By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.

 I feel I must report what at the time felt like and what now, looking back in retrospect, in all candor, still feels like a very memorable experience.  The memorable part started when I heard someone say “this isn’t hooky.”   Though I remember the phrase, I’m troubled that I’m not sure who said it.  It might have been Michael, it may have been Gerry, then again I might have been the one to say it.  I simply can’t be sure though it wasn’t very long ago that this incident took place–in fact, I believe it may have been yesterday or, at the latest, the day before yesterday which would have been Tuesday .   

The full context for the “this isn’t hooky” statement was not uninteresting.   Michael Stelzer Jocks and I were discussing the Imagepossibility of going to some Hyde Park bookstores on Friday.  Then the question arose whether Gerry Dedera might also wish to prowl about the myriad dusty shelves of Powells  Whereupon Ms. Paula Diaz, our intrepid Dean, inspired leader, and savant of most things worth knowing, just happened to be walking by as our Powells’ discussion was getting into full gear and, overhearing our conversation, reminded Michael that he was supposed to be at school on Friday, and hence the sense that implementing such a plan would clearly constitute an act of hooky.  Q.E.D.—meaning, hooky proved.  Case closed.

Oh contraire.  Not so fast.  Amateur sleuths beware.  First of all, what if we were planning to go to Powell’s after fulfilling school responsibilities Friday?  Then no hooky, wouldn’t you agree?  Thus the hooky charge is rendered moot, nay less than moot.  Second, and here’s where my own signature fruit cake spin starts to play a vital role in this story, and why the occasion remains memorable for me.  An altogether different consideration almost immediately arose in my brain which was this:  Is it really possible in the year 2013, in the month of September a full week after the anniversary of 9/11, for any individual or group of individuals to engage in an act of hooky at any time anywhere at all on this great green globe we call home?


Peter Stern?

The reason I ask this question is that I’m more or less convinced that hooky is an old fashioned, hugely archaic word so tied to an earlier time and place that it no longer has any genuine relevance or meaning to life lived today.  I would say the same thing about a buggy whip or about using a mimeograph machine to duplicate piles of papers for a high or low level meeting even if the low level meeting was peopled by higher ups.  Ditto taking a covered wagon with friends to go through the Cumberland Gap, or to head out from let’s say Akron Ohio with the wife and kids to settle down in Colorado or Idaho or Wyoming.  Instead of the covered wagon, I’d recommend you fly or get a U Haul or take a bus.  And don’t worry about getting caught playing hooky for hooky don’t exist.  Not anymore.

Such is the nature of historical time.  It doesn’t simply pass;  it does much more than this.  It renders old ways of doing things meaningless.  The unique feel, smell, touch, taste, and special meaning of an experience or way of life not only of individuals but of whole communities even of countries simply vanishes.  Artifacts remain.   Historians and anthropologists and archeologists find buried buildings, furniture,  jewelry of all kinds, even diaries and records of business transactions but the feel–the inner spirit of the time–and how exactly people experienced the world is lost forever.

 Thus for hooky to be possible the world would have to take absolutely seriously–as if no other possible mode of behavior made any sense–that attending school and showing up at work every day was mandated by God himself such that not doing those things was a terrible violation of an ancient and sacred order.   Of course this doesn’t mean that every living soul viewed the world this way.  But it does mean that that was the default position for the society overall.  And then playing hooky really meant something.  Hooky was freedom.  Hooky meant escape.  Hooky was a thrilling adventure and you were living dangerously indeed.  And woe to you if you got caught. 

 And today?  Today you simply call in sick or tell your supervisor that your kids are sick.  Better still:  You turn on the tube and hear on the 7:00 a.m. news that the schools are closed due to exceptionally heavy rains and I-94 is flooded so you’re better off staying home and keeping off the highways.  Don’t you think most people would agree it’s awful hard playing hooky in this sort of world?

Still, in closing, to avoid sounding too shrill or foolish or just plain stupid, I should admit to some hyperbole when I state so emphatically that time renders the past utterly meaningless to future generations, for the historians and archeologists I mentioned earlier, especially the extraordinarily gifted members of those professions, do bring to life or try to bring to life the authentic spirit of the age they’re exploring.  Moreover, the law of averages suggests that they must actually succeed from time to time.  And so thanks to generations of historians we do get some sense of what it must have been like riding across the plains of Iowa and Nebraska in an un–air conditioned covered wagon during weeks on end of a dry summer 100 degree heat wave.  And, going back in time, Caesar crossing the Rubicon must have been an extraordinary sight and a mind boggling experience. 

 Yet some small voice keeps telling me that something of these events must get lost in translation.


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