spec fiction

Hot Tub Time Machine

Image via Wikipedia

Of course, I wouldn’t have a hot tub because they are unsanitary skin flake stews marinating in secreted bodily residue, and traveling through time shouldn’t be done when damp or barely dressed because that is asking for a more awkward than necessarily fish out of your own time zone experience than landing somewhere in your own past would be otherwise,

I’ve been pondering 1986 on and off since Rob and I snuggled in to watch John Cusack‘s Hot Tub Time Machine. Destined to be another non-classic in his mid-life crisis collection along with the equally phoned in 2012, it begs two questions. What would you do if you had a pivotal weekend in your life to live over and what kind of mid-life hell is Cusack going through to have not only starred in but produced such a puerile piece of a complete time suck like this?

The first question occupies me more than the second though it is hard to watch yet another movie in Cusack’s slow fall from watchable to just another movie star cashing a paycheck. The movie for all its seriously lowbrow reach focuses on the question of going back in time to “right yourself”. The main characters are Al Bundy off-track and stuck so firmly in the weeds they’ve wandered into courtesy of poor life choices and the plain old drift that most of us allow to direct our course. You know what I mean. We paddle furiously until we find that sweet spot in the river and then allow the undertow to do the rest. We figure that the channels we’ve chosen should simply flow along, carrying us to where we want to end up, but the reality is that this only happens for those yellow plastic ducks in wading pools at carnivals. The kind that bob in an endless loop, waiting to be plucked for possible fabulous prizes.

I find that back to the past stories fall into two categories. There is Ray Bradbury‘s “butterfly effect” where any deviation from the original past, no matter how slight, spells doom for the future. Or there is the big fix that puts everyone into a utopia ala the McFly family‘s hunky dory happy ending in the first Back to the Future. The possibility that the past can’t be altered because it’s fixed (as some scientists theorize) is never entertained. It’s never like Emily Webb trying to relive her 12th birthday, stuck in a play where ad-libbing isn’t allowed.

“Where were you in January of 1986?” I asked Rob after the movie was over.

“Mick had just turned one, and I was in my first year of university,” He said.

Rob was already righting his path. An old married man of 24 going back to school to secure that better life.

In January of 1986 I was living in an apartment near the TKE house in Iowa City. Challenger was a couple of months away from blowing up. I was finishing up course work to get ready for my student teaching in the coming fall. It was a crappy winter. I was feeling sorry for myself because everyone had a boyfriend but me. Not having a boyfriend was a huge drama-rama thing for me though the reality – that I never bothered to really acknowledge – was that I did next to nothing to actually remedy the problem. Prospects abounded and one that I was even interested in a more serious way (that being relative to who I was at the time), I let slip because the truth (not something I was big on admitting) was that I didn’t want a boyfriend. My ambivalence couldn’t have been higher or more plain but nothing is as blind as 22.

But if going back to 1986 were an option, what makes us think that the outcome will be horror movie or happily ever materialism after? It’s like people who believe they’ve lived before are only ever victims of great historical tragedy or famous people. There is no ordinary. No average option.

Time travel theory – the serious shit – postulates that traveling backward is the only option. The future doesn’t exist and you can’t travel to somewhere that isn’t yet. Back is done. It’s like photos in an album or stepping into a home movie and wandering about like visitors to a re-enactment of a historical event. The outcome has already been decided. Nothing left to see there but the details that you’ve forgotten or altered as you’ve aged and waxed nostalgic.

My 22-year-old self would be too annoying and it would drive me crazy to be stuck inside her limited worldview.

Cusack and company naturally improved their futures in the superficial sense. They had money, goods and the women of their dreams. Presumably better attitudes and a little gratitude came along with the upgrade but the film doesn’t go there really.

I’ve gone over the side of the wading pool a few times in my life. Saw opportunity or took a chance. The only way to effect change is by going forward. The past has been and done.

Cover of "THX 1138 (The George Lucas Dire...

Cover via Amazon

Science fiction horror scenarios spring from the basic premise that too much technology will eventually enslave us as opposed to liberate or make us better people. The Dune universe was a direct result of a world where computers took over and subjected human beings. George Lucas‘s THX1138 envisioned a world of people in the thrall of television and consumerism that drove people to numb themselves with antidepressants.

And then there was Logan’s Run, where babies were chipped at birth and their every movement monitored until they reached the useless age of 30 and were dispatched for the amusement of others.

Today people willingly tag themselves with GPS enabled phones that they delude themselves into believing are helpful tools. They are aided and abetted in their fantasy by apps.

There’s an app for everything, and they make the loss of freedom and downtime feel okay.

But they are really just the first toehold on a slide that leads to  that proverbial glided cage.

And the scariest thing is the excitement. This guy thinks this nightmare of a world is an awesome leap forward for mankind. Personally, I think life as an uber-trained gerbil might push me into active anarchy.

But here’s what truly should frighten thinking people.

“… imagine what skilled game designers could do with this …”

Imagine that. If you have the stomach for it and don’t mind giving yourself nightmares from all the paranoid conspiracy theories that naturally flow from entertaining such notions.

And then imagine them selling this to your government – not the most ethical bunch of people on the planet – and worse, imagine what the business world will … is already in come instances … do with this.

Being a gerbil is fine, if you are born a gerbil, but human beings who aren’t allowed to think for themselves, and are expected to live on the equivalent of a Sisyphean treadmill, will be a scary bat-shit crazy bunch.

It looks though as if we’ve set the path for our children and theirs and the best we can do is hope that the Mayans were right. Or perhaps wish upon a solar flare to cause an emp to reset the clock and buy us time.

The Renter*

Later it was widely remarked upon that each of the four told the same story syllable for accent mark without hesitation or variation no matter how many times they were called upon to tell it or where in the story they were required to begin.

One of them could even tell the story backwards.

“That guy must’ve been a regular Charlie Manson,” the lead investigator, a barrel chest named Clements said.

His partner agreed but only because she was new, agreeing hid inexperience and the fact she had no idea who Charlie Manson was. She did know enough about the victim to convince herself that this Charlie must have been just a colossal waste of skin.

But they still didn’t know his name. The victim’s. Stretched out on cold metal with a toe tag that read Doe. The four referred to him only as “the overlord”.

“The overlord wouldn’t allow pets that required caging.” Or, “The overlord wouldn’t let us have a sofa because we might sit on it.”

He had no i.d. No papers of any kind were discovered during the search of the house. The rental agency that leased the house to him had never dealt with him in person. Email or phone. And they’d never asked for any proof of who he was or run a background check because he paid in advance and always in cash.

“He was soft spoken. Didn’t waste words,” the agency spokesperson reported.

“Drugs,” Jenner put forth a rare conjecture and then waited for Clements to piss all over it despite the fact that it made some sense. The sub-letters’ dazed and confused expressions and gestures contrasted with their letter perfect recitation of facts but aroused suspicions that no one wanted to voice. Only the girl was clear eyed and concise. Her jade eyes ringed with day old mascara hallowing her gaze and making her questioners feel uncomfortable and intrusive.

Jenner offered her a washroom to clean up her face at least.

“It makes me look thinner. And wiser than my years,” she said.

She looked knowing. Both Clements and Jenner agreed on that but the girl’s story varied not one sentence from her three roommates except for the lone tear which would seep from her left eye to punctuate a particularly nasty revelation and then roll down an apple cheek before dropping into the oblivion of her lap where her bejewelled fingers were clasped and resting lightly.

“She sits like the Queen Mum,” Clements observed to no one in particular.

“Do you believe her? Them?” Jenner asked.

“What part? That he bludgeoned himself to death? Or that he gave himself regular colonics with a garden hose? Or that he was a Svengali who had those poor renters of his forking over their paychecks like they were living a chapter out of Dickens?”

“Any of it.”

“Well, he looked the type to shove a nozzle up his wazoo, but would he whack himself repeatedly with a lacrosse stick just to make it look like they attacked him because they’d decided not to give into his extortion anymore?”

Clements shrugged. There were no prints. No signs of struggle. Not one neighbor recalled hearing a thing. The girlfriend, who officially still lived with her ultra conservative parents and was away that night, confirmed that he regularly terrorized his sub-letters and what they reported was not out of repertoire range for him.

“I don’t think we can hold them,” Clements said.

“We’ll keep the case open?” Jenner asked.

“Right. Sure. Of course,” Clements said as he picked up the phone and dialed. “Go head and release those four. Give ’em the usual about staying close in case we have need of them.”

The green eyed girl with the knowing eyes and the wise thin face led the others out to a car with cardboard for a back window. The next morning, after the police tape was gone, the “for rent” sign went back up.

*10oo word flash fiction piece for the Twitter #friday flash. Any resemblance to the living or dead is naturally a coincidence and all rights are reserved per usual. Next week I will introduce you to Eubie Blake, zombie dealer.