This morning I found H.G. Wells old time machine next to the dumpster at a Starbucks in Roanoke, a town I left when I was 13 years old. I thought,”Now’s the chance to fix it all!”
So I hopped in the machine and went back to Roanoke, Virginia circa June, 1967 — on a mission. I intended to convince my 13-year old self not to move to Baltimore.
I landed next to the pumps at Howell’s , the gas station and convenience store where I used to read comic books. It was 3 am on a Saturday night and the crazy clerk got spooked when he saw my time traveling gizmo. He came outside and started shooting at me with a firearm.
I vamoosed out of their quickly, passing some boys off of Liberty Road setting off cherry bombs. I recognized one of them as one of the neighborhood kids, Eddie. I thought I saw my cousin Richard.
I landed again in the backyard of our old house on Colgate Street and saw a bunch of cardboard boxes circling our plum tree. I realized that my friend Jeff and my 13-year old self were probably sleeping out in our “box hut”.
I heard some strange noises coming from in there and realized that Jeff and my young embodiment were having one of our facemaking contests. The muffled sounds of “Eeee” and grunts were coming through the cardboard.
I crawled into the box hut and Jeff screamed,”Who the heck are you?”. Young Tim just looked at me with his mouth open. He said,”What a handsome guy. And he looks like one of my relatives.”
I said,”Look, Timmy. I am you in middle age. You can’t go. You’ll regret it. I know.”
“Go where?”, Timmy asked.
“To Baltimore you mush brain”, I replied. “You and you’re family will all be up there by fall.”
“But what about Whitney”, Timmy asked. Whitney was our old, rabblerousing Tomcat.
“He’ll get left behind”, I said. “You’ll see him in 1969 when you come to visit, but only in passing. He’ll look like an alley cat. That’s one reason you can’t go.”
“Beat it, buddy”, Timmy said, “We are heading down the block to raid my cousin’s place. It’s the middle of the night and we don’t have time for this.”
“Well, if Eddie is with your our cousin Richard, forget it. They’re up Williamson Road setting off cherry bombs. They’re not even there.”
“Is this one of your crazy ideas Timmy,” Jeff asked.
“I have no clue what he’s talkin’ about, man,” Timmy replied.
“Not only will you leave your cat back here, Timmy. But you’ll hardly see your buddy Jeff except for an occasional NFL game for the next 40 years”, I interjected.
“Whaddya mean”, Jeff said. “I could care less about football. I’m a racing fan.”
“Things’ll change, Jeff”, I said.” You’ll start rooting for the New York Jets, and Timmy will become a big Baltimore Colts fan, which will break his heart later because they will move to Indiana in the 1980s.”
“You’re nuts”, Timmy said.
“Not true”, I replied.”If I’m nuts, you are too, though, because I’m you.”
“Did he get some hooch from Ronnie?”, Jeff asked.
“How the heck should I know”, Timmy said.
“When you move to Baltimore, Timmy, you’ll live for a time in one of those row houses with your cousins”, I continued. “You’ll attend a junior high school that will seem like a penitentary and get jumped on the playground because of your southern accent.”
“Save your Confederate money. The South will rise again”, Timmy said.
“You’re obviously not taking me seriously”, I said. “You’ll become a Christian in high school, spend a bunch of time in college running around with a Christian group, and end up with a terrible grade point average.”
“He’s not a Christian”, Jeff said.
“Yes I am!”, Timmy yelled.
“DON”T BE A CHRISTIAN!”, Jeff screamed in an inane voice.
“My Dad’ll kill me when he learns about my grades”, Timmy said.
“You’re darn tootin,” I replied.”You’ll barely graduate. You’ll beg one of your professors to pass you and you’ll end up writing some stupid paper about alien communication and how the first sign of life another world will have of Earth is a TV signal of the Beverly Hillbillies.”
“Did I pass?”, Timmy asked.
“Yeah, but that’s not all”, I added. “After the last class of your senior year, you go out to celebrate with your friends at a pizza place. A classmate tells you the professor in your math class wants to talk to you about the exam the next day. Your understanding was you didn’t have to take this exam. You almost had a nervous breakdown because you were up all night thinking you had to take a math exam which you hadn’t studied for.”
“What happened?”, Timmy asked.
“You work all night as a night desk receptionist at dorm, bemoaning your fate. Then you go pig out at the dining hall and call the teacher. He just asks you IF you want to take the test and you tell him ‘No”, I said.
“I would kill the guy who relayed the message at the pizza parlor”, Timmy said. “What a toad!”.
“You wanted to”, I said.
“Did I graduate?”, Timmy asked.
“Yeah”, I said. “But you spend most of the next decade working for an insurance company.”
“It was worse than that, Timmy.” I exclaimed. “It was humiliating, unsatisfying and generally low paying.”
“Do I get married? Do I have kids?,”Timmy asked. “Not that I want any if they’re gonna be like me and Jeff”.
“I’m not here to tell you about any good stuff”, I replied. “If you want to know about that, let me give you an idea of something your future DOES hold.”
“You will come back here in middle age and live in Blacksburg. You’ll regret ever having left. And with the stupid decisions you’ll make after you move to Maryland and live in that timeline, you’ll come back here flat broke.”
“Blacksburg, huh”?, Timmy said.”I suppose Jerry Claiborne won’t be coaching the Gobblers at Virginia Tech anymore by that time.”
“No”, I said.”In fact, he moved to Maryland shortly after you and ran the football team at the University of Maryland. You’ll actually meet him there. Oh, and by the way, they’re called the Hokies now.”
“What the heck is a Hokie?”, Jeff asked.
“It’s a turkey, just like you, you turkey”, I said.
“Well, you don’t change much when you get older,” Jeff said to Timmy.
“In fact, you’ll be living in Roanoke when Timmy comes back and you’ll have season tickets,” I added.
“Cool”, Jeff said. “But, as I said, I don’t like football.”
“Wait a minute. This is my life, not yours buzzard breath”, Timmy said.” Boy, I wish I knew what will happen if I stay, Timmy numero 2.”
“By the way, it’s Timothy now”, I said.
“I hate that name,” Timmy said.
Timmy’s mother yelled,”Timmy, it’s time to get up and go to church!”.
Timmy said,”Man, I gotta go to the God damned church.”
Jeff rolled over in hysterics.
“You’d better decide”, I said.
“Ok, I’ll do it! Maybe I can stay with Richard, or Jeff.”
“No way”, Jeff said. “You stink.!
I got in my time machine and returned to Roanoke, circa 2010, having accomplished my task. I landed on Mill Mountain, next to the lighted star at 3 am. Then I forgot everything.
ROANOKE June 2010
Tim woke up. It was a hot summer morning, especially in his prison cell. He’d gotten totally sick of this jail in Rustburg, Virginia. He’d been in it a long time.
A guard came in. “You gotta a visitor”, he said.
Tim went to the booth and looked across at the screen into the face of his friend Jeff. The latter picked up the phone.
“How’s it goin’ man?”, Jeff asked.
“About as good as can be expected,” Tim said.
“So what’s it been, now, 35 years?”, Jeff asked.
“Don’t remind me,” Tim said. “If that moron with my name hadn’t robbed that Holiday Inn and killed the night receptionist, I’d be out there with you. I was framed!”
“Yeah, I know. Sorry, man”, Jeff said,
“I shoulda moved to Baltimore with the fam back in ’67”, said Tim. “My uncle tried to warn me in ’72 that that other Timmy had made my name mud in Roanoke, but I wouldn’t listen. I stayed put, even though my parents tried to convince me to go up there. I couldn’t leave. After all, I was a star defensive limeman for Addison High. Remember those days, Jeff.”
“Sure do, Timmy”, Jeff said.
Jeff said his goodbyes, and Tim went back to his cell to read the morning paper and watch Oprah. She’d made it big since her time on Channel 13 in Baltimore.