“So you see, Mr. Swanson, it all goes back to the shirt,” the technician said, her tone completely devoid of emotion. Ted nodded mechanically, his head still spinning. “You may go now,” the technician said curtly, obviously eager for the next customer to be ushered in, but then what else would you expect from a place like this?
The C&E Center on Fifth Avenue was just one of about 3500 across the country, the things seemed to be sprouting up overnight in just about every major metropolitan and even some of the smaller municipalities. Ted slinked out of the center and winced as the intensity of the afternoon sun reminded him it was still the middle of the day. Careful not to make eye contact with anyone, you could never be too careful in this kind of neighborhood, he wandered down the street, peering in waste cans and skips before turning the corner towards his ‘neck of the woods’.
He had the answer he had been searching for, saving for, since he had found himself in this mess but he felt no closer to peace than he had in ignorance. Now he wondered if he would always feel like this, restless, jaded and suffering from a small case of martyrdom, though he’d never admit it. I suppose living in your car for six years will do that to a man, though. He had been convinced that once he saved enough money to make the appointment at the C&E, his troubles would be over. C&E would give him the answer he needed and armed with that answer he would begin to turn his life around. Things would get better.
But the answer he was given at C&E was so unexpected Ted was unsure how to proceed. How could something that arbitrary, that insignificant change the tide of his entire life? He was having a hell of a time wrapping his mind around it. He went back to that day once again, the day when everything began to spiral out of control, but this time he focused on the shirt and worked his way forward, one event at a time.
Ten minutes later, he understood. The dots had finally been connected. That snooty C&E technician was right, it did all go back to the shirt. That day, six years ago, he had prepared for a work just like any other Wednesday. He showered, he ate a bowl of oatmeal and he shaved. Running his deodorant up and down each armpit, Ted had immediately but on his undershirt. As he brushed his teeth, Ted noticed that somehow in his typical morning fog, he had put his undershirt on inside-out. Correcting the wardrobe malfunction, he didn’t think of it again- until now.
The deodorant had stuck to the outside of the undershirt, and once it was righted, none was left to protect Ted from his notoriously strong body odor. Little did he know that day he would be interviewing for his own job, thanks to the notorious 2012 global economic decline, which he would lose out to Marcy from the next cubicle thanks in no small part to the overwhelming scent of onion in the room during Ted’s interview. Arriving home, with all his office possession in a sad little box, Ted was hoping to find some comfort in the arms of his live-in girlfriend Dora. Unfortunately, his early departure from the office gave him the nauseating pleasure of finding Dora in the arms of Ricky, the personal trainer from across the hall. A few weak apologies and a fist through the wall later, Ted found himself homeless (her name was on the lease), girlfriendless and jobless. Well, at least he had his car- he remembered sarcastically thinking.
There was only one thing to do now. Ted walked over to the manhole cover a few feet from his car and leaned down. Heaving the hulk of metal to the side, he leaned in with his right arm, his ear almost touching the ground and fished an old coffee can out of the dark. Dropping the line back into the hole, Ted replaced the cover and walked with the can back to his car. Popping off the still-air tight lid, he began to count his stash. “Two hundred and forty-eight dollars and thrity-two cents,” He said to himself. That meant he would have to raise $9751.68 in order to return to C&E for the TTE, Gold Package. Heaving a sigh of resolve, Ted pushed the plastic lid back over the rim of the can, “Better get back on the street then, I’ve got a lot of cans to collect if I’m going to raise that kind of money.”
The TTE, Gold Package, short for Time Travel Express, Gold Package, was just one of many offerings the nefarious people at C&E provided their desperate clientele. Sure, there had been a few ‘accidents’, a small fraction of the clients had simply, not returned but that was an acceptable risk for both C&E and the poor souls who turned to them in their last attempt towards happiness. C&E could reveal to you the exact moment your life took a turn- and for a surprisingly reasonable fee, could even send you back to that moment for various lengths of time, allowing you to right wrongs, alter your future, to change your fate.
And Ted was only a mountain of aluminum cans away from changing his.
The Not So Fantastic Reality:
The above story was inspired by the following tidbits I encountered today:
ONE: I put on my shirt inside-out this morning. It took me to realize something was wrong, but by the time I did my recently applied deodorant was completely soaked into the wrong side of my shirt. Not the sharpest bulb in the crayon box in the morning I didn’t think much of this until about 2pm when- GASP! I was a little stinky. It wasn’t bad enough t
TWO: We are conducting admission interviews for my program currently, and the whole stinky armpit thing really had me thankful that I was only coordinating the interviews and actually having to sit for an interview myself- that would have been a bad thing.
Love & Squirrels.