Enough photographs for awhile. Time for some prehistoric prose.
When I was in college, students were required to take a composition class each quarter during freshmen year. I had a fascinating, if unconventional, professor for R103. Part of what fascinated me was that she was a dead ringer for one of the nuns in the movie Sister Act. Somewhat disturbing to me now is that this means I must have seen the movie Sister Act to make the connection. Regardless, to this day, I believe she must have led a dual life of being both a movie star and a college writing professor. Kind of like Superman and Clark Kent. Only without the superpowers. And she was a woman. So the analogy seems to be falling apart. My bad.
But she was unconventional in other ways. She would often hold class outside on nice days. Sometimes she would bring a CD player outside, play popular songs, and then ask us to explain what the lyrics meant. This was an interesting experiment, and helped me realize that my brain focuses so much on the underlying music of songs that I rarely “hear” the lyrics. They are just words. I hear the different instruments and notes, and can recreate them perfectly, but can rarely repeat the lyrics to a song.
One day we listened to R.E.M.’s Losing My Religion. The professor asked us: what do these lyrics mean? We had no earthly idea. We listened to it over and over, and almost felt like our world was falling apart as we realized that we had no idea what this bloody song was about. It was plastered all over the radio, but what did it mean? We quickly realized that we had no idea what most songs on the radio were about. Were they written by aliens? Did they have some kind of secret meaning? Subliminal messages? Surely they couldn’t just be words that rhyme?
It’s not clear what all this had to do with composition. My friends taking different sections of R103 reported that they were not sitting outside listening to music, but were busy writing book reports. Book reports. So, yes, my professor was clearly unconventional, and that made her very memorable.
Although I can’t remember her name.
Towards the end of the semester, we were asked to write a story.
That’s right: The assignment was to “write a story. Due Friday.”
So I sat down in front of my Mac late one night (Thursday night, if I recall), brought up MacWrite, and began typing.
I didn’t know what I would write, or where it would go. I just typed. The next day, I handed in the paper and forgot about it.
So I was a little surprised the following week when the professor started class by saying a student had written one of the most beautiful essays she had ever seen. She said it had brought a tear to her eye. And then she read my essay aloud, as I sunk self-consciously into my chair.
Truly embarrassing, I must tell you.
For the next couple years, she asked me to visit her R103 class and read the essay to her students.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure exactly what she saw in it. I did not feel that I had written anything special when I hit File->Save for the last time. I was trying to be creative, but that was about it.
I just discovered the original story stashed away in old files. Thanks to MacLinkPlus Deluxe, I was able to convert the file from MacWrite into something that can actually be opened in the 21st century.
Here it is:
By M. Scott Smith
20 May 1992; R103-031
I think I see the outline of a figure behind the dark glass, but I’m not sure. The figure seems content to be trapped within a seemingly airtight, unsurpassable mass of metal. The metal and glass cage separate and protect the figure from the world I stand in.
I feel around in my pockets and pull out a handful of change. I separate the dimes from the quarters and finally find a silver coin with a strip of bronze going down the middle. I place this token in the turnstile and hear a responsive “click.” I walk through the turnstile and it beeps appreciatively at me.
I walk towards the steps and then descend them. The air is pungent and warm. There is a man standing at the bottom of the steps. He does not make eye contact with me, or give any acknowledgement of my presence.
I am now at the bottom of the steps. I can see several benches, most empty. There is a girl sitting at one of the benches, and she is staring straight ahead, in a daze. Nearby stands a teenage boy listening to headphones. The headphones are so loud that I can hear the pulsating beat of rap music coming from them. The boy’s head nods up and down in tune with the music.
The ground is unpleasant and dirty. I am careful to avoid stepping in spit.
I feel something tapping on my shoulder, and turn around, surprised. I face a man holding out a worn Dixie cup. The poorly dressed man shakes the cup and I hear change rattling at the bottom of it. He tries to speak something, but I do not understand his words and apologize, backing away. He starts to walk towards me but then stops, and walks over to the girl. She continues to stare straight ahead, ignoring him.
I walk to the edge of the track and look down the tunnel. In the distance I see a tiny beam of light. It grows larger for a few seconds, and then pauses. After a little bit, the light grows larger again, and continues growing large until a flood of sound comes roaring down the tunnel. I take a step back from the track as the train pulls up, and I feel a gush of air against my face.
The girl stands up, facing the train. She walks towards the train and the boy with the headphones follows. The man standing by the stairs remains there. The man with the Dixie cup continues to walk along the track, talking to himself.
I see lots of people sitting in the cars, staring at the empty seats in front of them, or advertisements on the walls of the train, but never at each other.
The doors slide open and I enter the car.
“Your ticket, please?” asks a young lady with a smile as I enter. She is professional and attractive. I return the smile and hand her my ticket. She examines it for a moment. “Your seat is on the left, in the back, sir.”
“Thank you,” I reply, and begin walking towards the back. As I walk down the aisle I see heads looking up at me with apathetic curiosity. Several people are struggling to put their luggage above their seats.
I find my seat and sit down. It is by the window.
The man with the Dixie cup comes around checking the seats. He pushes the bar back and forth to make sure it is locked in position. I feel the bar pushing against my stomach, and I wrap my hands around it, feeling nervous. After a moment I begin to feel myself accelerating slowly forward, the cool air blowing against my face.
The windows show the station slowly fading into darkness. The train bounces as it makes its run through the tunnel. Occasionally solo lights streak past the train, briefly illuminating the tunnel.
For a moment I wonder if my chute will open, but my fears are relieved as I feel the chute rising from my back, promptly asking gravity to chill out.
As I gently float down, I see a school of fish swim by. They act as if they don’t notice me, even though I’m an obstacle they have to swim around. One of them brushes against me but moves along without apologizing.
Smoke begins to float up around me, and I realize that I’m in the smoking section, but I don’t leave for fear of not finding a seat elsewhere.
The train arrives at the next station. No one seems to notice except a few people standing by the door. A few people leave the train, and a few people enter. A whistle blows and the doors close. The train continues, its brief delay not interfering with its monotonous existence.
I begin to look at the advertisements along the car. I find myself reading them over and over again without paying any attention to them, for lack of anything else to do. I examine each letter carefully, constructing the words and then sentences in my mind.
“Would you like coffee, sir?” The flight attendant looks at me expectantly.
“A soda, if possible,” I say.
She nods and begins to fill a clear plastic tumbler with ice.
“Coke Classic, please,” I say.
She nods again and opens a can of Coke and pours some in the cup. She places the cup and can in front of me. I thank her and she moves on.
A child in the seat across from mine stares at my soda, his eyes opened wide. His eyes then re-direct themselves to me, and I can tell he’s analyzing me. I wonder what he’s thinking and I feel uncomfortable. I decide to return the stare to see if he lets up. He does not.
I am interrupted by the doorbell. I exit my seat and walk to the door. The man with the Dixie cup is there. He is selling vacuum cleaners. I close the door without listening to his spiel and return to my seat.
I feel the car leveling out, and I grasp the bar tightly, bracing myself for the imminent fall. I am not disappointed, as I see the flight attendant making her way towards me with honey roasted peanuts, vacuum-sealed for freshness.
The train quickly decelerates to a stop, and several people, including the boy with the headphones, stand up and make their way to the doors. The doors slide open and the people exit.
Two people enter and glance at me momentarily. A lady presses “8” and a man presses “14.” The elevator doors close and we begin rising, slowly accelerating until the elevator reaches a constant velocity.
Somewhere around the 5th floor the elevator jerks to a stop and the lights go out. An emergency backup light comes on, but it is very dim. I can hear the lady cursing to herself.
The three of us stand in silence in the semi-darkness.