Monday, September 04, 2006
Monday Nite: Knight Of The Sorry Face
Taken from The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. The Penguin Classics edition (2003) as translated by John Rutherford. Part II, Chapter XVII.

“Lion-whelps now, is it? Is it now lion-whelps, and at this time of day? Well, by God, those fellows sending them here will soon see whether I’m the sort to be afraid of lions! Climb down, my good man and, since you’re their keeper, open these crates and turn the animals out: here, in the middle of this field, I will show them what sort of a man Don Quixote de La Mancha is, in spite of all the enchanters who have sent them after me.”

“I see, I see!” the hidalgo in green said to himself. “Now our worthy knight has shown what he’s made of--the curds have indeed softened his brain-box and ripened his brains!”

Sancho came up to him and said:

“Oh sir, for God’s sake do something to stop my master Don Quixote from fighting these here lions--if he does they’ll tear us all to shreds.”

“Is your master so mad, then,” the hidalgo replied, “as to make you fear and believe that he’s going to fight such fierce beasts?”

“He isn’t mad,” said Sancho, “only reckless.”

I should preface my extended commentary by saying, by way of full disclosure, that I fucking hate NASCAR. I'm not going to spend any time trying to convince other people not to like it just as I appreciate people not wasting their time trying to explain to me all the subtle skill and strategy of it and gosh, do I realize how hot and noisy it is to be in those cars for that long? Oooo-weee!

Now that you know where I stand on that particular competition, you should consider that when I tell you that when I heard Dale Earnhardt had been killed, my first reaction was "Wow, Dale Earnhardt..." and then spent the next half hour trying to figure out why it's suddenly news that we lost that chick who tried to fly around the world in 1937. Didn't these people have filmstrip presentations in grade school like the rest of us? Everything I needed to learn about history through the sixth grade I learned between the ding!s.

Later I found out that this guy was some kind of race-car driver. Still people would come up to me and ask me if I knew, if I'd heard about poor Dale. They'd catch their breath and bite their lower lips and wait for me to break into sobs, to commiserate, so we could stand there in the street and cry together. Maybe split a brick of chaw. Have unnatural intercourse with a close relative.

They'd always be offended when I didn't immediately tear up at the mention of ole Number 3. How tragic it is, I would say in my big-city over-irony-ed voice, that a guy who spent his weekends driving at speeds in excess of 180 miles per hour in intimately close proximity to others similarly engaged and would remain so employed for hours on end might find himself at the wrong end of a bad situation and end up injured in some grievous fashion.

This is generally when your average NASCAR follower would punch me in the face. In my defense I assume they would have done this eventually anyway when they found out all my shirts had sleeves on them.

Of course I wish Dale Earnhardt wasn't dead. I don't wish death on anyone, especially not someone like Mr. Earnhardt who was American, white, famous and wealthy. Clearly one of God's chosen. But at the same time... "tragedy?" For his family, certainly. But for the whole country?

Honestly, I think looking at the death of a grown, reason-capable man who knowingly put his life at risk week in and week out as some kind of bolt-from-the-blue, unforeseeable tragedy actually sort of cheapens the circumstances of his death and his memory thereafter. The risk of death is what makes the action compelling in the first place, isn't it? We don't (electively) watch regular traffic because, by and large, it's a safe and efficient mode of transport where the overwhelming number escape without incident their whole lives over. The fact that NASCAR drivers have to wear helmets and six-point harnesses and fire-retardant suits just to go to work is why there are grandstands and TV money involved at all. Acting like Mr. Earnhardt--or any other driver who so dies--didn't realize that until the last minute is kind of disrespectful, if you ask me. To be saddened by the circumstances of another man's death is one thing. To be moved to hysterics by the "tragedy" of it (for those not related to the man) in this particular instance is nonsensical and an affront to their efforts while they lived.

Anyway, this is all what I thought of when I heard that "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin was killed by an animal.

I will admit that I was more moved by the news of his death than I was when I heard of Dale Earnhardt's. First of all, I'd heard of him beforehand. Secondly, dangerous though his job was--again, a grown, reason-capable man--the circumstances of his death were a bit more freak as accidents go. From what I've read there are only two other cases of people dying from wounds received from a stingray as Mr. Irwin did. But at the same time, the parameters of what constitutes a "tragedy"... I mean, you only get to take so many chances.

And we know that Mr. Irwin's decision-making skills maybe weren't always necessarily above reproach.

To be clear, this is definitely not to say that he in anyway "deserved" what happened to him. I'm sure that he had a great understanding of the things he did and always took reasonable precautions before entering into any environment and at some level, there are only so many precautions you can take short of Not Doing That Thing For Which The Precautions Are Necessary, which if we all did, we'd all be scared, big-mouthed bloggers who squeal like stuck pigs at the sight of a daddy-longlegs.

But at the same time, this was a man whose chosen profession was to approach things with scales and swiveling eyes, sculpted out of hardened muscle, silent moving, teeth like daggers and all their bulbous, poisonous, furry, tentacled, crawling, swooping, carnivorous cousins dressed in all of natures clearest "Fuck Off" markers, describe what they were and then offer some scientific observation like: "Now let's see what happens when I poke it with a stick..."

Make no mistake, I'm very upset by this news. I think Steve Irwin was, for the most part, far, far smarter than he let on, a much more together and complete person than the hyperactive nature-dork he portrayed in front of the camera. I think the fact that he was able to transfer this persona directly into a fictional film is particularly telling. His death was the worst of bad luck, it seems, and I feel awful for his wife and his very young children.

But it did afford me to use a quote from Don Quixote in the beginning of this post, for which I will always be grateful. Really, I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to work it in. And that book was like a thousand pages long too. It was something of a relief, honestly. Crikey.

This post on the Narcissus Scale: 8.1



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