Recently, at a trade show snack bar at McCormick Place in Chicago…
Sometimes my ideas start on cocktail napkins. I was coming up with something for the flux capacitor. I took a long look at the logo on the napkin in front of me, my scribbles and sketches of flux capacitors alongside it. It was staring right at me: Flux Capacitors, Inc. – Making time travel possible since 1955. I swallowed the last of my trade show hot dog and wiped my face on the flux capacitor logo. I left a few business cards and walked out.
When I got back to my room at the Drake Hotel I noticed the flux capacitor napkin from the snack bar sitting on the foot of my bed. The business cards I left behind were shredded in a million pieces and strewn across the floor like bread crumbs. Damn you, Doc Brown! Why did you have to corner the time travel market? And how in the world did this napkin make it here before me? It was almost check-out time. I made like a tree and got out of there.
The last time I saw Doc Brown was 1985. Or was it 1955? He always looks the same. I took a cab once in Albany and I swear the driver looked just like Doc. His speech was slurred, he could’ve been on drugs. Surely it wasn’t Doc Brown driving that cab. The only way a man of time travel could moonlight as a cab driver would be if he could be in two places at the same time.
One time, Doc Brown sent one of his goons, a fellow named Tony Micelli, to teach me the facts of life. I called a friend of a friend named Fonzie who was in from Milwaukee. Everyone called him the Fonz. The Fonz wore a black leather jacket and was a really cool guy. Anyway, he paid Tony Micelli a visit, you know, to show him who’s the boss. And Micelli left me alone for a while. I went back to my flux capacitor.
I was working real hard in those days. I hardly went out. One weekend I came down with a temperature of 104. I went to a doctor named Doogie. He said I had Saturday Night Fever. He told me to drop everything and go dancing. Then call him in the morning. I said that would mean Sunday. Do you work on Sundays? He said call him bright and early because he spends his afternoons with his pet rock. I did what he said and afterward I felt like the six-million-dollar man. Happy days were here again.
As for my flux capacitor, I wasn’t going to let Doc Brown turn me into the fall guy. I left Chicago and went home to Cleveland. My little startup was having growing pains so I bought an ad in The Plain Dealer. I needed an assistant. Charles, a senior at Case Western, came calling. He interviewed well and looked like he could be trusted. He even babysat for some kids in his spare time.
Weeks went by. Charles was picking things up at a blistering pace. There was a midweek convention for mad inventors at Carnegie-Mellon. So, I left Charles in charge and headed to Pittsburgh for a few days.
I returned refreshed and rejuvenated. But it seemed that Charles had gotten the gang together for a game of poker. Doc Brown was there. So was my old friend, Tony Micelli. And a fat guy in all white named Boss Hogg. Doc was holding a full house and was betting against my flux capacitor notes. He wins and I’m finished. As luck would have it he won. Suddenly, things got too close for comfort. Charles pinned me against the wall while Tony Micelli did to me what Fonzie probably did to him in Chicago. Doc Brown and Boss Hogg laughed while running my notes through a portable shredder. My mouth ate knuckle sandwiches and blood spilled from my left eye. Tony Micelli could really punch. One thought ran through my mind as his fists rained down on me. I wanted to go back in time and erase the day I hired Charles. He turned out to be a real Chachi!
I went home and had a Hart to Hart with my wife about where my career was headed. Her old friends, Laverne and Shirley, were in town. They mentioned something about an opening at the brewery where they worked. But that meant packing everything and moving to Milwaukee, something my kids didn’t want. We liked Cleveland, and I was not about to abandon my dreams of showing the world what time travel could do. I just needed to pick myself up and take things one day at a time.
I decided my business could use some publicity. I called WKRP in Cincinnati. They sent a reporter to Cleveland, a serious looking guy with glasses named Les Nessman. They also sent a sleazy salesman named Herb who figured a schmuck like me could use some expensive advertising.
We met on the campus of Cleveland State, my alma mater. I was there interviewing internship candidates from the College of Engineering. I wanted a bright student who could take my ideas to the next level. We found a quiet place near Woodling Gym. We were enjoying a friendly chat when I noticed a kid in acid washed jeans videotaping us from some bushes at Mather Mansion. “Run for it, Marty!” a voice cried out from behind the bookstore on 24th and Euclid. I took off toward Marty, who by now had dropped his video camera and was racing up Chester Avenue on a skateboard. Lucky for me, unlucky for him, I knew this campus like the back of my hand. I was on the cross-country team here.
My lungs were burning like a five-alarm fire when I finally caught Marty on Krenzler Field. Poor sap thought he could skate on grass! I tackled him. We’re rolling around punching each other when I felt a bite on my right hamstring. A dog! I grabbed the animal’s neck and noticed his tag. Einstein! A Deloreon darted up East 18th Street, screeching tires and spewing smoke. I got up and ran after Marty again, who was back on cement and skateboarding his way to the student center on Euclid and East 21st. He ran into the men’s room. I threw open the door and slammed Marty against the wall, shattering a mirror and breaking a soap dispenser. Liquid soap slid down the wall onto the floor, making Marty slip and fall. I jumped on top of him.
“Who sent you, was it Doc Brown?”
“Get off my case, man! I’m here to see my girlfriend.”
“In the men’s room?”
“No, dumbass, she goes to school here.”
I rubbed soap into Marty’s eyes. I know it sounds sadistic but I needed answers.
“Ow, that stings! What do you want from me?”
“I want to know who you’re working for.”
“I told you, I’m meeting my girlfriend.”
“What’s her name?”
Marty stared at the wall behind me.
“Does Jenny have a number?”
Marty stared at the wall behind me again. He gave me her number. I told him to count to four thousand before he left the men’s room. That would give me enough time to find a payphone and call Jenny before Marty could tip her off.
I dialed 8675309.
“Is this Jenny?”
“Yeah, who’s this?”
“Never mind, I need to ask you a question.”
“Did you get my number on the wall?”
“No, I got it from Marty.”
“Are you looking for a good time?”
“No, I’m married with children.”
Jenny hung up on me. I began to think I was duped by Marty. Worse than that I had nothing else on him, other than he looked a lot like the kid who played Alex on Family Ties. I returned to Woodling Gym where Les and Herb from WKRP were in the same place I left them. I apologized and told them I wasn’t in the mood to tell the world my story yet. For their troubles I took them to Rascal House for lunch. We split a Pepperoni Extreme pizza and made small talk. Herb said they don’t have pizza like this in Cincinnati. Les said, “yeah, a guy can only eat so much Skyline Chili.”
Putting Charles and Marty behind me, I decided to fly solo for a while. I was running out of people I could trust. Did everyone work for Doc Brown? A friend of mine suggested I talk to a professional. A shrink named Bob Newhart. I brought him up to date on my flux capacitor struggles. I was feeling uneasy reclining in that comfortable chair of his. There I was, pouring out of my life’s work to someone I just met. Man, his chair was comfortable. I was falling asleep.
“You mind if we take a break?”
“Not at all. Would you like some water?”
“Yes, that would be nice.”
“Here, drink up and try to relax.”
“Thanks. Nothing beats a glass of cold water.”
“Do you want to talk about your family?”
“What do you want to know?”
“Have they always supported your time travel dreams?”
“They know how important it is, not just for me but for the whole world.”
“Why the race, I mean, what do you have against Doc Brown?”
“There are two Doc Browns. The Hollywood Doc Brown and the Doc Brown I know. The Hollywood Doc Brown is the friendly, crazed scientist who befriends a high school loser and saves the day. The real Doc Brown sells flux capacitors for money, power, things like that.”
“I want, I don’t want to sugarcoat this anymore than what it is, but I want to create a flux capacitor so I can use time travel to confront scurvy.”
“Scurvy started somewhere, right? Who knows, maybe in the 4th century someone went sailing and forgot to bring oranges with them. Then their gums started bleeding and their teeth fell out. Before they knew it, they were dead.”
“So, you want to build a flux capacitor that’s made out of Vitamin C?”
“The flux capacitor would make time travel possible. If I could build a time machine, I would go back in time and deliver Vitamin C supplements. Probably not to pirates because they were bad people. But definitely to good people who just didn’t have access to Vitamin C. People like my great-great grandfather and my great-great grandmother who sailed here from Poland on a boat made of milk bottles in 1880 to work at Cleveland Rolling Mill. They remembered to bring everything but their oranges. And since they had to wait 2 weeks before their paychecks kicked in, they didn’t have money to buy oranges.”
“Well, no. But all their teeth fell out and they weren’t able to smile in family pictures.”
“Why don’t you just buy a flux capacitor from Doc Brown?”
“Because Doc Brown is the devil and I would have to sell my soul for one of his flux capacitors. Every transaction he makes comes with fine print. It’s how he can sell flux capacitors for the low, low price of $29.95.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“I wish I was. You see, Doc Brown learned all about business by studying Sam’s Club. Bulk items at rock-bottom prices. You think you’re getting great deals but you walk out of there with enough pork & beans to feed a mid-sized country. Who has that kind of time?”
“I’m not following a thing you’re saying.”
“Short term happiness. With Doc Brown you know who’s going to win the Kentucky Derby. You place your bet, you take your winnings and your kid gets a Harvard education for $30. But you pay for it the rest of your life because Doc Brown owns you. You have to do him favors, even kill people.”
Newhart told me that my hour was up. He said everything I told him would remain confidential. He told me he wanted to see me eight times. I asked him if he thought eight is enough and he said eight is enough.
Everything I said about my family to Bob Newhart was true. My wife was behind me 100%. Man, I love her. I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on Maude. That’s her real name. We met at a bar in Boston called Cheers. Back then we only went to places where everybody knew our names. She knew my name. I knew her name. We both knew the name of the bartender. We even knew the names of the accountant and the mailman who sat on the stools across from us. Anyway, I was getting tired of the dating game. With Maude, I had made a love connection. We didn’t have a lot of money but we had good times. After we got hitched our first place in the city wasn’t anything special but the price was right. We lived at 21 Jump Street in a tiny apartment above Mel’s Diner. We were moving on up.
Maude and I have two grown children. Twin boys named MacGyver and Benson. MacGyver can build anything from scratch and get us out of sticky situations. Benson works for the governor. They pour themselves into their careers but make it a policy to come home every weekend to see Maude and me. To them, family matters. Maude, MacGyver, Benson and me – we’re all in the family!
On my way home from the shrink my car broke down. A trucker pulled up.
“Where you headed?”
“I was going home.”
“Hop in. B.J.’s the name. This little guy is Bear.”
Bear was a chimpanzee wearing a Rick Manning jersey. He was up to his elbow in Cracker Jack and was too busy eating to shake my hand.
“Nice to meet you, B.J. and, uh, Bear?”
“And you are?”
I made up a name.
“What do you do for a living, Marvin?”
I made up a living.
“I work at Foot Locker.”
I lied because I didn’t know this guy or his chimpanzee. Maybe Doc Brown or Bob Newhart sent them out to get me.
I looked down at my feet. New Balance.
“Thanks. I catch skateboarders in these.”
“I was talking about the shoes at Foot Locker. I shop there a lot. I play in a basketball league, both of us do. I’m in the 6 foot and under division. Bear plays with midgets.”
“I think they liked to be called dwarfs.”
“Like in Snow White?”
“Yeah, like in Snow White.”
I told B.J. to take the Jennings exit. I didn’t want them to know where we lived so I had him drop me off at a Chinese takeout called Hong Kong Phooey two miles from our place. I called Maude from there. I ordered an egg roll and plopped down in a seat facing the window. The cashier, Ryan, came over and gave me a packet of duck sauce and a fortune cookie, on the house. Ryan said he was in medical school. It was Ryan’s hope to one day open his own practice. Until then, he wanted to travel the Northcoast with his band, Dallas. They were a Chicago tribute band with a lead singer who sounded just like Peter Cetera. Ryan played bass. I asked him why Dallas and not something like The Chicago Tribute Band? He said the lead singer had always wanted to visit Dallas. He’d only been to three places his entire life: Chicago, Boston and Kansas. But those names had already been taken by other bands. As far as they knew, no one else had the name Dallas, so they went with Dallas. I thanked Ryan for the duck sauce and fortune cookie. I told him he had one life to live. He should do things his way and make all of his dreams come true.
Maude walked in and smiled at me. We hugged and kissed. She smelled like Bubblicious. She suggested we drive back to my car and try to jump it. That’s when I remembered I left some important papers on the passenger seat.
The drive to my car took unusually long. Or maybe I was just anxious to get there and that made it seem longer. My mind wandered as we drove through streets and went by familiar buildings. We passed St. Elsewhere. I pictured Ryan performing open heart surgery there one day. Long after Dallas broke up and his stint as Hong Kong Phooey’s cashier.
Maude went through a red light. When I called her on it, she got pissed and told me that we wouldn’t be in this mess if I had accepted Laverne and Shirley’s offer to work at the brewery. We would have a normal life where we wouldn’t have to look over our shoulder every minute. While Maude was ranting I’m thinking about how they broke the mold when they made her. She’s one of the golden girls. But she can be a bitch sometimes.
We arrived. I noticed immediately that my car had been ransacked. All of the windows were busted out. My papers were gone, big surprise there. An empty box of Cracker Jack was sitting on the back seat. I should’ve never taken that ride with B.J. and his monkey.
We called the police. T.J. Hooker came. He seemed more pissed at what happened to me than I was. He said he would find the culprit – even if he had to hang on the hood of a speeding car by his knuckles. I believed him. Then he drew a gun on us and made us walk to an abandoned warehouse a few blocks away. T.J. Hooker was a crooked cop.
We reached the abandoned warehouse and I discovered that it wasn’t really an abandoned warehouse. Hooker flipped on the lights. The place reminded me of a place I’d seen before. There were wood paneled walls and restaurant tables with booths. College pennants from Purdue and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee were everywhere. There was even one for Jefferson High School. In one corner sat an old jukebox. To the right of it was a door that had a sign which read guys. To the right of that door was a door that read dolls. I’m not an expert but this place looked a lot like Arnold’s from Happy Days. But that show went off the air in ‘84 and I didn’t see the marquee out front when we came in. I heard an overhead door open and a car pull in, just beyond what would’ve been Arnold’s kitchen. Something told me Arnold wasn’t going to be frying any burgers for us.
Doc Brown, Boss Hogg, Tony Micelli, B.J. and Bear walked in.
“We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” said Doc Brown.
“You mean with all your girlfriends?”
“I’m gonna miss your sense of humor after I kill you.”
“Listen, Doc. Do whatever you want with me but let Maude go.”
“And let this beautiful eyewitness walk out of here, what am I, an idiot?”
“You’ve destroyed my career and my plans for a time travel machine. I want out of the business. Kill me but let Maude go. It’s me you want, not her.”
“What do you say, boys? Think we can waste them both and not make a mess here at Arnold’s? This set cost me a fortune. I don’t want any blood getting on that jukebox over there.”
Doc winked at T.J. Hooker. Hooker pointed his gun at Maude. I jumped in front of her.
“NO!” I screamed.
“Looks like I can blow both of you away and use only one bullet. Do you realize this is a Magnum 57, one of the most powerful handguns on the planet? Even if you were both wearing bullet proof vests, the impact at this range would knock you through that wall over there.”
Tony Micelli grabbed me by my neck and yanked me over to where Richie, Potsie and Ralph Malph used to play live music. Maude stared at the barrel of T.J. Hooker’s gun. T.J. Hooker had his back to the jukebox. Suddenly, Fonzie walked in.
“What’s this, a party, and you didn’t invite the Fonz?”
“Hey, Fonzie. We’re just having a little talk here, no big deal,” said Doc Brown.
“NO BIG DEAL?” The Fonz ain’t no dummy. I walk in and see you pointing a gun at these nice people, and you say NO BIG DEAL?”
“Relax, Fonzie. They’re a couple of nobodies.”
“Hey, the only nobody here is you! Put away that gun and apologize to these nice people.”
“You’re out of line, Fonzie. Turn around, get on your bike and get out of here!”
The Fonz stopped dead in his tracks and looked at Boss Hogg who was sitting at a booth stuffing his face with Kung Pao Chicken. A napkin from Hong Kong Phooey hung like a tie from his collar.
“Are there still ears on both sides of my head, Boss Hogg?”
“Sure, Fonz. Why do you ask?”
“Because I could’ve sworn that he told me to get on my bike and leave Arnold’s. And the Fonz doesn’t leave Arnold’s until the Fonz says it’s okay to leave Arnold’s. And I’m here to tell you that the Fonz ain’t leaving Arnold’s until the Fonz gets what he came here for. And what he came here for is to save these nice people and to teach bad people that playing with guns ain’t cool.”
“Fonzie, these people may look like nice people but they’re thorns in our side.”
“And you want to kill them because of their thorns? That’s not cool!”
“They’ll kill our business.”
“And what business is that, may I ask?”
“Flux capacitors, time travel.”
“Flux capacitors are for nerds and time travel ain’t cool if people get hurt.”
“This coming from a guy who traveled last week more times than United Airlines did all last year.”
“Hey, the Fonz goes where the chicks go. I can’t help it if Cleopatra, Mae West, or that chick who flew airplanes live in different eras. The Fonz still needs to grace them with his presence. That’s why I’m the Fonz. Chicks from every time period need a little Fonzie in their life, if you get my drift.”
“These people think that using time travel for greedy things is wrong. They want to invent their own time machine so they can stop scurvy. I can’t let them do it. We’ll be out of business in a week!”
“Scurvy’s not cool and neither is being greedy. The Fonz ain’t perfect, although I’m pretty close. I’m willing to admit that going back in time to pick up chicks is wrong.”
“So, what do we do, Fonzie?”
“Like I said before, put away the gun.”
T.J. Hooker looked at Doc Brown. Doc Brown nodded. T.J. Hooker placed the gun in his holster.
“Now apologize to these nice people.”
“The Fonz can’t hear you.”
“Good. Now what I want you to do is go home and get a good night’s sleep. Then come back here tomorrow and hash out a new business plan. The Fonz wants you to go into business together. Only this time to promote good so that everyone has a chance to become cool like the Fonz. You may not be able to prevent scurvy but you’ll be able to teach others a thing or two about Vitamin C. Am I clear here?”
“I can’t hear you.”
The bad guys came over and shook our hands. Boss Hogg hugged me. He got chicken sauce all over my shirt. Doc Brown called me partner. My enemy was now my friend, thanks to Fonzie. I felt a tugging at my leg. There was Bear offering me some Cracker Jack. I patted him on the head. He squeezed my leg affectionately. Then everyone but Maude, me and Fonzie left. Fonzie banged the jukebox. “You Are My Special Angel” by Bobby Helms started playing. Mine and Maude’s song.
“I’ll leave you two lovebirds alone.”
“Thanks for everything, Fonz.”
“Just make sure to lock up when you’re finished. The Fonz has to split. I have a date with the Polaskey twins tonight. Whoa!
Maude and I danced into the night. I was feeling frisky so we turned off the lights and headed to inspiration point. Which, since we’re in Cleveland and not Milwaukee, is in Garfield Park off Turney Road. And for the record, the role of Maude, usually played by Bea Arthur, was played by Heather Locklear in this story. Protagonists need to have fun, too.