Short on Time - March, 2032
Geoffrey Miller - Cli-Fi
‘Jim, we’re going to have to make it quick today. I’m running low on time today’. I called out as I swung my bag into the trunk and sat down into the passenger seat.
‘Well have you ever run out of it?’
‘Time. Have you ever run out of time?,’ He glanced over briefly.
‘No but that’s not what I- ‘. I was interrupted by a burst of laughter. I know few people who laugh as openly at their own jokes as Jim. You’d always know if Jim were happy with a joke he’d made; the whole room would.
‘Listen, I haven't seen you for seven years and now you’re telling me you can’t wait to get out of here? How’d you even talk me into this?’ He masked his exasperation with humour. It stumped me. I knew it had been a while but I had no idea it was seven. I hadn’t seen any of my college friends in seven years; they’d never seen my concrete jungle life firsthand and I haven’t been home since my first promotion five years ago.
‘Shit, seven years? Really? I guess that makes sense, I guess I could never find the time.’
‘Again, can you ever turn time off?’ He gave me a cautious glance, the way you’d look at a Doctor before receiving a diagnosis, uncertain.
‘You know what, forget I said anything. It’s always a joy to see your face Sam. Even if it is just a few hours.’
With that, he switched on the silent engine, engaged his auto-drive and the car sped off.
The drive to Charleston was colourful. Two long hours of sprawling forests in either direction, green as far as the eye can see, the lingering scent of wisteria and tobacco. I spent the better part of the drive circumnavigating leading questions about my health and dating life. I had little to report on both. Jim would intermittently glance over to read my face as I spoke.
I didn’t mind it. One thing I learned early on with Jim is that he’ll never assume the worst until you give him reason to. I guess it made it easy to be honest with him. He’d always find the truth one way or another so eventually I developed the habit of leading with it.
Though there was something oddly self-indulgent about seeing Jim again.
Aside from a thicker beard, it seemed like very little about Jim’s life had changed. He lived in the same neighbourhood, dated the same girl, had the same job and still spent every Sunday morning strolling up and down Pawleys Island with a garbage bag and metal detector.
It made me realise just how far I’d come. I left a scrawny graduate and now I drive a Mercedes. I left with big dreams lacking plans and now I make more than my parents.
Oddly self-indulgent. I never thought to mention that.
As we pulled up to the event, I was first struck by the disconnected scene before me. Hundreds of people, most holding signs, were scattered around the front of a small wooden building.
‘No more tyranny’, ‘End home safety mandates’, ‘My house, my choice’, the signs read.
That must be the community centre, I thought. The brief had warned of some backlash to the event, but I never anticipated a crowd like this. I didn’t know the town even had this many residents.
The assignment was straightforward, an interview with community representatives, one soundbite for tomorrow’s morning show and to ‘avoid getting shot down there’. My Boston born-and-bred boss had clearly never crossed the Mason Dixon.
He’d promised this would be the last environmental assignment I’d get for a while. He knew it wasn’t why I got into journalism. Well, after the third time I said it, he did.
I tuned out most of the speeches. I got my soundbite early on:
‘This is no longer optional. Smart Flood and Hurricane Protection Systems must be made mandatory on ALL our houses’.
It wasn’t news to me. I’ve covered six of these across the country this year. It didn’t matter, I got what I needed, recorded the interview, and made for the nearest bar.
‘Jim, two quick beers, a whiskey to wash it down and we hit the road back to the airport? What do you say? There’s no time to waste.’
I was midway through my first beer already, checking the flight schedule with the other hand.
‘You’re kidding me.’ Jim stood still, defeated, as if he’d just been hit with bird poo.
‘I told you. This week is super busy for me,’ I offered.
‘I guess I just didn’t realise I was wasting your time.’ It was rare that Jim spoke this soberly, ‘I’ll tell you one thing though, there’s no point in us keeping in touch if I won’t see you for seven damn years again.’
I left the words on the table to rot, shocked to realise how rude I’d been. We’d been friends for 15 years. I really just didn’t think he’d mind.
‘Well have you still got that guest bedroom?’ I asked, finally.
‘I got ‘im!’ I heard out of nowhere. ‘Oooh he’s a big boy this one. Quick come give me a hand!’
Jim had been fishing off the back of the boat for a few hours now. What I mean by that is that he’d been laying back, hat perched on his face and half-finished beer nestled in his arms for at least an hour now. I took the opportunity to explore the peninsula we’d dropped the anchor next to. Jim had woken me up with demands for a day on the boat. I was in no position to argue, so we loaded up on beer and sandwiches and drove out to northernmost beach on the island.
It felt remote. We were alone on the beach and I found myself visually combing through the sand and forests for little knickknacks. We used to spend our summers competing to find the largest conch shell and racing to find enough stray clothes for a full costume then throwing the pieces at each other when we gave up. Somehow, we always seemed to be a shirt or sock short.
After wrestling with the line for a few minutes, Jim sighed, pulled out his switchblade and cut the line. He sat hunched over, fingertips together for a few seconds, as if in deep thought.
‘Probably a shark. We had no chance’, he called to the shore. Snapping out of his pose and already shirtless, he jumped in the water and swam over to meet me. Without thinking, I had started tracing out the human shape in the sand and placing items of clothing.
‘Two single shoes, a ripped shirt, a cap and a pair of shorts with only one leg…’ I was nearly there.
‘Hey why are you always looking for man made objects whenever we come out here? You used to do it all the time too.’ Jim stood with his shadow hanging over the outline, hands on his waist, inspecting my progress.
‘Ahh, I don’t know. I guess it just reminds me that other people have been out here too.’ I offered, unsure whether I agreed with myself.
‘Is that enjoyable?’
That question puzzled me. I’d never thought about it, so I offered no response.
‘Sorry. I guess I just find it strange to come out here’, he motioned around him, ‘and only look for things that don’t belong here.’
I bit into a fingernail, thinking.
‘Well I mean you never know what you’ll find so it can be exciting. I don’t know. I don’t think I really see the value in this’, I motioned too, ‘as much as I did when I lived here.’
‘Value it? Is someone trying to sell it or something? Why would you need to value it?’ Jim latched onto the phrase. ‘Let me ask you, do you have a value for living in a city with 20 million people? Not your apartment, I mean do you value being on a busy street?’
‘No?’ I didn’t get it.
‘Well why do you feel compelled to ‘value’ this? It’s an environment you exist within, not an experience you can sell.’
‘Man I just don’t really have the time to get out here anym-‘, I started.
He cut me off. ‘You and your goddamn time again. Sam, you talk like you’ve only got 24 hours left, “I’m short on time”, “I’m wasting time”. For someone so vehemently anti-corporate America, you sure as hell seem comfortable in it. Unless you’ve changed your tone about it since we last spoke.’’
He let that line really sink in. I sat down. He’s not wrong, I thought. He sat down.
Finally, a little more gently, he offered.
‘Just because you have to exist in their system doesn’t mean it has to become yours.’
This piece was motivated by our recent interview with Prof. Nancy Roach from Parsons School of Design. If you haven’t already, you can read and/or listen here.
Written by Geoffrey Miller, photos by Emily Noelle Morabito
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