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He’s Reeling in the Years and Stewing About the Time

During a hockey playoff game last week, the TV commentator referred to a player who was ending his 16-year career in the National Hockey League. Nice note, I thought. Long career. Then, in the next breath, the announcer said the player turned pro after his stint with the U.S. hockey team that beat the Russians in the 1980 Olympics.

Say what?

I was watching the game with a friend and we turned simultaneously to each other, our eyes widened as if we had just heard that Dennis Rodman was quitting basketball to enter the ministry. That game was 16 years ago? Sixteen years? Can’t be.

My mental calculator did the subtraction, and he was correct. Sixteen years since the U.S.-Russia hockey game.

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My friend and I spent the next two minutes in the penalty box, whistled for useless lamenting. We spent it in a bit of a stupor, each searching for words to outdo the other to describe our disbelief and alarm. As you’ve guessed, we weren’t questioning that the famous game was played in 1980. What bothered us was that the intervening years had passed so quickly. When you hear something happened 16 years ago, shouldn’t there be only faint recall of it?

My friend’s thesis is that the ‘80s moved along at a reasonable pace but that the ‘90s are on some kind of accelerated track. She took out pictures of her children taken seven years ago at Disneyland and was hard pressed to explain where the time had gone since.

Using the 1980 Olympics as a reference point, by her reckoning we should still be in the late ‘80s. Had the announcer reported that the player was ending “a nine-year career,” my friend would have gladly accepted it.

I could live with that too. I don’t remember the ‘80s as a particularly noteworthy decade, but I blame that on the music and the two Democratic presidential campaigns. Nothing will make you forget a decade more than Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis running for president. Still, it doesn’t seem possible that we are more than halfway through the ‘90s. I’ve already heard you can’t get a room for Dec. 31, 1999.

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I must confess, it heartened me that my friend was equally upset by time passing, because I’ve always been obsessed with the subject and just assumed I was an odd duck.

For example, I came into the office one morning in the mid-'80s and told co-workers I’d heard a song on the radio from 1965. It was a familiar pop song, and they knew it well. I then asked them to consider that more years had passed between that song’s debut and the present day than had passed between Adolf Hitler’s death and John Kennedy’s inauguration. At first, they stared blankly at me as if I were, well, an odd duck. Then, the majesty of my point began to sink in and their arm hairs began to stand on end. As baby boomers, we had thought of Hitler as a figure of the distant past, captured in grainy TV footage from an era long gone. Kennedy, of course, was relatable to our lives and modern. Yet, only 15 years separated the two milestone moments and, here we were, listening to rock music older than that.

I tend to bore the pants off people with other comparisons like that, because, to my dismay, not everyone is time-obsessed. Often times, people just begin sidling away when I get into one of my time-space monologues. By contrast, I can fascinate myself for hours thinking about it. On occasion, I’ve gotten so hung up on the subject that I’ll get a yellow legal pad and jot down events from every year that has elapsed over a given time frame. It’s as though I need reassurance that things actually happened during those years, just to verify that someone hasn’t padded the 20th century with bogus years.

So far, I’ve uncovered no irregularities. As for the ‘90s, though, I’m as baffled as my friend. Weren’t we just listening to “Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)” at President Clinton’s inaugural? Can there really be another presidential election this year? Clinton must feel like he’s just getting the hang of things by now.

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For that matter, I wonder if Bob Dole has thought out this presidential thing. At 72, does he really want four years to fly by being president?

If I were him, I’d want to stretch out the time. Rather than the White House, I’d find some porch in Kansas and sit out there for hour after hour, drinking lemonade, swatting flies and watching the grass grow.

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Dana Parsons’ columns appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at the Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.

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