First: summer in Portland now lasts till winter. Or is trying its hardest to, at the least. We’re knee-deep in October, and though the leaves are dropping and fattened squirrels are milling about the yard and roof in a mild state of panic, temperatures are still hitting the 80s every few days or so. I’ve been sitting out on my front porch most evenings taking in the balmy air and it feels surreal to think that Halloween is a quick three weeks out.
But perhaps this Indian summer we Portlanders are coasting through is merely an optical illusion made possible by the planetary wobbles we call Global Warming. Ahem. Climate Change, if you please. I have a theory that in Oregon, now, summer actually doesn’t start until mid-July. Which is terribly demoralizing for the spirits come April, when one is tempted by all those months of gray rainy grossness into the extraordinary delusion that warmer days are just around the bend. Anymore, they never truly are. The flipside of that coin? October. Fantastic, temperate October, still warm enough for picnics and coatless morning runs. Is this strange season the simple result of an overheating planet, or is something bigger and more sinister afoot? Either way, I suppose, the world is probably ending. And speaking of fat, insane squirrels …
Second: in the course of just three days, both squirrel and a chestnut fell on my head. Each encounter was unforseen and also completely terrifying. The first occurred when I was jogging through Fremont Park a few Sundays ago, spacing out, watching kids kick around a black-and-white checkered ball, and reciting a monologue from a Humphrey Bogart film to myself, just for practice. Then, as I passed beneath a large birch tree, my ear caught the sounds of a scuffle kicking up in the branches directly overhead. But before I’d even had time to ponder the cause or source of the commotion, BLAMMO! A fat brown squirrel came tumbling out of the corona of leaves, whizzed past my head, and landed with a muffled, wet, stomach-turning THUD, flat on its ass, in the middle of the asphalt path directly to my left. I stopped short, my hands flew to my mouth and I let out a sub-human yelp of terror. The squirrel, clearly shaken by the high-dive plunge, just sat there. He looked flattened and pained, and he was staring straight into my eyes with this look of total shock and incomprehension. We just stared at each other for a piercing, terrible moment before he limped off into a nearby shrub. And I ran home. So I guess, technically, he didn’t fall on my head, but it certainly felt close enough to count.
Then, two days later, I was cycling along a tree-lined street near Martin Luther King Boulevard, minding my own business, when … THWACK! I was aerially and painfully accosted on the bike helmet by a heavy, spiky, green pod containing a ripe chestnut. I know it contained a ripe chestnut because it whopped my helmet with such force that it cracked itself open on the way down. The impact, in turn, released the ripe chestnut, which then rolled down the side of my helmet and hit the ground. My ears rang for 10 minutes afterwards. Again, something sinister seemed afoot. Maybe the animals have a better patch on what? I might ask one, because, speaking of close encounters of the beastly kind …
Third: I can (almost) talk to animals. We got a wonderful new roommate two weeks ago, and she brought with her a large, fuzzy cat called Numi. I’ll admit that I was a little surprised by how hard it was, at first, to communicate with her. I was rendered quite self-conscious by the strained timbre of our early dialogues, which mostly consisted of me annoying her with a never-ceasing litany of uncreative, muddled reimaginings of her name and genus, including: “Nummers,” “Kitty Kitty,” “Puss Pus” and “Noom.” Most of the time, during these interactions, she looks as confused as I feel.
A little context: My parents were not pet people. They were beige carpet and gray couch people, which means that as I child, I was denied the pleasure of sharing my domicile with a shedding, pooping, scratching fur-sibling. At midlife, I am opening to the companionate concept of a cat, although I am still mildly terrified that I will wake up to find it seated atop my face, trying its best to smother the life out of me. (A friend’s cat did this to me once when I was about seven and it was as terrifying as it sounds).
Still, I’ve met the arrival of my new feline cohabitant with a good measure of elan. Cats are surprisingly entertaining, and what they lack in congeniality they certainly make up for with their own brand of bitchy pluck and mettle. However. These awkward, one-way conversations between Numi and I had left me wondering: what, exactly, is one supposed to say to a cat? I’ve found myself casting about for dialogue, or at least for a monologue that isn’t so painfully unimaginative as the Kitty-Puss-Puss-Nummers reel I’ve been harassing her with whenever we meet in the hall. I’m taking my antihistamines, practicing a repertoire, and working on my hissy-face. I think we’re getting somewhere. Mostly, now, we just stare at each other a lot. It’s sort of telepathic and wonderful. It feels like progress. They say when the world does end, either through global warming, God-wrath, or a pissy scourge of alternate origin that wipes clean the earth, cockroaches, rats and ants will be the only sentient creatures left. But if I get lucky and happen to be standing inside a bank vault, combat bunker or hermetically sealed cave when that last day on earth comes, I’m sure I’ll be glad for this inter-species chat-practice. How else am I going to communicate with the family of of packrats that takes me in when Armageddon falls?
Of course, we cannot know these things, can we? Well, actually, you can’t know these things. I can. Because …
Fourth: I can time travel. In a fit of ardor, we signed up for a cable television subscription last month. We did it for the Spanish channels, ostensibly, and the linguistic and cultural reference points they offer lazy global citizens such as ourselves. In a poetic sense, my cable television subscription permits me to travel back and forth in time at will. But I am beginning to suspect that I am a rather smug brand of time-traveler.
The first thing I watched (after stumbling “accidentally” upon an On-Demand Spanish channel called “Comedias Calientes,” which was playing a sitcom detailing the questionably ethical exploits of a gynecologist whose patients are winsome floozies who pair kitten heels with their blue dressing gowns and insist on frequent pelvic exams) was a few minutes of that old action-adventure standard “Timecop.” The movie purports to depict the once-and-future Year 2004, in which everybody (even, like, bums and dogs and stuff) has access to time-travel technology. But only “Timecops” can legally make use of the technology. And Jean Claude is a timecop. You following?
A decade and two rereleases later, this Brave New Future has yet to materialize, but man, does that movie have some amazing gadgets. Terrible, hilarious, ridiculous gadgets. I only watched for a few minutes, but that was enough time for me to see the inimitable Jean Claude Van Damme catapulted through time in some sort of magic sled that vanished into thin air right before it hit a brick wall and then dumped him out in the middle of the road at some indeterminate moment in the future right as a semi-truck came careening toward him at about a zillion miles per hour. He hits the pavement just in time, the truck whizzes on, and he locks himself inside a phone booth. Then, he whips out a flat, textbook-sized iPad-looking gadget (I’m not sure where he was carrying it; I was in the bathroom for that part) and hooks it up to a payphone receiver with a bunch of wires in order to plug in to some large, global information system that will give him instructions on what to do next. Wait … Maybe I’ve got that backwards? Maybe the phone booth scene came before the truck scene?
At any rate … I felt smug just looking at that silly tablet. Because we’re lightyears past 2004. Because that fantasy smart tablet is now so pedestrian a good that even toddlers own and operate them. If I were truly able to transport myself back to the year the movie was made (and the graphics are so terrible that I have to assume it was filmed pre-Jurassic Park, though it was released in ‘94), I would march straight onto the Timecop set, pry that ridiculous device from Jean Claude’s nimble-yet-meaty fingers, and I’d throw it at the ground and stomp on it. Hard.
Don’t you realize how ridiculous this thing is going to look to people from the actual future, I’d hiss at Director Peter Hyams. It doesn’t even have voice command recognition! And there aren’t any payphones in the future! They’ve all been turned into saunas and photo booths!
Then, I’d demand that he dream up something cooler and less possible. And I have a host of suggestions at the ready: a robot that makes you sandwiches. A Bullshit Detector. Protective Headgear for squirrels.
Oh, they’d lock me up, alright, in a room with padding on the walls, and feed me tapioca pudding laced with horse tranqs for the rest of my once-and-future days. But I wouldn’t care. In the end, what does it matter if you start at the beginning or the end? It’s all circular, and surprising, and satisfyingly obsolete.
I have seen the future. And it looks utterly silly.