There you go again, said a voice trying too hard to sound like Ronald Reagan in the throes of his American dreaming.
Don't you ever knock? I snapped without looking up.
Nah! My friend dropped the Reagan bit. Don't you know that in the post-9/11 world knocking's for sissies?
Yeah, well, you know I love talking to you but Friday morning's when I write my column, as you're very well aware.
But that's when you need me most, my friend. I'm your bullshit detector. Take that last column. You coulda used me on that one. I read that and had to shake my head. There you go again with the Bush Bashing. Don't you know it's a new day?
I turned and looked at him as he moved some papers and sat down in a spare wooden chair. He'd neatly bundled muscle and flab in red running shorts and red t-shirt that read Camelot Redux in green. His left hand held a Bloody Mary, complete with celery flag at full mast, no doubt liberated from my fridge. It was my glass he drank from, for sure.
Cheers, he said, as he lofted and sipped.
You celebrating something?
Yep, he said, smacking his lips. Renewal. The return of the King to the Wasteland. Excalibur. The King is dead, long live the King.
What are you talking about?
A world devoid of Dubya! New blood, brother! Slay the sacrificial beast.
You're drunk, I said. How many of those have you had?
Jus' the one? All right, two. I'm feeling good, that's all. Had a nice run over here. Feels like springtime. Did you see the Obillary debate last night?
I saw it, sounded like the same old song-and-dance to me.
See, there you go, sounding old and cynical. What I bring to the table is the perspective of youth, my friend, and youth knows a new day's dawnin'. Kids are turning out in droves at rallies, and the pollsters are missing it because they don't call cell phone numbers.
Hah! I said. You're every bit as old as I am. Look in the mirror.
Ah, but I'm young at heart, young enough to revel in being a walking contra—make that a runnin'—contra-diction. He drank deep, then pulled a cigarette from a baggie in his shorts and lit up, blowing a brand new cloud my way.
I reached over and cracked the window in my home office, making a mental note to replace the screen, mangled last summer when casting a stray snake from the house. Long story.
So indulge me, he said. I'm here to tell you that you need to set a new tone my friend. It's time we all took a fresh look at where we stand. A new optimism's stirring. Don't you feel it?
I guess so.
Be honest, don't you have to actually TRY to work up the old anger these days? Democracy's renewing us. OK, so the bastards stole the last two presidential elections. Yes, climate change is worse than we thought. The economy's going to hell, the Neocons succeeded in annexing Iraq to the empire….
What's your point?
Despite all that, my friend, it's a new day in America! How long's it been since you've heard such heartening rhetoric out of two candidates as you heard from Obama and Hillary yesterday?
Well, Obama is inspiring, I admitted, but he's no John Kennedy. And Hillary's savvy and assertive, it's true, but where's the beef?
The beef's where it's always been. Out in the back 40 waiting to get bludgeoned, ground up, portioned out and cooked into somethin' the public will swallow. I'm the first to admit substance is scarce in these campaigns. Still, the tone's changed. Subjects have changed. Take climate change. Even Dubya had to admit in his SOTU address that it's real. And when Schwarzenegger endorsed McCain, it sounded like an Earth Day speech. Whatever else you say about McCain…
He's a warmonger….
OK, but he's also down with saving the planet. He's down with clean energy. He's against torture. He's for restoring habeas corpus, he's…
You voting for McCain?
Not likely, not with two brilliant Democrats left in the race talking about healthcare reform, getting us out of Iraq….
I'll believe it when I see it, I said. It's just too damn bad the people who got the most things right their whole careers, Gravel and Kucinich and Edwards and Dodd, all had to drop out. And Gore's out in Silicon Valley half the time, making big bucks….
Yeah, my friend sighed. They tried forging swords into ploughshares. Something good's gonna grow from that though.
Nice try, I said. But listen… uh, I need to finish up here.
You throwin' me out?
I wouldn't put it that way….
Well, I tried at least. Don' get up, he said as he stood. He drew once more on his cigarette, exhaled seven perfect rings into the air and dropped the butt-end into ice-melt from his finished drink. He set down the glass and, touching two fingers to his forehead, turned, raised my sash up higher, reached his muscular left leg over the windowsill and climbed through. He hit the ground running.
I watched him jog down to the creek, across my bridge and up the long driveway. When he was just a smudge on the scenery, I swiveled around to my screen and deleted every word. I'd have to write fast now to make deadline.
It was still smoky in the room, so I stood before starting over and went to the window just in time for an unseasonably warm breeze to waft through.
A ragged red flame appeared among the branches of my magnolia so close at hand, then shape-shifted into the clean lines of a well-groomed cardinal. It lofted its head and rendered three ascending trills. Somewhere a turtledove sent three haunting coos across the land. And from the creek, spring peepers began to sing.