Coming unstuck in time with Kurt

Opinion: Editorials

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

With apologies to the late-great Kurt Vonnegut:

John Rice has come unstuck in time. One moment it's 1972 and he has shoulder-length hair and wearing Army surplus clothing and taped together gym shoes. Suddenly, it's 2016 and he's a gray-haired Grandpa in suit and tie. He travels back to his crib in Brookfield, where he's wet and cold and waiting for someone to pick him up. When his mom comes, he says "Goo."

He's used to this type of travel. He's been doing it since he was a little boy. In 1960, John Rice stood at the busy intersection of State and Madison and imagined that everyone he saw would be dead someday. So it goes. That included John Rice. He looked up heaven in "Ripley's Believe It or Not" to see if we were all going there. 

A scientist had used the measurements of heaven found in Revelations and calculated it wasn't big enough to accommodate all the Earthlings, who had died. The scientist said that the dead Earthlings were standing on each other's shoulders in stacks that were many miles high. So it goes. In Kilgore Trout's novel Towers of Death, he pictured the same scenario. All is well in heaven, until a dead Earthling at the bottom of a stack has to scratch his nose.

John Rice didn't just think of death and heaven; he focused on the present, concentrating on opening shrink-wrapped packages. He used scissors, knives and brute force but could not open them. Then he remembered reading Kilgore Trout's novel, The Secret Package. It was about a box that contained the secret of happiness, the cure for cancer and instructions for how to open it. But no one on Earth could open the package. So people kept dying of cancer. So it goes.

Sometimes time travel scared John Rice. He recalled the helpless feeling when he was 7 and his father threw him into the deep end of the pool. His father made him tread water for 30 minutes to "drown-proof" his son. It worked. Then he traveled to his honeymoon, where he was sitting on a mule, staring down at the sheer drop to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. A ranger died that day, training a new mule. So it goes.

Other times he visited very pleasant places he had been. He's playing golf in Ireland on a brilliant, sunny day, gazing out at the blue sea. He's holding his firstborn and he time travels to the day she has her first baby. He's cross-country skiing with his wife on their second date and they stop to make out. He wishes he could only visit these places and not the ones where he was hurt, or lost, or sad. 

Kilgore Trout believed that Earthlings should only keep their good memories and forget the bad. In his novel, Memory Machine, people have their bad memories erased but keep the good ones. John Rice is back in First Grade. The teacher holds up his paper, bearing a gold star. She passes it back to him, but the girl in front of him drops it to the floor and tears it apart with her patent leather shoes. He can't erase the memory but is thinking of forgiving her before she dies. So it goes.

He leaves First Grade and is climbing the steps to the National Veterans Art Museum (see article, page 4). John Rice was never in the Army but likes to watch movies about war, though many of the characters die. So it goes.  He's inside the museum surrounded by white walls. The flying saucers had never come for John Rice but he's finally arrived on the planet Tralfamadore. The walls are covered with drawings of Tralfamadorians and other strange creatures. "Kilgore was here" is scrawled on the wall. 

John Rice hears a bird chirp on Milwaukee Avenue. It says "Poo-tee-weet."

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.

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