Revisited is a series in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago.
The Zenith Z-19 is not a computer. It’s an end point of memory and desire, a vanishing horizon, a terminus, a terminal. It is also certainly not a monitor.
In 1979 my family’s Zenith Z-19 sat dull-eyed on a whitewashed, built-in desk in my parents’ L-shaped bedroom in New Hampshire. That year I was ten, and I was never not at that terminal. I beheld my Zenith Z-19 as I never had, and never will, not even close, observe a great painting or statue at Angkor Wat or the Vatican. I will never gaze at the aurora borealis that way—something as wordless, undying and not mine as the night sky? Frankly I find it hard to believe stars hold more than the polite interest of other people.
Was it flat? It was, to the touch. You could jab in, past the hard, battleship-hued casing, touching a rectangular screen with pleasing dimensions that drew on the golden mean. Whatever static my fingers lifted, I remember it as minor, but I distinctly remember the uppermost layer of that machine’s complexion to be petal-soft and cool—poreless, scaleless, hairless, but vibrating with life like a mammal. I can see it now, in a cramped image, on my tarty MacBook pixmap, where the old terminal’s recessive palate seems despairingly out of place. On Wikipedia, the screen plays as olive drab—but drab it was not. Read More
I lost an idea last night. It was late, and I was tired, and I had some kind of insight that seemed interesting—but, with hubris worthy of a Greek tragedy, I told myself I’d remember in the morning. Of course, I didn’t. All I remembered was the lightbulb moment, which, with each passing hour, became more dazzling, more revelatory, more important in my memory. Within a few hours of my forgetting it, this had become the best idea I’d ever had. Read More
In The Parent Trap—and the German book, Das doppelte Lottchen, on which it’s based—two strangers arrive at a girls’ summer camp only to discover they are identical. “The nerve of her! Coming here with your face!” exclaims one roommate in the 1961 film. Of course, in The Parent Trap, they’re actually twin sisters. But as anyone who’s been compared to someone else knows, just the accident of resemblance is enough to cause an instinctive enmity.
I used to work at a store where this one customer would always remark on how much I looked like some friend of hers. She talked about it every time she came in. The friend was named Jen something. She was a potter. She lived in the Hudson Valley. The customer even brought in another woman to attest to this miraculous phenomenon.
“You may think you’re a unique person walking around in the world,” said the customer one day. (I guess I had thought that.) “But you’re not—you’re a copy of Jen.”
Obviously I had no alternative but to hate this Jen person. I imagine she felt the same way. Read More
“The Marivaudian being is, according to Poulet, a pastless futureless man, born anew at every instant. The instants are points which organize themselves into a line, but what is important is the instant, not the line. The Marivaudian being has in a sense no history. Nothing follows from what has gone before. He is constantly surprised. He cannot predict his own reaction to events. He is constantly being overtaken by events. A condition of breathlessness and dazzlement surrounds him. In consequence he exists in a certain freshness which seems, if I may so, very desirable.”
—Donald Barthelme, “Robert Kennedy Saved from Drowning”
I’ve been watching and avoiding a man who lives in the present. We go to the same café, each of us alone. He resembles a distinguished physicist, the kind invited to appear on television when a scientific worldview is needed. So I was intent on listening to him when he stood up to greet his friend, also in his golden years.
The friend asked him how he had been doing.
“Oh, I don’t know, I misplaced my laptop. I can’t remember where I put it.”
“Did you ask someone for help?”
“I think so. But you know I can’t remember anything. And so I bought an iPad, but I lost that, too.”
“Yes, I lost my car the other day.”
“I don’t know.” Read More
In the summer of 2011, I spent every afternoon Google-mapping the Chicago neighborhood where I grew up. I pulled the shades down, turned the air conditioner up, and typed the intersections that define Back of the Yards—named for its proximity to the Union Stockyards—into the search box. I was in the early stage of a nervous breakdown, obsessively attempting to revivify the past, the only place where, I believed, continuity existed. Fifty-First and Loomis was my embarkation point: the intersection where our family doctor’s office was located. An unfilled prescription, from 1965, that I’d found in my deceased mother’s jewelry box provided the office’s address. My mother and I had had a contentious relationship, but that summer I fantasized about opening her grave and throwing her skeletal arms around me—“I thought even the bones would do,” to quote Plath. I used the objects from the jewelry box (grocery lists, a Revlon “Moondrops” powder compact, old Sears charge cards, blue crystal rosaries, a Coty lipstick) to reconstruct her existence, and finding that prescription was like finding the key to a long-locked door.
Going to the doctor had been a kind of family outing—every three months, to get my grandmother’s diabetes checked—and I wasn’t sure if I had dreamed those odd excursions to that tiny office. My mother would go downstairs to get my grandmother dressed: clean hairnet; heavy girdle and thick support pantyhose; rhinestone brooch; nice dress instead of a stained shift; black orthopedic shoes instead of house slippers; and dentures, from the glass on the bathroom sink. Then she’d run upstairs to get my sister and me ready, dabbing Chantilly perfume on our wrists. Read More