PULLING THE PLUG
John had a bumper sticker on his old Ford pickup that read PULL THE PLUG. There wasn't a dog in the passenger seat; he did not have long hair or a beard, and the radio was not tuned to any talk show or music station. In fact, he had ripped the radio out, not in anger or frustration, but with the calm calculation that if humanity could not control its machines, it was doomed. Control, he thought, is neither tuning a dial, meandering among choices more alike than is apparent; nor is it hair spray, gel, mousse, or other such products. And it certainly isn't prison.
John often thought this way, while driving the west Nebraska backroads selling refurbished farm equipment. He sold repolished and refitted scythes and other "acoustic instruments," as he liked to call them. It was a decent living, if none too successful. Once he had worked for an agribusiness giant but had quit in protest. He had quit on principle because he had found out that the company was patenting so-called 'one-use' seeds that it sold to farmers in India, thus binding them to buy the seeds every season, rather than collecting seeds themselves, freely. The morning after he quit he put on another bumper sticker: NATURE IS FREE.
He was informed not merely by what he read, preferring "the news of print to that of prattle," as a member of the Royal Auxiliaries once said to him, but he also had been shaped by time spent in the Gulf War, especially in the field hospital, where he first met Britons and learned of the Commonwealth and what other meaning class carried. He befriended Aussies there too, and vowed someday to go to the Great Barrier Reef where sharks, he was told, didn't wear suits. That stuck with him, as did the Mississippian he had befriended, whose thought, he realized, was after the fact. Going after it from present to past, to roots. After the fact much as Faulkner claimed that "Man will endure."
On his long drives through the dusty highland he often recalled this momentary friend, wondering what had happened to his wife and daughter now that he was long dead and buried. He recalled how this friend named Bo talked of "my best man William, William Faulkner." Bo did not finger a rosary or pray, despite his amputation; he only talked of Mississippi and at the time, John had no idea who William Faulkner was. At the time, John did not know much, being nineteen, except that that the world was round and so despite appearances, everything was graded on a curve. The other things, mean screeching love, drinking 'til dawn, working at the shop&he didn't consider knowing. He just was there, no need to grasp: understanding was action, reaction. It was in the bones like milk from birth, beyond memory.
Bo explained the whole history of Jefferson County and what it meant to him, growing up in Tupelo. He explained his marriage was one "of a convenience store, you know, in-and-out needs and small money for change." He tried to explain everything that meant anything to him, and he worked out a signal with John, that if he should fall to rot from the blood poisoning that the depleted uranium shrapnel had helped to set in, he would try to make a fist, and if John saw that fist, he was to pull the plug.