out my thoughts, is there anyone out there? Any new souls who’ve stumbled upon my lair in cyberspace? But I’m certain much of the writing in the world gets written and deposited in life’s proverbial walls, foundations and mental niches, sort of like time capsules, to be found and read later, hopefully with appreciation, perhaps mostly by family.

However, I learned last year that I had one other loyal reader, and he was a surprise to me. His name was Ralph Williams, a former neighbor at Blue Heron Townhouses where I lived in Lancaster, Massachusetts prior to moving to Florida.

And this week came sad knowledge.

I learned yesterday that Ralph passed away on Wednesday, August 11th. I don’t at the moment know the cause of death.

This news shocked me, and made me very sad.

Ralph might have been as old as 80; I don’t know. He was pale and portly, genial, soft-spoken, a smiling man, a gardener and owner of a landscaping service. He lived around the corner from me at Blue Heron. And as long as I was at Blue Heron, he was president of the trustees.

I have no idea how Ralph found my blog. He started adding little affirmations to some pieces I wrote here last fall or so. This came out of nowhere to me — and pleased me no end. Then he left me a spritely message on my voice mail, asking for a call back. He would have had my phone number, too, from my Blue Heron days. The call was an additional surprise. When I called, he greeted me cheerfully (like an old friend) and wanted to recommend another on-line writing platform where he felt my work could find a home.

I never really knew Ralph except to tell him of maintenance issues. He worked hard, along with the other trustees, to make us comfortable. There were the usual rumbles and disputes with residents over “issues.” (Why anyone would want to be a trustee, I don’t know. But I guess it’s to have control over your residential destiny, and to be of service. God love them. )

I do recall, shamefacedly, having fired off an exasperated email to Ralph once over a piece of recycling or trash that wasn’t picked up by the trash contractors. I was unreasonably agitated over a number of things and this was just a final straw. Ralph responded, “I don’t respond well to rants.” He was right; I had ranted, and I apologized. No problem, he said, and he dealt with the issue.

In truth, I had never, in any true sense, been friends with Ralph; never, ever spoken with him on the phone while at Blue Heron. We were acquaintances. The call he made to me down here was his first. In those three minutes or so, I felt we became friends. I’m remembering now, sadly, that in one of his blog comments, he’d written: “I wish I’d gotten to know you better while you were living here.”

Yes, so sad to read now.

Ralph had especially liked my post, “October Untitled.” I believe he also said he liked “Monday Night Nowhere.” I told him I knew of only one other person who read my blog semi-regularly. To which he said, earnestly, “my wife and I look forward to it.” That made me feel very special — and a little nervous.

I worried that perhaps my choice of subject matter in recent weeks and months may not have been of that much interest to Ralph or his wife. He seemed to like the ruminations that coursed over the state of the world at a given moment, noting especially the political state of affairs, but doing so in a decided state of disenchantment, even sourness, leavened with an abiding hope. Putting it less ambiguously, I was obviously unhappy, for instance, with Donald Trump’s on-the-job evolution, while harboring, almost to the end, a scintilla of hope that, among other alarming deficiencies, he’d become better able to distinguish his own egoistic interests from the nations interests. And that’s just the most salient edge of my deepening disenchantment with many things, bordering on disgust and anger at the antics of many parties and mobs abroad in the land. I suspect Ralph shared that point of view.

But we’d never once talked politics while neighbors. In fact, we met only when I was walking my dog past his place, or, in his absence, heard his dog barking within.

Ralph had lived many years at Blue Heron and had chosen a townhouse unit with a side yard where he could plant a beautiful garden. I last spoke with him at a gathering by the gazebo on the little green at the heart of Blue Heron. I talked about the decision to leave and go to Florida. It’s a decision with which I was not then and am not now at peace. But that’s another story.

So, Ralph, this is quite a loss. Greater than I might have imagined.

There was a memorial gathering for Ralph today (Sunday,August 15) in a Lancaster, Mass town buildings. I have no idea what Ralph believe about eternal things, final questions, the after life. I just know I believe he is in God’s hands. He was a good man. Those who knew him better than I have added a trail of commented on Facebook. Many spoke of his smile, and his hard work. I can see him patiently conducting those trustee meetings at the library meeting room.

Once last year, I announced to the echo chamber of my non-existent readership that I’d be taking a little hiatus from this blog. I was feeling spent.

Suddenly there came back to me in the usually empty comments box the words of Ralph Williams. He wrote, “hurry back, Greg.”

I’ll miss you, Ralph. I wish you, too, could “hurry back”. But ” the fever of life” is over for you. Someone else will be tending your earthly garden. I send my prayers and condolences to all your loved ones.

Rest in peace my new lost friend and once loyal reader. Some day I hope to “hurry back” north for good. No more Florida adventures by this eternally restless soul. And when I see a well-tended garden, north or south, I’ll think of you.

THE TIME OF OUR LIVES

As of late July, 2021, 1585 U.S. personnel were still missing from the Vietnam War, according to the latest figures from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the arm of the Pentagon tasked with finding and returning lost but not forgotten military.

That’s the kind of information that gives a superannuated baby-boomer pause in the last quadrant of his life.

The information was contained in the August 3nd New York Times, which was also reporting on the recent recovery of a U.S. aviator lost way back in 1967.

O, the times of our lives!

I was working at Kings Canyon National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains during that July which simply does not feel like 54 years ago. I was twenty years old and blessed to have that national park adventure as a congressional appointee to the trails and grounds crew and was ultimately given the relatively soft job of caring for the exhibits in the Visitor Center. I had plenty of time to spend with fellow summer employees, many of whom –especially the girls — worked for Harvey Company which operated the restaurant and gift shop.

My brother Doug was working for a California
Congressman John Tunney. Hence, the congressional appointment. Thank you, Doug.

We were listening to the Beatles “Sergeant Pepper” and “Rubber Soul” albums that summer and the Doors’s single (the long version) “Light My Fire” was on the radio often. We’d drive down the mountain now and then into “The Valley” (San Juaquin Valley) to Fresno, where it was hot and flat, for dinner or a drive-in movie, occasionally staying overnight in a downtown hotel, ( guys in one room, women in another; it was the 60s but we were not participants in the proto-hook-up culture blooming in those times.)

At night, in cars or random radios, in the Valley or in the mountains, we’d hear the howls, legendary exuberance and gravelly voice of the D.J. called “Wolfman Jack” originating from — where? That was kind of a mystery. He’d been on a “border-blasting” frequency out of Mexico early in his career and heard all over the country. Where was he now, L.A? Still in Mexico? (The 1973 movie American Graffiti, in which his radio voice was ubiquitous, had Richard Dreyfus’s character find him in a tiny studio under a huge transmitter in the middle of nowhere (though I believe the movie was shot in Modesto, California, down the mountain and not that far from our Kings Canyon perch.)

Wherever he was, we would hear Wolf Man howling in the night.

It was the “Summer of Love” to the west in San Francisco. When our Summer of Work was over at the park early that September, four of us — Dave Fanning, Melody Jones, Josie Gaitan and I — went on a lark, traveling to San Francisco (where I’d never been) in Dave Fanning’s two-tone blue 1955 Chevy Bel Air with its busted back shocks that sent the back seat bumping and bucking rhythmically up and down for a laughing period after going over a bump. It was fun, riding in that car. A nice memory. Life has not always been so much fun since then.

We drove through Height Ashbury, where the hippie phenomenon had only recently been birthed and its many counter-cultural souls come to reside. We gawked during that brief passage at the aftermath, or residue, of that “Summer of Love” among our fellow boomers. All in all, I got a faint, decidedly gray (maybe it was a cloudy day) rolling impression of desuetude and squalor . It almost struck me- the shabby storefronts and ragged foot traffic — as meeting the definition of a slum. Probably not a very “hip” thing to be thinking, then or now — and I did, and do, want to be at least “semi-hip.”

But hippiedom had its gray to dark side.

Joan Dideon was a journalist on the ground among those blocks of cultural revolutionaries that summer and wrote a famous account for the Saturday Evening Post, later anthologized as, “Slouching Toward Bethlehem.” She took the title from the famous W.B. Yeats poem in which “things fall apart, the center cannot hold” (“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/ Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”)

As Joan saw it, the “rough beast” of social and cultural “atomization” had roosted upon the deracinated, runaway hordes that had come to reside, like desert birds, in those blocks where the streets named Height and Ashbury intersected, a fascinating but not-altogether pretty phenomenon in one of America’s prettiest, most iconic cities. She might have intuited that it would slouch on for generations, birth an ethos of hellucinogenic transport and deliverance among self-exiled souls who had come to form disparate, semi-cohesive units in “The Height” and, thanks for the increasingly pervasive and influential mass media, that free-wheeling “hippie” ethos would march across the land and around the planet.

In Vietnam, meanwhile, just a month or so before our youthful excursion, two American B-52s had collided over the South China Sea as they approached their targets in a war that was reaching its violent apex. Bombardment from on high, visiting death down below so impersonally and so devastatingly, was a controversial aspect of the last World War ( in Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki); no less so in this war in which it was proving so difficult to gain any clear advantage by any conventional means.

Thirty-five-year-old Air Force Major Paul A. Avolese of New York was the navigator on one aircraft and was among those aviators lost and just this month found. He was older and perhaps not typical of the young men of my generation who, to name just one outfit, were serving during that same summer with the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta where they were suffering many losses at the hands of the Viet Cong Communist guerrillas. I once watched a documentary on their tour in that swampy and difficult battle ground. The whole unit had sailed out to Southeast Asia from, as it happens, San Francisco in early 1967, passing right under the Golden Gate Bridge. This was typical of World War II military troop shipments, but not so typical in 1967 and no longer typical of how U.S. division Army divisions have gone to war since (the Marines, perhaps, being Navy-affiliated, excepted). They almost always fly over now and not necessarily as an entire division; they can be fragmented units, replacements for the casualties of an ongoing conflict chewing up fellow combatants. It’s how it became in Vietnam, a sad war of attrition. It was “escalating” controversially in 1967.

But war kills — in singles and in groups. And much war lay ahead in 1967. I’d be drafted in October, 1969.

My Fort Dix Drill Sergeant wore the 9th Infantry patch and was a Vietnam Veteran. We had our conflicts as he tried to transform me into a soldier. He could be cruel and profane. I could be slow, resistant, terrified, exhausted, picked on by fellow platoon members for holding them back as a unit, wishing I’d found a way to avoid the draft.

I wish I knew where Sergeant Douglas was now, if still alive. He claimed to be 27 at the time in the fall of ’69 when, two years after my two summers in California, first in the mountains, then on the seashore, I found myself in the military. He was probably on that 9th Infantry ship out of Frisco, bound for the Delta.

I’m glad I did serve. I’m proud that I served. But I faced nothing like what many of my contemporaries faced. I was blessed. And nobody gets drafted now. You volunteer.

Yes, I’d been blessed to avoid Vietnam (I wound up far safer in Korea) and blessed to have had to summers in the west.

As for those for whom they are now searching in the South China Sea….

It had to be terrifying, that mid-air collision in July, ’67. Seven crew members escaped, six remained missing and could not be found by Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard units. For five decades, families of those missing crew members have had to live with the fact that their remains were out there somewhere, perhaps never to be found.

The search continues….

Eight days after the crash, an Air Force Colonel told Major Avolese’s parents in a letter saying the exact cause of the crash was unknown and that “every man here in the 4133 Bomber Wing shares your anxiety over your son.”

A few days later, Major Avolese was declared dead.

Recovery efforts to bring back the lost have focused for decades on land in former conflict zones, recovering soldiers and Marines from “leg units.”

Now the Pentagon is utilizing Robotic underwater and surface vehicles, long established for ocean science and exploration, locating and surveying wrecks. Land sites have been exhausted, but people are still missing. So, underwater technology has proven, in the words of one Admiral, to be a “force-multiplier” in searching for sunken objects.

But we must now and then think, what was it all about? Vietnam is a tourist destination now.

And Afghanistan. What was sit all about?

The search goes on…

But me, I can only search the murky waters of my memories of that summer of love and war that ended with a SF Giants game against the Astros in Candlestick Park which ended with an extra-innings home run by, I believe, Willy Mays who was near the end of his career. (If it wasn’t Willy’s homer, I know I saw him play that day.) We were joined by another couple — Dan Upton from New Hampshire and his girlfriend, name forgotten, sadly, both Kings Canyon employees. (I wonder if they stayed together? I never saw them again and they left in a different direction that day. Dave and Melody were married the following June in Tucson. I was one of their groomsman.)

There was a moment that September day when we feared we might all have to leave the park early as the game lingered into those extra innings — just because I had to catch a flight back to Boston.

But we got to the airport on time. In the rush, I somehow got separated in the terminal from Dave, Melody and Josie, and so boarded the flight, sorry I’d missed a chance to say goodbye.

Then, suddenly, there they were! On the plane, walking down the cabin to my seat! Something had happened that would rarely ever happen even then and, due to post-911 security, would be impossible now. The gate staff allowed them to come aboard and bid me farewell before closing up for the push-back.

I so appreciated it — and remember it.

But I’m thinking today….Major Avolese, aviator and war casualty, is finally coming home and it’s unclear, after all this time, who will be there to greet him. But I’m glad I saw that Times article, given how seldom I look at the Times these days.

Let’s go on remembering that 1585 other Americans of my baby-boomer generation , and doubtless some, like Major Avolese from a generation well before that, who were at war in the Summer of Love.

At one point in that summer in the mountains, I recall being in some government housing alone, away from my own cabin in a pine groove, waiting for the women to come and get ready for a gathering that night, maybe for a party. We had some good little parties. Yes, those were leisure times. But I recall being overtaken by a sharp sense of consciousness of the moment, as if my mental and emotional vision were focusing and I was entirely in the present moment, free but nonetheless not totally at peace; perhaps, despite every effort to ward it off, having thoughts about the future — about what might happen from there on out in my life; from that moment in that ordinary room with the table and chairs and record-player, no longer looking off at the mountains vistas, no longer a child or teenager; a little bored but a little anxious, even though these had been to that point happy times far, far away from home and college and any daily cares.

Up until then, I’d been having “the time of my life” as they say. And yet…

I started to end this at 2:04 p.m. of this Thursday. I have things to do , don’t I? Suddenly, it’s 2:45.

I’ve had a dead car battery; AAA came and I had to pay for a new one. That was morning. I ate lunch. That was afternoon….and I’m thinking….

That day in the mountains, I guess I was also thinking, ‘it’s later than I think,” even though I hoped so much life was ahead of me. And I knew I would resist, as if paralyzed, every impulse to undertake the hard work of being a writer,l which was already very much on my mind. I was fighting that cold inertia in that moment that makes a body waste time, course idly through life, incident to incident….

So now, over a half century later, I’m thinking (Oh, God!) as I thought then:

Get busy! You’ve been blest, given years and years and, I pray, more.

And I knew the military might be in my future. One hearty, burly soul who worked with us in Kings Canyon was in the reserves and was called up and seemed unconcerned, perhaps even welcomed the prospect of action. He’d trained as a paratrooper. He would take a practice jump once he was active. I have no idea what became of him, or even remember his name. I hope he survived and is, like me, a boomer in the last quadrant of a life for which we must be grateful.

I also spent the summer of 1968 in California — in Laguna Beach. After college, I took one last drive to California in September, 1969. My draft notice caught up with me where I was making a nostalgic re-visit to Laguna Beach. I was inducted in Boston on October 27 of that year, narrowly missing being inducted into the Marines, and was taken by bus to Fort Dix.

I will go on thinking about those times.

For deep in the sea — or somewhere on land — are the remains of 1584 souls whose fate it was never to come home from that drawn-out jungle war.

Eight summers of war followed that Summer of Love. You’d think we were done with war.

Wrong.

SUNDAY,AUGUST 1ST, 2021

THAT SUNDAY NIGHT FEELING, THE HEAT, THE SWEET BROWN, AGED LITTLE DOG WANDERING ROOM TO ROOM. I PET HER. I LOVE HER… I know Summer seems 2/3rds over. The pandemic lingers, and, it seems, is resurging. Anxiety, resignation, regret, restlessness abide, and,perhaps, a failure to count blessings and always realize that His burden is light.

The eternal questions: who am I and what am I doing here? Old Jim Doherty, a lifelong Neponset neighbor impressed that upon me one evening over dinner in an Adams Street restaurant. I miss Jim. I pray for Jim, a beloved oddball, fervid, faithful pilgrim. May he be with God. May he intercede for me, for I am far from “home” and in self-exile from all that could be called “settled.” Went to two masses today– the immemorial Latin mass, so apparently disdained by the Vicar of Christ, which is distressing given that it is so rich, reverent with silences and mystery, and popular in many quarters. He, the Pope, will, many pray, come to see his mistake. I attended the 6 p.m. at St. Catherine’s, which is the “ordinary rite” and there is the usual “pop” stuff but it was fine and quite nice and validly sacred.

That’s it for my “Catholic” talk.

Now, to ease past the beginning of this month where summer ends, random lines from random poems:

AFTER THE FAIR, by Thomas Hardy

The singers are gone from the Cornmarket-place

With their broadsheets of rhymes,

The street rings no longer in treble and bass

With their skits on the times,

And the Cross, lately thronged, is a dim naked space

That echoes the stammering chimes.

I’d do more than that one stanza of that one poem by that one poet except that I don’t understand how to work through the frustrations of trying to do stuff in WordPress. Sorry.

‘Night.