Whenever I fly on airplanes I think about Julius Caesar.
This is yet another wonder-ghoul exercise, in which I posit the awe of an imaginary visitor from another time to supplement my own. I imagine what questions they might ask, and in what terms they might try to understand the miracles of workmanship and science that I take for granted: global computer networks, robot probes crawling the face of Mars, fields of genetically engineered canola, machine translation, traffic lights, plastic wrap, disposable cameras, digital watches and soda pop.
Caesar squeezes the armrests as we lift off, the thrill of the thrumming engines and the mad velocity with which the runway streams by outside combining to shock him with fear and amazement. The moment of flight is fantastical, and divine. Caesar gasps despite his dignity. Soon he will see the clouds from above, like a god.
I listen to the radio with Bach, and watch television with Bacon.
Why this addiction to vicarity? For me it is a way to gain perspective on the unfathomable tank of civilization in which I am inerred -- to try to glimpse for a fleeting second the view of an outsider to my world. As I creative typer I think this exercise makes for better science-fiction, and as a man I think it gives me a better appreciation of my own times.
If flying in an airplane fails to move you, imagine someone sitting next to you who would be moved. Put yourself in their shoes, and taste the impossibility of your twenty-first century funk. Smell the roses: every day is science-fiction.
I confess that when I'm waiting for the subway I think about how I might try to explain mass-transit to a Cro Magnon, or advertisements to Gutenberg. What would Newton make of Einstein? What would Nostradamus pledge to know the future? I might wear the masque of the devil and tease him for his soul.
Moses, meet Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus, let me introduce Tammy Faye Baker.
Caesar espies the grey lichen of broad North American megatropolises from the air and marvels at their scope. "How can so many millions be governed?" he wants to know. This forces me to consider the question, so that I can do better than replying, "I have no idea," and thereby winning the award for Worst Transchronographical Host.
Imagine how a person from any time except our own would quail and thrill to zoom through an urban highway among the sweeping yellow shadows of overlapping sodium lights, the sounds of singers half a century dead pouring from the speakers.
Who rides beside you when you drive alone? Lately I've been favouring Homer.
Helen of Troy is surprised and flattered to be remembered after three thousand years. Shakespeare digs hip-hop, and A.A. Milne has mixed feelings about Walt Disney. I once made a young George Lucas watch The Phantom Menace in order to send him home crying, but all he did was get all excited about the possibilities of virtual sets. (Great Scott, Marty -- it's all my fault!)
Hunkpapa Lakota weeps and rages, like the Lorax.
I've walked a vicarious mile in his imaginary moccasins. I've seen the delight in Neil Armstrong's eyes as a boy when I tell him he will one day walk on the Moon. I drank his thrill, smacking my lips like the wonder-ghoul I am.
This way my perspective is never stale, and I am never bored.
So next time you fly, consider inviting Julius Caesar along. Tell him you're a friend of CheeseburgerBrown's. It's all in your mind, but what isn't?
Posted by Cheeseburger Brown at 22:08