Vantage point

Thursday, May 20, 2021

My Fossilized Meal

This is a short story. My attempt at a bit of sci-fi. 


It is rare for me to have three burners going when I'm cooking just for myself. But I was feeling a bit more tense than usual and cooking a lot relaxes me. Paying attention to all 3 dishes cooking at the same time helps take my mind off everything else.

So the ringing doorbell was an unnecessary distraction. I was not expecting any deliveries or visitors so this had to be someone selling either a religion or a political candidate. Notice how hardly anyone is selling anything commercial door to door these days? It's either religion or politics.

I thought that just ignoring the bell would make the person go away and kept tossing the ingredients in my wok while keeping an eye on the simmering poaching broth.

But the ringing was persistent and it got too annoying. So I took the four steps from the kitchen to the front door and opened it, ready to slam it shut soon.

It was a young woman, very eager and keen looking.

"Mr. Naik?" 

"Yes?" I said tentatively, also worried about the hot wok.

"May I ask you a few questions for my homework please? I'm what you might call a graduate student."

Huh? This was different from religion or politics or even vacuum cleaners. This was something completely new, right down to the accent. Living in New York, you hear almost all accents possible, but this one seemed strangely alien.

"Listen, could you come back in a while? I'm cooking!"

"Oh so very good!"

And this wiry tall young woman, about 6 ft 4, just stepped inside my apartment and stared at my kitchen fascinated.

"It is truly so good to see this, Mr. Naik. Is that garlic burning?"

It indeed was! I rushed past her towering but lithe figure into our tiny Manhattan kitchen, unsure about what to make of this unexpected visitor. She did not seem dangerous or deranged. She had more of a girls scouts selling cookies type personality. But still, here she was, in my kitchen, staring at me trying to salvage the noodles.

"Are you new to the building?" I asked, sniffing the poaching broth and gently pouring oil in the 4 holes in the thalipeeth.

Our building doormen did a thorough job of enforcing the no soliciting rule. So if she was here, she was either a thief or a resident.

"It's so much fun to see this kind of fire." she stared at my burners with fascination.

"You have an electric coil? Induction?" 

"No." she distractedly replied, while tapping her forehead with her right index finger every couple of seconds.


"Oh I could not possibly explain to you how we cook, Mr. Naik. It's almost impossible in such a short time!"

"Why not? I'm an intelligent man, they tell me. Try me. And also please tell me why you are here. Ah fuck!" I could smell that some garlic was indeed burnt. I opened the window and started the exhaust fan.

"How would you explain..." she tapped her forehead a couple of times "...An iPhone to Queen Victoria?"

That question was bizarrely specific enough for me to ignore my food for a few seconds.

"Are you calling me Queen Victoria?"

"No, I'm saying I'm from the future!" she impatiently crowded into the kitchen with me and started noticing and murmuring the ingredients while tapping her forehead.

"You're from the future? Well that explains the accent, haha." I tried some humor.

"Exactly." was her earnest response.

And then she just kept looking all over the kitchen and making mental notes, literally! I thought she would give some fantastical explanation. But she really was more interested in inventorying my kitchen.

At this point, I thought about turning the stove off and calling building security, maybe even 911. Sure, she seemed harmless enough, but this was a young woman of indeterminate ethnicity and a strange accent claiming to be from the future. In my apartment. Saying she was from the future.

"So when in the future are you from?" I asked.

"What pancake is that? That's the one my assignment is stuck on!" she was pointing at the thalipeeth.

"Bajri.... pearl millet." I was having trouble keeping up with her rapid topic transitions.

She repeated what I said while tapping her forehead. I later told the men from the government that it might have been like an implant for her to look up or note information. Like invoking Siri or Alexa but from the future.

"Oh, thank you. It's a grain native to....Asia, right?" she was staring at the thalipeeth fascinated.

"Could you move a little?" I clicked my tongue in annoyance, because I had to flip the thalipeeth and I didn't want to splatter hot oil on this weird new neighbor.

"Oh, sorry." she said, and kept tapping her forehead. At that time, I thought, someone with a disorder of some kind, but harmless. I now think she was taking pictures for her assignment.

"You didn't answer my question. When in the future are you from?" I tried to get her back on track.

"I could tell you, but it won't work." she said, peering into my box of Indian spices.

"Try me." I said.

"Okay." She said. Then her lips moved but I only heard 


"How did you do that?" I was stunned enough to stand there holding a ramiken with a raw egg in my hand.

"Do what?" I could hear her again.

"The beep sound! It sounded like on TV when something is beeped. But in my ear! How did you do that?" I was barely able to keep my wits about me at this point. It did not feel like a dream. But what was that?

"That's not me, Mr. Naik. That's the Time Travel Censors." she shrugged and stared at a black cardamom pod on the counter.


"I'm so sorry!" she suddenly turned and said. "I have been so distracted by your kitchen. I should have told you this before. I'm a graduate student here for a research approved project through chronal causality proof time travel, regulated by the Time Travel Censors."

I keep a small foot stool in the kitchen. I sat on it as I felt a little light headed.

"Sorry, the first realization of time travel existing can cause that. But please let me finish. I'm working on a research project on ancient meal fossils found in major cities at the time of global crises. This meal you are cooking is one of the fossils assigned to me."

I stared back at her wondering if I should be freaked out more by her imagination or her equanimity. She was telling me all this like it was today's weather.

"Our chemical analyses were inconclusive about the pancake. So I applied for a CCPTT ticket. We can make strictly regulated and censored time travel trips of limited durations for research purposes. And the systems make sure we are staying true to the past and not altering the future. My present."

This made the sci-fi nerd in me come out.

"But by just telling me that you're from the future, haven't you altered it?"

"Nah, that's what the censors are there for."

"I'm sorry, you keep saying censors. Do you mean sensors?"

"No, no, censors. Who will make sure that I can't give you any information that you could use like a..." she tapped her forehead a couple of times "..a Biff Tannen. I don't know what that means. Do you?"

"Back to the Future?"

Tap. Tap.

 "Yes. So anything I say that could alter the timeline is strictly regulated and censored. The information flow can be only one way. Like me learning that this pancake was not actually indigenous to North America, but was something made by an immigrant from across the globe! Thank you! This is going to be big at our presentations!"

"Glad to be of help." 

She suddenly shuddered, frowned, and smiled. 

"Mr. Naik, that's my 2 minute warning. Thank you for your help. If you have any questions, I can answer them. And the censors will decide what you hear."

She tapped her forehead once, held it, and blinked. Was this real? It felt real. I should tweet this!

"What if I tell people about this? Post it on social media?"

"Oh you will. You have to. Or I could not be here!"

"What do you mean?"

"The Time Travel Department only approves travel to instances where historical archaeological social media databases note someone mentioning a visit from someone from the future. The only way my visit here was approved was if you posted...Or will post... Something on social media about this. If historical records have no mention of a time traveler, those moments are off limits."

"So wait, you came here to research this meal which is.... fossilized? So I don't eat any of this?"

"Well, not exactly, it's just that BEEEEEEE..Am I beeping again?"

"Yes!" I put my pinky in my ear to get rid of the ringing.

"I guess they are really thorough about not wanting to tamper with the timeline."

"So what am I supposed to post on social media that will let you know in the future?"

"I don't know. I didn't see your posts. I just said this is the fossil I have, from this person, and the brain searches the databases and if you made a record, it's approved. They also have the chronolinnaeus records."

"The what?"

"Oh right, early 21st century." she blinked hard. "Okay, I'll be going soon. Thank you for this info. Could I maybe get a taste of that bajri pancake? I don't know if it's allowed but it smells so good."

"Sure." I turned around. "OWWW!"

I burnt my finger as I pulled it off the stove. I turned around. She was gone. My door was still locked. The apartment empty.

How do I post on social media about this without sounding like a nutcase? It would be a paradox if I did not. But if I do, how do I get anyone to take me seriously? If I don't, how will there be a record for her to get approval in the future?

Maybe I should write it as a short story on my blog and tweet about it!

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Pointless ATM

Haven't blogged in years. Breaking the silence with a short story from one of the many unfinished novels on my google drive. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Cranked this baby out in half an hour! Though it did mean I don't use any quotes. Blame it on Cormac McCarthy!


This ATM is so pointless! I said to my wife on the phone.

What do you mean? How can an ATM have a point or not?

Haha, no, sorry, I'm a little high.

I figured, she giggled. Anyway, why is the ATM pointless?

I knew she was humoring me for humor. She loved hearing my high ramblings. But I still felt compelled to explain my profound insight to her, like only someone really high would.

Okay, so there's a Chase bank branch across the street. Right across the street! A proper full fledged bank branch! Big parking lot. Lots of cars. Let me count. 22 cars! Across the street!

Okay, she patiently said like only a spouse of over a decade could. And I read it to mean, yeah, honey, I love you, but I'm hungry, so get to the fucking point.

Why do they need to put a drive through ATM here across the street? Why not incorporate it into..... Excuse me? I'm sorry?


No, honey, there's someone here asking me something. 

Do you have some cash on you man, he asked. He was a tall skinny white dude with tattoos, riding a kids' bike. He was in a tattered tank top and jeans, and had sunken cheeks.

Umm, no, sorry, I said, I'm talking to my wife. 

He opened his mouth and I felt like he moved his hand towards his waist, but then stopped, and put it back on the handlebar. Cool, he nodded and rode off.

Sorry, it was a guy asking for money.

Ah okay, she said nonchalantly. We live in New York.

Anyway, so what is the point of putting just this one drive-through ATM in this property that could easily fit a convenience store? You have a big-ass property right across the street! Put it there!

You should call David Chase, she said tartly.

Chase bank is not run by David Chase! That's the guy who created The Sopranos!

I know! You sound as deranged as Tony right now. Hahaha. Okay, honey, I love you, but I'm hungry and I can't eat and talk at the same time. So unless there's anything else...

Nope, nothing! You don't stay married to a woman that long without knowing never to keep her away from food, no matter how many more high insights you have.

Bye. See you tomorrow!

During the last few sentences of the conversation, I had noticed that skinny dude circling around near me, almost like he was sizing me up. I didn't want to alarm my wife, because I was just a few feet away from my motel door. Even if the guy was, in the rarest of possibilities, a mugger, I could just run to the door and be safe.

Or maybe I should just give him whatever cash I have. He looks emaciated! Oh, but I need to leave a tip for the motel cleaning staff. At least five bucks. No, maybe ten. Yeah, I could keep ten maybe. Excuse me?

You sure you don't got any cash? His voice definitely had a menace to it as he pulled up between me and the motel door. His hand now swiftly went behind his back, as if to suggest he had a gun there.

I knew he didn't. He had been sizing me up. I had ended up sizing him up without meaning to. When I get high, I observe everything in insane detail. I had noticed his butt-crack over the waist of his jeans as he rode away. There was nothing there.

But I was high, I was in a happy generous mood, practically swimming among the clouds.

How much do you need?

Don't you fucking stall on me, you raghead!

Raghead? Is that really necessary?

Give me everything you have, asshole, he pushed his bike between my legs.

So I don't know if I mentioned this before. But I was high. And I reacted to this mugging in the following order.

First, I was very much amused and excited that holy fuck, after all these years in America, I'm finally on the receiving end of a genuine honest to god mugging! How cool is that? And in a dark motel parking lot too! Almost like something out of Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul. He even looks like Jesse Pinkman. No! Skinny Pete!

Who the fuck you calling skinny, asshole?


Suddenly I'm staring at a gun! Where the fuck did that come from? I still have no idea where he had stashed it if I could see his butt-crack a minute ago.

Okay, yeah, just a second. Here, well, I have umm...Hmm.... I'm thinking to myself... Will he kill me anyway? He called me a raghead! But nah, it's not worth it. Here is 38 bucks. I was hoping to leave ten bucks as a tip.

Fuck that, he growled and snatched the cash from my hand. Get your tip from the ATM, he pointed towards it with his head and laughed. And then he suddenly stopped and stared at my wallet. My Chase card was right up front.

Maybe because I was high, it felt like I read his brilliant plan ages before he even thought of it and started cracking up a bit. Not advisable against a gun-toting mugger.

The fuck you laughing at? Get some cash from the ATM for me, dipshit! Walk, or else!

Okay, okay. I raise my hands and start walking towards the ATM. I can't control my laughter. Fuck, I'm high! LOL!

Fucking stop laughing, he half punches me, which amuses me even more. I could have easily taken him if not for the gun.

I'm sorry. We reach the ATM machine. He's holding the gun between us, to hide it from any cars driving by. I'm still giggling.

Put it in!

Title of your sex tape!

You're really starting to get on my nerves, you know that? This time he pokes the gun deep into my side, and for the only time that night, I genuinely fear for my life. 

I'm high, I confess impulsively.

He looks taken aback and unsure of how to process this new information. Just get the cash, he says.

I put the card in. The PIN prompt pops up. I instinctively give him a look that is meant to ask for privacy. He, bizarrely, looks away!

I enter the right pin. The menu shows up. And I started laughing again.

What the fuck do you keep laughing at? He really pushes the gun hard into me. Title of my sex tape?

You see there over that?


Sorry. I'm high. You see that over there? The small camera? Every ATM transaction is recorded. That's what I'm cracking up at. You could have just walked away with 38 bucks. Now you're on candid camera!

He noticed the camera and I saw a look of panic flash across his face. 

Listen, buddy, relax. I have an idea. Listen to me. Sometimes I shock myself with how persuasive I can be. He actually listened!

Just give me ten bucks for the tip, take the 28 bucks and walk away. I won't say anything to anyone. I won't call the cops, I swear to Jesus! I swear to Jesus!

There was a cross tattooed on his shoulder. That's why I tried the Jesus angle.

I continued speaking. To the cameras, it will just look like two friends talking. See, let's look up at the camera and smile.

And he actually did it! He took the 28 bucks, left me with a Hamilton for the tip, and rode away. I was still laughing.

I took my phone out and with great effort, managed to stop laughing. I don't think 911 operators would take a giggler seriously. 

I don't believe in Jesus. And he called me a raghead!