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J.G. Ballard: Prophet

“What do you think about a character who lives in the past?” Owen asked our professor yesterday.

“You mean, like, somebody in an historical setting?” she asked.

“No, I mean, there are people who live in the present, but then there are people stuck in the past,” Owen explained, very slowly and methodically, pretending as always to choose every single word carefully despite his tendency toward rambling. “Wouldn’t a character who is stuck in the past be more interesting in a conspiracy type of film, because he’s reluctant to change?”

Our professor stumbled for a little while, trying to answer his question, saying that yeah, a character like that is interesting, but in this particular genre, there’s no real right answer as to whether or not somebody who is mentally stuck in the past would be stronger than somebody whose mindset is in the present. It depends a lot on the story or on the situations. It sounded like she was politely trying to say that Owen is an idiot, and not for the first time.

“So, moving on,” she said, “in Rosemary’s Baby, Pola—”

“I’m sorry,” Owen interrupted. (This is not an unusual occurrence. We’ve all grown used to it, but there’s still a collective, silent groan whenever he interrupts the professor in mid-sentence. She has a hard time regaining her train of thought when she’s interrupted. Even she is visibly irritated by it; sometimes she says something to him like, “Hold on a minute,” but mostly she lets it go.) “How would you handle a character who lives in the future?”

Absolute, dead silence. Everybody knew what he was implying by that based on his earlier question, but what could she say about that that she hadn’t already said about one who lives in the past or in the present? The answer is: nothing, as indicated by the fact that she just stood there, practically scratching her head, for nearly thirty seconds, looking desperately at her students for somebody to say something to either shut him up or springboard some sort of discussion. She got nothing.

Then, finally, a classmate said this:

“Time machine.”

Followed by three straight minutes of laughter.

Owen never got an answer to his question.

After class, a group of us surrounded the elevators, waiting for one going down. Despite the fact that no bell had dinged, no machinery had lurched dangerously within the walls, we all heard Owen squeal, “HOLD THE ELEVATOR!” as he came lumbering down the hall, rounded the corner, and his face fell. “Oh,” he slumped.

When the elevator finally arrived, it was about half-full, but there were about seven of us waiting, so we all piled into the elevator. There was enough to fit every single one of us.

Except for Owen, who stood beyond the doors like this was the worst rejection he had ever faced (I’m guessing the time his parents locked him in the basement for 18 years was probably more traumatic, but maybe not). His face just fell, and all that because he didn’t fit on a damn elevator at 5 o’clock, when a huge amount of classes end.

“Sorry, buddy,” Grey said. “You’ll have to get the next one.” He’s honestly the nicest guy I’ve ever met, and he was being sincere in saying this. I knew he was being sincere, as I’m sure everyone else did, but that didn’t stop any of us from bursting out laughing. I think the sincerity of it, combined with the emotional impact it seemed to have on Owen, was what made it so damn funny, but our classmate got pissed. “Thanks a lot, guys—now you made me sound insincere.” Which only made us laugh harder.

We are mean, rotten people.

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