American Culture

The Future (insert scream here)

by Terry Hargrove

One Saturday morning in 1965, mom dragged us to the Western Auto Store on the Lewisburg square. I was 10 and Glenn was 12, so we were really too old to be taken shopping, but make a single mistake with a bottle rocket inside the kitchen, and suddenly you can’t be trusted.

“Why are we going to Western Auto?” asked Glenn.

“To see something,” said mom.

“What?” I asked.

“The future,” she replied.

In front of the store stood a large rectangular cube wrapped in cardboard and secured by metal bands. It was an impressive monolith, and every time I see 2001: A Space Odyssey I think of it. All our friends were there, held securely by their moms.

“What’s going on?” I asked Jeffrey, who was trying to free himself from his mom’s half-nelson. Jeffrey was the most hyperactive kid I knew, a free radical having much energy, but little mass. He was cable-TV to our childhood, a source of endless entertainment.

“A new refrigerator I think,” he said. “Lemme go, ma! The paper said it makes ice!”

“Our refrigerator makes ice,” I snorted.

“Not like this one! You have to fill up plastic ice trays like us. But this one makes ice all by itself. Lemme go, ma! It’s magic or something.”

Store owner Claude J. Sharp stood looking at the crowd. He leaned his weathered frame upon the cardboard like an artist, a cigarette dangling from his lips, wire band cutter held in his right hand. I know it was a long time ago, but I swear, I remember music.

Daa Daa Daaaa Da Dum!!!!! Dum, Dum, Dum, Dum, Dum, Dum Dum, Dum

He cut the first band. Sproing. That was the sound of progress in the ’60s. Then he cut the second band. Sproing. The music increased.

Daa Daa Daaaa Da Daaaaa!!!!! Dum, Dum, Dum, Dum, Dum, Dum, Dum, Dum

He pushed the cardboard box up and over the angel-white steel and plastic refrigerator. It had two doors side by side. Really, they were side by side. All our moms released us and moved toward this new and wondrous creation.

Daa Daa Daaaa Da Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!! Da Da Daaaa Daaa Daaaa Daaaa Daaaaaaaa…

But we all were drawn to the box it came in. We surrounded it like hunters around a kill. Then Jeffrey began to hop around it, making strange crane-like sounds.

“Whoo! Whoo! This is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen! Look at the size of this box! We can have it, he don’t want it. You don’t want this box do you, mister? No, of course he don’t want it.”

“It is a big box,” I said.

“A most constant and resolute box,” agreed the Comic Book Kid. He always talked that way.

“But what are we going to do with it?” asked Glenn.

We carried it to the park across the street from our house. Jeffrey placed the box sideways on the edge of a small but steep hill that separated the basketball courts from the tennis courts. The hill was only 12 feet high, but the drop angle was 140 degrees. Then six of us piled into the box. There was Jeffrey, me, Glenn, the Comic Book Kid, and Ray and Johnny Miles, our next door neighbors. We sat three on each side, looking at each other in the stifling heat of a warming August day.

“OK,” said Ray. “Now what?”

“I heard a fellow once,” said Jeffrey, “describe a guy as ‘ice water in a tight place.’ See, this guy was so cool in the face of danger. I always liked that saying. Ice water in a tight place. So what we’re going to do is find out if any of us is ice water in a tight place. And how, you ask? How?”

“Yea, verily,” said the Comic Book Kid. “How?”

“I’ll tell you how!” screamed Jeffrey. “Here we sit, on the edge of this cliff, perfectly balanced. But if that balance is broken, then we’ll roll down this hill. Think of it! Stuck in this box, rolling all the way down the hill. We might die!”

We sat in silence, contemplating the possibilities.

“But what if we’re all ice water in a tight place?” I asked.

“Then I’m gonna jump over to that side and roll down the hill,” laughed Jeffrey. “And I’m takin’ all of you with me.”

“Uh, I gotta go to the bathroom,” said Johnny Miles. He tried to stand but the interior of the box was only four feet high. He bumped his head, fell, and landed next to his brother. Suddenly, there were four guys on one side, and that side was the wrong side.

For one brief, glorious moment, we were weightless.

“Johnny Miles ain’t ice water in a tiiiiiooooooohhhhhh,” said Jeffrey. Hello gravity.

Einstein said time is relative. I understand that. From outside the box, our descent must have taken only 4 seconds, but inside the box it lasted about a week. It was a fight, close quarters with hands, feet, knees, and heads. Every two revolutions or so, somebody was thrown out of the box, leaving the remaining occupants more room to fall, thus exerting more force and causing more damage to whoever was fallen upon.

Eventually, we stopped. We crawled out of the box, and tried to regain our balance. My nose was bleeding. Glenn’s right eye was swelling. Jeffrey had lost a handful of hair. We swayed, coughed, gasped, then looked at each other and broke out in grins.

“Let’s do it again!” shouted Ray.

For the rest of the day, the box made maybe 30 trips down the hill before it broke apart. We were grabbing friends as they came to the park, because we had to know who was ice water and who wasn’t. If someone refused, we threw him in and piled in after him. It was a great day.

The future seems to be coming a lot faster than it used to. But there’s no need to be afraid. Be ice water in a tight place, because the future won’t hurt you. It’s the box the future comes in that will do the most damage. Think about that the next time you use a steak knife to open a CD case.

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