Richard Brautigan was a winsome product of the Pacific Northwest who spent a good deal of time in San Francisco during the hippie era. Some of his writing seemed more Beat than Hip, and much was infused with melancholy. He was quoted as saying “what makes you older is when your bones, muscles and blood wear out, when the heart sinks into oblivion and all the houses you ever lived in are gone and people are not really certain that your civilization ever existed…”
His words came back to me on the way home from yet another high-tech scan of my insides — for gall stones of all things! I haven’t had a gall bladder since I was 28 — fifty year ago! But the medical technocrats must have their way, and I got to watch my innards bubble in black and white on a monitor. Best comparison I can make is aerial footage from a Navy Hurricane Hunter riding the eye-wall of a storm.
Given the cascading ailments that beset my dotage, I looked up the poem about the miraculous “one hoss shay” that lasted a hundred years, then came all apart at once, in Oliver Wendell Holmes’ poem.
Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day,
And then, of a sudden, it — ah, but stay,
I’ll tell you what happened without delay…
He went on at length to describe the logical parson who had observed all one-horse shays (from the French for chaise, for a light buggy drawn by a single horse) eventually failed at their weakest part. The solution was logical, the parson said — make the weakest part strong as the strongest. Holmes devoted paragraphs to the search for and fitting together of the parts, and marveling how it lasted through the years. For one hundred years, to the day.
All at once the horse stood still,
Close by the meet’n’-house on the hill.
First a shiver, and then a thrill,
Then something decidedly like a spill, —
And the parson was sitting upon a rock,
At half past nine by the meet’n-house clock…
What do you think the parson found,
When he got up and stared around?
The poor old chaise in a heap or mound,
As if it had been to the mill and ground!
My grandmother was always quoting that poem when I was a boy and saying that would be her. Her body lasted longer than her mind did, so ultimately she forgot her sayings — and everything else. A mental version of coming all apart, if you look at it that way.
These days I feel more like the character in Little Big Man who kept losing body parts in skirmishes with the Indians. Why, they’re whittling you down, the protagonist proclaimed at one point.
By sheer happenstance I happened across a photo of me taken something like thirty-eight years ago, suspended in midair, kicking a soccer ball. Wearing heavy hunting boots. I remembered the photographer saying sarcastically he shot it from a low angle to give me more “air.” Still there I flew, boots and all. After all, a pig’s gotta fly. H’mm. And where did that quote spring from? It took a minute or so to remember, and go to Google.
And there was Porco Rosso, an anime movie by the great Hayao Miyazaki. I came late in life to Miyazki magic. Porco Rosso was my favorite. Recent reviews rate it highly. An example:
“Marco Pagot is haunted by the memories of a war since passed. Veteran-turned-bounty hunter…his steely-eyed, wounded nature reveal more about his experiences and about his pain than a quirkier and more compulsive figure ever could. He commands a respect that he does not invite, says what needs to be said, refuses affection or companionship…And, because this is a Hayao Miyazaki… Marco Pagot is also a talking pig….”
A pig in a World War One-type pursuit plane, fighting bad guys because he is honor-bound. But mainly flying because “a pig’s gotta fly.”
Funny how the mind works. From Brautigan’s lament to Holmes’ durable one-horse shay and back by way of Miyazaki, prompted by an old photo proving this pig did fly, once upon a time.