I’m no fan of February. Mostly because the day after Valentine’s Day a couple of lifetimes ago, a woman I loved had the talk with me—the one that ends, “I need some time.”
Last Saturday I took time from admiring the titillating crop of GOP candidates to drive my son downtown. His half-closed eyes didn’t see the morning sun dance off the spires of St. James—or that we stood within blocks of architecture from every era of American development, or that we stood across from pine forests that fueled a revolution. He definitely didn’t feel the gentle sea breeze that may help offshore windmills power the future.
We parked at Lulu’s Garage. When I stopped to gaze at the creek, the young lad looked miffed and distant in that impatient teen sort of way.
“When are you?” I asked.
“Don’t go there, Dad. I gotta get coffee, get to the Community Arts Center, go to practice, go back home, and go to a movie at Mayfaire. I’m not in a good place right now.”
My own Billy Pilgrim—answering a simple question about time with metaphors about place. It’s always been curious to me that we orient ourselves in place with ease, but can’t tell time without sundials or smartphones. Human convention carves time into seconds, minutes, hours. The birth of Christ wasn’t really year zero, the beginning of time. In fact our many calendars are often powerful marriages of our love of myth with our addiction to measurement. (It’s 4710, The Year of the Dragon.) Without relying on products of our own intellect, we’re all on personal time, borrowed time, not Greenwich Mean Time. Time itself may be a product of the quantum physics of the human mind.
I chuckled, “May not be in a good place, but you’re not near ‘right now.’ When are you?”
“That’s the stupidest question I ever heard.”
The young lad has heard me ask some stupid questions, but I didn’t count this among them. “When are you?” isn’t going to replace “How are you?” anytime soon, but it might make more sense. I don’t know why writers concoct time machines when we have the penultimate contraption sitting right on our shoulders. We travel from the torments of the past to the hopes of the future thousands of times a day, as if time travel is not only possible but somehow normal.
I looked to the Battleship North Carolina.
It’s 1945. Victory has been secured! Some days it’s 1941. Security has been shattered.
The lad and I trudged back up Orange Street, turned on Front. A man in his mid-twenties sat in a vintage Jeep Cherokee, smoked a cigarette in front of Barbary Coast. He had a far-a-when look in his eyes.
He’s in 2008. Late February. His friend got it in an IED yesterday. His wife’s letter arrived this morning. The one that ends, “I need to take a little time.” (Must be a rule. Wait ‘til after Valentine’s Day to take the ‘time’ to break a heart.) He’s still waiting for the go sign to roll back into Baghdad’s Ottomeia neighborhood, and still hoping it’s his time.
We turned into the Italian Gourmet Market coffee shop. Two women in their early 20s tapped screens, sipped espresso and conversed in cryptic digi-log.
They’re 2212 A.D. in a Martian Polar villa. All Earth’s problems are beneath them.
The first bite of my cinnamon roll took me to 1995. The young lad was still enwombed. He moved toward his birthday and I celebrated each small step toward the birth of my degree with a pastry from a Philly bakery.
The lad’s worried voice rang out from the present. “Dad, I want to do so many things before I’m your age. I need to know if I’ll have time between now and then.”
I looked into his ancient eyes, “You’ll know when you get then. As far as I know the only way to get then is to really be now.”
“Cliché, but somehow cool.” The lad smiled. “I’m now again.”
“It’s about time,” I chuckled.
“So uncool,” he said. “So you.”