Back in high school, Principal Hughes was walking through track-and-field practice when he was struck by a flying discus. The discus sliced a quarter off his ear. I saw it occur in my sophomore year. A couple of groundskeepers found the piece of his lobe in the field before they would’ve rolled it over with a tractor. Hughes had the purple thing stitched back on. The rest of his ear was still pink. He ended up suing the parents for thousands of dollars.
The time I met him was over a Playboy I had snuck into Chemistry class. (The trick was to slide it between the pages of a Rolling Stone. I would exit a B. Dalton in the mall with them both. The Rolling Stone was wider and taller than the Playboy. The cashiers only charged me for the Rolling Stone.) The teachers never knew about the magazine either, unless they peered over my shoulder; the students neither.
Because of my obscurity in high school I didn’t need to look behind myself until one morning when Ben Michaels, the school president saw it and snitched on me. I had never been so humiliated in those four years of high school. Students began calling me a pervert in the hallways. I had to sit across from Principal Hughes and his mangled ear in his office. He flipped the pages of the Playboy like it was a discovery, shaking his head in disgust.
“Why would you bring this smut onto my campus?”
“I have no excuses, Principal.”
He gave me a month of detention, and gave me the Playboy for me to keep. It belonged to me, sort of, and I sort of had the right to have it back. I had borrowed it from the bookstore, but since the bookstore had closed in 1998, I could never bring it back.
The one person I had told that story to was a shrink when I was in college. Some therapists could help, but most couldn’t. But the ones who couldn’t were still there nonetheless. He tried to get me to see the Lord.
“You can’t sleep because you haven’t allowed God into your life,” he said.
“I just need more Klonopin.”
“Forget the Klonopin,” he said. “I will prescribe you a miracle.”
I didn’t stick around for the miracle.
I went onto Dr. Quince in Bakersfield in 2001. I kept seeing Quince after I moved to Hollywood to become a screenwriter, from the years 2003-2015, commuting from Hollywood to Bakersfield to see him each week.
For thirteen of those years, I was friends with Ray Fleming. He went through a divorce that began in her setting his MacBook on fire because of an affair with Kitty Blumpkin, who did XXX porn and danced at a bondage club on the weekends. Rubber and Chains was a BDSM club off Hollywood Blvd.
Ray had to leave Hollywood and the debauchery behind, so he moved to Houston to teach at Baylor University. He did visit me twice a year. We met at Rubber and Chains on a busy Saturday night. The club was a mile from my apartment. I walked there. At Hollywood and La Brea, a group of hipsters passed and circled Robert on their Segways. Robert was an old man on welfare who lived in my building. Since the day I met him, fifteen years ago, Robert had been getting by on a wheelchair. The recreational wheelchair would come after the Segway.
The club was in an alley off Wilcox. An alley divided any two buildings. A line of chic vampires went from Selma to Hollywood Blvd. They had to pass a doorman. He had a few tattoos on his face. Just a few. Kitty had reserved my name on her list. That was kind of her. I cut my way to the front. I couldn’t look that doorman in the eyes, though.
“I’m here for Kitty Blumpkin’s birthday party.”
“Who the fuck is she?”
“She’s having a party here, and I’m on the list.”
“What list? Who is you?”
“Joel Barrington, I’m on the list.”
“Do I looks like I’m holding a list?”
“No, it doesn’t look like you’re holding a list.”
“Then gets your ass to the back of the line like er’body else.”
Even in Hollywood, it didn’t matter if I was on a list. Like the rest I had to stand in line, where the queens, boy or girl, rubbed powder and makeup on their faces. A pipe leaked from somewhere above on the brick building. It tapped tapped tapped my head, even when I moved ahead in line.
When I got to the front, a hipster tried what I had tried. He was in his twenties, and he looked like me, except he wore a mesh cap with the bill pointed up.
“I’m here to see Nick 2.0.”
Kitty’s party wasn’t the only party.
“Who the fuck is that?”
“I’m sorry. Hashtag, Nick 2.0.”
“I don’t know what the fucks you sayin’. Just get your ass to the back of the line like er’ybody else.”
I was watching myself from twenty years ago. He was me, and he was offended.
When the doorman let me in, I side-winded through the cobblestone alley, where a bunch of histrionics in black leather smoked cloves, onto a back patio where Kitty put on a leather show for her birthday. Her nipples were covered in electrical tape, with her cupped breasts otherwise exposed. Ray stood at the bar in the back, behind the blackness of the crowd: the black fingernails, the black lips, the black hula hoops in their earlobes. Nobody there gave anybody space as if they didn’t mind each other’s mustiness.
We hugged and we patted each other’s backs; we both said we missed each other after a year apart. Once the formalities were over, he ordered us a round of Guinness and Jamison to palliate ourselves from all the mustiness. Ray taught at a college, too, except he taught at a university—the University of Baylor. He was in town to speak at USC about Business to a bunch of Business majors. He didn’t subscribe to the Goth scene, and neither did I; both of just passed through for Kitty. He wanted her body for himself, as did any man within visible radius, or else neither of us would’ve been there.
“I’m going to a therapist,” he said.
He shocked me with that. Ray didn’t seem like he who would go to one, even when he needed to.
“So, I just wanted to let you know that up front.”
“Don’t tell anyone, especially Kitty.”
“Ray, I’ve seen too many therapists in the past twenty years, I’ll tell anybody, it’s true. I’ll go another twenty years. Therapy never stops. Every person should see one like every person should see a dentist. A good one can align your eyes with your hands. At least you’re going to one, and you can afford it.”
“The only problem is, I’m Irish.”
“What does that mean?”
“Have you seen The Departed? Remember that scene where she tells him that he’s immune to psychotherapy because he’s Irish?”
Apparently, Ray was learning psychology through Scorsese films. Anyway, I raised my shot of Jamison to him for seeing his faults and wanting to fix them.
“Why exactly do you need a therapist?” I asked him.
“I’m not sure why. But I drink too much. I’m not writing, and I’m buying a condo. Don’t tell anyone this, but I’ll die in five months.”
The therapist I was seeing then, this old Jewish lady who worked in Miracle Mile next to a bail bonds place and a man who fixed watches, once asked me if I thought that way—if I thought I would die soon. I said “yes.” She said it was a symptom of bipolar disorder. Everyone had bipolar. The court of law accepted bipolar to a degree. I was more bipolar than Ray was, as it seemed. I was on Zoloft and Trileptal—that night along with Guinness and Jamison.
“Then there was the night with Brody from the strip club,” Ray said.
“I spent three-thousand dollars on her in Houston. We ended up at a Radisson. I was too wasted to remember that I had ordered two others. After I had my transaction with Brody, the other two showed up and we all argued and pushed each other in the hallway. The Houston Police showed up.”
“You got arrested?”
Something didn’t calculate about his story as if his history had changed since he told it.
“I mean, I blacked out, and when I woke up the next morning, I was in my own bed.”
No wonder Ray needed help, after a story like that. Some people kneeled before a statue of Jesus for answers. Others preferred the approach of admitting their perversions to someone and pay him two-hundred-and-fifty-dollars—if they had a company PPO plan. Well, Ray admitted it to me, and it cost him a shot and a stout.
No happy hour could stop Ray at Rubber and Chains from telling his Steve Martin jokes and doing his harebrained card tricks. After two other rounds of shots, he maintained his silliness, trying to guess the right card in the deck for a group of goth people at the bar counter. Those goth kids loved card tricks. They stood mesmerized, either because of the tricks or because of whatever tabs they had swallowed, or both. The zany half of him came when he got the card tricks wrong, and they were always wrong. That was his bit: to involve them in those card tricks only to disappoint them several minutes later.
He tried one on me. He would shuffle the deck seven times—seven as in James Bond—seven as in the holy number—seven as in the deadly sins—seven as in Ben Roethlisberger. Then he spread the cards across the bar counter, and he asked me to pick one from the spread. I did, and I picked it up without showing him its face. It was the Seven of Clubs.
This was getting disturbing. I put the card back in the deck for Ray to regroup. He did his theatrical act of shuffling it seven more times and then cutting and shuffling it one more time. Always before he plucked the top card and turned it over, he closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. Then he hovered his palm over the deck before picking up the card.
It was the Seven of Clubs.
This was the first time when Ray had gotten it right. Even he looked shocked.
The lights dimmed in the patio.
Kitty met us at the bar after her performance, keeping her large satin breasts in the wild, and the sweat from her neck dripping down to weaken the electrical tape, while she held hands with her boyfriend, who looked like one of the evil surfers in the movie Point Break (the one with Patrick Swayze).
After another round, Day (Kitty’s boyfriend) invited us to a screening at the Hollywood Cemetery of Captain Ron. The movie was two decades old, starring Kurt Russell as a lonely pirate. I was in high school when it came out.
“Am I the only one who thinks it’s strange that there is a screening for it?”
“They do it every year,” he said.
When Kitty and her boyfriend went to other guests, and when there was nothing for me and Ray to talk about, I pulled out my iPhone; Ray pulled out his Android. The Android made him or anyone who used one look like a caveman, with its block shape and its dim screen. Even when Ray sent text messages, his fingers looked thick and devolved, like the fingers of an electrician. He was sweating. His bottom lip hung. That same oaf had a Master’s Degree from Columbia.
He went with Day and Kitty to do coke in the bondage room upstairs before their trip to the screening. Alone in that crowd, I got penned in unreality. The pills, the weed, and the alcohol had finally collided. I floated up up over those goth people on the patio, and yet I still leaned against the brick wall…somewhere at eye level with those people…keeping silent to anyone. The number seven kept flashing in my brain. The leak was still dropping on my head. I was penned in this nightmare where I couldn’t attain Kitty. She got what she wanted, but she may not have been what they wanted. She made the detachment less scary, though. The truth was never pretty—it was a Plain Jane at best. The pills, the weed, the alcohol, and Kitty’s tits were all lies. Even if they lasted briefly, lies were ice cream. The blackout would come.
I awoke that Saturday morning to the alley—not that it felt like a Saturday. Nothing else lied about the morning. The hangover was so cruel that I couldn’t even squeeze my nose. I had known Kitty for five years, and she was always with a man. Whether she did or she didn’t think about me, ninety other men were on her list. I wasn’t unusual. That sucked. I was part of a team when I rebelled against teams. In the Age of Gadgetry, the rebellion made for a loser. It wasn’t the nineties anymore when selling out was lame.
The leaking wouldn’t stop, even though nothing was dropping from above. And nothing was in the alley except a motorized Segway, like the ones in which those kids were using around Robert. I stepped on this embarrassment. Moving a muscle in my body made me ache more. I leaned forward on that thing that looked like a mechanical lawn mower without a handle, and it took me with it. Hipsters and young, physically-abled kids were flashing them in the city. The thing was silly yet enjoyable. It sucked to be like those hipsters. I caught up with a power-walker in the alley, who had to be going to the opposite end as well. Once we got close to the other side, he stopped. The other side got so bright to the hangover that I felt myself imploding.
“Wait!!” the power-walker said.
But the closer I came to the end, the less pain. A centrifugal force blew the pain away.
The air was hotter across the border. Fifteen degrees hotter. The other end looked nothing like Vine Street. No cars on the road, no tourists or vagabonds arresting the sidewalks—and no pet or human shit on the sidewalks either. This wasn’t Hollywood. This town was strange yet familiar, such as a bedroom in that brief lapse on entering with a purpose, only for the purpose to go lost. Beyond a few buildings was the stadium to my old high school. I was in downtown Bakersfield. The stadium was next to the science building that had a painting of Billy Bull, the school mascot—all red and yellow of him, with his manly fist up as he charged. This wasn’t a dream. One of those goths must’ve Mickeyed my Guinness.
When I turned myself around on the Segway, the alley was gone. Instead, it was the brick wall. As if it would do anything, I pounded the wall, scratched, and clawed at it. When I pulled my iPhone from my pocket, the phone was dead. An actual phone booth had to be somewhere. I hadn’t noticed a phone booth since George W. Bush had presided this country. Regardless, I had forgotten my mother’s phone number that she had given me nine years ago.
I rolled through my hometown, up Chester Avenue. The farther I rolled up Chester, the more cars went by. One came, then a few, then a pack of them that went down a slope beneath a railroad underpass. They weren’t Teslas or Scions or Priuses. They were old Fords and Hondas, even older Acuras and Mercedes.
I came to a man in the underpass. He leaned next to a torn knapsack with a rusty thermos clipped to it, and he held a cardboard sign: PLEASE HELP. PROUD VET. JUST NEED FOOD. He looked young for his age, a younger Robert when he had legs to fight with. He couldn’t look me in the eyes; only at the Segway.
“Where am I?”
“You’re in Bakersfield.”
“Bakersfield? I was in Hollywood. How am I in Bakersfield?”
He pulled his knees to his chest.
“OK, now I don’t need any weird shit. All I need is food. Now, I just puked by the dumpster, and it wasn’t what I ate. If you don’t got no food, you won’t do much help.”
“Can you at least tell me where I can use a phone?”
“There’s a Circle K up the road, or you could try the high school. Them guards let me scrub myself in the latrines.”
“Sorry to bother you,” I said. I gave him a dollar.
“I said I needed food.”
“I don’t have any with me. That dollar can buy you something at Circle K.”
He looked front and back at the dollar, front and back. He squeezed it, he stretched it, he held it upwards how a cashier would check for a counterfeit, even though not much light was flooding the underpass.
“What is this?”
“It’s a dollar bill.”
“Is it real?”
“Last I checked it was.”
“Why is his head that big?”
“You’ve never seen the new dollar bill?”
“It looks fake.”
“I used to think the same thing. I’ve gotten used to it. I mean, shit, a game show host is our president.”
He pointed at the Segway.
“And what is that thing?”
“You’ve never seen a Segway before?”
He shook his head at me.
“What the hell is going on?” I said.
He shelled himself up at my aggressive tone.
“How did I end up in Bakersfield?” I asked him as if he held all the answers.
“Please, you’re scaring me.”
“You’re scared? One minute I’m in an alley, the next minute I’m in Bakersfield and the alley disappears.”
“Please, just go away.”
He didn’t even thank me. How ungrateful he was for that dollar, but that was unimportant. I kept on the Segway up the sidewalk. My old high school was on the other side of the underpass. At least they would have a phone in the principal’s office.
I rolled onto the campus at lunchtime. The kids sat in the grove–the rich and popular kids. They set blankets and ate grapes and well-together sandwiches under old elm trees that had never changed shape after twenty years(?) The poor and average and unpopular kids sat next to the flies in the dumpsters by the gymnasium. But despite the blunt disparity, every student shared something in common: they replicated familiar people from my past.
That was when it struck me.
A silver Mercedes pulled into the senior parking lot, with “Rusty Cage” blaring from its speakers. The kid was Chad Iguana, the richest kid in my graduating class, with the same white t-shirt and blue jeans and work boots. He flaunted his wealth with the Mercedes that Judge Iguana had bought him, but he didn’t with his dirty shirts, like Dylan McKay in Beverly Hills, 90210, who drove fancy cars but played himself to be rough and common. That made the girls buzz around him.
The kids in the grove eventually caught onto me, and I was gradually catching onto them. I was conspicuously a thirty-eight-year-old-man rolling on the Segway through his old high school. And the Segway was beginning to lose its power. What a savvy invention, though, for the battery to last twenty years into the past.
It began to hiccup near my old friends who sat on those benches next to the dumpsters where the Nacho Smasher performed. The Nacho Smasher destroyed food with his shoes. We only saw him during lunch because he would spend the rest of the school day in the basement where they had the Special Learning Program. My friends gave him unfinished food. It satisfied him, and it satisfied my friends to watch. He smashed hot dogs, ice cream, sandwiches, Sloppy Joes…. He smashed the food until the food was dirt flat and it stuck to his shoe.
Well, the Nacho Smasher hadn’t aged a year. He still wore his dirty red satin jacket on a hot Spring day in Bakersfield. Neither he nor my old friends could’ve been anyone else: Will Rappaport with his Nerfy orange hair, and Martin Chang with his early Beatles haircut. They both had sideburns, like every other man around us. They all wore flannel. I was the omega man in the same clothes since last night—the black V-neck t-shirt, the floppy hair, the skinny jeans—everything was all black, which the bondage club demanded with its dress code. I may as well have told a sermon among a bunch of grungy teenagers. They buzzed and circled me.
My friends gave the Nacho Smasher the last bags of Fritos and cans of Coca Colas. He did an Ollie without a skateboard down on the bag of chips, and the bag went flat, and corn chips busted out of the bag like sideways confetti. Then he did a reverse Ollie on the soda can to smash it into an aluminum hockey puck.
“What is that?” Martin asked about my Segway.
He was, indeed.
“Where’s Joel Barrington?” I asked him, and Will too.
“He’s not here today,” Will said.
He shrugged his shoulders.
“Nobody knows. He just didn’t show up. Are you his cousin or something?”
“What if I told you he was here?”
Will and Martin both looked at each other and started moving someplace else. The Nacho Smasher noticed me, too, and after he looked down at the Segway he sprinted the other way towards Warren Hall, where his classes were in the basement.
“Your favorite team is the Bruins,” I said to Will.
“How did you know that?” he asked me.
“And Martin, you play the violin two hours a day when you get home, or else your mother will make you sleep in the backyard.”
“What’s your point, Sir?”
I pulled my wallet and showed them my license.
“What’s going on?” Martin said.
“Come on, Martin. You studied physics at WestPoint.”
“I’m from the future. It’s really me, Will. Your dog’s name is Billy, like the school mascot. You have a poster of Troy Aikman in your bedroom.”
Martin grabbed his backpack.
“Martin, you live right across the street from Will. You were accepted to West Point after getting a 1600 on the SAT. You’ll work for NASA; you’ll want nothing to do with me. You’ll move to Switzerland and study aerospace technology.”
“You’re really scaring us,” he said.
“What the fuck is this?” I heard.
Chad Iguana buzzed up to me with his rich followers. One of them was Ben Michaels, the school president who had caught me with the Playboy.
Another one was Teresa Monaco, the girl I used to fantasize over the most in high school.
“I’m not here to scare anyone,” I said to them and the rest of the kids from the grove. “If I’ve learned one thing, it’s to be as honest as possible. George Carlin said that telling lies took more work. Or maybe it was Kurt Vonnegut.”
“What is this thing?” Chad asked.
“This? It’s a Segway.”
“And what does it do?”
“Didn’t you see before? I ride on it.”
“Where did you get it?”
“In an alley.”
“I’m calling bullshit.”
Questions and comments shot from everywhere.
“I’ve never seen that shit in my life.”
“You will in about fifteen years,” I said.
“And what’s with the clothes?” Teresa asked.
“Yeah, Mass isn’t until Sunday.”
“And why are they so tight?”
“You’re stuck in the eighties, Dog. Grow a mullet or something.”
I told them that the eighties would make a comeback, “sad to say, and it won’t go away.”
“What’s with the hair?”
“Sideburns won’t be cool anymore.”
“You look like a sellout.”
“How am I a sellout if I don’t look like you?”
They looked at each other like baffled tribesmen.
“Believe me, I’m the farthest thing from a sellout. I’m almost forty and I’ve never voted. I can’t work a corporate job because of bad conduct, and I hate being a team player. I still like Pearl Jam, I like Nirvana, I like Soundgarden…Biggie Smalls is the illest.”
“I think you’re posing,” Michael said.
“Yeah, what’s your favorite song off Badmotorfinger?” Chad asked me.
“That’s easy. ‘A Room a Thousand Years Wide.’”
Most of them looked impressed, except Chad or Ben.
“I don’t even know that song,” Teresa said.
“That’s because you listen to them on the radio, but you’ve never listened to any of their albums.”
“How do you know that?” she asked me.
“I overheard you in Chemistry class. They were my favorite band, too, for a couple of months,” I said.
“Are. It’s too bad what happened to Chris Cornell.”
“What happened to Chris Cornell?” Ben asked. “He’s the singer,” he told Teresa.
“He’s gorgeous,” she said.
“Nevermind,” I said.
“Are you fucking with us?” someone yelled from behind.
“It’s just something I heard. You know rumors. You can’t trust the news these days.”
“All I know is I wouldn’t be caught dead in those clothes,” Chad said.
“Dead on, Chad!”
My best friends wouldn’t say anything. Chad Iguana started cracking his knuckles. He wanted to beat up someone from the future. Whenever I panicked, I would pull my iPhone from my pocket without a thought. I tried to send Ray a text about that terrible morning, and the screen remained blank.
“Oh look, he has a walkie-talkie,” Ben said to the clan, and they laughed.
They tightened around me to look at it. Teresa got closest.
“Is that like a TV?” she asked.
“It’s called a cell phone.”
“I’ve never seen one like that before.”
“You can call people with it, you can write people with it; you can even listen to music and play video games with it.”
“Can Scottie beam you up with it?” Ben asked.
Teresa flipped her hair back and grazed against my arm.
“Are you rich or something?”
“Not as rich as your parents are.”
“What?” she said.
“That thing is lame,” Chad said. “Only a tool would have a cell phone. A real man wouldn’t need to get by with one of those.”
Teresa rubbed my arm.
“I want to give you my phone number.”
“I’m sorry, Little Girl, but you’re too young.”
Chad pushed me right before the narcs showed up. Then he backed away as if everything were cool.
The narcs split up the crowd.
“Who are you?” one of them asked.
“I see that. You got a pass? This campus is for students and faculty only…. What is that?”
“I need to use a phone. Mine is dead.”
He pointed at the Segway.
“No, what’s that?”
“It’s a Queermobile,” Ben said, and the rest of the clan laughed.
“I’m tired of explaining it,” I said. “It’s basically a skateboard that needs no physical exertion.”
“OK, then roll your butt out of here.”
Those narcs were composed of fat for muscle, like fall guys in pro wrestling. The fat was tough, visceral fat.
They let me use the phone in the principal’s office, though. They stood beside me. We had to pass a secretary first. She looked too drained and apathetic to worry about the Segway, or that I had stumbled twenty years to the past (as evidenced by the Rolodex on her desk)—the date was May 15, 1995.
Hughes barged out of his office, the same principal.
“What’s going on? I have an assembly in thirty minutes.”
“He needs to use the phone,” one of the narcs said.
“I can tell you in private,” I said to him.
“Be quick,” he said.
I put the dying Segway on its side in his office and sat across from him at his plain desk.
First, it was a Playboy; twenty years later, in some other dimension, it was a Segway. I introduced myself as Joel Barrington, Class of 1995, now aspiring screenwriter and student teacher at LA City College. Hughes didn’t know what I meant, but the wild truth was there for him to figure out.
“I graduated this year,” I said.
He wouldn’t understand that. I pulled my useless driver’s license from my brown leather wallet and placed it in front of him at his desk. He picked it up and looked at it.
The narcs picked up the Segway and studied it like cavemen to a conventional toaster.
“Joel Barrington, 1769 El Cerrito Place in Los Angeles. Your license expires in [he counted the years with his voice] twenty-five years. That’s one heck of a deal. You got this ridiculous thing on wheels, you got this phone that looks like a calculator, and you have worked something out with the DMV. Or this license is as fake as unicorn farts. Now, what’s your plan before I call the police?”
My plan was to use the phone.
“Who do you need to call?”
“Fine. Make it quick.”
The phone was rotary. I flubbed the numbers on Hughes’s phone, with my finger in those small holes. Principal Hughes watched me do it, too; the narcs as well. No one helped with the situation. I hadn’t used a phone close to that since senior year, when my car broke down in East Bakersfield, at a liquor store where people were strung out by the door, and the receiver had gum stuck to it. I wouldn’t know until I held it to my ear. Back then I had my mother’s phone number memorized. In Hughes’s office, I combined the numbers into enough patterns until one struck. I had the numbers but not the order.
WE’RE SORRY. YOU HAVE REACHED A NUMBER THAT HAS BEEN DISCONNECTED OR IS NO LONGER IN SERVICE.
“I’m going to give you one more turn before I ask you to leave.”
When the last number didn’t work, Hughes took his phone back.
“Nobody is in class,” Hughes told me. “They’re all crowding around the front of this building, because of you.”
“They’re laughing, Sir,” one of the narcs said.
“You hear that?” Hughes said to me. “They’re laughing at you.”
“You distract them.”
“Some of them were calling him a tool, Sir.”
“You see? They’re calling you a tool. Do you want to be called a tool? A puppet?”
“No, Principal, even though where I come from it’s acceptable to be a tool. Even encouraged.”
“I see. And what planet are you from?”
“From the year 2017.”
“Uh-huh.” Hughes signaled the narcs to get closer to me from behind. “And what brings you to our world?”
“It was an honest mistake,” I said. “Like the time when that discus sliced your ear.”
He covered his left ear after that reply.
“Elaine Parker,” I told him. “She hit you with a discus at track and field practice. You were just walking alone. I was there. You sued her parents. Look me up in your directory. I’m a student.”
“I’ll look you up all right.”
He searched through his desktop computer; this large beige shell of a thing that appeared to be less of a computer and more of an alien cocoon.
“And what’s your explanation for being here, Mr. Barrington?”
“I told you it was an honest mistake. I was at this goth bar in Hollywood last night, and I drank too much. Then I woke up in an alley with the Segway.”
“That thing on wheels.”
“You’re saying you’re from the year…”
“Two-thousand-seventeen,” Hughes repeated, impressed.
Every time we said the year the narcs snickered. Even Hughes had to sit back in his chair and grin.
“Is this Segway your time machine?”
“Not exactly. It’s a millennial transportation device.”
“An MTD for short,” he said.
“Then where’s your time machine? I’d like to see it.”
“It’s hard to explain without you laughing at me.”
He tried to hold in the laughter:
“Why would I laugh?”
But he couldn’t hold it any longer, neither could the narcs.
“It’s OK,” I said. “Blame the Millennials.”
“Millennials? Are they your people?”
“That’s the label for the future generation. The whole concept is a blur.”
“I still don’t know when the Millennial generation started.”
“If they’re called Millennials, I would assume that it’s the year 2000.”
“Right, but does that mean the year they were born or the year they got to vote? There’s an article in the Huffington Post (that’s going to be a bogus internet news outlet once the newspapers near extinction) about a new Millennial X hybrid generation for anyone between 1977 and 1983. Pardon my excess of nouns; that’s how we’ll speak.”
“What’s your point about this article?”
“My point is…who thinks he’s the authority on this matter? A professor on the east coast I assume. I was born in 1977, so according to that person who wrote the article in HuffPo, I’m a Millennial X-er. FML.”
“Fuck my life.”
“Watch the language,” he said as if I were still his student.
“Sorry. Acronyms will take over language as well. I’m pissed that I went back in time is all.”
“On a serious note, who told you about me?”
“You busted me two years ago for bringing a Playboy to school.”
Hughes rubbed his chin at that.
“Have you sought a counselor?”
“Do you feel it has helped?”
“I’ve had good ones, potentially.”
“Are you seeing one now?”
“I was, back in the old world, the future world, until my job switched my insurance coverage. The last shrink said I felt too entitled.”
“Entitled to what?”
“You’re a baby boomer, right?”
Hughes signaled the narcs. They closed in, about to grab me if I said something outrageous.
“My shrink was a baby boomer, too. He died. Would you agree that I’m self-entitled?”
“Joel, we’re trying to be friends. We don’t want to upset you. Just tell us what you think you’re entitled to.”
“I won’t get into that for fear of embarrassment. But you, Principal Hughes, being the Baby Boomer that you are, you know how to live, right? I sure don’t. Forgive me and my entitlement. I bring criticism onto myself. I can’t enjoy TV and lazy chairs and Dirt Devils and feel contentment. A Baby Boomer like yourself may criticize me for wanting more.”
“We don’t want to shame you, Joel. We want to understand you.”
“You have shamed me already. Anyway, I have a right to hate everything. The hand that has fed me now slaps me. It wants me to say that I don’t deserve the sugar it has fed me. The hand says to get a job that will reduce me to a laborer—the hand that feeds me an exorbitant amount of video games and cell phones and TV shows and burritos—and I must acquiesce to it all and feel glad you have given me these things.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You have poisoned me with dopamine. If you ask me, God bless entitlement. I was promised that by the age of twenty-eight I would own a sports car, a beautiful blond wife, and a beach house. Then where are they?”
“Did you work hard towards those things?”
“You can only measure it by the results. I have put in my hours. Now I have lost a game that I could never win. I had to get through the stages of bullies and gold diggers and minotaurs with the promise that I would be rewarded once I get to the other end. But I was tricked.”
“Nothing is guaranteed, Son.”
“No fucking shit.”
“Mr. Barrington, I’ll have to remove you now. As I told you, I have an assembly to do. We’re calling the authorities.”
The narcs carried me out. I was doused in fame outside of the administration building, in May heat, in Bakersfield. Students waited out there. A school reporter tried to interview me. I never knew fame. The narcs pushed me through the melee. The students threw me their questions and statements:
“Where are you from?”
“Can I see that phone?”
“Hey, let me ride that board.”
“Why do you dress like a pussy?”
I answered none of them.
At the curb was a police car. One cop already held the backseat door open. They detained the Segway in the front seat. They cuffed me. It was my first arrest. They figured mental illness. The cuffs bit into my wrists.
The court hit me with charges:
Trespassing onto school grounds.
The Segway wasn’t registered as a product. Nothing else was like it then.
Judge Iguana committed me to an outpatient clinic on Truxton. My old psychiatrist, Dr. Quince, was naturally twenty years younger then. His eye still fished in another direction, and he had more hair and weighed much less. He asked me more of the same questions that Principal Hughes did, and I gave him close answers.
“I am a patient of yours,” I told him.
“That’s odd. We’ve never met before.”
“I was your patient between the years of 2003 and 2015.”
“But it’s 1995, Joel.”
“I’m keenly aware of that.”
He tested me with Seroquel and Risperidone for the rest of the stay. Because my Blue Cross insurance plan was invalid twenty years prior to the year it was activated, I would owe the hospital fifteen grand for the lodging.
Once he released me as another delusional, they kept the Segway and the iPhone. The government wanted to use both for testing and research. They could do anything they wanted.
As a vagabond, I searched for the time machine, whatever and wherever it was; it wasn’t there; just the brick and mortar.
I took my place next to Robert under the underpass. We could gather enough change to drink Pina Colada Slurpees with Bacardi rum in them. We told stories of our depressing fates. I was as good as Robert was.
“You said you were from Hollywood?” he asked me.
“Yes, I did.”
“I always wanted to move there. You see, I played jazz trumpet in the seventies back in St. Louis. That was after the war.”
“Would you move there if you had the chance?”
“Shit, it’s too late now.”
“It might be too late for me as well.”
“You didn’t tell me much else.”
I told him about the high school, and the unrest I caused, and all those familiar faces. He wanted to know more about the familiar faces.
“I so happened to be at the twenty-year reunion in 2015,” I said. “It was something. Ben Michaels, the school president I told you about, got married, had a few kids with an average wife and became a typical drone who sold life insurance. He’s living in Colorado now because he likes to ski. Teresa Monaco got fat and married, and she had eleven kids. (She’s Mormon, you know.) And Chad Iguana ended up murdering his father, the judge who sentenced me. He poisoned him. Somehow Chad got out of prison, but he wasn’t at the reunion. I just heard from someone else.”
“What about them things you had?”
“Oh, those will be invented in about ten years by Steve Jobs and Dean Kamen. Ironically, they’ll both die from their own inventions.”
“God damn,” he said. “For the love of the Father, did anything good come of this?” he asked me.
“Sort of. Teresa wanted to give me her phone number. I had always wanted that. But I said I was too old for her. It’s too bad she never gave it to me in high school. Then again, I never wanted eleven kids.”