By Michael Landweber
In honor of my new book, Thursday 1:17 p.m., in which the world freezes at, wait for it, Thursday at 1:17 p.m., I decided to take a look back at the key moments in my life that happened at that exact minute through the years. In the novel, there is only one teenager still moving in a world where everyone is frozen in a giant diorama. As far as I know this has never happened. Of course, since I subscribe to the James Frey school of memoir, I wouldn’t count on anything that follows actually having happened either.
So here are …
The (More or Less But Probably Less True) Autobiographical Events that Happened to Me on Thursdays at 1:17 p.m.
Thursday 1:17 p.m. – May 21, 1970
I’ve been alive for about five days and it dawns on me that I’m a baby. A totally useless baby. There are all these people around me doing stuff, awesome stuff, like walking and talking and picking things up with their hands. I’m not even sure I have hands. I know I can’t even move unless someone picks me up. With their hands! This is horrible. Why have I been cursed with such a useless body and a meaningless life? The angst of it all overwhelms me. I do the one thing I know I’m good at. I cry, railing against the injustice of this cruel world. One of the big people with the useful hands picks me up and changes my diaper. That helps.
Thursday 1:17 p.m. – September 21, 1972
I see my opportunity when Mom goes to the bathroom. I hurry over to the magic box in the corner of the living room. My parents call it a TV. It shows me pictures that move. When it is on, I find it hard to blink. I pull out the knob that turns it on. The screen flickers to life. The volume nearly blasts me off my feet. Thinking quickly, I turn dials randomly until the sound disappears. But so has the picture. Only black and white static remains. This is not going as planned. Think, damnit, think. My parents say I’m not supposed to watch too much TV. I just wanted a quick fix, man. I turn another knob with numbers on it, click, click, click. 7, 8, 9. Yes, nine! There is a picture there. It is two people kissing. Wait, now what are they doing? This isn’t Sesame Street. Should he be putting his hands there? This is really interesting. Mom runs into the room and yells something about not watching soap operas and sends me to my room. I have learned a valuable lesson about disappointment, and dream of a world where quality TV programs are available at any time of the day on a variety of screens. But that’ll probably never happen.
Thursday 1:17 p.m. – April 6, 1976
Mom and dad were both pissed off today because of something called taxes. I’m pissed because Billy Bannister is a big jerk. Yeah, I said it. Not out loud, but in my head and that counts for something. When we got to school, he took my homework and threw it into the cage with the turtle. He knows I’m freaked out by the turtle. Seriously, those things are weird. Their heads look like little old men and they gnaw on things with little old man gums. Freaking creepy. Billy knew I wouldn’t put my hand in there, so he and the other kids just laughed at me while Pokey gnawed my homework to bits. But I was going to get my revenge. On the playground, I challenged Billy to a fight. That’s what you do. You fight. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to fight and Billy is a lot larger than me. He totally kicks my ass, teaching me a valuable lesson about my physical limitations. I should have just put my hand in the turtle tank.
Thursday 1:17 p.m. – December 27, 1984
There are only like four days left in 1984 and it hits me like a ton of bricks. Nothing that happened in Orwell’s 1984 is going to happen. None of it. Sure, I’m reasonably happy to not be living in an dystopia where the government controls my every action, but it is still a little disappointing. I mean, the guy was just flat out wrong. Sure, I live in Madison, WI, and people are always saying that the Reagan Administration isn’t that different from the book, but that’s not really true. I have learned a valuable lesson about the shortcomings of speculative fiction and more specifically why you should never title your book after a specific year.
Thursday 1:17 p.m. – May 10, 1990
So I’m in college and this girl has asked me to study with her for our Econ 101 test. She’s really cool – she just put on an album by this band I’ve never heard of called Nirvana. So we’re in her room and sitting on her bed because there’s nowhere else to sit and that seems like a pretty damn good thing to me. I mean, this is college and she’s a girl who happens to be really attractive and we’re in her room on her bed and she keeps looking at me and its almost my birthday and did I mention that she keeps looking at me. So I figure that I’m about to have one of those awesome college moments where I get lucky in the middle of the afternoon. She does seem to be very focused on her econ notes though and I can’t exactly interpret the looks she’s giving me. I make my move anyway. It is not well received. I learn a valuable lesson about reading situations correctly.
Thursday 1:17 p.m. – October 15, 1992
I meet my future wife, who happens to live in the apartment next to me in Tokyo. (OK, this one happens to be true. Although maybe it didn’t happen at 1:17 p.m. Or on a Thursday. Or maybe even in October. But it did happen. Mainly I wanted you to know that despite the previous entry, my moves don’t always get shot down.)
Thursday 1:17 p.m. – July 9, 1998
I am a graduate student at the University of Michigan with a dual focus on cryptolinguistics and ancient cultures. Through my research into forgotten texts from civilizations that nobody remembers existed I have uncovered the truth about the impending alien invasion and the massive government coverup. With a plucky band of misfits and losers, I have determined that the destruction of the Earth will occur at 1:18 p.m. At 1:17 p.m., I find myself at the controls of the alien mothership. If I can get them to respond to me, I can avert the annihilation of the human race. I dig deep into my encyclopedic knowledge of language, cultures and classic sci-fi movies. Eureka! I have it. Slowly, allowing the camera to pan in on my determined expression, I intone the words that will save the world. Klaatu barada nikto. There is a long pause. Did it work? Of course it did! All the aliens implode in tiny puffs of purple smoke while their biodegradable ships melt into harmless goo. The world has been saved and no one even realized it.
Thursday 1:17 p.m. – the next fifteen years
Everything that happened from 1998 until 2013, including every Thursday at 1:17 p.m., is classified.
Thursday 1:17 p.m. – sometime recently
I have written a book. It is about a world where time has stopped. I think it is pretty good. But I can’t figure out what the title should be. I look at the clock. OK, that’ll work.