from 20th Century Un-limited
"The benefits of walking , especially up a hill like that one,” Dr. Deanna Cheung had said, “Are inestimable.”
Little did she know.
Deanna was my blood pressure specialist at a clinic for such, attached to a hospital, and she insisted that I walk as much as possible, and that walking regularly would be even better than the lisinopril and amlopidine she’s prescribed and that I was taking for my moderate blood pressure issue.
“Our distant ancestors walked five to six hours a day.” Deanna pointed out. “And they ate predominantly fruits, nuts and vegetables.”
I’m pretty good with produce, eat a lot. But I forebore from mentioning that our distant ancestors were three-feet-four tall, weighed sixty pounds at most and lived until the age of about seventeen.
But the hill was there. I lived two thirds of the way up a steep hill in the West Hollywood Hills, and it went all the hell the way up, a corkscrew road, with, once you got to the top, absolutely dizzying views.
Dizzying: that was the exact and actual word used by a visiting friend from the East whom I drove up to the top to show the view. As we were circling down, he closed his eyes tightly and said “Tell me when we’re out of the clouds.”
I found it not so much dizzying, as expansive. Being so high above West Hollywood that I could take in all of that town, some of Beverly Hills, lots of Hollywood, all the way down across the basin to the Baldwin Hills and on clear days the airport and ocean even … It broadened my view of the world during a period when it seemed walls had begun closing in: Career walls. Financial walls. Personal walls. Stuff that happens when you reach retirement age and don’t , can’t, or won’t retire as comfortably as you’d like to. So I walked up the hill three times a week—up to the top and back to my house: half hour or so. Great cardio exercise.
How can I better explain this hill?
What I told people was that by car it was ten minutes up the hill and three minutes down.
By now you’ve got the idea of how steeply I was walking.
Which is how I came upon the friendly Bedlington Terrier --Ralf.
Which is how I met the Bedlington Terrier’s master – I call him Mr. Morgan.
Which is how I ended up back in – but wait I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Let’s start with Ralf.
Rowf? Ralph? I never saw it spelled out.
Ralf was your ordinary gray-haired and unattractive wire-haired Bedlington. I’ve known three people in my life who have liked this breed and constantly kept them around. Margaret Darrieleux, our “house mother” and drug dispenser during the mid to late 60’s in the West Village commune I hung out with. A neighbor of Boy Ondine, star of Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls and co-star (at least he told me it was his bobbing head) of Blow Job. And also Mr. Morgan.
Ralf would bark in a friendly fashion and wag his tail whenever I appeared, and then Ralf jump a funny little jump five inches into the air whenever ever I passed along the gated narrow strip of front yard before Morgan’s house while trudging toward the top, which he was pretty close to. Then Ralf would bark and jump again and follow me again, back a few minutes later, when I went down the hill.
Which is why I finally saw Morgan, standing there through an open door, via a closed and locked wrought iron fence. Morgan nodded. I nodded back.
Until after maybe the twentieth nod and half wave, when Morgan called me over to his front door gate, still all locked up, behind which he remained, and he said hello and he introduced himself and Ralf, and asked what I was doing.
“Oh! So you want to stay young?” he asked.
“Too late for that. I would like to stay healthy into my old age.”
“How old are you? Maybe fifty five?”
“Add ten years.”
“No! Well, you are already healthy if you can get up this hill at that age. Guess my age.”
“About the same. A little younger?” I said, generously. He looked older; wait, that’s not right, he looked odder not older.
“I’m actually over a hundred. A hundred and sixteen to be exact.”
“What’s your secret? Armenian yogurt?”
I’d heard people in some Armenian mountain town who ate a certain yogurt all lived long.
“I have a little time-machine,” he said with a straight face.
“Yeah, and ….?” I was waiting for the yogurt – or the other shoe --to drop.
“Yeah, and I’ve come back in time. I was born in 1995. In the year 2061, I used my time machine to come back a century. To 1961.”
“That still doesn’t explain how you are a hundred and sixteen?
“Well, I lost some years I had aged when I came back. I was sixty-six when I left there. But when I arrived in 1961, I looked about 11 years old. I had lost a lot of my acquired age. Add up the two spans I’ve lived and they total a hundred and sixteen.”
This was the most interesting conversation I’d had in months.
“Did you bring anything from the future?”
To back up that statement, I meant but didn’t say outright.
“I did. Want to see it?”
Ralf was barking his welcome too, so I stepped inside the now unlocked gate and into the house.
It was oddly furnished although what I saw was the one floor. Very bare bones. Handsome you could say, with maybe six pieces of furniture in each large area.
He sat me down at a Danish modern sofa and table and went away. When he came back he was holding out something that looked like a little transparent screen, something that you would put over the front of a Blackberry.
He held it up to the light where it was iridescent. Then he put it on the table.
When I touched it, it spoke and as it spoke it sort of went away and instead I saw a two foot high, pale, holographic video presentation of the U.S. Mint in Denver, and then 3-D head of a young woman appeared in one corner and she said very clearly, “Mister Fath Paul Morganna. You have seventeen hundred and ninety-nine thousand dollars on deposit at this location.” It then said, “This is an official message. May 31st, Two thousand sixty one.”
“Terif! And that little video is what, exactly?” I asked.
“That’s my last financial statement,” he added calmly.
“I see inflation continues into the future,” I said. “Or you are really well off?
“Inflation continues. A dollar then is equal to about a dime now,” he admitted.
He’d brought me a glass of juice which looked like pomegranate or grape.
“No banks in 2061?”
“No banks. Too uncertain. Everyone keeps their money in the U.S. Mint,” he said.
I was looking out the window at one of those amazing – dizzying—views. He meanwhile was looking at me curiously.
“So!” he said. “You keep walking up that hill and you’ll live to how old?”
“Well, I’ve got longevity genes. My great aunt is a hundred and six. Her brother died at ninety-nine and a half. My grandpa on the other side made it to a hundred and one. What do you think? Barring accident, maybe a hundred, hundred and five?”
“You won’t like 2050,” he said.
“You’ll hate it. You’re too spoiled.”
“Only the usual amount of those.”
“Bad climate?” I tried.
“Very bad climate. This area will be mostly unlivable.”
“Because of jungle conditions? Wild coyotes and mountain lions and giant lizards?” I asked, thinking of global warming already evident.
“No. Because of icy roads. Ice and snow even this low, how high is this hill? Six hundred feet above sea level? It’ll be impassable more than half the year. No one ever comes up this high any more in 2050.”
“Half a year of ice in the Hollywood Hills!? That’s the result of global warming?” I asked.
“You’ve noticed our winters have gotten cooler? And our summers warmer? That trend will continue unabated. This used to be a temperate zone. A Mediterranean zone. Not any more. And soon the cold will outdo the hot. Meanwhile, the rest of the country will heat up pretty well. Heat up. Melt down and drown lots of places. Become tropical and desert. But California gets a lot colder in the winter. The entire West Coast freezes up like Alaska is now. San Francisco becomes unlivable most of the year. Far too cold. Blizzard conditions three months of the year. Only the flatter parts of the Bay Area are at all doable. Ever been to northern Chile? That’s what it comes to resemble most closely?”
“The Andes and the Atacama desert?” I asked.
“You’ve got it.”
“And Manhattan?” I asked.
“Ever been to Venice?”
“Venice, Italy is an underwater museum. Venice here -- is ice skating heaven.”
“Manhattan is under water in 2050?” I asked.
“Manhattan, Philly, D.C. Boston, the entire East Coast up to the foothills of the Appalachians.
“While Portland, Oregon is frozen tundra?” I asked.
“Huge packs of feral wolves up there. Caribou. Elk. Polar bear make a big comeback. Whales fill the Ess Eff bay! My first dad used motorized sled-omnibuses to go up there with his buddies and hunt big winter game.”
“Your ‘first dad’ because you had a second one when you came back in time to 1961?”
“Had to. I looked ten or eleven. I was adopted. But . . . you catch on fast. Some people can never get their minds around it.”
“So tell me how awful it is in sunny Southern California in 2050 again?”
“Food supply is way down here, of course. Farms are gone. Ranches gone too. The Central Valley drowns and becomes glacial ice and taiga. The Rockies freeze over pretty well all year round. Huge glaciers the size of L.A. All those mountain cities and towns up there have to be abandoned. Boise. Salt Lake City. Even railroads can’t get through by 2061. Cargo planes come into Burbank airport with fruit and produce grown in eastern Colorado and Wyoming. L.A.X. is drowned of course. But food isn’t cheap. From Santa Fe over to what’s left of the state of Georgia it’s all desert. North of that, the Carolina plateau begins another green belt, mostly fed by the greatly expanded and now single Great Lake and its inlets. Ashland is an island. Chicago, Cleveland, all drowned.”
My cell phone rang and it was a reminder that I had to get home and shower and get ready to go out to dinner with an old pal who was in town for a few days.
“Thanks for the juice.” I petted Ralf. “Gotta’ go.”
“I hated it back then,” Morgan said. Then corrected himself, “Forward then. The population of the country was under fifty million and dropping annually. So as soon as this thing worked, I sent myself back in time.”
“You invented it?”
“I helped invent it. I’ve got to tell you, it was the best decision I ever made -- coming here. I’ve loved living this second time, in this time. People here and now complain a lot. They’ve got nothing to complain about it. It’s the peak of Western Civilization.”
God help us, I thought.
“But won’t you live till 2050 and then have to see it again?” I asked.
“Not me. I don’t have any longevity in my ancestry. I’ve got short telomeres on my genes. I’ve got maybe another five, ten years. Tops. And like I said, I’m actually a hundred and sixteen.”
“So you did! O-kay! Nice meeting you. I’ll wave when I come by.”
“Do more than wave. Ring my bell.”
As I was stepping out and still petting Ralf, I figured he was a lonely old guy. So, I said, “Sure. I’ll ring your bell.”
“Do so. I’ve got a very interesting proposition for you!”
Refreshed, and pleased by the oddness of it all, I walked the third of the way down the hill in good spirits, enjoying the dizzying (wait! expansive!) views around houses perched on the roadside, until I was at my place again.
“I don’t get it. Why exchange houses? Yours is much better than mine.” I said. “Twice as expensive for sure, if not more.”
We were in Morgan’s main room again, Ralf on the floor where I could pet him.
“This house gets half knocked down and the other half gets covered in a mud slide a few years from now. While your house is on the other side of the hill and escapes the mud slide altogether,” Morgan explained.
“Then why give me this at all?”
“Well, if the time machine works for you, you will eventually arrive back here at Twenty-Ten and you’ll be what? About ninety years old? And you’ll find that you own a big house. You just might need a house! And if you don’t, sell it! Live on the cash!”
“Okay, that makes sense. Tell me again how far can I go back?”
“The fuel cell we used the first time I traveled back was more than halfway used up by my trip and I couldn’t fill it. So I’m figuring you have no more than eighty years. More like seventy-six or seventy-seven years.”
“Back to the 1930s?” I asked.
“Right. That’s why the year on the money you use will be important. There was a big new design and even a new paper-cloth mixture involved in the re-minting of U.S. money in 1935. 1935 bills were common for years but now they’re hard to find.”
“And then the next design was when?”
“Not till 1960,” Morgan said. “So, it’s important. I managed to get in contact with a couple of numismatists and they’ve agreed to release some ’35 bills.”
“Bills, because metal won’t travel back in time?” I asked.
“Only natural materials, except some plastic types did make it back with me, as you saw. So maybe plastic will travel too.”
“Tell me again about the money.”
“Well, it’s a good idea to have cash in case something happens, so you’re not a bum, right? I’ve managed to gather seven hundred and ninety eight dollars of 1935 bills for you,” Morgan said. “Mostly fives, tens, and twenties. They cost me more than double that.”
“And that’ll last me what? A couple of months. Great!”
“No. No, it’ll last more than half a year, even if you never supplement it. Remember all prices are much cheaper back then. You can rent a one bedroom flat for about nine dollars a month. You can eat out for a dollar a day. A car’ll cost you maybe five hundred dollars. A house maybe two or three thousand, even in a good neighborhood. What I’ve collected for you would be about equal to fifteen thousand dollars today. So, I’d suggest you lay low, open a bank account, be thrifty, and look for work. It was still the Depression in ‘35. There was lots of unemployment, although the movie industry was thriving and using many different kinds of workers then. You should arrive there aged somewhere in your early 20s. In that time period, with all the poverty and displacement going on in this country, you’ll be able to live on your own without too many questions being asked. Unlike myself. When I got back to 1961 as a kid, I arrived into a tightly ordered society. I had to hide money, equipment, everything, for almost a decade.”
“You really expect this thing to work, don’t you?”
“I don’t see why not? I repaired every part of it that was in any way frayed or not completely perfect. Had to wait until the invention of microchips to get it right. Then had to wait again for platinum anozidation to get some stuff really miniscule. Remember, you won’t be able to fix it until the mid 80’s or 90’s. I’ll leave the mechanism in this house with your name on it, in case you want to use it again.”
“But you don’t advise it.”
Morgan said nothing.
“My cell phone?” I asked.
“You can take it but there’ll be no towers. No satellites. It won’t work.”
“What about music?” I showed him my tiny MP3 player.
“That could go with you. What’s the storage?”
“Up 16 giga bytes with storage chips I can slide in. “
He pried open the back. “I’ve got a battery half the size of a dime to go in here to keep it charged. It’s made from exotic minerals. It will last eighteen, twenty years.”
“By all means put it in!”
“First let me extend the storage to about 24 GB’s. That’s about a thousand hours of music. Download all that, and then I’ll seal the USB port connection and use the battery. It’s made of something that decays really slowly. Also, I’m noticing that this player’s tuner is FM only. You’ll need an AM bandwidth for the 1930’s. FM only goes commercial in the late 1950’s. I can fool around with it. Take a few tiny ear buds with you too, black ones. The only headphones they have are bulky things for Crystal Radio sets and the plugs won’t fit. Remember that is for private listening only. If anyone asks, they’re earplugs. Oh, by the way, it’ll probably be quieter most of the time.”
“Well, cars are louder but there’s a lot fewer. Ditto for trucks and busses too, which are smaller and fewer. Street cars are noisy but they’re limited too. And there are no commercial jets, which provide a lot of noise we no longer even consider in cities. So I believe it will be great deal quieter.”
“Okay. To recap,” I began, “I shouldn’t carry metal, and I should wrap well any plastic like the MP-3 player within clothing. I can carry a small duffel bag, made of canvas or cloth. Put what I need to wear inside that. What? A couple of changes of clothing. The cash. What else can I bring? “
“Clothing is crucial. I had to hunt vintage shops all over for my clothing once I knew I was headed back to the 1960s. I suggest wearing your windbreaker, because we don’t know what time of year you’ll arrive. It could be cold and raining, and if you need to you can fold it to the size of your hand and easily stash it. You’ll need a cap of the era. A Newsboy cap, maybe. Beaked. Not a baseball hat. Only baseball players wore those. Make sure it’s got no logos. Cloth printing of that kind was pretty primitive back then. A short sleeved and a long sleeved cotton shirt with buttons down the front -- and regular collars. No Izods or Ralph Lauren or Polo shirts. Maybe a white undershirt. Unprinted! Cut out all labels on your clothing, unless they’re American made. A pair of light or dark chinos. Maybe work pants. And sturdy, all leather shoes. Two or three neckties. No running gear. No denims: only farmers wore them then. When you arrive, buy yourself a good sports jacket. Take simple white briefs or better yet cotton shorts. Cotton socks above your ankles. This way, aside from the windbreaker, you won’t stand out. Cut its label out too. The tighter the jacket the better because you’ll be younger and smaller.”
“You’ve done a lot of research,” I said.
“At one point I thought I’d go back again.”
“But not now? Why not?”
Morgan shrugged. “You get tired.”
“Tired of being alive -- after a 116 years?”
“The Hindu Vedas give a life span as 114 to 120. Somaybe that’s enough for me. Now! Don’t forget medicine? Do you take any?” Morgan asked.
“Nothing besides my blood pressure pills.”
“You probably won’t need those. You’ll be much younger. But take a 90 day script if you want to play it safe. I’d include some antibacterial ointment, and non-steroidal pain pills. They’ve got aspirin back then. But you’d better bring antibiotics -- I’ve got a hundred Keflex I’ve stashed. Remember that people died of simple infections back then. All they have is sulfa-drugs to combat them and you might be allergic. Coming back here, I got minor infections from germs that I guess didn’t exist in my time and had to see a doctor. Good thing I was a kid; kids get everything that’s out there. That old Timex, wind-up wristwatch you’ve got on now is fine. Nothing digital and nothing with quartz or a battery, right? ”
“Are you going to show me what it looks like? Your time machine?”
“It looks like a double mattress on the floor with electrodes all over your body attached to the mechanism which is small. However it uses a lot of electricity in one punching volt. So the neighborhood will have a blackout when it works. “
“I still don’t understand why you chose me.”
“I didn’t. Ralf did.”
Almost asleep, Ralf looked up and barked twice.
“Why did Ralf choose me?”
“Ask Ralf. Listen. How many people will you need to sit down to explain that you’re going away for a very long time, possibly for ever?”
I thought so long that he interrupted me.
“You told me your partner died and you moved out here from the other coast. Since your partner died and you moved up here, you have no real connections down there, do you? No people who’ll really miss you?”
“Not really. No.”
“That’s what Ralf thought. ….We’ll work something out to make it look like you died here in an accident. … I’ll give you three weeks to get everything you need ready.”
The last thing I remember Morgan saying was “Close your eyes tight. There’s going to be a big flash.”
He’d told me that ten minutes earlier and I’d said. “So that was you, making the big flash? I always thought it was some photographer who lived up this hill!”
No, it had been him, Morgan confirmed, trying to see if it the machine was up to speed before he used it on me.
I was on my back, fully dressed, with the duffel bag held tight in both of my hands, with all the electrodes on me, face, hands, torso, legs, feet, lying on the double mattress he mentioned before, the wires going into a bureau with a few dials and lights.
I remember thinking “So this is how I die? Electrocuted by the maniac at the top of the hill who says he’s from 2061. Well, it’s different!”
And then …..