Out of time

Preserving pieces of culture for future generations.

click to enlarge TREASURE CHEST: Scott's time capsule. - Scott Harrell
Scott Harrell
TREASURE CHEST: Scott's time capsule.

My nieces are growing up.

Well, not just yet, exactly — it's not like they're hectoring my sister and her husband to let them wear makeup, or making fun of each other's boobs. But Syd, who's nearly 5, is already letting any relative/authority figure with whom she's interacting know that she can do just fine by herself, thank you very much. And her little sister Allie, 3, is fond of adopting a condescending tone and stretching out the word "actually" when preparing to correct her elders on any given subject. They sound like little teenagers, damn it.

Watching them a few weeks back at the family vacation compound in L.A. — that's Lower Alabama, where rifle racks in the rear windows of pickups are as apt to hold golf clubs as guns — made me think about the world in which they're so quickly becoming people. More specifically, watching them playing with their Girls Gone Wild Edition Barbies and viewing their DVDs (who the hell is Dora the Explorer, anyway?) made me think about the differences between their world, and the one I inhabited as a kid.

Culture and technology are moving along at a dizzying clip, and I can't help but think that the gap between my childhood and theirs is exponentially wider than any that came before it. Of course, my parents probably thought the very same thing when they saw me playing with my Star Wars figures.

But my parents and I (and my grandparents, for that matter) all listened to music etched into vinyl records. There's a good chance Syd and Allie will never know such things exist; hell, they might never lay eyes on either an 8-track or cassette tape, and the still-standard 4.72-inch DVDs and compact discs may be nothing but quaint memory by the time they near their teens.

I've decided to cobble together a time capsule for the girls, and include half a dozen things — some special to me, some just ubiquitous enough to qualify as part of the wallpaper of the first half of my life — that, if they aren't already extinct, almost surely will be by the time Syd and Allie are teenagers.

And yes, I'm sure they'll be just as excited to examine this ancient stuff as I was to hear the story of my dad's first baseball mitt (The desire! The lawns mowed! The character built!) when I was a teenager. But hopefully, they'll eventually come to value my gift of a little window into the past, just as I've learned that the amount of gas money I get from my father at the end of a visit to the family vacation compound is directly proportional to the number of times I ask him to tell me a story about when he was a kid.

1. A record player and selection of 45s.

Sure, they'll undoubtedly think both "We Are The World" and Glen Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy" are unlistenably trite. But there will always be something magical, almost alchemical, about putting a needle on a piece of plastic and getting music in return.

2. A McRib Sandwich.

One of these years, fall will return, and McDonald's most mysterious seasonal mystery-meat offering simply won't come back with it. Luckily, the one I include in my time capsule will almost certainly still be exactly as edible in 12 years as it is today.

3. A dial-up computer modem.

The girls will be confused at first. But after they take a nanosecond to access Wikipedia via their Bluetooth-enabled, thought-conductive networked designer headbands, they'll be astounded to discover that it once took online perverts 7,000 times as long to come on to FBI agents pretending to be underage girls as it does in 2018.

4. A bar of soap.

I know it'll probably just end up as a novelty item — "Omigod! Liquid soap used to come in non-liquid form. Ewwwww." Part of me hopes, however, that this little blast from the past saves the world from a strain of killer bacteria that evolved big and mean and resistant to antibacterial soap, but not to the anti-soap-scum agent that's in Zest.

5. A Rand McNally globe.

Because the winners write the history, and you know damn well that the textbooks aren't going to let kids know that Nokia Presents Beachland, Ford Motors' Land of Plenty, South California and Christiana used to be Iraq, Iran, Venezuela and Palestine.

6. A photo album full of pictures, including:

• A skinny American who isn't a celebrity.

• A wide-angle shot of a downtown avenue showing a Starbucks on one side, and no Starbucks directly across from it.

• A sixth-grader circa 1982, dressed just like his hero, Michael Jackson.

• A screen capture of Madonna, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera making out at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards.

• That caricature from The Nation that envisioned George W. Bush as Alfred E. Neuman.

• A cover of Mad magazine that features Neuman and hopefully sheds some light on the last picture.

• A shot taken in Berlin as the Wall came down.

• Bat Boy.

• A shot of a fireman helping a victim away from the rubble of the Twin Towers.

• Sean Penn attacking a paparazzo.

• A manatee. They'll be pretty rare by then, having become the main ingredient in whatever replaces the McRib.


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