The Measure Of One Man’s Deeds
When Chronos, the little start up company that manufactured the first production time altering device filed for chapter 11, they had sold less than one thousand units.
My neighbor, Bob, bought one on credit, then defaulted on the loan. The machine sat in his garage for two years. Nobody came looking for it, or him. The economy was in the crapper, had been for years.
The machines, worked as they were advertised. They would indeed take you back into the past or at least into the 1950s or 1960s with decent accuracy, usually within one day of the selected date.
The problem with time travel was currency. If you went back in time you couldn’t so much as buy a coke. Modern bills would look like play money to a store keep from the past.
Bob and I used it once, it wasn't all that much fun. We went back to 1969 and stood outside the San Diego Sports Arena trying to panhandle enough money to see a Jimi Hendrix concert.
For our efforts, we were awarded a ride off the premises in a squad car and a lecture about not carrying identification. Bob ran an ad for the damn thing in the newspaper once but got no calls.
Last Thursday, I was home watching President Pacilla on state run television. Juan Carlos was trying to paint the invasion of Jamaica with a positive brush. His bullshit was about knee deep when the power went out. I'd forgotten to pay the damned Mexicali Solar Company bill again. I knew from experience that San Diego did not have a good customer base. I was looking at a guaranteed two weeks of candlelight and hand cranked radio.
With nothing else to do, I decided to walk to the EBT off-license for a beer. I went into the kitchen to fetch a non-food ration coupon and in the new darkness I noticed flashing lights from two police cars and an ambulance that had clustered about in the street. There was a commotion two doors down.
Just to be nosy, I walked over and spoke with a young cop. The cop asked me who I was.
“Call me Jack,” I said. “Might as well, my parents did.” I offered my hand. The cop didn't want to shake he looked tired. I kept that observation to myself.
It would seem the two spinster sisters, I’d always referred to as Hag and Hagitha, had run a hose from their car’s exhaust pipe into their tightly sealed bedroom, thus avoiding the twenty-third round of California state budget cuts and tax increases. I should say at this point that the sisters weren't the first on the block to engage in this manner of protest.
The women were apparently a grizzly find. Cyanotic blue, grinning horribly with signs around their necks that read in one instance, “Good bye cruel world,” and the other “Up yours.”
“Sick,” I said.
I thanked the cop for his time, continued on my way in search of beer. The cops were still there when I got back. Still there when I went to bed.
Friday morning I woke up with a headache, which I suspected came from the beer I’d bought with my non-food ration coupon. It was brewed in Idaho, smelled like a skunk and I suspected it was spiked with antifreeze. I turned on the bathroom light then remembered the power was out. I showered in the dark.
I was writing a check to Mexicali Solar when someone began knocking on my door. The sound felt like hot pokers against my sick head, it was Bob. If it were anyone other than Bob, I would have just let them knock.
I like Bob. He's the only guy I know that is fatter than I am. He always wears a ball cap and a green army surplus jacket, even in summer. Also Bob can afford private sector beer.
He pulled up a chair, took a music chip out of his pocket. “New band,” he said. “I think you'll like them.”
Bob pointed toward my stereo. I told him about my slip-up with the power company. He put the chip back into his pocket.
“Tough break,” he said. “You really should work on your memory,” he added.
He had me there. My forgetfulness tended to irritate people, had for years. My ex-wife forgave me when I forgot to show up at the church on our wedding day, both times. She was somewhat understanding when I got fired from my job as a night watchman for forgetting to turn off the electromagnetic fence before the beginning of the day shift. She was a little pissed when I lost the car, even though I found it within a couple of weeks and who really gets that angry over dead goldfish? The thing with the cat or cats could have happened to anyone.
I think what really took the biscuit was when the Treasury devalued fiat currency back in 2019. They called for all monies to be turned in before a certain date lest they become worthless. Lynn, my wife, my ex-wife, was out of town and I really thought I’d mailed off the packet with her and her mother’s life savings inside. I certainly had intended to do so.
In my defense, she was eventually able to get back pennies on the dollar, minus court costs and legal fees.
I think she lives in Boston now...or Tucson. She has that restraining order so I suppose I could look up which.
I told Bob about Hag and Hagatha committing suicide. He was silent for a moment.
“They have family?” he asked.
“I don't think so,” I said. I’d heard they didn't.
“You go look around down there yet?” he asked.
I told him I hadn't.
“Leave us to do so,” he said.
Bob wanted to see if they had any cool stuff. I really didn’t want to do that but he rationalized that if we didn’t, the state would descend on the place within a day or two and take everything. He was right. The state was a hungry dog, along with the rest of the country. Everything fiscal was in the crapper, had been for years.
We walked down the street, past the yellow caution tape and inside through the unlocked rear door. Hag and Hagatha were hoarders. Their house was piled high with miscellany with little trails leading here and there. For example, at least a hundred hairbrushes were piled on a dresser by a bed, most still in their cardboard packaging. The whole place smelled like vomit and urine.
Bob disappeared from sight while I was checking the fridge. A few minutes later I heard my name called from the garage. When I found Bob, he was holding the door to a deep freezer open. The humidity was making fog rise into the air, I thought of Count Dracula. He reached into the freezer, pulled out three bundles of bills, stacked neatly with bands like the banks once did. He held them for me to see
“Stacks of one hundreds.” he said. “Series 1962, there must be thousands of them. These crazy old women lived like pigs for years with big bucks stashed in this Goddamned freezer.”
I laughed. “Just leave them Bob. It's long past the date to get anything from those old bills. Unless you want to burn them for heat, they’re one hundred percent fucking worthless.”
“That would depends on what year it is,” Bob said.
“You know as well as I do, Bob, It's 2029,” I said.
Bob smiled. Held me in his gaze for an uncomfortable moment.
“Is it, Jack?”
I felt the hair on my arms stand. I couldn’t speak, however what I did next was more expressive than anything I could have said. I threw up
I think Bob expected a little more help from me as far as unloading the stacks of old money from Hag and Hagatha’s freezer. I felt woozy, like I was going to pass out. I wondered out loud if perhaps the carbon monoxide that had killed the sisters was still in that wretched, stuffy house. Bob said that it was more than likely a case of my being a wuss.
Regardless, Bob stuffed all of the bills into a box, carried them across the street, past the scornful eyes of old Mrs. Bruns, the Nazi block captain for Neighborhood Watch and into his garage where he set the box with the bills inside the Chronos.
I took a seat while Bob busied himself printing authentic looking California driver’s licenses from the late 1960's he’d pulled off a Chinese pirate's satellite site.
Since the money we’d taken from the hag’s house was worthless, at least in the present, We didn't give much thought to old Mrs. Bruns, nor did we think we needed to hurry as far as making specific plans for moving ourselves and the money into the past other than intending to more or less do that. That changed irrevocably when the cops showed up at Bob’s door.
I stood mouth agape like a cow in a pasture as they kicked the front door open guns drawn and shouted: “Freeze.”
At this point I should like to compliment both Bob’s quick thinking and the ease of operation engineered into the Chronos Delta T1.
Bob shoved me into the contraption, which looks something like a small golf cart and hit the transcend button. The cops disappeared, then Bob’s Garage disappeared and in a blink we were behind Bob’s father’s house before Bob was born and the garage was built. Once again just as it was on our maiden voyage back in time, it was July 17 1969. Bob’s father was tidily-poo, slouched on the couch as he apparently often was in those days, which at least for now, would be these days.
“Who’s out there?” Bob's father shouted.
“Meter readers.” Bob shouted back.
“Fornicator’s. Deregulated thieves.” Bob's father hollered, then returned to his beer and television program.
Speech hadn’t returned to me yet. I’d been silent for sixty years.
Bob put the little Chronos into Cloaking mode, which made it invisible and we waited quietly until Bob's old man passed out. It was predictable, like five o’clock shadow on a Greek. The old man’s alcoholism would serve us well. We needed his wheels for a couple of hours.
Bob’s father’s car was a 1964 Chevy Nova. Bob told me he remembered it from his youth. It was never locked and the old man had managed to lose the keys often enough that he kept the ignition unlocked, which was a testimony to the perennial honesty of the day. Not to ours, however. We stole the thing while he slept. Bob’s old man was apparently a dick. It didn’t bother Bob to steal his car.
We each deposited money into four different banks saying that we were tuna fishermen and had been paid in cash. We bought a paper, scanned the classified ads and bought a Ford Mustang from a sailor who was about to be deployed and didn’t ask too many questions. We returned Bob’s father’s car to his house before he woke up and split in the Mustang.
We booked rooms at the Trade Winds Motel on East Mission bay Drive. The place was clean, they liked cash and they also didn’t ask many questions. The bartender at the Lime Tree Restaurant next door made good rum drinks and we spent a lot of evenings there. His name was Arnie McCoy, or so he said. He had a phony British accent that grew more Northern toward closing time. We knew Arnie stole cash out of the till, but we didn’t give a fuck. We tipped well and he left us alone.
Traveling back in time was more fun with money but still not all that great, sort of like endlessly watching the history channel. No surprises, squat to look forward to. Bob was fifty years old and I was forty-eight, there wasn’t too much to talk about to the people we met because we knew the answers to all their life’s questions before they could ask them. We did have some fun days, went to concerts did some fishing on the half day boats and took rides into Mexico and up the coast. Most of all we enjoyed the relative peace of the Viet Nam War years. Still, we were out of place, like two pearl onions on a banana split. I think Bob took it harder than I did. I for one sure didn’t miss the Goddamned ration coupons, government issue beer, state run television and especially President Pacilla. I never could stand that sonofabitch.
Summer passed and the winds grew chilly. Bob had been feeling bad for about a month. He woke up one morning and could barely see. I drove him to Doctors’ Hospital where he got bad news. Bob had diabetes.
Diabetes had been cured once and for all around 2021, but it wasn’t going to be much fun nursing it along back in the late 60's.
He told me I could do what ever I wanted but he wanted to leave his part of the money in the bank and just go home, he felt horrible and said he would rather be well than well off. I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do. I don’t do that well on my own.
Bob did have one thing he wanted to do while we were still back in 1969 and that was visit his crazy uncle, Larry.
Uncle Larry was a bohemian, part beatnik, part heretic, fully crazy but with a good heart. He was a career Marine turned war protester. He’d done jail time in San Francisco for selling LSD to undercover cops outside The Fillmore Auditorium, wrote beat poetry which he read in coffee houses. Bob said he looked like the actor Marlin Brando. Despite his scrapes with the law, he’d also been a local hero in San Diego. He’d saved two young boys from drowning in Mission Bay, which Bob thought would happen soon. Uncle Larry knew no strangers in his life, which ended in 1989 when Bob was ten.
We found his address in the phone book. That confirmed Bob’s foggy childhood memories of where Larry lived in Ocean Beach. We drove over and found the place, but Uncle Larry wasn’t home. We decided to wait. Night fell, we still waited.
While we were parked out front of Uncle Larry’s house I brought up a concert Bob and I had gone to a couple of weeks before. The band, It’s A Beautiful Day, played at Starlight bowl in Balboa Park. In particular I’d recalled how a jet had gone over during their soon to be classic hit, White Bird, smack dab in the middle of David LaFlamme’s violin solo. I chuckled, remembering the hippy seated next to me who said: “Wow man, I guess that would be hard to plan for.”
I thought it was funny but Bob wasn't laughing. He stared at me, actually through me.
“I noticed your memory has improved about a million percent,” he said.
I thought about what he said, realized that he was right. I couldn’t say why, but he had a point. Also I felt a thousand times better than I had in a long time.
I heard the throaty sound like small engines being driven hard. A motorcycle screamed past then a second later something smacked the back of the car and my head bounced against the headrest. A man in blue jeans landed on the hood.
“Shit,” said Bob. “That’s Uncle Larry.”
Uncle Larry wasn’t dead, at least not yet. But he was a rough sight and smelled like last call at a gin mill. He made some moaning sounds and sat up briefly but couldn’t stand.
A woman ran out of a house across the street and announced that she’d called for an ambulance.
The motorcyclist that flew by first came back. He explained that Larry had won a tequila-drinking contest between the two of them at Le Chalet Bar on Newport Avenue and they went double or nothing on a motorcycle race through Ocean Beach. Between the two of them the alcohol fumes posed a fire danger. Larry’s buddy split before the cops and ambulance showed up.
Our Mustang was disfigured but drivable. We followed the ambulance and for the second time in so many days we were at Doctors’ Hospital.
According to the Emergency Room Doctor, Uncle Larry had broken his leg and wrist and also suffered a concussion. The cops wanted a bit of his time too, they’d shackled him to the bed. Bob’s visit wasn’t going to happen. At least in the way he’d hoped. His relation to his uncle wasn't going to be easy to explain under the best of circumstances. We left in our damaged Ford.
Despite Bob’s diabetes he wanted pizza. We stopped at a place called Shakeys and had a large pepperoni and mushroom and a pitcher of beer.
Collectively we decided to retrieve the Chronos and go back to our own time, get Bob cured of his diabetes and let our disappearance from these days be a local mystery. We paid up and drove back to Bob’s future home.
We left what cash we had in the Mustang reasoning that if the cops were still busting down Bob's door when we returned they would find nothing. We slipped around the back of Bob’s old man's house and brought the Chronos out of cloaking mode.
“Ready?” Bob asked.
I said I was. Seconds later we were back, but not back where we thought we would be. Our run down neighborhood was recognizable but barely. Lawns were manicured, no broken windows or abandoned autos, no graffiti not even a stray cat or bum.
Bob and I stood, wild eyed and silent.
Down the street laughter came from Hag and Hagatha’s place, we eased down to get a closer look. The nicely coiffed sisters were dressed in evening gowns, mixing with well heeled gentlemen and ladies while a band played softly from a small stage in the back yard.
“What the fuck happened here?” Bob asked.
I didn’t know, and I said as much.
There were other changes as well. Where the EBT Off License had festered was now a neat neighborhood center that housed an upscale grocery store, specialty shops and a community theater. There were what we discovered to be American made hydrogen fuel cell vehicles parked on the street. Across the canyon a monorail moved noiselessly toward downtown.
“I’m either dead or dreaming,” I said.
Bob sat down on the curb.
What had happened took some research and some speculation on our part to sort out. First thing we found was that John McCain, was not elected president back in 2008. And fiat currency was still in use. We had never gone to war with North Korea and there was no evidence that the global depression of 2012 had ever occurred. Our current President, Carol Scott had brokered world peace in her second term and all 51 of the United States were enjoying near full employment and record low crime rates.
These were the things that we could glean from a quick study of recent history.
As for speculation, it went like this. Democratic Senator Obama had not been shot in 2006. I remembered the name of the man who shot him was Thomas Bassig, more about my no longer failing memory later.
Bob remembered that one of the young boys his Uncle Larry would have saved from drowning in 1969 was named Bassig. In 2006 he would have been around 44, the same age as Senator Obama’s assassin. This we couldn’t prove, but when we left Uncle Larry he wasn’t about to save anyone. As far as my memory, both Bob and I pieced together the theory that my daily consumption of Government Issue beer, if it was indeed spiked with ethylene glycol, may have addled my brain. I certainly had no memory problems now.
The sun was beginning to set; we walked back toward my house. I stopped in my tracks when I saw a small teal colored car move silently into my driveway. It was Lynn, she stepped out lithely danced across the lawn and into the house.
She looked beautiful even in the fading sunlight. It appeared that we still lived together. My heart quickened its pace.
“Bob,” I said, after a brief silence. “Do you suppose you could give me a little in-service on the use of your Chronos? I have a little research I need to do for myself.”
Bob looked concerned for a moment, then watched Lynn's reflection as she passed in front of the window. He smiled.
“Sure Jack,” he said. “Come on up.”
Bob showed me the controls I memorized them quickly. I stepped into the little machine and set the co-ordinances and readied the transcend button.
“Jack,” Bob said. “When or wherever you finish your task, just leave this thing, in cloaking mode.”
I nodded hit the button. Bob disappeared.
I was putting my guitar into the case when Lynn stepped into my little sound studio. She smiled, kissed my cheek. “Bob is here,” she said. “I just need to grab a few things and I’ll be ready.”
I admired her dark tan and sundress. Her hair smelled sweet, she moved like a song.
Bob was looking out the window when I walked into the living room. He looked muscular and fit.
“There’s Mr. Early retirement,” he said, then shook my hand.
Bob patted his flat belly. “Check it out. Thirty-six inch waist is fitting lose, my friend. Five more pounds and I’ll be even with you.”
I smiled. “Ready for a good day of sailing?”
“I’m ready, as long as you don’t take me out there and get me seasick.”
“No fear,” I said. “The Swan is as smooth as they come, you’ll be fine.”
Lynn stepped into the room carrying her daypack. She pulled herself against my arm.
“I’m ready,” she said.
“So where’s our first port of call this weekend?” Bob asked.
I scratched my chin, looked at him and Lynn. “You know Bob,” I said. “I swear I can’t remember.”
Lynn laughed, winked at Bob. “That will be the day.”