Went to a Birthday Party


My son Daniel turned twelve last week. We had my twelve-year-old self over for some cake. He was glad to come. February, 1982, was a cold month, even as February goes in Chicagoland. He was half a head shorter than Daniel and his gap-toothed smile didn’t have as big of a gap as Daniel’s did. Otherwise, they looked a lot alike. They were both skinny with long straight hair. They looked like a pair of blond Q-Tips, dressed in similar T-shirts, jeans and sneakers.

Daniel was excited. “Welcome to the future!” he exclaimed. Twelve-year-old Bob looked around the living room. It didn’t look much different than the one he’d left at home in 1982 except for the colors (or lack thereof). Daniel ushered him up the stairs to his room.

“I like your television. It’s flat,” said Bob. Daniel laughed.

“That’s not my television. That’s my computer,” he said. “I don’t have a TV in my room.”

“That’s the opposite of me,” replied Bob. “I have a TV in my room, but the computer is in the den.” Daniel sat down and turned it on. They watched the status line cycle under the Windows XP logo.

“It’s kind of slow,” said Bob after a few moments. “My TRS-80 turns on immediately.” Suddenly, the screen turned a sickly shade of blue with strings of command code. Daniel sighed and turned it off.

“It crashed,” he said. “I hate when it does that.”

“I know what you mean,” said twelve-year-old Bob. “Sometimes I’ll be loading a program and I’ll get the C-star error up in the top corner of the screen. That means there’s something wrong with the cassette.”

“Cassette?” asked Daniel. “I thought you used those for music.”

“I have a bunch of music cassettes,” said Bob. “But I also have them for the computer.”

Daniel nodded. “That’s like our CD’s,” he said. He showed twelve-year-old Bob a silvery disc. Bob was impressed it was played with a laser.

“That’s more like it,” he said with a smile. “Very Star Trek.”

“You watch that too?” asked Daniel. “I like that show. Do you have Doctor Who in 1982?”

“Sure,” said twelve-year-old Bob. “Every Sunday night. Is it still on the air? What regeneration is he on now?”

“Eleventh,” said Daniel.

“Wow.”

Meka called them to come downstairs. We were expecting twelve-year-old Meka, but apparently it was too hard for her to get from Michigan in 1987. It wasn’t like she could ride her bike. Twelve-year-old Bob sat down with Daniel at the kitchen table, enormous slabs of cake on their plates. They talked about rockets they had launched and movies they had made.

“We used a web cam to make my Penguinzilla movie last year,” said Daniel.

“What’s ‘web’ mean?”

Daniel explained the Internet. Twelve-year-old Bob nodded. “We have Bulletin Board Systems,” he said. “My friend Greg got a modem for his computer. Last year I sent an e-mail to NASA to get information on the Space Shuttle program.”

“That’s cool,” said Daniel. “We don’t have the Space Shuttle anymore.” He glanced over at forty-one-year-old Bob accusingly, adding, “And I’m not allowed to have e-mail yet.”

They ate cake until their mouths were coated in blue and yellow from the thick buttercream frosting. After some pop (orange Jarritos and Coca Cola from a glass bottle), they sat together on the couch in the family room. Daniel showed off his new XBOX 360. Twelve-year-old Bob complained there were too many buttons on the controller.

“You know how many buttons David’s Atari has?” he asked. “One. That’s easy to remember.” I could commiserate. Twelve-year-old Bob pressed “B” instead of “A” and watched in dismay as his avatar on the screen stumbled blithely into some fatal situation. Daniel played a bit more and then shut the game off. The sun was setting. It was getting time to go.

“How’d you like the future?” asked Daniel.

Twelve-year-old Bob looked around and nodded a few times. Daniel echoed the move. “It’s not what I expected exactly,” he said. “Did you know the world was supposed to end in a month?” asked Bob. “All the planets are going to be on one side of the sun in March and it’s supposed to cause big earthquakes.”

“A guy said that the world was going to end back in May, but it turned out he made a mistake,” said Daniel. “I think it’s supposed to happen in October now.”

“Do you really believe that?” asked Bob. Daniel shook his head.

“No, but there are terrorists nowadays,” said Daniel. “And global warming.”

“We worry about nuclear war,” said Bob. “Someone presses a button and we’re all gone in a flash of light.”

There was a moment of silence.

“But I’m not worried about it now,” said twelve-year-old Bob. “I’m glad you invited me.”

Daniel opened the front door and held it open for him.

“Maybe you can come back when I turn thirteen,” he said. “Assuming the world doesn’t end in 2012 like the Mayans predicted.”

“I think it will be fine,” said twelve-year-old Bob. “If you want to make sure, invite your thirteen-year-old son along next year. We’ll all have a blast.”

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