“And here we are, poised between the two, between a dreadful reality and an unformed terror, trying to make such decisions as will avoid the tyranny of the very far right and the tyranny of the very far left, the two of which can often be seen coalescing into a tyranny pure and simple, with no qualifying adjective in front of it all.”
— Ray Bradbury, 1953
Notice the year that Bradbury wrote that.
Either nothing has changed, or what goes around comes around.
Or: Is “What goes around, comes around” another way of saying “Nothing has changed”?
A few years back, not that long ago, I poured out about 10 chapters of a story that remains unfinished, which I have dubbed “The Girl, The Alien, and Me” on my list of unfinished projects that I still hope to finish someday.
The story stalled after the death of a character named Buzz, a jack of all trades and UFO conspiracy theorist who worked with the guy who is Me in the title. I let the project peter out instead of, as I now understand storytelling, going back to the point where Buzz dies, erasing his death, and moving forward from there.
Buzz keeps coming back in my journal, urging me to do just that. Here is what flowed from my fingers back in February. (Yes, February, it takes a very long time for me to process my thoughts.)
The place was a dive. Old photographs of famous people who once ate there hung on the walls, but none of the pictures was newer than somewhere in the mid 1970s. Faded wallpaper was starting to peel at the seams. The place smelled somewhere between a campground latrine and the morning after a frat house party.
A man in a trench coat and wearing a fedora — God, could he be any more of a cliche? — slid into the booth opposite him.
“You Slate?” the stranger said, his hands visibly trembling before he folded them to keep them still.
He cracked his knuckles and started writing, and his curiosity was piqued by the character who appeared on the page before him.
“Ya think I’m some circus animal who can just pop out of nowhere and do my tricks, don’t ya?” said the curious being.
It was an amazing sight. The voice sounded like a cross between Jack Benny and Jerry Seinfeld, that wry whine with a youthful energy, but he didn’t look like either. He was wearing a puffy down jacket of some kind over brand-new blue jeans, loose-fitting over slightly bowed legs. His eyes bulged from behind round glasses that looked more like goggles, and he smelled like a circus peanut. He leaned against the wall for just a moment, then sprang up and walked swiftly toward the writer.
“So you think you’re smart conjuring me from nowhere on command, do ya?”
“Well,” said the writer, typing contentedly away, “yes, I’m kind of pleased with myself.”
“Really? I have news for ya. You’ve only just begun,” said the odd being. “Here’s the trick, son: Ya need to do it again, and again, for the rest of your life. Once you conjure us up, ya need to give us adventures and reasons to live. Don’t just make us up and tuck us into a corner. We want to live, loser. Ya think you’re up to it? Do ya, punk? Do ya?”
“That’s why I’m here,” the writer said after an awkward pause.
“OK, then,” the being raised his chin defiantly. “Go ahead — make my day, then make my week, and a few of my years. Do that for me, and then conjure me a family and friends and enemies, and do the same for them. Then, maybe, we’ll call you what you claim to be.”
He zipped up his puffy down jacket, turned, and waddled into obscurity.
I was born on a Sunday evening, and so I have seen 67-times-52-plus-change Sundays in my life. Do the math later if you’d like.
I have piles and piles of debris to show for it. Well, “debris” is the wrong word for what’s piled in my little home office. These are shelves of books and boxes of records and magazines and various detritus of human endeavor.
Here’s a 1941 Philco radio that was crafted and assembled by good hard-working folks who, I hope, were proud of their work. And each book, each record, represents a lifetime — several lifetimes, in fact, because while one name or one face may appear on the cover, it is also the work of an editor, the printer, the layout and cover artists, the sound engineer, the accompanying musicians — all those hundreds and thousands of people created what is contained in this debris.
Think of the thousands of names scrolling along at the end of a film — all of those lives invested in creating a single bit of popular art.
And so I’m loathe to consign any of it to a garbage bin. As Paul Simon wrote in a tune many years ago now, “Preserve your memories; they’re all that’s left you.”