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For the Long Winter’s fall?
Said the Lady in her parlour
Said the Butler in the hall . . .
Is there time for another?
Cried the Drunkard in his sleep ...
Not likely, said the little child.
What’s done, the Lord can keep .. .

Dark Ages, from the Jethro Tull album Stormwatch, 1979-1980.

Yesterday as Hurricane Ike receded from Galveston and CNN broadcast stories about broken windows and newborn babies amidst the wreakage, I listened to an old favorite while working my 10-hour Saturday shift.  Funny, how in college in 1980 I would never have dreamed that I would be here, just outside Dayton and Cincinnati, working an outlandish 4-day shift that begins at five a.m. just to sort the incoming mail in a wholesale pharmacy.  I was, after all, in COLLEGE, and pulling in a steady grade-point average over 3.5.  Of course, I was majoring in psychology, overloaded with debt, and with no focus for what I planned to do with a life that, to the best of my educated and intelligent analysis, was going to occur during the collapse of civilization as we knew it.   Undertaking more debt to acquire an advanced degree seemed a waste of time and money, and I was restlessly eager to get on with my Real Life.  And so here I am ... not at all unhappy, actually, and not unprepared for the dark curtain, that seems, suddenly, ready to fall once again ...

Black and viscous – bound to cure blue lethargy
Sugar-plum petroleum for energy
Tightrope-balanced payments need a small reprieve
Oh, please believe
We want to be
In North Sea –

It was twenty-seven years ago, and the price of  imported oil had skyrocketed with the Iranian Revolution.  The staff of the American Embassy in Tehran was held hostage while Jimmie Carter asked the American people to sacrifice by turning down their thermostats and wearing sweaters.  And if we could just manage to hold on for five years – for ten years – we would Find A Way out of the crisis; we would, oh please God Mummy we promise to be good – we would invest in insulation, and fuel-economy standards, and solar energy, and the construction of expensive nuclear power plants.  We would mend our energy-spendthrift ways and become reformed world citizens.  We would learn from our mistakes and Do Better.  All we needed was a little extra time.

Ah, but we know now what we really did.  The Gods gave us that time – not ten years, but twenty – and all our good resolutions went frittering away into computer-games and home video-cams and a new generation of bombs and missiles and tanks and guns.  Ten years later we went to war with Iraq to secure the Saudi and Kuwaiti oil fields.  And ten years after that, we returned to Iraq to secure the Iraqi oilfields for Exxon and British Petroleum, whose North Sea and Alaskan fields were finally depleting as predicted twenty years before.  The Gods never intended it to be a permanent fix.  We blithely forgot.

In the mornings I see the woman who used to work beside me for our ten-minute break.  As the TV turns from storm reporting to politics, she growls.  "I wish they’d just stop it all," she says.  "I know who I’m voting for."

"Oh?" I ask.  Dee is probably the most competent worker in our group; she’s smart and quick and can’t sit still long enough to waste time if she tried.  Like me, she could be making a good deal more than we do, but while I chose the job to mark time stresslessly, she took it for the medical coverage; her husband is seriously and chronically ill and has none at his job.  She has a foot in both camps, so to speak; she and her husband have good jobs and good savings, but his illness puts them at risk of financial disaster at any time.  "Who is it?"

"I’m voting for McCain," she tells me.

I shrug.  "Your funeral," I say.  "Man doesn’t know a thing about economics – Dark Ages, here we come."

Dee bristles.  "I saw a townhall meeting – this fellow asked Obama a question, but he wouldn’t answer it.  He talked around and around and around, but he wouldn’t answer the question."

"Well," I tell her, "real-world problems very seldom have a twenty-second answer.  He was respecting the man by telling the truth.  These things are complicated."

"He took ten minutes and he still never answered the question!"

"College professor," I remark.  "I used to work with them.  Look, Obama’s smart, he knows economics; and if he seemed to be off the topic, I suspect that’s because the question was complex and required a complex solution, not a sound-bite.  And the professor in him was determined to educate his audience instead of pandering to it."

"I’m not voting for a man who can’t give a simple answer to a simple question."

I sigh.  I should have known.  "Dee," I try.  "There are no simple questions.  And McCain can give you all the simple answers you want – he’s a fighter-pilot; they’ve got one answer that takes care of everything: shoot fast from the hip.  That works if you’re a fighter-pilot; it works real good.  And I like the man – he’s Navy; he’s family.  But you can’t shoot the economy, except by shooting yourself in the foot.  If we put more incompetence in charge with the economy in the state it’s in, we won’t just be in a recession.  We’ll be back in the Dark Ages.  You want that, well, fine.  Hell, I had a good time in the Dark Ages.  As long as I can get my toilet up in the mountains fixed before everything goes completely to hell, I’ll be just fine."  But she won’t be.  Her husband needs up-to-date, high-quality modern medical care to live.  Of course, the curtain might take longer to fall, than he has anyway.  Most civilizations die slowly.

"I won’t vote for a man who won’t answer a question."

Break is over.  On CNN, they’re repeating the same story about the newborn babies and the boarded-up hospital that they were showing three hours ago.  I’m back at my desk with the headphones turned up.

She wore a black tiara
rare gems upon her fingers
and she came from distant waters
where Northern Lights explode
to celebrate the dawning
of the new wastes of winter
gathering royal momentum
on the icy road ...

Sometimes, you can see the Aurora in upstate Michigan.  I think I’ll take a trip there this winter or the next, for a few weeks, before we lose the roads.

Originally posted to cynndara on Sun Sep 14, 2008 at 10:36 AM PDT.

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