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Fear of the Dark

Fear of the Dark

As I'm pathologically fond of pointing out - I'm a child of a bygone era. Oh, I'm not old enough to remember the time before Sputnik, light bulbs, or the coagulation of the planets from protostellar dust clouds, but I surely do remember GI Joe at 45 caliber, Ray Stevens at 45 RPM, and factory-rolled cigarettes at 45¢ a pack sold to anxious minors desperate to rebel (just like everyone else).

It seems ironic to me that this column - gilding the edge of JDJ's ultramodern fabric - deals mostly with dusty memories of my vanished youth. On the other hand, I've heard that I should "write about what I know," so my options are extremely limited. Extremely. I mean, how many cab-driving stories can a person take? (Many would say that one is already too many.)

I suppose I could repeatedly spew the first 50 digits of pi - which I happened to memorize as a teenaged proto-geek - but that would be almost as stupid as the original act of memorizing it. I've always thought that those brain cells I still use to hold pi might have otherwise created some history-making invention, or developed the cure for the common cold, or at least been happily sacrificed on the altar of top-shelf single-malt Scotch whiskey. Never too late to hope, though, I guess.

Uh-oh, here it comes, I feel a recitation coming on:

"3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841
9716939937510"

<sigh> Boring, eh?

My sincerest hope, dear reader, is that perhaps I can finally count my own self among the "things I know," and that you will enjoy some of these vacuous recollections from the goofy amalgamation of quarks that is my personal "main storage." And, by all means, if I'm so utterly irrelevant or patently offensive that you're thinking about dropping your JDJ subscription, please drop me a line so I can quit this gig.

So, to the task at hand: this month's "stuff."

As I think back - searching for this month's Thread fodder in that blurring database of murky self-awareness - certain recollections stand out boldly in my memory, maintained with (at least the illusion of) crystalline clarity. Some such moments are undoubtedly the result of a simultaneous psychic shock - the assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK, and John Lennon; the first moon landing; the Challenger disaster; 9/11.... Others are seemingly just random snippets of remembered awareness, inexplicably preserved for personal perusal.

For example, something just reminded me of one particular evening in December of 1967. I was 10 years old and had come home from a friend's house in time to see the name of Dr. Christiaan Barnard as it flashed on the TV screen. It seemed to me that "Dr. Christiaan Barnard" had a pretty doggoned funny way of spelling his first name, but the venerable Mr. Cronkite didn't even crack a smile as he told us the incredible news: this remarkable man from South Africa had successfully performed the first human heart transplant.

Twilight was just giving way to evening as Walter awed us all with this landmark news. What promise the world held! What wonderful cause for hope and optimism and pride in the human race! We cured polio, managed to forestall nuclear holocaust (so far), and now were on the verge of removing and replacing the human heart.

However, lovely evenings during a South Dakota winter don't usually last very long, and this was no exception.

Through the darkly colored glass of distant recollection, it seems as though darkness fell too swiftly, as Mr. Cronkite inevitably turned to the daily body counts out of Vietnam: so many dead, so many wounded, so many missing in action. So very, very many. Reality blends smoothly into surreality, as I remember the shards of shattered optimism quietly exploding at the sight of graphic footage. Film at 11.

While I can nearly picture Walter's face in my memory, I can't remember the actual body count from that particular day. One thing is certain, though, there was a body count that day; there was a body count every day.

I sure hope I'm wrong, but it looks to me as if the world may be in for another extended bout of nightly body counts on the "Nightly News." Is there anything we can do to stop it? Should it be stopped? Don't ask me. I'm just a family man, computer programmer, and ersatz freelance writer.

More Stories By Blair Wyman

Blair Wyman is a software engineer working for IBM in Rochester, Minnesota, home of the IBM iSeries.

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