Sitting at a folding card table inside the Apollo 11 space capsule, I take sips of cold coffee from a Starbucks coffee cup and shuffle through my screenplay. I’m trying to find the right scene and find my lines, but I can’t focus. I’m shivering in a phony capsule made of plywood and fiberglass. The khaki shorts and sleeveless green silk blouse I’m wearing are inappropriate for the climate and temperatures on the moon, but Donnie is using the Lost in Space replica spacesuit to explore the surface, and so I have to make do, huddling on a metal folding chair with my knees under my chin, while my boyfriend pretends to be an astronaut.
About half way through my thirty-fifth year, some problems came up. My young son was unbalanced and maladjusted to school, my wife’s bohemian tendencies made her myopic and unable to respond to the situation, and the garbage buried under the wicker weave surface of our neighborhood leaked through. Toxic sludge oozed up in the parking lot of our local Food Co-Op, on the bike trail, and in our own backyard. I didn’t know what to do about my wife and son, but my solution for the leakages in the Hawthorne neighborhood was the gumball. The design was colorful, nostalgic, and tactile.
In sixth grade you found yourself on your red Schwinn again, the one with the banana seat that had a busted seam so that the foam pad stuck out the side when you sat on it. You stopped outside North Middle school with one foot on a pedal and the other inside a two-square box, and you watched a flock of geese fly in a V, heading south. The birds had an instinct for this; they knew where and how to position themselves in relation to each other. The mass of them passing over your head was a wonder that made you stop and watch even though you knew that you were running late, and even though you’d seen it all before. The second bell had already rung, and you would be given another official tardy, but you didn’t care. This time you stopped and watched the geese, listened to them honk and bleat as they passed. You took a deep breath, adjusted the straps on your nylon backpack, and then saw that you’d left the pack unzipped. You checked to make sure your three-ring binder was still there, that your sheets of stapled homework assignments and plastic ziplock bag of pens were all still in place, but found it was all missing. When you looked up again the geese were gone and it was time to go into North Middle School and face your first period teacher, but you just couldn’t. Not this way.
You set your watch back.
The UFOs in the sky over Portland look like hubcaps. Silver or chrome-plated saucers, all of them roughly the same size and all of them spinning, hang miraculously in midair, but most people either don’t see them or pretend that they don’t see.
It’s a sunny day despite the patches of shadow the discs cast on the city. The sunshine finds its way through the gaps, bending along the sides of the ships and shining.
Down below, a young married couple, Alex and Shelly, share drinks underneath a cloth umbrella at the Blue Moon Pub. It’s a hot day, and across the street, in a park squeezed into one quarter of a city block, there is a fountain bubbling away.
“Are we going to talk about it?” Alex asks.
Shelly knows exactly what the “it” is that Alex is referring to, but she just gives him a blank look and tips back her glass to take another suck on her last ice cube.
If you want to understand how the disorder spread from the Lloyd Center Mall to the rest of the city of Portland, how the blood in our Orange Juliuses became a radioactive haze in the streets, you should start with what didn’t happen.
Nobody got hurt; like reverse neutron bombs, the blasts only destroyed the architecture. Sure, people died in the riots, people were trampled to death, there were gunshot wounds, lacerations from broken glass, and heart attacks, but the explosions themselves didn’t produce even one casualty. There was absolutely no destruction of organic life at all. Even the moss on Portland’s sidewalks, the planted oak trees and pines, the weeds and grasses in vacant lots, were spared.
Death was missing and so was smoke. There was no smoke. Somehow Portland burned without it.
Life in the eighties isn’t all bad. Television, for instance, is better than you might remember it being; there are fewer stations, fewer commercials, and everything is slower, slowed down. There aren’t ATMs or FAX machines; there aren’t any e-mail messages.
Driving on the interstate, counting the yellow dashes that zoom by, it all makes sense. The last sixteen years were just a series of bizarre nightmares, everything was just as unreal as it felt, and the year 1984 never ended.
Let me repeat:
The year 1984 never ended.
It’s my own unified field theory. Generation X, the Clinton presidency, Jay Leno, my relationships with women — all of it makes sense now.
Who am I?
I am an identity construct. I look human, but in fact I am a simulacrum.
My job is to evaluate, deconstruct, and finally encapsulate the texts of human culture, and I am not alone. There are thousands of identity constructs all over this ship.
But who am I? I don’t know who I am. I am an identity construct, but I wonder if I might be something else, somebody else.
I really ought to quit smoking.
Mario Savio is dead at the age of fifty-three. Winded while moving hisfurniture into his new home in San Francisco, he sat down at the kitchen table and had a massive coronary.
His wife told us at the funeral that he had seemed embarrassed by his weakness as he watched his colleagues and friends carry his bed, desk, and bookcases up a flight of stairs and into the two bedroom apartment. He was embarrassed, winded, and then he was dead.
I have relied on my psychic power for more than forty years, but Mario’s death caught me off guard. I didn’t see it coming.