Friday, August 6, 2010

Gin and tonics tempered by lurking madness

It was a long time ago, but I remember it distinctly. It was a movie, set in a jungle somewhere - probably India, I think – Rangoon?

Monsoon, striped tigers and bamboo were involved in some way - some dark skinned men in turbans and a beautiful fair skinned English woman. All very mysterious and threatening in some curious way.

I probably have it all wrong, but one thing stands out quite clearly - the main character, a tall, rugged Englishman, a professor or a scientist, I think, was confined to a small hut in the jungle. He was doing research of some kind, or perhaps writing a book. I really can’t remember.

What I do remember, in a haunting way, is that this man had copious amounts of gin to ease the tedium of a lonely jungle existence. (Was it left there each day by an unknown donor?) He also had quinine (perhaps in the form of tonic-water) to fight off the scourges of malaria. In combination, these provisions were nicely compatible, and they became more and more important to him as the weeks and months of isolation slid by.

The poor devil eventually drank himself to death, but not before many episodes of delirium -wandering through the jungle completely mad. Never had a problem with malaria, however.

I admit to having an occasional gin and tonic myself, but always with great caution as I am reminded that total dependency and insidious madness lurk just beyond the next glass. Like the Englishman, I’ve never suffered from malaria, so that at least speaks well for the quinine.

“Why does he write of such macabre things?” you ask. Well, it’s monsoon season again, and so far we’re experiencing a pretty good example, I think.

It has rained in some fashion almost every day for the past two weeks. The air is heavy with dampness, and dark, wet places abound.

A man named Frank Sullivan puts it this way:

“There is something about a dark and rainy day
When the flash of lightning is too close to the noise
When the lights have to be turned on for lack of sun
And the strong seem to lose their poise
It’s the pilots I wonder about on those days
When the runways disappear into the mist
Are they in their in their cockpits crossing their fingers
Or are they shaking their fists”

Frank was once a baseball pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and a couple of other teams. He was a good one, too. You could look him up.

He also was an infantry soldier in the cold mud of Korea, and yes, he fired his gun in close combat.

I’m privileged to have read many personal reminisces of his, penned during an adventurous, full life after baseball. Among other things, he skippered sailing boats to and from exotic and challenging locales and held the position of golf pro at a course he helped build in Hawaii.

He’s bigger than life, my life anyway, and yet he can capture the small, somber scene of a “dark and rainy day.” - the kinds of days which have strung themselves together in the mountains of Arizona lately.

I am aware of underground rivers and pools rejoicing in their replenishment.

I know that the Verde River flows freely at full strength, stretching its muscles in new- found confidence. There is green where only brown and gray recently appeared.

I can sit on my deck and observe steamy clouds form and wander along the Mogollon Rim, sometimes to gather in blackness and move menacingly toward me.

The large raindrops begin slowly, then gather momentum as a full-blown shower empties its bounty all around. It’s time to go inside and turn the lights on once again.

I know there is treachery in flash floods and mudslides. I know that people often suffer from angry water rushing to escape narrow confines. That’s the ugly side. I don’t dismiss that.

But, a soft rain on a dark afternoon kneads vulnerability to the point of nostalgia when left alone. Underground memories are briefly replenished. Desires and regrets are mingled with a taut alertness to present conditions. Present conditions win out, of course - always.

This is now, and the rain and wind and thunder exist in the absolute present, and that leaky place over the fireplace won’t yield to nostalgia. What better opportunity, though.

The poor professor in the jungle hut had no alternative, perhaps. I don’t recall exactly why.

I have many paths open, however. I can simply turn on the television or get in my car and drive into a bustling town or pick up a telephone and hear the comforting voice of a good friend.

I have no real fear of succumbing to a deadly numbing existence.

Sometimes, though, in the cold dark rain when I am huddled inside with no lights on, I realize that life has many chambers.

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