7/10/2005

Flying With Caesar


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?

16 comments:

The BS said...

Wow.

I've been doing this since I was about 12 and a friend of mine gave me 'Clan of the Cave Bear' to read and I imagined how cool it would be to have Ayla (or whatever the herione's name was) as a girlfriend.

Nice to know those little internal insanities are shared by others.

Thanks Cheese.

Derek said...

Great.

In six hours I have to get on a plane, and _now_, instead of settling into my chair to enjoy then Nth ride on the same plane, to the same destination, settled into my own little cubby hole, watching Dr. Who on my cell phone like there's nothing out of the ordinary; I will be stuck, realizing how amazing and incomprehensible all this would be to someone from just a few distant years past.

Just another ordinary day, ruined by the extraordinary perspective of Cheeseburger Brown.

Curse you.

Erica said...

I do this all the time. It helps my mundane daily routines become more interesting. I either pick someone who died maybe 30 years ago and let them see the world now, slightly familiar but oh-so-different - the car body styles, the computer interface of Windows, the tiny cell phone, the radio station playing songs they remember liking (if dead people can remember things, but let's work with the original suspension of disbelief that says the dead are hanging out in my Honda at all) only now the songs are on the oldies station... I sometimes imagine someone from a few hundred years ago, but it's always an ordinary someone, and I usually wind up coming back to the 30 years-dead person. Go figure. Good to know I'm not alone in my oddity!

ucblockhead said...

I often do the opposite as I do my walking commute. I have the "show up at Los Alamos in 1944 and show Feynman the gadgets in my backpack" daydream. Or sometimes it's Heinlein in the fifties, telling him how he got it right/wrong.

Anonymous said...

Imagine showing the whole of modern civilization to the first tribes to use language. I wonder if they would be upset or pleased by what they saw.

This sort of thinking is great fun. Thanks for the mental stimulation.

-Tomas

SithSnoopy said...

One of my favorite fantasies is where I wake up
one day in my 8 year-old body, and spend copious
amounts of time trying to "fix things", i.e., trying
to avert bad decisions, and trying to make or guess
at better decisions for my parents or grandparents
or sister. [Like they are going to listen to an 8-year
old that has suddenly "gone crazy"?]

My Mom's Dad was a sci-fi nut, so I often spend
time in this fantasy updating him on what he's
missed over the past 30+ years. Ironically part
of this time is spent telling him about the Star
Wars movies he's missed, the various new Star
Trek movies and shows (he was a big fan of the
original Star Trek tv show), and talking about
sci-fi books we now have both read. ;)

But I think this is as close as I've come to your
very, very cool idea, CBB. :)

Wow, I'm sitting here on the couch, in front of my
computer, typing a response to a "BLOG" of
someone I've NEVER met, eating my processed
"healthy" high-fiber cereal, about to open my
glass bottle of pre-made coffee (Frappuccino),
while contemplating turning on the boob-tube
to watch tv that's sent to us via satellite. Oh,
and I'm typing on an iBook laptop, over a DSL
connection via our phone line, w/o asking an
operator to connect me [imagining lady with
hair in bun, and lots of wires and ports for her to
manually plug them into], and still having the
ability to use the same line to talk on the phone.

Oh, and I think this couch I'm sitting on is made
of fake leather. The blanket that's on me was
mass-produced by machines. The lenses in my
glasses were made by a machine. From plastic.
With the ability to turn dark if it's too bright.

Great. Thanks, CBB. I have to work in a few hours,
you know! How do I write code when I can't help
but think of all the advances that took place to
even get me to the point of being able to have a job
writing code????

On another note, I think I understand a bit better
how you are able to generate each new discovery
of Simon. ;)

Dude, if there's an online award for writing.... ;)

tee said...

very cool perspective... i haven't quite done that before, explaining what i take for ordinary.

although, i have tried to explain my life now, to myself at 18...

thanks!

Irish Wolf said...

I first swiped the idea from Isaac Asimov, actually - an essay he wrote for the American Bicentennial, in the form of a dream in which he gets to have an in-depth conversation with Benjamin Franklin. It's fun to explain to various historical figures how exactly they helped my world come into being...

I guess I'm luckier than some of the younger ones. At 41, I was born before the first man had even orbited the Moon, much less landed there. I'm old enough to remember the famous assumption by Bill Gates, in writing DOX 1.0, that no one would ever want, much less need, more than 640K of main memory in a computer. For that matter, predating that, I also remember the famed statement by an IBM executive, when the Commodore 64 came out, that no one would ever need a whole 64K for home use; and of course the days when a home computer wasn't even a feature of science fiction (in the old stories, everybody was assumed to have a terminal to the One Main Computer That Ran Everything. The micorcomputer revolution went and ruined The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress...).

Speaking of Heinlein, the fantasy there is to hop into my time machine and appear to him a week or so before he died (so as not to screw with the timestream), carrying a copy of his article Pandora's Box, so we can discuss where he got it right (and wrong) in there. (For instance, in the original 1950 article, he had predicted that by the turn of the century, there would be an invention that would revolutionize social mobility and dating habits as radically as had the automobile in his youth. In the 1980 update, he thought that the computer chip might wind up being that invention. Not long after he died, DARPANet became the Internet, and the rest is history...)

Irish Wolf said...

That's DOS, of course, not DOX. Arrrgh!

Anyway, my point, which I kind of dropped in the middle there, is that I've always realized I'm living in science fiction. And it's as cool as I always thought it would be!

Badpatty said...

I always wondered: did Julius Caesar worry about skidmarks on the ol' toga? Curious. And was the Bacon to whom you referred Sir Francis, or was it Kevin?

Good work, mate. This is one of those blogs that I keep meaning to check, but don't do it often enough. I'll be by more often.

Tordelbach said...

There you go again, CBB, beautifully articulating a thought that has always haunted me. In the oddest of coincidences, I have just returned from a blissful fortnight's island-hopping in Greece, where I was indeed accompanied by Homer, who despite being hard-of-seeing kept pointing out the incredible ease of my journeyings and the comfort of my lodgings. Mind you, he had a tendency to note where things had hardly changed at all, which was comforting for both of us.

Personally, flying is one area where ghoulery is not required. I have never sat on an aeroplane without being gobsmacked not so much by the experience as the idea of so much metal and plastic bizzarrely and utterly counterintuitivey plunging upwards and (by and large) staying there. On a clear day i watch my neighbours reading their newspapers and watching cruddy movies on tiny screens, and want to shout: "Holy shit! Would you look at that! This thing's flying at 100's of miles an hour 10's of 1000's of feet in the air, and we're all jammed inside it! Unbelievable! At least look out the damned window!". I hope this is a desire I will never lose. "It's the goddamned future!".

Oh and yeah, thanks a bunch for taking George to "Phantom Menace", Doc. Couldn't you have taken him to "Fellowship of the Ring" instead?

Anonymous said...

If anybody likes history, as well as this idea that CBB is talking about, then you should check out this book "Let the Sea Make a Noise... : A History of the North Pacific from Magellan to MacArthur".

The author brings together some of the most influential people in the Pacific's history as interludes between the chapters. I thought that it provided an interesting perspective to a history book.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0060578203

scott

BushCheney08 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
BushCheney08 said...

Greetings lord vader.

It seems I have found your secret identity.

The Seeker said...

Are you sure Armstrong really walked on the moon? Conspiracy theory says... Never mind. I don't feel like being argumentative. Enjoyed the read. I'm a newbie to blogging, but I aspire to your level. :-)

Miss Aida said...

I love this entry! I love the stretch of imagination, and where your flights of fancy can take you.