Saturday, February 20, 2016

Unpacking the Planet of Antiquity

"The Planet of Antiquity" is the last chapter in the memoir, Unpacking the Boxes, by Donald Hall.  The author, Donald Hall, was our Poet Laureate from 2006-2007.  When Donald's mother died and her material goods disposed of, he was sent boxes of her treasures, which were Donald's memorabilia.  This book is the memory of what her boxes triggered.

Donald has had a long and interesting life.  Being a poet, he has crafted the story of his life in an appealing story.  His favored and only son status was not wasted.  He matured into a responsible, well-adjusted, and contributing member of society.  He was blessed.  But it is his last chapter, "The Planet of Antiquity", that I enjoyed the most.  I roared with laughter.  This chapter could stand alone as a short story.

Donald begins this chapter by comparing his ability to move, in his eighties, to his abilities as a child.  He's slower, unsteady, and has fallen, more than a couple of times.  But as he says, "You live in the moment."  Something we're told to do, anyway.

It's living in the moment outlook, that keeps him going.  If he, or anyone in their eighties, looked ahead, they'd probably become depressed.  So each moment becomes an adventure.  This became apparent when Donald was arrested for drunken driving.  (Remember, you are innocent until proven guilty.)

Donald was not drunk.  He had had one glass of wine.  Driving home on a dark country road in New Hampshire where no one presumably was around, Donald exceeded the speed limit.  He was pulled over.  He put the car in neutral and as he rummaged around for his license and registration, the car rolled back.  The cop honked.  Donald managed to stop the car before it hit the cruiser.

The cop asked Donald to step out of the car.  Now Donald is a handicapped, elderly gentleman, who walks with a cane, and naturally has difficulty getting out of a car.  But he managed to eventually extricate himself out of his vehicle.

Standing face to face, the cop could smell alcohol.  I'm not surprised because I can smell alcohol on people's breath, after receiving communion wine--and that's just a sip!  Have you been drinking an alcoholic beverage, sir?  Donald told the unsmiling and severe visaged cop, just one glass of wine at dinner. With disinterested compassion, the cop asked Donald to walk the line.

Now, while I was reading this adventure in Donald's moment in time, I was freaking out.  "OH NO!" Donald is elderly and probably can't walk steadily under normal, calm conditions, never mind when he's nervous and under stress.  But Donald was looking at the situation as an adventure.  He was living in the moment and relishing that moment.  He jokes with the cop and tries to initiate a friendly conversation.  But interest and compassion aren't promoted attributes among traffic officers, I guess.

Donald couldn't stand on one leg.  Donald couldn't walk the straight line.  Donald couldn't touch his nose with his eyes closed.  Donald didn't pass any of the sobriety tests.  In fact, Donald appreciated the humor in the situation.  He wasn't drunk, just old.  It was surreal in its ridiculousness.

This sense of absurdity was self-preserving, self-protective.

Donald was asked if he'd take the breathalyzer test. Donald was thinking that he didn't want to waste any more time.  He was tired; he wasn't drunk; enough was enough!  So he answered, "No. I want to go home."  But this was interpreted as "No."   That's "no" period!

So Donald Hall was arrested.  He was handcuffed behind his back, which made it extremely uncomfortable riding in the metal back seat of a cruiser, with little space.  Of course, that's when everything itches, you have to go to the bathroom, and everything is crampy.  A little panic set in.  What will people say?  Will this hit the news?  What will my family do?  What happened to my own car left on the road?  How much will this cost?  What if I don't pass the breathalyzer; it could malfunction?  Do I need my diabetes medicine?  I'm thirsty?

Transported to the police station, Donald wasn't even allowed a glass of water, although he was permitted to urinate, under watchful supervision.  All he could do was sit in silence since conversation wasn't encouraged.

Finally, the breathalyzer was ready.  Donald scored zero.  He took the test again.  Zero again!  Alleluia!  Donald shook hands with the cop and the cop tore up all the arrest forms; Donald didn't even get the speeding ticket he deserved.  God is too good!  Although, some purgatorial time surely was paid especially since Donald had to pay for having his car towed away.

The arresting cop gave Donald a ride home.  As Donald was getting out of the cruiser's seat belt, he asked the cop, "Come on in and have a beer."

Perhaps we should all drink to "living in the moment."

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