So Millie and I were
driving through Riverbend Park past this new, hotshot, aluminum
statue of a bicyclist with a head the size of a potato.
"Isn't it lovely,
Charlie?" Millie gushes.
paid 50 gees to muck up the park with that piece of modernistic
junk?" I said.
Millie goes, "Charlie,
you think like an engineer. You've got the heart of a Phillistine."
I said, "If you're saying I'm from Philadelphia no problem, and
if you're saying I'm an engineer I take that as a compliment."
I told her that
because if nothing else, I'm a man of fact. A fact is a thing you can
grab onto like the back of a turtle, not like some damn opinion
that's nothing but a black sound moving down a vacuum tube. As far as
I'm concerned the editorial page of the newspaper is a good piece of
backup toilet paper, talk shows on television, a lot of
rapidly-moving hot air propelled by loud mouths minus brains, and
6,000 professors at a symposium giving their opinion on the future?
Waste of good food.
"Well facts can
go only go so far, Charlie," Millie screeched because she knew
she was losing the argument.
"Is that so?"
I said. "Hell, if I was going to build a new city, I'd take
twenty auto mechanics and a half-dozen plumbers long before I'd take
the first writer or painter or 6,500 English professors."
beauty!" Millie moaned.
I, "which is more beautiful--a restored, 1939 Ford with its
engine gleaming aluminum and its black paint glossy as the day it
left the show room, or some of that so-called art that these
government-subsidized subversives build in their basement out of
scrap metal and label the Second Coming?"
At which point Millie
began to cry which is how she and I wound up in Minneapolis to la dee
da "enjoy the art scene."
Soon as we got there,
I told Millie I wanted to go to the Metrodome and see the Vikings
play. Of course, she was about as enthused about a trip to see a
football game as you and I would be to get a root canal, so to pacify
her I had to let her work up this itinerary of her own for our four
So we saw all the
usual dreck that women think of as artistic and important, including
a couple of huge, over-priced department stores and a lead-headed
bore called the American Swedish Institute, and then on Saturday
morning, she had us penciled in to visit the Normandale Japanese
"Now I' m just a
stupid steam engineer without a degree, Millie," I said, "but
what the hell good is wasting a morning wandering through some phony,
serene waterfalls commemorating the folks who gave us World War II?"
"I figured you
couldn't get over World War II, Charlie," she said. "In
that case we ought to go to the Barakis House."
House," I said, "it better be some sort of breakfast
she says like she's talking to our third-grade grandson, "it's
the number one tourist attraction in St. Paul and the greatest
achievement of Sherlin L. Barakis."
"Well who flung
doo," I said. "You think I'm going across the river to that
second-rate joke of a town again? And just who the bass fiddle player
is this Sherlin L. Barakis? Not that guy who invented toilet paper,
"Well if you
weren't so closed to art, Charlie," she said, "you'd know
he was America's greatest 19th Century architect and inventor."
"Is that right?"
I said, kind of laying on the sarcasm. "And I always thought
Thomas Edison was the man."
was a pragmatist, a product-oriented pragmatist," Millie shot
back at me, letting me know, in case I forgot, she did have a degree
in art history from Dubuque Community College. "And it's true we
owe him a lot, but Sherlin Barakis was far more visionary."
said, drawing out the syllables for four seconds so she'd know I
thought she was nuts. "And just how come I've never heard of
this Sherlin L. Barakis?"
said. "First of all he wasn't Anglo-Saxon, and his age had a
hard time recognizing a man of his ethnic background."
"Now don't start
in on another racism lecture, Millie," I said. "This is my
"But there's more
to it than that, Charlie. You see Barakis went insane at about the
same time he finished the Barakis house, and then there was something
who visited the house either died shortly thereafter or, like
Barakis, had to be hospitalized with mental illness."
"Now what in the
name of Dolly Parton are you talking about, Millie? This guy invent
shock treatment or the speakeasy or something?"
"Charlie, it's not something that you can easily explain with
words. You've got to experience it for yourself."
said, "I don't believe it for a minute. Let's get in the car and
go see this joint."
So we cross the river
and go down this Play-Dough Boulevard to what they call Highland
Park. A few minutes later, we pull up in front of this pile of gray
Victorian stone situated in a neighborhood of turning-to-snot houses
not that far from the river. You could see that at one time this had
been a pretty classy part of town, but those days were gone forever.
A wino was nodding on the stone steps across the street, and there
wasn't anything to mark this so-called great architectural marvel,
but a small, rusty plaque on the front steps that said--The Sherlin
L. Barakis Resurrection House.
"You sure this
dump is the place?" I laughed as I locked up the Fairlane in
front of this nondescript pile of bricks that didn't look like it had
seen a tourist in fifty years.
"You can't judge
a book by the cover, Charlie. You have to experience it. This is not
just a visual thing," Millie said, puffing out her 40-inch chest
as we headed up the steps.
There was a sign on
the big, glass door--Bell Doesn't Work. Please Just Come Inside.
"What kind of
talk is that?" I said, staring at the sign.
"Let's just go
in, Charlie. It's free," Millie said. You can't beat free, so in
we strolled. I was expecting a little, white-haired lady sitting at a
desk doing needlepoint of a flour mill and all overjoyed to take our
five bucks and conduct the first tour of the year, but there was
nobody inside. It was just a little shabby vestibule with a
gilt-framed mirror and a sorry looking couch that had seen better
Figuring a guide would
be coming by to trap us in a second, Millie and I started to settle
onto the couch because our feet were sore from yesterday's trek out
to the Mall of America. However, as we settled back on the unyielding
surface, we were both suddenly jacked into the air and swept up on
what I can only describe as invisible wraparound chairs of
I shouted, but Millie was whirled off before she could answer.
When I say whirled
that's the way it felt, not a bit unpleasant or uncomfortable though,
just a sensation of being tilted through space at high speed, but
oddly totally within the confines of the house.
It felt so dog-gone
refreshing and fun I wasn't even worried about losing my dentures.
Hell, it was like being a kid in an amusement park all over again as
this, whatever invisible thing, I was riding kept looping up and
around and right through the, what now seemed to be porous, walls and
furniture of the old mansion.
The more and faster I
rode the more hilarious the experience seemed, not a bit scary.
I cried, "where are you? This is cool!"
Then to my amazement I
went whirling upwards right through the roof past this spectacular
palm tree, at least a hundred feet high, that couldn't possibly
survive a Minnesota winter it looked so delicate, but there it was
growing right off the roof.
"Hot doggies this
is fun," I chortled to myself as I suddenly plummeted five or
six stories like a high-speed roller coaster, and there in the corner
of an office sat a mockup of Teddy Roosevelt himself, bending over
his desk as I whipped right into the room beside him.
"Glad you could
drop in," Teddy boomed in that manly voice that made me think he
was about the most clever robot I'd ever seen.
"I'm sorry to
interrupt you, sir," I said.
he said, patting my back with a big, thick hand. "I'm just
trying to straighten out corruption back in Manhattan."
"Wait a minute,
you're dead, sir," I said.
"Do I look like
I'm dead, Charlie. You see the Spanish-American War won't be starting
for another few years yet, so I'm in the prime of life. When I get to
be president, you'll see whether I'm dead or not."
said, getting up my nerve, but kind of confused about the time
element. "I got to tell you how I really admired your life, like
the way you set aside national park land for conservation purposes."
He laughed out loud
and clapped me on the back again. "Charlie, don't get ahead of
yourself. That's far off in the future," he said, "long
after I get to be president. Anything I can do for you right now?"
"Do for me?"
I was totally amazed.
visitor to Sherlin Barakis' place is a friend of mine. How about that
hemorrhoid surgery you've got coming up? I could do that right now."
"No, I couldn't
do that, Mr. President," I said, feeling about as shy as I'd
felt in the last ten years.
"Don't be a fool,
Charlie. Let me take care of it for you. There's not much I can't
Now it was my turn to
bust out laughing. "What thee hell?" I said. "Why
However, before the
President could hear me turn down his offer of hemorrhoid surgery in
favor of him putting a new Lincoln in my garage, I was suddenly
ejected from his office. Absolutely pain free.
Next thing I knew I
was hurtling through the building again, wondering what ever happened
to Central Standard Time and where in the hell Millie was.
All of a sudden my
chair whipped around a corner and did a 360 and there I was rocking
back and forth like a baby in a cradle. A warm blue light surrounded
me, and I felt the strangest serenity I'd ever experienced.
Oddly my body struck
me as both transparent and weightless, but my senses were acutely
sharp, and I thought I smelled the delightful odor of fresh, warm
bread. Then right through the solid wall of what appeared to be the
study of the Barakis mansion, a figure slowly emerged.
He was an overweight,
rumpled sort of fellow of about sixty, somewhat balding with a fruity
little mustache. And he was wearing red silk spats and a too-small
pinchback suit of the type favored a century ago plus a gray, silk
vest with a couple of gravy spots. Anyway, we just stared at each
other for a moment. Then he extended his chubby hand and said,
"Welcome, I'm Sherlin L. Barakis."
I shook his hand that
was as warm and living as O Riley's goat, and I asked him anyhow.
"Now wait a minute. How can I be meeting all you guys that are
"Has to do with
the fact that you're dead too, Charlie. At least temporarily so. The
time element in our lives is totally arbitrary and relative. With the
right sort of electrical energy, all these barriers between past and
future can be brought right down. So don't let being dead disturb
you. As you can see, it is a very pleasant state to be in."
"Hold on here,"
I said. "Twenty minutes ago I was as healthy as a horse, and now
you're saying I'm dead?"
"Well in a
technical sense, yes. You've at least reached level one cessation of
breathing, time travel capabilities in the range of 150 years.
However, there's a great deal more to be learned and experienced
before you're ready for anything really big like the future. You'll
have to qualify yourself for that first."
"You mean I could
check out 3002?"
"If you were
qualified," Barakis said, "there's all that business of
communicable diseases and heat-related disasters you'd have to deal
with, so I couldn't just shoot you there on a whim."
"Jeez, I see what
you mean, Mr. Barakis," I said.
"The good thing
though, Charlie, is you've had just enough experience here to be
reassured that death is nothing to fear."
"Well, I never
really feared it," I said, which was only a little bit of a big
"Oh my, my, my,"
Barakis said, shaking his finger at me playfully. "None of that
now. That kind of fib was perfectly all right when you were alive,
but we're beyond that here; and if you're going to move to any of the
next levels, you'll have to get out of the habit."
"Now wait a
minute, Mr. Barakis," I said. "I'm not ready yet for any
"That's more like
it, Charlie. Total truth is currency here," Barakis said,
patting me on the back. "Just remember, today is just a preview
of what's coming. When you leave the mansion, you'll still have 31
years and 17 days until heart failure will make this state
"3l years and 17
days," I said. "What about my wife? What about Millie?
What's she going to do without me?"
"She'll be fine. You know that old fogey McDonald you make fun
of because he jogs? She'll marry him after you pass on."
"Well I'll be
shit if she will," I said.
Barakis laughed again.
"Maybe you'd better talk to her, Charlie. She's over in the next
room. No need to worry about her. She's with General Washington, and
I'll assure you that he's a man of extreme probity. Actually, though,
she'll follow you to death in several years, so you'll have a chance
to get everything ready for her before she arrives."
"Well I'm not
getting anything ready for that two-timer," I said as Barakis
stood by the fireplace and poured himself a drink from a decanter of
Charlie, you don't understand. Millie is just the reverse side of
your personality. It's all like flipping over a card."
growled, "I don't get it."
"Let me explain
without getting too technical," Barakis said. "What I did
was first experiment with high speed movement, the kind of thing you
experienced when you sat on the couch. I has to do with photons and
which path they elect to take, part of the quantum theory, which I
guess you're pretty familiar with already, you being a man of fact
"Yeah, kind of,"
I said, clearing my throat.
"Well then I
added hypnosis, which enabled me to take the brain even further, and
then with an application of electricity to Broca's area I soon made
crossing the barrier to death a reality. And that's when I discovered
every one of our personalities has a flip side embodied in the person
we love the most."
"Well I used to
love Millie a good bit," I said.
Barakis said. "You still do. You're just too stubborn to admit
Suddenly I sat right
down on the floor. "Mr. Barakis," I said. "You must be
some sort of a genius. Tell me why in heaven's name hasn't the world
heard of you?"
"Oh you've heard
the thing about a man ahead of his time. The church didn't look
fondly on my work since there was no obvious connection with their
teachings. As a result they did the best they could to discredit me,
and so my findings never really saw daylight beyond a few obscure
journals read only by my fellow physicists."
"You mean some
bastards sabotaged you?"
"Well, not with
any malice. But then shortly after my discovery, I had the-uh-
accident. I pushed on some of the new stuff a little too hard. My
son-in-law, who worked for the parks department, found me in my
laboratory in the basement gibbering to myself. I'm afraid they won't
let you go down there."
"Because after I
was released from the hospital, I repeated the experiment. I suppose
I used too much current. I believe they call it electrocution. Bottom
line is it was adjudged a suicide. And you see this place is now run
by my heirs."
"Well you see, my
great grandson, being an accountant and all, is a little squeamish
about such things, so he's decided to keep everything low key and
local. He's somewhat shy, and all the publicity surrounding something
like this would disturb him greatly. He's very happy to just let the
mansion be a shrine open to a few initiates, which is all well and
good with me. Fame was never my major motive."
glanced at his watch and sprang up. "Sorry to leave you, old
chum, but I've got a chess game with Einstein up on level three, and
he blows a fuse any time I'm late. You know how those geniuses are.
And so I was left
sitting there, waving feebly, the blue light slowly draining from the
room as I felt my body drifting back into its normal condition with
hunger pains gnawing my belly and a bad itch behind my right shoulder
blade and someplace else I can't talk about.
A minute later, there
was Millie, suddenly sitting on the couch next to me, going through
her purse looking for something the same as always.
she said, "do you know what happened to those half price coupons
I had for the Chinese restaurant? I'm just starved."
"Wait a minute,
Millie" I said. "Where in the hell have you been?"
chatting with General Washington. He's quite a gentleman you know."
"Oh I bet he is,"
I said, thinking about that jogging bastard McDonald.
believe you're jealous," Millie said, giving me that smile that
had knocked me dead on my ass for the past forty years.
So I said, "Maybe
I am a little, Millie, but I'll tell you one thing, I could eat my
way through a mess of lemon chicken myself."
That's when Millie
leaned over and gave me one of those dry, little, married-for-forty
"Didn't I tell
you, Charlie, that the museum would be wonderful?" She smiled at
me. "Now if I can find those coupons we'll talk all about it
over lunch, confining ourselves to the facts of the matter, of
"Of course, hon,"
I said, "just the facts of the matter." Then I winked at
her conspiratorially, thinking, "Charlie Wupperman, you're a
damn fool! If you hadn't talked so damn much up there on level B,
Teddy Roosevelt would have cured your hemorrhoids and had you tooling
around in a Lincoln for the next thirty years."