As you might have gathered, I took some time off from writing over the first part of summer. My goal was to step back and recreate for my kids the idyllic months of my own childhood. We listened to Harry Chapin. We caught fireflies. I even littered the entire car ride up to Lake Michigan. But it didn’t bring me the joy of yesteryear that I thought it would. Plus on arrival, we found that all of our board games had been destroyed in a mysterious fire that somehow affected only the game closet. Or so said my wife, who had arrived at the lake a day early, and hates board games.
No matter, I figured. Act of God, Act of Spouse, whatever. I’ll simply invent a new game for my little ones to play. Perhaps a whimsical, teachable moment around economics, a reminder that wealth must be created before it can be redistributed. Alas, my three-party talks with Hasbro and the Ayn Rand Institute went nowhere, so Hungry Hungry Hippies remains stalled at the whiteboard stage. But that’s the moment I had my epiphany. I realized that we had all we needed for a summer chock-full of fun, if only we used our imaginations.
So charged, my oldest kicked things off by asking the family what each of us would do with a time machine. A decent discussion followed, for we all agreed that much good could be done. I probably could have aimed a little higher in my stated mission — keeping The Alan Parsons Project ever from forming — but thankfully there’s no judgment in these sessions. Things got more interesting when my middle child posed the question differently: what to do with a waste-of–time machine. With this prompt, well let’s just say the mind-screw ideas flowed like hot queso, so fast in fact that I could barely write them down. From memory, here were the top ten:
- Bring Marco Polo to Southern California. Show him a swimming pool full of kids playing Marco Polo. Return him to 13th century Venice in complete silence.
- Pull strings so Sigmund Freud can give the keynote at the Seattle Psychotherapy Conference, betting (rightly) that with all the rain and the new wax finish on the floors, Freud will slip on his way to the podium. Savor the irony.
- Retrieve chatty pastry chef Jean-Claude Petard from 19th century Paris. Take him to the Au Bon Pain on 68th Street and, during time travel back to Europe, say “perhaps you shouldn’t have shared your recipe with your neighbor, Bob Éclair.”
- Hit the Jacksonville batting cages with Alexander the Great, but don’t tell him you’re wearing a cup. Take fastball after fastball in the groin, and then urge him to do the same. As he ices up on the return trip to Macedonia, say “imagine the worlds you might have conquered if you weren’t such a pansy.”
- Watch Martin Luther’s jaw drop as you drive past church after Protestant church dotting the Minneapolis landscape, but say nothing until you pull into the Thriving Financial for Lutherans parking lot. Then give him an earful about their uncompetitive CD rates.
- Take Johann Sebastian Bach to a Justin Bieber concert at Greensboro Coliseum. Assure him as you worm through the space-time continuum back to Germany that “not every modern musician is so cerebral.”
- Squire Julius Caesar around South Beach and introduce him to the salad that bears his name. Sensing disappointment, further mess with his head by telling him the massive meatball sub being suggestively eaten by the woman in the string bikini one table over is called a Brutus.
- Save face and pretend you meant to punch Wilford Brimley’s name into the time machine even though technically, yes, he’s not dead. Suspect that you’re partly responsible for the tear in the fabric of time that results from younger and older Wilford Brimley having met, in that F. Murray Abraham is the Quaker Oats pitchman. Also, Wilford Brimley is now a turtle.
- Remove Renaissance futurist Leonardo da Vinci’s blindfold only when you have him squarely in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Point to the first Amish buggy that slowly passes and say “Welcome to 2016, da Vinci. Not too shabby.”
- Bring William Shakespeare to 6th Grade Globe Theatre Day at Shady Side Elementary in Weehawken. Make him judge the dioramas.