9.27.2012

The box, the comet, and the almighty airplane.

When I was in school in Portland we went to an exhibition at Reed College's Cooley Gallery with my 3D class. I wish to god I could remember who's show it was but for the life of me I can't. I do remember, however, that it was a very notable long-term Northwest artist, and I think I remember something about him having once been a professor at Reed. There was a mix of media in the show--paintings, photographs, different 3D stuff, and one very memorable, very interesting object.

In a nondescript corner, sitting on the floor was a solid wooden box about 10" cubed. It was completely plain save an electrical cord coming out from beneath it toward the rear that was plugged into a nearby outlet, and a single, round, steel button on the top beside a tiny typewriter-written notice that said, plainly and in all lowercase letters, "push button to turn on light". I pushed it. This was in 2000, and I've been thinking about that box now for 12 years.

The Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on takeoff in 1986. I was 5, and unlike most of my friends at the time at my small alternative elementary school in Wallingford that I went to for kindergarten, I was completely undeterred in my wish to one day enter the vast void of space. I was obsessed with space! It was crazy to me that there was somewhere even farther away than Africa, which, at the time, was the farthest thing I could think of.

A couple months later Halley's Comet made it's closest approach to earth for the first time in 76 years. I wish to this day I could tell you I remember this because I saw it, but I never did. I only even found out what it was the following December when I unwrapped a brightly illustrated book on our solar system that I plucked from beneath our Christmas tree. In it, it described the various attributes of all the planets, the moon, the sun--and then explained to me that I had just missed seeing Halley's Comet and that I would be eighty before it returned.

I. Was. Incensed.

I remember screaming at my mom wondering how this was possible. Had she heard of this? Yes? Then why the fuck didn't I get to see it? I cried. True story! I balled my eyes out, and imagined myself grey haired and old, seated in a rocking chair and gazing through a telescope. Then I cried again.

I've spoken to a lot of people my age who remember seeing Halley as a kid, and I still can't figure out exactly why I didn't. I've looked it up a few times since then, and the closest I can come to an answer is that the 1986 appearance of Halley was particularly inauspicious--that upon it's closest approach the sun would somehow prevent a clear view, and that Halley was, for a huge portion of it's visit with earth completely invisible in much of the northern hemisphere. This must be at least pretty close to the truth because I remember very clearly my mother telling me she was sorry I had missed it, and mentioned something offhanded about only being able to see it in Australia.

Australia? I didn't even know where that was. I asked, and was told it was even farther than Africa.

But come on, I remember thinking, people go into space for chrissakes and you can't take me somewhere that exists on the globe? So I asked why we hadn't gone. Why didn't we just go to Australia to see the comet? We could DIE before it comes back, just like poor Christa McAuliffe who once dreamed, like me, to see the globe of the earth all at once from a tiny window in a tin can in an infinite ocean of blackness.

"People can't just go to Australia. It's too far, too expensive. There's just no way." This is what my mom told me, thinking I would drop the subject.

Bullshit, I thought. I will go to Australia. I will go to Africa and then I will go FARTHER than Africa, and I will go to Australia if it's the last thing I do. I swear to god. And then my brow furrowed as a Myricks' might, and little 6 year old me learned, for the first time, what it felt like to have something to prove.

Cut to just over 13 years later and I'm staring at a box on the floor in Oregon having just pushed a small button on it's apex, and I'm realizing that that even if there was a light bulb inside you would never know it because this box bears no holes, no windows, no cracks--no way whatsoever for light to escape. For an instant, I was just staring at a box on the floor with a cord coming out of it that was completely hollow with a button on the top. And then the very next moment I was staring at a box with a functioning light bulb inside and wondered how you would ever know when to change it. A moment later it was empty again.

I can't help it, you guys. I'm curious. About everything. Once, when I was a kid, I burst into tears when I realized that it was impossible for me to ever see a real, live dinosaur, in the flesh. I cried once watching Star Trek when it occurred to me that it is set in a year when I would absolutely be dead. I hate that there are things that I don't know, and I hate it even more when I realize that I want to know something that I can never know.

You guys had dreams when you were kids, right? You wanted to be a fireman or have a baby or go to Yale or whatever. I toyed with a few things that maybe I would want to do when I grew up, but the only thing I was ever sure of was that I wanted to see everywhere there was to see. Everywhere.

Some days I wonder how I would have made the box--if it were me, would I have actually put a functioning light bulb inside? Just to do it? Yes. That would show everyone, I'll think, and then I wonder if it wouldn't be even more duplicitous to not put an actual bulb inside, but tell everyone that there was. Would people believe me if I told them that? What if I told them the truth, what then? Would they take my word that what I said was in the box actually was, or would they come to their own conclusions?

I have wondered what's inside that box at least a couple times a week since I saw it, but what really drives me crazy is wondering this: should I somehow get the opportunity, how long could I own that box and not destroy it to find out what's inside?

Or better yet, this: If I could ever somehow open it, would I be satisfied with its contents?

I'm scared, you guys. I'm scared it wont be what I've always thought it would be. I'm finally going; it's taken me 26 years but my plane lands in Melbourne on November 9th. But I've wanted this for so long that I've never, until now, just hours after having purchased a flight, taken the time to figure out exactly why I need to go so badly. Am I doing this for the right reasons?

When I was 17 some girlfriends and I crashed a party at a mansion in Medina, which, if you are unfamiliar, is Bill Gates' neighborhood. There were all these dudes there from all over the world, and once they found out about our relative youth, they all began to take turns trying to impart some sagely advice on us. One guy from Amsterdam told me, "Don't ever buy a motorcycle if you have something to prove."

Damn, I thought, I hella wanna go to Amsterdam.

--M

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