Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Time Machines

I’m eating a frozen pizza, drinking a Sprite Zero, and thinking of time machines.

I’m not talking about H.G. Wells, or teleporting man-machine hybrids that look like a leaner version of the current California governor back to save the leader of the future resistance army.  I’ve probably mentioned this to others, but it always seems to come up in conversations with Michael, usually about writing.  Time machines are my shorthand for any stimulus that instantly beams me back to a previous era more than just simple nostalgia would.  It’s a touchstone of some kind that will automatically change my brain chemistry in a magical way and show me a brief view of a different world in my past.  It initiates a rush of memories about some forgotten time, some former lover or old job or just a series of events or common pattern that happened long enough ago that it takes that piece of machinery to take me back there.

This frozen pizza – it’s the Lean Cuisine Margherita pizza, a little personal pan thing you microwave for a two minutes thirty while it sits on its own box, turned inside out to reveal a little high tech silver cardboard browning thing that probably can’t be recycled and clogs up landfills.  Six weight watchers points.  In the summer of 2008, when Sarah was out of town and I needed to fend for myself for dinner, this was a common go-to.  In fact, I have a tally of everything I ate that summer (and it worked, so don’t knock it), and I ate one of these pizzas eleven times.  And almost every time, it was when I sat at my computer, listening to a Rockies game.  These things have a distinctive flavor, the artificial preservatives and synthetic garbage that keep the tomato sauce stable for a thousand years, the low-fat cheese, probably made with some soy crap to keep the calories and fat down.

It sounds horrible, but every time I eat one, I think of that summer, of obsessively watching everything I ate, writing down every food, shopping for the newest reduced-fat this and hundred-calorie-pack that.  It reminds me of the long walks I took in the ever-sunny Playa Del Rey tropics, the jogs on the sands of the Pacific, the breaks from working at home to go to the local Subway and get the same exact thing every day, because I had the points so dialed in.  Even though I was broke and panicked over money and applying for every god damned job on dice.com that popped up in the middle of a huge economic downturn, I really miss some parts of that summer.  And when I sit down with one of those pizzas, it’s a time machine that brings me back to July 1, 2008, when I had a pizza and a diet root beer and listened to Aaron Cook and the Rockies beat the Padres at home 4-0.

Here’s another:  I bought some new shampoo this weekend, a drug store off-brand that’s supposed to be like Axe, called Blade or Storm or Pyro, or Battle Mace or something.  (It was on sale, I needed shampoo.)  So I crack this stuff open on Monday morning, during my usual hurried 5:21 must-shower-fast-so-I-can-write shower.  And it smells really familiar, and I don’t know why, and then I realize it: it smells exactly like Obsession cologne, or as exact as those impostor fragrances get, anyway.  And this is a huge, huge time machine for a couple of reasons.  First, smells are absolutely the most precise way this phenomenon happens.  And second, I went through this doofus phase in 1992 where I was convinced that any deficiency in looks, physique, personality, lineage, education, or financial standing could be resolved with a pheromone-like effect from the right cologne.  And that spring, a friend of mine got me started on that particular Calvin Klein fragrance.  And I don’t remember if I talked about this in Summer Rain or not, but it was part of my standard uniform I’d wear on all of these failed first dates I went on that year, at least until I switched to Eternity, and then to Drakkar.  And now the smell of that stuff, or a facsimile shampoo, transports me back to 1992, when I drove up to Forest Hall in my beaten and rusted diesel VW Rabbit for my first date with Patty.   The rest of the story – well, go buy the book – but I fell for her, it was a month or six weeks of magic, then she left for Pittsburgh and broke my heart and did not give me a pen.

Speaking of time machines, I am supposed to be packing for a trip to Denver.  Wish me (and the Rockies) luck, and I’ll try to get the netbook rolling while I’m a mile up.