Last night around 11:00 I left my apartment and walked down John Street in the snow. A bus coming up the hill was spinning its rear tires, inching back and forth as it struggled to find purchase on the snow-dusted pavement. In the snow the colors of street lights pop more brilliantly and the white overlayer mutes the visual noise. The world simultaneously appears more obscured and more present.
For almost five years now I’ve maintained a sort of bohemian-bachelor-dad lifestyle. My children are in my care every other week, and I typically spend a few nights a week with my girlfriend who lives in another part of the city. In the gaps between these periods when I share my life with other people, I’m alone in a vibrant part of America’s fastest growing city. I venture out on late night walks, navigating reeling drunks and weather systems of cannabis smoke, overhearing conversations about the vagaries of courtships, amid faces lit by the rectangular glow of touchscreens.
Last night the snow drew Capitol Hill’s residents, every one of them appearing to be about thirty years old, from their condos and apartments to Cal Anderson Park. The lights of the play field formatted the falling snow into luminescent cones. An ad hoc snowball fight trembled on the verge of all-out, giddy eruption. Watching the laughing revelers I wondered if falling snow comforts us as a signal that the world has not yet warmed too much, that the remaining years of our lives might yet be played out on a planet that’s still inhabitable. Snow triggers in us a desire to play.
A snowball hit me on the shoulder and I whipped around to see the assailants, a laughing black man with his girlfriend, both bundled in a mishmash of REI and Etsy. I scooped a snowball to retaliate. My assailant taunted me with jazz hands and the provocation, “Oh yeah, you know I want it!” I aimed for the guy’s midsection and he caught my snowball one-handed. We laughed. “Thanks for playing, man!” he said, retreating into the night.
Without warning the lights around the field shut down and a great cry of disappointment went up among the snowball fighters. I walked the perimeter of the play field and stopped under a tree on 11th to absorb the scene. I indulged in a mental game that I play with myself more frequently these days. I imagine that someday, thanks to some future technology, I’ll be able to revisit memories with absolute clarity. In preparation, I try to make it a point to record certain scenes with as much fidelity as possible. I gaze into and inhabit a moment.
There’s the overhang of a leafless tree framing the scene. The apartment building on the other side of the field glows orange, and red Christmas lights in the shape of a conifer glow in the lefthand corner of the mental frame. People have turned into silhouettes, marked against the snow as if by the brush of a caligrapher. Their limbs and gestures stand out against the white. A woman appears to be humping a snowman. Laughter.
I walk home up streets named after men who once marveled at steam engines and telegraph lines. Reality itself seems to be rippling with disruptions as of late. I occasionally wear a piece of hardware that allows me to hover over a 3D computer rendering of my childhood home. Earlier in the day, before the snow started falling, I grabbed the sun and yanked it to the horizon, plunging a virtual earth into a star-stabbed cosmic night.
I’ve been thinking about how outrageous it seemed, in 1997, to read David Foster Wallace’s vision of a future in which the president of the United States was a lounge crooner. The news of the day is that our new president will continue on as producer for the reality TV show that made him a household name, now starring a man who played the Terminator and later became the governor of California.
We’re starting to feel untethered.
And yet there are still things that are achingly real. Moments when it’s possible to understand on some sub-mediated level that ours is world populated with humans drunk on cocktails of small gestures of kindness and troubled memories. We still connect. We still emerge from our homes to celebrate the falling of frozen water. We laugh with strangers in a city where artificial intelligence is beginning to open its multitude of eyes.
Somewhere in this city the palm of a human hand feels an ice cube that doesn’t exist. Lines of code scroll across a developer’s designer lenses. A joint is passed. Someones solves a quest and levels up, gaining new powers. Someone else presses his fatigued body onto a bus after cleaning an office building through which billions of dollars flow. Another someone with a family and a history crawls into her tent under the overpass. A poem, an orgasm, a regret, the inventory of a metropolis. Sirens in the distance. In the morning the snow will begin to melt.