2014.04.16 what to re-live, what to ignore

I'm married to a librarian and I don't read books? That's about as bad as being a newspaper publisher who doesn't read newspapers. I'm not going to get into the second issue now, but let me point out that I read and I read a lot. I love to read. I have little time to read, and for the most part I don't read books.

I read a couple of magazines including the New Yorker. Sometimes it seems like a small book when it's a hot issue packed with a lot of articles that I want to read. The one thing that interests me with most every issue is the fiction. There's always a short story and I guess that's a busy person's version of a book.

A story last month quickly became my favorite of the year. The story is called the Relive Box and was written by T. Coraghessan Boyle. Boyle is known for writing fiction that raises questions about modern technology and this one is no exception. In this case, it's fictional technology.

The narrator of the story spent $5,000 to buy a Halcom X1520 Relive Box with In-Flesh Retinal Projection Stream. It's a small box with a slit on one side where the two laser beams emerge and fix onto your eyeballs. All you have to do is sit in a chair in front of the box and connect. You give a date and time, and suddenly you're there again. You're not just looking at a monitor; it's retinal projection, it's like you're really living it all over again.

However, you are just a witness. You can't change things. You can't take back that stupid thing you said or the way you just ignored that person. You just get to watch it again, to see where it all went wrong.

I'm sounding a little negative about the Relive Box. I must be harboring regrets, feeling some guilt or embarrassment. I suppose this is what made me conclude that I'm probably willing to shut out about 96 percent of my past life. Just let it go. I don't want to go there again.

The narrator, Wes, explains that when people buy the box, they typically "go straight for the sex." He said that's a selling point on the Halcom TV ads. They show two shimmering adolescents walking along a beach or sneaking a kiss at the back of the bowling alley. It's only natural, he says, and he was hooked on those episodes for the first couple of months. But that lost its appeal in favor of exploring the days when he first met someone, plus the early days with his wife before she left him.

Boyle can't make this a happy story of amazing technology. He tells how the box is ruining Wes's life. Wes and his teenage daughter are becoming enemies. Katie wants to use the box every night to spend time with her mother before she left, and Wes is always fighting for box time to revisit old relationships. He says "Reset" and sees the previous 10 seconds once again. He says "Freeze" and sits and stares.

June 6, 1982, 2:44 p.m. Wes was painting an apartment with a college girlfriend when the image suddenly vanished. Katie was standing between him and the box. She was brushing her hair, getting ready for school. Wes had spent the entire night in the past again. He would soon be losing his job.

I asked an 18-year-old to read the story and report back. She wanted nothing of the past. She was only looking toward the future. I explained the technology to an 11-year-old and pushed for a response. That was easy. He remembered a Florida vacation from a few years ago (did he say when he was a little kid?) which he would view over and over again all through the cold winter.

The story is still heavy on my mind even after reading it nearly a month ago. I often think about dates I would call out, who and what I would go after, what moments of exhilaration I would want back. I can see sycamore trees by moonlight. I remember discovering the oxbows on Bean Creek north of Mulberry. The feeling of really falling for someone. The first glimpse of Mt. Hood. 

I said earlier I would shut out 96 percent of my past, but it's probably even more. I've been around for half a million hours, and that would leave more than 22,000 hours. Way too much to consider.

Wes went back to his birth and then the stream suddenly went dead.

"Dad, are you there?"

"No, I'm not here. I'm not."