“If trouble comes when you least expect it then maybe the thing to do is to always expect it.”
― Cormac McCarthy, The Road
One day he said he picked up a “warning.” “What did you do?” “I dunno.” “Did you forget to raise your hand?” “Nope” “Did you break a rule?” “Yeah, that’s it. I must have broke a rule. If you break a rule, you get in trouble. I got in trouble, so I must have broke a rule.” “Do you remember what rule you broke?” “Nope.”
He went on to say he didn’t like it when somebody was in trouble “Cause the teacher STARES at us!” A demonstration was made of the teacher’s stare, eyes narrowed, brows lowered, forehead slightly knotted.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
― Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry Into the Limits of the Possible
From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Saturday, September 8, 2001 – Exactly twenty years ago. Wow… only twenty years ago… and coming up only three days from 9/11. It’s so strange reading my thoughts from the point of view of a semi-distant future. I talk about getting a new cell phone and a Pocket PC. An iPhone or a Smart Phone only a dream of the future..I (we) had no idea.
Saturday, September 8, 2001, Gadgets
The folks at work, in all their infinite wisdom, have bought me a couple of new cool toys lately.
I try to resist the temptation of becoming a gadget-freak. A fascination with technology is a powerful, seductive trap in this day and age, this best of all possible worlds. The underlying geek-gene is there, though, I can’t deny it. Plus, if somebody else wants to buy me cool stuff… so be it.
I was one of the last hold-outs against having a cell phone. When I finally picked one up with my new job, however, I was hooked. Especially with all the soccer stuff going on, with Candy and I hardly ever being home, driving all over the place, and with me stepping up my business travel, the cell phone became, finally for me, the irreplaceable part of life that it is for everybody else.
Now, they have replaced my run-of-the-mill phone with a new service, one designed for corporate, industrial use. It’s a Nextel phone, with the two-way radio and, especially seductive, internet access. I had to attend a training class, read a big thick manual, and spend hours punching little buttons and fooling around on web sites to set up and learn all the features of the silly thing.
I always thought web access on a cell phone was sort of useless, but it does have its geeky charm. I especially like the movie service. I can code in a film, punch in a zip code, and it will tell me the closest theater and show times, along with directions to get there. It has an amazing word-completion algorithm for entering emails from the otherwise-almost-useless numberpad.
The only problem is that it does not play cool songs when it rings (I had my old phone set to play the theme song from the old puppet TV show – Thunderbirds are Go). When I complained about this to our phone rep she replied, “This phone is intended for the corporate market, we don’t go for the cute sing-song stuff.”
The really cool gadget they bought me, though, wasn’t the cell phone, but a Pocket PC – a Compaq IPAQ. Compaq is apparently discontinuing the black and white units, offering them for an insanely low price, plus a fifty-dollar rebate, so I ordered one.
I think I like this one better than a color unit anyway. The screen is readable enough and the batteries last forever.
A Pocket PC definitely falls into the category of one of those things that you can’t imagine using until you get one, then you can’t imagine living without it. Especially Syncing it up with my PC – downloading maps, Avant Go,… geez, the free ebooks. It isn’t much for writing fiction or journal entries (my Alphasmart is perfect for that, anyway) but it is fine for writing short poems. The slow process of handwriting recognition actually helps the poetry process.
It’s a digital voice recorder and an alarm clock. It’s a crude sketchpad and a file transfer utility.
Of course, like all things addictive, there are add-ons and additions I want. At the top of the list is a big flashcard memory or two. That would let me use it as a killer MP3 player, perfect portable music. Next, a Targus folding keyboard – then I could use it for significant text entry. Then, especially in conjunction with that flashcard, there’s software. I’d love a powerful dictionary and thesaurus program. There’s even something out there that will turn the IPAQ into a programmable multi-function remote control.
“As for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.”
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, the Whale
The thing is, in an isolated tiny town like New Solace, thrown out there lonely in the ice cold windswept plains, there weren’t very many opportunities to meet someone that you might desire. Anyone was lucky to find one. Stan and Emilia were lucky, but there was no other choice. Since they were infants, born on opposite sides of town yet less than a mile away, seven days apart, it was assumed they would grow up to be a couple. Not because of any imagined or real compatibility of their personalities, but because there simply was nobody else.
They married the day after they graduated from high school. Neither of them had ever seen the ocean so for their honeymoon they went to a warm, humid coastal town and decided never to go back to New Solace, even if it was home and they were needed at harvest time.
Stan found work stocking the shelves at a hardware store and Emilia worked in the grade school cafeteria, making huge pots of mashed potatoes and gravy. “Gravy?” she’d ask the children in front of her as they moved through the line with their trays with the already-filled ladle in her hand. They would make fun of her accent that had floated a thousand miles down from the far north. She came home from work hours before Stan and one day, she was waiting for him in front of their apartment building.
“Come walk with me, I’ve bought something,” she said. They had always been very proud of their apartment, although it was too small, cheap, and rundown… it was only a block from the ocean. There was a litter-spoiled bit of beach and a small marina – as cheap and rundown as their apartment. Emilia led Stan to the marina and asked him to close his eyes.
“What? I don’t want to fall off the dock.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve got your arm.”
They walked out over the water and then Emilia let Stan open his eyes. There was a moldy looking sailboat, resting at a slight angle in the water, tied to the Marina with old, greenish ropes.
“What do you think?” she said.
“What does this have to do with us?”
“I bought it,” she said, “While you were at work. Don’t worry, it was a great deal, we can afford it.”
“It’s a Catalina 22, a very common boat. We can fix it up, parts are available and cheap. We can go on an adventure.”
And that’s what they did. Stan was very handy with tools and had a nice discount at the hardware store where he worked. He scraped and painted and varnished and replaced. It was a lot of work and took almost a year but slowly the boat began to look like a shiny new vessel. Emila wasn’t very good with her hands and she figured her part was the planning stages. She was constantly looking up destinations and strategies. After consulting a bulky thesaurus she announced they would name the boat “Emprise.” Stan made a note to himself to look word up and see what it meant – but he never did.
“I think we need to sign up for sailing lessons,” said Stan.
“Naw, we don’t need that.”
“I think we do, they are available at the yacht club,” said Stan.
“Why? All that stuff is available online.”
The boat was gleaming, supposedly seaworthy, and almost finished. Stan took a few days off for the final touches. The afternoon was warm and he was exhausted when he fell asleep in the small cabin. He woke feeling the boat moving in an odd way and stuck his head out up and looked around. All he could see was waves. The sails overhead were out and Emilia was at the tiller grinning from ear to ear.
“While you were asleep, I decided to take ‘er out.”
“Where are we going?”
“I figured we’d do a loop, find an anchorage for the night.”
“But you don’t know what you’re doing!”
But it wasn’t. Emilia wasn’t even sure how to read the compass – it wasn’t nearly as stable as it was in the instructional videos she had watched. The wind kept switching directions and getting stronger and stronger.
“Did you check the weather?” asked Stan.
“Why? Not a cloud in the sky.”
“There is now.”
They never found an anchorage and had to sail blindly into the night. In the pitch blackness the wind and waves rose and rose until they were caught in a full-fledged storm. The hot rain poured down and the warm sea flung itself up until the boat felt like it was being ground to pieced between the two and propelled by the wind over the edge of the world. Stan was beyond terrified and resigned to death several times. Luckily, in the darkness he could not see the eternal grin plastered across Emilia’s face and he would misinterpret her whoops of joy as cries of terror.
Stan woke to the morning heat of the rising sun to the confusion of feeling an odd texture under his body. He realized it was sand and he had been thrown onto a beach next to the broken sailboat.
“Stan, wake up!” Emilia was walking around, seemingly no worse for wear.
“We’re on an island,” she said. “I thought I’d let you sleep. I’ve been walking around, and it looks like there’s a house a bit down the shore. There’s smoke coming out of the chimney.”
Stan had never felt such a weary pain in every bone as he hauled himself up and walked with Emilia to the house about a mile from where they boat had floundered.
They knocked on the door and an older woman answered right away.
“Come on in, I have some coffee and breakfast,” she said as if they were expected.
The woman was Alice and she had lived on the island for ten years, five alone, since her husband has passed away. They walked together down the beach and looked long and hard at the boat but it was beyond salvage.
“Shame,” Alice said. “It looked like such a nice little boat. Can’t be helped, though.”
“But what can we do now?” asked Stan.
“Well, for one thing, you can stay here as long as you need to, or want to. I can use a handyman to keep up with repairs, the yahoos that come out from the mainland are all useless or thieves. There’s plenty of room. Plenty to eat. I can use some company.”
“Sounds great,” said Emilia.
“But we were looking for an adventure,” said Stan.
“But, you see, there are more ways to have an adventure than to go off across the world,” replied Alice.
“The haft of the arrow had been feathered with one of the eagles own plumes. We often give our enemies the means of our own destruction.”
There was this old, old guy – he was my neighbor and my landlord. I rented half of a duplex and he lived by himself in the other half and owned the whole thing.
We used to talk in the back. It was a covered carport back there and I set up all of my weight lifting iron under the overhang by the alley. I’d spend a couple hours each day out there jacking steel and he’d waddle up when I was finishing for a chat.
He talked about how his wife and kids were killed in a car accident years ago. He said they had a really nice house but he couldn’t stand living there because it reminded him too much of them. He sold it and bought the duplex, “So that it would bring in a little money.”
I think he bought the duplex because he was lonely. Fine with me, I didn’t mind the chat and the rent was cheap.
The old guy was weird. He kept the yard immaculate. He had this ancient aircraft-carrier sized car that he hardly ever drove. It sat there so long that one day when he decided to drive it to the station and put some gas in it he came back in a panic.
“I’ve forgotten where the gas cap is!” he told me.
I looked at the model and year and went to the internet.
“It’s behind the left rear brake light, the left when you are facing the front. The light swings to the side.”
He was grateful for the help and amazed that I could find that out on my phone.
He was always buying hummingbird feeders and putting them all over the back of his half of the house. Some looked like bulgy flowers, some like bottles, some like dishes. He’d fill them with sugar water or red powdered stuff he bought. He did this for years and never, ever saw a hummingbird. It was crazy.
Then one day, I was pumping iron and he came out all excited. He could barely contain himself.
“I saw one,” he said.
He died the next day. He collapsed on his front walk going out to get the mail. I was at work, a neighbor saw him. They said he was probably dead before he hit the pavement. I guess it was good he snuffed it out front like that – if he had died in his sleep God knows how long it would have been before anyone would have checked on him. I know I wouldn’t have.
Still, I felt bad. I read about his funeral and thought about going. I was nervous because I figured there would be nobody else there. He always talked about how he had nobody left. Then I decided to go anyway. There was a handful of us… the lawn guy, the neighbor, his lawyer, some strange woman standing off by herself….
It was a graveside service. As they lowered the coffin, we saw it. It was amazing. It was like a cloud or a column of smoke, but multi colored. And it moved on its own. Flowing and pulsing, changing shape, growing round then stretching out. The lawyer said something about “Murmuration.” I had never heard that word before… I thought it had something to do with the sound (now I know better, I Iooked it up) which was more like a high-pitched buzzing that a murmur.
It was on the news, it was in all the papers, someone shot a video and it went viral. There were interviews with experts, professors, zoo people and they all were perplexed. Nobody had ever seen hummingbirds behave like that before. Literally millions of them had come from miles and miles to form that huge cloud.
“I have never seen hummingbirds cooperate in a social way,” one expert said, “Especially when you take into consideration that there were several different species involved.”
None of them made the connection that the birds were in a changing formation, a performance, over the cemetery.
The lawyer told me there was a will and that the old man had left me the duplex. I’ll rent the other side out, and get the lawn guy to keep the landscape up really nice; he gave me his card at the funeral. I went next door and collected all the hummingbird feeders and moved them to my side.
I have to make up barrels of sugar water now. Hundreds of those birds show up every day.
“My peak? Would I even have one? I hardly had had anything you could call a life. A few ripples. some rises and falls. But that’s it. Almost nothing. Nothing born of nothing. I’d loved and been loved, but I had nothing to show. It was a singularly plain, featureless landscape. I felt like I was in a video game. A surrogate Pacman, crunching blindly through a labyrinth of dotted lines. The only certainty was my death.”
― Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance
The Meano Tower
Theo crawled through another long plastic tube, suspended high in the air. It was too narrow for comfort, designed for people much younger than him. He paused, slowed by something that smelled bad, stale, rank. He wondered what it was until he realized it was him. Theo had been crawling through the maze of tubes and little rooms for so long that he had sweated through his clothes and stunk in the still air of the tubes.
It seemed like a long time ago that he had brought his two kids to the newest craze in children’s amusements, the Nossos Adventure Labyrinth. They paid at the door and were given matching numbered wristbands.
“It’s a safety feature,” the scrawny teenager in a bilious uniform said, “A child can only leave with an adult that has a matching wristband.”
Properly labeled, they all walked through the gigantic cube to the entryway at the center. Theo marveled at the complexity of the overhead mass of interlocking passageways, mesh-sided rooms, and aerial ball-pits that rose high and filled the place. Everything was hung from the ceiling, high above, by thick steel struts. It shook with the weight of children moving through the construction. There was one entrance at the center where kids were pouring through the plastic arch and several exits at the end of brightly colored slides disgorging children, who would run to the center and repeat.
His two kids disappeared into the massive throng and Theo retreated to the “Quiet Room” off to one side. It was glassed-in, elevated, soundproof, and guarded by a sign that said “No Children Allowed.” This was the retreat from the insanity for harrowed parents – Theo realized that this room was the attraction that drew the adults – the ones that paid for everything.
Theo settled into an overstuffed chair, let out a sigh of relief, and began thumbing through a magazine that sat on a side table, “Luxury Yachting.” He knew he would never own a yacht, never even have the opportunity to be on a yacht, but he could dream. His relaxation was interrupted by a loud rapping on the window right next to him. Startled, he realized that his kids, Daevin and Icobod had piled up all the foam exercise pads, climbed on top, and were beating on the window.
Aggravated, Theo walked down the stairs from the Quiet Room and demanded an explanation.
“You need to climb into there with us,” said Daevin.
“We’re scared,” said Icobod.
“The kids say there is something in there,” continued Daeven.
“They call it the Meano Tower,” said Icobod.
“That’s crazy, go back in and play.”
“Please, dad. Come in with us. We’re scared.”
Theo thought for a minute, looked for a sign that said, “No Parents Allowed in the Tubes,” and didn’t find one – so he gave in. He even admitted to himself that it might be a little bit of fun. They never had anything like that when he was a kid. His father with his famous dignity would never stoop to doing something childish like that and if it was something his father wouldn’t do – then it must be worth doing.
He crawled into the entrance and tried to keep up with his two kids as the tunnels rose up and up. There were little mesh-walled rooms with padded floors and Theo would rest in those, catch his breath, while troops of excited kids moved through in different directions.
Other rooms, connected by the plastic tunnels were full of colorful, hollow, plastic balls. The sign out front said, “All Balls Washed Continuously.” He saw how pipes in the bottom of the pits would suck plastic balls out and down through clear tubes to a central machine that sprayed the balls with water in a big transparent hopper, then dry them in a stream of air before sending them back in a second set of tubes to drop down through the ceiling of the ball pit rooms. It was like a giant circulatory system, with clear plastic arteries and veins moving round plastic corpuscles back and forth.
He watched this hypnotic cycle through the mesh of one of the rooms until he realized he had lost his children… or rather they had run off and left him.
Calling their names he worked his way around and across the tangle of spaces, looking for the both of them. He was also looking for one of the plastic slides so he could get down and out – but didn’t have any luck with that either.
Theo had no idea of how long this went on. Finally, the number of other kids that moved through the spaces began to thin out frighteningly fast, until he was practically alone. He yelled out through the mesh of the rooms but nobody seemed to hear him. Finally, the lights went out, leaving Theo in a dim, dark, panic.
He had no idea where his kids had gone. They could not leave without him and his matching wrist band – though the scraggy teenager at the entrance didn’t seem like the most secure of guards. How could they leave him? How could they not miss him? Then he thought of how complex, massive, and high the place was, how loud, and realized one adult, unexpected in the tubes, might easily go unnoticed.
Theo finally stopped in one of the rooms and gave up. His elbows were torn and pained from all the crawling and he was sweaty, hungry, and out of breath. As he sat there, hunched over, he thought about what the kids had said. What was the Meano Tower? Kid’s imaginations are so vivid.
But then he heard the roaring. And it began to get louder, and he feared, closer.
Elissa told her counselor that she dreamed of falling – dreamed of it all the time.
“I’m falling from a great, great height.”
“Well, dreams of falling are very, very common.”
“Are you afraid?”
“No, of course not. No matter how far I fall in my dream it won’t be nearly as far as I’ve fallen in real life.”
“You’ve fallen in real life? How far?”
“All the way from Mars.”
“Mars? The planet?”
“Yes, it is my home. I slipped and fell one day and kept falling, through the atmosphere, through the millions of miles of empty space, and ended up here, on earth.”
The counselor scribbled pages of mad notes.
I knew Elissa because she hired me to cut her lawn. She said her neighbors had told her to hire someone to cut the lawn and one of them suggested me. I cut a handful of lawns in her neighborhood, but nobody was like her. Not at all. She told me what her counselor asked and what her answer was.
“Why do you see a counselor?” I asked.
“I feel… alienated.”
“Why do you feel alienated?”
“Probably because I’m an alien.”
She would watch me cut the lawn and get down on her hands and knees and look at the sliced ends of the blades of grass.
“Doesn’t it hurt them?”
“No, I don’t think so. Grass – in its natural state – is designed to be snipped off. Animals eat it and then fertilize it in turn. This sort of takes the place of a natural occurrence.”
“We don’t have grass on Mars.”
I asked her why nobody ever saw anybody or any signs of life on the red planet.
“There are rovers there now,” I said.
“I know. It’s a pain in the ass. We are very shy. Even though we live underground, we have to sweep up our footprints in the dust.”
“Are you nervous about the helicopter?”
“It’s not very big. It’s more of a toy. But someday we will have to do something.”
“What will you do?”
That’s as much as Elissa will tell me. I’m only the guy that cuts the lawn, after all.
“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Sunday, August 12, 2001 – Exactly twenty years ago.
I had a leisurely day today – an actual quiet morning home with Lee while Candy took Nick to a soccer game. This was the last game of their Classic League Tournament – they won today, but still fell short of making it into the league, they were tied for 21st in the tourney with the top twenty teams going making the grade. I did some errands around the house and then packed, getting ready for a flight to Tucson, where I’ll be most of next week.
I decided to leave for the airport two hours before the flight (I hate having to rush for a plane, plus with the craziness that is DFW airport, you never know) but when I was almost there, Candy called me on the cellphone, she had locked her keys in the MiniVan at a birthday party with the kids. She borrowed a car and sped across the top of the city while I doubled back. We met at a restaurant where I pushed my Van key through the window and immediately headed back to the airport.
I still made it in plenty of time… and the flight was delayed too. The flight was packed, overbooked. It was a shame I had an important early meeting scheduled because they were offering three hundred fifty bucks to bump people, and I was sorely tempted. I’m a good corporate drone, though, so I boarded on time.
They had nice little headphones stuck into the magazine pockets on each seat. The armrests had the music, though the quality was bad. I remember when airline headphones were simply twin transparent plastic tubes that conveyed sound from tiny speakers concealed below holes in the armrests. Now, they looked like quality miniature headphones with a standard plug – inside the black plastic headband, though, was black writing.
Please do not remove from airplane. Will not work with home equipment.
I wonder why (or if) they won’t work with home equipment. The plug sure looks the same. There are left and right channels and a center ground, three connectors. I wonder if they manufacture these with the order of the connectors on the plug different than on home equipment. I considered getting my laptop out and trying the thing out, to see if the airline headphones really truly don’t work. I was too tired and this guy was crammed in to close next to me so I didn’t bother.
I’ve never been to Tucson before, never been to Arizona. Walking from the baggage carousel to the rental car I passed a big Saguaro and realized I’d never seen one of those in real life before, either. I’ve always had a soft spot for cactus and was unexpectedly impressed with the beauty of the giant spiny things, the symbols of the desert.
After the flight, I was groggy leaving the rental lot and missed the turn that curled back to the terminal and main airport entrance. Before I could think about it, I was out in the desert on roads that went who knows where. I would have liked to enjoy the scenery, but it was pitch black, desert night black. I made a couple turns on instinct alone and was very happy to see a stretch of lighted palm trees and then my hotel appear out of nowhere.
I checked in, and fell into the sleep of the dead.
“I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it’s my own choices that’ll lock me in, it seems unavoidable–if I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them.”
― David Foster Wallace, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments
Fifty years later, Eugene remembered Professor Viper.
“You have to understand the difference between velocity and acceleration. Velocity is always positive, at least in the direction of motion, but acceleration can be positive or negative. You can be moving in one direction, very fast, but accelerating in the other direction.”
“Imagine you are in a Mustang, with a big supercharged V8, screaming down the road. But you swing the wheel, skid around backwards, and start smoking your tires. You are still moving, your velocity, down the road, but you are facing, and accelerating in the other.”
Eugene remembered perking up at this.
First, what a completely insane analogy. Professor Viper must have been some sort of car freak. Eugene wasn’t – he didn’t even have a driver’s license, let alone a car. It was like listening to an alien speak in English, but an alien way of looking at the world.
Second, well, he had done the same thing the night before. He had gone out for beers with a bunch of people and drank too much, stayed out too late. That was why he was nodding off in the lecture… until Professor Viper made the crazy analogy. Eugene and Martha has staggered out from the bar at closing time with all their friends and they had started piling into the car they had come in.
Eugene was worried because the driver had really been throwing them back. Then he spotted Frank, a quiet guy from the floor below – he barely knew, getting into his own car a couple parking spots down. He looked steadier than the others.
“Martha, let’s ride with Frank instead,” he said to his girlfriend.
“Why? We barely know him.”
“I think he’s sober.”
He was wrong. Frank was totally smashed. It was just that he was quiet and better at standing without swaying. But behind the wheel, he was a terror. His car was that heavy Midwestern hopped-up American hunk of steel and was very fast and very loud.
Eugene remembered sitting and sliding on the front bench seat with Martha between him and Frank as they roared down the street. They swerved through and intersection and skidded around in a three sixty with Frank and Martha screaming in drunken glee as the headlights swung in a wide arc and illuminated the terrified faces of the people in the other cars.
Somehow they avoided hitting anything and made it back in one piece. Eugene swore he would never get in a car with Fran and would always check his driver out and never ride with a drunk again. There was a lifetime of cabs in front of him and he was fine with that.
And now, the very next day, Professor Viper was talking about skidding and velocity and acceleration. It was all too much.
Class ended and Eugene walked up the hill to the dormitory where he and Frank lived. He called Martha and she said she might come over later, she was tired and hung over. There was a knock on his door and Matt, another friend that lived on Frank’s floor, came in.
“Hey Eugene, I wanted to tell you something.”
“It’s Frank. I was talking to him. And he said he was going to steal Martha from you. He met her last night, you both rode back with him and he really likes her. He says he’s going to get her from you.”
“Jeez, what should I do?”
“I don’t know. I just wanted to warn you.”
And that’s what happened. Frank had that car and Eugene didn’t even have a license. He didn’t have a chance.
The two of them were married their Junior year and at graduation, Martha was eight months pregnant.
The three of them stayed in town after graduation, why go anywhere else? Fifty years. Frank and Martha split up in a few years and Frank left the state. Eugene never talked to Martha again, but the town wasn’t that big and he heard about her every now and then. Last year he discovered that she was not only a grandmother, but a great grandmother.
“Let’s see,” Eugene thought to himself, “A mother for twenty years, then a grandmother for twenty more… a grandmother at forty then a great-grandmother at sixty-something…” The math was easy. He was thinking about this, stretched out in his hospital bed, when the machine on the stand to his right gave a chime and made a whirring noise.
The dose moved down the tube into the needle on the crook of his arm and everything went warm and fuzzy and the half century old memories that seemed so crystal clear went away. Eugene shook his head to try and bring them back. He wondered if they ever would return.
“The degree of slowness is directionally proportional to the intensity of memory. The degree of speed is directionally proportional to the intensity of forgetting.” ― Milan Kundera, Slowness
“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”
― Pablo Neruda
From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Monday, August 6, 2001 – Almost Exactly twenty years ago.
A long time ago I noticed a sign along the Interstate Loop along my drive to work. The sign promised “Pure Texas Spring Water” and sure enough, by the sign, water ran out of the ground, bubbling up and then running down to stain the gutter of the highway and down to a street curb drain. I parked and walked to the spring, taking a picture of the sign and writing about it in my journal.
In the time since, almost a year, I have driven by that spot almost every day (though I’ve changed jobs, that part of my commute is the same). I allowed myself the fantasy of imagining that it really was a spring, an old relic of geology, a fold of shale, maybe an ancient beach, forcing a bit of water to the surface, surviving the excavation and grading of the giant loop road.
Now, the illusion has been shattered. There are four little tiny blue plastic flags mounted on short wires stuck in the ground – squaring off the spot where the water gurgles up.
Now I know that it is a leaky pipe and someone is getting ready to finally dig it up and fix the thing. I’m glad they will stop the waste but somehow, my morning commute will be even a bit more dreary.