The volunteer manning the desk at the Visitor Center at Monomoy Wildlife Refuge yesterday was a short, wiry, bright-eyed, and still square-jawed old man I'd guess was in his late sixties, early seventies---New Englanders are tricky about age. He could have been eighty.---in a powder blue sweatshirt with the National Park Service logo. His full head of hair was white and silver and cut close above his ears. He was quick and cheerful and friendly with a roguish grin that established him as the type who's built a personal religion around the word spry.
The Visitor Center can be lonely place on a nice day. On a cold, blustery day, the air full of a mist working up the courage to become rain, it's probably the center of even fewer visits and the old man was keeping himself company by listening to talk radio.
I wasn't a few steps in the door before I recognized the voice.
"Is that Rush?"
The old man grinned his roguish grin. "You've got good ears. I close it up in the drawer when I see someone coming in."
My ears were good enough to pick up Rush saying the word "race."
"I'm sorry," I said, "I can't deal with that blowhard ruining my vacation. I'll come back later."
The old man laughed, good-naturedly.
Blue as the home state of Ted Kennedy and Barney Frank is, there are still Republicans about. They become thicker on the ground the farther outside of Boston you go, and some of them are as rabidly Right Wing and loony as any yahoo you'd meet in the front row at a Sarah Palin rally in the Real American parts of Virginia.
But who knows what the old man's politics were? He could have been a ditto-head. Could have been a flinty New England Liberal proud that he cast his first vote for President for John Kennedy, listening to Rush for the fun of it. Some people take Limbaugh at his word that he's just an "entertainer." Pop Mannion used to get a kick out of him before he realized the fat clown wasn't kidding. And there are some people who listen because they believe it's good to know what tune the devil is playing.
And there are some people, self-skeptical, self-ironical, self-questioning, who not only think it's important to have their most cherished beliefs challenged but who enjoy it, who cheer it on, who even join in. It's a relief for them. A release. As it would be for a parson to step up to the pulpit one Sunday, look hard at his congregation, and with a roguish grin announce, "It's all a load of hooey!"
Sometimes the highest-minded ideals and the most ennobling of faiths can feel like chains around the heart.
"I'll turn it off," the old man said, and he did.
After that the conversation was all about sea turtles, beach erosion, and when the tide would turn and the path along the beach and out into the woods would dry out.