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Sunday, October 21, 2012

What could have been?

Saturday night is date night, a dinner with the wife and maybe a movie, not a big deal but I do enjoy it. As usual I’m getting ready by taking a shower and then I will pick out one of my nicer pair of jeans. Washing my feet and thinking to myself,
A real shirt tonight instead of a T-shirt.
Then the lights dim then blink on and off. When I step out of the shower the bathroom is different. First I notice that the mirror is clean, indeed the entire bathroom is clean to the point of spotless, and the towel is softer and wicking water away with perfect efficiency. My mind feels foggy as I signal my clothes to cover me and assume an early fall setting. For a hesitant moment this seems different or new, that I had been about to do something else. Then the memories rush back as I engage my personal information interface, and restart my daily update of current events. Remembering that I take my responsibilities’ as a galactic citizen serious, submitting original research and engaging in debates, with careful consideration always voting for the best and most valid case. Our modern democracy was sparked by President Nixon. He ended gerrymandering and made private funding of public political causes illegal. I remember that at the time the general public little noticed the presidential decrees or the fight between the political elites, but these simple changes founded the next evolution of democracy. Today President Nixon is remembered as one of the greatest political thinkers in human history. Our current political system is a direct democracy, with no elected officials, Nixon called it the “wisdom of crowds” theory and now our societal decisions are much better than under the old system.
I have volunteered for another citizen group evaluating the power generation system and proposing improvements, while the system is solid there are always opportunities for improvement. After retirement at age 52 I moved to the orbital platform and returned to college to finish a PhD in mathematics, President Carter in his second term committed America to energy self sufficiency, adopting a plan by MIT professors for orbital solar collectors that beamed energy back to the earth’s surface, now we have cheap unlimited pollution free energy. There is a thriving orbital community with a population of about a half million politically independent galactic citizens. During my first career as a manufacturing engineer in a dying oil industry, I often dreamed of working in space, now I do work in space. With most people expecting to live 200 or more years, it has become common practice to change careers every 50 years or so, with free and universal education changing careers just requires a few years of study and preparation, a deep cultural commitment to second chances. I remember President Dylan in 1984 deciding to federally fund stem cell research that created a phenomenal burst of medical advances based on bioengineering.
I remember that the 1984 election was a real shocker when Ronald Regan lost to Bob Dylan by a landslide. Few expected a musician to be a successful politician and we were proven wrong. President Dylan used technology to create universal suffrage giving all equal political access in a level and honest playing field. Combined with President Nixon’s reforms this effectively ended political parties and privileged special interest power. Secrets died in the dark corners that secrets usually live in, the openness and free flow of ideas created an explosion of new ideas and scientific advances. On average each person created more than they used, the old arguments about sustainability became mute.
As the week progresses I work 12 hour days and love every minute of it. The health and energy of the population is great enough that 12 hour days can be highly productive. My regular 6 hour day job involves predictive statistical analysis of orbital mechanics; we still haven’t solved the n-bodies problem. After my day job I have volunteered for several societal review groups, like I said, I take my responsibilities as a galactic citizen serious.
When the work week ends on Thursday.
Thank God it’s Thursday.
I am looking forward to my weekly date night with my wife. I step into the hygiene unit, what we used to call a shower, even after years it still amazes me. The nano thread clothing and dry shower that automatically treats minor skin problems. I hear a distant siren, and …
I wake up. My head is dizzy and confused; I try to remember my phone number. Then I remember that I don’t have a phone. I don’t have anything. My leg hurts and I’m homeless. Sleeping under a highway overpass I am often awakened by sirens. I pretend to be asleep while I absorb the surrounding environment for any immediate danger, finding none I sit up for a better view. The group I share this illegal shelter with is on edge, many slipping away to the wooded area, while others prep their weapons.
Nothing really unusual happening this morning. I think to myself.
Something feels wrong; I have a brief thought about all this being out of place, as if things shouldn’t be like this.
What is wrong with me.
I rub my leg and the memories flood back, Just the old war wound, after 46 years the wound is mostly just an irritation, but my bitterness about the late 1960s still burns. I wasn’t old enough to vote or drink but I was old enough to draft and fight. Barry Goldwater had won the presidency by the smallest margin in history; Goldwater had campaigned against the civil rights legislation and our gutless handling of communism.
Goldwater was President? Why do I think otherwise? Goldwater was President!
Once in office he wiped civil rights clean and upped the ante in Vietnam. I was drafted to a war I didn’t understand. I still don’t understand why we got into a war or why we needed to nuke Hanoi. Getting wounded got me out of country before the Chinese retaliated with millions of soldiers overpowering the American army, we didn’t stand a chance. The whole world turned on American because we had used a nuke, Russia joined China making it clear that one more nuke and they would answer in full against the continental USA. Europe disbanded NATO. Civil strife became civil war and Goldwater was impeached then replaced by Vice-president Neal Reagan.
President Reagan initially seemed a good president; he united white American and ended the civil war with military force. I spent the entire period in a military hospital which sheltered me from the worst of it. President Reagan’s prestige was so great that he could do anything he wished. He disbanded congress, down sized government ending all regulatory agencies, ended Social Security and dismantled the entire social safety net. Today there is no middle class. America is now a few rich and many poor. I am an average old guy; I am one of the poor.
The memory is clear but ... in my gut it all feels false.
More memories pour into my consciousness, my home being foreclosed, my divorce, losing track of my children, the market crash that wiped out all but the very richest. I shake my head and refocus my vision.
I got things to do today.
I had joined up with a small group of vets last week and today we are taking down a bank. When you have nothing to lose, why not a bank? With enough money we can get into Mexico, the Mexican politicians have been passing laws to deport illegal American aliens but with enough money they look the other way.
I hobbled to our meeting place, a gas station on the interstate highway about 3 klicks north. I don’t need to hobble; it is an affectation that makes people under estimate my physical abilities. That half a heart beat advantage has saved my life several times. You have to take personal responsibility for yourself and any edge an old guy can get helps. Most of the guys had already arrived and we start reviewing the day’s plan and checking our weapons. Josh would be late, Josh was always late, Josh was a loose cannon and unbalanced.
Josh will be our cannon fodder, too stupid to see it coming.
Josh finally shows up and we start the first step in our plan, steal a fast car. A Mercedes pulls up to the gas pumps with an attractive well dressed woman driving. I go over and offer to clean her windshields for a few pennies, one of the other guys sneaks around the back. The carjacking is fast, quiet and efficient, not the first carjacking for any of us. Josh had grabbed the women and pushed her into the back seat,
the plan was no civilians Josh!
As usual Josh had lost his place in the playbook. I was in the back seat with Josh and the woman was between us. She didn’t seem scared and this bothered me This was too easy, she should be shaking and crying. I was still alive because I paid attention to the mental red flags. I asked her where she was going.
“Right here.” She replied.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
She reached in her shirt pocket and took out a small coupon, then handed it to me.
“We appreciate your help with our experiment Mr. Clark.” She smiled.
I look at the coupon, two free lattes at Starbucks, I look back up and … I’m standing outside my shower, soaking wet. The lights are blinking, casting a soft magnolia blue.
 What just happened? Have I gone crazy?
I dry, dress and head to Starbucks for date night with the wife.

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