High on the House of Time

While revelry danced with resolution and renewal, the air was tight with drama around the New York Times office this New Year’s Eve. With the nonstop controversial spotlight shining down on its normally impeccable reputation, this paper was not just “all the news that’s fit to print,” it was the news! Reporter Judith Miller’s corrupt martyr clause in her contract apparently didn’t satisfy the fix for sensation; the paper had to go out with a bang this year and suddenly publish a one-year-old story revealing the Bush Administration’s secret illegal National Security Agency domestic surveillance effort to catch terrorists.

(bear with me; this is not a mundane political tirade, I promise)

Though I wasn’t surprised about the spying, I was a bit shocked and intrigued that the trusty ol’ NYT had let this news rot until right before Congress was set to vote on renewing the Patriot Act. The aftermath backlash has been nothing short of smokin’ with predictable partisan bickering, and the Times was undoubtedly feeling the fire from the suspiciously deliberate timing of this revelation. I’m no terrorist, but if I were, I would imagine that it had to be calmer in the Afghan mountains (or wherever they’re hiding now) than in the editorial department over at the Times this New Year’s Eve.

Something drastic had to be done.

Yes, for the good of the year’s first issue, this distracting tension had to be eased somehow into productive concentration, if not right away, then at least before all the paper’s head honchos were scheduled for their daily shit-talking/editorial-writing seminar. I’m not sure who’s guilty (as they won’t let me in to investigate), but someone or something let loose some mysterious, intoxicating fumes in that office.

Either everyone inhaled the zen of abstract thinking with the zest of a third grader experiencing permanent marker high for the first time, or everybody said fuck it and smoked some really heavy duty government-sanctioned shroom-laced marijuana – not some wilted weeds off the small-time NYU dorm dealer, but the real stuff, the kind that takes your mind, crushes it into a bunch of really obvious truths, and thinks about the world in absolute awestruck take-nothing-for-granted glory.

In case you haven’t been there before, take a vicarious journey through the perspective of this trippy piece of prose known as “The House of Time.” And if you’re already high, let this time as a house reality sink in and take you for an awesome mind cruise. Then maybe, if you feel up to it, you can hit the bong again and treat yourself to another tour or two.

Anyway, here is my play-by-play of “The House of Time”:

The House of Time
Published: January 1, 2006

Even in a good year, it can seem sometimes as though our days are numbers on a string - week after week, month after month passing in a straight chronological line through our allotted age.

I’m not exactly sure why, but right now I’m confronted with the ideal moment to exploit the unexpected humor of something that wasn’t meant for hilarity, making fun of it subtly, swiftly, and without mercy. I am not a comedienne by any amazing stretch of the word, but when I read the sentence above (go ahead, read it again), I get an urge to try to be funny. This never happens to me, so for a moment I started frantically searching my soul for reasons why I found this so amusing.

But then I had to give that up in favor of (read it again) wondering aloud, in all seriousness, the exact same thing I wondered when I first read it: what the fuck?? I mean, seriously. One moment I’m scanning an editorial of hard-hitting political relevance, the next I’m thinking about the universal nuances of life, wishing I were on top of a cliff, in space, or someplace else that induces hyper-contemplation. I know I’ve already mentioned my theory that the pipe was passed, but the mystic in me is thinking there’s something bigger, some sort of spectral apocalyptic warning screaming out from the words of this editorial to anyone who will listen.

(beginning: side note/hallucination)

Just imagining my days like “numbers on a string” has me creating a fantastic memory on Sesame Street. Big Bird is upstairs, his fluffy yellow mug poking out the window, surrounded by those familiar auburn bricks. It occurs to me for a second to wonder how a bird that goddamn big can fit in one of those tiny tenement apartments, but I bypass everything illogical about this scenario in favor of watching Bert and Ernie help B-squared string my days on a clothesline.

You can feel the eyes of a little dark-haired girl watching this drama unfold. She’s me at five years old, sitting cross-legged on a big dark green chair in front of the trusty old basement television. She’s witnessing scenes from her future self at 26 float by down the string while the Bird continues adding more, fastening them on with permanent wooden clothespins. She chants along with Big Bird and the gang, wondering whose life she’s counting down. At this moment I know my days are numbered but they’ve also just begun.

“Sorry,” I suddenly tell myself at age five. “I don’t know where that came from. You’re entitled to dream about what you’ll be doing at age 26. Hopefully your imagination is way better than what will eventually become a reality.”

Then I reach out through the TV screen and pat my freaked out five-year-old self on the head, jump onto the set, and rip all my days off the string. They hit the concrete sidewalk, where they’re eventually tossed in the garbage can with Oscar the Grouch. Big Bird is appalled. He doesn’t really understand, but then, he always was pretty clueless. He’s not really well-equipped to handle the days of my life with his “wings” anyway, as he doesn’t even know how to fly. I’m better off with Oscar.

(end: side note hallucination)

Anyway, before I continue, a small word about me and editorials: I usually don’t get past the first line of most of them because it says what they’re about right off the bat and there is usually no need to read any further. Editorials like “Global Warming is a Big Fucking Problem So Deal With It, Asshole Pussy President” will not be read by me because it would be a waste of my time, and furthermore, journalism has become so yellow and opinionated, we may as well just all make ourselves heard.

A safe estimate would count perhaps a couple dozen thousand personal accounts of the President’s handling (or according to some, lack thereof) of the world’s response to global warming. Choosing which opinion to read (and adopt) is a bit like choosing your friends; there are varying elements of your own ego and self-respect to consider.

Editorials differ from most hack opinion pieces because they’re written by the big cats (publishers, editors) that determine the news for us, so they’re strapped with a subtle combination of collective agenda and manipulative oversight. Since these individuals have enough clout to decide which stories get published now or a year later, why should they have any influential sway over my opinion on [blank] issue as well?

I skim the editorials out of habitual curiosity, but rarely do I pay them much attention. Well, at least not as much attention as I’ve paid this rare, complex editorial with a nice, creepy title like “The House of Time.” After all, who can blame me? What other editorials can boast such a kickass kickoff sentence that talks about my life measured in quantified terms, like a bunch of clothes on a clothesline inching further and further into the mortal abyss (and away from Big Bird)?

Not surprisingly, I became hooked, and this kind of hook never lets go. I found myself grappled with confusion that won’t stop grappling until I’ve figured it all out. The existential questions were pouring out of my heightened and enlightened psyche. I had to read on to find the answers.

At times like that it feels as though we were living by the calendar astronomers sometimes use, by which today is the Julian day 2453737. To envision today as 2453737 instead of Jan. 1, 2006, is to grasp immediately how welcoming, how comforting the cyclical nature of our lives really is.

Like any average stupid person in America with a really smart computer, I had to enter “Julian calendar astronomers” into a search engine on the Internet to fully grasp this sentence. Maybe I am ignorant, but I couldn’t feel adequately “welcomed” until I could envision today as 2453737. But now I can – plus, I learned something valuable about Ancient Roman history that did not involve orgies and phallic-symbols-as-architecture.

A (really) quick rundown, because just writing Julian calendar is making me feel bored and reminding me of the fact that I didn’t know what it was five minutes ago: “invented” by Julius Caesar about 45 years before Jesus broke out on the scene, the Julian calendar established fixed years of 365 ¼ days a year and…actually, unless you’re a hardcore calendar scholar, just check out this page if you really want to “grasp immediately how welcoming, how comforting the cyclical nature of our lives really is” (and no, it has nothing to do with whether you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, and it has everything to do with Brutus. While Caesar had no idea that some idealistic Jewish cult leader would redefine the numerical year for days and days to come, more importantly, he had no idea his most trusted aide would murder him, effectively killing his impact on the house of time as well. Shakespeare understood this, which is maybe why he didn’t write any plays about the murder of Christ).

Our house of time is a circular one, full of familiar landmarks that we commemorate year after year as they come in sight again.

House of time. Circular. World round. Years. Familiar landmarks…Eiffel Tower? Pyramids? World Trade – oh shit, sorry…but actually, (tirade alert) I would argue that the World Trade Center is still a familiar landmark, because even though it’s gone, we keep coming back to it as if it still was there. Its absence has become more important than its presence. Fear of terrorists have filled the void where the World Trade Center used to be, and then there’s the lingering threat that the society of ownership will go down in flames of corruption if those in power continue to exploit the populace for their selfish profit. Sorry Mr. President, but that’s the truth stripped bare of religious ties. Actually, no, I’m not sorry, but you should be. By the way, nice public opinion polls. Try and come back from this deficit, dickface.

It is always surprising how refreshing it is to come upon New Year, how vital the idea of starting over always is. Of course there is no starting over, not really.

Well, what is it then? Are we starting over, or aren’t we? Make up your mind.

By the way, the first sentence was structured by an eighth grader who had just flunked his first big grammar/punctuation test. Any self-respecting grammar snob would tell you that there are several errors that should not have made it into a major media publication like the Times.

But the promise of the new year is not merely a metaphor or a delusion.

Examples of the promise of the new year as a metaphor:

1) Freshly washed sheets.

2) A brand-new roll of toilet paper.

3) re-virgination

Examples of the promise of a new year as a delusion:

1) I am so fucking hung over and have no recollection of what I did last night, so as of today, I am going to stop drinking.

2) This year I am going to stop believing in love/relationships. This year no assholes will “break my heart” (what the hell does that mean, anyway?). Coupledom is a profitable industry and an instrument of social control. I am above it all.

3) This year I am going to work hard for what I want and become the picture of success. And you know who takes/draws these pictures of success? I do.

Okay, so if the promise of a new year is not merely a metaphor or delusion, then what is it…exactly? Well…

We are creatures bound by our habitation on this planet to live by the inevitable circularities of light and season, no matter how abstracted or urbane our lives have become. And we are no less habituated to the cycles of promise and renewal. To live without a sense of promise is barely to live at all.

Wow. When I read this paragraph, two things come to mind.

1) To answer my question from before: essentially, according to this editorial, the promise of a new year is not merely a metaphor or delusion. It is…life itself.

2) In case you didn’t already notice, this shit is deep and bursting with enlightenment. If one were inclined to make a quick and abundant buck off the anxious-to-believe new age sect, it is quite possible to organize a religion around the basic ideas of “The House of Time,” otherwise known as the Gospel of Editorials.

Okay, now for the home stretch (for added effect to the climax, imagine Morgan Freeman narrating).

There is some strange genius in New Year. The turning of the calendar does nothing to cauterize the past. But here in the dead of winter - with most of winter well in front of us - New Year comes as a reminder of how much regeneration lies ahead. The sun will roll northward again, and the soil will warm, and whether we care to know it or not, the earth will do its best to rejuvenate itself. It may seem odd to think of this day as the token of all that. Today may feel like a momentary pause in the flow of our lives, a time to take stock. But tomorrow will be 2453738, and off we will go again.

Yes, Morgan, off we will go again, inhaling another swift, potent hit, and with it, just another day as a token of earth’s self-rejuvenation. Happy fucking New Year, you mysterious authors of “The House of Time” editorial, whoever you are, whatever you were on. If I still had my champagne, I would toast you. I don’t know where this editorial came from, but all the same, it rules. Maybe you guys do this every year. Maybe it was just a freak occurrence. I may be the only one who finds this um, slightly out of character, but I also find it strangely satisfying and profoundly eerie. Whenever I get stoned, I always worry that I am thinking the most nonsensically stoned things ever, but now I know that it’s not just paranoia; the New York Times does it, too, and that comforts me, just as sure as the cyclical nature of our lives and knowing that much regeneration lies ahead.


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