There was no way to see, from this altitude, the squalor, the ruination, the foulness.

The second Friday in September. I'm not there yet, and if you've picked this paper up in a timely fashion neither are you. But I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that by 2:00 in the afternoon on Friday, September 8th, it will be uncomfortably hot. It has been uncomfortably hot for some time now, with brief respites. The hothouse effect is becoming increasingly hard to dismiss outside of air-conditioned corporate offices or an air-conditioned Lexus. But don't those who can avail themselves of these refuges (read they) get a clue while they're on the golf course? Maybe $8.00 martinis and imported beer ameliorate the discomfort to a large degree; but hasn't a single oil CEO and flat-earther who believes the greenhouse effect to be Luddite, liberal hysteria ever stuck his head out of a window? Because I am an enthusiast regarding the U.S. Constitution in ways that are inconvenient and meet with disapproval from the right, and also believe pretty much that this country was neither founded nor freed by the well behaved, I am often mistaken for a liberal hysteric and even an anarchist. This is understandable, as at times the difference is hard to discern. But choking in rush-hour traffic (nonexistent in San Diego not that long ago) and baking in ultraviolet ferocity while surrounded with crawling, single-occupant SUVs on I-5, I may fondle my bus pass and feel truly righteous.

As a kid in the Midwest, the second week of September was an oppressive time. It was uphill in the early school year and likely still muggy. I transformed public parks or forest preserves or my family's back yard into Conradian jungles brimming with adventure. Garden or "garter" snakes became monsters; steaming puddles of mud were quicksand I didn't always avoid, shadows transmogrified into homicidal native tribesmen. I was a 19th-century British martyr to the sun in some godforsaken colony, Lawrence of Arabia, or Sir Richard Burton. This past summer in San Diego I found myself unable to romanticize the weather and was forced to confront the sweating, grunting, middle-aged curmudgeon I have become, an ageing hippy cursing industry and its gifts of fluorocarbons, carbon monoxide, and ozone-shredding, inefficiently consumed petroleum.

No one has yet heard me utter the words, "Save the planet," much less "Save the whales." I am unconcerned about the planet, and whales will either do just fine or they won't. It is, of course, me that concerns me.

Instrumental in bringing my disgruntlement to a peak is a recent reading of Robert Silverberg's Hot Sky at Midnight, a 1994 novel safely labeled science fiction, which is to say, nonsense, a comic book, not in any way real or having to do with you. Silverberg has managed to produce consistently high-grade literary fiction for several decades without attracting the attention of either mainstream readers or the literati (more real than the illuminati). He has, however caught my attention since 1973 with a reading of his book Dying Inside, as good as anything Updike or Bellow ever wrote. Aside from Silverbeard's (a term of affection, and his beard is indeed a dull argent these days) finely balanced sentences and uncharacteristic (for much of science fiction) characterization, the relevance of Hot Sky to our endless summer is of more than passing interest to anyone willing to stick his head out of a climate-controlled room.

Without giving anything at all away (in the unlikely event you find and pick up this out-of-print novel), a closing passage has stayed with me for several days as I sought shady sides of streets and sneezed or coughed or both at intersections like Midway and Sports Arena. That passage is a description of Earth viewed from space some 200 years from now and, ostensibly, exactly how it would be seen today.

"A perfect blue ball, gleaming brightly, mottled with bands of white. The wounds mankind had inflicted were invisible. There was no way to see, from this altitude, the squalor, the ruination, the foulness. The bleak new desert zones that had been fertile agricultural areas a few generations back, the steaming fungoid forests covering the sites of abandoned cities, the drowned shorelines, [New Orleans] the clotted garbage in the seas, the colorful patches of poisoned air, the long dreary miles of blackened and withered wasteland.... No, the view from up here beyond the stratosphere was altogether superb.

"There were some who felt that it had merely been stained; if that was the case, the planet would need some time to cleanse itself. But it would. It would. Everything would be repaired.... The planet had plenty of time. We don't, but it does. Life would go on. Not necessarily ours, but life of some sort...we were such poor stewards of our domain, so be it. So be it. One kind fails, another kind eventually takes over. Life is persistent. Life is resilient."

It is unlikely I will have grandchildren, but allow me to lift my plastic, practically immortal plastic bottle of Crystal Geyser water to yours.

Share / Tools

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • AddThis
  • Email

More from SDReader


Log in to comment

Skip Ad