Sweet Home 1985
Created by reddit user /u/Hornswaggle in response to an /r/askreddit question:
"You unexpectedly time-travel to 1985. You have no way back, ever. What do you do?"
The original author seems to have "wrote himself into a hole". Another redditor has started a reboot of the series: http://www.reddit.com/r/1985sweet1985/comments/1yoivu/1985_reeboted_the_prologue/
Well, let's suppose that I am walking home from work on a normal day and boom, I open my apartment door to find out it is 1985.
First comes confusion as I wonder why my apartment looks different. hopefully no one is home. Hopefully something will trigger a sense of the 80s, a magazine or household product. The TV will be old as hell but look new. I turn it on. It is around 6 pm so I am watching the news and there is an earthquake in Mexico City and maybe something about Tipper Gore. I have $20 in my pocket and a wallet full of useless cards that would appear fake to authorities, not to mention no identity.
Sorry past apartment renters, but I gotta rob you. I search the apartment for anything I can take in my over-the-shoulder and maybe make some cash. I'm out the door.
It's 1985. I am 11 in St. Louis. But 37 year-old me has a bag full of stolen goods in Chicago and is a block and half from my grandmother's house. Will my grandmother recognize the 11 year old in the 37 year old me? Is my youngest uncle currently around the corner at The Bubble having a drink? How can I get to St. Louis?
It's 9/19 and in a few weeks the Royals will escape defeat at the hands of the Cardinals with some bullshit call in Game 6. Also, the Bears will win the Super Bowl. Aside from the stolen goods I have an Andriod LG phone, a 5-year old ipod nano and earphones and an USB drive with personal and business files in a file form that probably hasn't been invented yet.
At this point, I've got to get to St. Louis. What will that take in 1985? I can't fly without ID, can I? I am trusting that my parents, will somehow know that I am, in fact, their time-traveling son. I am trusting that parental feeling. But will my grandmother? What if she doesn't... has she moved to Florida yet? I think back to a photo of me on the family station wagon with my sisters visiting my Grandmother in Fort Myers, FL. When was that? I look taller than 11 and I remember wearing a Led Zeppelin T, so probably older than 11. I think she is still on Granville. I'm going there, but first let's get rid of these stolen goods. I don't know hoe long I will be in this neighborhood, so I can't find a Pawn shop around here. I have some watches, jewelry and 36 more dollars. I have two gold coins from 1976 and an antique Mickey Mouse watch with moving hands. I should go downtown, the L is right here and I have 6 dollars in ones. I remember seeing older looking marqees for jewelers downtown north of the Mag Mile. I walk to the Bryn Mawr stop. Thankfully, someone else is getting tokens from this machine I've never seen before and I mimic her actions and get as many tokens as $6 will get me. I have a transit pass in my wallet, but it won't work until 1999 or so.
Things are crazy as hell on what would later be named the Red Line and I am tempted to get out my ipod, but I will need all the power it has to maybe sell it or demonstrate it's use to someone capable.
Walton and Delaware downtown are littered with jewelers and antique dealers. I sell 8 pieces of jewelry at 6 shops to avoid arousing suspicion and get a better price, hoping I don't look like anything but someone who recently lost his Grandmother and these are the pieces we can part with.
It is 7:27 p.m. and I now have $467. I consider avoiding my grandmother altogether. I go over to State and Chestnut, the current "Viagra Triangle" and have a beer. While I am at the bar I hear a laugh I recognize. I look over and see my boss. My boss is an awesome gal, 51 in 2011 but 25 in 1985. 2011 us had recently returned from a two week business trip though HK and Guangdong province.
That's when it hits me. If I get lucky, I can use the tech in my bag to get a job manufacturing this shit in China, may start my own tech hardware company. Hell, even though the items in my possession are basically useless hard drives with programming in languages yet invented, the hard drive, USB and touch-screen tech are invaluable technological headstarts.
First things, first:
Bang my 25-year old boss (she meets her current 2011 husband in 3 months!)
Get to St. Louis.
First thigns first I wake up in Lincoln Park. It is Friday 9/20/1985 and NPR reminds me of this as my 25-year old 2011 boss is showering. I am making coffee as she emerges. I has used all the information 8 years of being colleagues and 5 seasons of How I met Your Mother to get her into bed. I shower and redress and we head down to the train together. I had lied and said I had a job at Leo Burnett, the only company i could remember being downtown that would surely already be there in 1985 (thanks Mad Men). I promise to call her after I get back from my weekend trip to St. Louis.
I walk to Union Station and I am in luck. I can purchase a ticket without ID. I lurk in the Union Station gift shop, buying a TIME, Forbes and a Newsweek. I also get a Chicago Tribune and a New York Times. Also a Barron's. My Mom's Dad read Barron's religiously and I hope this will help. I expect I am going to have to pull one of those "I know things only I could know" routines. I have 6 hours to kill before the 3 o'clock train. I have $412 after the tickets and periodicals and 6 hours to read them on the train. I will arrive in St, Louis around 9 pm. I can take a cab to a hotel near my family's house, so maybe I should get some clothes.
I walk to Macy's, wait... still Marshal Fields. I see a Nintendo, brand new for $129.99 and the 11 year old inside me wants to get it for myself. My parents never got me one, I played early games on a Commodore 64. Who knows how much I will need the money, so I focus on clothes. I get a pack of boxers, Ts, and a pair of Levi's 501 jeans. As I spend the money, I start to get really nervous about the predicament I am in. I can't spend anymore money unless I need to. I head back to Union Station and lounge on the wooden benches around the old clock. I start reading up on the events I already lived through as an oblivious 11 year old. Crocket and Tubbs are on the cover, they found the Titantic and Reagan messes with the Fed. Newsweek: South Africa, Apartheid.
I take the 6 hour train trip to St. Louis, dozing and reading about Fall of 1985. When I arrive, I get a taxi to take me to this old hotel in downtown Clayton, the closest I remember to my old house. As the taxi leaves, I start walking. It takes me 45 minutes to get to the ole place. We moved in when I was 6 or maybe 7. We would move out in, I think, two years. I'm nervous. It is after 10 and I stand on the street down the big hill. My main childhood home sits atop with my whole 1985 family, probably asleep by now. Tomorrow is Saturday. I wish maybe it was Friday, then I'd have just my mom to talk to. Then I think maybe it is better to have Dad there too, she'd be more inclined to talk with Dad there. Maybe it is better to have 11 year old me there to compare to? Maybe not. I know where I can sleep nearby, in a big bush we used as a fort as kids. It's bushy and soft and has a nice hollow inside, I can sleep there until morning.
"I don't know, I don't think we need to call the cops."
"Son.... Son. Wake-up son"
I am jostled awake by an elderly man. Mr. Campbell. I remember you, what are you doing in Chicago Mr. Campbell, I thought you were dead.
"Well, I'm not dead Son and this isn't Chicago."
I look up at Mr. Campbell. He's been dead for 22 years in 2011. 2011! 1985! I remember my predicament and I bolt upright at the waist.
"I'm sorry Mr. Campbell... I...know how much you like your bushes"
I stammer like the child was when Mr. Campbell would catch us in the bushes after he came home from work or at night. I quickly grab my bag and stand upright. I had never stood in those bushes as an adult and it turns out I'm much taller at 37. As I stand I see my father looking at me. He has his hand on my 11 year-old shoulder. I look at him. He has more hair and then it dawns on me. He was 27 when I was born. I would have just turned 11, so he's actually 38, going to be 39 in December. We are the same age. I look at my 11-year old self. I have bushy red hair and cords on. A striped polo shirt and reeboks. I have my arms crossed across my chest and I'm squinting in the sunlight. I'm at a loss for words. I had hoped I would wake up with the light, and been able to come up to the house and knock on the door. Now I look like a hobo, an oddly well dressed one.
"He looks like Uncle John." says 11-year old me. I do, I always have.
As I say this, my father looks right at me and I can tell from the look on his faces he agrees, that I do look like my mothers youngest brother, who is in fact younger than 2011 me in 1985.
I've got to get out of here. I wasn't ready for this and there are other people around. Mr. Campbell's was... IS.. across the street and two houses down and there are other kids on the street. that's why we lovd it some much. Four of them are hanging around my Dad: Mike, Abby, Beth and Elizabeth. I see Elizabeth's Dad standing on his porch with a weed trimmer. He is looking at us all. I really fucked this up. I would have set the alarm on my phone, but that would require it be on all night and god knows you can't keep a charge over night.
"Uh, sorry folks. I got locked out of my condo."
I wiggle out of the bushes and gingerly move towards the old fence behind Mr. Campbell's that led behind the large condo buildings that our old little neighborhood hid behind. I move through the gap in the fence we used all the time. My Dad is still looking at me, but not like I'm about to be confronted by Chris Hansen on Dateline. I turn to walk, quickly to the condos and I can see my Mom's car is gone from the drive way. She's out. Where is she?
I turn the corner behind a building to stop and get out of sight of all my old neighbors and, you know, MYSELF! I stand there and my heart is pounding. I hadn't thought any of that through and I screwed it up royally before I even began. Shit, I could just tell my dad that and he'd understand. Well, my 2011 Dad would. At 11 I've really only screwed up once. When I was 8 my Dad built this really nice two tiered wooden deck on the front of our house. It covered this ugly simple concrete set of steps and replaced with this much larger, nicer two-level deck with stairs and benches. That summer, I used the deck as a base for my G.I. Joe toy. I used a permanent sharpie to mark of where the vehicles landed and the helicopter should land. He was supremely pissed. I grin to myself and laugh. I look up and I see a For Sale sign... Coldwell Banker, with my mother's name on it.
She's showing property. My mother went back to work son after my youngest sister turned 4, so about one year ago, 1984. I would need to call her and see what house she was showing. I reached for my phone. Of course, there isn't going to be a cellular signal. I would need a payphone. Jesus Christ, when was the last time I used a pay phone on the street? Where was there one?
I remembered the Baskin Robbins had one, right next to the Pantera's Pizza (I LOL'd). I bought a shake and got some quarters and dialed my mom's office number by heart. Still the same in 2011 as it was in 1985. The receptionist informed my of the location of the showing and the time. I planned to show up when it was over, 1pm; and I would need all that time to walk there. 1926 High School Avenue, my old friend Mark Bassmens house. We had been close friends until his parents put him in a expensive private prep school in 6th grade, they moved further out into the suburbs of St. Louis County. Jesus, this had been my last summer with Mark, in 1985. When school started I went back to St. Mary's and he went to Loyola.
I started walking, if I moved quickly I could get there by noon. I had an hour and more to plan how to do this. I really wish I had bought a watch. A watch would be handy right now. As far as I'm concerned my android power is sacred and who even knows if the clock would work. I've tried to judge the wisdom of turning it on and fiddling around to see what it says, versus conserving power. I've walked around the block three times. This time, I stand in front, across the street. I see the tree-house Mark and I played in, long gone by now in 2011. I see my Mother start to escort a couple out of the front door and I make my move. No need to make myself look any more odd. My dress has always been conservative, buttons down, slacks, etc. So I don't look too far removed from the stereotypical preppy guy, even the Chuck Taylors are around in 1985, but who knows. I have a messenger bag that is definitely NOT 1985 and glasses too, but who notices that?
"Hello! Welcome to the showing."
"Yes, good afternoon."
Come on in, we've had a lot of people today, but it looks like you might be the last. Are you alone?"
"Not a problem at all, are you familiar with the neighborhood?"
"Very... I grew up here. I haven't been back in 25 years."
"Well, welcome back then."
My mother leads me through the house and we exchange pleasant banter about the house. She is 34, the exact age of my girlfriend in 2011. She has had three kids though and I am reminded of those years when we were young, how she struggled to loose weight. She looks so young to me though, but she is still Mom. She is still Melissa, that woman who is my Mom. We come back down from the second level and look out from the kitchen into the back yard.
"So that is where Mark and Josh played?"
"Mark Bassmen and his friend, Josh?"
"Um... yes... You know the Bassmens, then?"
"I would say I know then very well..."
"But you look to be my husbands age and you've not lived here for 25 years? Do you know Mr. Bassman?"
"Yes, I do."
My mother is tactful and sharp, she is looking at me intently. it is nerve-wracking and all too familiar. In a moment of tension, I default and whip out my phone. I go to unlock it with a swipe and she sees it. It is turned off so doesn't take my orders. I look at it's blank screen with the smudge across the bottom, my desperate attempt to shield my 37 year-old self from my 11-year old Mother's inquisitorial gaze.
"What is that?"
"This is nothing..." As I realize my slip up, I begin to put it back in my pocket, but them I see the look on her face, it has softened into interest. My Mother was always a scifi fan. She gave me copies of The Martians Chronicles and Rendezvous with Rama. We shared that love of Sci-fi all our lives together. Heinlein, Niven, Dick. She loved Dan Simmons when I gave her a copy of Ilium. This could be what I need.
"Actually, it is something straight out of Star Trek."
"Here take a look." I power it up. It makes the Android noise and the screen comes on. I slide to unlock. My girlfriends face is the screensaver and a without skipping a beat, my mother says, "She's cute." I don't know what to do, everything about this device is 20 years beyond where she lives now. There are icons all over my screen: Angry Birds, Bubble Blast, MyFitness, Messaging and Contacts.
"What is this little symbol.. looks like a phone."
"It is a phone. A camera too, take a look." I open up the camera and take a picture of her. I remember this very phone has picture of her grandchildren, my sister's kids.
See, I took a picture of you..." I am looking at the phone, but I see she is finally and rightly nervous. I hope I didn't push it too far.
"Someday everyone will have one of these..."
She looks at me, a little afraid. I take out my wallet and I being to empty it on the kitchen counter. My ID, my credit cards, my frequent flyer cards, my Dominicks cards, my Best Buy Reward Zone. I lay them all out in front her, with my ID right in front.
She looks right at it. Then I said what might have been the perfect thing.
"I'm just as afraid and nervous as you are right now."
"Well, I highly doubt that."
I move around the counter across from her and I slowly remove my ipod, the USB drive. I begin to empty my bag, newspapers and magazines I bought for the train, but also the WIRED I had from August. The Chicago Reader from earlier that week. I have folded up crossword puzzles I saved from the Chicago Red Eye to do on the train, all with dates all over them.
"I'm from 2011. I'm Josh Carlisle from 2011, I'm 37 years old. All of this here is what I have and you can ask me any question you want until you are satisfied that I am who I say I am." "oh really..." she says. "This is all very interesting. Am I supposed to go through all of this and be convinced of something? You don't look like you need money, so I'm at a loss to uncover what you want form a real estate agent in the suburbs."
"I can't say what I want. As you can imagine this is a rare situation to say the least. Of course, I don't expect you to believe me, not right away. I don't have a lot of choices, well, legal choices and I've never been one to dabble in illegal solutions... you taught me that."
She looks up at me holding a United Airlines reward card. "Member since 2009" it says on the front. It has been sitting in my wallet for years and is scratched all over. She places it down and picks up my ID again. 2011 IL drivers licenses have a water mark on them and she tilts it back a forth.
"This is a lot of trouble to go through and I'm not sure what reward you are hoping to get."
"Don't you even want hear the whole story of how I traveled through time and got here?"
"Sure..." She reviews everything on the counter as I tell her about returning home to a home taken back in time. About becoming a thief and getting some cash. I talk about taking the train and reading about 1985 on the way home. I tell her that I knew that everyone I was friends with as an adult was a child, that every older colleague and mentor was now my age and likely to think me a clown. Who would I have in a world I've been removed from by 26 years of time, something I thought previously immutable. If my own Mother and Father couldn't look me in the eye and see who I was, then where was I to begin? No where, no where I'd know about. I would be really and truly alone. Left adrift in a new old world with nothing, no identity, no family, no skills or training I could document and only and few hundred dollars. No home, no car and not even a full change of clothes. All I have is a loose memory of 26 years yet to play out that would probably come screaming back at inconvenient and useless moments.
"I feel like Merlin in The Once and Future King. I believe your copy was given to you by your college English teacher."
She removes her hands from the counter, but stops short of taking a step back.
"I can answer lots of questions like that, questions only I can answer."
"Which is really where all this is headed isn't it? Unless I call the police and have you arrested."
"Isn't that the most likely ending here? I know you have some faith in things unseen, but my unwavering practicality comes from you. Time-travel is impossible, at least highly improbable, and you'd be foolish to believe it."
"This is your wallet from 2011?" She says lifting up my flappy, empty leather wallet.
She removes the money from inside and starts reading them. "2007. 2009. 1999. 1998. 1981! 1987. 2010. You know, the papers and cards would be somewhat easy to make for someone with an agenda, but this is difficult. Counterfeit money is hard to make and if you can do it, you wouldn't need to con people."
"A reasonable hypothesis."
"My 11 year old son... who you claim to be, said that same thing to me today when I asked if he was going to put off doing his homework until Sunday night. Tell me something I don't know."
"I wasn't supposed to be your first child."
My mother is a woman who is hard as nails. Perhaps she didn't expect her 37 year old son to know she had a misscarriage before she carried me to term. Perhaps she didn't expect her 37 year-old time traveling son to cut to the bone so quickly.
"But, the doctors might now that and I could have talked to them. As part of my elaborate hoax, right? How about I tell you when I knew Santa Claus was you and Dad. Two years ago, and I mean 1983, you and Dad got me new bike for Christmas. Dad's Mom was staying with us for Christmas so I was sleeping on the air mattress in the girls room. The combination of anxiety and unusual sleeping arrangements meant I was resting fitfully as best. You and Dad have always made Christmas great, laying out the gifts in the Living Room as if Santa had left them. Well, this year I thought I had slept all night. I got out of bed and walked into the Living Room. The only thing that had been set out was my great new red ten-speed bike. You walked into the room, saw me and shooed me quickly out of the room. When I woke up after sleeping the night away, finally, I saw the bike and my brain knew that you and Dad were Santa. I never told the girls."
She looked me in the eye.
"Gather your things, I need to call my husband. Don't go anywhere."
My mother is on the phone, in the other room. She has grabbed the big plastic handset we all recognize as obsolete, take the 12 feet of pig tail cord with her and disappeared into the dining room. I am left with my thoughts and my pounding heart. My hands are sweaty. I look down at them and see that there are marks left by my fingernails. My glasses are blurry, I reach into my back pocket for my handkerchief. Inside is a microfiber cloth for cleaning glasses. This fabric doesn't even exist, probably. As I clean my glasses I think about how I am just so unsure about everything. I remember so much from my childhood, but when did that all happen. If I tell my parents things I recall have they even happened yet? Events from when I was 12 blur together with events from when I was 8. I even joke with friends that all my stories from childhood seem to have happened when I was 8. The dichotomy is palpable; being from the future and but feeling lost in a time where I should be able to predict events.
My mother raises her voice, but I cannot hear what she is saying. It would be wrong to eavesdrop and most likely not a wise PR move with a young women with whom I hope to establish a form of trust over an impossible scenario. I begin to gather my things. I notice among them a copy of Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land and I chuckle to myself. I am returning items to my wallet when my mother returns from the dining room. She hangs up the phone.
"My husband is on his way over right now. I would like you to go out front so I can lock up the house. The homeowners, the Bassmens will be returning in a few hours."
"What did he say?"
"He asked if you had a green argyle zip-up sweater and an over-sized purse. Evidently, you've been to our house."
"I have, yes. It didn't quite go as planned. i didn't really have a plan. How do you plan for this."
She is calm, but suddenly she looks tired. She looks at the floor and then to the keys in her hands. She keeps looking down.
"I guess you don't... As ridiculous as the whole sounds, as it is.. ridiculous... we aren't going to have you arrested."
"That's thoughtful." We both stand there. I don't know why we are both so nervous. Maybe I do, considering the circumstances, but the feeling, the air between us is so laden that it is impossible to know what to feel or think. "You have nothing more to ask me?"
"No.. not now. I prefer to hear what Bill thinks. He definitely wants a word with you either way."
"Ever the skeptic." She catches herself snickering in agreement then peers up at me from her lowered brow. Her smirk vanishes.
"I'll wait out front by the tree growing around the bricks."
"Don't try too hard or we'll think you're over-doing it."
I walk out the front door past the tree growing over the bricks used to fill up a hole decades ago. I look at my mothers car. A green Chevy caprice Classic Station wagon with fake wood panel decals. Wow. This old beater has been gone for years and years. We drove this thing to South Dakota, Florida, Philadelphia and even Connecticut. My Dad and I lined the back with tarps and filled it with firewood and mulch so many, many times. Later, I drove it to high school, for two years. I drove high school friends around in it. I would almost loose my virginity in it in 9 years... almost. I touch it, run my hands up the hood and start to look inside. I hear a car coming down the street and I look up to see my Dads Green Datsun hatchback. I would total that very same car when I was 17. My girlfriend lived 40 minutes away and she gave me my first head on weekend nights as I drove her back home. Shit, that girl is 9 right now.
He pulls up and parks behind my Mom's car and I take a step back. he shuts it down and gets out of the car. My mother is locking the door. I take a step forward as he closes the door and he turns to look at me. He's... guarded. My father is a genial and fun loving man. All of my friends, for years, have loved my father. He loves people, animals and kids, especially kids. He is, however, an immovable object of bald silence. He is not easily swayed.
I stop and nervously grab my shoulders strap, I try to look confident but nonthreatening. I have no idea if I am succeeding.
My mother walks over. "Hello Dear, did you leave Josh in charge?"
"Yes, but he expects you to be right home."
"I would think so." she turns to me. "You sir, I hope to see you soon." She looks over her shoulder at my Father. "Back at the house perhaps." She says with finality, this was clearly her preferred choice of the non-negotiable options she gave my Father.
She gets in her car, turns the ignition and buckles her safety belt. She waves at me and smiles. I wave back absentmindedly.
She pulls away.
It is around 2pm on Saturday 9/21/1985.
"Shall we go for a drive?" My Father suggests politely.
I move towards the passenger side and stop in front of the car.
"Where are we going?" I ask, remembering the tenuous nature of my situation.
"Not far." He says as he opens the door to get in the car.
My father's bald head disappears into the car. I see the car settle as he gets in and the I see his hand reach over and unlock the passenger door.
I move and open the door. I lean over and look in. He is looking at me. He’s... waiting. He’s waiting for me to get in.
“So... where are we going? I don’t think it's too... inappropriate of me to ask.”
“We aren’t going far.” He continues to stare, then he shakes his head impatiently. “It’s broad daylight and we are going somewhere public and visible.”
I grin, “Thanks.” I stand up and let out a small sigh or relief. “I mean, I did wake up in the neighbor’s bushes. You’ve got three kids to protect,” I say as I get in the car.
“Listen—” he says. He throws his right arm over the seat back to turn to me; I flinch. “I can’t say that I don’t recognize you. When Josh said something this morning it crossed my mind that you looked like my son. I didn’t think anymore of it until Melissa called.” He looks me in the eye for a brief moment, he tilts his heed from side to side. He squints.
“But we can’t stay hear to talk, can we?” he says, as he removes his arm to turn the ignition.
“I guess not. Mom says that Mark and his family will be back soon.”
“Don't call her that.”
“Yeah, I’m not sure what point in the process of believing the impossible you guys are at, but I know she’s my mother, so... I’ll do my best.” I don’t think I can push my luck.
We drive around the corner, take another left and then another. We haven’t driven 50 yards before we turn into Tilles Park.
“Has it changed much in 2011?”
“Not really, they still do the Christmas lights but there is a nice modern jungle gym and water fountain somewhere over there where those swings are now.” I point. He grunts in the general direction.
We drive down a slope and around a few curves and come to a rest in a two car parking spot in front of a picnic bench, in the high back part of the park. We park and he gets out. I get out, too. I take my bag.
“So, what is it you think you can get out my family? Money—do you need money?”
“No, it’s not that—really. Listen, I can tell you the whole story just like I told Mom—er—Melissa.”
We are both moving towards the table instinctively, but he stops. He puts his hand up and lowers his head shaking it. “No, I don’t want to hear all of that. How you came back from the future and what-not; Melissa and I took Josh and Megan to see Back to the Future just a few months ago. I don’t want to hear about some flux-capacitor bullshit and, frankly, it’s just... just crap! What’s the word?" He places his hand on his hip and searches the air for the word with the other, he begins to pace. “Your mother is better with the words...”
I jump on that, “My mother? I thought we weren’t saying...”
“Hey, yeah, so you look just like my son, you got the same hair and the eyes and, yeah, she is nervous that she believes what you’re saying, but I don’t have that luxury, do I? So what do you want?” He just looks at me. He makes his hand into an open palm and holds it up as if to say, “what the fuck else am I supposed to do?”
“Advice!” I blurt out.
He’s non-plussed. I realize that that is the truth. “As far as I know, I am stuck here. Here in a place I barely remember. I guess it isn’t so bad, I mean—I survived it once as a 11 year old but not without help.”
I begin pacing. “I don’t have anything and I’m not talking about money or clothes or food. I’m talking about an identity, I don’t have a valid 1985 driver’s license. I don’t have basic things that allow a person to make their life in this world, you know?” I look at him and my arms are out like I’m begging. “I don’t have... an employment history... to get a job with. I have a Bachelor’s Degree... IN 1996! There’s no transcript of that. As far as I know I am stuck here in 1985, not able to get back to 2011 with my girlfriend, and you and Mom in your sixties. So, I thought the only people who might—MIGHT—believe me would be my parents!”
“Well, I’m not sure that I can do that,” he says, arms crossed.
“Then why did you bring me here?” I yell. His eyes register a moment of concern. “If you can’t believe me, then why did you bring me specifically to this spot. I know this spot, here in the park.” I am accusing him now. My finger points past his shoulder towards the edge of the park, into some trees.
“Right there! Right over there!” I stride past him pointing, shouting over my shoulder.
“Here,” I stop and stand in front a group of three trees. They are growing in what always looked like a perfect equilateral triangle. They are 6 feet apart. I turn to face him and point down in front of me looking right into his eyes. “This is where we buried him. He is right here, under three feet of earth, and we did it together and only you and I know about it. It’s still fresh in your mind because it happened, what... like two years ago now?”
He’s stopped right in his tracks, 5 feet in front of me. This was the thing, the thing only I would know and he can’t believe it.
“Look, I even keep it with me—the tag. The dog tag, it’s here in my messenger bag.” I frantically whip around my bag. “I keep it in a velcro pocket with a few odds and ends.” I am opening flaps and zippers and I rip open a velcro pocket. Did they have velcro yet? Sure they did...? I reach in and bring out a simple nickel key ring, the kind that doubles back on itself. It has two dog identification tags on it.
“After Midnight was put down, you and I buried him right here. Then Mallory wanted a new dog, so you guys got—”
“Doug...” he whispers, astonished.
“Yeah...” I look down at the key ring and take two steps forward to hold up the two tags in front of his face.
,----------------------+ / –“Midnight”– | \ Owner: Rick Carlisle | ----------------------+ ,----------------------+ / –“Doug”– | \ Owner: Josh Carlisle | ----------------------+
“—Doug... he died in 1997.”
My father takes the ring and looks down at it. He looks up at me. No tears, no trembling, but his steeliness is gone.
“Josh...?” "Yes!" I throw my arms up in a V. A smile creeps across my face.
"Josh!" My father says, his face lights up, into a face I've recognized for years.
"Yes! Thank God, Yes!" I grasp his shoulders.
"This is... this is amazing!" He grabs my upper arms and pulls me in for a huge hug. I hug him back. I feel like the 11 year-old boy I'm supposed to be. For a brief second, I close my eyes. I feel a wave of relieve flow over me. The burden of maybe having to rebuild my life alone is lifted off my shoulders as my father hugs me. We are the same age but, he my father and he can still make me feel like everything is all right.
He grabs my shoulders and we pull apart. He looks at me and puts his hand on my face. "You look good."
I laugh, he says it like we are old high school buddies and he hasn't seen me in 10 years. "you look good too, Pop."
He puts his arm around me as we start walking to the car. "Pop? You don't call me Pop?"
"Yeah... I think I started calling you Pop about 5 or six years ago."
We are walking arm over arm back to the car, like old friends. "I don't know. It's going to sound funny. I was in my early 30s and you were in your late 50s..."
"I make it that far, eh"
"Sure, Pop." I stop and pull back a bit, my hand still on his back. "You're still alive when I left." I look at him and remember the 64 year-old man from 2011. That mans face briefly replaces this one and I am all too aware of how much he is going to age. My sister's and I have just recently started talking about how frustrated he is, that his body just isn't capable of what it used to anymore.
My father was always an active guy, always working with his hands. He stayed fit by working in the yard, raking leaves, chopping wood, working around the house. All with my help throughout they years.
"Still going." I say. We walk over to the hood of the car to sit. "I was living in Chicago, have since 1999. In 2006 or something, you drove to Dayton, OH and I flew in. We went to an Air Show, which we hadn't done in a long time. There were something like 100 restored and maintained P-51s and yo just had to see that. You called me up and said you were going and if I wanted to join you, here were the dates and the times. I knew you would really like it if I went, so I did. It was likes old times, just we were both older. I was a man, with a job and bills... I , uh... I had always referred old men as Pop. I looked at you on the tarmac and the word came to mind. It felt affectionate and appropriate." I shrug. "It stuck."
I turn to him, I had been looking at the park. He is standing there, tearing up. "So... we still have a good relationship?"
Now I start to tear up. We hug again. "Shit, Pop. We've always had a great relationship." He hugs in 1985 just like the last time I visited St. Louis that summer in 2011. We've always loved each other very much. No amount of teen crap or rebellious nonsense got in the way of that. Regardless, I wasn't very rebellious.
We separate. We just there looking at each other, it becomes goofy. He laughs, slaps his hand on my shoulder and starts to sit on the car. He pats the other side of the hood. "So what the hell do we do now?"
"Damned if I know. I have no idea what brought me here, how long I can stay or are supposed to stay or even if I'm supposed to go back. If I can even get back. It's a little like Quantum Leap."
"Like what?" He looks puzzled.
"Quantum Leap, the show with Scott Bakula he leaps from body to body righting wrongs and... Is that not on TV yet?"
"No, I think if you remembered it we'd be watching it now and I've never seen anything like that."
I look forward. "Maybe it hasn't come out yet."
"Maybe you could write it." I look at him, that isn't a bad idea.
"That's not a bad idea."
"What was it about?"
"Well, this scientist gets sucked into some sort of nuclear experiment, thus "Quantum". He leaps around time and inhabits people bodies. He has a assistant from the future, from his time, who appears with information throughout the episode to help him figure out what to do. The premise is that he is supposed to "put right what once went wrong". I say that in the patois of the shows opening, I remember it so well. I could have sworn that was around 1985.
"So the hero takes people over and changes their lives? Sounds like Invasion of the Body Snatchers."
"Both good movies."
He turns to me with a quizzical look. "How have you seen them?"
"Easily. You guys have a VCR by now right?"
"Yeah... Oh yeah! You saw it on tape."
"Nope, I saw it over Netflix. By 2011 I have a gaming system in my home that wires into something called the Internet which is a vast system of massive hard drives. I can have just about any movie ever made streamed, or electronically sent through wires, directly into my house to a huge 46" TV." I look at him matter-of-factly. He seems unfazed.
"Let me show you this." I reach into my bag to get my phone. "This is a smartphone, which is a mobile wireless telephone that also can interact with the internet without any wires at all. Most everyone in 2011, even poor inner city high school kids, has some version of this. If not a smartphone, then a mobile telephone that doesn't need wires."
I power up the phone and we slide right next to each other. I show him the different apps. Angry Birds, again. He is amazed.
"You have a map in here?"
"Yeah, a map the entire world, down to the street. Except North Korea. It won't work now thought, there's no internet."
"it has a map right here, it says "Niles, IL" evidently we are on Lehigh and Howard... wait it's gone. It says no signal."
"yeah, you need the internet and something called the Global Positioning System. It has to do with satelites all over our orbit."
"Yeah. Here..." I take it from him. "Let me take your picture. this aperture here is a still camera and a video camera."
"Yeah, Hold Still." I take his photo. "I took Mom's picture at the Bassmens. I knew she would geek out on the phone, being such a sci-fi buff and all..."
"Your Mother! We gotta get back to the... "Geek out" what does that mean?'
"it's hard to explain... Here's the photo I took." I show him the photo gallery, first his photo and then I slide my finger across the glass. When my Mother's photo appears, he is amazed.
"Did you just move the picture with your finger?" He takes the photo from me.
"Yup. That glass reacts to my touch, I've been doing it this whole time."
He slides my mother's photo back to his. "Amazing." He then slides back to my Mom and then past it. "Who are these adorable kids?"
"Um.. those are your grandkids." He looks up at me with the most gentle look on his face. I don't know what to do. Telling him about future gadgets is one thing, but years of TV and books have instilled in me an ungrounded fear of what knowledge of future personal events can potentially do. He keeps scrolling.
"These are your kids?" He looks up.
"No, actually. Those are Megan and Mallory's kids. I don't know if you should look at that." He doesn't look up.
"Well, that's 22 years in the future and... God knows what happens if you know these kids exist in 2011." I quickly take the phone abck and push the button to power it down.
"What are you talking about?" He's not pleased, he's looking at the phone.
"Dad, those kids... they mean the world to me, and you, in 2011. But they were born because of the sequence of events that led the girls to get married an have kids when they did and with the men they loved..."
"So what does that have to do with me looking at pictures of them?"
"I don't know, but it could... I honestly don't know how. But doesn't it make some rational sense?"
"Rational sense? You've shown me my grandkids! Are they destined to come along?"
Oh boy. My head is swimming with half-remembered episodes of Star Trek. Questions of causality and destiny. I was never a believer in destiny.
I hang my head. "I've been selfish. So selfish and I've just now realized it."
He places his hand on my shoulder, "What do you mean?"
I place my fingers on my forehead, thumbs on my cheeks, elbows on my knees. "I've been so focused on getting some help, on not being alone in this mess that I've not considered the consequences. I didn't think the world would suffer any real consequences, especially not me. My life in 2011 is good, but I haven't thought I'd really be going back and the thought of being able to lead a life again, of starting over, in a way, from 1985 at 37 and... and maybe helping you and Mom to raise 11-year old me to be, I don't know... better. but I was so focused, so selfish that I didn't think that 2011 Megan and Mallory didn't want their lives altered. They are happily married with beautiful little kids, they are building lives they love..."
"And maybe you've changed all that?" He states, with understanding I can tell he doesn't fully possess.
I look up. "Yeah..."
He takes a deep breath and slaps me on the shoulder. "This sounds like a conversation your mother should be involved in."
Madonna and Sean Penn. Yeah... that's going to last a long time. I am still trying to figure out if Madonna is or was hot. The week old PEOPLE magazine the desk clerk loaned me is not helping. If I didn't think she was hot when I was a hormonal teenager when she did that entire movie about fucking, then I'm never going to. Especially in 2011, I think to myself.
I take another bite of Trix. Why did General Mills change all their cereal formulas? Trix in 1985 ARE better than they are in 2011. I always wondered if it was just the mental distance between 2011 and my childhood that made them taste so crappy, but it wasn't.
Yes. Much better in 1985. Two weeks later, PEOPLE has a gripping piece on parents and rock and the harmful effects it has on their impressionable young kids. The crap still happens in 2011, except now with video games. The parents have gotten worse, too.
It is Sunday, September 29th 1985 and I am eating a quick breakfast in a hotel room I have been living in for close to a week now. The Bears are going to win today. The room is pretty typical and it dawned on my how hotels haven't changed much in 26 years, except for the furnishings, which themselves really haven't changed much either. Same too-firm beds. Same in-offensive furniture. The TV is much older. I was able to do laundry yesterday and I now have 5 days worth of clean clothes, freshly purchased from Famous-Barr down off of 270, the old mall with the Dove on the pole. I never knew why they had that dove was there and it's long gone by 2011 and the whole place is a new Mecca for buying shit. I'm 37 years-old from 2011 back in 1985. My 11 year-old self is headed to school tomorrow and all last week while I sat here in this hotel room in Brentwood. I walked over to the McDonalds we went to all the time after games and swimming meets. I walked over the old Schnucks that is now a Syms. Or was... I think it finally morphed into a Home Depot or Kohls or something. There is a railroad restaurant, something all Schnucks used to have. Regardless, I can't remember how many times I walked through that store with my Mom. I got a coloring book where you just use a paint brush and water to make "paint" out of little color dots on the paper. I've regressed further back than just 11.
I moved to Chicago in 1999 and when I would come home 2 or 3 times a year, I would notice little changes here and there. Nothing perpares you for 26 years of changes. Brentwood Village is a strip mall that used to have a barber shop, a Ben Franklin's and a Kroger. O B Clarke's, a family favorite bar for decades is still in it's original location, next to the barber shop. Now, Brentwood Village is a huge corporate retail center with a REI and a Barnes and Noble. Of course, the ubiquitous Starbucks.
I should start Starbucks.
I plan on walking down to the Ben Franklin this week and seeing what's going on. Is that Baskin Robbins still there, or there yet? Is that convenience store with the stand-up Mario Bros. where I remember it? I did my first shop lifting in the Ben Franklin's. I almost got caught and it lost it's appeal. Walking down those aisles again... that will be weird.
I look up and the door, as if it will open itself or I wasn't expecting anybody. I put my spoon down and open the door.
"Hi, Mom." I say as I hold the door open.
"Good morning Joshua." She breezes into the room.
"Hi, Pop." We hug.
"Bears going to win today?"
"Yes. I told you. Then win every game except on against the Dolphins. They blank two teams in the playoffs before beating the Patriots for the Super Bowl."
"Ok, just wanted to check." He's rubs hid hands together. I can't tell if he is happy for the Bears or expects a few bucks from a bet he made. Probably both.
"Can I over either of you a cup of coffee?" I ask as I move to get my own second cup.
"No, we've fed the kids and left with Mom." My mother holds a bundle of papers and grins as she looks down at the table. "More Trix I see."
"Yeah, they are just like I remember."
"What is this a coloring book?"
"Yeah, there is some serious lack of adulthood happening in this room."
"I can see." She is amused. They both sit.
We have been splitting the costs of this room, but that will have to change. They can't afford to help for long and I am running out of money fast.
"Of course, that has to change." I add. I better say it before she does.
"Well, that is why we are here." Which is also a lie. One of them has been by every day this week to talk. It has been fantastic. But, they both take different tacks. Mom is pragmatic about it, we were always intellectually compatible. She hides her interest in the future. Dad is different, He has completely embraced me as a peer and even a friend. He isn't shy about his interest in everything that happens over the next 26 years. Both attitudes bother me. Mom seems to be holding herself back and Dad needs to.
My Mother always surprises me. I guess that is what Moms are supposed to do. Some people would disagree and say that Moms are supposed to be kind and predictable, comforting. All that is true, but life is rarely those things all rolled into one and Moms should prepare you. They had to balance pragmatism and emotion raising you and they should keep that balance up. She broke down crying the first night she came to visit the hotel after I moved in. She had spent two nights wondering is she as crazy. She was crazy for believing me, even though she could clearly see it in my eyes from the first moment I revealed the truth to her. Once she decided it wasn't crazy to believe, it was crazy to even doubt in the first place when it felt true whenever she looked at me. It took my 11 year-old self to coming into the dining room late one night to convince her to just live with the issue. She revealed this much to me three nights ago and I said that I felt the same way. Even though it feels like the most real thing that has ever happened, I know, in my mind, that this should all not be real. We were quiet for awhile after that and then she asked me if I got married. It was then that I had to tell her that I had been struggling hard with my thoughts about my girlfriend. I had, I have, a great girlfriend in 2011. We live together building a relationship after both of us had avoided serious ones for years. As far as I know, She came home a week ago and I wasn't there. No texts or calls and I never came home. She woke up alone and went to work and didn't here from me all the next day. She'd be worried, was I hurt? Did I just up and abandon her? It hurts, it really hurts to think about her in 2011 wondering where I am. It hurts to know that all I had hoped for that relationship is gone. Somehow, Mom and I have been good since then, but she still pretends this is all business.
"So what leads do we have?" I ask.
"So, you've decided to stay?" Dad says.
"Not so fast, Bob." She interrupts him. "We need to worry about so much more before he decides that. She grabs a newspaper and points to a red circle on a folded page. "What about this?"
I grab the paper, slide it across the table and spin it to read it.
"ROGERS PRODUCE - HELP WANTED"
“Roger's Produce?” I ask.
“Yeah!” My mother exclaims, enthusiastically. “I know someone in my office who knows the owners and it would be easy to get you a job paying cash while we try to get you an identity.”
“Beyond you knowing someone in your office, I know someone that works there right now.”
My mother pauses, a possible speed bump in her plan. “Whom?”
“Paul Bachmann and Scott Smulder.” I state.
“Oh, you don't know Paul Bachmann.” She states dismissively. “He did coach your swimming team, but he's much older then you are. Who is Scott Smulder?”
“Paul and Scott are friends of mine in 2011. Paul and I have best friends for over 10 years now starting in 1999 when I moved to Chicago and became his roommate for the next three years. We've been close ever since and Scott is his good friend and, thusly, mine as well.”
“Oh...” She sits back in here chair. She is concerned. Concerned that her plan is meeting resistance she can't steamroll. My mother's plan most likely involves getting me a job somewhere where I can be monitored by people she knows. She may believe I am who I say I am, otherwise she wouldn't help me with money for food, clothes and hotel bills; but she is still cautious.
“What, so Roger's produce is out because of that?” My dad objects. “Where are you going to find a job anywhere nearby where you won't run into people you know?”
“Let's not think I haven't accepted that already, Pop.” I say calmly. “But I should still take care who I interact with.” This is something we have talked about, Bob and I.
Dad appears anxious to get things moving. He has not bothered to hide his desire to capitalize on my knowledge of the future. His visits to the hotel have consisted of having a few beers and talking about the coming World Series, sports news and other topics I did not expect. My father started asking about tools and building houses; about how much that has all changed. I remembered just holding the bottle of Michelob an inch away from my lips while I starred at the TV thinking. I had not expected that at all. I started talking about Home Depot and the emergence of the so-called “big box” stores; all the while not telling him that he would actually end up working at one for a few years. We talked about reciprocating saws and Dremel moto-tools. It was an odd conversation because, while I have a good grasp on the current state of tools in 2011, my memory of tool technology in 1985 is non-existent. We hit a wall when I said I would have to come by the house to see what’s in the garage. He looked for a second like he had made a mistake, then he said we should go to a hardware store over the weekend. I was remembering an ACE hardware store on Brentwood Blvd that turned into a Wine Shop when it dawned on me that my Mom and Dad must have decided to keep me away from the house for the time being.
I can’t say that I blame them as I still hadn’t decided if I wanted to see myself or not.
“Do you think working with Paul is a bad idea?” My mother asks.
I turn to her. My Father crosses his arms and she has her obstinate face on. “No.” They remain unmoved. “I actually think this might be a good idea. A good test.”
“Test?” She asks, genuinely curious.
“Yeah, a test of how I feel about potentially changing the lives of people I care about.” I pause.
My father continues to look cross and I am starting to wonder what else is behind it.
“Paul and Scott are, at my count, 16. Knowing the two of them, no way that two 16 year old Priory students are going to care one lick about what some mid-30s grocery store stock clerk is going to have to say about anything. Of all the people I potentially can’t change right now, those two would be on top of the list.”
Dad drops his chin to his chest to laugh quietly and Mom grins and gathers papers to cover her amusement. “So, I should work on getting you this job?”
“Good” She looks at Dad. “Because we have an idea on how to get you an identity.”
He straightens up and uncrosses his arms. He reaches across and touches her arm tenderly. “Are you sure you want to pull this trigger?”
“Yes, Bob.” She moves her own hand over his and they share a moment looking at each other. I am surprised at the effect my parents love has on me.
You can see your friends fall in love and you can be happy for them. You can wish and hope you find the same thing, but something about watching your own parents, at your own age, express their love for each other is profoundly intimidating.
She takes a deep breath and looks at me. “We think you should ask your Grandmother is you can assume your uncle’s records.”
“You think I should ask Grandma if I can assume my dead uncles life?”