Yesterday, when trouble seemed so far away

February 02, 1994|By ALICE STEINBACH

All time can be divided roughly into two parts: Now and the Time Before Now. And, generally speaking, people usually prefer one or the other.

A lot of people I know are enthusiastic about Now. I, however, am leaning in the direction of the Time Before Now. For one thing, it seemed a simpler time. Not complex and confusing in the way that Now is.

And for another, it was a time that didn't require so much caution and second-guessing about ordinary events in one's daily life.

The problem I have with Now is its rapidly escalating list of things one can no longer do.

Here, for example, are some notes from my journal about things I didn't do last week.

Thursday: Am still kicking myself about today's perfume faux pas. How was I to know that wearing perfume to the office is a form of female sexual harassment toward male co-workers? But there it was, printed in an article some anonymous person had placed on my desk. No fragrance, it said. Too sexy. Don't do it. Spent most of the day hiding in the ladies' room reading magazines and wondering if it's still OK to use soap.

Magazines didn't lift my spirits. Saw article on "The New Feminists" and found myself worrying about what happened to the Old Feminists. Could their disappearance be linked to some infraction of the perfume law? And if so, does this make them victims? Remembered reading recently about a man who tried to suffocate his wife and then pleaded he was a victim of "midlife crisis." Scary.

Friday: Almost had a fatal accident driving to work this morning. Averted it just in time. Was about to roll down my car window and shout "You jerk!" to guy who'd been tailgating me but caught myself. Keep forgetting the days are over when you could engage in friendly criticism of your fellow commuters. Unless, that is, you don't mind risking your life.

Decided instead to write a column about it. Maybe touch on the decline of civilization, blah, blah, blah. How we've returned to the wild west, blah, blah, blah. Perhaps work in some statistics on guns, violence, etc. etc. etc. Was thinking of calling it: Now and The Time Before Now.

On second thought, decided it's too risky to write such a piece. Man I almost yelled at got a look at me and knows the car I drive. Sad. But that's Now for you.

Saturday: Awakened looking forward to a leisurely cup of coffee and a slice of sour cream coffee cake. Then remembered reports that coffee thins your bones and sour cream coffee cake fattens your thighs. Decided that while that might be a good look for some women, it could be unattractive on me. Downed a glass of carrot juice instead, followed by a bag of low-fat Cheetos.

Drove to mailbox -- walking is no longer safe -- to post subscription to new magazine. It's called "Nuthouse" and is described as a periodical devoted to "aggressive humor therapy." Figured aggressive humor might help me work out repressed anger about previous day's near-catastrophic tailgating incident.

Wanted to stop at bank's ATM machine to withdraw money but decided it's too risky. Wondered if ticket-seller at movie house would accept check. Then remembered where movie house is located and decided to stay home instead.

Sunday: Awakened from a dream in which I had answered a personals ad, one I'd actually seen in Harper's magazine. It read: "Clint Eastwood look-alike seeks bosomy woman under 30 who wants to explore her mind, soul and planet." Worried this is a sign I'm becoming too desperate. It's a totally inappropriate match.

I mean, why would I want to explore this planet? I don't even like it.

Dressed and set out for bookstore with one clear objective in mind. To buy a book.

Spirits sank at bookstore when I saw section after section of books devoted to the following "isms": appearance-ism, species-ism, size-ism, biodegradeable-ism, age-ism, New Age-ism, self-help-ism, vegetarianism, existentialism, deconstructionism, ethnocentrism, self-centrism and Martha Stewart-ism.

Found myself in section on "non-fiction novels" where I fell into despair-ism.

Ended up buying a copy of "Listening to Prozac." Later read that more than 6 million Americans now use the anti-depressant drug, Prozac.

Driving home, this piece of news so depressed me that I regressed to a state of Time Before Now.

Found myself suddenly at a restaurant in Little Italy ordering a double espresso and rum cake. It seemed like old times.

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