Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Our source of illumination resides in a suburban side street of an obscure galaxy. You will notice it over there—next to Andromeda. The local star—or, Sun, as the system’s inhabitants call it—sits at the center of a swirling conspiracy of clouds, approximately 93 million miles from a mysterious embryo presently coalescing from comets, hydrocarbons, gas and dust, iron and silicon, and other odds and ends left over from The Big Bang.

It may take of eons of patient fiddling, but once I have adjusted my knobs to the proper celestial coordinates, you should be able to see a few plucky photons colliding with a surprisingly lovely little planet, the home world of the human race: a gorgeous globe, completely unique in my experience—green with plants, gray with clouds, and blue with water.

Vivid as it appears to us today, due to the extreme distances involved and the lugubrious speed of light, there is every chance that what we see before us has already evaporated into the void: every tear has fallen, every smile has been erased, the seven seas, once crowded with mackerel, have boiled off into oblivion. There is every possibility that nothing now remains of the Earth except for cinders.

Until the light catches up with facts on the ground, we cannot know for sure. Until then, the Earth will remain as exactly as we see it now, silently spinning, shimmering with magnificence in every atomic detail: from dusk to dawn—across the lawn—to a tree almost eclipsed by the sunset—a trunk almost the exact size and shape and texture of a particular tree I always tried but failed to embrace as a boy.

Perhaps you have seen it yourself, while passing through Buffalo, looking for a good time. One more slight adjustment and a walnut is plainly visible: in July, through the northwest quadrant of a pane of glass (second floor, double-glazed window on the extreme left, mine) at an angle of 15° above the western horizon.

That is me—lifting a filthy screen and poking my face out of the frame, so I can get a closer look at the leaves. I should introduce myself. I am your telescope. I am not a reliable witness to subsequent events because my field of view is so narrow.

As you can see, the world in question still revolves around me and I am having trouble sleeping. When I get bored with watching the stars come out through the leaves—they all look the same nowadays—I go downstairs to my parents and complain.

They are sitting on the couch in the living room watching The Mod Squad or something. I do see people running through some sort of tunnel. Maybe they are photons. Whatever they are, I don’t really care. I am the star here, so I step in front of the TV. My three-year-old brother is whimpering again after his surgery. (Glittering scalpel, lazy blue eyeball.) He has been whining for the last hour. I ask if I can go next door and spend the night.

My mother says nothing, but quickly unfolds her legs and goes upstairs to check on Kyle. My father sighs. He stands. He turns me upside down in front of the Zenith, stashes me under his arm, and marches through the living room into another—even dimmer—room, where he sets me down gently and presses a black pasteboard button. Another button pops out of the wall and lux fiat.

In a flash, I am straddling two worlds—the orange carpet in the kitchen and the olive one in the dining room—Hell and Heaven—Heaven and Hell—the difference can be hard to tell without a look at the thermometer. 75°. Fahrenheit or Celsius? Let’s have another look. The thermostat doesn’t say. All I do know for certain is that it is hot, I am almost 5 and I am looking up at my father with awe while he lifts the telephone receiver from its cradle and starts dialing.

The next morning, around 8:30—aroused by the distant squeak of a mattress spring, followed by tip-toes, flushing, tip-toes, silence, and then some inexplicable giggles—the nosy scent of coffee nudges a door open to see if I am up to no good. I am not. I am sitting Indian-style in my grandmother’s pastel dressing room, reading random entries aloud to myself from a 26 volume set of books—A Child’s Encyclopedia—that once belonged to my mother.

You might say that this is Volume T. T is my middle initial. T is where we discover ourselves today.

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