To add some context to the story below. On Monday night, I was invited to participate in Write Club, a monthly event at the Bootleg Theater. Basically, there are three rounds, two writers each round are given topics to compete with. The audience chooses the winner, and money goes to charity. My round was Time vs. Space. Mine was about Time. And there’s a 7 minute time limit. A limit I totally bumped up against. Sigh.
So, as you read, imagine me up on a stage, with a microphone, and you in the audience, drinking a beer. And there’s a man screaming at me, “ARE YOU READY?” I reply, yes. And he turns to the audience and screams, “ARE YOU READY?” And you shout, YES. The bell goes off… and I start to read…
SPOILER ALERT. I am, in fact, dying. My body, as I speak, is sliding inevitably and irrevocably from order, such as it is, into chaos. As is the rest of the Universe. As are, in fact, all of you. Some of us faster than others. Drink up, the prices here are reasonable.
And this is all because of the forward march of Time.
As Delmore Schwartz will one day say to Captain Picard of the USS Enterprise: “Time is the fire in which we burn.”
We curse as we burn. As regrets pile up. As opportunities never come again. As erections begin to fail.
We have created all sorts of means to fight back. Plastic surgery. Diet. Skinny jeans. Taylor Swift.
Some succeed better than others.
The other day, I saw Barry Manilow on TV. His face pulled tight. As tight as the moment he came out of his mother’s womb.
But. Alas. This is merely illusion. A game we all agree to play.
But, what if… what if, we could halt time. Or better yet, turn it back?
As we all know, our experience of Time is linear. This happens. Then this happens. That happens, then, oh, shit, THAT happens? Damn right that just happened, and you can’t unhappen it.
We move effortlessly through Space. Forward. Backwards. Left. Right. Even vertically. The three dimensions of space have been easily conquered by humanity.
Unlike Space, we have no control over our journey through Time. We move relentlessly in one direction.
But, over in Pasadena. Something is being done about that. Project: Mulligan.
Through a combination of dark government funds, monies from tech companies in Silicon Valley, and a Mysterious Benefactor, two scientists are working in a secret lab. Their task: to unring a bell.
But, as Albert Einstein, having seen his research used to build the atomic bomb, declared, “You can’t unring a bell, mother fuckers. You just can’t do it.”
Currently, Dr. Theodore Gilmore and Dr. Sharon Cartwright work side by side in a simple lab trying to crack the problem.
A large open space. Work tables. Chairs. A few computers. Down the street is a Starbucks.
Of course, there is a bell. Sitting atop a wooden stool in the center of the lab, it is the sort of bell you find at the front desk of a hotel. An easy tap leading to a clear sharp DING.
With a triple shot latte cooling in her hand, Sharon says to Theodore, “Should we shoot the beam of tachyons at the bell?”
Theodore sighs, “I was thinking we could place the miniature particle accelerator around the bell, pushing the particles past the speed of light.”
Sharon likes to stand before the bell. Arms crossed. This is how she does her best serious thinking. Though, sometimes, her thoughts drift to her past. One moment keeps coming back. That one moment when she had a chance to make amends with her mother, for all the things that had been said, for all the cruel things that had passed between them. She thinks about that one moment in the hospital where she chose to walk away as her mother lay dying of ovarian cancer. And that moment to make amends slipped away forever.
Meanwhile, Theodore sits in a chair, a chair that spins. He sees the bell, and then it’s gone. He sees the bell and then it’s gone. His thoughts drift back, and he tries to stop it, but his thoughts drift back, he tries to stop it, but his thoughts drift back to that phone call he let go to voice mail from an ex girlfriend, who was calling to tell him that she was pregnant. Too freaked out to call back, he found out later she got an abortion.
Each week, the Mysterious Benefactor bursts into the room demanding an answer to one simple question: Have you unrung the bell?
His face is covered with a beard, sunglasses and a baseball hat pulled low.
And each week Sharon and Theodore have to report, no, they haven’t unrung the bell. But, they are making great progress.
The Mysterious Benefactor holds up a finger. A warning. And then he’s gone.
Sometimes, as they stand in line at Starbucks, Sharon and Theodore often discuss who the Mysterious Benefactor might be.
“He’s wearing a disguise,” Sharon pointsout.
“Yeah,” Theodore replies. “But, why would he wear a disguise?” They shrug and return to the mystery of the bell in the lab.
Right now, at this moment, Theodore is explaining to Sharon an idea that he just had.
Moments ago, it came to him. What if they were doing this all wrong?
He turns to Sharon and says, “What if we are doing this all wrong? Instead of ringing the bell, we wait for it to ring.”
“We’ve tried everything else. Radiation. Particle acceleration. Beam weapons. If we wait for it to ring, perhaps that will lead to a breakthrough.”
Sharon shrugs. Why not?
The door BURSTS open. The Mysterious Benefactor. Theodore stops spinning, Sharon looks. He’s sweating, there’s something wrong.
“Have you unrung the bell?” He sounds desperate.
Sharon says, “No. No, we haven’t, but–“
“We’re trying to something new,” Theodore finishes. “We’re going to try waiting for the bell to ring.”
The Mysterious Benefactor screams. “You are doing WHAT?” Sweat from his face releases the glue attaching his beard, and it pops, flaps and swings away. Revealing his true face: Barry Manilow.
At this point, I would like to say, I am no longer responsible for the narrative. What is about to happen, cannot unhappen, and it is all because of Barry Manilow.
Sharon whispers, “I adore you.”
Barry Manilow turns, his tight face tighter with rage, and plunges his fist into Sharon’s chest, plucking out her heart. She manages one word before she dies. “Guh.”
Theodore screams and jumps out of the chair, running for the door. Barry Manilow leaps on him and wraps his boney fingers around his throat. And he squeezes.
“I am an idol to millions of people. I have sold millions of records.”
He squeezes harder. Theodore’s eyes begin to bug out.
“But in order to get there, I have done so much wrong. I regret. The people I fucked. The bodies I left to the mountain lions in the Hollywood Hills. The secrets I sold to the Soviet Union in the 1980s. I shot Kurt Cobain. I was at Benghazi. I need to go back, my soul, my soul, I want to unring that bell, I want to unring that bell!”
Theodore is dead. He falls to the floor lifeless. Barry Manilow looks at his hands. Thinking… Again?
And just then, at this moment, something happens that makes Barry Manilow realize he has made the gravest mistake he has ever made.
In the silence of the lab, punctuated by his breathing… untouched by human hand… a bell… sitting on a stool, softly, clearly… RINGS.
Now. Here we are, waiting for the bell to ring, none untouched by Time. And we have a choice in how we go forward. We could go kicking and screaming into the night, like Barry Manilow. Or, we could choose to embrace our scars, and go with the flow.
Sadly, I lost. But, it was a lot of fun, all the writers were great, and the money went to charity. I’ll be there again, will I see YOU there?