Sunday, November 23, 2008
Candles and Moths
"He said, and I quote exactly: 'Is that the candle the moth flew into, and his abdomen got stuck, and his head caught fire?'"
The line is from "The Writing Life" by one of my favorite writers, Annie Dillard. I want to say that I am currently acting out the moth, as I try to put out the fire in my head and slowly retrieve my thoughts, after so many months of obsession with poll numbers and campaign kerfuffles. (Valiantly she tries to unstick her abdomen from the candle of the computer where it has been trapped, and move on to Other Things.) But it's not that easy, because it turns out that although we may have won the election, our country is still out on the ice, slipping ever more deeply into economic collapse. Every columnist I read is sounding the alarm: we cannot wait to turn this around until January 20th. By then, it will be too late.
So the moth flies into a different candle--this time, her love of reading books. The ones that have fallen by the wayside, been abandoned, and sprouted into piles during this historic campaign when there was nothing else to do but follow the news, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, online, on television, in magazines, newspapers, whatever. Talk about alligator wrestling! Whew!
At the mere mention of alligator wrestling, my old alligator mentor, blogging partner, and adept protege, Virgil, suddenly appears out of nowhere, unapologetic for his long absence. He's been hanging out with his tribe, it seems--a multiracial, multiethnic group of alligators who spend a good part of their time processing algae into a protein supplement for Third World nations-- and writing his autobiography. He shows me a photograph (see above).
To my astonishment, Virgil is sucking on a chipotle and drinking a bottle of Virgil's cherry-flavored cream soda, a company in which he now owns stock, enticed into buying by its exemplary name. He is dressed in gray overalls but is carrying no baggage, except the old navy-blue beach bag in which he likes to keep a copy his favored book of the moment, "The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han Van Meergeren," and his beat-up, red diary.
"It's sooo wonderful to see you," I say. "How are you doing?"
"I'm doing great, Yaar (Virgil's longtime nickname for me), except for this nasty cramp in my groin," he replies. Then Virgil tells me how he has thought about this moment many times, imagining the day we would finally see each other again, not in a photograph, not in a blog, not in cyberspace at all, but in reality. Pausing, heron-like, for a long moment, he then does a handstand on one paw, all his muscles tensed as if for flight. The chipotle falls out of his mouth.
"I'm relieved the huge saga of twisty deceit and exorbitant spending of those scads of dollars is finally over," he says. "And that we now have a national treasure for our new president. His work is so sprightly and steeped in the history of the period, I predict he will continue to reap favorable reviews
from the populous ranks, who are just beginning to shed their anxiety and depression accrued over the past eight years. Perhaps our new political titan will do something the likes of which the world has never seen before, like rubbing our social ills with alcohol, or becoming the champion of bipartisan connoisseurship. Something about the current state of the world seems to have been created with him in mind, so ready-made for the job is he turning out to be. Surely our sincere and scrupulous new angel will put an end to all the crapulence, fraud, worm holes, quislings, and political soilage with his smooth management skills, genius calibre, and personal greatness. This is someone who can read the public mood perfectly!"
After these meaty comments, Virgil announces that he needs to go: "back to my thought experiments, pungent eau-de-cologne, and a universe of endless, banging-and-bursting motion. With that, he shoots me a last toothy grin--and then, like a weather vane that turns both to the north and to the south, Virgil vanishes. I try my damndest to watch where he goes, leaning over the desk to see better, but he just disappears into the crack between the worlds again, and I am staring into a blank wall.