The Perfect Time To Live

Previous Story With Stig Greybeard: An Afternoon With Stig Greybeard

As expected, the code wasn’t working. In an attempt to save money, Jim’s company outsourced much of its programming to India, but what came back was barely functional. Jim’s official title was senior programmer, but at the moment it might as well have been English teacher as he corrected mistakes like “Click here if you are forgetting your password” and “Depress button for continuance.” He was initially worried when his company announced the outsourcing initiative, but as long as the outsourced code kept coming back full of mistakes, his job couldn’t be more secure.

Jim’s life was pleasant on paper. Four years out of college, he had a high-paying job, an environmentally friendly automobile, and a nice apartment he shared with a fastidious gay man in a gentrifying San Francisco neighborhood. His girlfriend could have been hotter (she was a bit on the frumpy side), but at least he was getting action in one of the hardest cities to get laid in America. Jim thanked his light sexual success to cold approaching, of which he had done less than 200 in his life. While he wasn’t exactly a Casanova, he could approach girls in the farmer’s market or coffee shop if he pounded a couple Red Bulls and psyched himself up with some rock music.

Friday night was usually guy’s night out. Jim and a couple buddies would hit a craft brewery to sample the home-grown organic beers made with free trade hops. Conversation would often revolve around video games, work, and women. “It was a lot better in college,” Jim said. “Meeting pretty girls was so effortless, but I didn’t know how to take advantage of the situation.”

“Hindsight is 20/20,” his friend Zack replied. “It’s easy to look back and see missed opportunities.”

“How about the app craze that started just after college? If we had made just a simple game or messaging app, we’d be rich. It’s so easy to miss trends that we end up using every day after it becomes popular.”

“Maybe ideas are like air,” Zack mused as the inebriation kicked in. “It’s all around you, but you can’t touch them or see them.”

“And in spite of that,” their third friend Alexander said, “there is a future trend that will come. It will be logical, useful, and obvious, but someone else will get filthy rich off of it.”

The group started brainstorming ideas. Sex bots. Flying cars. Eternal life. Nuclear powered smartphones. They were failing to step out of the cliché futuristic box.

“This is hard,” Jim said before taking a chug of his maple pumpkin beer. “I just wish I knew in the past what I know now. My life would be so much better.” He looked at his phone and saw a text from his girlfriend hinting that she wanted sex.

Monday came and Jim was back at work fixing bad Indian code. A couple hours after his lunch break, Jim started to feel a dip in his energy. He went to the break room to get a cup of coffee and saw an old man with a braided beard standing in the corner, wearing fluffy pants that went to his shins and a vest that seemed to be composed of fur from foxes of slightly different colors. He stared intently at Jim.

“Umm, are you supposed to be here?” Jim asked nervously.

“Yes I am, Jim.”

“How do you know my name?”

“I have come a long way to help you. A power much higher than myself has decided to aid you on your quest for happiness and truth. My name is Stig Greybeard.”

“Funny prank,” Jim chuckled. “Did Charlene put you up to this? The costume and act is very good. This is one of those Youtube things, isn’t it?” Jim looked closely at Stig and noticed that the fluid in the blue portion of his eyes seemed to be moving.

“Jim, pretend that I have the power to take you back to a more innocent time, a time where you can apply the strength of your knowledge to be the best man you can be. What would you think of that?”

“Assuming you could do this, which you can’t, I would be interested. I was just talking about this with my friends the other day.”

“Grab your cup of coffee and place it in front of me.” Jim did as commanded. “Now look at the coffee.” The liquid started to spin on its own.

“Nice trick,” Jim said, “but I don’t understand the point of this.”

“Keep looking.” The speed gradually increased until the liquid was spinning so fast that Jim could see the bottom of the cup.

“Now look close!” Stig yelled. Jim leaned over the cup, and before everything went black, he had the feeling that he was melting.

Jim found himself in a wooded area. He must’ve been placed there by the old man after he fainted as part of the elaborate joke. “Mr. Greybeard, are you here? This isn’t funny anymore, I need to get back to work.” There was no reply. His pockets were empty. “Great, robbed by an old man,” Jim said to himself.

He walked out of the woods and into a public park, one that he felt he had been in before. He immediately knew something was wrong by the way people looked. Men wore suits and hats while women had normal-colored hair with not a single tattoo visible. He walked up to a man and asked, “Excuse me, I just got robbed by an old man. Can I use your phone real quick to call a friend?”

“My phone? My phone is inside my home.”

“I mean your cell phone.”

“Cell phone? I haven’t the faintest idea what that is. Young man I don’t have time for this jibber jabber.” He stormed off. Jim asked another man but received a similar response.

“These men should know what a cell phone is,” Jim thought. He went up to a third man and asked, “Sir, do you know where I can buy a cell phone?”

“I don’t know what this ‘cell’ is.”

“Do you know what the internet is?”

“The what?”

“Okay, where is the nearest convenience store?” Another blank stare. “Where can I buy a newspaper?” The man steered him to the edge of the park where he found a general store. He made a beeline for their newspaper rack and grabbed a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle. The date read January 27, 1955. Jim instantly remembered the conversation he had at the craft brewery. A godly being must have been listening, sending him 60 years back in time.

If you send most people back in time, it would be safe to assume that they’d experience a panic attack of sorts, but Jim took it well, maybe because there wasn’t much to leave. His girlfriend was replaceable, his job brought him no deep satisfaction in life, his friends were mere social ornaments to hang out with no more than once a week, and he only saw his family over Thanksgiving and Christmas. During the long walk through old San Francisco, much less populated than in modern times, Jim admired the rawness of what he was seeing.

The people were simple, polite, and studious, not easily distracted on their path from point A to B. They all looked and dressed the same, a homogeneity that Jim found weird in a place that prided itself in modern times for being progressive and alternative. The streets were quiet even though there were children everywhere with their parents, and the consumer economy was seemingly primitive, without many boutiques and restaurant options. The lack of even basic technology made Jim feel like he was walking through a living museum, but it was functional and people were going about their day normally, without a clue of massive changes their society would be forced through within only two generations.

For a minute, Jim felt doubt. Would it be fair to apply his 2015 knowledge here? Probably not, but this was the opportunity of a lifetime. He could be a king of these times instead of merely a computer wage slave of his.

The most urgent problem was that he had no money. He tried begging first. He stood outside a grocery store with his hands out but earned only 3 cents before the owner threatened him with a broom. He walked around hungry until he found a church with a friendly nun who steered him to a nearby mission. Free meals were given out and he could even lodge in a dormitory cot for the night.

Jim’s attire of jeans and t-shirt didn’t draw as much attention as he thought, and so he remained invisible to the other homeless, mostly World War 2 veterans full of battle tales. Jim found their stories fascinating, but he was becoming worried about what he was going to do to survive without modern conveniences like internet and Starbucks.

The next morning he told the mission workers that he was able-bodied and willing to work. They sent him to a moving company, a relatively new business idea of the time with surburbia still in its early stages of development. After three days of back-breaking labor, Jim saw some inefficiencies in the business and went to the foreman to share his thoughts. “I noticed some ways we can optimize the workflow. First, we can…”

He was interrupted by the foreman. “Optimize? Look jack, all you gotta do is put things in the truck and then take them out of the truck. That’s your only job.”

The foreman, an immigrant from Ireland, didn’t want to hear about his strategy. So Jim worked silently to earn $1 a day, a lower class wage. After three weeks of this was he able to rent a basement room in an undesirable part of town that was actually safer than the area he lived in during modern times.

He found it harder than he thought to take advantage of the situation. His skills as a programmer weren’t yet in use with the computer punchcard systems that were only beginning to become available. He looked at the want ads, but most high-paying jobs were in engineering. He could engineer code, not appliances or infrastructure. There were plenty of marketing and accounting jobs but he knew nothing of those fields. And while he was an early adopter of many electronic devices, like the smartphone and tablet, he hadn’t the slightest clue how they were built. He didn’t even know how a computer chip worked.

Slightly discouraged, he came up with an idea: buy shares of companies that would perform well. There were two problems with that. First, he didn’t make enough money to buy shares since food was an exorbitantly high percentage of his income. Second, he didn’t know the names of the companies that would do well on a short timeline. If he bought and held for 20 years, he’d surely do well, but overnight riches were another story.

At the moving company, he developed rapport with his co-worker Frank, an 18-year-old who just graduated from high school. Frank loved the work and was proud to be making his first wages that didn’t involve being stuck in a factory. On their daily lunches, Jim would conceal the fact that he was from the future, mainly because he didn’t want anyone to think he was crazy.

“What’s the best way to meet girls?” Jim asked one day.

“Church. There’s some nice girls there.”

“But doesn’t it take a while to make whoopy with them?” Jim adopted the vernacular of the day.

“Boy it sure does! Many of these girls are waiting for marriage before they do any love making with you. But you can sneak in a nice kiss every now and then.”

“Are their easier girls?”

“You mean fast girls? Yeah sure, you can find them at the ballroom wearing a lot of makeup, but they like real good dancers. You can Lindy Hop, right?”

“No, I never learned.”

“Well…” Frank leaned in. “You can always buy a girl for the night. I know a place.”

Jim resisted the suggestion. He wanted to try his modern game first by approaching during the day. Unfortunately, he encountered several problems, the most severe of which was that girls weren’t that pretty. They were plain and pale, wearing no makeup, with frizzy hair that made them look like housewives. It didn’t help that their frocks hid their slender bodies, leaving too much to the imagination.

Another problem was that the best-looking girls were never unchaperoned. It seemed that walking alone was taboo except for the older women who were running household chores. There was no reason for a pretty girl to be out alone, and the isolated girls he did end up finding were scared as hell to talk to him, even when he went as indirectly as possible by asking where a pet shop was located. They would avert eye contact and say as few words as possible. The young girls simply weren’t used to being approached by strange men.

He told Frank of his game failures. “You actually went up to girls you didn’t know on the street?” Frank asked.

“Yes, I asked them for a pet shop.”

“You’re a crazy fella, Jim. I just don’t see that working at all. You have to meet girls through church or dancing. Or maybe your family knows another family that has a nice girl you can court.”

“My family lives far away. They live in… Maine.”

“That’s too bad Jim.”

“But you said there was a brothel?”

They visited the clandestine brothel together, a little house in one of the new suburban developments. When Jim caught sight of the two girls working, he was ready to turn back. They were in their late 30’s with crow’s feet and pear body shapes. Not wanting to disappoint Frank, who didn’t seem to mind the low quality of the women, he had mechanical sex with one of the prostitutes while trying to pretend he was doing it with his girlfriend. The whore didn’t make a sound. The worst drunken sex he ever had was better than what he just paid two days wages for.

There were other problems. He couldn’t find decent restaurants to grab fast meals, so a large part of his day was spent preparing his own food on a primitive stove. He had to do his laundry by hand. He couldn’t find suitable eye drops for his dry eye condition. When he needed information or help, he had to find someone who knew the answer instead of looking it up on the internet, which could take days instead of seconds. Books were terribly old and written in a more obtuse language. He kept getting gastrointestinal diseases. Medical care was lacking. The only bright side is that he eventually won the favor of a beautiful girl he met while being a wallflower at a dance, but in spite of going on seven dates with her in the park (she absolutely refused to visit his apartment), she wouldn’t let him kiss her with an open mouth.

After six months of living in the past, with no hope of getting rich, sleeping with a ton of girls, or being a star of some sort, Jim had a meltdown in his tiny apartment, crying for three days. He would do anything to go back to the future.

In the middle of one of his self-pitying stares at the brick wall, there was a knock on the door. He opened it to find Stig Greybeard staring at him with a slight look of disappointment.

“You! You did this to me!” Jim shouted.

“I did. I gave you what you wished for.” Greybeard welcomed himself into the apartment and took a look around.

“I was wrong. I thought things would be better at an earlier time, but it’s just too hard.”

“Maybe you are right. Maybe you are not meant for this era.” Greybeard stroked his beard as he perused Jim’s book collection, which was now full of classical titles from Europe.

“Everything that made me successful in my time is useless here. I’d have to start all over, learn completely new skills, learn new ways to socialize, to dance, to live.”

“So you don’t want to live here anymore?”

“No, please, send me back. I beg you!”

“You seem to have lost some weight. Your body appears more athletic.”

“The moving job takes a lot of work, so I did shed some pounds.”

“And you learned how to cook?”

“I had no choice. There’s no Panera or In-N-Out here.”

“And you have a friend. You talk to him for hours every day.”

“There’s nothing else to do for entertainment, so we just shoot the shit about everything.”

“Wouldn’t you say those are benefits?” Greybeard asked, raising one eyebrow.

“Yes, but look at where I live. I’m poor.”

“What new business ideas have you tried?”

Jim stayed silent.

“And your new girlfriend? She’s beginning to love you, I can see.”

“Yes but still no sex. I would have to marry her for that. I’d have to be a family man.”

“Did you learn to Lindy Hop? In this time, you really need to dance if you want to meet the easier girls.”

“Thanks for all the advice, but can you please send me back. Please!” Jim assumed a pathetic stance by clasping his hands together, ready to get on his knees.

“Are you sure you want to go back?”

“Yes!”

Greybeard sighed. “Open that book on the table to any page.” Jim did so. “Now stare deeply at the page and watch as the words get bigger and bigger.”

The words enveloped Jim and everything went to black. When Jim woke up, he was back in the break room of his office. He instinctively touched his face, wondering if the slight physical aging he went through still remained. He looked down at his clothes but couldn’t remember if it was what he was wearing when he first met Greybeard.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his smartphone. It displayed the same date as when he left. There was a new text from his girlfriend. It read, “We need to talk.” She was on birth control so it couldn’t have been pregnancy. Was she breaking up with him? He began walking out of the break room when one of his fellow employees popped in. “Did you hear? Our company got bought out by an Indian firm. The layoff meeting starts in five minutes. We’re fucked.”

He turned around, half-hoping to see Greybeard, half-wondering if he should go back, but Greybeard was not there.

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