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Bob Watch

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Autumn. Death is in the air, from the strained jollity of paper skeletons in store windows to the dry, fallen leaves dragging themselves across the sidewalk like little crippled things.

Easy to weary of the task. Easy to set down the load, to press our cheek against the cool marble of some lucky man's tomb and ask, "When, Lord, when?"

Then we read a column such as "The faucet will drip for the rest of the century" (October 13) and we feel the surge of hot blood returning to our hearts. Like the old ladder-truck horse awakened by a fire bell in the night, we feel our lost urgency anew.

Bob has seen videocassettes of The Wizard of Oz touted in an ad as "Available for the last time this century!"

This gives him the fleck of an idea. "As all of us drift inexorably toward the year 2000, the strong possibility exists that there are any number of things we won't get done this century."

And he goes with it. He takes a lame joke that office mates trade going out the door December 31 ("Have a good weekend Skeeter--see you next year! Hayuck-yuck-yuck") and kneads an entire Sunday column out of it.

"If you've been meaning for a long time to clean out your cluttered basement, there's a good chance that it won't get clean this century," he ponders, ticking off other aspects of life that might not get done this century: a trip to Europe; a hernia operation; getting a library card; eating a pear.

The column might have been merely insignificant if Bob had the resolve necessary to shelve it until around June 1999.

But with that masturbatory lack of restraint that so characterizes Bob Greene's writing, he just couldn't keep his hands off his stump of an idea once it raised its little head.

The millennium is still more than three years away. Whom is Bob writing for? Who might not eat a pear in the next 1,000 days? Or throw away old magazines? Or write a letter?

Perhaps frightened old people, cowering in their senior facilities, apparently the bulk of Bob's audience.

Or perhaps Bob himself. When read as a rare glimpse into his true personality, suddenly these little poots of thought make a kind of sense. We see Bob, a jelly of terror and inertia, afraid to go to Europe, afraid to have his hernia fixed, or get a library card, or label his videotapes, or a thousand other mundane tasks that unimpaired people do every day.

The year 2000 approaches. The artificial milepost fills Bob's view already, rattling his nostalgic love affair with the distant past to its hollow core. He will not divert his stare.

The question is, how long can we gaze at Bob gazing at his tiny flea circus of ideas? The snows of winter are coming. And, like death, the icy grip of Bob Greene's endless maunderings might prove too much for us. But not quite yet. Summum nec metuas diem nec optes.

--Ed Gold

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Jeff Heller.

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