Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Listening to Limbaugh on the Long Drive

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Situation:  dire.  Traffic: a rollover semi- on 80-94 blocked all lanes and traffic was at a dead stop from the Indiana Tollway to the city. 90 minute delays at O’Hare.  Lake Shore Drive a mess both directions from Hyde Park to Hollywood.  Weather:  wind gusts to 55 miles an hour out of the northeast:  waves topping the seawalls and spume making visibility bad on Lake Shore; gusts from all directions toppling the double- and triple-trailers carrying some of the early Christmas packages from Amazon and REI and the just-in-time inventory to Macy’s and Nordstrom The Rack.

Fourteen hours of driving straight through yesterday:  tired to the bone in the way that constant tension and no movement for many hours leaves you.  Also cranky, grumpy, short-tempered from the persistent necessity for compromise:  music or silence; stadium-anthem country or bad oldies. As the road darkened, the rain started, and the driving got harder. The news, usually a respite, was full of self-important commentaries on the Egyptian election, a subject long past its allegorical value, and discussions of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, subjects years out of date.  Rush Limbaugh was even hawking Cyber Monday on his radio show, pushing a Two-If-By-Tea mugset with the promotion code cybermon, though he’d gotten it wrong for the first half of the show.  When he began baiting an Occupy Wall Street caller--  of course corporations are people:  the Supreme Court said so!; of course money is speech: haven’t you ever heard the phrase “money talks?”—the level of demagoguery, normally interesting, had both of us reaching to turn the radio off.

These are times when it is hard to have spent one’s life in pursuit of rationality.  It started in first grade; Pa  gave me a Wesclox wind-up with two bells on the top to take apart and put back together again, after I asked him how clocks told time. When the car pulls to the left on the Ohio Turnpike, it might take an hour to calculate all the possible causes and the odds for each:  angling of the roadway by rational highway engineers seeking to control runoff; one tire underinflated; wind steady and strong from the southeast; misalignment; worn strut; suspension damaged by the deer that leapt into the front right headlight and caromed into the ditch on Thanksgiving night, leaving a baseball-sized dent and swatches of stiff fur imbedded where the light met the bumper.  Then:  the odds that a deer leaping across the highway would hit your car; the question of whether driving faster would lessen or increase the odds; calculating the angle of sight at various speeds and the predictability of behavior of any given deer.

This is dull stuff. Describing a rational sequence, language loses its color and rhythm, and there’s little room for the play of rhetoric—an idea underneath percolating up toward the surface of the writing’s consciousness and then hovering for a moment before sinking under the weight of details and distractions precisely weighed as the keyboard clicks first fast then slow, interspersed with erratic silences as the mind retreats from expression to thought and calculation, then returns to the pouring of words into the unvoiced ear of an imaginary reader.

Dull stuff, but it is what I believe in, not religiously, the way Grandma Catherine believes all things are here for a reason, but empirically, because from these careful tracks of logic something comes that can be verified and, when verified, can be extrapolated to the next circumstance.  This is not what Rush Limbaugh practices.  It is, indeed, what he abhors, fears, rails against.  He knows nothing of the scientific method that has liberated us from cholera and made his ubiquitous voice possible.  He knows nothing of the triumphant logic of athletic training, where regimen is built of precedent tested and modified by specifics:  he is fat and loud and, when you listen carefully, you can hear that he has lost his wind from the nicotine and the bad food.  When hospitalized with chest pains, he depended on doctors trained in the rational world he abjurs.  Even in the car, hours into the long drive away from the place that is ours, from the rattle of locust seedpods on the roof and the rustle of mice in the walls and the surprise of mist on the hayfield in the hour of sunrise, I knew better than to be angry at a stupid mouthpiece selling mugsets with his picture on them to people who thought being flimflammed for $14 was a patriotic act.  I knew better, but my hands were still tight on the wheel and I was hunched over as if punched in the stomach.

It is embarrassing being caught out as an American patriot at a moment like that.  For as we switched the radio from Rush to Chris Young singing I Hear Voices on Froggy99, the big-country station, I knew I’d been brought back to my profound and unyielding love of my country, right or wrong.  This is what I have spent my life fighting against, within and without, and I have lost every battle, within and without.  

Limbaugh’s back-to-back combination of hypocrisy (so then, Rush, this must mean that abortion is legal and right, since the Supreme Court has repeatedly said so) and linguistic stupidity (so all analogic phrases must be read literally; no analogic figures of speech are allowed to be ironic?) was only a moment in a long season of willful hypocrisies and stupidities awash in American mass culture. For a moment, there, taut with impotent rage against this moment and this turn of things and this mouthpiece of malapropisms and misinformation, I thought to myself: it has never been this bad.

But of course it has.  It’s been way, way worse.  When my great-grandfather settled in Provo, Utah in the 1890s, the nation was awash in plutocracy, a flood more influential even than today.  Today the politicians of the right, and to my shame and sorrow, of the left as well, keep the bribe-money in legal accounts.  In the ‘90s, they installed safes in their offices to keep the cash from the oil companies and the meatpackers and the steelmill owners and the bankers. In the ‘30s, Father Coughlin rode the radio waves with weekly addresses that Rush has surely studied, though rarely surmounted. When my father returned from the war, his eyes still yellow from hepatitis and his hands still shaky with weakness, he had a few years to recover his health and his hopes before McCarthy swept through the public eye, before Richard Nixon, running for Congress against Helen Gahagan Douglas in 1950 smeared her as a Communist fellow-traveler.  My first vote for President was a vote against the same Richard Nixon. Right and left may be equally frail and quick to surrender to temptation, but American demagogues come from the right, and they feed on fear and play on patriotism.

It’s been worse.  I can say that this morning, with the wind gusts ruffling the fur around the dog’s face so she looks beleaguered and irritable, and we lean into it to watch the woman walk south to the bus-stop, waiting for her to turn around and wave, once more, as she always does.  I can say it this morning, looking at the front yards of the well-kept two- and three-flats on my Ukrainian Village street in Chicago, each yard now tidily cleared of the controlled riots of sunflowers and roses and daffodils and daylilies and black-eyed susans in the midst of which you might have seen, in midsummer, a small ceramic statue of the Virgin, or of St. Andrew, the patron saint of the home country, or St. Michael The Archangel, patron of Kiev.  The weekend before I left to meet her at the farm, my bag full of apples for the Thanksgiving pie and untidy printouts of recipes stuck into the piles of papers to grade, I had walked back and forth along the streets and watched the older couples weeding and clearing, putting saran wrap and traffic cones over the rose bushes and raking the last small leaves out from in between the small, well-trimmed evergreens.

We will make it through this one.  But it won’t be easy. It’s never easy.  They’ll pull the driver out of the semi-, alive or dead, and they’ll pull the twisted metal to the side, and the cars will get by on the shoulder and everyone will stay later tonight as a consequence, just to get the work done. The sand- and mud-spattered cars on Lake Shore Drive will pull into the handwash on Clark or Broadway or on Dodge in Evanston or up at Clark’s in Naperville tomorrow or over the weekend, and the illegal Mexican workers will clean them off, vacuum out the insides, leave the stray dollar bills and the lost watch and the spare change in a neat pile on the passenger seat.  In a decade or a generation, they’ll be citizens, or their children will, Rush to the contrary.  Already there’s a Mexican restaurant in a beat-up RV parked by the Pilot truckstop off I-80 in western Pennsylvania, and the kids driving back to college and the truckers carrying the Christmas inventories from the container sites in Jersey City to the stores in Pittsburgh and Youngstown and Cleveland were lined up with us, waiting for the tamales. One of them, weathered and big-bellied, ordered three, and when he climbed up into the cab and shut the door, I saw it was festooned with Limbaugh bumper stickers.

I hope they pull that trucker out unharmed.  I hope, in any case, that it isn’t any of the truckers we were jockeying with all day yesterday. I even hope it’s not the one with the three tamales, the one who gave us a little wave and a smile as he pulled out in front of our old car, packed tight, with the old dog enthroned in the back seat, heading back from one place to another.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Settling In, Uneasily

A week after Halloween, and all the weekenders and summer people are up.  They drive too fast out of the hardware store, their faces set and pieces of building material they probably should not be allowed to purchase, let alone attempt to install, akimbo out the back windows of their Priuses, BMWs and Mercedes sedans.  The more stoical and self-righteous have older Mercedes diesels, cars that seemed smart when they bought them, 15 and 20 years old, with 138,000 miles on them.  The plan was to stick them in one of those monthly garage spaces out in the boroughs, and use them to get to and from the place on weekends. Soon enough, that plan collapsed—even a spot miles from the nearest subway stop still cost more than a decent one-bedroom apartment in Kenosha, and besides, the small difference between diesel and turbodiesel, a matter that had escaped their notice when they bought what they bragged at dinner parties was such a bargain! turned out to mean the difference between a car that could get on the freeway, accelerating to a sane 55 or 60 in ten or fifteen heartstopping seconds as the big rigs bore down on them relentlessly, their airhorns blaring, and one that, on the best day with a downhill start, would never ever make it to 55 or 60 in time to avoid being run onto the shoulder, leaving them in the ignominious position of driving on the shoulder with the emergency flashers on for a good deal of the drive from the Garden State or the GW Bridge or 17 to the Thruway. 

So now they kept the Mercedes up at the place. We have a place in the country, or we have a place upstate, or a place in southern Vermont or a place way up in Connecticut:  that is the way they speak of their destination as they ride the Central Hudson line or the New Haven Railroad out of Manhattan on those weekends. It’s not we live up here or even we live up here as much as we can. The language is about having, and being able to say you have, and not about living, with all its complications and its ordinary sublimities.

When they got the place, it was achingly lovely.  Even the small mushrooms growing up inside the house along the stone foundation line were signs of a different life they would soon be leading, a life closer to the organic rhythms of things.  They brought the cat up from the city, and in an excess of good nature, let it roam the field.  Perhaps it brought them offerings—a mouse or two, perhaps still squirming though its neck was broken and flecks of blood showed on its tiny teeth, or a baby bird—before the hawk came down, or the coyotes, and the cat was no more. The pleasures of Friday night pizza from Benny’s on 209 wore a little thin after a few months, but the kitchen was so primitive, the electric stove off-kilter, the refrigerator capable within days of gestating green mold from its core, through the cracks between the plastic panels, requiring a thorough clean before the groceries could go in, after which the lettuce smelled like Clorox and the meat had a hint of lemony freshness that lingered on the tongue, and not in a pleasant way.  The big project loomed—an eat-in kitchen, historically correct down to the 19th century gas stove, with a half-bath containing a chain-pull toilet bought at the salvage place in Kingston for about twice the price of a new one, and still requiring the reporcelain job that smelled up the house for weeks with the stubborn nose of epoxy resin and acetone.

Summer was over, long over. In between there was the hurricane that took down the best and oldest trees and left the place without power for 10 days.  Returning to that refrigerator and freezer, opening it to the reek of sour milk and rotted meat and the sodden collapsing remains of a Benny’s pizza box that gave up its contents onto the new replica wideboard floor, leaving a permanent stain evidently different than the carefully patinated replica stains the decorator’s finisher had put on in discreet aura of authenticity:  that was tough.  Trying to make the insurance claims after flood insurance had seemed such a needless luxury when the windows needed reglazing and the landscaper charged so much just to plow out the driveway before Friday night’s arrival:  that was tougher.  Sobering. If it weren’t for the fact that everyone else was in the same situation, it might have been humiliating.  As it was, it was the subject of intent dinnertable conversation, back in the city and at the little fall parties in the waning weekends once the mess was subdued and the contractor paid off.

Now it was that weekend after Halloween, the weekend for closing up, or for making over. By comparison, closing up was relatively easy.  The heat was already on—you’d called the propane man to get the stubborn wall unit going the week after the hurricane, even if you had to pay a premium to get ahead in the line.  The gutters had to be cleaned, the garage closed up, the firewood out back covered again with the tarp, and enough brought into the cellar to cover the first couple of winter weekends, but not so much as to attract the termites and the tarantulas that one of you believed, despite all entomological evidence on Google and Wikipedia, were bound to come in with the kindling.  At the least, the tell-tale mark of the Black Widow was sure to be found on the belly of the spiders that had seemed so benign all summer, so fascinating as they wove their death-shrouds around the still-buzzing horseflies and moths that were good riddance to bad rubbish anyway.

The big job was the storm windows.  It was tempting to just give in and embrace the summer-people ethic—to turn off the water, drain the pipes, leave the faucets open, turn off the water heater, turn the valve on the propane tank until it would turn no more, lock the Mercedes diesel in the garage or at the least put the tarp over it, say goodbye until April, and wait for your turn to get the local taxi to take you to the train.

But all those weekends of cross-country skiing, all those cozy nights in front of the fireplace, not to mention the turkey dinner at Christmas, or the New Year’s Eve party that you’d not have to drive home from, drunk, peevish, neither liking the person in the car next to you nor liked by them, or the chance to escape the piles of dingy snow in the city, saturated with dog urine and festooned with piles of poop and random garbage, to come to the pristine reaches of snow and the clear icicles dripping water in the morning sun:  these were fantasies too irresistible to subject to the klieg lights of pragmatism and statistical odds-making.

So you were bound to take the wooden storm windows out of the outbuilding or the garage loft.  They were heavy, and dirty with the cobwebs and bird-droppings and dust of summer and fall.  They had to be handled one at a time down the ladder, and then they had to be washed, inside and out, before they went on the window.  There was always the mystery of the code—which number was the right one?  The one in black magic marker on the edge, now somewhat obscured, or the inner one, in pencil? And the ones on the upper floors meant taking the ladder down from the storage shed and bringing it up to the house.  You rued, perhaps, your decision to take out those standard storms, the ones that slid up and down a little squeakily but seemed to work fine, even though they weren’t nearly as authentic and they reminded you of the previous owners and their very different approach to living on, or near, the land.  So you’d paid to have them taken off, paid to have the old ones in the loft reglazed and painted, paid for the three or four that you never could find, the ones that went on the windows where you most needed succor from the storms.

Then there were the ones who weren’t closing up at all.  They were in to prepare for the Thanksgiving turnout.  They’d invited their friends from the city, and their relatives from the suburbs, and college friends from the far-flung provinces like St. Louis and Houston, and this year, everyone was coming, charmed by the description of a long rustic weekend. This was to be a feast that would demonstrate the rationale for the double oven and the oversize refrigerator-freezer, the extra harvest tables bought at the antiques fair in High Falls or North Guilford or Rhinebeck, the midweight down comforters bought online from The Company Store to cover the historically correct replica beds in all the bedrooms that had been so assiduously insulated with environmentally correct ingredients by the green contractor last summer. 

 At the hardware store, stony-faced, the two factions faced off, first in  the fasteners aisle and then with the custom-paint guy, and finally at the cash register.  Everything packed into a car never meant for any contents not wearing cashmere or khaki, backup lights impatiently gleaming as the parking-lot ballet worked itself out.  At the turnoffs from the main highway to the side roads, the cars would line up, waiting impatiently for a break in the oncoming traffic, where the dump trucks carrying road-repair gravel might afford a notch in the long line of cars going to and from the Thruway, to and from the supermarket, to and from Benny’s Pizza and the liquor store.  Quick now, but not so quick as to knock over the paint cans or slide the 6 feet of aluminum gutter already angled rather dangerously out the window.  Quick, because there was still more to do, and daylight savings had come, and the sun was already low on the horizon, though it seemed just moments from midday.

Where were we?  We were in there, too.  We were stuck between factions; more accurately, we were both of them together, an awkward, ill-organized to-do-list. We were, no doubt, the subject of knowing glances from the ones whose diesel pickups stayed idling in the back, daring anyone to box them in, the ones picking up stuff not for them, but for those who paid them to do the work they didn’t dare to do, and thereby made this marginal economy a little less harsh. 

Some of what we did marked us as sojourners, romantics tripping over the big feet of our illusions. Some of it was different:  we were semi-locals, here sometimes for months, and soon to be here for good. Ours was a different list. Call Wayne and Wayne about trenching the ditch in the hayfield.  Make the arrangements with Harry and Kurt for the deer hunters who’d be shooting across our fields to state their turf, so they’d keep the poachers and the trespassers at bay. Split the oak from the tree that went down last spring, and had lain in two-foot diameter segments out behind the garage.  Fill in the bird feeders. Talk to Jeff about the squeak in the front suspension—we’re driving back: is it safe? Bring the dog to the vet and the old one to the nephrologist. Cook and freeze the meals, labeling them in large clear letters with instructions on microwave times. Unplug the tv. Walk the fields one last time.

 It will only be a couple of weeks, maybe three, maybe four—it depends on the work.  But in that time, everything will have changed.  The roads will be emptier and it will be mostly pickup trucks on them, pickups and older sedans with noisy snow tires, and the Subarus of every type, age, and color, the only vehicles that will definitely make it to school, to work, to the doctor’s or the old one’s house if the plow is slow or the sand truck runs low. The prim houses with their historically correct colors will be dark, the chimneys cold, while the double-wides and the raised ranches and the Sears bungalows and the balloon-frame farmhouses will be nearly invisible under the protective walls of firewood and the wood-furnaces and the wood-stoves will fill the air with the smell of the cold and the fight against its menace. When it snows, we will shovel, side by side, unless some neighbor comes back from a morning of contract plowing and, sweeping in, honks us out of the way and in one pass clears us with a quick wave of the hand.

We are not natives.  We will probably always live in the old Pratt house or the old Pratt house that the ladies used to have. But we are settling in. It is good to be so.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Looking at America: Closing Up

Looking at America: Closing Up: I had missed the service at Christ the King on the Friday before, because I had to return to Chicago to teach. I’d told Harry I’d be back ...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Closing Up

I had missed the service at Christ the King on the Friday before, because I had to return to Chicago to teach.  I’d told Harry I’d be back to help him when the others, the friends and relatives, mourners all, had left and he would have more use for me.
I was up at 3:30 Friday morning checking my boarding pass to Newark and my printouts for the rental car; with these early flights, it’s hard not to lie awake worrying that the alarm won’t go off or the taxi won’t arrive in time.  I had directions from Google Maps that took me from Newark Airport to the Thruway, after which it was pretty much rote memory to get over the mountain and back to the farm and to Harry’s.  The first few miles took me right through Newark, so far as I could tell, and the rush-hour traffic was just beginning to thin out as the directions started to get much more detailed and complicated and I found myself trying to calculate just where I was on the sequence that Google Maps prints out.  It’s always difficult to determine which set of mileages applies to which segment on the printouts, and the rental car’s trip odometer wouldn’t zero out, leaving me with recurrent exercises in addition and subtraction even as the traffic sped up and my chances of properly executing the moves diminished steadily.
When I called Harry, I was somewhere between Ho-Ho-Kus and Mah-Wah on New Jersey 17.  It was after I had turned on the smart-phone GPS and then obeyed an order to exit immediately, a move that got me onto Passaic Street in what was probably Rochelle Park, though I didn’t notice, as there was no return ramp to 17, and the GPS firmly and repeatedly instructed me to take an immediate U-turn and get back on the offramp.  After a half-hour tour of the small-house suburbs of Jersey, I found a quick-talking Pakistani gas station manager who put me back on 17: two lefts and a right quick as you can, three blocks you see the sign. I was clearly not the first person he'd seen flimflammed into getting off onto Passaic Street.
The houses off Passaic were originally small postwar Cape Cods, close cousins of the famous Levittown, Long Island mass-production houses that are generally seen as the model housebuilder’s response to the housing shortage brought on by extraordinary demands of returning GIs and their new families.  This was one of those small ad-hoc developments, and the streets here were named after the relatives of the builder’s extended family—Marion Avenue, Dorothy Avenue, Gertrude Avenue, and Ward Street were sandwiched between Spring Valley Road and Fairview Avenue.
Catherine Pskowski, my mother-in-law, pointed out that the experience of most postwar house-seekers involved not mass-scale developments like Levittown, but small, in-fill projects like the one off Passaic—three or four streets filling in a few acres of residual farmland or a larger estate gone to seed during the Great Depression and unexploited during the war. She and Ed had bought a house like that on Greylock Parkway in Belleville, about 12 miles south of the development I was haplessly circling, as the GPS voice repeatedly announced it was recalculating route and then, repeatedly, directed me to that suicidal drive the wrong way up the exit ramp on Passaic. She’d had an aunt who’d bought a house in Belleville, a more substantial place put up on spec. in the economic upturn just before we entered the war, when Lend-Lease and war conversion were restarting the American manufacturing engine. Now that developer had bought a parcel, run a cul-de-sac street into it, and was building a dozen houses on the satellite streets off the semicircle. It was small, but they were glad to have it. It was their first house;  Fredericka was already born and Catherine was pregnant with Eddie. When they moved up toward Montclair years later, they’d had no trouble selling the Greylock house. It was a starter home, and now a new family was going to begin there.
The houses on Dorothy, and Gertrude, Marion and Ward are no longer uniform boxes of a thousand square feet.  As in Levittown, the generations of buyers and sellers have put their personal stamps on the houses.  Over the last couple of years, despite the housing crisis, houses on Dorothy and Marion have sold for prices in the $350,000 range; they average about 2,100 square feet, and it was only because I have been studying Levittown’s transformations over the course of the postwar years that I could detect the small, unprepossessing starter home embedded in the elaborations of various remodelers:  second and even third floors, dormers, large entry atriums, bulging extensions off the backs, filling most of the small lot with family rooms and bedrooms and large eat-in kitchens.
But there were still near-untouched original houses tucked between the looming rehabs.  They were the ones whose owners were out on that Friday morning, clearing the fallen limbs from the fluke October snow-and-windstorm that had swept through the last weekend, knocking out power for days and taking down many of the trees that had lined the streetscape.  Those were the trees planted as saplings by the developer some 60 years before; fast-growing trees that had reached maturity decades ago and were now aging and vulnerable.
The men and women out on that Friday were probably out of work or forcibly retired;  they were the vestigial union workers who had soldiered on in the shrinking industrial economy until the Great Crash of 2008: commuters down to the factories and ship- and railyards  in the towns and cities on the west side of the Hudson River, connected by the Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan:  Fairview, West New York, Union City, Hoboken.  Now they had time to clear their yards of the storm’s detritus, and they looked at me as a suspicious stranger in a neighborhood wrapped up within itself and its shrinking hopes.
In the Cold War years when this part of New Jersey was booming, NY 17 was a vital arterial roadway between the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln Tunnel and the New York State Thruway, one of the major postwar superhighways completed before the Interstate Highway System was fully incorporated. During the years between 1953 and 1960, the road was widened and the intersections were converted to freeway-style interchanges, a process that had been proposed as early as 1936, during the first wave of “parkway” and other limited-access motorways. Along 17, the patchwork of interchanges, stoplights, construction zones and older and newer commercial strips made for a deeply frustrating drive if you were trying to get somewhere in a hurry.  But for many of those who’d thronged to Jersey after the war, it was a sort of consumer-capitalist thrill-ride; LaZBoy franchises chock-a-block with Chevy dealerships, with metal-clad diners to stop at if you were heading, say, for the Irish or the Jewish Catskills, for the working-class and emerging middle-class summer cottages in clusters off NY 209 or perhaps up further, on NY28, to the hotels and resorts.
Today you can still see vestiges of those cottage resorts on the roads up from 209.  When you turn up toward the mountains, the roads get rougher and less populated, and you’ll see the concrete walls of swimming pools long abandoned to fill with leaves turning to loam, saplings growing up in their midst, with the collapsed roofs and disconsolate clapboard facades of the cottages sometimes visible under the welter of vines and weeds and brush.
I didn’t stay on 17 to the 209 intersection in Wurtsboro.  I managed the last maneuver that got me to the Thruway, and I called Harry back, pretty sure we wouldn’t lose the signal this time.  He told me we were going to take the netting off the vines;  it was a three-person job, and Klink was back from Boston for the day to round out the crew.  It was a gorgeous afternoon, and as we reached the end of each row, I had the chance to straighten up from the big can into which I was stuffing the netting as Harry drove the tractor forward and Klink walked along the other side of the row, lifting the netting off the vine-ends that had grown through the crisscross of sharp-edged plastic that discouraged the deer and the turkeys from feasting on the cab frank and the chardonnay grapes, and abraded my hands until they bled as I shoved the stuff down into the storage bags locked into the garbage can roped to the back of the tractor on the makeshift platform Harry and Peter had welded together a few years ago, working from a catalog photograph for a $5,000 version of the thing, sold by an upscale gentleman-winemaker supplier. Theirs had costed-out at just over $500 and, like everything Harry did, was simultaneously makeshift and meticulous.

Stretching my arms toward the blue blue sky, I could see the hawk still following us along the updraft, and below that, Harry’s shoulders, slumped in a sort of resolute grieving, as he steered the tractor and Klink kept up a clatter of talk to distract us all from what we had no words to face. We were men in the company of men.  We might pause for a moment, lapse into silence, look into each others’ faces knowing what was behind our careful demeanor. Then Harry would put the tractor in gear, it would make its slow arc to the next row, and we would begin again the ritual of work that could suffice for everything else we could not do or say.