Return Engagements: Book Three (Part Two)

At 4:21 AM I was dressed in two pairs of socks, work boots, an old-style war surplus coat, gloves and a hat. I also found a fairly large duffel bag and filled it with my money satchel, two small, dirty blankets, and my little friend, who, upon further consideration, wasn’t really a dog, or at least not a proper Earth dog.

And so, dressed reasonably well and carrying a couple of extra blankets, I walked out the loading dock door, pulled it closed behind me, and oriented myself. I was on the back side of the building, and so I walked toward a street I could only glimpse. I felt my little friend burrowing into the blankets as we went.

It was cold and windy, with just a few small snow flakes in the air. The temperature was below freezing, but not too far below. There were a few piles of dirty snow scattered about. All told, it informed me that winter was still alive, but fading.

I walked through a sort of corridor between the laundry and the building next door, both of which were old, brick industrial structures. I emerged onto a street that I couldn’t immediately name, but that felt familiar. I looked back as I went, and saw that the company I stole from was the Germ-Proof Diaper Service. That concerned me; the diaper services, at least in the 1970s, had a reputation of being controlled by some very dangerous guys. I walked faster.

I seemed to be the only person walking the streets, which was comforting; I didn’t want anyone to see the thief emerging.

I started toward what felt like north, which happened to be a good choice. I hit the next corner without any cars passing, and saw that I was on North Kedzie, just about to cross Wilson Ave. This had once been a familiar area to me, but not as far back as I evidently was. Still, I knew the Ravenswood train was just ahead, and that would give me a fast escape into the Loop: downtown Chicago. I’d be one guy among a million there.

I hustled through the tiny train station, trying to look as gray and unmemorable as possible, and bought a transfer with a five dollar bill. Paying with a five would be somewhat unusual, but it was the smallest bill I had, and getting a transfer meant to the clerk that I’d be changing to a bus later on; that should be enough to throw any pursuer off my track… in the unlikely event that they could track me at all.

I decided to switch to the Howard St. train at Belmont and head north to the end of the line. I remembered that the stores downtown wouldn’t be open for several hours, and I could blend in quite well at the Howard terminal.

But not long after sitting down on the Howard Street train, I realized that my little friend hadn’t moved in some time, and so I peaked in at her. She was dead. It made sense that my otherworldly friends would have given her a slow-acting drug, so I wouldn’t be burdened with a vulnerable creature. I carefully wrapped her in one of the blankets and determined to drop her discretely in a garbage can near the station.

And for a moment, somewhere north of Lawrence Avenue, I mourned her. It reminded me of a film clip I had once seen of some Christians in India, who had purposely killed a dog (with an injection), to prove to the people of a small town that their medicine man couldn’t really do the things he claimed. Once they were done, they said a prayer of thanksgiving for people being freed of the medicine man’s control, and of apology for taking the life of an innocent animal. It was an odd mix, but in that moment it made sense.

* * * * *

Howard Street looked almost the same as it had during my childhood, and I had no problem finding a quiet alley with garbage cans, south of where the buses loaded. Soon enough I had completed my task, circled discretely back, and was sitting in a DeMars restaurant on Howard Street… one of two within an easy stone’s throw. I ordered a cheese omelet and asked for a newspaper. The waitress said she only had the paper from yesterday evening, and I said that would be fine.

The paper was dated March 13th, 1947, which made me happy; I had been close enough to this time to have a feel for it, and with better than two years on my hands, I’d be able to check on my grandparents, among others, back when they were vibrant adults.

I looked briefly at the paper, but there wasn’t much of interest – things blowing up, labor disputes, and so on – but it was nice to see the cultural aspects of 1947. All the little details were fun. And by the time I had put it back down, the people passing into the station had turned from a trickle into stream. It was fun to watch it all. I had my waitress scrounge up a few sheets of blank paper and a pen for me, and so I planned my moves. In the eyes of anyone who saw me, I was just a random maintenance guy.

* * * * *

My time in 1947 through 1949 was going to be fun. I had money, I knew what was going to happen in the world and I had 25 months to do whatever I could to make that world better that it had been the first time through. I had two lists: one for things I might do to improve this world, and another for things that would be fun for me; things like visiting relatives and other interesting people, as well as sporting events… with watching Otto Graham, Sid Luckman and Joe Dimaggio at the top of my list.

By the time I was headed back downtown in a not-too-packed train, I had a plan for my transformation and exit. I got off the train toward the south end of the Loop and walked over to an excellent shoe store I had known in the early 1980s. (It was old then.) I bought a nice pair of shoes and some socks. Then I went around the corner to Carson Pirie Scott at State and Madison (the intersection, true to it’s reputation, was immensely busy) and found a very nice men’s overcoat. A maintenance man in an old Army surplus coat trying on such an elegant garment got a raised eyebrow or two, but once I pulled out a hundred dollar bill to pay for it, they changed their attitude.

I put the shoes and the coat into my duffel bag instead of wearing them, then made my way to Marshall Field’s, a block away, to buy some men’s clothing. I ended up with three outfits worth. They told me I’d have to wait a day for the tailoring, but I offered the clerk a ten dollar bill if he’d have it ready by lunch. He hustled into the back and returned saying that he could do it. I handed him the ten and headed out.

One last preparation was necessary for my transformation, and that was a haircut. As in my other insertions, every hair on my head was about 1-1/2 inches long. And so I walked toward to the financial district (a few blocks south and west) and found a barber shop with an executive type getting his hair cut. I went in, greeted the barber and sat down to wait. Again I got a raised eyebrow, but nothing more. Business transcends all bounds.

My haircut complete, I walked back toward Marshall Field’s and found my clerk; he didn’t have everything ready, but he did have most of it. I told him to start wrapping, then went down to the stationary section for pens and paper. From there I went on to buy underwear and some other small necessities. I finished at the luggage section, where I bought a small suitcase. Then I returned to the Men’s department and waited.

It took a while, but soon enough I had all my clothes tucked into my duffel bag and made my way to the basement. I made sure none of my sales clerks were in view and dove into the men’s washroom to make my transformation.

Ten minutes later I emerged as a prosperous businessman, with my maintenance man outfit, along with the duffel bag, tucked into my Marshall Field’s bags. I made a beeline to the subway station (it connected directly to Field’s basement, and still does), where I found what we’d call a homeless man who was glad to take “my old clothes.” But instead of riding the train, I backtracked and went up the stairs to State Street (if you ever visit this location, that will make sense). I emerged into the city, hailed a cab and headed to the airport like a proper executive.

The airport in 1947, however, was Midway, not O’Hare… but it wasn’t even called Midway in those days; it was called Chicago Municipal Airport, which came as a surprise to me. Nonetheless, “Take me to the airport” got me there, and it took me only about half an hour to find a flight to Las Vegas, which would be an excellent place to blend in.

And since Vegas was booming, I could easily find a job there. One thing I learned during my trip to 1963 was that having a job made being out of my own time much more comfortable. Being out of place was fine for a few days or even weeks, but when it came to months, it wasn’t. The rituals and camaraderies of productive work made it much more bearable.

Productive people, it seems, have shared a consistent and agreeable set of ethics all through the ages.

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