Past and Future

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(Pictured: this llama is my energy today—talking, but not willing to exert himself beyond that.)

It’s time for another edition of Short Attention Span Theater, in which I sift the seeds and stems in my Drafts file in hopes of finding enough to roll one post.

As of this summer, I am newly out of the gig economy, working for The Man every day for the first time in 18 years, and he’s taking up a great deal of the inspiration/research/noodling time I used to be able to devote to this website. And so I strongly feel this old paragraph: 

From the time my brothers and I were seven or eight, we had small farm chores to do: helping feed the cows and getting the equipment ready before the evening milking, or gathering eggs, back when we still had chickens. The year I turned 12, I was expected to drive a tractor on the farm, helping with the crops. The small farm chores took maybe 15 minutes at the outside. Work on the tractor—driving the cultivator to uproot weeds from the corn, or the rake to get hay ready for baling—took several hours at a stretch. Dad was good enough to pay by the hour, which was something not all of my friends’ dads did, but being forced to give up a morning or an afternoon because the job needed to be done now was different.

A job you do by choice (“Sorry, I can’t fill in on the afternoon show today, I have plans”) vibes differently than one that has the first claim on your time every day. That’s not a complaint, just an observation.

On thinking of the future and then finding oneself there, written well before events of the last 18 months: 

As a kid, I could project myself forward in time if I chose. In second grade, when I read that Halley’s Comet would return to Earth in 1986, I presumed I would be around to see it. Not long after that, I figured out that I would likely be alive in the year 2000 (and that I would be 40 years old, which was an abstract concept entirely meaningless to eight-year-old me). Since 2000, however, I’ve had a harder time with this kind of projection. It’s partly because the older you get, the shorter your future is. But it’s also because the 21st century feels like a foreign country to me, and I’m not so comfortable living in it.

This happens all the time, of course. Every generation watches the passage of time erode what it thought was settled. Every generation tries to modify its outlook to reflect the changes it knows are normal and natural. And every generation eventually throws up its hands in exasperation and yells “you damn kids stay off my lawn,” and for the same reasons: what we used to value seems to be valued less; what we understood back then is less comprehensible now; the rules that used to apply no longer do.

As of 2021, this century seems even more foreign to me. There’s no way to make these times feel normal by any standard I know. As bad as the last 18 months have been, there’s a real sense this summer that we are heading for something exponentially worse in America, and I fear it. 

Here’s the middle and end of a story:

You get over stuff like that, of course, and I did. I saw her once a few years later, but I didn’t try to speak to her, because I doubted she would remember me, and why should she, really.

More time goes by. It’s decades now. In the Facebook era, she reappears through a friend-of-a-friend connection. I look at her profile. Lives out west, married and divorced, grown children. I am not tempted to friend her.

Still more time. Then one night, there we are, in the same room. We stop. We look each other up and down, a surreptitious glance at name tags. “Hi.” “Hi.” “How are you?” “Fine.” “It’s good to see you.” And that’s pretty much it.

Not long after, I write a thing, in which I talk about the bonds that people have, bonds that surpass time. In it, I mention that among those we are bonded to are “people we need to apologize to, and people who need to apologize to us.”

And I get a message from her. She read it, and she says it tugged her heartstrings. Then she wrote, “I think I need to apologize to you.”

Well.

4 thoughts on “Past and Future

  1. LEO EDELSTEIN

    Start of a serial story?
    Shouldn’t that “well” be like the Chicken Man’s narrator at end of each episode?

    “Wellllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll”

  2. mikehagerty

    Back when a TV station I worked for decided every story had to be live and that mean not one, but two anchors would have to have something gripping and compelling to say before tossing to me, and that when I was finished, each anchor would have to have some important question to ask me that I hadn’t just answered with my story, I described my job as “writing a series of brilliant middles”.

    You sir, have written a brilliant middle and ending.

    God, that was good.

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