Back to the Future
A little magical intervention helps one man remember to live in the moment
November 8, 2010
At Potbelly’s restaurant in northern Colorado, I asked my brother Frank, “You ever wish you could go back in time? Do your life over?”
Photo by dreamstime.com
“Nope,” he said. “Never. Especially since there are already things we have to do all over again tonight. Like open up the cabin, put up the Christmas tree and wrap presents. Plus, we have to set up Mikey’s new train set.”
Our eavesdropping barmaid put two quarters in the jukebox. From the juke came a twangy southern voice, “Ah, breaker one-nine, this here’s the Rubber Duck. You got a copy on me, Pig Pen, c’mon?”
“That Convoy song really takes me back,” said Frank, who suddenly lost 50 pounds and grew a dark beard. In the back bar mirror, I saw a younger me with Elvis sideburns. On TV, Andy Williams was singing Christmas songs. Two men at the bar talked about Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton.
“Omigod!” I said. We’re ... we’re back in Minnesota at the Cass Lake Municipal Bar. Remember that Christmas Eve party we had at the cabin? You were living out there, going to college at Bemidji. Christina threw your “Playboy” in the fire. We had to douse the flue fire with snow.”
“Yeah,” Frank said. “You were broke, just divorced. I hadn’t met Linda yet. We had a heavy snow that night. I remember we had to park off the highway and walk in. The woods lit up with that strange white light. This is sooooo spooky. I wanna go back to 2010.”
Outside, Frank’s ’68 Impala sat in front of Rod’s Barber Shop just as it had on Christmas Eve long ago. At the cabin turn-off, we parked on the shoulder and started walking. The woods lit up again with an eerie white light for a few seconds.
That night, we sat by the fire and talked about the futures we knew we’d have: our successes, failures, disappointments; the women we’d meet, and marry, or not. At dawn when the shooting star streaked over the lake, Frank asked, “Would you really want to do the rest of this over again if you could?” I didn’t answer.
“You ever get over Christina?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
We doused the fire with snow, locked up and left. Thieves had stripped the Impala of its tires and rims ... again. “I guess we wait for a ride to town,” said Frank.
A Kenworth pulling logs stopped for us. “You coming?” Frank asked. “Yes, no?”
I looked away from town a long moment into a different future. Then I said, “Yeah, I’m coming.”
The driver keyed his mic, “Pig Pen, this here’s the Rubber Duck. And I’m about to put the hammer down.” In a flash of spiraling light, we were back at Potbelly’s. The barmaid smiled at me.
I smiled back. “Pig Pen?” I said.
“God rest ye merry gentlemen,” she said. “Let nothing you dismay. Now go set up that train set.”
Paul Sullivan has never met a cabin he didn’t like.