by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
March 21, 2001
SIMPLE, AND CLEAR
SEATTLE, Wash. -- The new computer is installed and running. It took me most of the morning to set it up, but it will take me the rest of the week to believe that I did it.
It's on the other desk, obviously, since I am sitting at this one and writing on the little laptop, which I think I will continue to do for some time. It is one thing to have a new computer, it is quite another to make me use it for the serious tasks of life, such as writing Ink Soup.
Besides, it is not yet linked to the phone line, nor is there any printer attached. I've played a game of solitaire, and won. I played a game of Shanghai, and won. Is it trying to endear itself to me? My fortune cookie read: "Simplicity and clarity should be your theme in dress."
But they already are! (How did they know?) I wear the same garments inside the house and out. It drives my family crazy. "Dad! Again the sweats?!"
I am now listening to Beethoven's Ninth on the new computer. He is "Unknown Artist" insofar as Dell is concerned. Wait a few years, Dell, and you will know what "unknown" means.
Much more interesting is the unknown. The mysterious Web that links events in your life and then sits back and smiles and asks you to make sense of it all. Take this, for instance. I was sitting on my usual log beside the duck pond, feeding bread to the gulls and mallards, when I heard a sound that did not sound like a bird.
It was my cell phone. It was my son Chris, calling from the atticof our old house in Princeton. He asked, "What is that noise?" I said, "It is the gulls and ducks." He is accustomed to nonsense from me, but I'd told him of course that I would keep the cellphone turned on, expecting his call at some time during the afternoon.
Such events are commonplace for those who belong to the present age. For me it is nearly more than my sanity can deal with: The baby born in Princeton Hospital 42 years ago, with one eye badly squinting, is now standing just beneath the roof of the house where he grew up and calling me, 3,000 miles away on a duck pond beside the Puget Sound, to know whether it would be okay to take the large oil painting that I did in South Carolina when I was around 14 to his summer home in Duxbury. I said okay. What else could I say? Simplicity and clarity are my theme in more than dress.
Besides, my defenses were down. How could I say no? I did not believe that anything in the present moment was real. I expected the men in white coats to arrive momentarily. Kindly bystanders would say:
"He's harmless, really. He was feeding the birds and then it seemed to him that he was talking to his son about some Old Master reproduction." The men in white coats would say, "Right. When they wake up in the shelter they always feel better."
Why does it not seem in the least strange to me that I looked out of a window in London with this same boy when he was 10, gazing with him at the Moon, and then looked back at the telly to see Neil Armstrong step onto the surface of that same Moon and say, "One small step, etc ..."?
Why does it not seem strange? Because I was more or less a contemporary at that time. I am now a figure of the recent past, oddly still alive. Still oddly alive? Still alive oddly? Well, alive. If odd. And glad!
Longtime AR Correspondent Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.