In any case, my high-school rival had just been hired as a freelance theater critic. As he was leaving, I slid up next to a coworker and pointed him out. "Hey, remember how I told you about my high-school rival?" I whispered. "That's him. Everything I said about him was true."
I soon left the office to work from home for the rest of the day, or so I said. In reality, I went over to my old rival's parents' house, where he was staying for a time. I noticed my name on a to-do list with a checkmark next to it, written on a giant sheet of graph paper, and I said, "Hey, that's cool—I've been writing my to-do list on graph paper, too!" (In this future, I had been.) We talked for a bit; then my brother came by, and I experienced a momentary problem of audience, as I'd wanted to talk to each of them separately.
Nonetheless, I ended up talking to both of them, and it's what they agreed on that's important: I needed a new job, one that wasn't just slave labor for someone else's interests. I needed to follow my original, true purpose, and do something greater with my life.
"Yes," I said. "I know. But it's difficult, you know? It's not as easy as you make it sound, especially not to find a new job in my field at this time."
Then I had to leave; my ship had to travel a very specific route to get back to the state we'd arrived from, as it was sort of a pirate vessel, in that we were deliberately bending the rules of interstate commerce to get to where we were going. You couldn't go through certain states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas) in the wrong order, and none of them could be your final destination, else your flight lost its free, unquestioned status. The pilots were vets and knew what they were doing; it was a little like redeeming box tops for rebates or something, you had to follow all the rules just right. So we got going...
...and then I was in a warehouse, with many white-painted steel fire stairs going up and down and boxes of old notecards and things everywhere—such was the current state of the ol' college newspaper office. I saw some old art-notecards addressed to me, complimenting me on a job well done in some distant epoch.
My mother and I were going to go shopping among some pallets of pirated cheap movies that had arrived there, but the guy wanted to sell us a Blu-ray disc for $35; when we balked, he pulled the plastic shrink-wrap flat and we saw it was actually marked $65. Then I realized the whole thing was just a scam to get the most money possible for these discs, which were really worth maybe $5 at most. We moved on—
—and then I saw someone who shouldn't have been in that realm, resembling the character Devon Banks from 30 Rock, and I raced to catch up with him. I thought this warehouse was inescapable, but it turned out that a piece of colorfully chalked plywood, part of an old theater set by its appearance, was in fact an exit to this realm's "backstage." Those in the know could hold a mirror up to it at the correct angle and view the resulting image, which would resolve itself into wire frames against a black background—a portal. Only the bearer of the mirror could see into it at the proper angle to conjure the portal—but someone else, I thought, could grab on and be pulled through once it had opened. So I leaped after him as he sunk into the plywood—
—and reappeared on a nearby street, in the midst of a scrubby sort of winter, with a bit of snow on the ground; it looked a lot like the Grove looks right now. I walked through Girl Scout territory and flashed them all the three-finger honor sign to guarantee my safe passage; as in Sin City's Old Town, they were very careful about who walked their streets. When I came near the open door to a warehouse, a woman came up to ask whether I was there to pick up my son, and I tried to shake the fog from my head, because obviously, that's what I had to be there to do, pick him up on time. So I went in to get him—
—and then I was omniscient, thinking about the way people lived in this future. There were some stand-alone family homes, updated to run on the new fuel (my old rival's parents had gotten upset when they thought I'd left the furnace running too hot after cooking my meal) and reflect the new way of living, with multilevel floors and built-in carpeted lounge seating. But a lot of families lived like this one lesbian couple I knew, who had a little daughter about my son's age (3 to 4ish). They lived in what was known as a Gutièrre home, which was really just a garage door, perhaps surrounded by a decorative line of brick, set into the side of a warehouse. Inside was a ground-floor studio apartment, cold and subject to exhaust and ventilation problems. Families had almost no children's toys, or at least this one didn't, and they made all of their meals in the microwave. The meals stacked easily; an adult ration of pasta (supposedly pappardelle with cream sauce, peas, and mushrooms) was the same width and length as the child's ration, but twice as tall. This was their life, lived in what amounted to a dingy garage. Almost everyone lived that way...
I awoke with Blue Öyster Cult's "Shooting Shark" lingering in my head.