Return Engagements (Book Two) PART 19

(Continued from part eighteen)

Half an hour later he walked into the restaurant and sat next to me at the counter.

You have to be hungry,” I said.

I suppose I should be,” he said, “but I guess you’re right about this affecting me. I don’t feel like driving either. Is where you’re staying far?”

I explained that I was staying downtown and we agreed to take the train then order room service.

As we walked into the station I couldn’t help noticing how much he looked like a hippie. His hair was moderately short (though it had recently been quite long) but most everything else about him was hippie-ish. I know that I didn’t particularly feel like a hippie at that time, but looking at myself now, it was pretty clear that I was.

So…” he said.

Sorry, I’m just remembering when I was… as you are now. It’s been a long time, you know, and confronting you in this world, with all the little details that go with it… it’s like a huge chunk of my memories are getting an electric shock.”

Huh… I guess that makes sense.”

I patted him on the back. “Remember, my memories are forty years older than yours.”

That would be strange.”

I looked at him and laughed. “It will be!” I assured him. And at this, finally, he laughed out loud. And from there I went into a basic explanation of my missions to the past.

That’s heavy,” was all he said.

The rest of the ride downtown was spent mostly in small talk, which seemed best to both of us. But once we changed to the subway train at Belmont I began thinking about walking into a hotel room with him and spending days in close proximity. And so I stood to get off at State and Lake, so we’d have time to talk before we reached the hotel. He silently followed.

Paul,” I said as we reached the top of the stairs on State Street, “it will help you to be very sure that I’m telling you the truth. We obviously have a special kind of connection between us, but you’ll have to sort all of this on your own. Why don’t you ask me more questions about our youth?”

I’m not sure,” he said. I’d forgotten that I used that phrase in that way; it meant he was hesitant to step into something.

Or how about this: I’ll just ramble about things from Decatur, our friends, our adventures, Dick and the Warriors, and the group. You can stop me if you want to ask anything.”

He nodded and I proceeded, telling the stories of our shared life… the triumphs, tragedies, secret wishes and so on. We continued right past the hotel, by a mutual but unspoken agreement, and circled back around.

Then, he picked up his head, stopping me.

What did I do?” he asked. “Did I do important things? Did I have a family? Do you have children… or grandchildren?”

I won’t recount the rest of that conversation; it was intensely personal. But a few minutes later we were huddled together crying, on the corner of Jackson and State as a hundred people walked or drove by. More than anything else, we were thanking each other. I owed him an incredible amount and he owed me an incredible amount… one owed that other more than could ever be paid and the other owed it right back. It was an exceptional experience.

Finally we pulled apart and I said, “We’d better get to the hotel.”

Once back, we ordered food and I spent the rest of the evening answering questions about the future.

* * * * *

The next morning I woke before he did and took a shower. I found a line from an old Fleetwood Mac song running through my head: “The gypsy that I was.” The hippie that I was, I said to myself, beginning to understand why I hadn’t felt like it at the time: I was a few years behind the center of the hippie movement. I was around a pretty fair amount of it, but I was the kid on the bicycle, not one of the singers and dancers. I had always felt one step removed.

As I went through my memories, however, I was forced to admit that I hadn’t missed very much. From the National Guard marching into Chicago, to young people thronging Lerner Park (anyone from my era in West Rogers Park will be most amused to read this), to people ODed on the grass, to concerts in the park (Styx, in their very early days), I was there. I even made an effort to get to Woodstock. (I owe my mom an apology for that… I was 11.)

And so I had to admit that I really had been something of a hippie.

And strangely enough, I had the same experience with the Cypherpunks. I hadn’t been there at the very beginning and so felt like I was always catching up. In retrospect, however, I was very much in the game.

I might have thought about this more, but by the time I left the bathroom the young man was ready to take his own shower, and so I pulled a chair to a window, looking out upon 1978 yet again. Soon I’d leave it behind for a second time, and the odds of coming back for a third tour were close to nil.

Cleaned up, we ordered breakfast and started talking about young Paul’s recent past, and soon enough I found myself asking him questions like, “When’s the last time you saw Uncle Dave?” “When’s the last time you saw Mom?” “How well do you remember the incident in Rogers Park after JFK was shot?”

I was trying to sync my memories with his, not because of any decision I made, but as a balancing mechanism. And there was something unusual about it. I stopped and half-indicated to Paul that I needed a moment.

He understood.

What I had done was to speak to him without any internal analysis… as in “Should I ask him about this?” And I realized that I was talking to him as if I was conducting an internal dialog… filters disengaged.

That, of course, spawned a long conversation between he and I, though I did think about that one before I started it.

In the end we decided that we were, more or less, identical twins, temporally separated. We also decided that this was just a model. It might be useful under the circumstances, but we agreed to use it only as long as was necessary, then try to just let the relationship be whatever it was, with no tags attached.

Soon thereafter, we decided that we’d like to take a road trip together. He had a driver’s license and I had money, so it wouldn’t be a problem. I stipulated that I wanted the old man version, stopping fairly early and staying at nice hotels, and he agreed. We called around and found a good car, canceled the suite, paid a ridiculously high deposit on the car, took Lake Shore Drive to the Stevenson, the Kennedy and the Skyway, then headed south on I-65.

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