First of all, we started this time-traveling experiment from a safe place. Let’s get that straight. We were a rag-tag motley group, strays including a few semi-potty-trained dogs roaming around outside (because I’m obsessed with that stuff).
Today, two or three of us were to test-drive this time-traveling machine. Only, there wasn’t a machine to speak of, just us, clutching our things, my unlaced running shoes — Would I have time to tie them? — his quarter, leaning against a wall in this side room of a shopping complex or resort a few miles away from a tourist trap.
Five minutes to go, and we start bickering about what we would do once we got there. Where? Good question. I wanted to get my running in. The other two questioned the importance of running in the past when maybe we should save a famous person from assassination or something.
“What the hell are we planning on doing? Do we even know what year we’re going to?” he asked. I don’t know who he is; he feels familiar, like my husband. He’s the one I clasp the quarter with before it disappears in our hands and we fall back into a strange room through the now-wood-paneled wall like an invisible elevator.
Before we dissolve, another-he says, “Let’s find the quarter I lost.” I have no idea what quarter he’s talking about, but it’s too late for more questions because we’re falling into this motel room, thick curtains drawn.
I go to draw the curtains of this picture window, wondering if the world behind will stay in black and white. As I pull these burlap-thick curtains slowly aside, I’m relieved to see the sepia tone fading into almost cartoonishly bright prime colors outside. The barren, deserted street keeps wanting to change scenery.
Impulsively, I open the front door to the mild protests from behind. They’re still getting their bearings. But I’m dying to know where we landed and when, when I get as far as the back of this motel room. Seaside, we’re seaside, it’s California before the population explosion, it has to be, I tell myself, when the man who reminds me of my husband calls out, “Not too far, we only have two and a half hours, remember.”
I begin to make my way back, when the street in front of our motel room turns into a building on fire, rioters smashing storefronts, angry black rioters. The street returns to normal, then changes again to another scene that will come in the near-future, maybe related to the music explosion, before settling down.
As I make my way back to the front door, slightly nervous about making our way back home to the present, a man wearing a pink paisley shirt approaches from the front office. He’s the manager, looking perturbed. After all, we just appeared out of nowhere, right?
“Uh, I must have missed you folks,” he says to me, deciding whether or not to call the cops.
I have to know. So I interrupt him as charming and as subtle as I hope I can be. “What’s your favorite band?”
He doesn’t miss a beat, “The Mamas and The Papas,” like I was some moron who didn’t know the score, before continuing on about the cheap-as-hell room rates.
I don’t even hear him anymore or care if he does call the cops, because I realize it’s California, circa 1966. I don’t even know how I know this, since I barely paid attention to the hippie flower power craze. Honest to god, I don’t even know when The Mamas and The Papas came into focus.
But I know I’m right. I hear myself quipping, “I am two years old and crapping my pants right now!” The others laugh nervously.
Suddenly, we fast-forward toward the end of this show, two and a half hours later, we’re in front of the setting sun, it’s dusk at this funky olive green-shaded family steak house, and I’m about to cry because this woman tells us something very profound that we take to heart when we get back.
I wish I could remember what she said. The gist was to hold onto the memories, you leave behind more of a legacy with your words and your joy and your journey than you realize, and that the next generation will carry that legacy to heart when you are back in your safe place cheering them on.
Something like that. It was all in the color of the fading sun through the slant of the surf and the sand, the copper in her hair and in the roof of this now-abandoned roadside relic families once gathered at for summer dinners.
Time really isn’t linear or an infrastructure outside ourselves, but … simultaneous and glowing, constantly shifting, parallel, strangely conceptual, and locked in our minds?
When I woke up, I sat on the toilet listening to “California Dreamin'” on YouTube. The opening, inter-woven melody on guitar haunted me. It seemed to hold a secret. Maybe it always had, and I never really paid attention before. My mind does, though. Apparently, my mind pays attention to everything, even California in 1966 when I was still in Korea and wouldn’t arrive for another year or two.
“All the leaves are brown
And the sky is grey
I’ve been for a walk
On a winter’s day
I’d be safe and warm
If I was in L.A.
On such a winter’s day”
—”California Dreamin’,” The Mamas & The Papas
The deeper question is, What else is locked there, and, Where’s the fucking quarter?