(originally published in Dark Matter, January 2014)
So This Is The Future
I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard when a guy who had been bending down, peering at a newspaper in a curbside box, straightened up, caught my eye and asked me, “Hey, man, what year is it?”
He didn’t seem to be kidding, so I told him, “It’s 2013.”
“Wow, man,” he said. “Trippy.” His hair was shoulder length. He had a shaggy moustache and wore a brown suede vest over a flowered shirt. He could have been me, many years ago.
I asked, “What year did you think it is?” Of course he said, “1967.” He was also wearing love beads and a neck chain with a peace symbol.
“So this is the future, huh?” he asked.
“Yep,” I said. “The twenty-first century.”
“Heavy. So, no World War III?”
“Cool. Peace and love, huh?”
“Not exactly,” I said.
“Bummer. Did we get to the moon?”
“Yeah, but there wasn’t much there. We haven’t been back.”
“Cured cancer?” he asked.
“Nope. Better treatments, though. Much better. People are living longer for all kinds of reasons.”
“But, “ he asked, “there’s like a deafness epidemic?’
He started to repeat the question, speaking more loudly.
”No,” I said, “I heard you. I meant, why do you think everyone’s going deaf?”
“Everyone seems to have hearing aids, even kids.”
I tried to explain about ear buds, cell phones ipads and ipods.
He nodded but I don’t know how much of what I said he really understood. Something else seemed to interest him more. “I was walking around,” he said, “and they’re like these stores that sell weed right out in the open.”
“Yep,” I said.
“Pot’s legal now?”
“Cool. What’s with the tattoos?”
“Beats me,” I said. “It’s the fashion. Personal self-expression.”
“I can dig that,” he said. “You know, we’re gonna change the world, or I guess I should say we were gonna change the world. You remember that?”
“Uh, yes, now that you mention it, I think I do.”
“Well?” he asked. “Did we?”
I wanted to give him something positive. “We have a black president,” I said.
“You mean a Negro?” he asked. “A Negro president?”
“We don’t say Negro now. Black. Or African American. But yeah, he’s black. He’s in his second term.”
“That’s fantastic, man.”
He just stood there for a moment, taking it all in. Then a pair of obese young women strolled by, both sucking on frozen coffee-something-or-others topped with mounds of whipped cream. “Say, man,” he said to me, “I’ve noticed that there’s a of really fat people around. That’s not cool.”
I explained about Starbuck lattes and super-sized soda.
“Oh, I get it,” he said. “Everyone’s got the munchies because of the smoke.”
“No, most of them aren’t stoned. They just like sweet stuff.”
Marijuana was a matter of particular interest to my new friend. Indeed, it was intimately connected to this whole experience, as I learned when I asked him how he’d gotten here.
“I got hold of some very righteous smoke” he said. “I think there may have been something more than cannabis in it.”
I had to think about this for a second and then I said, “You know, this isn’t a hallucination. You really are here.”
“Wow,” he said.
“So how are you going to get back to where you started?”
“I guess when the buzz wears off.” In fact, he did seem to be growing faint. “Say,” he said, “I’ve got a big question for you. This could be really heavy.”
“Shoot,” I said.
“So,” said, “the world didn’t get blown up in atomic war, people live longer than they used to, they’ve got all these gadgets, and pot’s basically legal. So what I want to know, are people any happier now than they were then?”
It struck me that this was a perfectly lucid, rather sophisticated question to be asked by a guy who was completely stoned. Maybe was coming down from his high, about to return to the past. I didn’t have much time. What should I tell him? Did he really want to know? “Yeah, “ I said, “we’re all happy as clams.”
“Cool,” he said, faintly. His image was very dim now, nearly transparent.
He was a nice guy. I’d enjoyed talking to him. I wanted to give him some information he could actually use. “Buy Microsoft!” I said.
“Huh?” he said, very faintly, and then he was gone.