Chronarchy (chronarchy) wrote,

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Folly chases Death, and the world turns. . .

When I read this last night, it meant a lot to me.

See if you can spot why.

From A Pirate Looks at Fifty by Jimmy Buffett:

I was standing with my parents in front of the old Sheraton Battle House Hotel when screaming police sirens signaled the approaching spectacle. The motorcycles roared by, pressing the crowd back toward the supposed safety of the curbs, but as soon as the cops were out of sight, people filled the streets again. The distant sound of the band from up the parade route ignited the crowd, and they started to move to the rhythm. The black revelers seemed mystically connected to the drums, and we white kids tried to imitate them as best we could. We weren't too successful, but we had a good time trying. A team of tired-looking, somber mules came into view, pulling the first float. If reincarnation turns out to be true, I pray I don't come back as a Mardi Gras mule.

The first float of the OOM parade came into view. It was surrounded by six sweating black men, three on each side of the street, each wearing a white bandana on his head and carrying a large gas torch with tin reflectors on it. These were the flambeaus, and their carriers gyrated to the rhythm of the band's drum section, spinning their torches so that the flames almost reached and touched the audience.

This first float was not greeted with shouts and screams. It was not an ornate moving stage filled with drunken revelers. There were only two figures on the float, which displayed the ruin of a single Greek column. A skeleton with a maniacal grin painted across his face circled the column, taunting a masker in a court jester's costume. I was sitting on my father's shoulders in order to boost my chances in the inevitable scramble for goodies. I was full of nervous energy, bouncing around on top of my father and, for that matter, on top of the world. When I saw the skeleton, I was frightened to death and let out a blood-curdling scream. He heard me, looked my way, and started to laugh. Death made no offering of candy or trinkets to me that night. All I saw was that crazed grin as he laughed in my face.

"What is it?" I cried.

"It's Folly chasing Death," my mother replied. "It's only make-believe." But I was still petrified.

Then it happened. Through my welling tears, I heard a crack that sounded like a gunshot.

While Death had been so preoccupied with scaring the living hell out of me, Folly had snuck up behind him and had given him a wallop on the butt that could be heard two blocks away. I started laughing hysterically. The crowd joined me, and soon we had Death on the run again. The parade continued, and the final hour of fun resumed. I shouted, "Throw me something, mister" a few hundred times more, then we broke camp at the hotel and headed home before the midnight hour turned us into pumpkins.

I was a half-pint kid who hadn't been beyond a 150-mile radius of where I had been born. I had seen the werewolf, Frankenstein, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon on television, and now I had stared Death in the face on the streets of my own hometown. I had survived another Mardi Gras. Next stop-Lent.

The following morning I was there with my hungover father in the packed pews of Saint Joseph's Chapel waiting for a gloomy priest to smear ashes on my forehead and utter the inevitable words: "Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return." As the priest anointed me with palm ash, I found myself giggling. I was supposed to be in a state of repentance or self-examination or whatever, but all that I could see was the vision of Folly swatting Death's ass out of my face.

Forty-five years later, I still vividly recall that first encounter with Death, and learning that Folly was the only way to deal with it. You know Death will get you in the end, but if you are smart and have a sense of humor, you can thumb your nose at it for a while.

I have been repeatedly reminded of how to approach the subject of death. In my rebellious years on the streets of New Orleans, I was introduced to the work of Lord Buckley. Though there are many of his words that are worth quoting, the most vivid to me were as follows: "Humor is the absence of terror, and terror is the absence of humor."
Years later, on some unholy wall in some ungodly Third World bathroom, I found these words scribbled: "Living well is the best revenge," echoing George Herbert's famous words. It is Folly chasing Death.


The first time I ever saw Death catch up with Folly's ass, I was eighteen years old, on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico beneath ninety feet of water. A member of the Mobile Devilfish Skindiving Club, I was chasing giant amberjack with a speargun through the mangled remains of a torpedoed Liberty ship when the air in my scuba tank ran out I can still clearly see the figure of my buddy spearing a big fish, about to disappear into the darkness of the wreck, when I reached out and caught him by the ankle, signaling him about my dilemma. Letting go of the big fish on the line, he "buddy-breathed" me to the surface. My ears and nose were bleeding from the rapid ascent, and I remember swimming like hell to the dive boat, worried about sharks. The man who brought me to the surface that day was Jack Andrade. I'm sure I thanked him, but our paths went separate ways and I haven't seen him in thirty-two years, so I would just like to thank him again for saving my life.

I think that if you live an interesting life, you have to come face-to-face with death on occasion, and it should scare you. There are many terms for the experience: "facing the grim reaper," "reality check," "dodging the proverbial bullet" By whatever name you call it, you'll know it when you see it.
Tags: buffett, chaos magic, freedom

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