I remember a group of older kids that hung out in the park my house overlooked. They frightened me or maybe it was that my mother made me frightened of them. They smoked, that made them seem cool. They drove beat up cars, that made them seem tough. But I was afraid to go near them. I was told stories about how they do drugs, steal, hurt people and the list of bad things went on for miles. I watched them from my bedroom window but they were pretty far away. At night I could see the glow of cigarettes, hear faded laughter and an occasional beer bottle crack against a wall. I was afraid I would grow up to be one of them but I could not stop watching them. When I stopped watching I wondered what it was like to be in their group but when I watched I was overcome with a feeling of sorrow and regret.
There were times when I would ride my bicycle near enough to get a closer look but far enough away to avoid conflict. I would try and look at them out of the corner of my eye, hoping not to be obviously gawking at them. As I grew up I became bolder, riding my bike closer and being more obvious that I was staring at them. As they grew older my opinion of them changed. They were ugly people, physically and just not people I would want to spend time with.
It was very clear that the rumors of drug use were true. I witnessed the use of heroin, not realizing that's what it was. The thought of sticking a needle into my arm was so foreign to me I couldn't understand why they thought nothing of it. I began to make up names for them, but odd names that evoked the feeling I had when looking at them. There were two girls that stood out the most in the small crowd, an older one looked strange, like an odd face I cannot explain, I called her Glorby, I've no idea where the word came from, but it was her. Another girl, very pretty early on, I called her Summer. I suppose at one point I had a crush on her, but that passed quickly.
I cannot recall when I stopped bothering with them, I'm not even sure why. But I stopped watching, I moved on, I grew up. High school turned into college, then grad school, then a job at a university. My work in experimental physics consumed my life. For years I worked on ideas that I could not easily explain to others and became very secluded in my research. It was very science fiction, even to me.
My research led to an experiment that changed my life. Whisked to an alternate dimension, in an alternate universe that was somehow completely flat, I found myself on a planet identical to earth in every way, at least up until 1966. That's when the hippies took over the planet and changed the rest of history. Or in some ways, didn't change it. I don't really know why or what happened but it took the planet about four hundred years to get from 1966 to 1981. I traveled to the planet a number of times but I remember my first hours there clear as day.
I was in the middle of Central Park in New York City. There was some sort of concert taking place and I can only estimate that it was around 1967. There were hippies everywhere, I was completely out of place. I started to walk away from the festival and found myself winding my way down a path through Strawberry Fields.
As I walked over a small hill I stumbled into a small group, mostly doped up on some combination of LSD and I don't know what. To some extent they reminded me of the group I avoided I the park growing up. But I was drawn to them, or rather I was drawn to the spaceship that was resting on the grass behind them.
The ship was beat up, rusty, a bucket of bolts that looked like instant death if you were to launch it into space but it was covered in the most interesting and colorful blend of day glow paint, swirls, random images and words that I had to walk up and touch it. "Go inside, it's more fun in there," I didn't look at her but I wandered inside, she followed.
I was immediately overcome with a sense of sorrow, fear and anxiety. "Try it out, sit over there," waving me in the direction of the captain's chair. It was not what I expected. Clearly this was not like space ships I ever imagined. She came over to show me the controls, I guess it was obvious to her I had never been inside a ship before. The control panels were oddly familiar, like mainframe control panels I saw in vintage computer books. It was nothing I expected, no steering wheel, no windows, just a bunch of computer terminals and panels with switches.
"One day you will be experienced, maybe even beautiful, savor the memory of the days you were not," soon after I found myself barely able to stay awake. I walked over to a couch and watched the others file into the control room and take their positions and realized they were preparing to take off. My head felt like it was filled with water. I bobbed back and forth, the feeling was nothing I've ever experienced.
I felt like I was treading water sitting down. I might have been kicking my feet. I was very aware of people staring at me because I was doing stupid things, but I was unaware of what I was doing that was stupid. I started to absorb the reality of where I was sitting and started to understand the different stations on the bridge. I asked lots of questions, nobody answered, they just stared, I wondered if I asked the questions out loud or not.
"What's her name," I just sort of shouted out, I didn't have much control over the volume of my voice and I startled the captain a few feet away. He walked over and put his hand on my shoulder, "the ship? We call her Summer of Love. A little optimism goes a long way in naming a ship that is less than reliable. Cross your fingers, we think she's almost ready to fly. Last couple times didn't go so well. I'm the new captain, this is a new crew, we're really glad you came along for the ride."
"What's going on with my head?" I asked the captain. "Don't worry, that's just Ayam. He's the computer that runs the ship. There was a malfunction before, he put LSD in the ship's water supply and did something screwy with the ventilation system. He's a great computer but has a sick sense of humor."
"Why the name Ayam?"
"It's short for AM3100, Action Man Elite series of talking computers. He doesn't talk much but when he does you ought to listen."
I was feeling the effects of the drugs, nobody else seemed at all phased by the predicament we were in. We were about to take off into space onboard a ship that I really don't think would make it more than ten miles up before crashing back down that was run by a computer that decided it would be fun to drug the crew. I was horrified to think of what could happen next.
There was a loud bang, I think it woke me up, I think I was asleep. The drugs were really winning the war between reality and surrealism in my brain. I could not tell if I was sleeping, dreaming or wide awake. I guess only a minute or two had passed, the captain called across the control room, "Ignition!" and turned to me and said, "you may want to close your eyes."
I took his advice. I imagined I was inside a Ferrari out in the salt flats. I slammed the gas pedal to the floor and was drilled back into my seat. For a brief moment I snapped out of my drugged stupor and was overcome by the same sorrow and regret I used to feel watching those kids in the park. But that quickly passed as I drifted back into a state of amazement realizing that I was zooming through space with a group of hippies aboard the ship "Summer of Love."
It was all I ever wanted.