Sunday, 22 March 2020

Precautionary Tales

»Maybe, maybe not!«
—Higgins, Jeff Higgins

Told this one before. In ’88 or thereabouts, floating at the northeastern edge of the Lingayen Gulf, I was waiting for a wave, expecting it — hoping to latch onto its forming face before it crested to sweep me onto the San Fernando beach — but not anticipating the smack. Smack me in the face it did. Funny about the face in how it can feel the brunt whether or not it really took it. In this case my face took the brunt.

I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d never done anything analogous to catching a wave. My buddy Ruford V. Nacino (may the sea gods bear an always available cradle should his eternal happiness require) was the one, I think, who said, »There it is«, and all the herd, save for me, paddled, stood, & were off.

I am telling you now that time does stand still. There’s the time that slows down to a floating waver whereby athletes make athleticism appear effortless to the onlookers stuck in the moving wave called time. Then there’s the time that stops to mock mere mortals as they dither and falter their way beneath its waving goodbye.

I’d heard of getting caught in the undertow, but not being sent there by a petrifying wall of water that would drop me like a briefly buoyant bag of cement and tear me into, one, a state of psychology that is light on its feet & oriented upright and, two, a downright physically challenged rock of sensibility that can only take an opposing route. Ripped in two while remaining woefully one.

When my head met the reef on the floor more than several feet below, it didn't knock me unconscious. And when the equal and opposite surge sent me away from the shore, the scrape would bare a capillary patch, not enough to bleed me out. And when finally ejected to the surface, orifices saltwater-filled, bearing discombobulated, I nevertheless experienced a lull of relief... which would last one-half of one length of one deep breath... when then another wave met me for round two.

On my way under, the obvious occurred to me. The obvious, as it occurs, is not necessarily an accurate assessment of what is, let alone what is to come. Not necessarily. That’s key: Maybe. Maybe not.

While hoping »maybe not«, my mind is pressing »maybe« at a pace to keep up with the plunging and propelling of being swallowed and spit up. In orders of magnitude not necessarily sequential, it races through »What if there’s another wave? What if there’s an endless stream of them? Better be ready to take another quick breath! How will my lifeless body finally be loosed of this spiral... and is there a way that I could simulate that process before becoming a marooned corpse?«

Panic reduces the level of intelligence to mere obscurity. That’s my favorite Del Close quote. It informs the story as told, if situationally deficient. There’d be no third wave. Lucky break. Tale end.

My favorite Ruford Nacino quote is »Let go of the board, man.« It informed me a few minutes too late what to do in such situations. It more recently informed my conception of having been bisected but only in spirit. It was a boogie board I’d been holding on to, not dear life. Not necessarily.

Again, I've told this one before, but I and Ruford V. Nacino (may the shores of evermore maintain a place for the elation of his spirit) were fond of quoting Alex Cox' best and most quotable creation, which came too close to fully realized when, on our way to the recreation in tale number one, he’d pulled the automotive manoeuver that ends many such manoeuvers along any two-lane highway. Pass at your own risk. That the signage doesn't continue and risk others in return is significantly deficient, if dead easy to infer.

Back in the right lane, but only just, he apologized sincerely and sheepishly admitted, »The more you drive, the less intelligent ya are.« The relief behind the flash of foreboding death followed by his turning what had been our pointless prattle into a profound observation made the quote funnier in that moment than it’d ever been before or has been since.

Just because you get good at something doesn’t mean you won’t overlook something else. For precisely because you get good at operating automatically, you'll overlook an outcome of inconvenient potential until it necessarily occurs.

Ruford's fatal drive decades later could prod one to consider consistent diligence as regards lessons learned, which is not necessarily an accusation of inconsistent diligence in this case. I don't know the crash's cause, only the outcome. After so many years of practice, he surely knew he'd become a better driver. May his everafter consist solely of waves.

One can meet with good fortune in learning by example... by acknowledging a shortcoming even if it didn't come up fatally short... and taking lessons to avoid repeat occurrences. I wouldn't alter these two tales that taught me how to– & how not to approach both the novel and the normal. But I would step in to avert the epilogue. That is,

I'd if I'd
& take control
of the wheel
if it would amount to a positive change of outcome.

Short of that, may ours become a world with its priorities straightened, with an infrastructure based centrally on humane outcomes for everyone, sans selfish roads, least of all avenues of ulterior turns that confound public reason.

You got nature. May the sun call you to her yard, balcony or window and imbue in you a deep breath of belief in a world out there beyond a few feet.

You got yourselves. May the almighty waves of blue light tolerate your absence from the influential grip of the virtual vortex behind them... ample for a dance to a few favorite symphonies that might sing of an ode to boundless tranquility and joy.

Then there are others. May the idol of their determined ignorance of inconveniences to their desired outcomes, the predestined from on high terms of debt & suffering necessitated by the circular logic of so-taught business cycles, nevermore be deemed the black swan of collective existence.

Persistent stress under the aegis of chronic board holders and reckless lane passers has caused a base contagion known as panic to jump species onto the champions of anti-panic, nurturing in their craw the negative image of their out of control spirit mammal. Batshit crazy, torn in two, still woefully one. Snap out of it. Let go of the board, man. The second wave is sure to come,