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deja-vu re-enactment

The other day, Handyman and I had a no-show at this client’s house and no one answered any of the phone numbers we had, so we left a note on the front door (as we tend to do, saying “Sorry we missed you, call ###-#### if you still need your junk removed” or something like that) and headed to our next job.  Just before we got back on the freeway, the client finally called and told us we had the wrong address.  So we turned back around and headed back to where we just were.  The place where we turned around was exactly where we had gotten off the freeway to begin our route to the client’s house, and we got stopped by the first light we came to in exactly the same position in the left-turn lane.  As we crept to a halt, I said “Whoa, deja vu.” Though stupid, this was supposed to be somewhat of a joke, since it was obvious that we had just been there fifteen minutes earlier.  But it was also intended simply to note the coincidence of our being stopped at the same exact place as before.  Handyman gave an obligatory chuckle.  Then, for a moment, we imagined out loud a sort of Groundhog-Day like scenario where we had to relive the same moment again and again.  The light turned green, and as we rounded out the turn, a new game was born.

Credit goes to Handyman for inventing this magical game.  See, there was this bowling alley just past the light where we’d stopped.  The first time around, Handyman had noticed the new paint job and said “Whoa, they painted the bowling alley!”  I noticed that some of the signage was still orange and black, the official colors of the local High School.  “Used to be school colors?” I asked.  “Yep,” Handyman replied, “Town pride or whatever.”

Well, the second time around, Mark noticed the bowling alley again. As a joke, after our deja-vu conversation, he said: “Whoa, they painted the bowling alley!”  I waited for a second, then responded: “Used to be official school colors?”  Another pause, then he: “Yep. Town pride or whatever.”

The rest of the way down the road, we did an almost word-for-word re-enactment of our first trip from the stop light to the client’s house.  Our memories were aided by the successive reappearance on the side of the road of each of the landmarks that sparked our original conversations: the bowling alley, a car dealership, an overpass.  At first it was amusing.  Then hilarious.  Then it got creepy. Handyman laughed that half-fake kind of laugh that serves to terminate a joke, as if to say, “okay, that joke was funny, but now it’s gotten awkward and I don’t want to continue with it”.  But I wasn’t about to let such an interesting experiment end.  And it was a fun test of our memories to see if we could keep it going all the way back to the client’s street.  So I pushed it further, and Handyman responded with impressive powers of recollection.

And what was interesting about this game was inextricable from its creepiness, awkwardness.  That sense of being removed from the self you were fifteen minutes ago and having to act out what only then were genuine thoughts, feelings, conversations.  Now they seemed contrived, foreign, robotic.  The person who’d said the things I’d said seemed more than fifteen minutes less experienced than I was now.  That little bit of distance was enough to observe the silly pragmatics of our conversations, the turn-taking and the starts and stops, and make it seem as if the first time around was just as much a charade as the second.  What we had thought were a few real moments of our lives, now seemed empty and formulaic, and not at all how we’d remembered. And even after the short passing of only fifteen minutes, no true reliving could ever occur. We were already lifetimes away from the persons we used to be. To feel it was a kind of ecstasy, a being out-of-body.  This game was strange and terrible, and I couldn’t resist it.

Or at least that’s how I felt, if only for a fifteen minutes, before we arrived at the house and had to get out of the truck to greet the waiting client and do our job.  Thanks, Handyman, for summoning the spirit of my old gaming partner The Edge and playing along for such a long time.

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