Saturday, October 9, 2010

better angels

I'm not a fan of military might. War might be necessary, and sometimes right, but mostly it's the workhorse of national power. Death, waste, hubris, money, petroleum, nationalism. These are not some of my favorite things.

So, when Fleet Week comes to San Francisco, you might think I'd be dismissive. Displays of giant naval ships? Lumbering bombers? Why not simulate Predator drone assassinations? Or show how cluster bombs main little kids?

Mostly I ignore Fleet Week. It's just a part of our San Francisco summer (October, that is.) But when the Blue Angels streak over my hilltop, I forget everything I think about war and armies and navies.

Metallic blue enamel. Insectoid shapes moving faster than seems possible. They rip the air with a sound like a giant burlap bag that keeps tearing for minutes at a time. Machines that are alien but somehow also all mine the moment I see them.

Going about my business through the city, everything stops for a moment when a jet streaks overhead. People stop in mid-sentence, hesitate crossing the street, look up. For a minute, all of us different people feel the same thing with no other thought in our heads. Tuning forks resonating to the same hammer strike.

Riding my bike up my steep hill in the afternoon heat, I'm woozy and wobbly. I swivel my head at a weird angle to follow the jet now suddenly overhead, itself moving at an even weirder angle. I imagine I will keeping following it, my body following my ever-twisting neck. In my vision, I end up turtled, spine on the pavement, pedaling towards the sky.

Later, I stand on the hill behind my house, where I have a panoramic view. Watching them roll, race, climb, fall. An eleven-year-old pounding on the inside of my chest. The thrilling questions of a boy: What's the fastest can I go? How fast can anyone go? Could I take that g-force? Stand that sound? What's the strongest power that there is?

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