Osgood Millimeter was fuming. The time was half-past 1982 and his Checker cab was stuck in traffic – he was going to be late for his co-op board meeting again. It was times like these he idly dreamed of having one of those two-way TV/radio wristwatches used in “Dick Tracy.” But he knew that would never happen during his lifetime, and he was only 40.
The radio was playing, its music pushing up against the wall of heat in the non-air-conditioned cab. Osgood thought if he had to listen to “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky III one more time he’d scream. As if on cue, the song’s headache-inducing guitar thumps stopped, and static filled the tinny radio speaker.
And then, suddenly, he was beside himself.
There on the seat beside him was another Osgood Millimeter – an older one, maybe by 30 years. Osgood knew this immediately, as if he’d just remembered something he’d forgotten, and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to meet your future self.
“Because now that we’ve met, I remember this, and I’m you, so you remember,” Future Osgood said. “It’s a conundrum. We don’t actually have time travel in 2012, either, but there was this thing and yadda, yadda, and now I’m here. Sorry – I forgot no one was saying ‘yadda, yadda’ yet. Make that ‘blah, blah, blah.’ Also, only you can see me.”
“That’s fine,” Osgood said, completely accepting it. Speaking quietly while the driver rapped the radio with his knuckles – Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” now filled the air – he asked, “How come I don’t remember why you’re here?” The cab finally began to move.
“Because I haven’t told you yet,” Future Osgood replied. “Naturally.”
“Of course,” Osgood replied. “How could I not have known that?” He was getting a little tired of himself already, and they’d only just met. “Are you here to tell me what stocks to invest in, so that we become rich?”
“No,” Future Osgood said, “because things have worked out OK and I don’t want us getting killed in that Concorde accident or climbing Mount Everest with that group or whatever else it is rich people do. Too risky.”
“Well,” Osgood considered, “that’s some relief, at least.” Now the cab was pulling up to his building. It was trash day, so the incinerator was puffing black smoke.
“You’ve forgotten what day this is, haven’t you?” his future self said. “Remember? Today’s your 40th birthday.”
“Yes, I remembered, and don’t remind me. I … oh, for – !” He had forgotten his keys. His building was too small to afford a doorman, so he hit all the intercom buttons until someone buzzed him in.
“You won’t have to do that in the future,” Future Osgood said, as the two of them entered the vestibule. “First, you’ll be in a nicer building. Second, we’ll have electronic keyless entry, like a garage-door opener for people. And third – wait’ll you hear this! – small co-ops like yours will have a ‘virtual doorman.’ That’s a two-way video setup with a central monitoring center, where attendants let you in, screen visitors, and accept deliveries.”
“Awwww, so no robot doormen?” Osgood said. “Next you’ll be telling me there are no flying cars, or videophones.”
“Don’t be snarky.”
“Don’t be what?”
“Oh, sorry. People don’t say that yet. Don’t be, uh, sarcastic with a patronizing tone. As it happens, we do have videophones. It’s called Skype, and you use it with a webcam on your laptop.”
“You realize that last sentence made no sense at all,” Osgood said, pulling down a note taped to the vestibule wall, saying the boiler for their No. 6 oil had passed city inspection. “Laptop? What am I, Santa Claus?” Geez, is that how I’m going to be in the future, Osgood wondered. Suh-nuh-arkey?
Apparently so. “You know that ‘personal computer’ IBM introduced last year, your time? Or the Apple II before that? Same thing, only the size of notebooks and you can put ’em on your lap. Skype is the software that lets you ‘phone up’ other computers, and a webcam is the laptop’s built-in video camera. If you had that, you could have attended the board meeting remotely from work and not gotten stuck in a cab during rush hour like a…”
“Like a what?” Osgood snapped. “And this camera’s called ‘web-something’ why?” The two were ascending in the elevator, headed to the apartment where the board meeting was being held. Osgood wondered if they had super-duper aspirins in the future for the headache he was giving himself.
“‘Web’ is short for ‘World Wide Web.’ That’s part of the internet, which is the network that connects everybody’s computer to everybody’s else’s. It’s actually around right now, for universities and the Pentagon and things. It’ll start going public in 1989.” God, am I already this boring? Osgood thought. “Then instead of having to send paper copies of co-op documents to the managing agent or prospective buyers using regular mail or messengers, you can send electronic copies using electronic mail! You’ll just read the stuff right there on your computer screen!
“And,” Future Osgood added, after Osgood had sat down with the other board members and taken out pen and notepad to record the minutes, “we’ll have portable devices even smaller than laptops! They’re called ‘tablets,’ and ‘smartphones,’ and they’ve got touchscreen keyboards so you can take notes and not have to retype stuff later! Smartphones, they’re these handheld portable telephones, like the Dick Tracy thing, crossed with a computer! Isn’t that amazing? Huh? Huh? Isn’t it?”
Future Osgood was on a roll, now. It was all Osgood could do to take down minutes with his annoying older self jabbering in his ear. How was he going to get rid of him? Oh, God, he wasn’t planning to retire here in this ‘simpler’ era of 1982, was he? If I kill him, do I kill myself? No, no, it’s the other way around…
“Forget paper newsletters!” Future Osgood carried on, excitedly. “With the World Wide Web, we all have ‘websites’ for our co-ops, where people can get up-to-the-minute news on their computer screens – including their ‘tablets’ and their ‘smartphones,’” he noted, stretching the words out as if he were talking to a child. Do they have ray guns in the future, Osgood wondered, and if so, do you need a license to carry one? Maybe he could get someone else’s future self to do the deed. Not to hurt him, of course, just, you know, order him back to where he came from.
“Ohmigod, and solar panels!” he was saying. There was other stuff in between, but Osgood was tuning him out. “Buildings generate part of their own electricity and get credits for any excess they feed into the grid! And Con Ed stops being a monopoly in 1997! And we’ve started replacing incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient light-emitting diodes!” What the hell’s a diode and I DON’T CARE! Osgood was screaming to himself. “And we’ve got cleaner-burning heating oil that we get from plants, called ‘biofuel,’ and instead of thermostats we’ve got ‘building automation software’ that uses wireless sensors to read inside temperatures and then signal the risers to increase or decrease heat in pinpointed spots and even turn off lights when nobody’s in the room and…!
“STOP!!” Osgood yelled. Everybody in the room turned to look at him, and a red flush of embarrassment began itching. “I’m sorry. Not you. Me. I’m … not feeling well and I have to … to stop. Eleanor, here, take over. I’m sorry.”
Osgood hurried out of the apartment, went quickly to his own, and splashed water on his face. When he looked up from the sink, future him was watching benignly in the mirror.
“This should have been the greatest moment of my life,” Osgood turned and told him, fuming but too exhausted to have any passion in his pronouncement. “Who doesn’t dream of this when he’s a kid – being able to meet his future self and find out if he’s going to make good decisions and get through adolescence and see how cool life’s going to be in the future?”
“Did I mention we have flat-screen TVs?”
“Shut up. That ‘internet’ thing, with the computers? That’s, like, the most amazing thing ever. And you make it sound like, like … like normal, everyday life!”
“Well … gee, Ozzy.” Future Osgood was crestfallen. Maybe he should have found a better time to do this. Maybe he should have brought back pictures, to really dazzle him. Hell, maybe he should have made stuff up about flying cars. And jet packs – everybody thought there’d be jet packs, way back when.
Future Osgood shifted his feet and looked at his watch, which looked exactly like watches in 1982. “You see … it’s our birthday today. And I just thought this would be a really cool gift.”
Now it was Osgood’s turn to feel bad. Of course – this was what he had dreamed of all his life. I’m meeting my future self. Well, he thought ruefully, doesn’t that just make this like any other holiday where family comes over? Expectations run so high and everybody knows each other so well – you’re inevitably disappointed. Even with a miracle like this. Technology changes, but people…?
“Not so much,” Future Osgood said. “That’s another phrase we use. This is all coming back to me now,” he said, mostly to himself. “Hey, when you’re 70,” he told Osgood, “you don’t always remember so well.”
“Wow,” Osgood said quietly. “I’m sorry. This really is monumental. Can you stay a little longer? Tell me a little more?”
“Of course I can. But first promise me that all that other stuff, about buildings and things, that you’ll remember them and be a good, forward-thinking co-op board member.”
“What? Well, sure – I guess. But … why?”
“Because right here in New York, at this very moment, an enterprising woman is creating what will become this great and wonderful magazine for co-op and condo boards. She’s going to call it Habitat, and it’s going to help boards do a good job and keep their buildings solvent. And that’s going to keep the middle class here and stabilize the city. Without co-ops, Ozzy, New York is doomed. So you’re going to help her.”
The two of them spoke about it long into the night before Future Osgood finally had to go. It was enlightening. Osgood now knew that he and other co-op directors were doing something important. But he was a little disappointed to find that he never did change his first name.