Once Upon Our Time

State Street Scribe

by Jeff Wing

It’s said that in all the vast panoply of living things on Earth, only the human animal is conscious of the fact that death awaits. It’s never been made clear exactly how this was so incontrovertibly established. It’s not as if one can poll a Sea Cucumber, for instance. And trying to record the rude, offhand responses of the Earth’s ten-thousand-trillion busybody ants would be a logistical hassle—and a gateway to ant-hating.

But something in the way the “lower” animals comport themselves does suggest they are temporally oblivious automatons; hyper-complex, mechanically wondrous, driven by inexplicable programs older than time itself. Yes. But check out the Impala’s facial expression as it flees, in sinuous slow-motion, the attacking lion. The Impala’s instinctive machinery is firing dramatically on all pistons, muscle and sinew pouring across the landscape at 50mph—even as the animal’s face is lost in placid contemplation of a mid-tempo Matchbox 20 tune. Now consider the facial expression of the human adventure tourist who has just locked himself out of the Land Rover at dusk on the savanna.

As Water Hazards go, River Time Really Takes the Cake

As water hazards go, river time really takes the cake. This unstoppable current down which we are all borne, and whose rapids seem an unnecessary and brutally unkind feature, has its way with us like nobody’s business. Gurgling, spluttering, arms a-waving, we’re headed for the falls the instant we tiptoe into the shallows of this riparian biatch. The other animals—the “lower ones”?— get to wander in a paradisiacal ignorance they hardly seem to have earned. Yes, they are frequently eaten alive, but that’s a fair price to pay for the illusion that things will always stay the same, that we shall forever be in the company of our loved ones, and that tomorrow will be just like the best parts of today.

We humans are lavishly aware of our limits. When not jogging poignantly away in our teal Karl Lagerfeld safari garb from an onrushing pride of lions, we are most acutely human in those quiet moments we shut our traps, set aside the iTimesink® and stare deeply outward—genuinely feel the simple, helpless, headlong flying away of our minutes and hours and days and nights. That is, we’ve been visiting colleges with our daughter.

Mike Douglas warbling “The Man in My Little Girl’s Life

Mike Douglas warbling “The man in My Little Girl’s Life”, Fiddler’s “Sunrise, Sunset”, Blossom Dearie’s “Yesterday When I Was Young” (Roy Clark also took a crack at this painfully gorgeous paean to missing Life’s point)—we simultaneously lament the wringing passage of time, and are moved to ecstatic art by it. Why? Why are we mortal? Why do we KNOW we are mortal, and take such mad power from the knowledge?  The dumb driveway gravel gets 3 billion years and we get this flashbulb pop of consciousness stolen from a stupidly vast and hurriedly expanding sea of increasingly tenuous Nothing? Not to complain.

So me, my ex-girlfriend (wife) and my 17 year-old daughter pile into the car and head off in the direction of a celebrated institution of higher learning in the Los Angeles area. What will we find? What will we see? For one thing, we’ll see a tallish, broad-shouldered woman striding around with wide eyes and a smile like a sunbeam, taking in her surroundings, chatting amiably with other youth and otherwise tasing us with love.

It’s been a single Einsteinian week since this statuesque, gregarious lady with Lauren Bacall shoulders was a lump of flesh whose mischief-button eyes foretold such electric joy. In those days I would sit on the couch, lay her across my legs and play her like an instrument – a “Tickliano” – until she would squeal like the cherubim bounding through Elysian fields. One week later (very approximately) we’re touring the leafy college campus, her mom and I straggling a respectful distance behind the fresh-faced cohort of future collegians, hanging back with the other stunned parents, we voyagers exchanging politely frightened glances and silently sharing the same thought bubble: What. The Hell. Is Going On.

Deeply, Deeply Beloved

Our tour guide’s name is Luke, and he’s a senior, originally from Boise—blonde, energetic, handsome, self-pleased and loving the day. Luke is possessed of a broad, stagey humor and given to gulping, helpless laughter at his own funny pronouncements. The kid is the perfect ambassador for this small blue-chip college, and our daughter falls immediately into his happy wake. Every time he says something amusing, our daughter looks slowly back at us with a theatrically adoring expression that says simply “I love this!” It’s piercing.

What’s not to love? She’s standing at the cusp of an unmarked map of such happiness and sorrow and cyclonic, vivid color – how to tell her? There’s no point; the vastness is indescribable. Lamplit rooms await her. Airports and gardens and chatty dinners await her, candlelight in mason jars and night meadows overhung with scudding clouds and stars, endless cups of coffee and caffeine-fueled blather with human creatures she has yet to meet, and who likewise can have no idea she is even in the world; all this awaits. New favorite movies, new foods, contusions and heartache and toothache, summer light and winter light, the embraceable melancholy of an incandescent bulb feebly burning in an under-furnished room in a moment of quietude.

Later in the hotel, we three repair to an upstairs lounge whose wall of glass looks down 15 stories onto an LA street corpuscular with traffic. The ladies stand at the window and stare out, silhouetted against spreading urban dusk and that city light that seems to rise from evening architecture like carbonation. Where will our daughter be in 10 years? In 20? In 50 years? What sort of older woman will she be? How fiercely will she love? Who are the people—strangers deeply, deeply beloved to us—who will love our grown daughter? What will she see that we won’t be given to see? Such a tempest awaits her! Directly across from us, a steel and glass building faces our own, its lit windows growing distinct in the twilight. One can see desks and lamps in there, can peer into the building’s shallow interior, a brightening diorama where doors empty into hallways, and other lives make their way in this realm of unsung glory.