“The South Side Adventure” by Colin Patrick Garvey

I will not bother with the boring details of quantum physics or try to explain the transferring of molecules and matter across time and space. I will not bother with the mathematical equations or the various theorems associated with it. Besides, I don't know anything about that stuff at all. I am a writer and I have gone on a most amazing adventure, both physically and mentally, that I must tell you about.

The year is 2004 and I am 27 years old and I cannot think of a damn thing to write about anymore. I have published two novels already that have done fairly well but now I am having what one would call a severe "writer's block." I don't know how to start stories or end stories anymore. My plots fold like a wet taco and my character development is in the gutter. I have slowly but surely turned dull and predictable. It's almost as if I am trying too hard to be clever and ingenious and I am forgetting the basics. I have lost perspective of what is interesting to me and the intense focus I usually have on my writing has become distorted.

I have always been interested in history and elements of the past and how they might relate to the future. However, I feel like I cannot grasp this complete perspective of the past that I need to make my writing seem real. People can read and see things on television and computers about the past, such as the JFK assassination or Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, or even Woodstock. But the truth of the matter is is that it would make these things more real, more tangible, and more concrete if you were there to actually witness it. Now I thought this never would have been possible until I ran into an old roommate of mine from college. I guess you could call it fate.

Doctor William Webster Crowley ("Webby") graduated from college a year before I did and went on to medical school at North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He had graduated at the top of his class and then moved onto his residency at an overcrowded, dirty hospital in a seedy part of Baltimore. He could have worked at a "nice" hospital in the suburbs of Baltimore but he chose to help the people that needed the most help, at least in his mind. Webby was always trying to save the world and he thought Our Lady of Peace Hospital was the best place to start. As I gathered from him, some days when he walked into the hospital, he thought he had walked straight into Hell itself. He didn't complain but it was slowly tearing him up on the inside. He had become disillusioned with medicine and its often stringent policies concerning insurance.

Just two years ago the American Medical Association and its members voted to only treat those patients who had a health insurance policy. In the meantime, at Our Lady, patients were shuffled in and out of his hospital without thorough examinations, diagnoses were often inaccurate, and Webby noticed that the other doctors and nurses didn't share half the determination he did. Medicine was too expensive for most of his patients and thus, his work seemed worthless, like he truly wasn't doing what he always believed a doctor should do--help your fellow man no matter what the circumstances. And so, seeing no more good he could do in the work he was in, he quit the hospital and began an unusual project.

We bumped into each other in our great nation's capital--Washington, D.C. He told me he was in town for a three-day convention that included some of the great physicists and scientists of our time talking about quantum physics and the like. Next to medicine, Webby's next favorite interest was physics and he had earned an undergraduate degree in the subject at college. I told him I was in town to visit an uncle and that my writing career was moving rapidly up "shit creek."

We sat in the heart of the Georgetown district at a beautifully decorated restaurant that had various paintings and tapestries covering the walls. The lunch hour had ended several hours ago so the restaurant was practically empty, which afforded us plenty of privacy and I thank God for that. For if anyone had heard what we had been talking about, we probably both would have been committed.

"I think I have created something huge here, Jones," murmured Webby. "Jones" being a nickname of mine from college. Webby was over six feet tall and still retained his infamous beer gut from college. Sometimes you could never really tell when he was joking and when he was serious. This time, I knew for sure he wasn't joking.

"What are you talking about?"

"I might have created something that could forever change mankind," answered Webby.

I almost choked on a bite of sirloin as I began to laugh uncontrollably. My smile began to fade as I looked into Webby's big fish eyes as he gave me a stern and disapproving look. "Cure for cancer? AIDS?" I asked half-jokingly.

"Maybe sometime very soon," Webby responded.

"Webby, what are trying to tell me?"

A sly grin began to emerge at the corners of his mouth as he asked, "How about going for a drive in the country?"

Why the hell not? I thought to myself. Webby had peaked my curiosity. I learned we were headed toward the Virginia countryside, several hours away from D.C. Webby, who was from Maryland, had an aunt that used to own a farm in the country. She died about two years ago and the farm was abandoned. Webby was currently working on his "project" in the old, faded barn that was far enough away from the country roads so as not to attract any attention.

On the way out to the farm, still contemplating what the hell I was doing, Webby began to explain to me what his secret project was about. He had been working on the aforementioned physics and equations of possible "leaping," or traveling through time. So far, he sent seventeen mice, six cats, and one dog through his proposed "time machine" and he had retrieved everyone he sent. Each animal had a tiny chip the size of a fingernail inserted under its skin. This chip served as a beacon or a homing device in order to locate the animal after it had "jumped" into this other time. The animal couldn't be seen in this other time for reasons I really couldn't comprehend. Mind you, at about this time, I'm pretty much thinking Webby is blowing smoke up my ass and that this is just some sort of cruel joke. I voiced my doubt: "What the fuck are you talking about Webby? Do you really expect me to believe all this scientific mumbo-jumbo?"

Webby's silence irritated me and then he said, "Just be patient Jones."

We arrived at the farm an hour later and drove up the dirt road until we reached the barn about a half-mile down. Webby parked in a little niche in the forest and parked next to a car that was already covered by a large canopy. We got out and Webby covered his car as well with the canopy. I gave Webby a questioning look but he just ignored me. We walked toward the decrepit old barn, which appeared to be completely dark and deserted. But as Webby opened up the door, I was hit with a sight I shall never forget.

The interior of the barn was ultramodern and completely doused in light and I noticed the windows were painted black to prevent anyone from seeing any sort of illumination coming from the barn. The "time machine" was about thirty-five feet in height and about sixty feet long. Two columns that tilted toward each other supported the central structure on either side. The central structure was a horizontal, transparent tube that ran between the two columns and was about twenty feet off the ground. The whole structure contained thousands of wires and cables going this way and that and millions of blinking lights. I couldn't decide if it looked like a roller coaster or an entrance to a casino. Either way, the massive presence of the structure took the breath out of my lungs and made my legs feel rubbery.

I noticed a small, heavyset man at the far end of the barn checking off things on a clipboard. He had steel-rimmed glasses and a thick, gray beard that covered a round, jolly face that made me think of Santa Claus. Webby led me over to him as I continued to stare up at the giant structure, completely and utterly amazed.

"Doctor Wilhelm Pendergast, this is a friend of mine from college, Jacob Patrick."

"Very pleased to meet you Doctor Pendergast," I said.

"Zis is my pleasure, sir," he responded in a thick accent as he enthusiastically and almost savagely shook my hand.

Webby began to lead me around the structure and point out certain gadgets and such. He was so damn energetic that I didn't want to spoil it by telling him that I didn't know what the hell he was talking about. "Is it finalized, Webby? I mean, if it works, why don't you present it to the public or the government?"

He grimaced at that. "Well, the truth of the matter is, my investors want to wait until we have used a human subject in the project and... "

"Your investors?"

"A group of old guys my dad introduced me to are supporting all my research and this structure you see here. Them, you and me, and Dr. Pendergast are the only ones who know about this project."

"Well, why don't you or Dr. Pendergast try going through?"

"I'm afraid I have to be at the controls of the project while the subject goes through and Dr. Pendergast is to put it mildly, too big-boned to go through."

"You're a little chunky yourself there Webby."

"Yeah, well I haven't had much time to be lifting. Anyway, we've been looking around for a subject but haven't found one yet."

The idea passed through my head rapidly and I almost disregarded it. But then I thought about it and realized that this could be the chance I had been waiting for. I had to face it, I didn't see a cure in sight for my writer's block, I just broke up with my girlfriend of five years, I went out and drank like a fish and smoked two packs a cigarettes a day and I sure as hell wasn't getting any younger. Besides being the most insane idea I have ever thought about and being a little taken aback at the structure, I said "Webby, how about giving me a crack at that son-of-a-bitch?"

He looked at me like I was the next messiah and said, "You're kidding, I hope. There is no way I could let you do it Jake."

"Then why did you show me this thing Webby?"

"Cause I thought you might want to see it. Listen, Jake, you don't know what you're getting yourself into. I just can't let you do it. It's much too dangerous."

"Webby, I've made up my mind. I need something like this, it could change my writing forever, and it could change me forever. You even know this is what you've been waiting for. Just let me get my shit together and I'll be ready to do it in a couple of days."

It took a little more convincing but Webby eventually did give in. I told Webby I wanted to go into the past, not the future. No problem, he said. Obviously, I agreed not to tell anyone, until the project was publicly announced by Webby. I suspected that Webby's investors would hold out for the highest bidder if the machine worked, not that Webby was aware of this. Webby's a little naíve and he was more interested in the welfare of mankind and he probably didn't even suspect that his project was just another part of business, his investors more interested in the amount of green they could receive.

I began to mull over Webby's intentions during the few days I had to get my affairs in order. I talked to my mom and she said Webby had called and found out I was in D.C. That confirmed for me that Webby hadn't "bumped" into me on accident in Washington and hadn't showed me his project to show-off. He suspected that I would volunteer because of all of the crazy shit I used to do in college. Like when a couple of friends of mine rolled the dean's car down a hill and into the river that snaked through the campus. Oh, and the dean was in the car at the time. Then there was the time we invited some strippers to an alumni dinner at the student union. Needless to say, contributions dramatically increased from the male alumni the following year.

Several days after my first visit to the barn, I returned. The number of people at the barn seriously increased. I counted seven older men, all dressed in black suits curiously looking at the structure that they paid for. Dr. Pendergast busied himself around the structure, making last-second adjustments. Webby was busy preparing me for my adventure. The chip was inserted under my skin on the back of my hand and Webby had fit me into this ridiculous silver jumpsuit that made me look like a refugee from the cast of Lost in Space. Webby said the suit was a good conductor or something to that effect. I said he was an asshole for setting me up the way he did. He didn't expect that and he looked like a kid who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

"I'm sorry Jones, I just couldn't ask you."

"Yeah you could of," I responded. I looked at him and saw the shame in his face and decided that was punishment enough.

"Hey Dick, just get me back safely and we'll call it square, all right?"

"You got it, Jake."

As I slowly climbed up the ladder to the pod that was located in the horizontal tube, I remembered the phone conversation I had with my mom a couple days before. I told her and some of my friends that I was going out-of-town for a little while and if that wasn't an understatement, I don't know what one is. I also remembered how I was hardly able to choke back the tears and how bad I felt for not being able to tell her what I was doing. I chuckled as I remembered her saying: "Don't forget your toothbrush" and "Make sure you have a couple of pairs of clean underwear." Right Mom, I won't forget.

Nothing could go through with me so I couldn't bring a notebook or pen or anything like that. Somehow I knew that where I was going, I would remember everything I saw. Webby started the countdown and I felt like I was going to lose my lunch at any second. He counted down to one and said, "Brace yourself!"

"What!?" But it was drowned out in this strange whooooooooooshing sound that hit me square in the back and took all the air out of me. I saw Dr. Pendergast, Webby and all the older men looking on and then, they faded away. I surged forward, or maybe it was backwards, but then suddenly a white light surrounded me and then I felt like I was cruising somewhere, anywhere. Now it may seem strange to you that I didn't go back in the past to a very significant time in history... such as the Roaring Twenties, or the civil rights era of the 1960s, or even the hippie era of the 1970s. I went back to a place that I was familiar with because of various stories that had circulated throughout my family as long as I can remember. I went back to an era of hot rods and Wurlitzers and The Temptations. When coca-cola was a dime, cigarettes were sixty-five cents, and it was cool to be a Notre Dame football fan. This was a time when people didn't carry around guns and knives and men used their fists to fight. This was the era of the South side of Chicago in the summer of 1963, and this was where my "pops" grew up.

My Dad's name is Ken and he was seventeen years old going into college in the fall. He always told me the stories about him and his crazy Irish friends growing up on the South side of Chicago. I always wanted to be able to hang out with him and his friends when he told me their adventures, if just for a night. More importantly, maybe my pops could help me in some way boost my declining writing career. It was time to get my wish granted. I arrived safely on some basketball courts across the way from my pop's grammar school, Christ the King. In those days, kids knew one another and identified each other through their parish, in most of the cases what grammar school they went to. St. Barnabas was Christ the King's rival, but there were several others around that area--Holy Redeemer, St. Cajetan's, Queen of Martyrs, St. John Fisher, and St. Thomas More. I was a little disoriented from my trip, so I went over to a bench to rest for a minute. I sat on the bench and thought for a second what Webby told me. He told me that I would have no craving for a drink or a smoke or even have to go to the john. I decided to forget resting and try and go find my pops because I didn't know how much time I had here. I told Webby to give me a few days, but he didn't know if that was going to be possible.

I first tried his old house to see if he was there but to no avail. I remembered him always pointing out the house where he grew-up when we would visit his mom, my grandmother, in the South side before she died. I did receive a shock when I ran into my grandparents. My grandma was tall and broad-shouldered with a stern look and her hair worn tightly in a bun, a sharp contrast from the 90-year-old woman I had known when I was a kid--short, thin, weak from a hip replacement, and always a kind look on her face like the world was amusing to her. The biggest shock though, was my grandpa. He died a year before I was born and I sometimes cursed at God for not letting me ever know him or even meet him. My pops always said that my grandpa would have gone to every baseball and basketball game that I ever played, and I believe he would have.

I know a lot of kids grow-up without their grandparents, but this was different. He loved sports just like I did and even had a chance to play for the Chicago White Sox, but was unable to because of an injury. He died too young and I'll always regret that I never had the chance to meet him. He was a tall, quiet, unassuming man with black glasses and buzz cut gray hair that looked like he was born to be a grandpa. I looked at him in astonishment, he seemed like such an imposing figure and yet I was as tall as he was. My heart skipped a beat and I felt a little stinging sensation in my eyes and I took that as my cue to leave.

As I went outside the house, I thought that maybe this trip wasn't such a good idea after all. Then I reminded myself that I was in history, I was part of something that happened 40 years ago and I was watching it with my very own eyes. This was momentous and I had to savor it, I had to enjoy every minute of it. I remembered my pops once telling me about a hot dog joint that they used to hang out on 79th Street called Jansen's and decided to check it out. Sure enough, as I entered the place, I saw a rowdy bunch of guys surrounding this slightly plump fellow who I recognized as one of my Dad's friends--Ken Gutridge. They were putting money down on whether Kenny could eat five dogs in two minutes. You know what? He did it, with ease.

Then I spotted my pops and I think I almost fainted. He had hair that looked like a big wave on top of his head. He wasn't wearing the glasses that I am so accustomed to, he was about thirty pounds thinner, and actually quite a handsome guy. I recognized some of his other friends from previous meetings and some I remembered after I heard their name. There was Kenny Brucks, who would later go into the priesthood; Burt Collins; Larry Smith, who would play offensive tackle for the Michigan Wolverines in the coming fall; John Darrow; Tom Carney; E.J. Flynn; and the bruising fullback on the high school team who they called the "Italian Stallion," Tony Salbano. Most of these guys went to Brother Rice High School but they hung out with guys from all over--Mount Carmel, St. Rita, Leo High School, and Mendel High School.

Seeing my pops and all his friends in their youth made me feel so good. No wrinkles were apparent and no thinning hair on any of them. They looked fresh and vibrant. They were carefree, with no worries concerning the future or a career or a family. Maybe that was what I had lost in my writing. I became nervous about what to write and how to write it while I forgot one of the most basic elements: just writing, no matter what came to mind. Carefree, effortless writing with no boundaries and no responsibilities to anybody but myself. Writing strictly for me.

The boys broke up at this point to go get some grub at home and get ready for the night's activities. The primary entertainment on the South side came from the many bars and pubs that littered the streets and most of the time, circumstances depending, they would get into the occasional barroom brawl. Before we went out that night, I watched as my pops got ready. He slicked back the hair, did a little shaving, threw the after shave on that smelled like bad whiskey, and put his jeans on that were rolled-up just right at the bottom. One of his three older brothers, Terry, came in to the room and said: "So Kenny, Mom was saying you're thinking about being a lawyer."

"Yeah, I don't know, Kev seems to like it," my pops responded. Kev being another older brother.

"I just want to know, since you're going away to school in the fall, what makes you think you can be a good lawyer?"

"I don't know if I'll be good, but what can I say? I'll do my best. I'll always do my best and I'll tell my kids the same thing. That's all I can ask of them, you know? Whether they turn out to be good or bad, I'll always support what they want to do, just like mom and dad do for us."

"Yeah," Terry said.

I was amazed at what my pops just said. He never personally told us to do our best nor did he ever tell us he was proud of any of his children, but he just said what I always knew, he did support what I did and he was proud of me. He told my grandparents that he was going out and that he didn't know when he would be home and so we were off. In addition to the guys I mentioned before, there were five other guys that came out with us including these twins that were just massive and I figured that they brought them along for a little advantage in case they ran into trouble. The first stop on the agenda was this small place called the Little Feller. I am not being facetious when I say "small" either, because it was a midget bar with midget stools, midget glasses, and even midget pool tables. No joke at all, it was incredible. Most of the guys sat at the bar and I felt like we were invading a dollhouse or something. We towered over everything, but no one seemed to mind. Anyway, this place was just kind of a starter for the night. I almost busted a gut listening to my pops and his friends. It's amazing how little the adolescent male mind changes through the years. You know, it was the usual talk girls, drinking, and sports. I soon began to curse Webby for telling me that I would have no need for a cigarette or a drink. I was dying. I wanted to get myself a cigarette and grab myself a nice midget glass and join in the conversation. I knew that wouldn't be possible so I just enjoyed what was happening around me.

Our next stop was Handley's House of Happiness, an Irish pub that the boys referred to as a stop n' sock. The clientele were mostly these huge Irish construction workers and the chances of you coming out of that place without any broken knuckles or black eyes was slim to none. As we entered, I felt all the faces look in our direction and I may have been invisible, but Jesus Christ, I think one of them was staring right at me. I looked around and saw holes in the wall that were either created by a huge band of termites or flying fists. My guess was the latter. The boys were getting a little sauced up and I had a feeling they hadn't come here to do a little dancing. We got a few tables and the boys kept on drinking and laughing and having a grand old time. For a brief moment I had a chance to look at my pops and try and figure out what he was thinking. He had his whole life in front of him and no looks of worry appeared on his face. There was a beautiful wife waiting for him somewhere at college and they would have four children. I wanted to just reach out and tell him that he is going to do all right for himself, that he's going to make it, but I knew I couldn't. He looked so young and innocent. Until I saw what happened next.

One of his buddies, John Darrow, who was notorious for instigating fights, was talking with someone at the bar when he decided to throw a shot in this guy's face. That's when all hell broke loose. My pops and his buddies were up in a second and they jumped in the melee. Chairs were flying, bodies were being tossed around like rag dolls, and bottles were being smashed across faces. No cops in sight and it was a full-fledged BAR ROOM BRAWL! I watched as my pops and his friends gave out as much as they took. I even started ducking and weaving through the mayhem. It was insane. At one point, my Dad and his friend Larry Smith, were shoulder-to-shoulder on the ground with this huge Irishman with red locks towering over them, chair raised above his head, getting ready to lower the boom. I wanted to cry out, to do something to help him, but he didn't need me. One of the twins they brought out with them leveled this guy like I have never seen a guy get hit before. And for the time being they were all right. And I realized my pops didn't need me here, he would be just fine and do all right without me. It was him who had provided me with something invaluable.

Suddenly, I felt a rush of air and I knew Webby was bringing me home. I had asked for a few days but I did get my one night, and now I was going home. Not that he could hear me or anything, but I yelled at the top of my lungs before I disappeared from that time, "Take care of yourself Pops! I'll be seeing you soon."

I arrived back safely in Webby's lab, exhausted but in one piece, and I am thankful for that. Dr. Pendergast and the "elders" started to grill me on what happened and what it was like and how did I feel. I couldn't even breathe and felt like I was going to pass out. Webby told them to back off and carried me over to a bed at the back of the barn and told me that I could answer all of their questions later. He understood I had been through a tremendous ordeal and that I just couldn't put into words what I had experienced, at least not at the moment.

"Was it magnificent Jones?" he asked.

"More than you can ever imagine Webby," I responded. He nodded at this and turned to go. "Hey Dick... thanks, man."

He gave a little nod to this and left me alone.

As I drifted off to sleep, I felt like I had a breath of fresh air blown into me and I felt rejuvenated. I felt like I could write again. I had seen a part of history and I had witnessed it with my own eyes. You may be asking yourself why I didn't choose some major historical event to witness. What about World War II? What about the Cuban Missile Crisis? What about the Grateful Dead concert when they played at the pyramids of Egypt? Because I didn't need to see any of that. I needed to get back to the basics, to my roots. My pops was the inspiration for my writing and I forgot what he always told me: Don't ever lose perspective on what you want to write. Don't write for someone else. Don't be complicated, be simple because a great writer is one who can write well without trying to be clever or tricky. Maybe I'll write about my pops and his friends someday, or maybe I already have by writing this story. Maybe I'll write about something better. In fact, I have to go, I have so many different things to write about.