Rachel Maddow asked me Tuesday on Air America why Rod Blagojevich was traipsing around New York while his impeachment trial was underway in Springfield, and I answered flippantly because I had no answer — aside from the obvious one that chatting up Larry King and Barbara Walters is more fun than sitting humiliated in the well of the Illinois Senate.
But later in the day I began to think about John Updike‘s Rabbit Run. Here the passage I’ve never forgotten:
“You climb up through the little grades and then get to the top and everybody cheers; with the sweat in your eyebrows you can’t see very well and the noise swirls around you and lifts you up, and then you’re out, not forgotten at first, just out, and it feels good and cool and free. You’re out, and sort of melt, and keep lifting, until you become like to these kids just one more piece of the sky of adults that hangs over them in the town, a piece that for some queer reason has clouded and visited them.”
That’s Rabbit Angstrom, former high school basketball hero, talking about life after high school and how good it was at first. It’s also Updike, who wasn’t yet 30 when his book was published, writing about death, about how when you die you go to heaven for a while because that’s where the people who loved you want you, but slowly you become just dead, another small piece of the vast and mildly oppressive canopy of what-no-longer-is.
Blagojevich knows he’s history but he’s trying to seize the moment, that brief moment when you’re gone when your memory just hangs there. He can’t reinvent his memory in Illinois. Tuesday night Maddow interviewed Blagojevich on MSNBC and he was so earnest and well-spoken that I hoped his children were watching — he’d surely have made them proud. As the senate drags Blagojevich down, he may think New York can lift him up and out of his nightmare. He may actually believe he hears cheers.