I was lost, floating in a timeless void. It was quite pleasant, actually. Then I found myself descending to earth in front of our little Monopoly house in Des Plaines watching myself get out of my claptrap sports car and trot up the steps.

“Don’t be in such a hurry,” I called out, watching my younger self stalk inside without wiping my feet, uttering a grunt rather than a greeting. “And would it hurt you to say hello to someone once in a while?”

This was not a typical afternoon. The tone and shape of our collective lives felt totally different when our father was home. He went to work at United Airlines in the afternoon and evening, and he often had days off in the middle of the week.

I looked through the screen door, which was rickety and always slapped against the frame like a gunshot when you went inside. The wires of the screen were cold and scratchy against my face.

My sister was picking wads of Kleenex off the floor and running the carpet sweeper back and forth. She was wearing an apron. My father sat in his easy chair, a catalog on his lap, with his “easy listening” music playing on the stereo in the background.

To understand my father, you must understand the entire genre of “beautiful music.” I don’t know if this type of radio exists any more. It is the sort of music played by Mantovani, and the Hollyridge Strings, and the Boston Pops—symphonic versions of songs done in dreamy, sleep-inducing arrangements marked by choruses of cascading violins. It’s not quite elevator music. Elevator music is different. This was just…relaxing. My father’s great ambition is to be the most relaxed man in the world. Listening to the AM radio station WAIT, which had the slogan “The World’s Most Beautiful Music,” allowed him to do this.

The music and his stolid presence changed the energy completely. He was like a capacitor, one of the electronic components he often tinkered with in his basement workshop while listening to his beautiful music. A capacitor builds up an electrical charge and then discharges it all at once. He discharged the electrical energy so everything was in balance again.

“Hello, Greg,” he greeted my younger self in his singsong voice.

I said a quick “Hi,” grabbed a phone book, opened it on the white porcelain Roper stove, and started looking for people with the same last name as the girl I met on the train. Luckily, it was not a common name. There were three or four listings. I took a deep breath and started calling.

No one in my family seemed aware of my older self as I came in the house. “I’m really glad you’re cleaning,” I said to my sister. She took no notice of me. She was talking to Dad about her cat and wondering if it was going to have kittens.

“I’m sorry I didn’t say hi,” the older Me said to my dad. “I was sort of wrapped up in myself, in case you didn’t notice.” He didn’t notice me now, either.

There I was in the kitchen, making the first call and getting no answer. “You really want to take some time and think this through,” I said to my younger self.

“Shut up,” I answered.

“Who are you talking to?” my dad asked.

“Oh, just to myself,” I told him.

I saw myself make the second fateful phone call and get the girl’s aunt on the phone. “Oh yes, they live in Park Ridge on Talcott,” I heard her tell me. “Here’s the number.”

There was nothing I could do to stop my life unfolding. What would I have changed, really, if I could? It was like an electrical circuit: once the power is turned on the components build up a charge and then it is discharged all at once by the capacitor. The power had been switched on to a new circuit, and now this new machine would run for a while until it died down. But along the way you had the chance to enjoy some “beautiful music.” All you had to do was pay attention to it.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.