In my dream I was a regular Rip Van Winkle. But I didn’t know it at first. I thought I had gone back into the past. I was sitting in the bleachers at the Pittston Little League, the old Little League, mind you, the one where the dugouts always had a pail of water and a ladle, which every kid drank from.
Despite the ’50s look to everything, the field was in tip-top condition. Everything was bright and freshly painted. The flag on the pole in centerfield flapped casually in a soft breeze. Norman Rockwell could not have produced a more perfect scene.
A double-header was on tap and since the first game was nearly over, the players for the second game had already shown up. Their clean uniforms matched their clean faces.
The bleachers were packed with moms and dads, and aunts and uncles. Beyond the left field fence, children frolicked on swings and monkey bars.
Joy filled me but I was mightily confused. I was pretty sure where I was, but did not know when it was. And I had no idea how old I was, except that I was certainly not a child.
I needed answers so I nudged the guy sitting next to me — he looked to be in his 40s, maybe 50 — and asked, “What year is this? 1958? ‘59?”
He smiled. “You really don’t know, do you?”
“No,” I said, not feeling one bit uncomfortable although I suppose I should have.
“It’s 2044,” he said. “You’ve been sleeping for 30 years.”
I supposed that should have shocked me but it didn’t. You know how dreams are.
“But this feels like the past,” I said, “not the future.”
“Nevertheless,” the younger man responded with a grin.
“But Little League baseball was just about …”
“Dead?” he interrupted. “You’re right, but that was back in 2014. The crash changed that. The crash changed everything.”
“The crash? As in stock market crash?”
“As in everything crash,” he said. “The whole enchilada. The economy, governments. It all came tumbling down.”
I looked around. “But everything seems wonderful.”
“Yep,” he said.
“I don’t get it,” I responded.
“Neither did we, at first. But after we stopped wringing our hands and blaming everyone and everything, we started to see the big mess we were in for what it really was: a blessing in disguise.”
I know I looked bewildered.
“Look around,” he said. “What do you see?”
“A lot of people enjoying themselves.”
“Hmm … a lot of families being together?” (It came out as a question.)
“Very good,” he said, sounding like a kindergarten teacher. “Now, what don’t you see?”
I thought for a while. “Stress,” I finally said. “I don’t see stress. Everyone seems relaxed.”
“Well, yes,” he said, “but don’t be so philosophical. Think more concrete.”
I looked around again. “Cars,” I blurted out. “I don’t see any cars. Where are they parked?”
“Home, for those who have them,” he answered. “Most of these people walked here.”
“Yes, walked. Most people walk now, probably how it was when you were a kid. People walk to school, to the corner grocery store, to Little League games, to church … “
He paused to appreciate the look on my face.
“Yes, church,” he continued. “Church made a big comeback after the economy blew up. You might remember way back when former president Barack Obama was running the first time and said when times get tough people cling to religion. He meant it in a snide way, but turns out that’s what happened. And it was a good thing.
“But back to people walking. First we couldn’t afford gas. Then we couldn’t afford cars. People went back to being one-car, or even no-car families. I won’t lie to you, it was painful. The malls really took a beating. So did the casinos and the resorts. But people adapted. Life got simpler. There was no choice. And after a time, it caught on.”
“Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “In the last newspaper I read the stock market was setting records.”
He laughed. “There’s no stock market any more. Know what else? There’s no internet. People just couldn’t afford it. People had to come to grips with being able to do without. Shall I continue?”
“Please do,” I said.
“Those two words ‘Do without’ were part of a national advertising campaign that turned things around. It started with, ‘You’d be surprised what you can do without,’ and then got shortened to just ‘Do without.’ People really got caught up in it. It became a philosophy of life: do yourself a favor and do without. It’s what brought everyone out of the doldrums. Imagine, advertising telling people to NOT buy things.”
“I love it,” I said.
“I’m glad,” he answered, “because I wrote it. I was the guy behind the concept. Today, people live in smaller houses, hardly ever turn on the TV, tend to stay married, and eat evening meals together as a family.”
I was speechless.
“What about jobs?” I asked.
“Everyone has a job,” he said. “We are all working, just not working as much. The average work week is 25 hours. We earn less, but we need less. And we have tons of leisure time. Notice all the sun tans.”
“But how do you make ends meet?”
“C’mon. We do without, remember?”
As I was trying to let all of this sink in, it occurred to me that his guy looked strangely familiar. “Who are you?” I finally asked.
“Ah,” he said, smiling a very familiar smile. “I think you know who I am, Dad.”
“Michael,” I shouted, throwing my arms around him, as the folks around us laughed and then broke into quiet applause. “My God, you must be … “
“57,” he said.
“Then I’m …”
“94,” he answered. “But you look terrific. The sleep has done you good.”
I had a million things I wanted to talk about, but for the moment, we had a ball game to watch. I turned my eyes toward the field and sighed, “So, this is the future?”
“No, Dad,” my son said, “this is a dream. Your dream. Let’s just enjoy it while we can.”