Saturday, January 29, 2011

Important People

A short story:

I met him once. I didn't know he would become the most influential man in the modern world order. I honestly didn't even know I had met him.

I was cleaning out my attic the other day. Amongst the dusty boxes that fill every suburban house were a couple from my college days. Things such as old typewritten reports, badly xeroxed pamphlets, the odd handwritten note, and a couple of old letters about student loans. It was a poor collection of my wilder youth; I am not sure what I was trying to save in those papers. In one of the folders, a picture fell out. It was me at the banks of the river with two of my best friends. One would become my wife, the other would aimlessly drift through his twenties, eventually settling into an unhappy desk job with an overbearing wife. The sun was glaring into the camera and our faces were slightly blurred. My future wife was pushing me into the water while my other friend looked on in slight disgust at our flirtatious behavior.

I slipped the picture into my pocket, a gift for when she got home. Two if a clean attic—a task she had been nagging about for months—counted as another. I then proceeded to actually clean the attic. I opened the dormer window, let in a cool spring breeze and separated the boxes into keepers and tossers. It was an arduous task; taking the souvenirs from 18 years of independent living and categorizing them by importance. The difficulty was compounded by the number of items that were my wife's. I really could not explain why she kept all her old sun dresses. They were more large floral patterns in terrible colors and outdated styles than they were anything wearable. I supposed that she wanted to use them as spare material for patching up any clothes our two young children wore—abused. I set them aside in a pile designated, “she can figure it out” and continued working. By three, my lungs had filled with dust and the attic was more or less clean.

There was enough space to put the frame of my oldest child's twin bed--the top bunk in a set--in the attic; another artifact of growing up. We had recently purchased a full-sized bed for our oldest daughter, something she insisted be, “pretty and practical.” I laughed at the thought that a 7 year old would know practical, but we eventually settled on a sturdy minimalist frame and pink sheets with butterflies—something she believed, and I hoped, she would never grow out of.

As I lugged up portions of the twin frame to their new resting place, I tipped over one of my college boxes. I swore to myself, set the frame down, and stooped to pick up the contents. As I hastily scooped every bit up, an old assignment fell out. It was a series of interviews I had done with students about current issues at the time. It was a 101 course containing open-ended questions to test our interviewing abilities. The writing was bad, the attached handwritten notes were even worse. It was a B plus nonetheless and I thought I could smile a bit if I just read through one. I skipped to the notes I had scribbled during my interviews and saw something peculiar. One of those I had talked to was now the leader of the World Economic Integration Committee.

Effectively more influential and powerful than the president of the United States, the WEIC head controlled and maintained all capital flows in the world. No army could go to war without his approval, no one could be fed, no one could buy or sell without him having some say in it. He had pushed through the adoption of a world currency and countries were steadily ceding much political power to him to maintain their struggling governments.

I knew he had attended the same college as me. He was a senior when I was a freshman, I could never have known at that point. I looked at the notes; I had completely forgotten that I had even met him. Nothing important about the notes, his perspective on the issues seemed particularly well informed, but nothing out of the ordinary. I scanned the page for a meaningful connection; something to show that I had seen greatness before me. The quotes were mundane.

I strained to remember the conversation. We were in an almost empty cafe. It was late at night, the end of the semester. I was scrambling to get the essay done before my presentation and he had graciously given me an hour and a half of his time. I was nervously sipping on a cup of coffee hoping that it would somehow give me the brain power to wrap my head around calculus. During the interview my head was in another place. He was just a quote log to finish up a lame essay for a boring class.

The next week I would be done with my first semester and back home to my girlfriend. This was far before my wife. She was a pug-nosed girl with a lilting voice, something that simultaneously drove me up a wall and made me deeply devoted to her. Visions of our very awkward first sexual experiences flooded my brain. It was the first month of college, she came to visit, and my room mate had gone to a concert two towns over. I took out the free condom the RA's had passed out during orientation. It was a short affair, first times always seem to be that way. We held each other on the twin bed, and fell asleep naked.

Our relationship quickly devolved after that first semester; sometimes distance is too much. I can't say I didn't expedite the process. I found my current wife at a party where I didn't know anyone promptly after the break-up. It was my attempt at getting out into the world. She walked me home after too many drinks; I remember formally introducing myself in between dry heaves over the toilet bowl. Something must have been endearing about my sincere apologies, profuse thank yous, and off-kilter non-sequiturs. We ran into each other several times until I found myself entwined in her life, a partner in crime. Drunken trespasses onto the tops of buildings, inane competitions, and late nights doing nothing.

I drifted back to the cafe. As I interviewed the future WEIC Head, my mind was traveling to the post-finals future. I mechanically walked through the interview questions, dutifully wrote what he said, and took his signature to verify his statements.

I trudged forward with my bewildered life. College was overwhelming. When I met my future wife, I was happy to become part of the chaos instead of fighting it. The first night I kissed her we had filled up on cheap vodka and found ourselves enjoying the view from the roof of the history museum. A security guard yelled at us and we quickly bolted. In the midst of climbing the chain link fence, I knew my wife was great; that we would be great. Back in her room we collapsed in fits of laughter. We fell asleep on her floor in our clothes.

As the late afternoon sun lit up the dust particles, I finished reading through the professor's notes. Sloppy research, wandering paragraphs, strong thesis—all unremarkable. I kept trying to see his face, hear his voice. Nothing came. I wasn't really paying attention at the time. Who was he? All I could remember was a light blue sweater and a short dusky blond haircut. He was put together—probably.

I took another look at the interview notes, smiled, and put the paper into the box. I had the WEIC Head's autograph, a snapshot of another time. I put the rest of the papers away, closed the window, and walked downstairs to greet my wife. The attic had been an adventure, and she would surely love the picture of the us at the river.