February 05, 2003

Walter Mitty Goes to School

Our intrepid hero prepares for his trip to Blacksburg like staging for the assault on Normandy Beach, checking over all his gear, prepared for both the driving rains and the later snow expected that day. And off he goes to class, taking the daring upper pass, traversing Don't Look Down road. With a white-knuckled grip, he sits tensely at the helm of his little truck, coaxing it up the narrow, muddy road toward civilization. The back end of the truck fishtailed dangerously near the precipice over the creek, even in four-wheel drive. He was driving on pudding. "Traction, my aunt Hattie" he fumed, grumbling that the next time he bought 'all-terrain' tires, he would insist that they state explicitly that they were good on mud and snow, but also on Vaseline... which is what the two inches of thawed sludge on frozen ground felt like. Reaching the hard top seemed like enough of a conquest and he was tempted to turn around and go back home and recovery from this battle, won; but our inscrutible hero trudged on.

Controls were set to auto-pilot. Nothing along this long stretch of high country road needed his attention; only the hands, an army of two, were necessary to make regular long swings of the wheel to navigate the muddy truck along the predictable and familiar curves. They hands deftly steered the assault vehicle out of the Blue Ridge into the open expanse of the Great Valley. He would need to take back control soon. But not now.

From the higher ridges along the road he watched the southern edge of the storm front overtake him in his journey north. Like mile-long loaves of dough, the rounded folds of cloud piled up layer upon thick layer in dark shades of somber gray and cold cobalt and gun-metal blue. Here and there a brilliant cleft appeared in accidental gaps between loaves. The air mass was advancing over the top of him in a blitzkrieg, it's objective somewhere to the south. He had the oppressive feeling that it was also settling down lower and lower, soon to sit upon the very mountains and fill the valleys ... smothering all who scurried there, tiny under the massive airmass, shrouding them in darkness and wind and the sounds of a winter not ready to consent defeat. But he pushed on, closer and closer to his objective: the University Parking Lot of Doom.

Into the Great Valley now, no longer protected by the hills, the winds buffeted the pitiful little assault vehicle pushing it left, right; hitting it head-on, holding it back like a bully with his stiff arm against the forehead of a helpless weakling. Walter took over control; his adrenalin surged as the storm front seemed to present overwhelming force. He wondered what he might use for a white flag, should it become necessary and he turned the radio to the 'oldies' as a balm, to steady his nerves for the final miles toward campus.

TELSTAR by the Ventures, 1962, and Walter is in the eighth grade. There are lights flashing and spinning all around him and for a minute he cannot tell where he is. A sign flashes in the corner of his vision: ALL SKATE it says, and he is in the midst of a swirling mass of children twirling like leaves in a gale, round and round as the other-worldly music echoes off the walls of the rink. Walter turns to skate backwards, preening and strutting for someone out there, one of those newly recognized species of those days, called girls. He swished and veered and the mirrored ball spun round and lights careened around him, through him.

Lost in the dazzling, swirling, circling cacophony of space music, young Walter discovered he was now standing on the back steps of his suburban home, in the dark, holding up a giant pair of heavy black binoculars to the sky, trembling. He knew that it was not silent, this ominous moving point overhead. Beep. Beep. Beep. It repeated as it coursed around the planet, the first artificial star in the cosmos, a menacing bright speck showing only a greater magnitude of brilliance without detail through the lenses. Sputnik. It would have made the hair on his arms stand up, if he'd had any yet. And then somehow this single speck became a cluster of specks falling, people falling from space. And the music stopped.

He looked up when the vision faded, thanking the hands for their superb job of navigation while he was otherwise occupied. The 100-acre parking lot before him was bathed in pink-amber light in the morning darkness, darkness as if the world had been overwhelmed in heavy and oppressive defeat by an invading enemy. But it was only a storm. And this dark storm would pass. Spring would come, and Walter would pilot his dirigible high over green hills and look down from a distance, in calm skies, and see that it was good. It was all good.

Posted by fred1st at February 5, 2003 07:14 AM | TrackBack

I don't if I should say "neet" or "nice"


Posted by: Don at February 5, 2003 06:31 PM

You're allusion to Don't Look Down Road reminds me of one particular strecth of the Mount Washington Auto Road. That's one road you don't want to go off of..it's only a 2500 foot drop straight down to the bottom!

There's also one turn called Oh...My....GOD Turn. But you'll have to read about that one Thursday or Friday.

Posted by: DCE at February 5, 2003 09:08 PM

Great post!

Posted by: ron at February 6, 2003 05:49 AM

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