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Moment Mondays: “Serious” by Josh Axelrad

Monday, May 9th, 2011

By Larry Smith

Each Monday, we’re featuring a story from our upcoming book, The Moment, coming out in January 2012 from Harper Perennial. What’s a “moment”? It’s a story, told in words, images, emails or even the occasional Tweet, about something large or small, playful or profound, that changed someone’s life. Everybody has a Moment—what’s yours?

The story below by one of our favorite storytellers, Josh Axelrod, feels particularly poignant in the wake of the killing of Bin Laden.

Serious
by Josh Axelrad

The stunted ring sounds when he hangs up. I watch him walk back, his arms grooving. He sits, controller poised, eyes fixed on the television. “We’re bombing Afghanistan.”

The phone rings. There’s no more apt verb. Clem and I are on the couch with the controllers in our hands. It’s October 7, 2001. Clem pauses the game, the ring surging. Clem is unserious. His manner of ambling is comical. His arms are too long. He moves like an impersonated hippie. Both our lives have lacked substantive import to anyone, including ourselves, so far. He answers the phone with two syllables.

Due to marijuana use we’re both stoned. Grunting, Clem nods at the phone: a wall-mounted phone, in the old style.

“I understand. Thank you,” he says.

The stunted ring sounds when he hangs up. I watch him walk back, his arms grooving. He sits, controller poised, eyes fixed on the television. “We’re bombing Afghanistan.”

Buggers, I think as we drift back to Grand Theft Auto. The news hasn’t officially broken. We’re among the first in the United States to find out that the campaign that everyone has been anticipating is underway. Burt, our degenerate friend who has the desk job at the Times, picked up the report. He called us.

I wonder if the president has been informed. I wonder at what point, if any, the tone in which Clem, Burt and I have eternally spoken will shift. There always was expected some milestone, some screaming juncture on the way where our irreverence would be suddenly transformed, and where life would emerge in its import, and we all would learn how to be serious.

The terror attacks didn’t do it. And now with the news cycle shifting, I muster the idea that there’s nothing that can—that the urgency, if any, of life… belongs not to life but to ourselves.

Josh Axelrad is a former professional blackjack player and author of the memoir Repeat Until Rich. SMITH Magazine’s Lewis Schiff’s interview with Axelrod.

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