Saturday, July 4, 2015

Sic transit gloria

April 1994

I love to use Latin phrases in my writing. It annoys people who don't know what they mean and confuses people who do. This phrase is, of course, obvious. Literally, it reads, "Gloria became ill and left", but is usually translated as "thus passes glory". I use it today for two reasons: 1) I've been dying to use it ever since I looked it up and; 2) it captures imperfectly the moral of the following somewhat true story.

I am a runner, similar to our current President; only I don't look quite as good in shorts. My motivation is less for health than for achieving that insufferable smugness that hides behind every runner's tight smile. It also provides warm moments of true bonding between my two faithful sidekicks, Spike and Psycho and me.  These being my dogs, of course, named after my wife's sisters. Spike is a handsome medium-sized dog of questionable parentage from whom we have kept the fact that he is actually, technically speaking, sort of female, or at least was.  I've always wanted a dog named Spike, so we never broke the news to him/her. Psycho is our smaller, backup dog, whose ancestors can only be described as far more enthusiastic than selective. He is one of the few creatures outside Hollywood able to exist without any evidence of actual brain activity.  At any rate, there is no activity (that does not involve carrion) they enjoy more than going for a run with their beloved master.

It was during August, one of the less pleasant months of the Midwest year, especially for Cub fans, and I had decided to run at night, instead of the heat of the late afternoon. After dinner, the canine carousers and I took off into the Stygian darkness.  Thunderstorms were coming in from the southwest, but were only occasional flashes on the horizon as we sped between the fields of corn in the incredibly flat and boring part of Illinois we inhabit.  As we got further from the house, it dawned on me why I don't run at night. It was dark!  Really dark! No moon, stars or ambient light whatsoever.  I could tell where the road was by the slightly lighter gravel but, outside of light poles that seem to jump out of the inky blackness, I could not really identify anything. Mind you, no hint of fear crossed my mind, especially with my loyal bodyguards, and the reasonable assumption that I could handle any killer possums that we chanced upon. The dogs, however, were completely at ease, and with the absolute lack of wind typical of the approach of a storm system, were able to take full advantage of their sense of smell. This is the best part of the run for them- checking out the calling cards of friends and neighbors along the road. Anyway, we were running and panting and scent-marking (I seldom take part in this disgusting ritual). Life was good. 

We had reached the halfway point, and were retracing our route, when from the cornfield beside us came a rustling noise of movement loud enough to be heard over my hoarse breathing. The knowledge that I was miles from home, in the dark, and alone suddenly washed over me, like a cold root beer dumped in my pants.  I use the word alone to be precise, because upon hearing the noise, my old buddies advanced several furlongs closer to home with astonishing speed. I thought for a minute they had deserted me, until I realized that, like Lassie with Timmy, they were running TO GET HELP!  O noble beasts! I could imagine the scene at home:

Jan:  What is it, Spike?   What's wrong?
Spike: Bark, bark.
Psycho: Slobber, bark.
Jan:  Are you hungry?  Is that it? Do you want some food?
Jan:  Here you go.  Wait, where's John?
Spike:  (Trying to think) Chomp, gobble (John who?)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, two small glands above my kidneys had decided that, for the good of the whole organism, they would get our collective cell structure out of there. My lower body picked up the pace markedly. (Cardio-vascular system: What're ye DOIN' down there?  The engines kinna take much more o' this. Legs: Ever met a Klingon in the dark?  C-V: AHEAD WARP 9!!)  I began to run as if I was on fire, and shortly began to feel pretty much the same. The noise in the field grew louder, until somewhere to the left and slightly in front of me, a gargantuan black shape burst from the corn and passed not two feet in front of me. My pupils had expanded in the darkness and my eyes were, at that point, wider open than I had previously thought possible, so I was able to make out the shape of an enormous buck deer as he passed. The behemoth stood (as I remember it) at least 12 feet at the shoulder, and had thousands of razor sharp pointy ends on his horn things in front. While I had always heard that in moments of mortal terror your life passes before your eyes, this is not the hallucination that I experienced then.  I saw instead my funeral, with Jan looking stunning in her black Uptown Major Restaurant Dress that fits entirely too well, wearing her pearls and our 1200 acres.  Friends would glance in the casket, and then biting their lower lips fiercely, remark, "So, John got run over by a deer,” before doubling over in  poorly disguised fits of giggling.   

I had the keen presence of mind to remember that there may be more killer deer yet to cross, so I began to make noise to confuse and terrify them.  "GAAAAH!!!” I spoke succinctly. This clever ruse worked and the bloodthirsty beasts were thwarted. In an amazingly brief time the two miles to home were traversed, and as the lights of the house drew into view, I said to myself, "I don't feel good". The effects of the adrenaline were pretty well spent and my oxygen debt had reached Federal Budget proportions. I stumbled across the ditch and decided abruptly to lie down, as the ground obligingly rose up to meet me.  I hovered there on the brink of death for several moments, until revived by commanding fragrance of dogbreath, as my faithful companions welcomed me home:

Spike:  Bark, bark, bark (It's the master!  Where did he come from?)
Psycho: Pant, bark, drool  (Boy, does he smell great!)

This Life-Shaping Experience has made me one with all those steel-willed adventurers who have gazed unblinkingly into the grim visage of Death.  And while I am a deeper, and perhaps even (if possible) more manly person because of it, one revelation shall always be seared upon my soul, as a result of this Moment:

Death looks like Bambi.   

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