Time, capsulated

Dec 29, 1999 at 12:00 am

Feeling inspired by the holiday spirits (and a bad case of the munchies) to snack on something sweet and crunchy, I make my way through the dark house to the pantry, intending to fetch the box of Millenios Cheerios I've been saving for just such an occasion.

But when I reach around the 18 bottles of just-in-case-Y2K-happens water, I discover that the shiny blue metallic box isn't where I hid it.

Furthermore, once I locate it, it's empty. Devoid of contents and hollowed out, without even the plastic inner bag. There's only one logical culprit, and it's humming with a sugar buzz beside the once treat-filled box.

"I'm making a time capsule," says the Lizard of Fun, its eyes flashing like a set of icicle lights. "It's the thing to do, you know. Preserve this moment in time like a chloroformed butterfly pinned to a board, and save it to look back on, in a preprogrammed fit of nostalgia sometime in the future. Also it says to do so on the box."

"I see," I say. "That kind of clashes with my idea that all time is actually happening right now."

"Look," says the Lizard, "Let me be straight with you. I'm not trying to get into a debate about the space-time continuum, I'm just trying to get some stuff packed away in here. Are you going to help me or not?"

I nod. "OK. What have you got so far?"

The Lizard itemizes: Three Pokémon trading cards. A bottle of Sobe Lizard Blizzard. A jar of echinacea pills. A six-pack of Rolling Rock. A videotape containing the last episode of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" A Frosty the Snowman Pez dispenser, some Altoids and about half a cup of sugar-frosted 2s and Os, which are all that remain of the Millenios.

"I'm capturing the year in consumer goods. Trouble is, I'm running out of room," says the Lizard. "You couldn't have bought the jumbo-family-pack of Millenios, could you? Oh, nooo, that would've been too convenient."

I shrug. "Don't you think a cereal box is maybe not the best container to use for a time capsule, anyway? I mean, it has to be able to withstand the rigors of time. It needs to be able to be buried, maybe go through rain and ice and snow, maybe even withstand natural disasters and nuclear war, for a whole hundred years or so. Are you sure you don't want to try something less likely to biodegrade, like maybe a Styrofoam carryout container?"

The Lizard's eyes bug out. "A hundred years?!"

"Well, traditionally, yes."

It shakes its head in disbelief. "Hell with that hundred-years thing," it says. "I want an instant-gratification time capsule. I want to be able to open it within my lifetime. Hell, I wanna be able to open it within this week."

"But that totally goes against the point of time capsules," I say. "They're a way of telling people in the future what our lives were like — sort of a prepackaged history kit. Elementary school students a hundred years from now will bore their classmates with show-and-tells of the contents of their family time capsules. Comedians will joke about them, and universities will create courses about them."

"That's a pretty egotistical assumption," says the Lizard, adopting an appropriately false modesty. "I would never assume that future generations would be so interested in my life, as glamorous and exciting as it is."

"So why make a time capsule at all?"

"It's a kind of personal archaeology," explains the Lizard. "Like when you clean out your coat pockets, and find all the stuff that can only possibly mean anything to you. I want to be reminded of the little things I liked about 1999."

The Lizard digs its paws into my pockets. Out comes a stack of paper bits, ticket stubs and odds and ends I'd almost forgot about. "Hey, here's the ticket from when we went to see American Beauty. And a grocery receipt from our Fourth of July barbecue bonanza. And an old phone bill from — ouch, you might want to look into this one."

I grab the bill. "February. That was a good month. Never mind the phone bill part, this is worth saving. It's historic."

The Lizard shakes its head, then turns around and grabs something from the table. "Here, this has today's date on it, too. By your admittedly weird logic, that makes it historic. Therefore, it must be included in our time capsule."

"What is it?"

"It's kind of leaky," says the Lizard, as it holds up a half-finished carton of milk.


"Sure. You gotta think of the future. When we open the time capsule, what else are we going to eat the rest of the Millenios with?"