Around my house, the two prime ceremonial occasions of May are the Kentucky Derby and Fred Astaire's birthday. And, the first of these having been concluded, my friends and I were sitting around the front porch, just before the accident, having an amiable time of it and pretty generally agreeing that the weather in heaven could not be much better than this and that thoroughbred horse racing as we had suspected all along was superior to politics in that a poor field was no cause to suspend one's sense of enjoyment.

Anyway, it was pleasant out there, with the temperature around 70, and fine green foliage all around, and the old white wooden rail to put one's feet up on, and the declining sun's light shining off the backs of the little airborne bugs that flew back and forth across the street where the human foot-races were about ready to begin. We were discussing front porches generally, and there too we were of one mind in that we loved them and believed that they had been killed off most likely by machines: television, which had destroyed conversation, and air conditioning, which let people stay inside when they had no business there; and even automobiles, which had fixed it so there wasn't anybody strolling by your front porch anyway who could come up and pass the time of day.

On the other hand, however, we agreed that machines could do some fine things. For instance, the color television set, which one of the guests had lugged over, had given us a great view of the Derby and all the thrilling green of grass, brown of dirt track and red of roses, to say nothing of the rich unnamable hues of that winner. Moreover, the drinks, which had been served in frosted glasses, had been made especially splendid by the Waring blender that was able to mix together ice, sugar, sourmash bourbon and mint sprigs picked fresh from the back yard in a way that one's grandfather would have thoroughly approved of. And while we were talking like that, one who had shown his own approval for those juleps in the most direct way was now out front singing "My Old Kentucky Home," and entering himself, perhaps unwisely, in the footraces that are also part of Derby Day tradition around here.

This runner was 33 and a whole lot swifter than a man of his sedentary habits had any right to be. He even won the first two heats and was moving with remarkable speed in the third when he tripped, smashed flat on his face and came up with blood gushing from his nose and splattering the front of his sports shirt. Upon which I helped him to the car and drove him to the hospital -- accelerating just a little bit more with every block because by now he was pale, dizzy and pretty thoroughly frightened by a notion he had, that his nose-bone had been driven back into his brain and was killing him. This, I thought, seemed rather doubtful. But when he pointed out with some asperity that I was no medical authority on that subject, I put the accelerator down hard and soon was leading him, bleeding copiously, up to the energency room registration desk. By now he was wobbly kneed and turning alternate colors -- first green as an avocado, then pale as a little white rose and in the meanwhile, bidding me goodbye and making me swear to tell his children he loved them.

As always, an official -- in this case a rather serious-looking young lady -- was stationed at the window as a kind of representative of the machine she attended -- one of those typewriters keyboards, which in turn was hooked up to a video screen on which columns of green Star Wars-like writing would pop up when she punched certain keys; and, consulting a long list of those items of information that this machine required, she began to question my friend, the spring champion, whose legs now gave way, and who was dragged by me over to a wheelchair, in which I held him propped up and profusely bleeding as he faced that woman like a prisoner in the dock.

"Couldn't I just wheel him into the ER now?" I asked. "And give you the information myself?" To which she sternly replied that such a procedure was unregulational and this in a tone strongly implying that it was wicked of me to have suggested such a thing in the first place.

And so, with elaborate slowness, and consulting the machine all the while, she began to get the information it required: name, address, birth date, age. By now, he was fainting -- which meant I had to make up most of the answers: the name of his business, its address, what they did, and what he did. After that, she started in on me, a long series of questions, some of which I was able to sidestep by insisting that I was an intinerant shepherd. After that, there were identification numbers to be acquired and forms to be signed, this with the help of ampules of ammonia held under my friend's nose -- after which he was made to wait for another quarter-hour due to the large backup of people with pollen allergies. And at last he was wheeled through doors popped open by a machine, and into the ER itself where other machines such as the EEG and EKG examined him, and at the end of 2 1/2 hours was given a scientific diagnosis -- that he had a bloody nose from falling down in the street, something old Dr. McCullers out in Remington, Va. -- who was no doubt a Stone-Age fool-- could have told him in 30 seconds.

Anyway, as I was waiting for him out in the anteroom, whose evilly humming ghoulish green fluorescent lights could make you feel like your nosebone had been driven up in your brain, I took to watching "The Towering Inferno" that came out of a machine they had up on the wall. It seemed the people in that movie had built a skyscraper so tall that they could not put out a fire when it was kindled, and now the whole damn thing was ablaze, and everybody in it was trapped by their own technology and love of fun. The helicopters were trying to rescue them and people were getting killed left and right. Worst of all, Fred Astaire was trapped up there -- and this to me, considering who he was, was intolerable. And I wanted passionately to get Channel 9 instead, where John Wayne was starring in "Rio Lobo" and there were fewer machines, and more sense that everything was under control. However, there was no way to climb up there and work the handles of that thing, nor any human, whom I could find, who was in charge of it. And so catastrophes kept coming out of the wall -- until at last my red-nosed friend popped out through the electric doors, eyes set straight ahead, arms held rigidly to his sides, walking stiff-leggedly in abrupt, robot motions, and making little clicking noises, like a machine.