were you there when they came
A colleague in the French Ministry of Defense tells Howard that the rapid changes in airport security restrictions remind him of the bureaucratic practices of occupation France, when the Nazis would post new regulations nearly every day by hammering edicts into lamp-posts all over the city. He understands, of course, that this is different, but it is frustrating, this rapidité, this impulse to constantly change the rules, is it not?
were you the one
To live a life free of restrictions, unencumbered by debts, or contracts, or gravity. To be faster than a speeding train, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, wealthier than a hedge fund manager.
were they here before us
Howard has an engineer’s fascination with gadgets of all kinds, and follows with great interest the new security technologies. For all of the money that is wasted, some of the research yields new devices that any boy would love to play with: solar-powered surveillance planes that can stay aloft in the upper atmosphere for months at a time without ever refueling, man-killing drones that use global positioning and face-recognition technologies to pick their targets out from a crowd and deliver a fatal payload without the least bit of human intervention. He’d seen video of a Palestinian terrorist dispatched in this way. Once the device was programmed, no one even had to push a button to make the kill.
were two or three one too many
Johnnie recoils at the idea of restrictions of any kind, on his movement, on his behavior, on his consciousness. It’s unlikely for instance that he could ever tolerate marriage, or hold down a nine-to-five office job. He can barely even stand to stay indoors for more than an hour or so.
were my people there
Roger experiences the capitals of Europe as a kind of dream. Governments there are happy to spend money in ways that are unthinkable in the USA. While America will spend billions to develop a better battle robot, for instance, the idea of spending a few extra thousand dollars to designing an aesthetically appealing escalator is completely foreign in country where function almost always precedes form. The Parisians put more thought into public spaces, and design without the kind of budgetary restrictions that cripple public art in America. They have a different idea of what it means to be a great city, a better one.
were they kind or mean
In Tahoe, Kent pays a private instructor to teach him how to ski. While he is a little embarrassed to be out there on the bunny hill, surrounded by preteens, it gives him great satisfaction to be working against the restrictions that growing up comparatively poor had placed on him, to be able to spend money learning the leisure activities of the rich. He’d already hired a golfing instructor willing to work with him on a public course, where he was sure he wouldn’t embarrass himself in front of any of his new country club friends.
were you any different
What Johnnie loves about a good rock concert is the sense of being immersed in a throbbing mass of humanity, free of the general restrictions imposed by society on the individual, free, in a sense, of any individuality at all. It was a sense of being part of an audience, a thing bigger than oneself, a thing that does not expect you to articulate or distinguish yourself, a thing that expects little more of you than to rock, dance, shake, and scream out loud, a thing that expects none of the complicated fore-brain stuff from you, much more of the primal.
were you there to ask them
While Kent’s mother had been bound by the affordances of her 9-to-5 administrative assistant life, his father was a wheeler-dealer, a con man who tolerated no restrictions of any kind. He had abandoned the family when Kent was five years old, though he sent postcards from various exotic locations: European capitals, Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro, the Alps. Kent was always thrilled when he found one of these postcards in the mail, though he knew his mother would have rather seen child support payments.
were you down all day
Anna is leaping off the high dive, and for a moment her body is in free fall. She is moving without restrictions between the sky above and the water below. Time slows down. She does not want to feel the splash, does not want to penetrate the surface. When the alarm bell rings, Charlie is out of town again and the house is empty and cold.
were you just a boy
There was some story Charlie read when he was a boy, he can’t remember the title or the details, but some story about hobos riding the rails during the Great Depression, which has always made him envy that life, rough and gritty, but without restrictions, free of obligations to society, success, or family. A wanderer in this world, bound only by the rails, tomorrow an open question, around the next bend. He would never feel that free, and he would always love the sound of trains.