On an unwritten law of nature

Went down to the consulate to renew my passport. The lines were short and everyone was very polite and friendly. Got a call a few days later that it was ready so I swang by and picked it up before work. Got there early, as always, and stood around in the lobby for a few minutes watching two Austrian employees smoke cigarettes with an Austrian policewoman under the no-smoking sign.

Didn’t look at the passport until I got home that night. First off, there was a typo in my name, which meant I had to go back, get there early, hang around waiting, bump into the nice lady who had processed me earlier, mention it to her, receive her sincere apologies and confession that she had been the one who typed the typo (how rare is that, for someone to be so honest?), say No problem whatsoever ma’am, listen to her offer to take my passport right there, outside the consulate, not even making me wait until it opened, and call me when it was ready, which I did, or she could even mail it to me should she mail it to my work address or my home address, home address I said, and with words of thanks (from me) and reiterated apologies (from her) zoom off to work, getting there on time not even a little late as I had expected.

Second off, I violated the law of nature I had not been aware of until then, which is, if you are over 40 and you get your passport renewed after 10 years? You don’t compare the two pictures? Unless you want to get introspective and retrospective (they have, like, retrospective art exhibits or retrospective film festivals, don’t they? I wonder if they have introspective ones) in a bad way; philosophical and everything in just the time it takes you to stand there, only an instant, 1995 passport in left hand, 2005 passport in your right, comparing hair color, hairstyle, face shape in the two photos, causing (in all cases, or at least mine) a mad rush of melancholy, mortality, megalohepatia, monohybrid monogyny, myrtillocactus geometrizans and monic polynomials, which is bad enough but following hot on their heels you get the memories, or rather the maudlin memorialization of the past ten years, not memories, because you discover that you, on the one hand, have almost no memories about the past ten years on the first go, which makes you feel even older and more senile and on the other hand, with that monumental round number, ten years, which is 3650 days give or take, (3650 X 24) hours, (3650 X 24)60 minutes and so on, a decade in other words, an actual decade with all its symbolism, you know, a decade, you are tempted to take stock, compare, and the symbolic significance of this is where the memorialism part comes from, not remembering but memorializing the time past, the things that have happened, the differences between that guy in the first picture, no sag visible anywhere in his face, presentable from all angles, beginning to go grey but not as grey as you always remembered already being at that age, you, a guy who got his first grey hairs at the age of 7, or 9 or whatever, you always say 7 it makes a bigger impression in conversation but it might be 9, actually very probably is 9 but you’ll keep on saying 7 for stylistic reasons, and the guy in the second picture.

Your wife might see you looking, look herself and say, “your hair is not really that white,” and think that takes care of the matter, but you will catch yourself at those moments that used to be empty, free of thought, like shaving or showering or driving or standing gazing off into the distance or waiting in line or listening to someone talk to you, you will catch yourself comparing what that first guy had or didn’t have with what the second guy has or no longer has. And it will just get too sweet and emotional. Not always in a good way, not all the differences are positive, but actually listing them all would so sink a blog post.

Like, okay, the first guy did not only not have a cello, he didn’t even have the idea of getting one, he was 5 years away from starting cello lessons. He had one daughter, 6 years old and no musical instruments in the house at all. He had two cats. He drove a beater. He hadn’t heard of blogging. The second guy still has the same job as the first guy, still wants to be a writer (which is a sad thing, better to just say the hell with it and write rather than wanting to be a writer, which, to be honest, he is doing, actually so, you know, big improvement there), still has two cats albeit replacement cats for the first two, has two daughters now, several musical instruments none of which he can play with competence but making progress, has had a new car, drove it to death, got another new car with an even better stereo. Things are great, you know? It would get icky if I went into any more detail. Of course, there are a few things the first guy had that the second guy no longer has, like a couple more friends and relatives (actually, the second guy has more friends, I’m just saying that some of the first guy’s died, see), younger, healthy parents, a belief that the U.S. government was above torture, various things like that.

Things aren’t all that bad, as long as you don’t think about the third guy, the guy who’ll be renewing this passport, if he’s lucky.

Just take it day by day. Live in the eternal present.

That reminds me, I was talking to Gamma about living in the present. She started it. Or I did, I can’t remember who had the first line. I said something about living in the present. No, wait, she started it, she said, you know, there is no now, it’s all either past or future. There is so not any now, it’s an impossibly thin slice of time, so thin it doesn’t exist (I’m paraphrasing). And I said something like, quit stalling, Finish brushing your teeth, it’s past your bedtime.

And in my car driving to work today, I thought, that’s the same as the way I see it, namely that there is only the present, past and future don’t exist. It is all only present, the past, the future are all only the present. That’s all there is, permeating us, surrounding us, we float in it, the present. Actually, I guess it’s not the same as what she said, but you know. I had exactly the same thoughts when I was a kid.

I actually worry about the future quite a bit. My living in the present usually involves me denying the future, or suppressing it, which has more to do with ulcers than it does with any form of enlightenment probably.

Beta did a test on us. She made Alpha and I sit there, eyes closed, relaxed, and did this thing she learned in school. Are you an in-time person or an on-time person. She laughed when we did it, because it had turned out so well for her – one of us was an in-time person and the other was an on-time person.

I forget which is which. Alpha was the person who lives in the moment, with little thought for consequences. It is a common criminal trait, Beta said. I think that was the in-time person.

That would make me the on-time. Someone who always carries a bit of past and a bit of future around with him. Thinking about the effects his actions will have on people. Probably less fun at parties than the in-time person, but more popular with insurance companies.

5 responses to “On an unwritten law of nature

  1. mig

    No, wait, I remember my thought now: it is the same, in fact: if the present is impossibly thin, infinitely thin, so thin it doesn’t exist, then there is no division between past and present, and they meld perfectly into a single thing, which we thinkers call the eternal present.

  2. I had to renew my driver’s license on a particularly bad day not long ago, and, oh, the lack of vitality and sparkle that was captured!

  3. Fantastic post. And now I am wondering if I am an in-time person or an on-time person.

  4. Amelia

    So, what is the test?!

  5. Yeah, what is the test?

    But, I’m glad you’ve thought this all through for me so that I don’t make the same mistake 6 years from now, when I need to get a new US passport.