So I’m rereading How to Build A Time Machine by Paul Davies. Why you ask? It was a challenging read the first time but I enjoyed it. That is of course not why I’m reading it again.
The reason demands a little background information so I’ll start at the beginning of the sole night in my life that seemed different than all the others. At the time I explained it away as a bad drug experience but now I have cause to question that.
It started off the same way a majority of the days and nights of my senior of college did.
Drugs and alcohol.
Monday nights were treated pretty much like Monday night. Tuesday and Wednesdays were treated like Friday nights, Thursday and Friday nights were like Saturdays and Saturday nights… well, they were the nights that I rarely remembered much of afterwards so I think they existed in a whole new category that defies any classification that a non-college student could ever understand. Sunday mornings were a time to introduce yourself to whomever was sleeping next to you and then apologize for the state of their clothing or for what was in their hair or for their shattered self-esteem.
It was on a Saturday night that there was an incident.
An incident fueled by shrooms.
While I typically abused myself with the conventional 1-2 punch of beer and pot occasionally I would throw a new drug into the mix and by far my favorite was shrooms. In retrospect I’m not sure if I ingested too many or if I just got a hold of some freaky Central American shit that would have had an Aztec running around speaking in tongues but whatever the case I’m surprised that there wasn’t a wee little man with a conductors hats on standing next to me shouting “All aboard!” the moment they hit my stomach. Along for this journey was my friend Paul.
Paul was a big guy who I think was on his third attempt at being a senior. He sported a big 70’s porno mustache, was President of the university skeet shooting team and owned about a dozen automatic weapons which he kept in his closet, and never seemed to actually get drunk despite the number of drinks he had.
We both knew something was wrong almost right away. We were in the basement of some party when it seemed to us that all of the conversations were nothing more than the clucking of chickens. We must have been reacting to this a little more obviously than we’d hoped because soon we were standing alone on one side of the party while on the other side of the room there were about 90 people smashed together unable to lift their cups to their lips or turn their heads comfortably due to their apparent desire to keep as much distance as they could between themselves and Paul and I. We were swinging violently from finding this situation hysterically funny to screaming at the people to stop clucking.
It was time to go.
I’m a little fuzzy on the details that led us up to the top of the university’s tallest dorm but that is where we ended up next. It was also where the students contained within did laundry so the people that had the misfortune of trying to clean their clothes on a Saturday night got front row seats for a good reminder of why they shouldn’t be out partying in the first place.
At first we looked down on Fell Street with a great deal of interest. That was the main drag where most of the apartment building were sponsoring parties so it was like a mini Bourbon Street with drunk and soon-to-be-drunk students wandering up and down looking for the best spot to drink and find love.
We watched until we got a little bored and then the wheels really came off. Suddenly we understood why god was no longer speaking to his children. He got bored.
He was watching for awhile, stuck his nose in once in awhile to make sure that everything and everybody was going along ok but then he eventually found us dull and wandered off to look at something else.
This caused much grief and gnashing of teeth. Actually we both leaned against the glass as this realization sank in and began to sob. Great wracking loud cries of despair. We had been abandoned by the very god that neither of us believed existed.
I’m not sure how long this went on but by the time we had pulled ourselves together and dealt with the fact that there was a divine being and that he was completely uninterested in us the laundry room was completely empty. Not a dryer was spinning.
We named ourselves the Gods of Fell Street and promised never to grow bored of something. I don’t remember what exactly it was.
We tried to go back to our apartment but as we were going up the stairs one of our neighbors, Stumpy, saw us and started to walk towards us.
We both screamed and ran away.
It was more of a shriek to be honest. Like a primitive tribe member would so if you took his picture and he thought that this was some sort of attempt to capture his soul. To this day I remember the moment of terror thinking that we would have to interact with him if caught.
Stumpy, a legitimate good guy, didn’t talk to us for a week afterwards. I didn’t blame him and my attempts to explain why we reacted like we did sounded retarded to my ears so I can only imagine how stupid it sounded to him.
There are a lot of people who view their success in life as some great tribute to how smart or wonderful they are. I think that’s bullshit. Luck plays such a huge part in everybody’s life that anyone who makes it out of their college years intact should be a humble fuck about it. The fact I made it out of that night alive was a complete fluke.
After we tore like crazy men from our apartment complex we ended up at the one place we shouldn’t have.
Active train tracks.
Tracks that would take the life of one of the school’s newspaper reporters that same year.
We laid down on the tracks and philosophized and only vaguely felt them start to vibrate as the train approached. Casually we got up and decided to have a contest to see who could come closest to the train with their face as it passed by.
This was not some tense affair where our stomachs were in our throats, fear gripping our hearts as we inched closer and closer as to not look bad in front of each other. Instead I remember a calmness to it, an ordinariness to it as I leaned into it and tried to get the train to graze the tip of my nose.
It was a long train hauling every imaginable thing north. If so much as a lever or pole had stuck out of it at any point I would have been decapitated without so much as a whimper. Instead the world’s longest smoothest train without anything poking out of it passed and we were left alone again on the tracks.
Then we became time travelers. When we arrived back I walked through my apartment as if I was someone from my far-flung future. I remembered the fridge and the posters and the table that sat without legs on the floor because we had broken them off in order to use it as a surf board a few weeks previous. I walked around in a daze, remembering my room. I read the lyrics from Billy Bragg I had posted on the door (St. Swithin’s Day as a reminder to myself about the danger of a certain girl) and touched things. My bed and my guitar and the collection of vinyl records that sat in the wooden crate. Paul and I nodded at each other and it was obvious that we were both much older and enjoying this opportunity to come back for awhile. We did not ask how we’d been doing. In fact, we didn’t dare speak at all.
I couldn’t believe I was standing there. I was back in college although I never left. I knew for certain that this was real and some day I would actually be the one who came back and did everything I was doing then. I listened to the scratchy sound that needles use to make when you put them on the record and then laid down on the bed and looked at the ceiling as Change Partners by Stephen Stills began to tumble out of the too-big-for-the-room speakers.
When I woke up the next morning both Paul and I agreed that we were complete morons but in the back of my head I couldn’t shake the feeling that what I felt that night was real and that some day in the future I would suddenly find myself back here/there.
Like everything though… you forget. Even the most amazing, perfect, shitty, unbelievable stuff eventually gets lost inside you. Even that night.
Until last night.
I went back.
I was there.
I re-lived every step and thought and sensation.
I’m a pretty logical guy and not prone to flights of fancy but there can be no question that it wasn’t a dream. It was time travel.
My memory isn’t good enough to repeat everything in that much detail. I saw the dirty dishes. The feel of my shoes on the carpeting. I remember the glasses and the color of the plates. The TV in the living room and the couch that had so many stains I really think the stains were the only thing holding it together. The dented brown front door and balcony and the pizza boxes piled up in the corner.
I was there listening to Change Partners.
When the ancient Egyptians use to mummify a body for its trip into the next world I understand that they would fish a rod up through the nose, swirl it around a bit and then pull the brain out. That was exactly the feeling I was having laying there listening to the song. I remember how it had always been a favorite and I had felt some strange connection to the lyrics but now their meaning was like a sledgehammer to the chest. I guess I had thought that the way I felt about this particular girl would be commonplace as I grew up and it would be something repeated time and time again as I grew older. Suddenly reclining on my old college pillow it all hit me, a wave of regret and loss enveloping me as Stephen lamented right along in perfect harmony.
Is that why I had come back?
I woke up with my eyes stinging and instead of feeling awe at the experience I simply wanted to forget again. Forget the dishes and the broken table and the fact that the way I felt about that certain girl ended up not being commonplace at all and in fact was never repeated.
So I scoured Paul Davies’ book for mentions of the varied roles of shrooms, girls and music in time travel but all I got were the usual black holes and wormholes… every type of hole except the one I felt might actually be behind revisiting the past.
So I fill that hole the best I can now and find some comfort that the trip back is finally over and done with. From now on I prefer to be hurtling into the future at the rate of one second a second.
Whatever it is we think we’ve left behind… even Mr. Davies agrees that the past is best left in the past.