Pleased to Meet Me
A standard capsule includes photos, snippets of articles, and obituaries if applicable. This costs about $300 if you attend a timeshare presentation, and tends to be a popular graduation gift. The deluxe package includes everything in the standard capsule as well as a one-on-one interview with your future self. The price varies depending on the client, and baseball scores and lottery numbers are strictly off-limits. Discussions are meant to involve relationships, career choices, health, and so on. I figure most clients that can afford it merely want to see if they age well, as a sort of unprovoked expression of vanity.
The deluxe package is a bit less desirable than it once was. Rival toy companies now offer similar services, and clients are generally unhappy with the results anyway. My article about the process wasn’t exactly well received either, which I can’t imagine was helpful. With innovations formerly regarded as impossibilities, there’s a certain taboo towards journalists giving the whole thing away, as if the masses preferred magic as an explanation. My former editor insists this was the case as far back as the invention of the telephone.
I suspect censorship of being a more likely culprit than outright lack of demand, even if only because I can’t be the first to write about the whole experience. Most of which involved sitting on impractical, sculpturesque furniture in pastel-colored waiting rooms. The facility itself is actually quite large for being attached to a mall, and manages to stay empty on weekdays. Each room stays quiet, aside from the occasional fax, and the receptionist asking me to proceed to the next waiting room every half hour or so. Which happens to be more than enough time to get through the reading material of each room.
The reading material is fairly personalized, mostly consisting of photos and articles from the standard capsule, as well as inevitable things like natural disasters. Each room is a little smaller than the last one, and each stack of the reading material from a little further into the future than the last, and so on.
The first two rooms are the same as I remember, with the same reading material: a DUI, rehab, therapy, and a suicide attempt. The standout ones being performance and production credits on an album considered to be a cult classic, and a seemingly passionate article where I’m referred to as a “tortured soul.” The magazine in question used a blurry photo of me in a hospital gown, having a cigarette with a sickly woman in a Dead Kennedys tee shirt.
The third waiting room was roughly the size of a broom closet, which is considerably smaller than I remember it being. The reading material was entirely different this time around, too. There was a murder trial and an eventual formation of a cult, but I couldn’t justify forcing myself to read any further. I felt a sort of disconnect, as if it weren’t possible this could be me, since it wasn’t the same version of me I last spoke with. A document taped to a glass table served as a final warning, and something to sign if I wanted to leave without a refund.
At some point, the receptionist—an unremarkable woman in a pantsuit—gently opened the door, clutching a clipboard. Her light tap on the door might have meant to serve as something like a retroactive knock, and she may have said something to the effect of right this way, please but I was rightfully a bit beside myself. I followed her to the room where the interview was to be conducted, which was a little different this time around.
Pink pastel walls, a Persian rug, one-way mirrors, and reel-to-reel tape recorders; I’d addressed nearly everything else in the room, likely to delay the inevitable. Two red leather lounge chairs were positioned in the center of the room, with a small glass table between them, bearing two ribbon microphones and two cups of bubble tea. It looked like something between a late-night talk show and a fever dream, and I was being greeted by my own venomous smile.
He waved his finger at my chest, likely to keep me from talking, and asked me if the cigarettes in my shirt pocket were tobacco or green tea. I rolled both, and lately I was sprinkling green tea leaves over my tobacco. I initially thought the tea would help me quit, but at some point I acquired a taste for it. He scoffed when I told him this, but took one anyway. I didn’t notice the door was shut behind me until I finally took a seat, nor did I notice the barely audible hints of jazz piano with no discernible source.
I struggled with my moody brass lighter for a moment, before being handed a matchbook with an ad concerning matchbook advertising. Smokers do read matchbooks, you are doing so now, it said. I glanced over at him as I dragged on my cigarette, noting that it was like looking into a hazy mirror. Much of his features remained the same as mine, with silvered hair and tired eyes being the notable differences. His voice was a fair bit raspier than mine, sounding more like a recording of my voice than how I actually hear myself.
My focus shifted to the audio equipment as I briefly watched the tape reels spin. He told me interviews with him are elusive, and this particular one being recorded was the only reason these discussions have been so affordable. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe him, but I was under the impression that it was meant to be something clinical or therapeutic. You absolute moron, he’d say, between disgusted cigarette drags and sips of bubble tea. Insisting that I was to blame for anything remotely psychological, as well as the meetings themselves. Narcissism is a hell of a drug, he said.
Ignoring the fact that he was the one that told me to come back soon, I believe I’ve only been here twice, or maybe three or four times at most. My memory of the first interview is distorted, to say the least, as I can almost remember it twice from differing perspectives. I can only imagine the same or worse must’ve happened to him, likely for each interview, as if new and old memories of the same event were competing. All I mentioned was the distortion, to which he nodded and stayed silent, aside from the rattle of his straw chasing unattainable drops of bubble tea.
He picked the microphones up and unscrewed them from their tiny tripods, handed me one, and held one to his face as if we were being filmed. He told me we should have the sort of interview they publish in magazines. Cheers, he beamed, slapping the microphones together. If someone was listening, it’s safe to assume they now have at least mild tinnitus as a result. He grabbed me by the shirt collar while the needle on the tape machine’s VU meter danced with the numbers in red. If you have any sense, you’ll steal one of those tapes and take on a new identity in another country, he whispered.
Several seconds went by at this point, and the more I thought about it, the easier it was to rationalize taking one of the tapes. It was one way to ensure I don’t come back for another interview, likely at least slightly preserving my sanity. If an interview with him is as elusive as he says, it’s also possible it could be worth something to someone at some point, regardless of what changes. I lit another cigarette, and nodded. It was all I could think to do to let him know that I’d actually do it.
He started doing this bit where he’d act like an obnoxious radio host, asking me questions about my childhood, and eventually promising to end the interview when we ran out of cigarettes. At times, he’d pretend to have a caller on the line, usually to voice complaints about the station not taking song requests. It took a while before he was willing to switch roles, and a condition of doing so was that he’d offer bad advice as he went along.
My initial assumption was that advice he’d give would pertain to things he wished he’d done differently, or not at all, and sometimes this was the case. I was told to quit trying to write for newspapers, as those articles get censored and turned into advertisements anyway. He went on to say that writing for zines is what got him into music, and interrupted himself to tell me not to trust banks or credit unions. My favorite piece of advice was this: if ever you feel like jumping off a building, he said. Do a flip.
We were down to our last couple cigarettes, and only a few seconds of silence passed before he chimed back in. He said the murder trial I read about was an overdose, and it’s best to just avoid those people altogether. People live on their own terms, he’d say. Because people are absolute morons. I hadn’t given it much thought, but I’m sure there are self-destructive people that aren’t entirely brain dead. Some of which are probably worth sticking around for, I’d say, but he disagreed.
I lit my last cigarette, took a drag of it, and stood up to admire the spinning tapes. He kept talking, mostly about how corporations function as a sort of shadow government. I’d nod every few spins or so, but at some point I just stopped listening. Not because I necessarily disagreed, it was more about no longer having the capacity. Until next time, I said, stuffing two tape reels down my pants. Until next time, he nodded.
It was a calm and casual exit, not exactly the high-risk stakes of a heist film, but I was anxious enough to get a safety deposit box anyway. I quickly realized I made the mistake of leaving the key at my apartment, however, when I stopped there to pack up. My first instinct was to abandon it. I spent a few days in a motel outside of town, who seem to charge more for using their phones than using a room. I had people I know ask around, but no one seemed to be looking for me. I didn’t see any harm in going home at this point, at least long enough to grab the key. I opened the door to find my elder doppelganger in bed, mounting and strangling a younger doppelganger. You absolute moron, he shrieked.