Mike Trimble used to say it was a sure sign you were getting old when it became a wonder to you how long the days were and how short the years. That’s a truth so true that Mike surely got it from the great 20th-century American philosopher Leland Duvall. It sounds like Leland, peerless at getting to the bottom of things.
What brought those giants to mind was some spring cleaning I’ve been doing, always a tempting topic because it’s a dependable measure of change, of progress or lack of it, in a life as largely devoid of noteworthy fluctuation as ol moi’s. Only this time the ruminative urge stumbled upon the thought that I’d just written such a column, about seasonal closet-cleaning and the compulsive vernal rearrangement of unread books, only a fortnight or two ago. Hadn’t I?
Turned out that opus appeared in this space 55 weeks ago. 55 weeks! A full percent of the 21st century has since slipped by. Strawberries then tomatoes then watermelons came and went, and the landscape greened, yellowed, grayed, then pollened up once again for a whole new turn. Hot days, fall days, holidays, three-dog nights. Every day made a difference, brought forth a new headline, another line of construction barrels, yet at the end of the capricious span, it was hard to tell any difference. The dandelion April ’05 mornings here on Mockingbird Lane could have been matutinal clones or photocopies of those of late March aught four.
Fifty-five weeks could have been 55 seconds … except that by damn SOMEthing had changed. But what, when, if anybody knew, nobody was letting on.
Loved ones had passed during that time, and it’s different going on without those you’re accustomed to leaning on. But this was a difference different from that difference. It didn’t pertain to somebody dying, or to the survivors learning to accommodate, learning to live with what each of those new days presented, getting older and gradually more eccentric and ever more peripheral.
Or maybe it did pertain to that last, that horror that the euphemism has prettied into “getting older.” Silver threads among the gold, my foot. One of Newton’s entropy laws suggests an inevitable divergence, a veering away from life’s busy path toward a geezerly irrelevance without ever really realizing it, and I mulled that possibility but I didn’t mull it long. Whatever change had occurred here wasn’t taking some kind of symbolic offramp. It was a change as palpable and involving as changing gears or changing clothes. And it was colossal. It involved no less than a fundamental shift in objective reality. And after that there’d obviously been a sneaky and damnable coverup. Designed so that if you said anything, everybody would think you were crazy. You might even have doubts yourself.
So I’m on the case here, and taking nominations.
It might be that some black hole somewhere kicked in and started pulling us in an entirely different direction, but I doubt it.
I have a hunch that Tom DeLay has something to do with it. Iben Browning too. Those Enron bastards. Those OPEC bastards. And no, I haven’t forgotten those mysterious rays that Warren Carpenter tried to warn us about. I have night thoughts about the Crystalline Entity. Have I been assimilated, accepting that resistance was futile? Did the Rapture occur just as the crazies said it would, leaving only us dregs behind to snarl at one another like dogs? In the Orient somewhere, did the man dreaming he was a butterfly wake up to find that he was a butterfly dreaming that he was a man?
On my better days, I know it’s unlikely that the great change is traceable to a nuclear leak, or a behavior modification experiment gone awry. Or that the Fed had anything to do with it. Or the Elders of Zion. Or the Devil or the Antichrist. Or Osama. Or Justice Jim Johnson. Or El Nino. Or the tsunami. Or Bill Clinton having sex with somebody. Or Republicans not having sex with anybody. Or God being mad at homos, abortionists and not enough prayers at football games.
I’m assuming that the temporal epicenter was sometime during that lost 55 weeks, but it could very well go back to 9/11, which, if you’ll recall, was said over and over to have “changed everything.” Or back further to the millennial changeover, even to the strange events, unexplained to this day, of my high school graduation year, 1961, the last year until 6009 that will read the same backwards and upside down.
There are clues here — in how different the weather is and the sunsets are, in the mysterious disappearance of blackberry patches, in Plato’s theory of forms, in the switcheroo of American foreign policy to the old Communist strategy of outside sponsorship of wars of national liberation. But I’m stumped for metaphors that might shed some light. I can tell you this: The barpit known as Grinnel Delight looks exactly the same now as 55 weeks ago — the same lily pad has the same frog sitting on it — but something about it now makes you want to just bust out crying. I don’t have the foggiest, and hoped one of y’all might.
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Bob Lancaster, one of the Arkansas Times longest and most valued contributors, retired from writing his column last week. We’ll miss his his contributions mightily. Look out, in the weeks to come, for a look back at some of his greatest hits. In the meantime, here's a good place to start.