jwz: The Glass Room

Glass Rooms

Imagine you’re living in, say, Bologna, Italy, and the year is 1667 and you want to send a FedEx parcel to London, England. Good luck, chum! FedEx doesn’t exist yet. And try and phone ahead to London to tell them the parcel won’t be making it… whoops! No phones…you loser. Besides, even if there were phones in London, everyone’s too busy dying of The Plague to care a whit about the diskette you’re sending. Oh, I’m sorrrry. Pretty stupid… having a diskette when diskettes even don’t exist yet, let alone video games. Another 330 years loom before you can play Playstation. Ha! Let’s face it… the past is one wretched, boring place.

Let’s try another scenario: you’re in Paris in 1703, thoroughly sick of sidewalks covered with poo, vomit and human heads, and you figure maybe it’s time to visit Los Angeles-maybe get a tan, eat macrobiotic for a while-catch a nap on a United 747 flight over Greenland, Baffin Island and Manitoba. But wait…Los Angeles doesn’t exist yet! There is no Charles de Gaule Airport on the Parisian outskirts-and no 747s, either. Seattle and the Boeing factory remain but a dream of a dream of a dream. Also: no vegetarian in-flite meals. The only constant in the Parisian equation that exists is the eternal wretchedness of Paris, itself. Lucky you. (snicker snicker)

However, if you want to risk scurvy, slavery, peritonitis, malnutrition, musket shots, polio or torture, you can always simply sail around “the Cape” in a frigate or some such other delightful craft. Ooooo! Just look up ‘fun’ in the dictionary and you’ll see a picture of you spewing bile from a galleon’s bridge while One-Eyed-Jacques gives you the lash and hauls you back down into the slave galley. Vitamin C? Perhaps I might interest you in today’s special…half a moldy onion: har har har!

Oh, but I forgot-books, and hence dictionaries-are pretty recent inventions in 1703. The only people to really have books yet are the rich and the clergy, currently also enjoying the new bourgeois pleasures of mirrors and tulips.

What a fun place. Go visit it for me. Send me a post card. Lucky you…(Not.)

I keep thinking of the past and all I can think of is how lucky I am not to be there. I am perennially baffled by people who sentimentalize eras that can only have been utter torture for those who had the misfortune of being born into them. Even the much-heralded, sex-drenched 1960s look like a real dump upon retrospect: cars stank, people didn’t take care of their bodies, photocopiers were like Trabants and just try and find a push-button phone to enter your answering machine’s access code. Ugghh.

Next time somebody annoys you by romanticizing some hell-hole of a previous era, listen carefullyĂ‘you’ll hear any number of caveats being placed on their projected experience: “I have to be rich”; “I have to be a member of the ruling class”; “I have to have all my vaccinations”; “I have to have my contact lenses”; “I have to have my appendix out first”; “I have to have my Discman and my Ultra Lounge CDs.” Tell these people to keep their gobs shut. Say to these annoying people, “Hey kids-the past wasn’t like a trip to Waikiki: the only sure thing about the past is some ghastly disease, carnage, toil that defies all description, starvation, and boredom of a sort that makes waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles seem like Disneyland on heroin.”

As I scribble these words into my journal and then transcribe them into my Compaq 400mhz Presario, I imagine I’m warm inside the cabin of a American Airlines Boeing 737 over the…Bermuda Triangle. This is a patch of real estate that is, at least in theory, somehow less locked into ‘time’ than is any other part of the planet. This is where Atlantis was supposed to have been located-that is, if you follow Atlantis. This is where US military bombers from the 1940s vanished without traces, where the Undead now navigate wonky time streams-where one looks to the sky to see the spectral forms of clean cut young bombardiers named “Al” and “Chip,” prisoners of another, different, time architecture.

American artist, Jenny Holzer, once wrote, “The Future is Stupid.” I beg to differ. I think the real truth of the matter is, “The Past Sucks,” and might add to the, “The Future Probably Isn’t as Bad as You Imagine it to be.”

Even 1998 is, in its own, subtle way, a better place to be than 1997. Just try and find inexpensive 56k modems or a new Beastie Boys single twelve months ago. Good luck, bud. The fact of the matter is, the future is the only place you want to be.

And as if you have a choice, anyway!

The future is invariably better than yesterday. Cleaner, safer, more progressive, more democratic, culturally more dense, and with a wider range of intellectual options than any point in time that may have preceded it.

So I can only hope that should my particular American Airlines 737, by accident or Fate, enter a wrinkle in time here above the breathing aquamarine lagoons of the Bermuda Triangle-and crank me around inside its peculiar little chrono-Moulinex-that it will spit me out even further into the future-into a place where our current ‘present’ seems barbaric-where the diseases and privations of 1995 seem as silly and ridiculous and dreary as 1802 seem to us now.

Personally, I believe in progress. I believe in tomorrow. I believe in…excuse me, Mr. Flight Attendant, but what’s that shimmering arc just ahead of the jet, up ahead in the near distance? It looks unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Oh my-we’re going to fly right into it!

Whatever the future may be, please, just drop a brick onto the Accelerator pedal, an get me there, now. Enter the shimmering arc.