The other day I had the strangest visit. It was a guy in a trench coat and a fedora claiming to be a time traveler from the year 1937. He said he was working for a Doctor Willoughby and instructed to knock on the first door he came across and check things out and write a report. Well, here it is:
8 P.M., September 3rd. 2007.
My name is Jack Hobbs, see. The last thing I remember I was in this glass and steel booth in Dr. Willoughby’s laboratory. He’s a decent old codger and a real egghead, sharp as they come, but a little scatter-brained, if you catch my drift. Anyway, he gives me a job a few months back, sort of his Man Friday, doing this and that around his lab, helping him with his experiments and doing some errands, typing up reports and other paperwork. A little out of my regular line of work but that’s okay by me, any work you can get is good work these days, and like I say, the doc’s an okay Joe, the pay is good and the workload ain’t exactly breaking rocks.
Doc Willoughby tells me he’s perfected a time machine and I says yeah sure, Doc, a time machine, that’s a good thing. I figured the old guy’s a little off his rocker but I don’t let on what I’m thinking, see. No sense rocking the boat when I’m collecting a regular paycheck. Why not humor the old goat I figure. Besides, the way the guy went on and on about how rosy the future would be, well, I just didn’t have the heart to burst his bubble.
I have to admit that he sure made it sound like a thick slice of heaven with a cherry on top, all brotherhood of man and all kinds of scientific gadgets making life a snap for everybody, no poor people or bread lines or factories closing down or banks throwing granny off the family farm. I could listen for hours to the doc as he spun his tales. Kind of made me want to live a long time to see some of this stuff happen.
So one morning I come into work and the doc says I don’t have to wait until I’m an old man to see the future, his time machine was ready for a spin and he’d like me to try it on for size. He hands me a couple of hundred smackers and a brand new camera and says that ought to do the trick for the short time I’d be there. I says sure Doc, why not? I figure it’ll rattle and smoke and go dead like it always did when we worked on it every now and then. He’d been at this thing for years and I figured it’d never work cause even a regular Joe like me knows you can’t travel to a time that ain’t happened yet but that’s okay by me as long as the paychecks kept coming.
The doc inherited a pile of dough from his family and seemed like he had a lifetime supply of it so I wasn’t looking for the complaint department if you catch my drift. I figure I’ll park myself in the seat, he’ll spin the dials and poof, it’ll fizzle out again and we’ll go back to monkeying around with it again like always. The doc is a big tinkerer and loves fiddling around with wires and cathode ray tubes and all kinds of scientific gizmos. It was all Greek to me but I got pretty handy myself with a soldering iron and we’d have us a high old time taking the rig apart and putting it back together again. Then we’d try it out again and it’d rattle and smoke and go poof again and we’d go back to tinkering. A job’s a job, I figure, and the landlady’s happy she’s getting her rent on time and I’m happy I’m not cooling my heels out on the street.
So that day he gets all misty eyed about how he wishes he could take the trip with me but someone had to man the controls and besides he was an old man and wasn’t sure his ticker could take the strain. I says don’t worry doc, I’ve got the camera and I’ll remember to take some shots for you of all the modern marvels I run across. According to him I’ll be tripping over them in the future and he figures seventy years ought to do the trick, 2007.
Whatever you say, Doc, you’re the boss I’m thinking as he revved up the time machine again. I figured in a half hour we’d be under the hood again and talking about the sweet life I’d get to eyeball when we fixed the rig and he recalibrated the settings like always and he’d send me to 2007. Didn’t work out that way. Sure enough, the crazy gizmo worked this time and here I am.
At first I was a little leery ‘cause the future don’t look much different except that the cars all shrunk, at least on this street. So I do like the doc tells me and knock on the nearest door and this guy Bob answers it, a tall skinny drink of water but he seems okay, and understandably he gives me the fish eye when I tell him where I’m from. Can’t say as I’d be any less skeptical if a guy shows up on my doorstep claiming to be from 1867. I might have given him the bum’s rush now that I think about it but this guy Bob, he sees I’m pretty shaken up and so he sits me down and gives me a hot cup of Joe. Well, at least the future’s got decent coffee. So far, so good, right?
I ask the guy what year it is and he says 2007 and I says maybe Doc Willoughby ain’t so much off his rocker as I think. He shows me a copy of The Daily News, only with color pictures in it, and sure enough I’m seventy years ahead of my time but haven’t aged a bit. Naturally Bob thinks I’m a couple of jokers short of a full deck but I pull out my own copy of the Daily News, dated 70 years to the day beforehand. He scratches his head and gives me the once over, not knowing what kind of prank this might be.
I swear I ain’t no bill collector or tax agent, even show him my wallet. He takes a gander at my dough and gasps, saying it’s the genuine article from all those years and then checks the silver coins and says sure enough they’re real silver, whatever that means. Then he eyeballs my camera, calling it a perfectly preserved antique and I say antique my foot, I bought it with Doc Willoughby at Sears Roebuck just this morning. Showed him the hand-written receipt too, in case he thinks I swiped it.
He asks if I have any photo ID, and I says they’re ain’t no such thing but I show him my driver’s license and some snap shots of my family. I got a kid brother lives over in Canarsie with his wife and two little brats so I show these off like a proud uncle. Me, I’m still single, which is why the doc told me he picked me for time travel, that no one would miss me if I turned up missing. I shrugged it off at the time, never for a minute figuring I’d actually get bounced into the future. Now what?
We never did discuss getting me back to 1937. Didn’t seem necessary but now I’m kicking myself for what a sap I was. Old Doc Willoughby didn’t seem like the kind of guy to play me for a sucker but now I’m not so sure. What if I’m stuck here? Now this Bob guy is starting to believe me, and what cements the deal is when I ask him what the Dodgers did today. He looks at me like I’m cross-eyed and says what Dodgers? I say the Brooklyn Bums, of course. Don’t tell me you’re a Giant fan or worse, a Yankee fan living here in Brooklyn, I says.
So he tells me he is a Yankee fan but only because the Dodgers don’t play in Brooklyn no more, they moved to Los Angeles when Bob was a little kid. The Giants moved out to Frisco the year before that. That really took the wind out of my sails, I’ll tell you. What’s Brooklyn without the Dodgers? Must have broke a lot of hearts around here is all I can say.
Bob says the Dodgers did some great things before they left, bringing black guys into major league ball. I ask what the hell is a black guy and he tells me African Americans and I’m still stumped but them it dawns on me, he’s talking about colored people! Well I’ll be damned, and about time too I says. I always wondered why Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson and some of the other Negro League stars never got a shot at the bigs. I seen them play plenty and any dope could see some of these guys had the goods. Then he tells me the Dodgers beat the Yanks in the Series in 1955 and celebrated by taking it on the lam to Hollywood a few years later. Ain’t that the cat’s pajamas?
So I let that sink in, then I ask Bob to tell me about all the modern scientific gizmos that make life a walk in the park these days. So he tells me people fly around in airplanes like giant buses all over the world. He said we sent a man to the moon nearly forty years ago but then quit the space ship racket. Said most everybody has their own phone in their pocket and you don’t have to put a dime in it to make a call, no wires needed and works on sound waves like a radio. Tells me about fax machines and e-mails and all the instant communication we got here in the future so I figure everybody must be pretty important and have a lot of pressing business to be in such lickety-split touch with each other.
I ask what’s on the radio these days, maybe we could catch a ballgame and he tells me he only listens to the game on his car radio because we got television now and you can watch the game at home, in color no less. Okay, what else you got? Planes and flimsy cars and televisions and phones in your pocket. Oh, a microwave oven? Flip tops on cans of coke? Okay. That’s it? People still get around town in subways and buses? Nothing new there. You say the tallest building in New York is still The Empire State Building?
What’s that, there was a taller pair built downtown but some angry Arabs knocked them down? Arabs? With what, exploding camels? Well I guess the Feds hunted them down alright, no? What? They gave up on ‘em and attacked some other country in the Middle East instead that had nothing to do with it? I figure Bob’s pulling me leg here but he’s dead serious. I ask him who’s running the show down there in Foggy Bottom, President Moe, Larry or Curly?
I’m getting real confused here so Bob steers me over to his computer and shows me how to look stuff up. It looks like one of those television sets but with a keyboard sort of like my Underwood typewriter back at the Doc’s lab, but without the noise and the handle to reset the carriage. Anyway, in no time I get the hang of it and now I’m surfing the web trying to play catch-up ball for the last 70 years. Well, it seems that lots has gone on but by and large it’s the same old same old, if you catch my drift.
I’m shocked to find out that that blowhard Hitler over in Germany started another World War and murdered 6 million Jews in the process. I figured he’d slink away after Jesse Owens busted his “Aryan Superman” balloon on the Berlin Olympic’s running track. I’ve got to get word back to 1937 and my buddy Hymie. He’s still got a bunch of relatives over there and he better get ‘em out of there pronto. Also, my cousin Freddy is in the navy stationed at Pearl Harbor and likes it, thinking he might just make a career of it on the good old battleship U.S.S. Arizona. Once the Japs got involved I figure poor Freddy’s days are numbered.
And after that war, who gets to be the big cheese other than the good old USA but Russia? Now there’s another country I’d never have figured to make a big splash. Their bosses were nuttier even than Hitler. So then everybody’s got a whole bunch of those crazy A-Bombs we blew up a couple of Jap cities with to end Hitler’s war and our two countries play blind-man’s bluff for fifty years until the Russians fold, but thankfully no one blew up the world. At least not yet. It also seems that there’s still plenty of poor people around and no shortage of wars being fought all over the place. The European Empires finally collapsed and seem to have left a big stink behind them.
The two biggest economies outside of over here are Japan and Germany, the two countries who started that big war and who we destroyed and then rebuilt. I don’t get it, but at least I see we still keep occupying armies on their turf just in case they get frisky again. I never did follow the logic of kings and presidents anyway. Best to leave that alone.
So I ask Bob if that skinny wop singer with the Dorsey Band ever made a splash, that Franky Sinatra kid. He says he sure did and then some but we don’t call people wops and dagos and micks or kikes or spades anymore. I told him we didn’t mean nothing by it, just gave guys a little ribbing, see, find out what they were made of. If a guy’s of German descent we call him Dutch, if he’s Swedish then it’s Swede. You follow? My good friend Hymie’s name is really Morris, but he hates that name. Me, I’m called Hobbsy by my friends, just a sort of nickname, see?
It seems some good things have happened in this world, too. Jim Crow is dead and colored guys are playing in the big leagues and even running the show by being big generals or big shot businessmen and Senators and stuff. About time, I say. Women get a lot more say in their lives it seems, and I guess that’s a good thing. I figure they were saps to ever let themselves get pushed around in the first place, but that’s only my opinion. I also like the new styles the ladies seem to favor except in Arabia where they’re wrapped up like mummies for some strange reason. Wonder whose idea was that, theirs or some joker in charge over there, and what’s his problem?
And now the U.S has 50 states, Alaska and Hawaii making the cut after the Second World War. There’s a lot more cars and a hell of a lot more highways and people seem to drive all over this country all the time. And America looks like the new Great Britain, having army and naval outposts all over the world. I wonder what for? There’s just too much complicated dope for me to get through my skull in one sitting so I’m taking a break here. And there’s something nagging in the back of my mind that doesn’t seem quite right but I can’t put my finger on it.
Then it hits me! I ask Bob if he ever heard of Doctor Warren Willoughby and he says no. I scratch my head and figure maybe Bob’s one of those ignorant dopes who’s not savvy to the famous scientists who made the big breakthroughs so I look him up on the internet and get squat, zero, nada, zilch, nil on the good doc. You’d figure the guy who invented time travel would be right up there with Einstein and Newton, no? You’d think there’d at least be a statue of the guy somewhere.
Maybe the doc had a good reason to keep it a secret? I’m hoping that’s the case or else it looks like curtains for me. How can I stay here when I should be a very old man or dead by now? All of a sudden I get real weary. This time-travel stuff takes a lot out of a guy, to say nothing of learning about the missing seventy years since I left Willoughby’s lab. Bob invites me sleep on his couch for the night and I accept. Not that I want to impose on a decent guy I just met but the hard fact is that I have nowhere else to go. Everybody I know is either very old or long dead by now.
Bob assures me that tomorrow we’ll look up old copies of newspapers to see what happened to old Doc Willoughby, obituaries and the like. Maybe he traveled into the future himself, even shot past me to the year 2107. I was kind of counting on him to get me back home. He assured me my stay would only last for half a day but that decline passed and I’m starting to worry. Now what?
If any of you out there reading this have any information on Doctor Warren Willoughby, could you contact this e-mail address? I know the old guy didn’t have any family, but he must have left some word about his invention and hopefully about me, his human guinea pig. If not, maybe there’s some other scientist out there working on time travel who could send me back. Bob says he’ll lend me his blog again so I’ll keep in touch.
He’s already calling me Thirties Guy, a good enough nickname as any I guess, especially considering how I got here in his living room. To him and to you 1937 might sound like ancient history, but to me it wasn’t even yesterday, it was this morning. I still don’t need a shave again, that’s how close I am to it. Why is it starting to feel like a thousand miles away? Help a fellow out here, folks. I’ve got to report back to my boss, warn Hymie and Cousin Freddie and maybe invest some dough in some swampland around Orlando Florida where Walt Disney’s going to build some kind of Coney Island with a Mickey Mouse as its host someday. Meanwhile I’ll just take some snapshots of this big deal future…