Wherein Brown sells his stickpin and buys a new wardrobe.
[Last time: Brown, a time traveler from 1957, landed in a Jo-Ann Fabrics parking lot circa 2017. After concealing his capsule in the bushes, he took off on foot to explore this strange new world.]
I passed a newspaper vending machine but didn’t have the 100 credits necessary to purchase a paper. The front page hanging in the machine’s window confirmed that I had indeed made it to 2017, but my excitement was tempered by the day’s headline: “President’s Latest Tweet Stirs International Uproar.” Dear God, had we been overtaken by alien bird people? No wonder the man-boy in the parking lot was so angry.
“International” was a key term, too. Our expert’s prediction that the world of the future would be controlled by one central government seemed to have not come to pass. America was still a sovereign nation, albeit one apparently governed by a bird man.
Cars were everywhere. In 2017 everyone was wealthy enough to own one. I walked for miles without spotting a bus, train, or street car. Eventually I arrived at a store name Reliable Gun and Pawn. Inside hung strange looking guitars, televisions no thicker than a Reader’s Digest, rifles, and what looked be be automobile wheels designed to look like gaudy, sculpted hubcaps. A glass showcase was filled with watches, jewelry, and precious coins. I stared closely, trying to see whether any were dated 1957.
A large, menacing Negro entered from a back room, wiping his mouth with a paper napkin. I glanced at the rifles, but they were out of reach. It was unlikely that they were loaded, anyway. “May I help you?” the Negro asked.
I breathed a sigh of relief. “Yes, thank you,” I said. “Would you get the owner for me, boy? I’d like to make a deal.”
He stared at me for a long moment, then said in a very measured voice that didn’t mask his irritation, “I am the owner. How may I help you?” A Negro business owner on the white side of town!
I removed the stickpin from my silver ascot and placed it on the counter. “How many credits will you offer me for this?” I asked.
He examined the piece closely. “I can only give you melt for the gold, but that’s the biggest, clearest diamond I’ve ever seen. I can offer 5 for the rock,” he said.
“Five thousand. Dollars.”
“Are you asking me if I’ll give you more in store credit?”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “You still call credits ‘dollars,’ is that right?”
“What is this?” the big Negro asked. “You can’t film in here. I don’t have time for YouTube pranks anyway.”
“What is YouTube?”
“Do you want the 5,000 dollars? My Hot Pocket is getting cold.”
My hot pocket is getting cold. I loved his colorful pawnbroker slang, but I loved his offer even more. A full year’s salary, just for one diamond! “Yes, please. Let’s deal before your pocket chills,” I said.
The cash of the future differed somewhat from 1957’s, but not as much as Friedlander anticipated. It was still rectangular and still mostly green, but the great economist was wise to assume we couldn’t manufacture passable currency. I couldn’t say the same for Christophe D’Oro. He may be the greatest fashion designer of our time, but his caped silver jumpsuit looked like a Halloween costume next to the future’s contemporary outerwear. With money in my pocket, my next stop was a clothing store.
We have choice in 1957, but nothing like 2017. This store was the size of an airplane hangar and packed so full of goods that customers barely had room to walk. After I explained to the salesgirl what dungarees are, she led me to the Levi’s section of the store–an entire section. Blue jeans were stacked in floor to ceiling cubbies like books in a library.
“So, what are you looking for exactly?” she asked.
“A 29-inch waist and a 32 inseam, please,” I said.
“No, what are you looking for?” she repeated. My face must have registered confusion. “Loose fit, relaxed fit, boot cut, skinny, pre-washed, acid-washed, stone-washed, button fly, classic fit….”
“Classic fit,” I said. “And do you have undershirts advertising sports teams? Those seem to be in vogue.”
“I’m sure we can find you something.”
“You’re a swell little lady, very helpful. Why don’t you go get me your manager so that I can tell him what a good job his girls are doing?”
“This girl is the manager,” she said. “Do you need anything else?”
I left the store 150 dollars lighter but decked out like a modern man child. Paying full price for faded blue jeans seemed silly, but at least they looked like I’d been wearing them for years–all the better to blend in with these future people. I wore a black and orange undershirt sporting a San Francisco Giants logo. Imagine that–the New York Giants in San Francisco! Atop my head I wore a red baseball cap embroidered with the words “Make America Great Again.”
What did the cryptic message mean? Sixty years into the future America seemed like a fantastic place where every citizen could afford a fancy car and expensive dungarees; where televisions the size of movie screens hung like paintings upon every wall; where Negroes and women ran businesses.
Sixty years on, what wasn’t great about America? The answer wasn’t clear, but my best guess was that my future fellow citizens must be at war with the alien bird people who had infiltrated their government. I pulled the brim of my baseball cap low, and headed for a coffee shop where I might sit and observe a bit more before making any hasty moves.