There’s not enough of it.
I need more.
With fewer things to do.
There’s not enough of it.
I need more.
With fewer things to do.
Overwhelmed by a pervasive sense of unreality, I was barely surprised to see the door. No ordinary door, but clearly a door to another time or dimension. Because in all the books I read, there’s always a door suddenly appearing and on the other side, it’s another time, another place, another world … and it’s always exciting.
Except when it’s 1347 and you arrive in England along with the Black Death. Ouch. That would be really depressing. And quite possibly … final.
So … do I go through the door? Just stand here like a wuss and prove how completely cowardly and indecisive I really am? Maybe I should go home first to gather supplies. Stop by the doctor, get inoculated against plague … they have that now, I hear. Take a supply of medication like broad spectrum antibiotics.
And bottled water.
Plus, a horse and cart. That would be useful, a horse. Especially the cart. I don’t suppose a cell phone would help much …
Then, the door was gone. Oh well. Missed it again. Next time I’ll be ready.
The glade was always special. The light was different in the glade. Rumors abounded. Especially after little Mary had gone there to picnic with her dolls and disappeared without a trace. They found the dolls, but Mary was gone.
No sign of struggle. No sign of anything. Dolls, neatly lined up with their little cups, waiting for a party that would never start.
Until, one day long years later, Mary was back.
As she disappeared, so she reappeared. Silently, without warning. By now, she was a tall, dark-haired woman dressed in odd garments constructed of some peculiar design and fabric. None of the local townspeople had seen anything like it before. She talked oddly, too … with a funny accent and very fast. Occasionally sighing and murmuring “What I wouldn’t give for a double latte right now.”
“But where were you?” she was asked. Repeatedly. Usually, she would smile and shake her head. One day, after she had been home for some months, she said she would like the townsfolk to gather in the glade and she would tell them all a story.
I’m sure you can imagine the excitement as the simple farmers and weavers and cobblers and coopers of that rural village gathered in the golden morning light in the very glade where Mary had disappeared.
When all were gathered and quiet had settled on the crowed, Mary raised her hands as if to bless the crowd … but it was only to shush them to full silence.
“I’m no great public speaker,” she began, “But since you all seem to want to know … I went to L.A. There’s a portal, here, in the glade. Not all the time. Just sometimes and if you step into it, you’ll find yourself in L.A.”
“What’s an L.A.?” they cried in one voice.
“That’s where the latte is,” said Mary, smiling, misty-eyed.
And then, another shout. “What’s a portal? What’s a latte?”
“A doorway in time and space,” responded Mary. “And some really great coffee.”
“What? Huh?” came the confused responses.
Just then, a bright whirling light came and settled nearby in the trees. “Like that,” said Mary, stepping through it. And she was never seen again. The town is still talking about it and will continue to talk about it forever and a day.
Procrastination? It’s not procrastination. Uh uh. It’s enjoying the freedom of unharnessed time. For long years, I too was scheduled. Always short of time, but never late. Never missed a deadline. Always left the house early in case I encountered traffic. I used up my time making sure to have enough time.
But time is all in our heads. There’s always time and there’s always no time at all. I put off what isn’t critical, do what must be done now, and the rest? I’ll have another cup of coffee and a Danish, please.
I call and change appointments when I don’t feel like going. If traffic piles up? I’m late. I say “Oops, sorry. Hit some traffic.” The world keeps spinning. No one takes out a pistol and shoots me. Yet.
In the immortal words of Robert Heinlein’s Time Travel Corps from “All You Zombies — “
Never Do Yesterday What Should Be Done Tomorrow
If At Last You Do Succeed, Never Try Again
A Stitch in Time Saves Nine Billion
A Paradox May be Paradoctored
It is Earlier When You Think
Ancestors Are Just People
Even Jove Nods.
Priorities are important. I’ll get my leaky valve fixed. In time. I’ll get that book review written. Tomorrow. I’ll process some more of the pictures we took yesterday … later. After coffee. After I read, write and think a while.
There will be time. For the important stuff. Maybe there won’t be time for other things and, well … they just won’t get done. Because my hurrying days are done.
A word from Marilyn:
I want to introduce you to one of Garry and my best friends. I would say oldest friends, but he’s not all that old. We have, however, been friends … forever? Since college, anyhow. We were at the radio station at Hofstra — back in those long ago days when we and the world were young and stupid. His lovely bride, Ellin, started writing for Serendipity a few months ago and I dragooned Tom into it too.
Tom’s a funny guy. Really. Funny. This piece is so on target for today, I just had to run it. Probably he would have liked to work on it some more, but … well … I pulled the trigger.
Say hi to Tom. (Hi Tom!)
So there I was. Thinking. Not quite awake. Not exactly asleep. You know. The funny place between.
And it hit me. Fixing all this craziness is simple. The question is WWCKD? Or, to put simply, “WHAT WOULD CAPTAIN KIRK DO?” If you look at the problem like that, the answer is simple. Obvious.
Travel back in time to a point where you can change the present from happening. As any Star Trek fan knows, Kirk did it all the time.
Now that I had the solution, the question became a matter of coördinates. To when and where do I go back to fix this? And the answer came to me as if in a dream …
Go back to 1998. Convince President Clinton to stay the hell away from Monica Lewinsky. There would be no scandal, no impeachment. Bill could campaign for Al Gore — like he was supposed to — and George Bush would never get elected. Everything that happened after that would not happen!
So as I was drifting off to sleep, I imagined finding a time machine. Going back to 1998. Actually getting an audience with Bill Clinton … in the Oval Office.
How do I do this? Who knows? I’ll let the writers will work out those plot points later. I’m more into the “Big Picture Stuff”.
But … this is also where the whole idea fell apart because the conversation would go like this:
President Clinton: “Well for some reason the writers haven’t figured out yet, I believe you are a time traveler from the future with important information for me.”
Me: “Yes Mr. President. You must not have an affair with your intern, Monica Lewinsky.”
President Clinton: “Whoa! How’d you know about that?”
Me: “I’m from the future, remember?”
President Clinton: “Oh yeah right. I guess that makes sense. So, why shouldn’t I do that?”
Me: “Because you will get caught. The public is going to find out about it. The Republicans are going to impeach you because of it.”
President Clinton: “Well, that’s not good.”
Me: “Don’t worry. You don’t get convicted. Your approval ratings go up to over 70%.”
President Clinton: “Well that’s good, right?”
Me: “Not really. Because when Al Gore runs for president, he won’t let you campaign for him. Or let you anywhere near him.”
President Clinton: “Really. Hmm. Who’s he running against?”
Me: “George W. Bush.”
President Clinton: “You gotta be kidding me!”
Me: “Nope. And even though Al runs a terrible campaign, he will only lose the election by 500 votes. Well, actually years later, when a full recount is done, it turns out Al actually won. But in 2000, the Supreme Court steps in and stops the recount. And appoints Bush as President.”
President Clinton: “I don’t think the Supreme Court can do that.”
Me: “Neither did anybody else. Until they did it. So George W. Bush becomes the president. One of the first things he does is ignore all the intelligence agencies warnings that Osama Bin Ladin is going to attack the US.
Because of this al-Qaeda hijacks four 747’s out of Logan in Boston — and La Guardia in New York … using nothing but box cutters as weapons. They crash two planes into the World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon.
The Twin Towers are destroyed, thousands of people die. Now, even though all the hijackers are from Saudi Arabia — and Bin Laden is hiding in Afghanistan — Bush invades Iraq. Totally destabilizing the Middle East.
Wall Street creates a bubble based on the housing market and that causes a world-wide financial crash in 2008 in which trillions of dollars are lost, and millions of people around the world lose their jobs.
So in 2008 America elects a black guy — Barak Hussein Obama — as president, then in 2010 a bunch of billionaires help create something called the Tea Party. And the Republicans swing so far to the right, Barry Goldwater would be considered a Communist.
By 2016, which is what I call ‘the present,’ it seems pretty likely your wife is going to be running for President against … wait for it …
At this point, the Secret Service enters the Oval Office and drags me away. As I’m being carried out, I see The Truth.
Wow. When you actually say all that out loud? I don’t believe it either.
Then I fell asleep.
Time travel makes my brain go “eek.” This is a compliment. Not many things make my brain do back flips and somersaults. Time travel is an impossible concept I cannot understand because it is inherently incomprehensible. Therefore, I love it.
This review contains spoilers, so if you’ve never read this, you might want to stop now and allow yourself to be surprised.
I first read this story by Robert Heinlein long ago as part of a compilation of his classic short stories. After all these years, it remains on the top of the heap of time travel tales. I couldn’t remember its title, so it took me a while to find it. It is called “All You Zombies.”
In a strange infinite loop, a baby girl is mysteriously dropped off at an orphanage in Cleveland in 1945. “Jane” grows up lonely and dejected, not knowing who her parents are, until one day in 1963 she is strangely attracted to a drifter. She has a brief passionate relationship with him and becomes pregnant.
The stranger disappears.
During a weird and complicated birthing, Jane’s doctors discover she actually has two complete sets of sex organs. With her life on the line, the doctors change her from female to male. Jane is now a man. Then …. a mysterious stranger kidnaps her baby leaving Jane a man and childless.
Depressed, lost, he becomes a drunk and a drifter. He eventually, meets a young woman in a bar, who he impregnates during a brief affair. The story contains even more complexities, involving the Time Corps and a bartender. Throughout, everything continues moving forward and backward in time.
Read it, and get your own brain in a twist.
The story is a paradox, impossible yet structured with its own internal logic that you can neither reject nor accept. At which point, my brain goes “Eek!!” Jane is everyone. Everyone is Jane. She is her family: tree, trunk, branches and roots.
The circular logic combined with the impossibility of the sequence where the same person is mother, father and child forever in an infinite loop — the snake eating its tail — is deliciously mind-blowing. You can get it for your Kindle from Amazon for $1.25, or as part of an anthology of Heinlein short stories. There are several listed on Amazon, new and used.
Heinlein did much of his most creative writing in these early short stories. His later novels are better known today, especially Stranger In a Strange Land. The short stories have gotten a bit lost in time but are well worth your time. Most were written for the science fiction fanzines — newsprint magazines that were the primary outlets for sci fi until the genre broke into mainstream literature in the 1960s. Not only Heinlein, but all the classic great science fiction authors started their careers writing for the fanzines.
I’ve read many hundreds of time travel books and stories over more than 50 years of loving science fiction. But this one, this story, has stuck firmly in my brain as the most perfect paradox where the past, present and future come together in a perfect conundrum.
All You Zombies is my favorite for good reason. It’s unforgettable. I promise you will never forget it either.
“So,” says Uncle Shmuel, who having appeared out of nowhere is now sitting at the table enjoying a nice piece cake. Miraculously he speaks excellent vernacular American English — albeit with a heavy Yiddish accent,
“Nice place you got here. I see you keep your animals in your house. That one there sounds like a pig but looks like a dog.”
“They are our pets, Uncle Shmuel. The oinker is Nan. She just makes that sound. She’s kind of old. I think that’s the dog equivalent of ‘oy’.”
“Pets, shmets. Animals. In the house. What’s next? Toilets? Never mind, your life, your choice. Oy.”
“Can I give you something to eat? Tea? Coffee? Cake? If we don’t have it, I can go out and buy some.”
“Are you Kosher?”
“Uh, no. Not Kosher,” and I shiver, remembering the many pork chops that have passed across our dishes. “Oh, wait, here’s my husband. Uncle Shmuel, I’d like you to meet my husband Garry.”
Shmuel looks shrewdly at Garry, then at me. “He doesn’t look Jewish.”
Garry’s eyes twinkle. “But really I am,” he says and deftly pulls a yarmulke out of his pocket. It say “Joel’s Bar Mitzvah” across the back in big white letters. Fortunately, Shmuel doesn’t notice.
“So,” Shmuel continues after a pregnant pause, “You have problems with the Cossacks?”
“No Cossacks, but lots of politicians,” I reply.
“Cossacks, politicians, there’s a difference?”
“Not so much,” I admit.
“And for a living you do what?”
“We’re retired. But before that, I was a writer. Garry was a reporter. On television.”
“What’s a television?”
I look at Shmuel, realize we are about to embark on an extended conversation, so all I say is: “Oy vay is mir!” Which seems to sum it up.
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