The Day on which I Refused to Ever Get Old

We were sitting around the table in a small and trendy apartment in a large and sometimes trendy city. Everybody at the table had the inside-track on something – that’s what it’s like when you live in this type of city. It means, the conversation sometimes turns to various and sundry of the individuals among us doing things like spouting clever one-liners, and noddingly observing longer meaningful thoughts.

I don’t mean any disrespect by saying that – it’s just the way it seems to be in a community hyped-up on individuality and personal experience. I do it, too – I can spout one-liners with the best of them. It’s like tweeting your way through a dinner with friends. It’s very 21st-century, because it’s like everybody is a blogger.

We all blog, because we can – even when there’s no computer to listen to our thoughts.

We all blurt our comments to the folks in the room, hitting “submit” or “send” before thinking sometimes. Every once in a way a one-liner comes out of a thread of comments which is worth preserving. And since the community’s human memory is not what it used to be, it’s necessary for someone to take that one-liner and go convert it into proper and eternal tweet, status, or blog. That’s the purpose of this post – to let you and all of your children’s children know about what happened back in the “real world” at a specific moment in time.

He said this:

Your forties are all about getting used to pain.

And then it was gone. Somebody made a brief follow-up comment but then we were onto new sub-threads in the conversation and even some new topics posted into the urban wine-soaked air.

I held onto it, because I didn’t believe it.

Later that night I sent that bit of thought out into the permanent world of the digital social network. I put it in quotes – because it wasn’t my thought – but I didn’t specify the author.

Immediately I saw that it was one of the more popular blurts into our digital world that night. It got a bunch of follow-up comments – mostly likely that would die down soon as people went to sleep and by morning it would be forgotten. Nothing I’ve written has ever gone viral, and I didn’t expect this to – but it was definitely a good community discussion point. People could relate to it.

The responses ranged from all-knowing confirmations that, yes, aches and pains started in your forties and just continued on from there, to snarky exclamations like “Oh shit” from a thirty-year-old. One person injected that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes – you know, I mean that the conventional wisdom on this was in fact wrong. Overall, the responses were not very surprising to me.So there it  was in the larger community, in the digital world where it gets chewed over for a few moments before getting subsumed into the next day’s concerns. I often throw ideas like this out there in this way, to get a little perspective on them before moving on to a longer blog post (this one!).

Here’s the problem, for me: I don’t believe that your forties are all about getting used to pain. And it makes me sad that many people seem to think that’s what they are about.

One Train, One World

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge – Brooklyn to Staten ...
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge – Brooklyn to Staten Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We take the train together every day – it is our mobile city. Like the urban river of the car’s turnpike, the train’s mobile city carries, each day, the long list of people who wish or need to be someplace else: the else-folk.

I used to not be one of them. Now I am one of them.

I used to call them the else-folk, since they were the folks who always wished or needed to be, each day, in a place different from where they woke up, or different from where they ended their work day. Elsewhere.

The else-folk were the anti-villagers – the folks that neighborhoods existed in spite of, not because of. For the else-folk we built highways, turnpikes, roads, bridges, and also trains – light rail, commuter rail, regional rail – and also things like airports and mechanisms like customs agencies and big interconnected cultures that flit about between continents just as easily as we used to flit about between the streets of Brooklyn, or my hometown suburban village on Long Island.

We are all else-folk, of course, to greater or lesser extents nowadays. When being “else” is done for good reasons, it’s a great thing. But I never used to be one who was primarily else-ish, to the point where it consumed my home-self. Now I see the else-folk a bit differently, even more today as I realize that I have actually been one of them for nearly twenty years without truly feeling so.

It is the evening rush hour commute, and we live together in the train’s mobile city that is like a village to us – one that moves beneath us as we wish or need to be someplace else. We carry a part of the city with us on the train, the other half of our mobile city is contributed by the place we happen to be passing through at that moment. It changes.

The train glides, urbanely, like a mobile city across the special highway of tracks that were made just for it. All the tracks connect, via walking platforms and passageways, to other highways of tracks. You enter each part of this mobile system via a secret passageway – maybe a staircase that tourists can’t find very easily, or by turning down the right street in the center of town to find the giant hump of train track and waiting area which someone plopped down in the middle of the here-folk’s living village. You enter each part of this mobile system using secret swiping cards and small pieces of cryptically embossed paper that have meaning to the people who administer the else-town. The conductor snaps an odd pattern into your small piece of cryptic paper, and that means the paper can’t be used anymore, can’t take you to any other else-places.

There are rules. Not just the written ones but also the ones that talk about things like how full the train has to be before it’s okay to cram yourself too close to someone standing or sitting on their way to their else-destination. For example, if the train is mostly empty, you know that you should pick a seat alone, away from the others, where your elbows can be kept to yourself and not be jostling into someone’s ribs each time the mobile city bounces along its track. That’s a rule.

There are other rules, more like inferences. There’s the one about how you can tell when the entire system has suffered a catastrophic failure. Some days, the crowd is so thick and sluggishly vast that it seems there is no hope of getting to any place you wish or need to be. But there is often a subtle clue which tells you it is worth waiting a few minutes – relief is on the way and the natural laws of the mobile city will work their wonders and get everyone, delayed perhaps, to the else-place where they wish or need to be.

I notice that we all know these rules. Even with all the items in the long list of else-places we travel to each day in the long list of days in the year, we all know the rules of where we are. And when someone appears who does not, that person is quickly shepherded into the mobile city, if amenable, and joins the great vast ride to somewhere.

Or if that person shows resistance, talks quietly of things like individuality and wonderful things that we are missing to see from all the villages we pass, then that person gets consumed by the ways, the rules, the unified culture of the one train – one world. The mobile city and its people can do that. That’s one of the rules that is an inference.

We are all living in one world, together.  And when we all get to our else-place, we will still be home, as we have been all along.

Attack of the 3.14-Tier System

We are taught, in the schools of software development, computer science, and Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer, that programs, systems, what mortals may know as “applications”, should be designed and built as three tiers. It’s a famous notion, even covered in detail on the Wikipedia. Admittedly, the Wikipedia article talks about “n-tier” systems. Same difference. The point is, you got layers, well-defined, with harsh edges of interface between them. The nod to “n-tier” was probably just some overly-academic computer scientologist somewhere who decided that we gotta go general with this, make it abstract. I suppose sometimes you need more than three tiers.

How much more?

I was born in the World of network and system administration, and my native language is Windows point-n-click. If you’ve done that for a while, and then gone on to see other sorts of systems, you’ll probably agree that there isn’t much “tiering” going on in a typical Windows operating system. There’s bits of it, sure, but little bitty bits, I’d say. To be fair, it probably gets to feel like that in any sufficiently large computing system, eventually.
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