June 24, 2013
I flinched as she reached across and brushed something off my cheek with a balled up paper napkin. “Just a crumb,” she said.
“You’re not my mother.”
“I could be your grandmother.”
“You’re not that either,” I said.
I was starting to hate myself, for showing no respect.
We were in a Robson Street coffee shop, where the owners had let artists and photographers hang their overpriced works on the walls. I looked around with mild contempt.
“Why’d you choose this place,” I asked.
“It’s a nice place.”
“I need a drink. A bar would have been better.”
“You drink too much.”
“How would you know?”
“You always did. Too much liquor, among other things.” She gave me a maternal smile.
And there it was. She was 80 years old, and I was 27. We’d only dated a little while, but she knew me well. I’d never been so infatuated with another person. It had been like torture, when we split. I promised myself then that I would never allow myself to go through anything like it again. Now there she sat, so damn old now. Was that anger in her voice? Of course it was.
“Besides,” she said, “you said on Facebook that I could choose the spot. You were never big on keeping your word, were you?”
“I brought you something,” she said.
“I don’t want anything.”
“Here you are, nonetheless. Don’t worry. It’s really not a gift. Just a reminder of different times.”
She pulled a small, crumpled CHANEL bag out of her purse and pushed it across the table. I looked at it for a moment. Michelle could be hard, complicated, mean even. I grabbed the bag, opened it and took out the contents: three boxes of Botox and a package of nicotine patches, all of it still unopened. The boxes were yellow with age; decades had passed. Yet I’d given them to her only the night before.
“I never bothered trying any of it,” she said. “The syringes are in the bag as well.”
“Just full of surprises, aren’t you?”
“Me and you both,” she said. “Now I’m going outside to have a cigarette. You can join me if you want.”
She shuffled out of the coffee shop with her cane, and stood smoking on the boulevard. I hated watching the elderly smoke, the way their failing bodies struggle. Then, for a split second and without warning, her eyes met mine. A critical beat in time that summed up so much. She smiled crookedly, then turned and walked away. It’d been a brief meeting, briefer than I’d hoped.
Knowing that you’re incapable of committing to a lifelong relationship with another person is a painful thing, and lonely. But I’d always feared the organic flow of time, with all its consequence. I could never standby and watch a lover age and decay.
A photograph of Michelle at her finest was the best I could do. Taken on some New Year’s Eve long ago. Just before she left her apartment for a party. Looking every bit like a dime store Audrey Hepburn. That was the picture I had of her, framed and sitting on my desk. She was young, and stunning. How could she have grown so old over night?
* * * * *
It was in 1955 that I first learned that I’m a dirty dog. A woman named Edna told me so on May 23rd of that year. I’ll explain how I got to 1955 in a minute.
“Tucker,” she said. “You were supposed to meet me at the Commodore Ballroom at 9:30 p.m. last night with a bottle of rye and your dancing shoes on. I waited for you until 10:45, and you never showed up. So I went to the White Lunch to cry in my coffee, and there you were with another girl. You’re a dirty dog.”
I decided then that women named Edna were too much for me. Their expectations were far too high, and a guy like me didn’t have a hope of delivering.
And it wasn’t just the Ednas of the world, either. During the month of May, 1955, I swore off all Debbies, Gildas, Sallys, Daphnes, Jo Annes and Joannes, Robertas, Francines and Amelias, for similar reasons. But in the end, it was Michelle who really made me want to return to 2013.
She filled out a blouse better than any of them. That’s how I fell.
After all, it was the fashion and the look of the time that drew me to the period between 1955 and 1965 in the first place. Women gave up on glamour after that. They forgot how to dress. Whining all the while about uncomfortable foundation garments, and the tricky intricacies of stockings and garter belts. Oh, how the shoes pinched, they complained. And heaven forbid they should watch their damn weight. All they seemed to want to wear after 1965 was tennis shoes and potato sacks. Think of Mamma Cass in a muumuu – see what I mean? I absolutely shudder.
Now think of your average Vogue models, say 1957, with their wasp waists and ample topsides suitably accentuated by expertly engineered and constructed brassieres and corsets, full skirts and seamed stockings. It was stunning.
They sat in twos at stylish tables gossiping over endless cups of calorie-free, gloriously diuretic black coffee, daintily chain smoking appetite suppressing Benson & Hedges 100s, allowing the scent of the tobacco smoke to mingle lusciously with their CHANEL No. 5. They wore perfectly coordinated accessories, like gloves and hats. It all matched exquisitely. Women were works of art in the fifties. Suggest to a woman that she present herself thusly in 2013, and prepare yourself to be mocked by some half-done quail who’s mortgaged the farm to look like she’s dressed her chunky self out of a Salvation Army dumpster.
But wait. I said it was how Michelle filled out a blouse that made me fall for her, but that isn’t completely true. There was definitely something else. An intangible feminine quality that’s different in each woman. The item a woman will bring out and subtly fling at a man when the moment is right, like a barbed harpoon delivering nearly equal amounts of agony and ecstasy. Once it’s in, it’s nearly impossible to remove. Michelle had let me have it big time, no mercy.
Now you may be asking how I got from 2013 to 1955? I travelled there of course, no big thing. It’s really just kind of like hopping into your Jetta, and driving to the mall. Did I go back in time just to ogle women in general? Well yes, but more specifically there was Audrey Hepburn.
I remember seeing her for the first time in Sabina with Humphrey Bogart. I must have been eight years old when I first saw the movie on VHS. My jaw dropped the moment she walked onto the screen, and I haven’t been the same since. It was my ultimate goal to see Audrey live and in person in 1955. That was her best year.
Michelle looked an awful lot like Audrey Hepburn. She didn’t have Audrey’s diction or carriage, and I doubt Audrey was a gum chewer, but Michelle had the big dark eyes and the modest chin that followed the little nose up into the air whenever she was confronted by a slight or something she didn’t understand. That’s how I got stuck in 1955 Vancouver, and never got to fly to Hollywood to see A.H. in person. Instead I saw Michelle in a night club and that was it.
Michelle Gibner was twenty-one, and a very junior secretary at Maxim Forest Products when we met. She was from the east end of Vancouver, and had struggled to complete secretarial school. She confined her reading to pulpy American scandal rags and second rate glamour magazines. But she dressed and did her hair like Audrey. She knew what she was doing. She was a real tomato.
But as much as I like to obsess over Michelle, I think this might be the time to explain the discovery of the human ability to move nonlinearly through time. And understand, I do this for purposes of context only. Don’t try this at home.
Back in the eighties when Steve Jobs was busily stealing from other sources all of what would ultimately become Apple and Mac, he stumbled across a quirky little algorithm developed in the Quantum Physics Department at MIT by a pathologically introverted young woman named Nancy Limpinchuck.
Nancy Limpinchuck’s time flex equation first appeared on a Burger King napkin that Limpinchuck had left behind in a computer science lab. Those who remember, say that there was an endearing smear mustard across the napkin upon which Nancy had scribbled her masterpiece. For those first to see it, however, it was just another tidbit of genius in a place where the genius ran thick and fast. It was fascinating but still theoretical, nothing special.
Nancy wrote a million of ‘em. She was brilliant and prolific. But once she wrote out some small bit of earth shattering virtuoso brilliance on a scrap of paper, it was all over. The thrill was gone, and she moved onto the next. Only the conniving and malevolent mind of Steve Jobs was able to recognise the algorithm for what it was. It came his way via a classmate of Nancy Limpinchuck’s named Bruce, who followed her around, picking up and inspecting her discarded scraps.
When Jobs got his hands on it, he called it the iTime© code.
Nancy went on to marry a Boston stockbroker named Floyd Nipslim. The two of them did fairly well together until 1994, when Floyd got caught with his hand in someone else’s cookie jar. When Floyd realised he was going to do time over it, he took it hard. So one night, after a completely depressing meeting with his lawyer, he came home and shot Nancy where she sat working away on that day’s New York Times cryptic crossword puzzle. She’d almost finished it, too. Then he turned the gun on himself, and did what any right thinking American in his position would do.
Now this might seem like a digression, but it’s not. Because with Nancy Nipslim nee Limpinchuck out of the picture, Jobs could do more than just underhandedly hold on to her algorithm, secretly tucked away at the bottom of his virtual sock drawer. Now he could take the iTime code, and put it to use without having to give Nancy credit or share any of the proceeds. You see, Nancy’s scribbling provided mankind with its first practical insight into how time endlessly twists around upon itself, and where all of the prime jumping-off points are, and how to get to them. It was exactly what the planet needed. Just think of all the grief, prevented.
Unfortunately, Jobs sold a limited share in the algorithm to the highest bidder, first chance he got. That happened to be Halliburton, for $350,000,000. That’s right, $350,000,000. And when a Satanic pack of corporate ogres like Halliburton pays out that kind of cash for a share in a sticky, used Burger King napkin, you know it has to be worth it.
Dick Cheney and the boys used it first to determine the best way to pull off 9/11, thereby reinvigorating the American Military Industrial Complex that had suffered so tragically as a result of the planet’s first Peace Dividend delivered under the Clinton administration.
Halliburton continues to use it to this day to decide how best to squeeze every possible tax dollar out of the citizenry through prolonging America’s various shady and illegal military operations around the world. And, thanks to the iTime code, every future war that the US plans to start has been mapped out, scheduled and budgeted for right down to how much money they’ll need to borrow from China, and the number of beauty school dropouts required to keep the various arms of the American military fully functioning.
Of course, many other upper echelon bottom feeders have dashed in like pigs to the time travel trough. Stock market speculators among them, which is ironic considering Floyd’s ultimate plight. But there you are; life’s unfair, and then you become orally intimate with a snub-nosed pawnshop .38.
Now, I said The Evil One Steve Jobs sold a share of Nancy’s algorithm to Halliburton, which is true. But not before Hal Snimlings tossed a digital spanner into the machinations of His Wickedness. Hal Snimlings was a software designer who worked on the little known Ocelot version of OS X. (Let’s face it, they were running out of cats species to name it after.)
Hal was a decent guy who recognised something criminally inelegant in his boss, the man who ran Apple. Besides, Snimlings carried with him a significant resentment for having been severely reprimanded for installing pornographic Easter eggs into previous versions of OS X. So when, one day, in what turned out to be an epic case of industrial sabotage, Nancy’s equation mysteriously appeared in Hal Snimlings’ inbox, put there by an Anonymous sender with complete instructions, he knew he had his chance to shake things up. He immediately installed it into the H Section of the OS X Ocelot World Book Reference Suite, under the heading How to Time Travel.
There it sat in Beta limbo for nearly a whole year without being noticed, until a review by some nameless systems manager revealed it. The systems manager couldn’t identify it for what it was. He just knew the code’s presence in the operating system was all wrong. He brought this to the attention of some higher-ups, and they initiated an investigation. Snimlings’ deed was uncovered, and he was snuffed mob style in a back alley in Pasadena, California in the summer of 2007. But not before he had distributed an undisclosed number of copies to various hacker miscreants worldwide, including me.
It arrived at my condo in Vancouver via FedEx at 9:27 a.m. on Thursday April 17, 2007. To avoid any obvious digital trail, encrypted or not, Hal had sent it by land.
I recall being surprised that it was actually Thursday, when receiving the package at my door, surprised that it was 2007 for that matter. More than a week on mescaline will do that, even to the finest mind. I also discovered that morning that there’s nothing intuitive about opening a FedEx package. After giving it a couple of tries, I put it on top of the iguana tank. Then I heard the lava lamp call my name.
Next thing I knew, it was Saturday. I took a couple tabs of Ecstasy, stopped by the liquor store for a bottle of Jack and then went skeet shooting. In short, I’d forgotten all about the FedEx envelope. I forgot about it for three months, until I discovered it mouldering in the tank.
It took weeks to properly understand how the iTime code worked, even with the detailed instructions. Central to understanding it was the fact that it was the modified CPU that did the travelling. Peripherals, like the user, were only along for the ride. This was why the instructions stated over and over that only a battery powered laptop should be used. A desktop computer was useless, as it would become unplugged the moment time travel commenced. The instructions also made it clear that a backup computer go along. And that the further back in time one went, the more fully charged batteries one must bring. This applied to future travel as well, as one never knows what condition the planet will be in tomorrow.
First, I used the iTime code to travel into the future. It was a no-brainer; I needed cash. I went ahead to the following Wednesday, and got the Lotto 6/49 numbers. But I discovered that even if I played all the numbers correctly, extra included, some Bozo in Mississauga was going to do the same. I’d have to share what was going to be a $20 million jackpot.
There’s something about sharing a loto jackpot that doesn’t sit well with me. So, I got all the info I needed regarding his whereabouts and returned to my home point in time, or hPIT. (FYI: The hPIT is a very important element of the iTime code. It means the difference between returning home and floating forever in a randomly changing cloud of events, for ever.) Then I flew out to Canada’s most boring city, and iced the mother fucker’s cake before he could buy the ticket. And why the hell not? The iTime code had made me superhuman. I didn’t have to play by the rules anymore. Besides, the guy managed a Money Mart. It wasn’t like he’d be mourned.
It was nice to get the cash. I quit my job and bought a vintage 1956 Studebaker, which helped me travel the present in style. But in order to tour time in style, I travelled ahead to 2022 to shoplift a MacBook Super Stealth Pro with an iFlux25z Cool CryoGel Corp chip.
Returning home, I modified it with iTime.
I snatched the beast, by the way, from the Pacific Centre Mac Store in Vancouver. Their security gets a little slack after 2018, in case you’re interested.
It took me six years to learn how to travel safely, and it didn’t take long to discover that the future will suck. Don’t get me wrong, it has its moments. Like when the photos of President Donald Trump crossdressing for a dominatrix (who looks an awful lot like his daughter) get published in The LA Times. That’s just a couple of years away, incidentally, so be patient. But mostly, the future’s a boring, beige coloured Walmart dominated shit-hole. In other words, the future is mostly kind of like now.
The 1950s, however, were magic. There was a pleasant blend of innocence and elegance in the air. Sure, there were economic disparities and fears of war. There were racial tensions too, same as today. In June of ’55, the Rosa Parks thing was still a few months away. But all in all it was a grand time. Sadly, though, the pot was crap. And when you asked people where to score a blunt, they looked at you like you were a communist.
So, anyway, I eventually arrive in 1955 Vancouver via my laptop using the iTime code, and I meet Michelle in a night club. We go out the next evening and the evening after that and so on, and we really hit it off. She knows I’ve got an Audrey Hepburn fixation, but she’s okay with that. I have cash to throw around, and we go places she’s never been. Things go so smooth in fact, that I figure it might be time to reveal a few things about where I really come from. That, though, didn’t go so well.
In fact, it kind of went like this:
evening of June 23, 1955
I’m sitting in the lounge of the Sylvia Hotel. Michelle will meet me in a few minutes, and I’ve brought along some gifts from my hPIT. (I’d slipped back to 2013 to get them, because I thought she’d be impressed.)
The night before was difficult, and I’m still a little raw. We went to this swank joint for dinner, and I told her over wine that I was from the future. I told her that I travel time via my computer.
At first she laughs, like it’s a joke. Says she thought that she was my laptop. Then of course, I had to explain a computer to her. Later in the evening when I show it to her in my room, she reacts strangely. She gets angry and asks me if I’m dumping her because I think she’s stupid, or because she’s gaining weight, or because as much as she tried to look like Audrey Hepburn, she could never actually be Audrey Hepburn.
Maybe my truth was too much for her. Let’s face it, Chevys didn’t even have fins yet. How was she supposed to grasp a MacBook Pro, which I myself had snatched from the future?
Anyway, I’m stirring my drink and basking in the low light ambiance of the Sylvia Lounge. All of it seeming far more of an authentic and enjoyable barroom experience with the blue cloud of cigarette smoke. I smile thinking of how explaining the MacBook was nothing compared to what it would take to convince someone in this crowd that smoking would one day be banned on the premises.
I’m wearing a suit with some zoot lines but not the full-on zoot suit cut, since that’s kind of out of style and has a way of attracting the cops.
When Michelle enters the lounge, she’s still wearing the cloak of hostility from the night before. In my mind, I fastened my seatbelt. I figure this is going to be another perilous journey.
“How’s my intrepid time traveller this evening?” she says seating herself. “Bump into any little green spacemen today?”
“None,” I say hailing the waiter.
Michelle lights a cigarette and says, “I looked up the word computer today in the dictionary. I had to go to the library to use the really thick Webster’s with all of the words in it. It said that a computer is someone who counts things. So, whatever that thing is upstairs, it isn’t any computer.” She takes on a triumphant look. Score one for the steno pool.
“That’s purely a matter of etymology,” I say.
“Word usage, honey. It changes over time. The language evolves.”
“Why’d you wear that suit,” she says. The waiter arrives. “I’ll have a Manhattan.”
“Another Johnny Blue Label,” I say. “Double.” Then, “You don’t like the suit?”
“You’re not a negro or a Mexican, or you?”
“Pure Irish white trash,” I say.
“Look,” I say, wanting desperately to change the subject. I retrieve a bag from under my chair and place it on the table. “I zipped back to my hPIT and made some purchases. Some items from the future you might be interested in.”
The bag I’ve brought the items in is a small CHANEL shopping bag, glossy white paper with the signature logo. I’m hoping it will spark her interest. First I bring out the Botox. “I can help you with this,” I say. “It needs to be injected.”
“It’s Botox.” I’m smiling with a new enthusiasm. “It’s a protein derived from botulism toxin. You inject it underneath your skin in order to minimize or smooth out lines and wrinkles on the face. It actually paralyzes or relaxes facial muscles, gives you a nice clean, smooth facial appearance.”
“I didn’t know I needed help in that area.”
“Well, you don’t,” I say. “That’s the beauty of the stuff. You start using it now, and you’ll never have wrinkles. Isn’t that great?”
She lights another cigarette off of the previous.
“You see,” I say pointing. “That’s the thing, you smoke. Today, you’re all smooth and gorgeous. But whenever you draw on a cigarette, your mouth goes all wrinkly. When the smoke rises from the end of the cigarette, you go all squinty eyed. That’s all gonna stick one day, baby. If you don’t do something now, one day you’re gonna look like some sad old bingo Betty, a real Walmart shopper. You’re laying the ground for an early old age, even as we speak.”
“This is getting boring, Tucker.”
“Whatever,” I say with gusto, “but just look at this.” I pull out the next miracle from the future. “It’s called NicoDerm. It’s a nicotine patch. You wear it on your skin. It helps calm the cravings that make quitting smoking so hard.”
“Quitting smoking? Who’s quitting smoking?”
“Well baby, you gotta quit. It’ll kill you if you don’t.”
“Kill me?” she says. “Nine out of ten doctors recommend this brand.”
“Oh baby, that’s just bullshit.”
“Watch your mouth, Tucker,” says Michelle, gulping back her drink. “You know, some guys buy their girls perfume. Know what else? You seemed like such a swell fella when we first met. You seemed so smart and funny and sensitive. Now all of this. You’re afraid I might age like everyone else? Well too bad. That’s how things work. You’re born, you grow old, you die. No matter what you inject under your skin.”
“But you don’t have to look bad doing it, baby.”
“Oh that’s rich, Tucker. And then there’s the time travel hooey. I think you’re a mental case, a really insensitive mental case. I’m leaving.”
So, she stands, turns and heads for the coat check. I pick up the Botox and NicoDerm, stuff them into the bag and follow her.
“Wait, Michelle. Don’t leave like this.”
“I’m not just leaving,” she says. “I’m escaping. Don’t follow me. I don’t want to see you anymore. Lose my phone number, and forget my address.”
The coat check girl looks concerned.
“Go away, Tucker or I’ll scream for the cops.”
“Okay, fine,” I say, as I follow her out onto the street. Freighters are lit up out on the bay. Michelle walks onto the road without looking. Oncoming traffic screeches to a halt.
“Stop following me, Tucker.”
“Okay, okay. But here,” I say when I meet her on the other side of the road. I hand her the bag. “At least take this. A memento. And as time goes by, and these things emerge into realty, it’ll be proof that I’m not crazy.”
“Fine,” she says snatching the bag out of my hand. “Now fuck off.”
“I’ll send you a message on Facebook tomorrow,” I say.
“Fine. Whatever that means. You’re so strange!”
Broken hearted, I rode the laptop home that night, and never returned.
June 24, 2013
Now it’s the next morning, and I’m sitting in a 2013 coffee shop. Elderly Michelle, who I met when she was 21 in 1955, has just hobbled away on her cane with a cigarette in her mouth.
She never used the Botox or the nicotine patches. I could have supplied her indefinitely with these and other things from the future, but she refused, at the time, to believe it possible.
If I’d stayed with her then, I’d be old now too. But we’d be old together. I still don’t understand the appeal of that.
As I leave the coffee shop, I toss the bag containing the Botox and nicotine patches into the trash.