Long before the wildness of fire engulfed their town, and well after self-winding watches had become a thing, the townspeople thought of themselves as a simple people who enjoyed simple pleasures.
They saw light in paper moons and love in the soft ridges of the infinite arrowing of the universal “recycling” logo. They believed in paper planes and in the notion of shared paper routes. They spent their evenings pressing paper roses between the pages of 1959 Buick Le Sabre brochures.
The townspeople took particular pride in the International Paperweight Festival they hosted each summer in the paper mill parking lot. The pigs-in-blankets delivered to festival goers via origami blimp. The newspaper-hatted fortune teller who told onion-skin truths in songs she composed on the spot. All those paperweight appreciators. All those paperweights. In one place.
Then things, doing what things do, got hard.
Demand for the printed word declined precipitously. Publishers stopped buying paper. The paper mill lost customers. The townspeople lost jobs. Homes. Pets. Spouses.
It even got hard to put themselves in current context. Their self-winding watches got cute and played tricks with time. In addition to being a literal question, What time is it? became a symbolic one.
It got hard, very hard, for the townspeople to continue to see themselves as a simple people. To enjoy their simple pleasures.
It got hard, very hard, for them to see light. Or love. Or to believe.
And when the fingers of fire touched their crepe-paper town, reaching and then curling around the papier-mâché Ferris wheel spinning in the paper mill parking lot, the townspeople felt like giving up. They also had questions.
What is happening? said the town rumor control czar.
Where even are we? said the town cartographer.
Who even are we? said the town cryer.
What time is it? said the town horologist.
You’re asking me? the fortune teller asked-sang-said, hustling to her festival booth near the smoldering Ferris wheel. Okay, the Soothsayer, as they say, is REAL in.
The townspeople tagged along. The evening sun did, too. The sky pulled up a chair. The wild fire, sitting in a gondola atop the now-not-spinning wheel, lent an ear. The fortune teller cleared her throat and began to sing:
What in hell is happening, you say,
Like Donald Sutherland says in that anything-but-simple ‘Ordinary People’ way
What’s happening NOW, like Raj and Rerun say,
Is the next beginning, the next new day.
Cheering, the evening sun slid on the spectrum from red-yellow to yellow-green. The townspeople leaned in for a closer listen.
And where are we now? It’s not where we were—it’s not where we will be or even where we ARE, the fortune teller sang, adding something mostly inaudible about paper moons, gift-wrapped stars and pigs-in-blankets. If anything, where we are is no-where, children, she sang.
Laughing, the sky unearthed the “Welcome to Our Town” sign and presented it to the town cartographer as if it were a paper rose.
The fortune teller unfolded her newspaper hat and rapped the news:
Who even are we? Who even, even?
This self-examined life? Who even, even?
Light and love and logos, even?
Recycle what? Recycle this
Infinite what? Infinite this
Get off it, get with it, get over yourselves
Put paper-pressed evenings back on the shelves
(next to the urns containing Ferris wheel ashes, of course)
Swooping down from the motionless spinning wheel, the wild fire high-fived the fortune teller, who didn’t miss a beat:
What time is it, what time it is
Anything more is all show biz
Ditch your self-winding watches
Ditch your Le Sabre swatches
Ditch your pretty-to-think-so simple pleasures
Hug something a bit harder to measure
Hug this regenerative burn
Hug these songs you’ve learned
Hug the possible, the *if* ‘til its eyes fill
Embrace this moment now or you never will
The townspeople turned to watch the wild fire, which had spread to the paper mill and the International Paperweight Festival museum. All those paperweights, imperiled. In danger of not being appreciated.
Embrace what now? cried the town cryer.
Embrace ‘next’! Don’t let these paperweights hold you down! the fortune teller trilled. Let them go! And let yourselves go. Let this moment lift you—up, like those popsters sing, where we belong.
Hey—don’t spread THAT one around, said the town rumor control czar.
As the festival museum burned, the paperweights paraded, single file, toward the next town. Leaving their pigs-in-blankets behind, the origami blimps navigated the confettied sky. Paper planes carrying self-winding watches sailed into the evening sun. Under a paper moon, the wild fire celebrated the swirl of infinity and the possibility of resurrected love in the soft ridges of ruin.