SMOKE: A Modern Rip Van Winkle

Originally published: 15 July 2003

Imagine going into a coma today and waking up in 19 years time, in the year 2022.

How old would you be? How old would your children be? Would your husband or wife still be alive? Who would be the leaders of your country, and indeed of the world? Will Mahendra Raghunath still be on telly?

Terry Wallis of Stone County, Arkansas is currently facing the answers to these questions, having just woken up from a coma which has seen him sleep for 19 years.

He was involved in a car crash in 1984 - aged just 20 - when his car spun off the road and into a creek. He was only discovered the next day - his best friend dead beside him - and was already comatose, a condition which didn't improve until two weeks ago, when he awoke.

The first thing he said was "Mom", followed by "Pepsi". Advertising execs are no doubt sweating into their Armani collars and running themselves stupid over plush New York office carpets, trying to maximise the potential of this unexpected endorsement.

Wallis was married at the time of his accident and his wife had just given birth to a daughter, who is now 19. They - along with his mother - spent all the years talking to him and taking him out of the hospital for holidays, and doctors have speculated that this constant stimulation of his mind helped him remember things when he woke up.

Now he is talking fine, although he still suffers from short-term memory problems and his speech is slurred.

What a rush. Not that you'd want to lose half your natural life in a coma, but in effect he has been a time traveller, skipping almost two decades into the future, and at least he has that to take out of the whole affair.

Not to mention a bloody good sleep and from where I'm sitting right now, 19 years on the horizontal sounds like a pretty damn fine idea.

When Wallis "died" Ronald Regan was still president - he's missed out on two Bushes seperated by a Clinton. Princess Diana was barely into her marriage to Charles and he missed not only their divorce but her death as well.

We've set a Rover on Mars, the West Indies have long since fallen from their status as best cricket side in the world, the Berlin Wall has come down and there is no longer an East and West Germany. In fact - the whole Cold War has vanished as though it never happened.

CDs have been invented, not to mention dvds, and entire new communication methods are now commonplace like cellphones and the Internet. All the old bands are gone and music has changed dramatically from what it was at the start of the 80's, when Thriller was topping the charts and groups like The Commodores were seen as perfectly acceptable.

Wallis will never have heard rap music; he will be wondering where his stone-washed denims and white boots are and he'll never have heard of people like Jim Carrey, J-Lo, Mariah Carey, Brad Pitt and Britney Spears.

Even language has changed, with English now a peculiar perversion of its original self and filled with all sorts of sub-culture additions that have even me perplexed, let alone Wallis.

The world has changed unimaginably since Wallis was last compos mentis, from the ending of apartheid in South Africa to the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York, and it's an almighty amount to assimilate and understand.

I wonder how it's going to affect him when he returns to "normal" life? I have no knowledge of what he was like before his accident and for all I know he's not exactly a rocket scientist.

But I would imagine his case will spark a fair amount of interest in the medical and psychology fields and I'm sure they'll sort him out.

I wouldn't like to suffer a coma - there's no control over it whatsoever - but I would love to leap forward to 2022 for a day and see where we'll be.

Will we even still be around? Will a demon have arisen from the East as prophesised (someone, somewhere will have prophesised it, without doubt) and a war to end all wars have been fought? Will a man have walked on Mars?

Will electrical energy have replaced petrol? Will a tidal wave - caused by a rupture in the Atlantic sea bed - have washed over Western Africa, wiping out millions in its path?

Will we have virtual reality, moon trips, sidewalk travelators and maglev trains? Will Cape Town have an Underground? Will we have found and implemented cures for AIDS and cancer, or will some new disease have wiped out one third of the world population?

And will Mahendra still be around? Because if he is, I'm not coming back. Forget it. Fag it, man.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
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