I was mowing my lawn a few weeks ago, at the edge of my property, when I spied a car coming down the block. It was a sunny day, and as I looked up at the approaching vehicle I was momentarily blinded by it. At first I wasn’t sure what had happened, other than a silver flash from the windshield had left me sightless for about two seconds. As the car got closer I realized what it was. There was a most glorious and impressive array of CDs spread across the driver’s sun visor. There had to be about forty of them, extended in perfect circular symmetry, reflecting the sun’s magnificence and frying the eyes of every driver who happened to be going in the opposite direction.
This was the height of convenience for the modern music lover, if by modern I was speaking about the year 1992. It meant there was a CD player in the dashboard, which played them one by one, and not a six-disc changer in the trunk, even. It seemed like such a weird throwback. Had the driver not heard about digital and streaming music? I couldn’t have been more surprised if the car was towing an old Wurlitzer jukebox with a gramophone horn extended from the speaker, blasting the hottest hits of the forties and seventies, everything from Glenn Miller to more recent acts like England Dan and John Ford Coley. I suddenly wanted to climb into the car to see what other odd relics I could dig up, like a glove compartment full of badly folded maps from Triple A. Maybe there was a boxy television plugged into a potato battery in the back with a groaning video cassette recorder so the kids could watch the pile of VHS tapes scattered about the floor of the backseat.
As luck would have it the guy slowed up his ’88 Pontiac LeMans and stopped in front of me. His window was already rolled down and he was shirtless, which meant no air conditioning. He asked me for directions to the tobacco shop. He had heard there was a shortcut through the neighborhood, which there was, which also meant he had no GPS. What really got me thanking the universe for this odd encounter was that he was wearing a pair of old Ferrari brown-tint sunglasses, the collapsible kind with the classy leather case. The glasses were situated right above a broad, blond, porno mustache.
I approached the smooth eighties time traveler and pointed him around the corner to the cigar shop. He had just moved into the neighborhood, he said, and was still getting a feel for the place. Awesome.
“My name is Chad. They call me Hanging Chad.”
“Of course they do.”
“Because my name is Chad and I hang.”
“I was the bass roadie for the Atlanta Rhythm Section years ago.”
I told him I’d see him around, and as these things go, I began to see Chad everywhere. I was a victim of what is known as the Baader-Meinhof syndrome, in which something that you never notice becomes something you constantly notice once you notice it.
Hanging Chad at the coffee shop. Hanging Chad at the burger place. Hanging Chad in line at the bank. Hanging Chad driving backwards down the block to the mechanic because his car was stuck in reverse.
Chad was providing a refreshing counterpoint to the news about Mark Zuckerberg and Cambridge Analytica and the whole defense of data trading and exploitation. Chad did not have an on-line profile. Indeed he thought Facebook was another name for a criminal’s mugshot. And concerning the need for privacy Chad remonstrated, “If you don’t want somebody to know something, you don’t fucking tell them.”
Hanging Chad was getting along in the neighborhood quite nicely. That is until the day I ran into him at our neighborhood tobacco shop up on Lawrenceville Highway. I had gone in to buy a tin of Arturo Fuente cigarillos and found him castigating the girl at the register.
“Can you believe this woman?” Chad said to me. “Here I am paying by credit and she didn’t even check to see if the signature I provided on the receipt is the same as the signature on the back of my card.”
“There’s a chip in the card, sir,” said the salesgirl. “Nobody checks signatures anymore.”
Chad started to panic. “But how will you successfully detect a fraudulent purchase? Here, here. Look at this signature. It is a work of art. Notice the initial flourish. The loop and whorl. The way the ‘d’ leans to the right, real cool, like it doesn’t have a care in the world!”
“Haven’t you heard? They are doing away with all that signature stuff.”
Chad was outraged. He took his credit card back and stuffed it into his wallet right above, I noticed, a sleek white card with a gold border that said, “Playboy Club and Casino. Member since 1978.”
“Playboy Club, eh?” I said.
“I was a big wheel in Vernon, New Jersey. That was one of my hangouts back in the day.” Chad’s eyebrows bounced up and down on his forehead in an effort to convince me how impressive it all was.
I hesitated to tell him that his beloved club had closed around 1982. Chad looked defeated enough, knowing that the world was going into technological overdrive right before his Ferrari, brown-tinted, sunglass-covered eyes.
“Care to join me in a glass of cheap scotch and a badly rolled cigarette?” he offered. I agreed and we adjourned to the outside of the cigar shop where there was a little sampling area set up.
We spoke of the nature of things. How no longer, as in days gone, could the intrepid explorer go digging into unknown tracts of land looking for oil, or bauxite, or precious metals. The landscape of opportunity in this day and age is microscopic. It is the collapsing inward of the great ranges and plateaus of the world. It is the data miner. It is the nanotechnologist. It is the microbiologist working to unlock the protein codes of genetic recognition. Not a very sexy lifestyle.
After the cigarettes had burned down Chad got up to go. I suspected that I may have seen the Pontiac LeMans roar off for the last time. He was heading in a different direction than we were. That place in the past when everything made sense.
More Alembics to come.