Anhydrous Rebreather

Photo by Tim Tamargo
(Photo by Tim Tamargo)

Notes from a commercial flight departing Minneapolis St. Paul bound for Anchorage, AK.

The local time is 17:48, but that only matters until the door closes. The next time it opens, I’ll be four hours in the past and probably really hungry. This is the nature of time travel.

I find myself surrounded on all sides by Seraphim — their golden skin, their golden hair, and their icy blue eyes — no less than twenty teenage German girls on an exchange trip of some kind, and I pity every single heart they’re gonna break. Each one of them is taller and more mysterious and beautiful than the next, in precisely the specific way that a stand of willow trees will sway in the breeze exactly one hour after sunset. When they laugh, they do so with such crisp perfect white teeth. I cannot comprehend their world. I opened my mouth to speak to the nearest of them, aware that my German was beyond rusty.

Guten Abend,” I said.

Mir fünfte Element – höchste Wesen. Mich schützen,” she replied. The doors closed.

VALDEZ, AK – The next day, a rustic hunting lodge on a hillside above a lake. Dense fog and endless, ageless blue-hued mountains. Tonight, there will be fresh fish for supper. Somewhere out there, my meal is still alive.

I woke up today at 0430, wide awake after a long day of flying. I got out of bed and did pushups and sit-ups in the darkness of my hotel room while music played from my phone. I looked in the mirror and decided I looked okay for an old man. Dressed, checked out of my room.

Breakfast in the hotel lounge was served by two diminutive Japanese girls, who asked me over and over in soft sing-song voices if I needed anything else. They reminded me of Lora and Moll, the miniature twin fairies who summon Mothra into battle by singing a prayer. (Mosura No Uta)

“No, thank you,” I said with a polite smile and a heft of my cup. “But your coffee is terrible.”

“Okay thank you,” one of them gushed. The other bowed slightly. Neither understood me. Both of them left.

I took a cab to the airport and made my way to the terminal where the smaller, local flights depart. As soon as I walked into the room, I was met by the stench of chewing tobacco and the sight of five or six “fellers” dressed in woodland camouflage, jawing on about hunting expeditions, the benefits of various rifles, and their experiences of acting as guides to city folk ‘what ain’t got no kinda sense coming out here no way.’ One of them was telling a story:

“…so I sez to him, ‘No, but I gotta fifty dollar bill in my pocket right now that sez you can’t keep yer trap shut for the rest of the hour…'” This drew a fair amount of guffaws.

I boarded a tiny twin prop aircraft about an hour later. The flight attendant reminded me of Laurie Anderson (bonus) and spoke with a thick Russian accent (double bonus.) The flight was short, with only mild turbulence. I stared in happy awe as the landing gear unfolded from the undercarriage outside my cloud streaked window. “Look, it’s WORKING! Someone designed it to work and it’s fucking WORKING!” This drew nervous glances from the other passengers.

The sign on the baggage claim read PASSENGERS ARE FORBIDDEN FROM LOADING WEAPONS IN THE TERMINAL.

Members of my team picked me up from the airport in a beat-to-shit 15-passenger van and we caromed across the uneven gravel lanes and muddy potholes toward a convenience store a few miles down the road. I gaped in wonder at the mountains, and at the beams of sunlight punching alien-abduction-sized holes through hazy fog which served to illuminate selected hillsides here and there. The leaves were like spun gold on the trees. The parking lot of the convenience store featured a large hand-painted sign lettered in unsteady characters: POST OFFICE and THAI FOOD.

The hunting lodge is perched atop a gentle hill on the edge of a silvery lake and composed of accurate “hunting lodge details” to include: passing eagles, large, hand-hewn logs, a gun safe, and various rusted hunting, woodworking, and cooking implements. I wonder, will we someday become a culture that hangs our outdated microwaves and blenders on the walls of our futuristic abodes?

//

NORFOLK, VA – My new home boasts a changing skyline burdened with a billion lights and industrial pathways, like concrete neurons carrying meat and methane messengers between an infinite combination of sender/receiver systems. From my vantage point on the roof, everything I see is everything I understand.

Ships. I know ships. Navigation systems. I know a thing or two about satellites. Cranes. Yeah, I speak infrastructure. I know that bread doesn’t come from deer. I dabble in cause and effect, and I’m an ardent worshipper of the perpetual nuclear explosion some 93,000,000 miles distant which has since bid this night soft adieu, scattering eleventy-zillion soft reflections out across the water like a diamond heist gone terribly south-shaped.

I got comet parts for hearts.

Yesterday, a strange man showed me a close up of the moon through a powerful telescope and I thought I was gonna choke up right there on the sidewalk. I had to stop talking.

These things, these objects, these concepts I can appreciate and understand.

What I fail to grasp are my own emotions. I don’t know how they fit together. Every so often I open the box, re-read the manual (the language keeps changing) and recount the parts but I’ll be a Chinese jet pilot if I know what the fuck is supposed to happen next. It’s entirely possible my emotions were drafted in a studio by IKEA designers with names one might easily confuse with Swedish death-metal bands. Perhaps they were inadvertently swapped mid-shipment and awarded to the wrong end-user.

Emotions are not facts. Emotions are like nailing a fried egg to a tree with a water balloon. Emotions are fireflies to be caught with a fishing net. Emotions are a spiderweb to be untied and re-knotted in the space of seven breaths. (Relax, turn around, take my hand…)

//

I was walking down the street when the flashing sign appeared before my eyes.

PREPARE FOR RANDOM EVENT. Shit, I hate when this happens

As I approached a park bench, a floating arrow directed me toward a picnic basket sitting at the other end. When the random event occurs, I find it best to be still and let the thing unfold around you, lest you get pulled into a neighboring dimension or worse. As I sat down, a flatbed truck raced past me festooned in bright streamers and a banner I could not make out. (Dream rules. It’s nearly impossible to read things in a dream.) Apparently a parade was now missing a float.

I opened the basket and began to inventory the objects: a bundle of Roman candles. A box of strike-anywhere matches.

(“That seems more logical than random,” I thought. The box replied with)

…a package of apple-scented room deodorizers. A bag of peanut M&Ms. A t-shirt from a seaside bar somewhere in Tampa, Florida. A toy compass. A chicken salad sandwich.

(I suddenly realized I was hungry, but you’re not supposed to eat random events. I learned that the hard way. Don’t ask.)

A coffee mug with a broken handle. Yesterday’s newspaper, improperly and hastily folded. Someone’s house keys with a worn and discolored Harris Teeter fob. A watch stopped at 6:04 p.m. There was nothing else in the basket. I replaced the items and closed the lid. “Now what?”

The sign flashed again. AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTION.

“Okay, but is this gonna take long? I’m trying to get to the store…”

There was a pause.

DEFINE ENTROPY.

“What do you mean?”

DEFINE ENTROPY, the sign flashed insistently.

“Okay, it’s, uh, the… measurement of a fluid state?” I asked hesitantly. “Like, when you have something that changes from A to B, like ice melting or water evaporating. Or when you stir cream into coffee, or crack an egg, or make toast. You can’t undo those things. It’s how you measure time.” Under my breath I added, “Apparently, it’s also how you measure breakfast.”

There was nothing from the sign. “Look, I really need to get groceries, so –.”

RANDOM EVENT CONCLUDED, flashed the sign. It was safe to move.

//

There was a certain vibe I was trying to harness while living in NYC, like the scent of a memory. It tickled the back of my brain; I swore I nearly caught a glimpse of it darting through traffic, at the other end of a crowded subway platform, or staring back at me from the window of a probably-not-Brooklyn-bound cab, because some cab drivers are lying bastards.

It was something having to do with expired Philippine phone cards discarded in the gutter. It was something to do with cheap technology on display behind the grimy windows and metal cages of corner bodegas. It was something to do with discarded headphones lying in the filth of the rails among the empty Gatorade bottles, paper plates, plastic bags and rat parades. It was something to do with all of the incredible things we never dreamed possible as children, now worn and discarded. Our present tense demands newer, shinier plastic treasures destined for similar fates.

It was the idea that the future was close, so close, represented in my mind by a great mothership of blinking lights, an immeasurable object hovering silently over LaGuardia International Airport, and politely requesting permission to land.

None of the air traffic controllers know what to do. They asked the FAA, who asked the National Guard, who asked the Air Force, who asked the White House who asked the President, who asked the air traffic controllers, “Well, what do they want?”

“I think they just want to land, ma’am. The future is finally here. We’d be foolish to deny that. It’s not going to wait any longer,” said the air traffic controller.

“You realize that if you give the future permission to land then all of our present cultural references are officially dated, and nothing is going to be the same, right?” The president was firm in her tone.

“Yes, we understand this,” replied the controllers.

“And you realize that while we sorta kinda understand the past, and we have a pretty solid grasp of the present, that none of us — and mean NONE of us — have a clue what’s gonna come out of that ship, right?”

“Well, it’s the future, ma’am. No one knows what the future holds. We can guess at it, but that’s about it. This doesn’t mean we’re gonna wake up to flying cars, silver jumpsuits or start conversing in Esperanto. It just means tomorrow is here, but it’s not what we expected it to be.

“Okay.” There was a long pause. “Fine. Let the future land.”

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One thought on “Anhydrous Rebreather

  1. this post was a dusty gem, lodged between a melted plastic dinosaur and an old interstellar map that still had Pluto on it registered as a planet (to Hades infernal glee). Tried to scratch a return on an old dog tag, but the effort seemed high school pretentious and so a few words here I hope will rouse the agent to give this aging wolf a call. You can officially file me in your rusty notebook as a card carrying member of the ‘undead’ and now my chest has a neat titanium box that I would offer to you as a future snuff box, should I snuff it. Oh…and looks like I’m expecting a cub in March. Ride far and kill many.
    Red Light Out.

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