The First 3,650 Days
By Charles P. Pierce
Published by Esquire in 2010

The setting on this particular Thursday being a newspaper, there naturally were dozens of television screens and computer terminals, all of them active and glowing and invited into this place, like dozens of prions eating the brains out of a dying industry. You could walk from one part of the building to another and, silvery as an angel's wing against the high blue sky, the balloon seemed to be moving with you, as though you were in the sky with it, moving, right to left, from one screen to another, appearing and disappearing and appearing again. The interstitial spaces between screens were filled with the low hum of conversation. There was a kid in the balloon -- or in the contraption beneath it. What can he be thinking? What if he falls out, on television, right there in front of us? And then another screen, and the balloon sailing along, right to left, appearing and disappearing again, and you along with it, following, following, from Editorial past the Message Center, and through Sports and into the Newsroom, from screen to screen, desk to desk, as though it were all happening in pixels and bytes and not a real event at all in the skies over Colorado. A goddamn silly hoax, but a goddamn silly hoax that got up the ass of the people at NORAD, who look at the screens in their offices, day after day, and wonder if they'll see the Horsemen riding by at last.

And what of it, October 15, 2009, this one day out of the last 3,650 of them that have piled up like dust and bone, steel and ash, collapsed on top of one another, the fresh accumulating rubble of the only new century most of us will ever know? It's already been put to use as a cautionary fable of the numbing of our individual souls and the dumbing of our collective mind. It is not the first one of these, and it will not be the last. The most enduring lesson, however, is the one that is forgotten, over and over, as our technology gets more advanced, and an age already accelerated begins to pick up even more speed, and historical memory becomes that which came over your BlackBerry fifteen seconds ago. The most enduring lesson is our apparently limitless capacity to be caught unaware.

Why is the unexpected any kind of surprise anymore?

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