Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Leroy In Time

Happy Independence Day, my American friends! And to my many readers outside of America...Happy Wednesday, I guess! Then again, some of you may be over the date line so...Happy Tuesday? Or is it Thursday? I don't know how it works, but I mainly want your day to be happy.

This is a time travel story starring Leroy the Penguin and his new friend, Peter the Lemur. He met Peter at a zoo somewhere in the western part of this country, though he says, for security reasons, he can’t tell me exactly where. But, he swears that this story is absolutely true…of course, this is the same guy who swore blind that he spoke to Santa Claus last Christmas, so…whatever. Draw your own conclusions.

I like zoos. It’s just nice to see so many different kinds of animals living together in such a peaceful, civilized society. I love to go to different zoos and meet all the different kinds of creatures who live there. I meet the most interesting folk that way. That’s how I met Peter, after all, and that’s how this story begins…

“Hi, I’m Leroy.”

“Nice to meet you, I’m Peter.”

See? That’s how it begins. Now it’s begun. So next comes…what happened next!

“So, hows the whole lemur thing working out for you?”

Oh, did I not mention Peter is a lemur? Silly me, forgetting something like that. Oh! Also, he’s British.

“Oh, not bad. What about you? Life of a penguin working out okay?”

“Can’t complain. So what are you up to today?”

“Well, it’s funny you should ask. I do need a bit of help with this project I’m working on. Maybe you’d like to lend me a flipper?”

“Okay,” said me, always eager to help, so I followed Peter into his habitat where I saw what looked suspiciously like a cardboard box with the words “time machine” written on the side with a magic marker.

“This,” said Peter, dramatically, “is my time machine!”

“Really? Cuz it looks suspiciously like a cardboard box with the words ‘time machine’ written on the side with a magic marker.”

“Does it? Funny, I hadn’t noticed. At any rate, there it is and it’s almost finished. The trouble is, I can’t finish it on my own. I need someone to sit inside the machine and operate a few simple controls while I enter the final calculations on the large computer bank just to your right.”

To my surprise, I found that there was a large computer bank just to my right. Strange how I noticed the cardboard box before I noticed that. Anyway, as I said, I’m always eager to help so I climbed into the box and found the controls he was talking about (which also looked suspiciously like he had drawn them on with a magic marker). They were, as he said, quite simple. There was a large arrow pointing to the left which said “PAST,” another large arrow pointing to the right which said “FUTURE” and in between, a small square button that said “PRESENT.”

“I just need to calibrate the ‘Present’ setting,” Peter explained, “by linking it to the same thingie that automatically resets your cell phone clock when you cross time zones.”

Sorry for all the techno-babble. Hope you can keep up.

“So what do I do?” I asked.

“Just press and hold down the ‘Present’ button when I tell you and release it at the exact moment I say. Okay?”

I said okay and held my flipper eagerly over the button. Peter did a few weird things on his computer thing, while I started to think about time travel and what it could mean. I could go back into history and meet famous people. I could learn the answers to so many great mysteries about our world. I could go into the future and see the future progress of penguinkind. I could go back to that day last fall and warn myself not to eat a whole carton of ice cream in one sitting so that I wouldn’t be sick to my stomach when Mary Beth called to ask if I wanted to hang out.

Wow! That was stupid.

“All right…now!” said Peter and I held down the button. When I did, it behaved very much the way a button drawn on cardboard would behave, but the whole box started humming. Peter was monitoring the progress on his screen and I was waiting attentively for him to say to let go. The humming was getting louder and the whole box was vibrating. I was getting nervous. Finally, Peter cried, “Now! Now!” and I took my flipper off the button and everything calmed down.

“Did it work?” I asked.

“I think so,” said Peter, looking at his readouts. “If my calculations are correct, and they are 85.9% of the time, the time machine is calibrated correctly.”

“85.9% of the time?”

“Yes, I keep a record of my past calculations and worked out how often they are correct.”

“So there’s a 14.1% chance that that calculation is wrong?”

“Hmmm. I hadn’t thought of that. Never mind. Now all that remains is the maiden voyage. You can come with me if you like, but step out of the time machine first so I can—wait! No! Stop!” But it was too late. While climbing out of the box, I had accidentally hit the button marked “Past.” I took my flipper off it right away, but it was too late. There had been a blinding flash of light and the next thing I knew…well…I was somewhere else.

Or, maybe that should be, somewhen else.

In fact, on close examination I concluded that I was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1776. The way I was able to reach this conclusion is that a man walked past me saying, “Nice day here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1776, wouldn’t you say?”

Looking back, I guess he was oddly informative.

Anyway, there I was in 1776. I couldn’t resist taking a look around. It looked just like it did in the movies, and that bit in Disney World with the Hall of Presidents. People had on knickers and tri-cornered hats and I was almost stepped on by three different horses, a personal record for me.

“Be careful, small one,” said a voice behind me. “You’d do well to watch where you’re going.”

I looked up and saw a tall, thin man with red hair smiling down at me. I knew enough about history to know who this was: Thomas Jefferson!

“Perhaps you should come with me. The streets of Philadelphia are not safe for one so small.”

So, taking me up in his arms, Mr. Jefferson carried me to his rooms at the inn where he was staying. I knew that his home was in Virginia, but he was here in Philadelphia as part of the Second Continental Congress which was in the process of debating the difficult question of independence.

“You see, small one,” said Mr. Jefferson, “many of us believe our relationship with Great Britain has grown intolerable and think we should break away and start a new nation.”

“That makes sense to me, Mr. Jefferson.”

“Yes, and to me, and Mr. Adams, and Dr. Franklin and many others. But there are some who disagree. These are the wealthy, conservative set who benefit from their association with the mother country and are concerned that a seperation will jeopardize their status and power. They would rather live comfortably in the past than face the challenge and promise of the future.”

“So, it’s nice to know that hasn’t changed,” I said, but too softly for Mr. Jefferson to hear me.

“That’s what I’m working on here, you see,” Mr. Jefferson continued, showing me to his writing desk. “I am on a committee whose purpose is to write out, in plain, simple terms, the reasons why this seperation is not only justified, but necessary.”

Again, my knowledge of history was enough to tell me that he was talking about the Declaration of Independence. I was pretty excited, I don’t mind telling you. Thomas Jefferson was writing the Declaration of Independence a few feet away from me! How cool is that?

“It hasn’t been easy,” he went on. “Every member of the congress seems to want their own interests represented in this document. They quibble over the slightest detail and ignore the purpose of the paper itself. Besides, the words have to be just right.”

“I understand, sir,” I said. “I happen to be good friends with a writer, and he’s always telling me how important it is to get the words just right.”

“I think I’m nearly there. If only I could think of a good beginning. That’s the most important bit, you know. The beginning. Grab the reader’s attention right away.”

“So my friend has said. May I hear what you have so far?”

“It’s not much I’m afraid.” Mr. Jefferson took up the sheet of paper he was working from and read, “‘There are times when men must pursue the goals of his people and face the…’” that’s as far as he got before he crumpled it up and threw it in the corner, where it landed on a large pile of papers which had met a similar fate. I resisted the temptation to pick one up and pocket it to take back with me…of course, that’s mainly because I had no pockets.

“If you’ll pardon my saying so, Mr. Jefferson, I think you’re trying to make it too fancy. You said yourself that it should be in plain, simple words.”

“This is not a grocery list, my small friend. It is an important document.”

“It certainly is. But that doesn’t mean it has to be Shakespeare. What about something like, ‘When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary…’”

“‘…it becomes necessary,’” continued Mr. Jefferson, a bright gleam in his eye, “‘for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…’” Suddenly excited, a look which I’ve come to know through my association with the selfsame friend I mentioned to Mr. Jefferson earlier, he sat down at his desk and resumed his writing. I was fascinated as I saw him scribble away with his quill pen. I glanced at the paper he was writing on and smiled. He was at my favorite part:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I thought about how simple an idea that was and, yet, what a revolutionary one it was back then. I thought about how that simple idea would change the world. I thought about the countless people in my time who still didn’t understand that self-evident truth…all men are created equal. Part of me wanted to suggest that he add “and women” to that sentence, or even “regardless of the color of their skin or what country they come from or who they want to marry or if they’re a penguin or how much money they’ve got in their pockets or what religion they are…” but I didn’t want to disturb history too much. Plus, you have to admit, it wouldn’t have sounded quite so good.

Suddenly there came a light tapping sound from the window. Someone was throwing small stones at it to get our attention. Mr. Jefferson got up to see who it was and I was nervous that he might “lose his flow” as my friend puts it and not be able to finish. As he looked out the window he smiled and turned to me. “I believe it’s for you.”

Confused, I went to window and there was Peter the Lemur standing in the street. I said my goodbyes to Mr. Jefferson and ran downstairs to meet him.

“I’m glad you’re all right,” said Peter when he saw me. “I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find you.”

“But how did you get here?” I asked.

“Oh, that. I built another time machine. But it got run over by a horse, so we’ll have to take the first one back. C’mon then.” Luckily, the original time machine had not been run over by a horse so we got in and Peter hit the ‘Present’ button and, with another flash of light, we were back in the good ole 21st Century, exactly where we were when the whole ordeal started.

“It’s good to be back,” I said, being slightly more careful as I climbed out of the box this time.

“Yes, I think I still have a few more adjustments to make. So, how did you enjoy your trip to the past? Anything interesting happen?”

“Same thing that happens everywhere I go,” I said. “I made a new friend.”


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