News From the Front

The Great Uncertainty
This column was originally titled The Great Unmasking. It brimmed with optimism and assurances that we were at long last teetering on the brink of a vast awakening, that we, as a nation, as a population of drinkers, were about to shake off the lockdown somnambulism and kick off a new Roaring ‘20s that would make the old Roaring ‘20s look like the 1950s. Just when it looked as if the night was finally going to steal the light of the world, forcing us to creep timidly about in permanent twilight, we had rediscovered fire and were going to set everything aflame, just for the hell of it.

Then the Delta variant, hysterically waving its arms over its head, shrieked into town. By the time you read this, it’ll probably be the Kappa, the Omicron, or God help us, the Omega variant, which comes with a complete set of Charlton Heston-inspired conspiracy theory baggage.

Suddenly the vaccines, which were supposed to be our sure-fire visa back to the land of normal drinking, don’t seem to be working so hot. And Big Pharma seems unwilling to end its trillion-dollar sleigh ride and is promising new shots to fight the new variants, and my God, this cycle can go on forever.

So here we are, teetering on the brink of what exactly? No one seems to know, except for the doom-mongers who, as Yeats pointed out, are always full of passionate intensity.

On the wall next to my desk there’s a framed picture that I often ponder upon. It depicts a man in a three-way death struggle with a giant snake and a tiger. Adding to the drama and excitement, the struggle is taking place on train tracks and in the background an oncoming locomotive is closing the distance. I’m not entirely sure why, but that picture has always encouraged me when hope seems thin and the future grim. I always think, “Boy, that guy could use a drink,” but also, “These current struggles, though they seem the size and ferocity of boa constrictors and tigers, are mere trifles because soon enough the iron wheels of The Locomotive of Certain Doom will roll over us all. So have a drink and cheer up!”

Try it. It usually works.

—Frank Kelly Rich