(EDITOR’S NOTE — 1120 Press is proud to present the following essay by Buffalo writer Patrick Reynolds. ‘Of Man, Machine, God & Ghosts’ is the seventh installment in our “VOICES” series and explores the human condition and psyche in today’s world of high technology and social change. Pat is an excellent writer and we’re thrilled to bring you his work again. To read more by him, please visit buffaloreynolds.com)
Oh, I don’t know. We have our Apple watches. We’re measuring our heart rate. We measure our oxygen levels. We have our Fitbits or whatever and measure our steps or the miles we ride alone on our bikes. We’re doing a lot of exploration of what’s going on inside ourselves. We meditate. We turn inward.
Maybe that’s all good. Maybe that’s the way even. Maybe if we fix — that is to say improve — every individual the whole gets better as well.
What do I know? I’m just a guy. Just one of those individuals.
I know we’re searching. We’re wanting. We’re trying.
But I’m just not sure. I don’t know. If each of us gets better do we all — everyone here — get collectively better? Think about water. A tide is connected water. It’s a nearly infinite amount of water all moving in the same direction at the same time and same rate and pace.
I just wonder if we spent more time — any time really — on others, if we might not all start to feel better. All of us.
There’s an old fella, in Jamaica I think, who’s like 110-years old or something like that. Smokes who knows what, eats what he wants, has most of his teeth, walks the beach. I want to have a beer with that guy. How does he do it? Is it his attitude? Is it genetic? Is he wearing a Fitbit? Does he meditate? Or is he just out and about, always moving like some old Jamaican shark, just kind of sliding through the waters of life.
I think I can learn from that guy. I might be able to steal a page. I'd like to find out.
Who’s the young Nordic storm trooper. Greta? How in the hell does she do it? I’m not even sure what she’s talking about half the time. But at the same time, how come most of us couldn’t stand up and read a poem in sixth grade in front of the whole class? Remember that? How come most of us — maybe I’m projecting — avoid conflict like the plague? We smile and nod and go along with our business muttering to ourselves about what we should have said to the other person. How does this little girl find the pluck to poke the bear over and over again? I’m amazed. Part of me wants to put a finger up to my lips and say “Shhhhh” to her. Still got a lot to learn. But then I think, maybe it’s me that’s got a lot to learn.
I think of me sitting there at her age just accepting what they were feeding me. In the little school I went to. ‘How the West was won!', right? No mention of how many died. How many we killed. How we stole what was not ours. Don’t worry. This is not a sermon. I sat through too many of those to count. 'Do unto others.' That’s what they said. Meanwhile they were doing things others did not want done to them. There were Christmases where we got less so my father could keep up his Sunday collection. Where’d that money go? Wish I knew. Suspect I do.
One time when my son was 15 or so he got caught buying beer. It’s beer right? Where does he come up with it? So the cops brought him home and told us what happened and we assured them we’d handle it. I didn’t know those cops personally, but they more or less knew me. Knew the family name. Knew the block. Figured this would not require much conversation even. Looking back, I think the assumption was if they didn’t know me they didn’t need to know me or my kid buying the beer. I’m not on Twitter or any of these things, but I still read the Sunday paper — the actual paper paper — cover to cover. I watch the 6-o’clock news three or four times a week if I’m not out and about. I’m not the smartest guy, far from it, but I can see that we have a problem.
In a lot of places, 15 year olds that get caught buying beer are not dropped off at the front door for their parents to deal with them. I’m just smart enough to notice that a lot of these kids that get a rough ride don’t look like me. In most cases they don’t look like the officers that nab them either. They’re blacker. That’s right. I say ‘black.’ Some are other things — I don’t know if they’re Mexican or Peruvian or whatever. They’re darker and therefore they’re different. I’m not a psychologist by any means, but I think we’re sort of wired to be suspicious of anybody different than us. I don’t know. That might not be it at all. But I do know my son wasn’t afraid of the cops. He was afraid of me. He was even more afraid of his mother if I’m honest.
So, I don’t know. Do we understand how the Hoover Dam was made? Forget the Inca Pyramids. Forget Stonehenge. Next time you’re in Vegas, check out the dams when you’re nursing your whatever. How did they do that? How did we do that?
I talk a lot about things men did. It’s not because I’m a man — or I don’t think it is anyway. It’s because we were taught, usually by women, about things men did. Betsy Ross made the flag. That’s about all I’ve got. It’s a shame. For most of us, we know damn well it’s women who make the whole thing work. They’re the ones that make the trains run on time and almost always have. Men wrote the books and women read them. Hardly seems fair.
Back then we did stuff. We made things with our own two hands. And you know what? Most of it was a lot worse than what we have today. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Bumpers don’t fall off anymore. You can’t put your foot clear through to the pavement when the floor rusts out. Things used to break that just don’t anymore.
Do you know I never had an avocado in my life until I was 57 years old? That was a good day I can tell you.
Now we have these machines and factories that make things so precisely. No human could ever do that. Each thing is identical to the last. They’re stamped out almost literally. They’re more consistent. More reliable. Forget cars that don’t rust or break down. Cars that drive themselves! Can you imagine? Well, I guess you don’t have to. They’re here right now, cruising down some California street I suppose.
I think one of the things that’s really hurting us today is we don’t believe in ghosts. Not God. Ghosts. God is something you believe in or you don’t. Could be a little fat guy sitting in a field beneath a tree. Could be a skinny hippy-looking guy nailed to a cross. Might be a cow. Could be anything is the point.
But ghosts are different. Ghosts are down here with us. They might be in here right now for all we know. I hope they are. The ghost is that little thing inside the thing that gives off a feel. I’ve got an old Amish rocking chair they made down in Pennsylvania. I swear it makes a sound that seems like a sigh. When I touch it, I see a field. There’s corn in the distance. The sun is low like it might be Fall. I don’t know what it means. Might have been made in a garage for all I know. It’s just what I feel. It’s the ghost in it.
My friend has a 1964 Corvette. It’s kind of a purple color. Beautiful. The year after the split-window in the rear. When we ride in it, we don’t say a thing. But I hear music. I hear laughing. I smell things like fields and cookouts. I feel like myself — an older and better, stronger version of myself. I don’t remember those things. They’re there at that moment I’m in that old Corvette.
Today, there are dozens of cars you can get that are 10 times faster than that ‘Vette. I’ve never been in one, but I wonder if you hear a thing. I wonder.
So my advice to you as you set about on your journey is to spend more time studying others — people here and now and those that came before. I’m not saying don’t tend to your own knitting and try to be the best you you can be. Everyone should do that. But by studying others, seeing what they became, how they became it and why they became it, you may put your own journeys in context. You’ve brought your carbs way down. Good for you. Shackleton lived on seal blubber for two years — only after he ate his dogs. Context.
And don’t reject technology and science and advancement in both. But don’t forget about ghosts. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a time and place for slower and less reliable and worse. Damn watch loses about thirty seconds a day. Had it cleaned. New battery. Still losing half a minute every day. You know my father and mother gave me this when I graduated high school. Back then, that was high water. You probably bought your Apple Watch or whatever yourself. Bet it's perfect at keeping time. Never loses a second. So how will you tell someone about your parents and what they sacrificed to get you a watch that doesn't even tell time that great. How you were going to baseball practice and put your foot right through the floor of the car and your mom called it the Fred Flintstone mobile from that day forward? How are you gonna remember. What's gonna trigger that in you?
No ghosts. But we got a lot of monsters. So now it's a race. It's man versus machine. Remember Henry's Hammer? Who can make the cage and put the other in? Will we cage the beast or will the machine beast cage us? And if the machine wins, everything will be perfect. No highs. No lows. No lost time. Nothing to keep track of. Just the white noise of a people who can't remember how to make or do or think or feel a thing.
Isn't that right, Alexa?