1957. Long Lake, Minnesota. Mom's polished maple table, sturdy, homely center of my meat and potatoes life. Clichés of "Leave It To Beaver" murmur behind our family conversation. We talk about high school graduation, college plans, Sputnik and the Space Race, the threat of Communism. I'm seventeen; I believe it's irresponsible to explore space while we still practice racial discrimination on our planet. I think Totalitarianism is as threatening to Capitalism as the chasing dog is to the passing car.
1968. Hokkaido, Japan. A shiny black lacquered table presents fourteen tiny covered porcelain dishes. I sit cross-legged on the tatami mat and sip hot sake. Japanese businessmen practicing English for a trip to Chicago ask if I remember Hiroshima, and, do I think Japan should support the U.S. in Vietnam? I'm twenty-eight, what I know about the bomb comes from the searing images in John Hersey's book. No, I don't support the U.S. in Vietnam; I would not encourage involvement by the Japanese or anyone else in any war at any time.
1977. Tehran, Iran. A circle of Isfahan cloth protects the luxurious thickness of Persian carpets piled deep. My host sips scalding tea through a sugar cube held between his front teeth. He pauses to extol the virtues of everything American and to decry the recent assassinations of U.S. citizens in Tehran. He stops abruptly, mid-sentence, as his oldest daughter glides past the open doorway. She is covered completely in shapeless white, the garb of a fundamentalist neophyte. She turns her face away, loathe to look upon the infidel. I'm thirty-seven; I read the father's face and body. His daughter's dedication to dogma alienates and worries him. I wonder if my small children will someday embrace beliefs the opposite of mine.
1988. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. I'm seated on the dais, plucking at invisibles on the starched white tablecloth, nervous about the after-dinner speech I'm about to deliver in Spanish to a crowd of expectant faces. This dinner celebrates the culmination of a year's effort to select and prepare rural Dominican scholarship recipients for two years of college in the States. I'm forty-eight; I know that some of these idealistic and patriotic young men and women will fail. I wish all of them could complete their two years of study abroad and return to make a significant contribution to their home villages.
1997. Roswell, New Mexico. A seat at my dining room table affords a clear view of activity outside the house across the street. A swarm of videographers crowds the gate to the back yard. My neighbor isn't there to answer their questions. They want to see the place where pieces of the crashed UFO were buried fifty years ago. I'm fifty-seven; I don't believe a UFO crashed here, although I would welcome the arrival of friendly extraterrestrials who could tell us how to fix the mess we're in. TIME Magazine announces gleefully that materialism drives Gen Xers. Not good news to me.
2008. Albuquerque, New Mexico. There's no room on my table for dinner. I spread my projects there and eat in the kitchen. I'm sixty-eight and I want the world to be a better place for my grandchildren. I'm sick of listening to the empty promises of power-mad politicians. I read Ekhart Tolle and contemplate my place in the evolution of the human race.