December 11, 2005

The Agents' Late Night

Last night we went out for drinks and snacks with a large group of friends and classmates, and for the first time in their lives Agents 95 and 97 had a table – a booth – to themselves, sitting with a couple of their fellow preteens at the far end of the room from us. The waitress gave them menus and we gave them no instructions; when we got the bill, we learned that Agent 95 had ordered a Caesar salad, Agent 97 a quesadilla. Both ordered root beer, but the waitress messed up and brought a Dr. Pepper and a Coke instead, so the Agents ended up drinking caffeinated beverages at 10 pm. An hour later they were sitting at the bar, playing a video game console and surrounded by a small cluster of grownups.

We came to collect them at about 11:30. “We’re looking for two small children.”

“You mean Agents 95 and 97?” The grownups parted to reveal two boys in parkas fending off alien invaders.

“Have they been bothering you?”

“No, they’re really smart, they’ve been teaching us how to play.”

Friendly goodbyes were said all around, and on the drive home Agent 95 claimed that he couldn’t possibly fall asleep for hours, since his system was charged with caffeine.

But in fact, he was sound asleep within minutes of his head’s hitting the pillow.

Before waking this morning, I dreamed that the reverse of the Agents’ sudden maturation had happened to me. I was in my early twenties and had just graduated from college. I was eagerly entering the big grownup world: specifically, I was training myself to write. The things I was writing were shockingly rudimentary: I would read a pulp science fiction story and then imitate it closely, keeping the plot motifs and describing the same scenes but changing some words. It was okay, though, because I was starting at the beginning and had a lot of time to develop. And in fact there was already an interesting melancholy complexity underneath the second-hand pulp surface, because I’d already lived thirty extra years.

Waking up, I actually did feel that I was starting again at the beginning, and could afford to.

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