The Petrol Run

I was spending a Friday night at a cookout in Helensville, which those well-versed in the Auckland region know is about 45 minutes West of the city center. I usually carpool to these things, but for fairly uninteresting reasons I ended up driving myself to this one. As did my neighbor James, apparently. The important thing to know about James is that he doesn’t have a New Zealand cell phone. His wife does, but for some reason he didn’t bring it with him that night. It was a rainy, foggy, and generally unpleasant night, weather-wise.

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Mother’s Day, 2020

Growing up, my mother was always the glue that held our family together. She had the most consistent job, working as a teacher for essentially the entirety of my life up until this point (happy retirement, Mom!). She made dinner every night. She took care of my brother and I. She knew each of us — my dad, my brother, and me — and knew how to celebrate, how to console, how to inspire, how to nurture, how to love.

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Elysian Elegy

The song was twenty-three minutes and thirteen seconds long, and it stopped as abruptly as it began. The usual response after it ended was to continue staring in some vague, undefined direction for a few minutes more and then slowly begin moving again. There was something about the ineffable beauty of the sound that made it difficult to return to the mundane world. But the real mystery was really the song itself, because after listening to it nobody could recall anything about the melody, and some weren’t sure there was indeed a melody at all.

One morning a sound engineer had walked into the studio to find a CD sitting in a jewel case on his desk. It was a regular CD that looked like it had been created using a personal computer. Since he had some time before anything important happened, he popped it into one of the many players lying around and began to listen. Like a man recovering from a trance, he looked around to find the CD at the end of its single track and half an hour gone from the clock. And, as if coming from a dream, he felt the last wisps of some sublime, ethereal memory tugging at his mind, tempting him with a beauty he had never before encountered. He ran the CD through the sound system and rerecorded the song onto one of the studio’s gold master CDs, leaving the result on the desk of the studio’s owner and keeping the original for himself. By the end of the day the studio had sent the CD off to be copied an unprecedented forty million times with instructions that the copies were to be given away for free to as many people as possible.

Nobody really knows how the song got the title “Elysian Elegy,” but the simple assonance and hints at subtle beauty seemed so appropriate that nobody tried to invent a better one. After the initial distribution it went over file-sharing networks and was copied more times than perhaps any song in history. Some skeptics suggested that the CD actually contained subliminal messages to somehow reprogram listeners and encourage them to listen again. These opinions vanished after the naysayers listened themselves, though, as it seemed that anyone who had come in direct contact with the Elegy could not ascribe anything sinister or impure to it. The song seemed to bring a small amount of pure, untainted happiness to a dim, mortal world. But though it might seem that the listener’s surroundings would seem all the duller by contrast, the usual effect of the song was to inspire and uplift. People began to volunteer for charity work in previously unseen numbers, and donations to churches and mosques and temples of all kinds increased. It was as though upon hearing the elusive strains one was inspired to make at least a small fraction of that happiness visible on Earth.

The origin of that first CD continued to be a mystery. There were suggestions that it was placed by an angel or brought down by a more advanced race who wanted to turn humanity into a peaceful people before making contact. Nobody guessed that the CD came from an amateur astronomer who had been looking at data on the background radiation of the universe. He had some strange ideas about ways to convert the radiation waveforms into an audio stream. After several unsuccessful attempts which produced nothing but static or random garbage, his filtering program came out with something that looked like a real, audible file. He played the file, and thirty-five minutes later when his wife came into the room she saw him bent over in his chair, tears running down his face, saying “the universe is singing!”

The Crowdsourced Map

When I was first visiting New Zealand, before I ended up moving there, I took a ferry across Waitemata Harbour to go to Devonport. I have enjoyed every trip I’ve taken to Devonport, and at various times I took my girlfriend (now wife) and my parents (still my parents) there, and they enjoyed it as well. But this was my very first visit, so I was just getting the lay of the land.

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Big Time Scramble

When I was in second grade (about 8 years old), my best friend James and I had a game we’d play called Big Time Scramble. When we were going somewhere as a class and the door was closing in front of us, we wouldn’t grab the door, we’d try to run through it without touching it. While you were running through it you would say “Big Time Scramble!”, and the closer the door was to fully closing when you went through, the cooler you were.

One day we were walking back to our classroom. I had already gone through the door and James decided to go for a Big Time Scramble. He barely made it through, but the door closed in the face of the girl behind him. She told the teacher that he shut the door in her face and James got a talking to. I don’t think anything else came of it, but we stopped playing Big Time Scramble after that.

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