February 03, 2006

Two Sketches of Sameness

If you happen by McDonald’s on a Thursday morning, Agent 95 will be the one with an Egg McMuffin meal and milk, Agent 97 will be the one with hotcakes (no sausage) and milk, and I’ll be the one sitting at their table with a sausage biscuit and orange juice. It’s a ritual we’ve instituted, and many weeks we see the same people there: the burly man taking his two daughters to private school; the clean, articulate homeless woman at the corner table holding court with homeless men; and the Mexican-American counter workers, always making me repeat the word “milk” in my Yankee accent because I didn’t say “coffee.” Agent 97 always putting on too much syrup and almost spilling it off the Styrofoam plate, and always cutting pieces so large he has to struggle not to spit them out. Agent 95 always eating the hash browns first and leaving a quarter of his sandwich, a bite-marked crescent.

I looked at us and asked, “Do you think we’ll ever order anything different?”

“Not likely,” said 95.

“I doubt it,” said 97. “Maybe if we enter a parallel universe.”

And they resumed the same excited conversation as every other time, about the powers of video game characters and the current Happy Meal toys.

2. Happy Groundhog Day
I received a mass “Happy Groundhog Day” email yesterday from someone who’s known my family and me recreationally for half a dozen years. It contained a link to an admiring critical essay about the movie Groundhog Day, a favorite of mine and of almost everyone who’s seen it. In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray wakes up every morning to find that it’s still February 2nd, as it was the day before. Trapped in a nightmare, he tries to change fate and make a new day arrive, but something always goes wrong – until the happy ending.

I emailed a thank-you, and the sender replied, “For some reason I was thinking of you when I sent it to everyone, and you’re the first one to email me back.”

Of course, I thought. My life is the same every day: I try to coexist with myself and my loved ones, I try to do my tasks to make a living and keep up a household, I try to form a few simple sentences into a clear picture. And I took the thought with me for a little while as I went about those tasks.

But who am I kidding, and who is Groundhog Day kidding? Nothing ever stays the same.

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