One of the hardest things to express of the beauty of the Unprecedented Era is its ephemerality. Every phase can happen because conditions are Just So, and those conditions will never be that way again. The Seventies, just to use one example, are a combination of economic (the end of the great wave of mid-20th century economic growth), cultural/demographic (the afterglow of the Sixties, the autumn of those who remembered World War II, the maturity-but-still-youngness of the postwar generation), technological (the introduction of personal computers) political (the fading, but not faded, of Mass Man) elements. A certain permutation, made in the instant, year by year, month by month, hour by hour, never to be seen again.

And the same can be said for every decade since the 18th century. They are all birds: you see one for a moment, try to pin a name on it, but it flutters and is gone. You can only reconstruct it from memory, but whatever memory will never equal that empirical instant.

Sometime in the late Seventies, a certain stream of photons flowed through a window in Barryville, NY. In the flow danced tiny bits of dust. I, at age four or five, stared transfixed at the beam. Did the beam create the dust or just illuminate it? I hoped the former, even though I suspect I was wrong.

Years later, I had an epiphany. According to Einstein’s theory of special relativity, time is experienced according to how we sense light. Therefore LIGHT==TIME. Excited, I sped to an astrophysicist friend and asked if my idea was accurate.

Nope! My friend informed me that light plays very little role in how physicists think about the phenomenon of time.

(This is why you always want to ask someone with expertise, folks)

The thing is that you can go the other way: since, according to Einstein, light is so plastic, physics had to proceed to more reliable ways of describing time (and time gets more complicated and much less assured as you discover more about it.)

Yet there is some relationship. LIGHT==TIME was off. But I am told that if I were to somehow teleport to a point far enough away from earth, I could see that moment captured in my memory fleeing out to distant stars. When we look into the night sky, we see the distant past. Light is a form of time travel.

I still remember that beam of light, defining the dust motes within it. Light and memory and time, all interwoven. Beams of light everywhere and always, in 1978, in 1928, in 1028, in -1028, ten thousand years before that moment, ten million years before that moment, ten hundred million years before that moment. Light may not define time, but it defines the moment.

I just finished a biography of Bella Abzug. Abzug was one of the leaders of the second wave of feminism and a leading political voice of the Seventies. These days she has been sadly and unjustifiably forgotten. Youtube has this video of her, one of the few examples on the site of footage of her in her prime.

I quite enjoyed learning about Bella, but I couldn’t help–I beg her forgiveness–the whole time I was reading it, I kept hearing:

White on white translucent big hats
Pinned on her head

Bella Abzug is dead

Ed Koch has left the House floor
NOW statements have been read
Redistrict lines, the ballot box

Bella Abzug is dead

Bella Abzug is dead

Undead undead undead
Undead undead undead!

The feminist groups file past her tomb
Strewn with position papers
Bereft in sisterly gloom
Alone with Ted Kennedy
The Congresswoman

Bella Abzug is dead!

Battling Bella
Bella’s undead

Battling Bella
Bella’s undead

Tom’s house was shaped like a sandwich, between a flat, white roof, and a flat white floor on struts over concrete pilings. The living room filled the front half of the house, walled with windows showing the sea and covered with thick white carpet, save for a portion of the center floor that was glass, through which could be seen a tongue of sand that connected with the beach, making the house part of the beach. The only furniture was his father’s drinks cabinet, pressed into the back corner.

Behind the living room ran the single white hallway, and the first room was the kitchen. Besides a white stove and a white microwave, there was a small, circular white table and two white chairs. There Miss Thomas, his governess, made Tom his morning soldiers and his jam butties for tea.

Next to the kitchen was Miss Thomas’s room, and therein sat things Tom did not care for, like Miss Thomas’ photographs of her family in England, and so that door was always closed. Next to Miss Thomas’ room was Tom’s room. White, with the same white carpet as in the living room, and no windows, but a skylight. His bed was white and there was a white chest of drawers, with one drawer for his collection of shells, one drawer for his collection of rocks, and one drawer for his clothes. Atop the dresser stood a small, round white television set, and on that set he watched The Bugaloos and Space Ghost and Bugs Bunny, one hour every day and, in indulgence, two hours on Saturday.

Next to Tom’s room was his father’s room, sometimes. Tom’s father was a musician, like the Bugaloos, and most of the time he was off someplace making music, and that was very fine. When he was home, men would come to see him, reporters, from places like Rolling Stone and Creem and Crawdaddy. His father sat in a white chair shaped like an egg and the reporter tried to sit on the precarious sofa, and they would talk. The reporter asked a question and his father talked for a long time about whatever he wanted to and then stopped and the reporter asked another question. Tom sat by the edge of the doorway to hear his father’s voice.

His father would say

“I didn’t want to go solo. That’s a lie. The band was my life. But they forced me to choose…”


“I find California to be a much more open place than Britain. People are more willing to talk here, to question. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back…”


“Possessions are chains. I realize that now. Every time you own something, it’s as if you’re clamping a manacle on your leg. I’m getting rid of mine…”

and suchlike things, until it was time for his father to take the reporter out back to the garage, to see the gold records and the Rolls-Royce and the recording studio.

The only other time Tom heard his father’s voice was late at night, when his father would come in and sit on his bed, the moon shining through the skylight. He would take Tom’s hand, and Tom could smell the drinks cabinet, and shake it until Tom shivered, and say “Who’s my wizard little boy?”

Tom would reply “I am! I am!”

They would be together in the dark for a while, laughing. Then his father would leave and he would go back to sleep.

In the morning, Tom walked out on the beach. Sometimes Miss Thomas accompanied him, but more often he went alone. He dragged his feet through the sand, shifting between beach and surf, chasing gulls. He enjoyed being in the sea and on the land; he liked the in-betweenness. When he saw an interesting shell or rock, he kept it, but his standards had grown high, and there were few such now.

Sometimes he arrived at people. Down the shore, men and women in bathing suits, with dogs and frisbees, swimming and surfing, laughing and talking. He watched them from afar. Miss Thomas urged him to go closer, to talk with them, but he didn’t care to. He waved to them, and they smiled and waved back, and that was very fine. The afternoon was taken up with his collections, or television, or looking very closely at the sand under the floor of the living room. Eventually he returned to the beach, to watch the sun sink into the welcoming sea, and often as he did he would fall asleep, and Miss Thomas carried him to bed.

Shaking awake, in the dark. He could smell the drinks cabinet, and knew it was his father, and was glad. What noise was this?

“Forgive me,” his father said. “I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m couldn’t help her. I’m trying my best. Please forgive me!”

The moonlight glinted off water on his father’s face, soaking into his beard. His father was crying.

Tom didn’t understand. There was no crying in the house. He himself had given up crying long ago. He waited for his father to stop, to ask who his wizard little boy was, but his father never did.

“I’m sorry,” his father repeated. “I don’t know what to do.”

Tom could not say “I am!” to that.

Tom did not return to sleep. In the morning he walked into the kitchen, pushed aside his soldiers, and demanded an explanation.

Miss Thomas threw up her hands and said “You father was upset, is all. One of those reporters came, to write an article about the new album, only he wrote it about you. ‘The Loneliest Little Boy in California,’ was the title, and he talked about you, and the house, and what happened to your mother, and-oh, everything. It’s a shame, it is, that they can write those things.”

“The Loneliest Little Boy in California?” But he was not lonely. He was with the sea and the beach and the house and his father, and it was all very fine, or had been fine until this outsider had poked into things that didn’t concern him.

Tom was wroth with this reporter. For the first time, he was angry.

He resolved to be avenged of his anger.