Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Clash of the Titans

A few years ago, while we were idling away the second shift, a co-worker asked the room for ideas of "the perfect day." The question was not asked in earnest and neither were the answers to be taken seriously. One person imagined, for example, having three meals of bacon, then bacon for dessert. Another drew from his memories of going to Round Table Pizza after school and playing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game with his best friend. Er, come to think of it, maybe that one was not a joke. As for me, I had plenty of time to think while listening to others answer before me. Even so, this was what I came up with:

"I wake up early, but it's not a workday. I don't even have a job. Birds are chirping outside. I walk to the kitchen, pour out a glass of orange juice, sit down and take in the acres of meadow outside my glass house. THEN THE DAY GOES ON FOREVER AND SO DO I."

The response was tepid, maybe because they weren't taking that last bit literally, or maybe because they were but thought I was serious. Maybe it was my delivery. Or maybe it just wasn't very funny.

I didn't think much further about the question after that, until recently, when the release of the Liam Neeson Clash of the Titans called to mind a day that, in retrospect, may have been my perfect day.

I was in elementary school in the fourth grade. It was a Tuesday, meaning it was a minimum day, meaning school let out before lunch. The day began with some fun math activities, followed by social studies and spelling. During the short recess in between, I took a lap around the grass field, afterward feeling quite satisfied with myself. To end the school day, our teacher turned the lights down and read to us from Roald Dahl's The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. Then my mother drove me home and prepared my lunch, a bowl of rice porridge and some canned dace. While I ate, she worked outside on the yard. My older brother was still in his junior high class and my father was at work. For all intents and purposes, I had the next two hours all to myself.

I turned on the TV. TBS was playing the Harryhausen Clash of the Titans. It was not my first time seeing it; the battle with the stop-motion Medusa had shaped my childhood understanding of Greek mythology.

As it so happened, the TBS airing was about at that scene as I tuned in. It wasn't the most exciting development in the world, but I was content to let myself become absorbed in it once more. Finishing my meal quickly, I made my way to the couch to continue watching it through to the end with rapt attention. Following the movie, TBS ran an episode of The Flintstones. It was the one where Gazoo created mindless doubles of Fred and Barney, so that the boys could go bowling while their doubles took the unsuspecting wives out. Naturally I stayed tuned to the channel.

And that was my perfect day.

Kind of.

For one thing, while all of those memories are real and taken from the same period of my life, I highly doubt they could have all landed on the same day. Surely this perfect day is actually a composite of perfect moments from different days. Nevertheless, these memories are generally characteristic of my daily life then.

Second, those paying close attention probably noticed that my perfect day seemingly ends at about 2:30 PM. Honestly, I haven't a clue how I spent the rest of that day (any of them). Of course, not one of my co-workers actually detailed the whole of their perfect day. I think this just goes to show that the 24-hour day is somewhat an arbitrary unit for this discussion. A lifetime made up of such perfect days as mine would be pretty empty. But if I could have only one day, that is how I would spend it.

Finally, and most importantly, what's weird is that rice porridge and canned dace are not at all my favorite foods. I haven't seen Clash of the Titans again since then, and I'm not sure I could make it through a full viewing today. I haven't even seen any episodes of The Flintstones in over a decade, and I have no great desire to watch any now. And while I suppose I did enjoy school back then, I might have hoped that my ultimate day would have consisted of something more exciting and adventurous.

Looking back at the workplace discussion, I think the key is that everyone, even the guy who joked about eating bacon, described wholly stress-free episodes isolated from any context. In the same vein, my own case takes me back to my childhood free of distractions or complications, to a time when I could spend my day accomplishing nothing yet feeling at liberty to do anything. The attraction is obvious once I consider how, in my present life, I am routinely wondering where my day went for entirely different reasons. Whatever I am doing at any given time, I cannot help thinking about the things I am not doing with that time ticking by. When I watch TV, I think I should be playing video games. When I play video games, I think I should be exercising. When I exercise, I think I should be writing. I wish the day could be longer for me to do more stuff, but maybe I just need to have less stuff to do.

No, I haven't seen the new Clash of the Titans with Liam Neeson. It does look like the sort of fare that would be at home at a daytime TBS slot, if such things still exist.

1 comment:

Czardoz said...

Perhaps your co-worker had City Slickers on the brain when he asked the question. To my mind, that’s the most well-known example of the Grail-like questing for the “perfect day.” I don’t remember the whole series of discussions on the topic, but I think by the end of the movie, Billy Crystal lamely suggests that being in the car with his wife and kids was his perfect day. I guess in some perverse way, that is an example of your “stress-free” vision of what makes a perfect day, as opposed to the “exciting and adventurous” stuff that we tend to want.

You should read Walden, if you haven’t already. Thoreau doesn’t look like a particularly happy dude in the photographs, and it’s not like he didn’t hold regular jobs, but I bet you he had plenty of perfect days, stress-free, “at liberty to do anything” (which is the backbone of his belief system).

Personally, I don’t believe in perfect days. You hinted at it, but I firmly believe that the 24-hour day is meaningless for describing perfection. I believe that life is lived in moments. Like you said, when you look back at 4th grade, or even if you looked back four weeks ago, you probably couldn’t remember days as a whole. What we remember are the moments.