Typically my workday begins with me at my desk, enjoying my one cup of coffee for the day, checking email, drafting responses, deleting spam, and reading the usual websites. I do this for as long as it takes to drink my coffee before I get down to work. I always start with The Onion, and their AV Club website, and on Friday September 10, they ran an article inspired by a question comedian Patton Oswalt asked them:
Everyone says things like “Oh man, how cool would it be to be in Dealey Plaza during the JFK assassination, or see The Beatles during one of their Cavern Club concerts, or witness ancient Rome?” Well, what if you were given the chance?
Here are the conditions. You’ve been granted a hypothetical ticket to live, in comfort and coherence, during one five-year time period. Maybe you want to be in New York in Chicago during Prohibition, or Victorian London, or France right before the Revolution. (Or during—no judgments.) You’ll be able to understand and speak the language (if needed), have enough disposable cash to live at leisure, and experience whatever you want, with no need for a job. You’ll have a comfy apartment or house to return to, full period wardrobe, and as much time as you need before making this trip to study up on the period you’ll live in.
But you must stay within a five-mile radius of where/whenever you choose to live. Thus you can’t go see the Kennedy assassination, then go zipping around the world to London to watch the birth of the British Invasion, or New York for the early years of Greenwich Village. Want to see the Kennedy assassination? Fine. But then you’re stuck in Dallas for the next five years. What historical period (and place), in your opinion, offers the most enticing experiences in one five-year period?
Now, who among us hasn’t waned to experience life in a different place and time? I certainly have; three of my screenplays have taken place between 1901 and 1918, centered, for the most part, around World War One. I’m something of a WW1 buff actually, more so than its sequel. At any rate I wondered; what period outside of The Great War would I find to be the most enticing experience in one five-year period?
Typically I had several, but narrowed it down to the following three;
Florence, Italy – 1409-1504
I live in the Renaissance City at the height of said Renaissance. I apprentice myself to Leonardo da Vinci and serve as assistant to him in the creation of his many great machines, convincing him to actually construct many of them. Then when he leaves to travel with the Papal Army, I cross town and apprentice under his rival Michelangelo and help him sculpt David. On my off days I hang out in taverns with Niccolo Machiavelli and tell him “sure, a book about Cesare Borgia sounds like a brilliant idea, but you may want to pick a different title; how about The Prince?” I then ingratiate myself with the crème of Florentine society and end up spending a lot of time at the Borgia court, and get to watch first-hand as Cesare Borgia and his father Pope Alexander IV launch their plot to unite the Italian City States under papal rule. I make a successful play for Cesare’s sister Lucrezia, incur Cesare’s wrath, but make sure to take copious notes so, upon returning to the present day at the exact moment I left it, I finally have all the research materials I need to finish my damn novel already.
Los Angeles, California – 1971-1976
Armed with a pile of screenplays that will be thirty years ahead of their time, I’ll convince Hollywood to produce the lot of them, befriend George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Marty Scorsese, become heavily involved in the making of American Graffiti, Jaws and Taxi Driver, rewriting all of them and ensuring they become the classics they are remembered for (since I ‘ve already seen the finished product). I also tell Lucas about my idea for a thing called “Star Wars,” which I sell to him for one dollar, with an agreement that I receive 50% of the gross profits from the film, its sequels and spinoffs, in perpetuity. This is agreed to in an iron-clad contract. Said funds are deposited directly into a numbered Swiss bank account. On returning to 2010, I make a big mother of a withdrawl from said account, and return to Hollywood, buy out MGM and become a Selzneckian mogul.
Seattle, Washington – 1988-1993
Sure I could go with Manchester circa 85-89, Swinging London, or Haight Ashbury circa ’66, but I’m going to be predictable and settle on Seattle at the birth of the Grunge Era. I’d hang out in coffee shops, go to clubs and see Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, and countless others. I make friends with the perpetually starving artists; buying them dinner, letting them crash at my pad, buying them beer and just hanging out. I become a Svengali type to them all, and bear witness to the last great era in rock music as it’s happening around people who don’t realize it, and depart in late 1993, before everything turns tragic (but not before making sure I’m with Mia Zapata the night of July 7, 1993, to make sure she isn’t murdered by some, so I can see how great her and her band can become). I also tell Kurt Cobain, to chill on the worries about fame, that it’s fleeting, and he should cancel the rest of the In Utero Tour, move out to the middle of nowhere and just hang around reading books. I’m mentioned in the liner notes to Nevermind, Badmotorfinger, Ten and Dirt. People wonder whatever happened to me and I become this mythic figure. Years later someone does a documentary about me. I’m tracked down, but the notion I was the guy is dismissed, as I would have been 15-20 years old at the time. My secret remains safe.
Now narrowing those three down to one is a difficult task. Florence seems the most practical as it pertains to a long in gestation project I’m currently embroiled in, but I would fear that the reality of this time and place and its people would clash with my somewhat romanticized interpretation of these historical figures. Hollywood fits with my desire to conquer the entertainment world, to influence the making of several classic movies, and attain the financial security I desire – but who says I’m not already on the road to doing that?
The nostalgic in me zeroes in on Seattle, and given how much writing I’ve done on music recently would indicate that. But for me, there’s certainly an appeal in pulling up stakes and living, anonymously, in a place and time contemporary to my life and experiences.
Of course, I could really do none of these things; how could I when I have so much to do right now?