Echoes Of The Future
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My circumstances had once again acquired a peculiar
airlessness as the holiday celebrating broken treaties and
broken turkeys drew near.
Daya would be off on a marathon bicycle trip into the
mountains for the long weekend. I was somewhere around
half-way through my stint at the parking lot, and even if it
had been possible to take a day off, the mere contemplation
of borrowing any more bicycles sent me into a paroxysm of
guilt and self-doubt.
To complicate matters, Gene would be out of town all week
as well, and apparently felt uneasy having me stay in their
apartment while they were both gone. Allegedly, this
concern sprung from any indignation the landlord or
neighbors might summon over the technical violation of the
lease I represented. Having seen twelve milkmaids and a
partridge in a pear tree shoe-horned into one-bedroom
apartments for semesters on end in Ann Arbor, I found it
difficult to interpret this stance as anything but highly
insulting, or at the very best indicating that the vast majority
of the world's inhabitants were even crazier than I was, but in
the completely opposite direction.
I darkly muttered to Daya, half-joking, 'Well, perhaps I'll just
find a squat to stay in for Thanksgiving.'
He raised his eyebrows in genuine surprise. "Oh, well I think
we can line up something a little bit more comfortable than
that for you."
Much earlier, even before I arrived in town, I had asked
Daya, the only person I knew who'd ever sneaked through
muddy fields and ducked barbed wire to attend a rave, to
point me in the direction of a proper dance party. And as the
long weekend approached, that Wednesday afternoon Daya
told me two of his friends knew of a club night I'd probably
Sometime after dark, the doorbell rang and Daya introduced
me to Lucien and Emma. Daya had decided to stay in, so
after several minutes chatting pleasantly, the three of us
drove off to the city.
As the lights of Oakland ticked by through the slats of the
bridge, I asked, 'So what club is this we're going to?'
Emma turned over her shoulder. "It's not really the club that
matters-- it's the theme for the night. This time it's
'Cute. But isn't it hard to have a party aboveground, in a
club like this? Don't the cops care? And doesn't the whole
alcohol vibe get in the way?'
"You'll see," grinned Lucien from the rear-view mirror.
Once inside, we eventually found a small opening, and
slipped into the crowd. Lucien laughed as he saw me staring
in amazement at the long line of sweaty heads against the
bar, each returning to the heat of the dance floor clutching a
dripping bottle of water. The surge of dancing bodies
swayed around me, wafting an impossible scent of deja vu
into the air. I had never been around this many people
dancing at once, in a space lit too brightly to be an
abandoned crack-house basement in the depths of Detroit,
too full of life and energy to be anywhere but next to an
ocean, but still it seemed oddly familiar, filled by an endless
throb carrying itself forward and backward in time.
An hour later, Emma found me resting against a wall, and
asked, "Is it true you have some E?"
'Yeah, but I don't think I'm going to do any tonight. The
music ends at two, right?'
"Yes, but one of our friends wants to do some."
Emma nodded her friend over and I traded the tablet for
what I'd paid for it. Her friend bopped off to find her water
'Cool, that pays for my night out.'
"And I think you made her very happy."
'Happy to help. Out of curiosity, what are you and Lucien
doing this weekend?'
"Oh, we'll be away."
'Ah, right. Well, please let me know when you hear about an
The next night, Daya invited me to come have dinner at his
friend Awen's. I still felt happily danced out, and enjoyed
the quiet west coast atmosphere that pervaded Awen's
kitchen. As I peeled carrots, Awen tried to explain the finer
points of a macrobiotic diet-- I wasn't quite sure I had it.
'So you try to eat whatever's in season, whatever's grown
I thought, now this is a plan thought up by someone who
thinks of winter as a rainy season.
'Where I'm from, I think that would be acorns about three
months out of the year.'
"Well, you can still try."
'As long as I'm out here, anyway,' I said with a lopsided grin.
Awen gave me a sweet, odd little smile in return. "Indeed.
So, if you like you can stay here in my apartment this
weekend while I'm away."
I felt an overpowering surge of unworthiness.
'Wow, are you serious? That would be great.'
"Definitely, no problem." And she turned back to the soup
pot. I finished peeling, and then started chopping the
carrots, rapidly finding myself examining this activity from
the point of view of a carrot. It came on through a prickle of
stasis, morphing into the sensations of a butterfly as pins slid
through into the block of styrofoam.
Friday arrived full of temporal disconnection and spatial
distortion. I already had Awen's spare key, which I patted
through my pocket like a talisman, and I'd packed enough
clothes for the weekend into the smaller of my two bags,
which sat with me in the parking lot booth, a tangible
reminder of unfinished business.
By noon, the lunchtime car-poolers had just cleared the gate
on their way out. I stared into space, as worn as if I had
traveled to Saturday and back again. A man I didn't
recognize approached the booth, on foot, and I became
instantly alert. For one thing, people never walked down this
street unless they were collecting a car. For another, the
booth only took in a handful of dollars each day, due to long-
term contracts and so on, but that didn't mean anyone else
However, this man had the open face of unhappiness, so I
relaxed again as he came to the window.
'Can I help you?' I asked.
"Yeah, I hope so. Do you have a set of tow-truck tools,
something you can open a window with?"
I switched back to alert. 'Sorry, no. And even if I did, I can't
help you break into someone's car. If it's really your car, call
a tow truck.'
"No, really, I just locked myself out of my car. It's really my
car, I'll show you. And I don't have triple-A or anything. If
you can't help me, I'm going to have to break a window."
'Okay,' I said, grabbing a coat hanger from the debris along
the wall of the booth, 'I'll take a look.'
His car was a worn import, decades old, and the suspicion
began to drain out of me. As a further confirmation, his keys
lay sprawled in demonic glee across the surface of the
'Okay, okay, I believe you. Here you go,' I said, handing him
the coat hanger.
I coached him while he unbent the hanger, then made a tiny
curl at one end, and fitted it down into the depths of the
window seal. It became clear after fifteen minutes or so that
he was not going to find anything as simple as a lever to lift.
"Looks like I'd better find a rock," he said, now really
beginning to look depressed, "unless you have a hammer."
'No hammer. But look, I want to try something. I figure,
worst case scenario, you have to break the window anyway.'
"Be my guest."
I felt the spirits of persistence and invention possess me, and
I bent and re-bent the hanger, then instead of sliding it down
into the door itself, slid it through the top of the window,
then bent it again.
I quietly adjusted the bends in the hanger until it fit the knob
at the end of the arm which moved the window. I looked up
to see a little light dawning in the eyes watching me.
'Now we will see what we will see,' I said theatrically, and
gently pushed the hanger down. It seemed more due to will
or telekinesis than sensible physics, but the crank handle
moved steadily until it pointed almost straight down.
'This will be a bit tricky.' I withdrew and re-bent the hanger
into a right angle. Once I hooked the knob again, I was able
to drag it past the center point. Another re-bend, and it was
pointing straight up. Another to get it past center. It took
less than an hour, as we could just fit an arm down to the
door lock before the lunch crowd returned.
"I can't thank you enough," he said, his face plowed into soft
gratitude. "I'm late already today, but let me buy you lunch
'Okay, it's a deal,' I said, not really caring whether it
happened or not.
And some trace of that good deed held me, in empty arms, as
I stepped through Awen's door into a long hollow weekend.
I thought of where I would be that night in my hypothetical
search for an abandoned building or unheated warehouse,
and I tasted a synaesthesia of relief at my luck, guilt at my
privilege, and doubt about my resourcefulness.
I veered unsteadily from room to room, shuffling in stocking
feet, dancing alone as Robert Smith sang his lullaby to me.
'The spiderman is having me for dinner tonight,' I told the
cans in the pantry, spinning on one foot.
I woke before noon, and the day stretched ahead of me like a
taunt. I couldn't think of a single pastime that wouldn't erase
my meager progress toward financial equilibrium, and the
notion of constructing a feast by and for myself made me
Awen had made it clear that I could make anything in the
house, but despite my loathing for this particular holiday, I
felt my isolation like an inquisitor's punishment for the
heretic. I wandered out into the campus from Awen's
apartment as a hermit descending the mountain.
Early afternoon brought gray clouds, as though a silent
whirling storm had scoured the surfaces of Telegraph
Avenue, uprooting students and visitors, leaving only the
tenacious black jeans of restless nomads and sullen
gutterpunks resting where brick storefront met sidewalk
For the first time, I felt alone in the city, all reminders of
establishment education or employment miles over the
horizon, and I found I naturally sat with the nearest group of
'So, what's it like squatting here?'
"Not bad, some people won't call the cops on you here, even
if they see you going in. You need, we can see if there's
another space for you."
A sliver of guilt slipped between my ribs. 'I think I've got a
place lined up for tonight--' I warded off the question before
it arrived '--but it's really a friend of a friend deal, so I can't
push that any further. I kind of wanted to know for later on.'
"Yeah, it's all right here. It can be all right anywhere, if you
set your mind to it. You going to Mardi Gras?"
'Thinking about it.'
"Yeah, you should go. Hey, Food Not Bombs is about to set
up. Come around the corner and get something hot."
I turned as we walked, to see where we'd been sitting, and
the sidewalk seemed as empty as it had ever been.