You seem to be avoiding the question: Why didn't my maverick win?
My Most Dear Readers,
After last week's mention of Uncle T's Magic Phone we have received numerous requests for more information on this bizarre and outlandish piece of telephonic technology. As well as receiving a handful of angered missives from readers who voted for the MacCain ticket and wish to know my thoughts as a former (brief) presidentero of these As of Yet Still United States.
To wit: Jarwaun and Trael, my earnest young assistants from the trailer park of Warren where I did sojourn for a time, mentioned last week of an uncle of theirs who had created a telephone or telephone-like device that could call itself backwards in time. Indeed, my many non-newtonian physicist readers will note, that such a device could not truly "call back in time," per se, but rather, due to the vagaries of quantum entanglement and the parallel theories of superstring and causality itself, he was actually calling temporally backwards into alternate instances of himself in adjacent iterations of the multiverse. Each of these, of course, was in many small details (and, occasionally, some very large strokes) quite different from the world he knew and, to a greater or lesser extent, loved, but in most cases his calls had their terminus in worlds sufficiently like ours, populated with people he knew in them, and recognizable in general form, if not in every last crossed i or dotted t. Only a few calls were answered, or initiated, by gibbering maniac Uncle Terries, or screaming-victims-to-an-unknowable-assault Uncle Terries, or unintelligibly foreign Uncle Terries.
Curious about this device and its practical applications, I instructed Jarwaun and Trael to lure their uncle into my lab with the promise of the holy Ventured Capital Vestments. Based upon Rob's explanation and a cursory googling, I determined that these were pajamas made of gold and a hat shaped not unlike a boomerang-in-flight. They were long nights of knitting, but my goal, she was attained, and with vigor.
He was a stout man, with a beard shaved into zebra stripes upon his visage. Dressed in a linen suit the color of sand, he strode purposefully into the lab. His arms were clasped behind his back and his head thrust forward at a precarious angle. He looked somewhat like a duck, were a duck to purchase an ill-fitting suit from the Salvation Navy or Air Force.
Uncle Terrence caught sight of himself in a mirror upon the wall and flipped open his cellular phone without breaking his purposeful stride. He pushed the single button on the face of the phone—a modified Nokia RAZR—and spoke, "Alright, you gonna get a call in a few minutes, or a few minutes ago, that tells you to shave your face into racing stripes. But don't do it. You look all a fool. Ignore that one. Try shavin' it all off. That'll stop any of those bad-beard messages getting through. We had enough of that." He stopped walking, and I could dimly hear jabbering from the other end of the call. "No," he said shortly, and with finality, "We have. For real." Uncle Terrence snapped the phone sharply and looked about for his nephews, who were standing next to my aquarium.
His phone rang, but he pointedly chose not to answer it.
"Phone ringing, Unca T." Trael said.
"You gonne let it go to voicemail."
"Canceled it," Uncle Terrence said, "All kinds a trouble, voicemail. You don't even want to know. Had voicemail, but couldn't sleep. The future voicemail was always callin' past voicemail, and leavin' each other messages about other voicemails; thing was a mess."
Terrence stopped when he took sight of my form, looming massive and threatening behind the reinforced glass. He withdrew his phone again and dialed. "Alright, so when the boys say they work for a monster squid, they ain't clownin'. Don't be all surprised when you meet him in a few hours." There was chatter from the other end and Terrence scowled, "You another Chinese-talkin' Terrence, ain't ya? Damn." He closed the phone, then told no one in particular, "I'll try again later. Got all the time in the—" his phone rang, and he answered absently, seemingly out of reflexive habit. "What?" he snapped. "Uh-hunh. No, I'm already there. Yeah, I was surprised. Try again earlier. We gonne nip this one in the bud, sooner or later." He snapped the phone closed again and slid it into his jacket's pocket, were it again rang. He squeezed the sides of the phone through the fabric of his jacket pocket, and the chirping ring was silenced. All that remained was the hub of the phone's vibrate.
Terrence closed the phone and turned to face me. "You the ninth person this month tried to buy my phone; why should I listen to you?"
I had not previously made my intentions known to the boys. This stunned me. "UNCLE TERRENCE, I HAD TOLD NO ONE THIS. HOW DID YOU KNOW?"
Uncle Terrence grinned and waggled a finger. He pulled out the phone and thumbed its only button. "When you go to the lab with the boys later, their boss wants to buy the phone. Pass it along." He hung up. "I know cause I told myself. I called myself just now, and heard it about six hours ago. Twice. And I got three calls about it last St. Patrick's day, but didn't have a damn clue what it was about. And I might have gotten a call about it when I was a boy, visiting cousins down in Georgia, but—" he waggled a horizontal hand to one side of his head, "all that's a little foggy, you know."
"YOU ARE A MAN IN CONSTANT DIALOGUE WITH YOURSELF. THIS INTRIGUES ME TO NO END."
"Yeah, well, it gets old quicker than you think." The phone buzzed again. His hand wandered towards the pocket, then abruptly stopped.
Uncle Terrence had about him the look of a man who knows much, but has no one to listen to him and so, like a dog too often struck, he cowered from any chance to explain. So I nudged. "PLEASE, MR. UNCLE TERRENCE, EXPLAIN UNTO ME THIS TIME-PHONE OF YOURS."
With giddy glee Terrence thumbed a switch on the side of the phone. "This here's the speaker phone switch-"
Trael interrupted. "Oh God no, Unca T., you can't do that."
"Boy. He's interested. Don't make me whoop you."
"But Unca T—" Trael's voice was pleading. It was the tone of a child begging his parent not to embarrass him. Upon reflection, I do believe Molly often uses this tone with Rob.
"Trael, you need to learn to respect your elders. We smarter than you, boy." With this statement—its truth unlikely—Uncle Terrence activated the voice mail and speakerphone capabilities simultaneously, filling the office with his future-chatter.
"These," he said over the clamor, "Are the some old voicemail. They kinda stack up and overlay and echo; don't know why they do that," he said as a pleasing woman's voice mechanically intoned, "Voicemail. You have four-hundred and fifty new messages. Message one-oh-bee . . . "
"—don't eat the fish at Arthur Treacher's today, that shit is off—"
"—but at four p.m. on Friday, November 21, the traffic is ass-slow on I-94. Try 696 maybe, or—"
"—zai di yu shi wo di xie—"
"—at four p.m. on Friday, November 21, the traffic is all fucked up on 696. I see a flipped over SUV on fire. Try I-94 or somethin—"
"—you'll punch him in the eye, scream, and then she'll get this bottle off the floor—
A voice coughed loudly on the phone, "—we all dead. They took everyone. They came from the earth. Fuckin mole men—"
We, all of us in the office, had gathered about Uncle Terrence's phone and at this we all of us blanched. Rob's mouth dropped open ever farther. Devo removed his leather cap and rubbed his bald pate. Molly squinted at the phone and looked about to gauge the reactions of others. My chromessence faded to a pale paper color and my skin became rounded and pliant. Jarwaun rolled his eyes and sighed loudly.
"He just kidding, guys," the older boy explained, "One of the future Uncle Ts is a lying dick. He always calling up and talking about mole men and vampires and zombies and asteroids hitting the earth—"
"You don't know that!" Trael snapped, "You always sellin' Unca Terry short. You don't know that there ain't future dimensions where that don't really happen for real. It's infinity and beyond; all of everything gotta happen sometime in one of them. Even mole men!"
Jarwaun did not acknowledge this counter argument, "Some Unc T's are just bastards, always tryin to scare us. That's all. Don't mean nuthin'. What he didn't tell you is that maybe nine people started out asking him about buying the phone since Halloween, but you see he still got it, 'cause once they mess around with it a little, they all see it ain't worth nuthin'."
As one, we looked to Terrence for confirmation. He held out his palms as his phone chattered on, as various hes prattled on about lost dry cleaning and junk bonds and where his keys may be in various universes, "I admit, there are some application problems, but the technology, that is solid. The problem, y'see, with all these parallel universes talkin to each other is that they different from us. One of me is a woman. One of me only speaks French. One of me just screams in terrible agony. Sometimes they talk about things that just impossible. It all just needs a little sorting out . . . you know, it's a software problem. Ain't no cellphone in the world that got great hardware and great software right out the box. You always strong on one, and need to get a different team of developers together to fix the other. That's all."
The phone chimed out, "—the multi-gens will taste awful in the morning. Make sure you use the second stomach to digest them—"
"—shitfuckgoddamit they elected Bush! Al Gore is a smart man! How they choose Bush? I need to get drunk now—"
"—cat food, three for one at the Farmer Jack!—"
The energy palpably left the room. "So what you're saying," Rob said, "I'm just checking because, like, I usually get left behind on this shit. What you're saying is that the phone calls come from crazy people, from worlds that aren't like ours, from liars, and from yous that only care about, like, totally petty bullshit?"
Uncle Terrence slumped, "I'm willing to come down in my asking price some."
"This, uh, this isn't as cool as I was expecting." Rob finished, then walked back to his cubicle, where his Kraft Easy Mac had cooled and gelled appetizingly.
Terrence's face stormed over and closed like a clam snapping shut. The pause filled the room like cement slowly filling the foundational space of a house. Upon the cement we built a home of silence and decorated it with lacunae. My employees drifted away, back to work. Jarwaun went to the entertainment chamber to play upon the Xbox. Trael, Terrence and I stood around as the phone continued playing stored voicemails.
"—squid is about to ask you a question, Terrence. And you pig-headed and stubborn and your feelings is hurt from what that dumb white boy said, but you should answer him truthfully—"
"TERRENCE, MY READERS KEEP ASKING ME ABOUT THE ELECTION. THEY WISH TO KNOW WHY THEIR MAN, THE MAC-CANE, LOST TO THE UNEXPERIENCED O'BAMA. IT OCCURS TO ME THAT YOU ARE IN A PARTICULARLY GIFTED POSITION TO BE ABLE TO EXPLAIN THIS. TELL ME NOW: IN THE WORLDS WHERE MAC-CANE WON, WHAT WAS DIFFERENT? WHAT FACTORS LEAD TO HIS VICTORY?"
Terrence gritted his teeth and refused to talk. He stared at the phone in his leathery hand, its screen cracked in one corner.
Another voicemail spoke its wisdom into the room. "—seriously, Terry, tell the monster the answer—"
Terrence snapped the phone shut. He stared at the device for long minutes, his head hung low. "You know more than you say. I know that about you. At least five mes left this office badly injured. Five others left with jobs. One left with both, one killed you in that tank. Lotsa mes didn't even show up. Good for me." He lifted his head slowly and looked me in my optically perfect eyes. "But I don't think you even know the half of what a pain in the ass this phone is. Worse than the too-much-knowin' is the knowin' how much more you could know if you could just knock the kinks out of the system." He slipped the phone defensively into his pocket, "Don't know that I wanna sell right now, even if you askin'"
I was not sure, then, if I was or was not.
"Sometimes I get a call, about a car about to wreck, about a girl about to get hit raw by some boy rubbin up on her, 'bout an old lady 'bout to get hit with a brick for her damn purse full of nuthin' but kleenex and a bridge card with no food stamps left on it, and I'm holdin' that phone and thinkin' I got an obligation to my fellow man to stop it that shit from happening, but also thinkin' What if the information is wrong? What if future-me is just fuckin with present-me? Or if it's just inaccurate, a me from a universe that's just a little too different, and so the relationships don't hold. Not different in any big way, just a few minor details that ain't so minor if I bust into a room and break up two happy folks makin' love instead of one scandalous mutherfucker rammin' a passed out girl." He shook his head. "On top of it all, in the end, I'm paralyzed from doing a damn thing because I can't trust myself. What the fuck does that say about me?"
"NO MORE THAN IT SAYS ABOUT ANY MAN. AND NO LESS."
"I'll answer your question, m;man. In all of the universes—the parallel worlds that call me, that I call into—in all of them Obama won." He paused. "Now that don't mean it was inevitable. There are worlds where I never made this phone, worlds where I died. Worlds where I'm sure I never had the chance to go to school, where I couldn't scrape together the dough for the poll tax, or worlds where I grew up a slave. But in every world where I was free and educated and alive Obama won."
The phone rang and Uncle Terrence answered wordlessly. He listened, then smiled broadly and hung up. "Looks like I'll be seein' you at the parade, berserker," Uncle Terrence grinned malevolently. "Zai jian." He turned and sauntered from my lab. Despite myself, I neither struck him dead, nor shouted a desperate job offer in his wake, nor made an attempt to offer my finely crocheted gold pajamas in trade for his occasional hell of a phone.
Until Next Time,
The Giant Squid
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson