Chapter 7 – The Time Machine

The swift and unceremonious exit from ThribbleSpec (which Randy referred to, in his mind, as “Thriexit”) was so undramatic as to be almost not worth mentioning. He'd wished he could have cleared off a table with an angry forearm gesture, like Jack Nicholson in that diner scene in Five Easy Pieces, but he could never do stuff like that and instead left with a whimpering, “Anyway, thanks for the opportunity...” “Like one of those sea creatures who when you remove it from its briny home doesn't even have a shape except for the shot glass you're drinking it out of,” Randy thought with disgust, as drank down the thing, at the bar of St. Paul Seafood after his last hour of work, in that window of time (which might only last until tomorrow morning) when you feel limitless of possibility, not simply unemployed. And hey, it wasn't bad; with enough vinegar, horseradish, and Sriracha, it almost tasted like food.

In transitional moments like these, Randy found that it wasn't a bad idea to shake up one's perspective, and there was no better way to do that than to utilize the Time Machine. Amtrak would not last in its present form, if at all (but he didn't want to think about that beyond making “save Amtrak” calls to his congresspersons). It was based on some earlier model, he supposed, which was why it was equal parts charming and maddening. Regardless, they had yet to figure out that supply and demand thing, and while airline and car rental prices on the holidays were through the roof, the train was, as usual, only slightly more expensive than the dreaded Greyhound. It was the perfect mode of transportation to take him into his past.

He would visit his brother, Jeff, in their hometown of Sandusky, Ohio, over the 4th of July weekend. They would get out the family slides, and look at them in the dark on a white wall, using a slide projector that jammed up, annoyingly, just like the one they remembered from their childhood. In spite of the clunky technology, the richness and depth of the images were lightyears ahead of the later “advances” in technology—the Instamatic flash photos, the disposable cameras with plastic lenses, and finally the tiny, limitless cellphone pics whose ridiculous hi-definition only served to expose us as the soulless avatars we are, in this ever-thinning, crumbling simulation.

Randy and his brother Jeff found themselves in a real-life mystery, not unlike the Hardy Boys, whose mystery books they occasionally still read (at least the early, 1930s versions). A new diner had opened not far from where Jeff lived. He'd read an article about it, and how they were selling doughnuts that were made from the same recipe as the legendary Markley's—a diner long-gone, now—a Subway in its place. They drove out to this new diner, Anne's Cafe, and found that it was closed. As they peered in the windows Randy felt a nauseous chill. The place looked frozen in time, like one day, in the middle of breakfast even, they had locked the doors and moved on, leaving everything intact. It had been open less than a month.

Some internet research took the brothers to the nearby town of Catawba Island where they found a little diner where the doughnuts (then sold to Anne's Cafe) were actually made, using the recipe and a similar doughnut machine as used at Markley's. No one there could tell them anything about why Anne's had closed. As with most mysteries, when you weren't the Hardy Boys, you got only so far and then realized that further pursuit would yield no dividends, and in fact make you come across as a crazy person.

It was fun while it lasted, though, but what it did for Randy was remind him that his epic novel, The Doughnuts, was one rewrite (albeit no small task) from completion, and he had put it off, why? Fear of failure/fear of success—they were two sides of the same coin. Realizing that, knowing that, however, was not really helpful. Randy didn't know what would be helpful, but if he could figure that out, he supposed, he could change his name to Tony Fucking Robbins.