Friday, November 12, 2010

Vincent (Starry Starry Night)

Here I sit, in a hotel room in Cabo San Lucas. I'm here for 3 days for work, and sipping tequila while watching the Simpsons. Very sophisticated, I know.

It's an episode where Lisa discovers her love for astronomy, and when she knocks the power out in the whole city, everyone is able to see a meteor shower that would otherwise be invisible.

The strangest thing happens: when the meteors start falling, a song plays in the background. Don McLean's "Vincent (Starry Starry Night)".

Instantly I'm transported back to 2nd grade. Westwood Elementary, room 6, Mrs. Garbus.

As if it were yesterday, I remember sitting in 2nd grade watching a slideshow about Vincent Van Gogh. This is long before the days of digital projectors, and the presentation is made with a film strip carefully loaded into a projector. An audio cassette is loaded into a corresponding player, and at the cue of the distinguished "BOOOOP" noise, the film advances to the next frame. The original projectors were completely manual - you hit a button to advance the film - and the next generation advanced on their own. If one was good, he/she earned the honor of loading the film, and was responsible for advancing the film when cued.

I remember loading the film. Hitting the buttons. That song. That Starry Starry Night song, playing in the background with the film projecting from a desktop onto a collapsible screen.

I haven't thought of that for years. How many I can't tell you, but it's been a long, long time. Yet one trigger - this song - brings it back with such clarity and intensity.

This makes me think two things: 1. the workings of memory are fascinating - how many other memories are locked in there, waiting for their cue to pop back into the front of my mind? And 2. If I tried to explain to my young cousins what a filmstrip presentation is, with an audio cassette playing the soundtrack, they'd look at me like I'm on crack - there are so many things that were instrumental parts of my childhood that are completely foreign to anyone young today.

I suppose the latter is always true - things that my parents grew up with are completely antiquated now. Or even when I was a kid. Radio programs, vs. TV. Baseball cards in your bicycle spokes. Etc.

So I think about the things that I know so well, that would baffle my cousins. The Dewey Decimal system - the idea of endless drawers of index cards, whose sole purpose is to tell you where to find a BOOK in the isles of a library. The sound a modem makes when you log into a BBM or internet service provider - why would you have to CALL to connect?? I can remember having to yell at my mom when she'd pick up the phone to make a call, and I could hear her through the modem. I knew that I'd be knocked offline in about 3 seconds.

How many of these things are there? Things that were just part of life; absolutes that one accepts and absorbs.

Now of course, my cousins read about these antiquated objects and concepts on their iPads, while wandering about in sprawling WIFI coverage, simultaneously chatting and streaming the latest episode of Glee.

Perhaps 20 years from now they'll have the same nostalgia about iPads, when some (then) vintage pop music plays on a primetime cartoon.

Streaming, of course, probably to their cell phone or watch, or something else that hasn't even been invented yet.

But at least tequila will still be around. Hopefully.