That Thing On Your Ear

Hey, kid. Or old lady. Or guy in business suit.

What’s that thing hanging on your ear?

A cell phone, you tell me. I see. And you’re saying important stuff into it. None of my business, you say. This is true, but I’m curious. It’s been hanging there for hours.

You’re busy, you say. Appointments to nail down. The hair dresser. The eye doctor. Is the dry cleaning ready? Can you pick up your re-soled wingtips? Has your cousin Martha’s niece’s daughter had her baby?

Listen, you say, how ’bout the buyer at Slomo’s Gizmo Factory? You gotta get to him before somebody else does, you say. You think I like this thing hanging on my ear all day?

Well, actually, you say, you’re shopping for a dress for a friend’s wedding, but first you have to find out what Eleanor’s wearing. You and your sister Eleanor should turn up, both of you in coral?

Well, if you must know, you say, your girl friend’s stuck at home doing algebra problems. Algebra. And she’s seriously bored. Seriously. She’s your good friend, so you’re going to, like, fill her in on what you saw in Devon’s  locker.

Well, you say, you’re driving down Interstate 94 West. Or maybe it’s up Interstate 94 West. Ever drive 94 West to St. Cloud? Well, you know what I mean. Exits to malls. Exits to malls. Exits to malls. So of course you’re talking to your friend Jane to pass the empty time. And, after all, Jane’s laid up with a cold.

What did you do before the cell phone? How did you pas the empty time?

Well, let me see, you say. That’s a good question, you say. You did a lot of things, you guess. You thought about the crossword puzzle you hadn’t quite finished this morning. That upper left-hand corner sort of stumped you. A seven-letter word for disorder? What’s that word you like so much but can never remember? The one that’s kind of like your life?

You’ve almost got it, you say. It’s on the tip of my tongue. Sort of like “trophy.” That’s it! Entropy! Wonderful word. And that reminds you…

And sometimes, while you were driving, you say, you’d think about the things you wanted to say to the kids, grown now. Like, you miss the way Caroline used to play “Fur Elise” hour after hour. And Buddy practiced baskets out by the garage til it was pitch dark and your head ached.

You say you dreamed, between Maple Grove and St. Cloud, that you and Eleanor would take a cruise through the Greek Islands. Samos and Mykonos and the rest, the water there as blue as your sister’s eyes.

Whatever happened to empty-time dreams? Whatever happened to empty time? Whatever happened to me-alone time, just me inside my head, luxuriating there, writing poems, designing next year’s garden, inventing the next big thing in telecommunications or space travel or kitchen gadgetry?

Do you still know how to dream? Do I?

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