Riding to Zhudong on my girlfriend’s scooter today I noticed a man roguishly running red lights, waiting in the middle of intersections for the left-turning cars to pass. Funny: last week that was me. I had made record time, because I had left record late, after frantically writing clue cards and folding them for an hour. The aim was to guess world cities. “I saw a big massacre in 1994,” (Kigali) joined more conventional “I am known for cheap beer” (Prague). Today I left earlier, having already transcribed the lyrics to “We Will Rock You,” and “Time After Time.” With only two classes to go in the school year, it was time to sing some songs.
I noticed the tail light of the light-runner’s scooter was green, candy, lifesaver green. It is a mark of masculine style here for youths to change the boring red and white of their tail lights for other colors, but I had never seen green before. The rider was in his late ‘30’s, a weathered, ruddy-faced artisan or laborer. Maybe he was riding his son’s bike. As I followed him weaving around double-parked cars and betel-nut stands with sexy babes in lingerie, that candy-apple green touched something old inside me, something 30 years old.
At first I couldn’t put my finger on what stirred the mysterious feeling. Then I remembered as a little boy, putting transparent, red dice before my eyes, letting my eyes be swallowed in cherry jello. The dice were used by my big sisters to play board games. I remember the excited pandemonium of the dice shaking in the cup, capped by a shriek from Cheri of “Yahtzeeee!” With my eyes already used to the red of the older dice, the appearance of a lone green cube was exciting. Letting my eyeballs steep in that candy apple green was a shock – the shock of the different.
Perhaps there was more to it than that. Yes, now that I let my mind’s eye wander into that greenness, I remember another magical object: the lime green water pistols Mom would buy for me in the summer. One birthday party all the boys were presented with one. We stood in a circle around a kiddie pool filled with water, our weapons in hand. We would celebrate my birthday by fighting it out. The guns were fantastical shapes, a ‘50’s vision of space weaponry.
The sight of those green tail lights excavated in seconds sensations long buried. It was still fresh – or rather, it was fresh, again: the shock of a world made green. Memory is a process of mummification. Some events are embalmed with such preternatural accuracy that upon their unearthing, somewhere in the desert of the present, the freshness of sensation overwhelms and disorients the unsuspecting archeologist. For a moment, the spell of the past is stronger than the dun-colored present.
It must be true what researchers say of memory: it is not so much a problem of capacity as it is of access. And access cannot be predicted. The desert sands hold treasures mute and unknown, found only by chance. A foot breaks through a space below. Cool air sealed for millenia oozes up around the calf. Memory breaks out like a scented spirit, and it is a few moments before the logical mind can trace the source of the break and re-impose its calendar on the normally quiescent mind. In those few moments the grid of modern time, repeatedly implanted in the mind, is upset.