Categories
Science Fiction Stories

To Engage With Time

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, Oil painting, Americana,

What makes Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” painting one of his most celebrated works? Created in 1942, Nighthawks is considered the incarnation of existential art, capturing the alienation and loneliness symptomatic of modern urban life. The following story is inspired by the painting.

I mount the time machine and dial the year nineteen-forty-two. I have a keen interest in the war years. Activities like storming the beaches of Normandy are not high on my priorities list. I stay far behind the front lines. I find the study of American culture during the war years fascinating. I stay away from heavily populated cities to remain inconspicuous. You might say I’m not truly adventurous, excluding, of course, time travel and my voracious appetite for knowledge. I’m a scientist, first and foremost. As soon as I’ve perfected my time-traveling technology, I intend to unveil it in a white paper report and work with a team to use my discoveries for the betterment of mankind.

I finish entering all of the pertinent data into the onboard computer and push the launch button.  Seconds later, the machine deposits me in the small town of Independence, Ohio. On this trip, I find myself on a corner across the street from an all-night diner. My trans-spacial watch tells me it’s two-thirty in the morning. Materializing in small towns on deserted streets in the middle of the night is a proven method for avoiding stampeding crowds.

Illustration of a time machine from the story "A Lesson In Time" by David Gittlin

I’m a bit freaked out by the feeling of emptiness the town exudes. I console myself with the thought that I’ve arrived in the middle of the night and everything is closed except, it seems, the diner across the street.

Through the panoramic window, I see four people sitting at the counter inside. My curiosity peaks as I begin, once again, to study life in the past, this time eighty years ago. This morning will be different than the others in one important respect. It marks the first time I will interact with people and environments of the past. I feel that I’ve learned enough from my previous trips to take this momentous step. And, I can no longer resist the urge to relate to people instead of simply observing them.

As I cross the street, I check my reflection in the large window. I’m dressed appropriately for the era in a blue business suit and matching tie with black wingtip shoes and neatly barbered hair. I’ll blend right in. Swinging open the glass and chrome door, I enter the cafe and take a seat at the counter a measured two seats away from a man sitting by himself. 

The small diner smells of stale cigarette smoke, fresh coffee, and the faint scent of body odor from the man two seats away. To my right, half the wall is fitted with small bins containing tempting muffins, cakes, and breads.  Across the counter, a nice-looking middle-aged couple sit demurely drinking coffee. The man is wearing a gray suit with a matching hat, blue tie, and he’s smoking a chesterfield unfiltered cigarette. The pack lying by his hand on the counter tells me the cigarette brand. The man looks like a lawyer or a doctor. The woman is wearing a green silken cocktail dress. It sets off her blazing red hair nicely. By the looks of the two-carat diamond ring on her hand, I figure the couple is well-off and married.  I suppose the couple is drinking coffee to sober up for the drive home after a festive dinner party.

“My name’s Kendall,” he says in a friendly tone.” I wonder if it’s his first or last name. I happen to hate my first name. Who names their kid Saul forty years after the war? It would be a good name for my grandfather. Not for me.

“And I’m Allison,” the woman next to him says.

I’m surprised by the couple’s friendliness. Maybe it’s the late hour and the intimate setting. Maybe people here are friendlier to strangers than they usually are in the other the small towns I’ve visited. Maybe–just maybe–this will be easier than I thought it would be.

Illustration of time travel from the story "A Lesson In Time" by David Gittlin

“My name’s Saul,” I say to the couple. “Nice to meet you.” I turn to the man next to me, half-expecting him to introduce himself. It suddenly occurs to me that the guy hasn’t moved a muscle since I came through the door.

“Ignore him,” Kendall says. “He’s just part of the scenery.”

“I’m sorry for that unkind remark,” I say to the motionless man. He’s heavy-set, dressed in a brownish green striped suit, and looks every bit like a non-descript traveling salesman.

I turn back to the man named Kendall. “If that was a joke, I don’t think it’s funny. People have feelings. Didn’t your mother teach you that?”

The last thing I want to do is get into an argument with these people, but I can’t help saying something.

“You don’t have to worry about his feelings,” Kendall says.

“And what do you think?” I ask Allison. On closer examination, she looks uncannily like Julianne Moore in her role as Clarice Starling in the sequel to “The Silence of the Lambs.”

“Allison is new,” Kendall replies. “She’s still in training. She’s not supposed to talk much.”

“Wait a minute,” I say. “Who are you people?”

Kendall leans down and pulls a strapped leather briefcase from below the counter. He extracts a file, opens it, and begins reading.

“Let’s see. Saul Grossman, age thirty-two, engineer/designer employed by Raytheon Technologies, assigned to jet engine development, invented and now operates a time machine in his spare time. Does that about cover it, Saul?”

I am beyond shocked. Fear and anger compete to control me. Somehow, I manage not to panic. I don’t want to hear the answer to my next question, but I have to ask.

“How do you know so much about me?”

“You’ve been on our radar,” Kendall says. “Now that you’ve decided to interact with the past, it’s time for us to step in.”

I’m still in shock, but a ray of hope may be peaking through the gathering storm clouds. “Are you time lords, or some sort of benevolent time control agency from the future?”

“Sorry to disappoint, Saul. We’re your local branch office of the NSA. We made some adjustments to your time machine after reading your time journal in which you wrote, ‘I’m now confident that I can interact with the past to make the present better.'”

“So, you broke into my house without my knowledge or consent.”

“That’s about the size of it,” Kendal confirms.

I feel my intestines start to melt. “What sort of ‘adjustments’ are we talking about?”

“For starters, we’re not in the past. We’re in a computer simulation where the only thing that’s real is you.”

I try to imagine how this can be happening. Am I talking to naked human bodies floating in an electrochemical solution inside giant Pyrex glass tubs? Are they fitted with electrodes attached to their heads to facilitate thought-transference-voice-activation to their virtual avatars? Or is it a cutting-edge holographic computer program capable of interacting with a real-live me?

I reach into my pocket to push the button on my remote control extractor. I’m not going to stand still for this. Literally. I’ll be out of here and back in good old 2021 in no time–or a few seconds.

Nothing happens.

I try again. Still nothing.

“I forgot to mention we disabled your extractor,” Kendall says with a cheeky wink of an eye.

“So now what?”

“Now you stay here for the rest of your natural born existence, my friend.”

“You’re kidding. Right?

“Afraid not, Saul.”

“You can’t do this.”

“Would you rather be thrown in jail?”

“On what grounds?”

Kendall takes the last sip of his coffee. “We’ll think of something. It won’t be pretty.”

“I can’t believe this.”

“It’s an unfortunate situation, Saul. You’ve become a danger to yourself and the rest of us. You played with fire, and now you’re burned. The good news is we know how to use your technology better than you would have used it.”

Kendall grabs the briefcase and guides Allison to the front door. Before they leave, Kendall and Allison wave goodbye. “Have some fun,” Kendall says. “You’re an inventive guy.”

“Don’t leave. Please.”

“We’ll check back with you in another thirty years, if you’re still around,” Allison says with a cheerful smile.

Outside the door, I watch Kendall and Allison dissolve into ghostly vapors, then disperse into thin air.

The Time Travel Spiral

Copyright 2021 by David Gittlin. All rights reserved.

Categories
Stories

The Storm And The Sea

Night time at sea.

No land in sight.

The ocean is calm. It speaks to the pale moon in glittering reflections that please the silent orb.

A giant freighter laden with shipping containers sails through the reflected light, trudging on its way to ports unknown.

All is well until…

A violent storm arrives, unexpected and unannounced.

The sea is perplexed.

The moon remains silent, unemotional, and mysterious.

The storm spews banshee winds and battering rain.

“How dare you disturb my tranquility,” says the sea to the storm.

“You have no governance over me,” says the storm.

“No governance? I am your Lord and Master. You obey me. I do not tolerate insolence. Be gone, and do not return, unless I ask you to.”

The heavens explode with lightning and raucous thunder.

To the sea, the thunder sounds like haughty peals of laughter.

“Renegade! You flaunt the laws of nature.”

In protest, the sea conjures up twenty foot waves.

The furious waves boil, rise, and crash back down to the surface of the sea.

Looking on, the full moon remains aloof, wrapped in shrouds of gray mist.

A wave jerks the massive freighter upwards at a seventy-degree angle. When the wave rolls on, the ship smashes down as if an Olympic weightlifter had dropped it to the floor, thundering, after a six-hundred-pound overhead lift.

“I’m sorry for your troubles,” the sea says to the freighter. It will take me a while to control this storm. Until then, you will have to abandon your cargo if you want to survive.”

“My hull is impregnable. This puny storm is no match for my sturdy strength. I will shake off this weather like a dog shakes off water after a bath.”

“You will drown if you don’t listen,” the sea answers. “I can’t allow this impudent storm to do as it pleases.”

The freighter deigns not to answer. It lumbers along stubbornly, until it is lifted precipitously by another wave, and battered cruelly by howling gusts of wind and driving rain.

“Arrogance. Idiocy. Rebelliousness. Will it ever end?”

“I am the sea. Ageless. Alive since this planet’s birth. And yet, I must suffer fools, it seems, until the end of time, which may come, alas, much sooner than expected.”

Photo By EliasSch on Pixabay
Categories
inspiration Poetry Stories

Full Circle

Am I supposed to quietly fade out of existence, like a blinking star or a guttering candle?

I am hurtling too fast down this ramshackle track of aging.

Is there a ghost town waiting for me over the next hill?

As the train emerges from the tunnel into the twilight, I can see rows of gravestones rising at awkward angles out of the dead leaves and high grass of the cemetery.

Stranded, as my loved ones leave me here—alone—I wait, like a beached whale thrown up by the sea, for the next wave, which does not arrive.

I feel too much like that beached whale.

Night falls.

Cool breezes replace the heat of the cruel sun.

A stranger walks alone on the beach.

Has he come to push me back into the life-giving sea? My whale flesh feels cold and dry to his touch. He peers into my dull blue eye.

I wonder if he can see the young whale swimming. Once again, in the ocean of pure consciousness.

 

 

Categories
inspiration Stories

Ask Your Heart

We are all born with a natural curiosity to explore the world around us and the world within ourselves. This innate curiosity is often most evident in children. As we grow older, there is a tendency to lose touch with this curiosity as survival needs, responsibilities, and pressures to conform literally choke the life out of our thirst to know more.

Nature hates a vacuum. If we are not moving forward, we are automatically moving backward, even though it may seem we are standing still. Within us, there is an urge to expand. We must make a conscious choice to move forward; to expand. If we don’t, the default choice of moving backward and becoming smaller will be automatically engaged.

It takes an act of will to grow, to reach your highest potential. It takes courage, determination, and perseverance to blaze your own path. But the rewards, in terms of personal satisfaction, far outweigh the risks.

Self-determination, self-actualization, and freedom require, along with the above, discretion, discernment, and self-examination. You were born to be a pioneer, an innovator, a creative force for your own happiness and the people around you. The path stretches ahead as far as you can see. You only need to take the first step; then travel down that road, one step at a time.

How do you begin? Ask your heart. It is your compass. It will never lead you in the wrong direction. Your heart may tell you things that make no sense. Trust your heart. Have faith in yourself and in life. And have the courage to follow your heart’s desire every day towards more enthusiasm and joy in your life.

The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. In my opinion, it requires a relationship with a higher power to have the strength and discernment to become your highest, best, and happiest self. In my experience, the best way to foster this relationship is through prayer, meditation, and study. Ask for the things your soul wants and then be ready to receive them.

Categories
Stories

Summer Camp

 

I’m the only person I know that didn’t like sleep-away camp. My parents started shipping me off to a camp near Portland, Main when I was seven years old. All the kids in my neighborhood went to camp. Why should I be any different?

I don’t know the answer—only that I was different. I thought camp was eight weeks of purgatory. It was like being in the army. Who pays big bucks for your kid to be in the army all summer long?  Lots of parents, that’s who. I don’t know if my parents wanted to get rid of me, or whether they thought it would be good for me. I don’t know to this day. And I can’t ask my parents, because they’re gone. I certainly made it known that I didn’t want to go to sleep-away camp.

A typical day started with a recorded version of reville at 7:00 AM. I dragged myself out of bed, put on my camp uniform shorts and shirt, and marched myself off to the mess hall with seven other brats and our counselor. I use the term “counselor” loosely. A typical camp counselor had no qualifications to oversee children except the absence of a criminal record.

At breakfast, I competed with seven other hungry mouths to cram down a decent breakfast. If I wanted seconds, there were no seconds. I had one shot, and I had to make it count. I learned early at camp how to eat fast. I still eat too fast today.

Next, my bratty bunk mates and I were herded back to our bunkhouse to make our beds and sweep the wooden floors. No bunkhouse I ever lived in had even floors. I had to be careful not to break an ankle just walking around. And the dust. I have no idea how so much dust accumulated overnight. We would have been buried in it if we hadn’t swept up every day.

Having cleaned up the hovel we lived in, we embarked upon our pre-planned day of sports and activities, broken up only by lunch at the mess hall and a short nap afterwards. Then it was back to our pre-planned day.

Are you getting an inkling of why I hated this? On top of the regimented routine, I missed my parents and my friends at home terribly.

By the time I was nine or ten years old, I was given the luxury of two “free-play” days during the week. I always chose to go to the rifle range to shoot at targets or go to the golf cage to hit balls with every club in my bag. Then I went to the putting green to practice putting.

I was a loner, even back then. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I hated camp. But it was much more than that. I felt that my fundamental freedoms had been stripped from me. I think deep down I always wanted to be free to shape my own life.

When I was thirteen, I could legally go to work. I chose to go to work during the summer rather than go to summer camp. I’m sure my camp-loving friends thought I was crazy. I didn’t care. I was me and they were them. We’ve grown farther apart through the years, but that’s another story.

I worked at my father’s company, a wholesale wallpaper distributor (Zins Wallpaper) located in Newark, New Jersey. I picked rolls of wallpaper from a maze of bins in the shipping department to fill orders from paint and wallpaper stores.

From time to time, I’d get lost in the bins and have a smoke. On the official morning break, I’d order a corn muffin and a vanilla malt. I didn’t have to worry about calories back then. I had a metabolism like a nuclear reactor. I also enjoyed the early ride into work with my father every morning. And I rode home with the aged gentleman my father had bought the business from. His name was Sam Zins. He was a very kind man.

Don’t get me wrong. Aside from these pleasant memories, picking wallpaper orders in the basement of Zins Wallpaper was no picnic. But it sure as hell beat the crap out of summer camp.

What was your summer camp experience? Did you go to camp or do something else during the summer? Tell me. I’d like to know.

 

Categories
Stories

Grain Burgers and the Door to the Infinite

The moment arrived unannounced during a set of solitary yoga postures on my plush, living room rug.  A long stretch to relieve the tension of the day popped something open inside me.  It was not a ligament or a tendon.  It was my hardened heart.

In the Hollywood version of the story, the hero manages to crawl to the phone, call 911, and then wakes up in a hospital bed after a miraculous, life-saving operation by a brilliant, open-heart surgeon.  The experience impresses upon our hero a number of crucial life lessons.  After the crisis, the hero’s character and actions towards others change profoundly for the better.

Unfortunately, life does not resemble a Hollywood B movie.  My physical heart had not split open while in shoulder stand on the rug.  A more subtle heart had opened, and with it, a door to a new world and another destiny.

It all started with Jorge, the new employee I would never have invited to lunch if my regular lunch buddies had not run off without me.  Jorge was Mexican, the only Latin guy on in the executive suite of a wallpaper distribution company that hired mostly Anglo-Americans when Miami’s transformation into a multi-cultural city had begun in earnest in 1981.

Jorge was in his early thirties, average looking, average height, dark hair, brown eyes, and a thin mustache.  He was the kind of guy who could get lost in a crowd easily.  I had no idea his unheralded arrival would trigger a seminal occurrence in my life.

My company hired Jorge for its fledgling export division.  Jorge’s mission was to open up markets in South America and the Caribbean (approximately one quarter of the world) all by himself.  He had the ability to speak Spanish and, I presumed, super-human sales skills coupled with a pioneering spirit.  I didn’t envy Jorge one bit.

I considered myself above Jorge.  I was the high and mighty Marketing Director—Jorge the lowly new sales recruit.  I had served my time in sales.  I was grateful beyond words not to have to spend my days selling wallpaper sample books to dealers who had no more room in their stores for them.  I figured, if nothing else, I could learn something about the export market by going to lunch with the new recruit.  Besides, Jorge was the only soul left on the second floor other than myself.

Jorge suggested we eat at a quiet, natural food restaurant in Miami Springs.  My lunch prospects had just been elevated from a singular, fatty, McDonald’s affair to a tasty, low cholesterol engagement.  I happily agreed.

Over salads and grain burgers, I discovered Jorge was a vegetarian and practiced meditation daily.  Here was a subject I had some interest in, having experimented with various forms and teachers of meditation over the years.  You might say I was a semi-serious spiritual seeker.  And, I had reached a curious crossroads, a sort of impasse in my life.

I had everything a thirty-something American male could wish for: the perfect job in a field I enjoyed; a great boss; a townhouse bachelor pad; girlfriends, a few pals to hang out with; a sports car and club memberships.  I had scrupulously followed the prescribed formulas for success.  I had cobbled together many of the accouterments of an ideal life.

Yet I felt restless and unfulfilled.

I was terrified there was something terribly wrong with me.  I felt the cold winds of middle age blowing in my direction.  I saw myself dating one girl after another well into my eighties, until I finally abandoned the search for true love when my body and spirit caved in from old age.

There I was, sitting across from this lowly new recruit munching on his iceberg lettuce.  He casually mentioned losing 80 pounds after becoming a vegetarian.  I commented that it must have taken a great deal of willpower.  He answered, “Not really.”

I began to pepper Jorge with questions.  The guy was unlike many of the salespeople in our company I regularly rubbed elbows with.  He had a depth and an intensity that I found intriguing.

I asked Jorge what kind of meditation he practiced.  He said it was not a “kind of meditation.”  He launched into a passionate discourse about a profound experience of peace the meditation opened up for him.  He invited me to a presentation scheduled at a hotel on Miami Beach that evening.  I told myself there was no way I was going to drive all the way from South Miami to the Beach to attend some dubious spiritual seminar.

That night, I found myself sitting in a lime green, orange accented meeting room at the Carlyle Hotel.

Curiosity—and some undefinable vibe emanating from between Jorge’s words at lunch had picked me up from the chocolate brown pit sofa in my living room and deposited me in an uncomfortable chair surrounded by a room full of strangers.

Indian music played from six-foot speakers flanking a makeshift stage.  The only thing that kept me in my seat was the absence of Hare-Krishna-like chanting.

I glanced to my left and caught a glimpse of Jorge, who smiled kindly at me.  Someone took the stage and began speaking into a microphone.

The Indian Music and the microphone are the only details I recall after the program began.  My perspective slowly shifted from an external focus to a pleasant inner experience.

A succession of three speakers addressed the gathering that evening.  I do not recall a single word any one of them said.  I just remember feeling relaxed.  I had an experience that can only be described as feeling at home with myself.

For the first time in a very long while, I had actually enjoyed myself without a great deal of effort or alcohol to help me along.  I felt like an invisible hand had knocked off a layer of caked mud from my body.

It is difficult for me to describe what happened after that evening.  I can only say that it marked the beginning of a long journey that lasts to this day, to this very moment.

In the days and weeks after the event at the Carlyle Hotel, I met Jorge’s teacher, who essentially introduced me to myself.  I thought I knew myself pretty well.  I began to see that the image I held of myself was only a faint glimmer of a deeper, broader self, filled with possibilities.

Many years later, my life remains full of challenges, but I face them with real joy and optimism.  I have discovered that life can be every bit as beautiful as you want it to be.  It takes some courage and effort, but the possibility is real for anyone willing to step up to the plate.

I look inward now for satisfaction, rather than chasing it on the outside.  I shake hands with myself on a daily basis through meditation.  I feel more grounded.  I feel more love from within, which reflects positively into my outer life.

It occurs to me that I should have picked up the tab for Jorge’s lunch.  Jorge, my friend, if you’re out there somewhere and can read this, please know that I owe you one.