Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Hell Freezes Over!

Sometimes things go wonderfully right. Times when perfection seems as if it is just around the corner if one wants to reach for it.

That was not the way things have been going the past week.

Things were awful. Hideous awful. Awful awful that has no place posing as merely awful. Magnificently awful. Splendidly awesomely awful.

Well, you get the picture.

The world is a changed place. I don't know yet if it's changed for the better but as of December 24, 2005 at 14:34 the world as it used to be ceased to exist.

I better start at the beginning. I usually make a Christmas eve pilgrimage back in time to some other momentous period and see how Christmas was then. This year I decided I'd visit America shortly before December 7, 1941.

Yeah. I know. That's crazy talk. Sure. I agree.

Now anyway, I oscillate my atomic structures to light-speed and make the necessary nuance frequency adjustments to put me back in time. It's complicated. I won't bore you with the fourth dimensional physics that enable such time/space transport.

I arrive. It's glorious. The fat-fendered automobiles with split windshields and running boards dominate the early twentieth century architecture. The men are all wearing hats. Most of the women have hats too. It's like a hat convention. Everyone is more dressed up. It's wild. I chose California. Los Angeles. It was easy and I've got the physical coordinates down pat. Like Kirk and Spock in City on the Edge of Forever, I find myself just staring at people and things longer than is polite.

I'm outside a small drugstore of the mom and pop variety with the whitewashed clapboard sidewalls painted with a 7up advertisement that looks weathered and is peeling in many spots. "You like it...it likes you!" Sure. That's just what folks need a soft drink with a mind of it's own. What happens if you get a bottle that doesn't like you? I ponder over that as I head on inside and get a paper. Thank goodness Jefferson nickels have been around a long time. December 6th, 1941. Perfect. I read the local news. Corruption, gambling & crime stories dominate. Fires too. Local building fires make front page news in December of 1941. It's wonderfully provincial. No Google. No internet. A pile of papers that get's updated with an evening edition. There's war news. Stuff about Britain and Europe. Looking around me I can see none of these folks care a whit. The war in Europe might as well be on Mars for all they care. In 1941, Europe was a zillion miles away from Los Angeles.

I'm tempted to purchase some old comics that I spot in the corner on a rack. Two kids are sitting on the floor reading them and the clerk doesn't seem to care. No cans. No refrigeration units in the walls. Only a portable cooler floating in the center of the store. Ice creams, colas and assorted goodies lurk within. I smell a smell I haven't smelled in ages - old leaky freon refrigerant systems. When mixed with the cool air rising from the cooler, it burns the face and skin with harsh chemical cold. I leave with an ice cream drumstick in one hand and a paper under my arm.

I sit down next to a tree in a park. Yes, the Los Angeles of 1941 still has parks. There's already a smog layer, but it doesn't completely obscure the blue sky. The grass and trees seem different. The trees seem gnarlier and with more imposing root structures. The grass is thinner, wispier. I realize that many fertilizers haven't yet been invented and the grass here receives a daily dose of pollution. It's engaged in a war of its own. All this is unimportant to most folks, but when one travels through time it's these details that sometimes stand out.

Suddenly it hits me hard. What is going to happen to Pearl Harbor. I didn't want to be in Pearl Harbor when it happens. That would be too painful and the temptation to change history would be too great. I figured Los Angeles was the ticket. The news would get here first by radio transmissions, telephone and teletype.

I rent a room. No televisions in motel rooms in 1941. Not even a lousy radio. I feel disconnected. I ask the desk clerk if I he has a radio available and he points me to the lobby where a radio sits plugged in on a table. Old tube type Crosley. I can take it to my room for an extra two bucks added to my room fee. Great.

I unplug it and carry the behemoth across the parking lot and into my room. It warms up after about half a minute and the rich crackling speaker sparks to life. It is almost noon. Strings in Springtime is on the airwaves. Then the news flash:

PEARL HARBOR ATTACKED!

Hate is flying on the airwaves. "I want to beat them Japs with my own bare hands!" and "We'll stamp their front teeth in!" I listen with morbid curiosity. No statistics. No NPR political rhetoric couched in professional ambiguity and moral equivalence. No 997 other stories on Google news that say the same thing warmed over with a few paragraphs reworded. This is real. Unedited. Unrehearsed and raw emotion. By 1:57 pm the declaration of war by Japan on the US has been announced.

Radio networks start relaying quotes. No music is playing on any channel save one weak station playing swing music. A quote from Charles Lindbergh strikes me as memorable and I shorthand his message down in case it had been lost to the world of 2005:

"We have been stepping closer to war for many months. Now it has come and we must meet it as united Americans regardless of our attitude in the past toward the policy our government has followed. Whether or not that policy has been wise, our country has been attacked by force of arms, and by force of arms we must retaliate. Our own defenses and our own military position have already been neglected too long. We must now turn every effort to building the most efficient Army, Navy and air force in the world. When American soldiers go to war, it must be with the best equipment that modern skill can design and that modern industry can build."

The radio announces that recruiting stations will be open 24 hours, seven days a week. I wonder how many will eagerly sign up to fight in this frenzied state. I can't sleep. I don't want to miss the details.

A blackout occurs in San Francisco! The Army announces that two squadrons of 15 enemy planes had flown over San Jose in from a carrier off of the coast. Hysteria mounts and the motel manager knocks at my door, supplies the room with pieces of black cloth to hang over the curtains.

He looks at the chair I've placed by the radio.

"That working out for you?"

I nod.

"I reckon your ears been glued to them tubes for quite awhile. Why it's almost as if you knew something big was gonna be on the air!"

He stopped and suddenly it occurred to him I might indeed know something. The radio was burning up with talk of Jap saboteurs and enemy agents. One station announced that in San Pedro the FBI were already rounding up Japanese. He made his exit awkwardly and from that moment on, I worried he might make trouble.

So I figure it's time to leave. I know DC and I figure I want to see Roosevelt in action and get a chance to see the old DC. I leave and head out to the airport. I choose TWA "the trans-continetal airline - fastest coast to coast!" A booking on a four engine 'stratoliner' promises to get me in DC the fastest. The flight was another ordeal, but I made a point to keep interaction to a minimum. I sat and looked out the window at the polished metal wing and the red circle with the white TWA letters painted on it.

I take a taxi and head towards the White House. The Capitol is alive with police, Marines and plainclothesmen. I can't help but draw parallels to 9/11/2001. I see that history has repeated itself in many ways. I stand outside the White House and watch as Roosevelt is wheeled into his waiting car. A big navy blue cape is draped over him. Gravel kicks up from the driveway (apparently it hadn't been paved yet in 1941) His car came round the south lawn and up Pennsylvania Avenue. On each running board a secret service agent held fast. Two open secret service cars flanked him. Three men on each running board and four in each car, making a total of 20 agents. I spotted old-fashioned sawed off riot guns in several agents hands.

I knew he was heading to the House of Representatives to make his big speech, but I had to be going back. It had been three and a half days since my arrival. The longer I spent in the past, the greater the chance of altering history and creating a new time-stream. I won't see how the folks of 1941 celebrate Christmas. It was enough to get a taste of the way America responded to Pearl Harbor.

Then it happened.

I found a nearby ally and was about to realign my atomic structures again. A small blond haired girl with dirt smudged on one cheek came up to me from out of a hovel of a home that lurks within eyeshot of the White House.

"You don't belong here mister." she said. "You gotta leave now!" I was astonished. Was she referencing my temporal displacement? Was she talking about her neighborhood? Was it a coincidence? What on earth was she talking about. I had to know who she was. I turned and looked and saw someone who looked eerily like a mirror reflection of myself pruning a rather dismal looking hedge.

"Oh -censored!-" If it's not a relative, it's one of my own past lives I was unaware of. The smudge cheeked girl is my own daughter from another time with keen instincts for the wrongness of the current situation.

I start running. I hurry. I stumble over some old rusty metal trash cans filled with refuse and covered in flies. I pick myself up. Like Superman in need of a phone booth, I need a place to realign in private.

It's almost evening and I see a Texaco service station. Texaco's famous 'white glove inspected rest facilities' are in order and will do nicely. I lock the door behind me and concentrate.

In a moment I'm back. But something awful has happened. I'm not in the same clothes. The lamp on my desk is different. The pictures on the wall have changed. I live in the same spot, work for the same company, but my job description has changed. For the past two days I'm finding new elements to the history of the 'Earth' I've returned to and the life I have in it. I’ve tried to cross-reference any disparities from what I experienced and what history has recorded here. Like a bad Star Trek transporter malfunction I'm in a Mirror Mirror universe. Fortunately this world has the 'Mirror Mirror' episode of Star Trek too, so the reference is not lost on you, even though this world's Mirror Mirror has no evil Nurse Chapel in it!

I blew it. Hell has frozen over.

Fortunately, for you the reader, it wont affect you. But for me?

This has been the worst Christmas ever.

I don't know if it was my interaction with that little girl who changed the time stream or me coming face to face with a version of myself. Something changed and the world is now a billion ways different and yet the same. Like a snowflake with a unique pattern the disparities only appear when one gets close enough to see them.

I now fully realize that I will never again get to see the jilted evil Nurse Chapel inject the hypo filled with neuro-shockers into the evil Spock's arm as he is knocked out by the evil Enterprise's "folks loyal to Doc".

Happy Holidays you parallel-duplicates of the humanity I used to know!