Summer Heat

     On a hot summer Saturday, a girl is lying out by the pool before she goes back to work as a video editor.
     A recent college graduate, blonde, athletic, the enthusiasm of youth spills out of her. She goes to the gym early in the morning, works one job during the day and another as a photographer in the evenings.
     She said she had just come back from shooting a wedding in Italy, all expenses paid, after visiting friends in Ireland, England and Germany along the way. And now her editing work at the studio has piled up.
     Towards the end of a conversation that reminds me of college, as she veers from one enthusiasm to the next, I say not very incisively that there seems to be so much chaos in the world these days.
     “It’s cyclical,” she says.
     Later that afternoon, in my air-conditioned office, I wonder if that is the great, rejuvenating, energizing power of youth, to know, to be sure, that disaster is passing, that better times are just around the corner.
     Maybe, if you peer back in time, she is right.
     I suppose things looked pretty bleak around the time of the Black Death.
     But with those two words, I hear a slow chant, “Bring out your dead.”
     And a concatenation of events do seem to be in a deep and mortal rhythm.
     In the morning, with a cup of coffee in hand, I read that the Ebola virus has spread from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia to Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria. And then I noticed a news item saying the bubonic plague has reappeared in China, the world’s most populous nation.
     In the same Saturday paper, I read with close attention a story about the Peace Corps.
     Nursed by a Peace Corps volunteer when I had appendicitis in the hinterland of Guinea — a high school kid, I more or less instantly fell in love with my beautiful, dark-haired, gentle, and talkative, nurse — I notice any story about the corps.
     So I looked through a long piece in the New York Times about the death of a young volunteer in China. Since it was not identified high in the piece, I read to the end looking for the disease or illness that caused the boy’s death.
     But it had no name.
     The story simply noted that he had worked in a rural Chinese area known as a “breeding ground for zoonotic diseases,” the kind that jump from animal to human.
     Back at the pool, the girl had talked with great enthusiasm about the ease with which one could hop around Europe on budget flights. She noted that she had taken four flights inside Europe for about the price of one domestic flight from Los Angeles to her home state of Colorado.
     But my thoughts turned immediately to the triple crashes of the last few days, a remarkable conjuction of air disaster, all lost on Malaysian Air, all lost on Air Algerie and a few survivors on TransAsia Airways.
     Many years ago, I covered the crash of an Air Mexicana flight, where the airliner, its tail shorn off by a pleasure craft, dropped out of the sky, top down, to explode in a ball of flaming jet fuel, sending parts of people all over the calm, tidy, Latino suburb of Cerritos.
     I too at that point had the energy of youth.
     Horribly hungover from way too much tequila at a birthday party the night before, I did some of the best reporting of my life, resulting in two bylined stories, the first and second leads of the paper, on either side of a big picture of the crash, on the front page of the Dallas Morning News.
     But the stories I heard that day left a lifelong sense of the horror in a plane crash. For a while, I would see a plane flying overhead and become worried that it would tumble out of the sky.
     That feeling went away eventually, mostly because crashes happen so rarely. Until lately.
     In the same morning paper, I read with close attention another story, this one tied to the various wars currently underway in a good part of the world.
     An inventive Syrian, a former Army major, has pieced together — with parts from an old radio, a refrigerator and bits of piping and wire — a rechargeable battery pack for shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles.
     Apparently there are stockpiles of the missiles around the world, in disintegrating Libya, for example. But most of the missiles were useless due to a shortage of battery packs.
     Now — if the thing works and a quoted expert says there is no reason it will not — one battery pack can be used over and over, and all the dead missiles have come back to life.
     So maybe the girl is right. Maybe it’s just a cycle. But it’s a really bad one.

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