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THIRTIES GUY IS STILL HERE

Author's note: Jack Hobbs, the man who dropped in on me from 1937, is still here after what he thought would be a half day visit to to future. He reports:

Jack Hobbs here. Still here, I should say. Thought by now I'd be back home. Well, I am home, sort of , since I live here in Brooklyn, but I don't live now, see. If you don't see, it's like this: old Doc Willoughby sent me here in a time machine a couple of days ago. Told me I'd be here for half a day, take some pictures, take a gander around and I'd zap back to my time and report back to him, easy as pie.

Well, I sure got egg on my face, joke's on me. Looks like I'm stuck here in the future. My new friend Bob who took me in when by rights he should have had me locked up in the loony bin with the story I told him, well. Bob showed me how to look up old newspapers on this internet thing you people have. I was wondering why Doc Willoughby wasn't world famous for having invented time travel, and yours truly too for being the first time traveller. So we looked up the good old Daily News archives on the computer and boy did I get a jolt.

We started with the day I got sent here, September 3, 1937. Nothing earth-shaking, the Dodgers lost a close one and nobody that I knew died. Next day, same deal, except that the Dodgers won a double header. Ditto for the next few weeks, nothing about the man who built a time machine. Then on the October 8th, 1937 Daily News obituary page there it is, one Doctor Warren Willoughby meets his maker in Kings County Hospital, his ticker finally giving out after a long bout with heart disease. It was short piece, stating that Doc Willoughby was a retired physics professor who was the heir to a great fortune but was the last of his line, having no family at all. It went on to say that after his retirement he secluded himself in his home laboratory working on "theoretical experiments" until his death. Not a word about him building the time machine that sent me here.

Now ain't that a kick in the head? I feel bad for the Doc, the old codger really grew on me in the four months I worked for him. I figure he probably had a heart attack when the time machine actually worked. He'd had a lot of false starts with the thing, which is why I figured it would never work. It was a little routine of ours at his lab, I'd strap myself into the seat, he'd press buttons and turn dials and the thing would rattle and smoke and break down like an old jalopy. Then we would take her apart and tinker around with this thingamajig and that and rewire the thing and Doc would say he's got it figured this time.

In my four months with him that happened maybe a dozen times and I went along with it, since I come from a time where work was scarce and the Doc gave me a steady job at good wages. He also taught me a lot about science and kept me entertained with how peaceful and easy life in the future will be. Well he got that one wrong. I'm here only a few days and I can see for myself that life is pretty much not so different than it was 70 years ago. Matter of fact, it 's a lot more hectic from where I sit. People seem to be in an awful rush to get places today, not much chatting with the candy store lady or the barber or your neighbor. There's a whole lot more going on these days with those TV's, cell phones, computers and some little tiny boxes that are all three combined plus a movie camera to boot. On your house phone you can put somebody on hold like an operator or even have a three-way call.

That's a lot to keep up with. I even see some little kids with their own pocket phones. What pressing business could these peewees possibly have? Can't you let them just be kids? They'll get their share of the grief of being an adult soon enough. They'll wise up quick to the hard facts of life when their time comes, just like we all did, but at least we had that golden time of being a kid, oblivious to everything mean and hard in this world. The business of being a kid is to be a kid and monkey around and enjoy life without worrying too much about the how that bread got on the table or where that warm blanket at night came from. Why would you take that away from them so soon? Why rush it?

And stuff now is real pricey. I'm a guy who until a few days ago rode the subway for a dime and paid maybe fifteen cents for a loaf of bread, a quarter for a whole chicken. My rent is only twelve bucks a month, and to think I groused about it! In my apartment I have a radio, a two-burner gas stove, an ice box, a decent electric fan for hot nights and my collection of books. Don't have my own telephone. There's a pay phone in the lobby that everyone uses. There's ten apartments in the building, most of them pretty big except a couple like mine, a two-room job that's plenty for me. Whoever's near the phone picks it up and goes to fetch whoever the call is for. Not that I get many calls but if you need me you can find me.

Or I should say I had these things, past tense, over and done with. I came to the realization that I'm in this future for good. Old Doc Willoughby who sent me here isn't spinning any more dials. Too bad he didn't send himself to the future. I hear that they can replace parts of a bum heart as easy as putting new spark plugs in a De Soto these days, even replace the whole thing with someone else's who's not using it anymore, or put one of those mechanical ones in your chest. I guess there's a lot more modern stuff around than I realized when I first got here. I was glad to hear they cured polio, but Bob tells me that was like fifty years ago.

So I'm thinking I have to pull my own weight around here, I can't mooch off Bob forever. He did manage to get me an offer for the camera I brought with me to the tune of something like forty grand, a bigger pile of dough than I ever saw before. Seems the camera the Doc and I bought for taking pictures of the future is a rarity these days, a bona-fide collector's item, especially since it's in such good shape. Well it should be because we only bought it the other day for my time trip. Ain't a nick on it and is still in the box it came in, along with the soft wrapping paper and the instructions too. That's what really sets it apart from other old cameras, plus the fact that I still have thirty fresh rolls of film that they don't even make anymore (The snaps of the future I took for Doc Willoughby were done on Bob's digital camera since nobody these days can develop the kind of camera film I have unless they're old school camera buffs with their own dark rooms.). Bob put the thing on
something called e-Bay and the bidding keeps going up. He just told me it's past forty-one grand and there's still a day to go in the bidding! Figure that one out.

I read about e-Bay in the papers selling a home run ball that broke Hank Aaron's record. Where I come from the record was Babe Ruth's and nobody was ever gonna break that one, but I guess this Hank Aaron guy did and now some other ballplayer named Barry Bonds broke his record, although the papers say he cheated by taking some sort of miracle drug that makes you stronger and quicker and that's been banned by baseball and the law but this Bonds guy was too slick to get caught red-handed. Don't sound like this joker's on the level if you ask me, but without proof of a crime, you can't hang the man. I'll bet the Doc could have used some of that stuff too, maybe it would have helped his bum ticker. If I knew he was still around to get me back to '37 I'd take some with me for him and maybe some spare heart parts. Anyway, the kid who caught the homer stands to make himself about 400 or 500 Grand if you can believe that. That's movie star dough.

If I can get forty grand (and maybe a lot more) for the camera I figure that'll give me a good stake but Bob tells me that isn't all that much these days and I should spend it wisely. I tell him a guy like me who came up in hard times like the 30's don't spend a nickel
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f0i0 wisely. I'm thinking a little studio apartment and maybe get some sort of training so I can get a job. I was a terrific teletype operator before the hard times (what you people now call The Great Depression) put me out on the street, a job I'm told doesn't exist anymore. You mean nobody gets telegrams anymore? I guess fax machines and e-mails do the trick now.

So I guess those boys in the snazzy Western Union uniforms aren't knocking on doors anymore either. I hear there's a whole lot of jobs that don't exist anymore, and not just obsolete ones like mine. Word is that companies are moving their operations to other countries to get foreign guys to do their work on the cheap and with no safety precautions or overtime pay or anything like modern working conditions. I guess that once the government gets wind of that they'll crack down and bring the American jobs back to America. In my time, we made all kinds of things and sold them all over the world, in spite of the fact that American workers got decent pay and overtime and guaranteed safe working conditions. There was a war between industry and labor to get these rights. All in all, though, nobody made better quality goods than the USA. Nobody anywhere.

I'm still young, only 30, so I can learn to do something else. I guess I'm really 100, but that can't be since I didn't get to live the past seventy of those years, just skipped right over them like Rip Van Winkle minus the white beard and the aging. Bob bought me some new clothes so I can fit in to today's style, if you can call it that. I can't believe men don't wear regular hats anymore and I refuse to wear a baseball cap like some little kid. And what's with all those sneakers on grown men? No, thanks, brother. Just because those things cost over a hundred semoleans doesn't mean they're not sneakers.They sure are and those things are uglier than Cinderella's step-sisters and certainly not appropriate attire for the well-dressed man. It seems that only office guys with real good jobs wear jackets and ties anymore, and a lot of fellas walk around the street a lot with only their t-shirts on. What gives?

Well, I guess I'll roll with the punches fashion-wise, but I'll be damned if I'm gonna look like a palooka just to be one of the guys. I'm sure modern ladies still like a well-groomed man. I've already met a couple of swell babes who liked my manners and the way I treat them. Told me I'm sweet and old fashioned. They should only know how old fashioned I really am. I don't let on to anybody but Bob that I'm really a hundred years old and dropped in from the past. That'd only give me a one-way ticket to Bellevue and the last thing I need is to be labeled as some kind of lunatic, although I realize my story has more holes in it than Swiss cheese on the face of it.

But let me tell you something: I can prove who I am. Got my discharge papers from the Marines in my wallet. The Marines fingerprinted me back in 1925 when I joined up right out of High School. That's another thing, I should be in the yearbook of good old Erasmus High School, class of '25. I also got me one of those brand new Social Security cards that FDR and his boys invented so old people wouldn't have to die poor after they couldn't work no more. Didn't have time to contribute all that much but I still have that card in my wallet. It's still so new you'd think the ink wasn't dry on it yet. That, plus my driver's license and honorable discharge papers should prove exactly who I am.

And then there's my kid brother Joey. He's probably long gone but he and his wife Nora had two swell kids when I left and who knows, maybe a couple more after that. They got hitched right out of High School, the classic girl and boy next door affair. I'll bet Joe Junior remembers good old Uncle Jack. He was eight years old and I used to take him to Ebbets field all the time to see the Dodgers play when I had a steady job. When I didn't I'd take him to the sandlots and teach him to play baseball the right way, hard and clean. Heck, I remember everything from when I was eight, so he should too I hope. If nothing happened to the kid he should be 78 now, not as ancient as it was in my day. These days the woods are thick with geezers, they live so long. And just like FDR planned, they're not broke. They seem to have plenty of dough socked away plus they get that Social Security check every month. Good to see that the government can do some things right.

My niece Marie might remember me too, she was five when I went poof. She loved her Uncle Jack no end and followed me around like a puppy dog. Who knows, maybe those two got married and had kids of their own and I have a bunch relatives somewhere. My next look-see at the Daily News archives is to see if my disappearance made any news. I kind of doubt it because in those days lots of guys took a powder. Some went wherever they thought they could get work. A few guys with families they couldn't support anymore buckled under the intense pressure and took it on the lam to who-knows-where. I can see clear as a bell now the hard times we had came to an end, but what replaced it don't seem like such a bargain, a World War like no one ever saw before.

I hear tell that fifty million people got killed in that fiasco. Wasn't there any way to talk everybody out of it? What do we pay these Fancy Dan diplomats for? To make windy speeches and wear top hats and tails? (Bob tells me ambassadors don't dress that way anymore but they're just as windy and useless as ever.) I don't get it, but like I said before, I never could follow the line of thinking of the high and mighty. It seems like a lot of regulars Joes got to pay for their crazy notions, and pay big. I know I don't have all the whys and wherefors about that whole mess due to my seventy year leap ahead, but fifty million people dead? That don't make any sense at all. There had to be a better way.

I've been getting around town and seeing all the changes, some of them pretty swell. My old apartment house owned by Mrs. Sweeney is gone, replaced by some big discount store. Ebbets field is now a bunch of giant apartment buildings and that hurts to see it gone forever. Manhattan sure got taller on the average. Lots of glass and steel buildings . They look nice, some of them, but pretty flimsy. No wonder the Arabs were able to knock a couple of them down. I see Mayor LaGuardia got himself an airport named after him and they changed the name of Idlewilde to Kennedy after a president that got shot for shaking things up and giving colored people their rights or trying to kill some guy named Castro who runs Cuba or fooling around with a gangster's moll. Can't really get a straight answer on that one. No one seems to agree on history these days.

There's too much to absorb in just a few days and that sort of bugs me. It's not like I jumped ahead a year or even a decade. Seventy years is a lot of time to ask somebody to fill me in on what I missed, like I got up to get popcorn at the movies and missed a scene. Hell, I missed the whole movie. I feel like a kid again, asking dumb questions a grown up ought to know automatic like, see, like just when did the government take over the numbers rackets from the gangsters? Things like that. I need more than the little tidbits you learn on the internet, I need some decent history books. I think I'll lay low for a while and try to find some relatives and sort myself out. I miss my family and friends, and the Doc too, even though he's the one responsible for the mess I'm in. What's happened is over and done with and it's up to me to take it from here.

I'm glad I knocked on the right door when I came to 2007. Bob has been a good buddy when I needed one the most. Here I was one day a confident guy who thought he had things figured out okay and the next day I'm like some hayseed seeing the big city for the first time. Bob says don't be in a rush and don't think you have to jump on every bandwagon that rolls up. He's got a good point there. If you try to do keep up with all the new stuff coming at you these days that's all you'd have time to do, leaving zero time for living your life. Good advice.

A lot of things he tells me are the God's honest, like the fact that most of the stuff on TV is complete nonsense, but there's some quality stuff to watch here and there. I thought it was just me at first not being hip to the lingo and the modern culture. Bob tells me to trust myself since I've got good instincts and a good heart. Told me he saw right off that I was a decent Joe and not some wisenheimer trying to play angles on everyone. Funny, that's how I always tried to operate but being a fish out of water put a little dent in my armor. He tells me I'll be fine because it don't matter where you're from, it only matters who you are. I really needed to hear that.

Well, it's time to find out just who I am and where I fit in around here. I got at least one good friend so that's a start. Now I've got to look up whatever family I've got, but that might be a shock to them and they might not believe me. I can't count on everybody being like old Bob here, taking a guy at face value, but I like to think that most people are okay Joes doing their best in this world so I'm just going to be who I am and let people know it. Wish me luck.}

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