Oh those men, those lives, those times, so fabled in song and story–a few stories, anyway, one or two songs; now they are mostly forgotten, but who were they and what made them do it? And what did doing it make them? Those sitter-outers of life. Those canny ostriches with their heads stuck in the soft sand of dreams while the earth changed and hardened around them. Those daring young men in their flannel pajamas. Sleepers we called them once, or VanWinkles, and once they did not mind such names. But eventually these labels struck one or more of them as derogatory. They lobbied the History Review Board to have it changed and an Official Correct Designation added to the Officially Corrected Records: Time Investors. It was a ridiculous title that could have meant anything and implied something dull and uninspired. It had the inevitable—perhaps intended—effect of letting the phenomena of them and their story fade quietly into the back pages of history the way obscure wars without good names or motives fade, the way soldiers without flamboyant deeds or costumes fade, the way everything and anything that can not be summed up and pitched in a few choice and catchy words will fade.
What do the yellowed ads in the museums say? “All the time you ever dreamed of!” “To sleep, perchance to dream…of being filthy rich!!” “Dream away your troubles…without dreams!!!” Of course, dreams were optional. Pay this or pay that much and be fed preprogrammed subconscious narratives of varying natures and genres or, by means of some device or another, have your dreams shut off completely. You closed your eyes and opened them again ten or twenty or fifty years later. Whatever you paid for. And wake up richer, your money, having been invested wisely and conservatively—or boldly, if you were willing to take that chance—by a team of professionals who only asked that 10% of your earnings be given to their company. With time on your side, your living expenses cut down to a bare minimum along with your life (you were frozen or gassed or whatever—the science of it varied from company to company, of course, and advanced with each new generation) how could you not get rich? How could you not play the market and win?
There was a board-game once that I remember playing with my Mom and sister when I was a child. An already antiquated game that Mom had bought at a second hand store, with a cardboard playing field instead of a glowing table-screen and plastic pieces instead of holographic icons (I credit mom with my lifelong interest in history and ephemeral; thanks Mom!) “Business World!” I think it was called. That, or “JackPot!” Or maybe “Wall Street!!” I do remember clearly that there was one square on the board that if you landed on it, you could double your “salary” for every turn you skipped. You sat there, letting all your opponents pass you by, taking their chances with all other squares on the board—earning “Lucky Lottery Tickets” or paying “Penalty Cards” or getting sucked into the labyrinth of “The Grand Jury”–while you quietly waited it out, seeing how long greed would keep. You fixed a sandwich in the kitchen or checked out what was showing on the TV Wall or read the TriHourly news. In the other room, your Mom and sister laughed and moved around the board.
I imagine being a Sleeper or a VanWinkle or even a Time Investor, as something like that– sitting things out, letting others play the game while you dreamt or didn’t.
And what a strange New World you woke up to. It must have been a disappointment to many; those people from the past with their quaint notions of a future composed of three-wheeled cars, colonies on Mars, monorails to the stars, etc. Imagine the letdown of waking up after your ten year nap and seeing instead the same cars that were new a decade ago, still driving around, but rusted now and belching blue smoke. To see the once sleek buildings of the past still there, but chipped around their stream-lined corners. So much has been repainted, refurbished, gracelessly added onto. Is it any wonder that the first generation of Sleepers had such a high-rate of “return engagements”? They woke up rich, well rested, but unsatisfied. Ten more years, they asked, as if hitting an epic-sized snooze button. (An historical allusion to alarm clocks of the past; forgive me my knowledge and obsession with all things long gone). Ten or twenty or fifty more years and let’s see how things look then.
It is easy enough for me to imagine the shock of waking up on the wrong day of this century or the last. Waking up to riots in the streets, gunshots (not laser blasts), human screams and inevitably thinking apocalyptic thoughts. It is the end of the world. I have slept too long and now all my money is worthless. I should have invested in goats, heavy sticks, rocks… Though really the riots were generally inconsequential and trivial at their root; cars overturned, buildings burned, people beaten in the street over what? The rise and fall of the dollar? The conviction of an innocent man? The release of a guilty one? A change in liquor laws? Imagine waking up in The Age of Discontent, The Age of Expansion, The Age of Contraction. Any one of a hundred Ages—some no more than a few days long—named grandly by historians with all the vigor and drama of frustrated science fiction writers. Named as if something new and unheard of was taking place, as if civilization was not an endless and repeating cycle of the same old things reoccurring, dressed up in different clothes and haircuts to give them the appearance of newness. Imagine if we named each passing season with same self-important, near-sighted fury: The Age of Growth, The Age of Sun, The Age of Turning Leaves, The Age of Cold.
I sometimes awake myself disoriented and confused. I look out the window by my bed and think: what is going on out there? What has changed? What is the same? Wingless airships scar the blue sky. The latest fashions shuffle by on moving sidewalks. A monorail squeals to a stop. It is no wonder so many Sleepers went back to sleep. I go back to sleep myself: for 10 or 20 or 50 more minutes. I will sleep perchance to dream, as the ads used to say. To dream or not to dream (another ad). One more hour and we will see how things are then.