“Although Ebenezer stirred uneasily at these words, remembering his state of mind at Magdalene College and in his room in Pudding Lane, he nevertheless reaffirmed his belief in the value of human time, arguing from the analogy of precious stones and metals that the value of commodities increases inversely with their supply where demand is constant, and with demand where supply is constant, so that mortal time, being infinitesimal in supply and virtually infinite in demand, was therefore infinitely precious to mortal men.” (John Barth – The Sot Weed Factor – p. 568)
There went my birthday, past tense. 55! Impossible, like so much else we (I) take for granted and barely have the wherewithal to acknowledge in our (my) blurred comings and goings. And look at that grand old photo! Tim! Leslee! The Buick! ASU! Once upon a time! Me clutching a baseball glove! How can a day or a minute be ‘infinitely precious’ according to the intuitive laws of scarcity when the only mechanism we’re given to apprehend All This doesn’t mark the singular seconds with anything at all? Shouldn’t something as irretrievable as a Living Second have something like a cosmic cowbell appended to it? Oughtn’t we be allowed (or made) to know the passing of the seconds? Though each individual second be as unknowably dull as off-brand jell-o, in the aggregate they are a marauding, killing swarm. You want to talk about viral this? Viral that? Is there anything more ruinously viral than a lone second edging its way past the distracted sentry tower to join its secret idiot army? And whence dignity, he stated. This morning at work I glance down at my trousers and because I eat lunch in the haute couture manner of a doddering simp and swap my trousers infrequently, my corduroys are covered with a constellation of little white stains, as if a congested and overpraised Peter Dinklage stood before me and had a sneezing fit, or a single bold sneeze or whatever. I pour water from a plastic jug into a bunched coffee filter and thoroughly soak the stain field, the effect an oblong patch of dark wet that infers incontinence from an impressively dangling dispenser. This doesn’t fool anybody.
Time is like a river, but without the pastoral setting, murmur of water, leaping rainbow-tinted fish; without the birdsong or polished pebbles, without the grazing moose and striding, indistinct Sasquatch; a river without a larger osmotic body into which gravity or some other impenetrable force obliges it to empty. If you’re not within earshot of a cheap wall clock with a cardboard face (talking about the clock’s face here) ticking away on battery power, the seconds move by unremarked. The precious seconds. My mother is recently gone. My father is gone. I have a dreamlike memory, I always consider it my earliest, of riding a hobby horse down a steep staircase and landing like wounded laundry at the bottom, a crash attended by much abstract and imperfectly reconstructed commotion. I also recall being held by my father and throwing up demurely on the shoulder of his gray and white and red sweater. That doesn’t seem terribly long ago, and now this? Am I the same person? The Same Thing? I measure my Self against the scar on my knee. I had my knee sliced open in 1968, 2o yards off the coast of Treasure Island, FL. A gentle, tourist-friendly swell in the crystalline Gulf of Mexico nudged me playfully into a breakwater whose barnacles constituted a many-faceted razor and my knee came open like an unzipped costume. The emergency room doctor I tried to talk my mom out of taking me to gave me a warning before the deadening syringe was jabbed brutally into the open, vaguely vaginal rip in my knee. I have always remembered his tryptich of pain, as he described what I could expect.
“This is gonna hurt, an’ this is gonna burn, an’ this is gonna sting”, he said to me levelly, eye to eye, in the pleasant burr of the deep south’s professional class, and through frightening Buddy Holly glasses.
Hurt, burn, sting. I have never forgotten that. You’ll notice it handily covers, like the quickly drawn da Vinci circle, an essential truth. He was right. I also have a ragged scar on my left thumb which I only rediscovered five or so years ago, confirming, as do the startled pilgrims in Hitchcock movies, that what I had thought was an antediluvian shadow-scrap of dream was in fact a happenstance; a car door slammed by myself on my own fool toddler thumb, so hurried was I to join a little schoolfriend I’d suddenly spied on the playground. On her tricycle. I remember that. My mom shouting at me, a psycho puddle of vivid blood. The scar records it. I’m looking at it now. Call it The Dumb Mystery of the Changing Vessel. Get as old and crazy as you want. Throw up on the caregiver, lavishly crap your diaper, horrify the busboy with a napkin-ruffling gust of methane you don’t even know you’ve loosed, walk slowly out of The Home naked from the waist down, hollering. Any close (and likely frightened) inspection will reveal that scar on your left thumb from the time you wanted to run on unskinned knees to your little friend on her trike. The event seems in remembering to be at the other end of a darkling tunnel, but it’s right next to you in plain sunlight. That is You. You hurt your thumb approximately yesterday. Someone tell the teenagers. You got to make the morning last.
Now I’ve grown. On this special day I picture myself running after the bus with my laptop case and little polka-dot lunch box swinging madly from their straps. I’m trailing multi-colored balloons in various deflated states.
Entropy is all. It’s a vicious word, too, because it presents first as slightly floral, or to do with butterflies? A closer look throws a klieg light on the real message inherent in the thing. That message is not death, which we can helpfully obscure through mysticism and chit chat (yes, you can chit-chat death to death). The Entropy message is dissolution, a scattering of the parts, an occupation of the vast cold spaces around us with our components. This horrifies. It is not an end but a reduced continuation, unto forever. We deserve better. We’re insipid and pitiable and hopeful and we love each other and deserve much better. Or a little better, anyway.
Ok. Where once I was able to run and turn and dodge like quicksilver on the middle school P.E. pitch, so lightning fast the principal of my middle school asked me to join the football team, I now walk with a spring in my step, the rust-mottled spring of a ’59 jalopy up on cinder blocks. I found myself trotting lightly up the driveway two days ago and noted that my previous ‘run’ was beyond my ability to recall. My bald spot has expanded such that from certain sunlit angles I am the tonsorial equivalent of a medieval friar, with a ring of desperately clinging hair marking the spot atop my bent head upon which G*d’s menagerie of flying things may freely unload their disease-teeming semi-solids.
How easily people fall into disrepair, and not for want of goodness. On a city bus the withered 30-something woman to my right, bleary and dessicated and missing her top teeth, surely just took a wrong fork in the road. She was once a sparkler, like my Stella. We all fall down. Ashes, ashes. But the wounded carry in their furtive eyes, in their reticence to look up at their fellows, the scarlet letter of their cognition. They’ve fallen and don’t exactly want to get up. And so this is the Time of their Time. That can break your heart, can make you misty on a day like that day. My birthday.