How To Beat Ben Franklin At Beercheesi

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.

Submitted: February 14, 2015

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Submitted: February 14, 2015

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After I invented the time machine, I put a lot of thought into how to use it without altering history.  At first, I only used it to go back way beyond humans.  That way I was sure I wouldn’t fuck anything up.  I didn’t even pick up any fossils. 

Rule number one of time travel:  No collecting.

I only went back to the dinosaurs once.  Some big thing with a tail damn near stepped on my machine.  That would have been a problem, I had left the spare time machine back in the future.  Just kidding.  I only have one.

Rule number two:  No dinosaurs.

Rule number three:  Always send the machine unmanned first, for just a few seconds.  Take lots of photographs and make sure the landing zone is free of anything large enough to eat or run over a cow.

Rule number four:  Travel at night and use infrared cameras.  Cold blooded animals move slower at night.

After I became comfortable with the process, I started thinking about how I could visit with humans in the past, without risking some unpredictable, catastrophic change.  I would have felt really stupid, if I came back from the past, and found out that TV or football had not been invented.

Visiting with people from the past was the reason I invented the time machine.  I’m not that interested in dinosaurs.  I had a lot of questions for Ben Franklin.  And Isaac Newton.  And Bear Bryant.  But Ben was first on my list.

The number one concern was not letting anyone find the time machine.  Various cultures have burned witches, and I don’t want to know what someone back then would think if they saw me emerging through a door in a titanium box that was radiating quite a bit of heat.  There is a lot of friction in time travel.

Rule number five:  Never touch the outside of your time machine until it cools off. 

I painted it flat black so it would be as unobvious as possible.  But I needed somewhere to appear where it wouldn’t be noticed.  It had to be a good place to hide it while I was visiting.

For each adventure, I would have to do a lot of research and find a safe, out of the way place for the machine.  A cave, an abandoned mine, something along those lines.  And a way to get from there to where I wanted to go.  In Ben’s case, that meant Philadelphia.  Locating such a place was not a trivial task.  While nothing like today, America was populated from coast to coast, either by the European colonists that ended up kicking British ass a few years later in the Revolutionary War, or by Native Americans.

I needed to be able to blend in.  If I walked down a street in Philadelphia, in 1770, wearing my Air Jordans and my favorite Crimson Tide football jersey, that might strike the residents as odd.  Same thing with language and accent.  Whassuup, Homies!  You got some righteous beyotches!  Probably wouldn’t cut it.

I spent a lot of time researching and doing strategic thinking.  One day a homeless dude was having a conversation with an imaginary friend, on a busy sidewalk.  No one made eye contact with him or even looked at him.  They just walked past as if he wasn’t there.  Bingo. 

There are bums, homeless people, alcoholics, and losers everywhere, everywhen.  When I first show up somewhen, I take on a persona along those lines.  That gives me time to learn the culture, the customs, the language.  After I’m comfortable, I can move on to my destination and drop that act on the way.

Where to land and hide the machine?  I got a lucky break on that one.  One of my best friends from college is now a history professor.  He is a history wacko.  Back then, 99.9% of my brain was consumed with girls, the rest was taken up by drinking and football and studying.  Whenever we sat around getting drunk, he would regale me with some story about how Native Americans in Wisconsin preferred to make arrowheads out of obsidian as opposed to their Alabamian cousins who preferred flint. 

I just made that up, my point is that he could captivate me with any esoteric story about history.  Even if I would jumble them all up later when I tried to remember them. 

When I started thinking about how to gain the knowledge I would need, my buddy came to mind.  If you don’t kiss a history slut on the mouth, they won’t realize you are pumping them for information.

After my first pass at research, I realized there were places in the American North where the natives would make camp in the summer, then migrate south when the weather got cold.  There had to be some place where a camp with supplies would be temporarily abandoned, with a cave nearby.  I hoped that stealing a canoe and some supplies to make my way down river to the nearest white outpost, wouldn’t change history. 

To con my history buddy into doing the detailed research I needed, I made up a story that I was trying to impress a lady with a Native American background.  I met her at a party, and pretended I was interested in that stuff.  Now I had a date with her in two weeks, and it was going to be put up or shut up.  I needed to become an expert in a hurry.  Rusty fell for my story.  He was easy.

At first he filled my inbox with links to a variety of articles about Native Americans in the Midwest.  He didn’t notice that my questions got very specific after that.  Once you got Rusty started, he stopped thinking.  History is a reflex for him, like swinging a golf club.

After a week I had what I needed.  A temporarily abandoned summer camp built around a cave, with an entrance big enough for my machine.  There would be cached supplies, and a short walk away to a small river, more than one dry docked canoe. 

Before I went in the time machine, I traveled the old fashioned way, via airplane and automobile to the site.  I wanted to check out the cave.  There weren’t any canoes by the river that time.

BTW, don’t expect me to reveal the location of any of my hideouts.  I may use them again.  You may invent your own time machine.  If I figured it out…

Rule number six:  Build your own damn time machine.  Do your own research.

I was glad that in 2014, I spent months paddling my canoe up and down the river that runs a few miles south of my house. 

Rule number seven:  Practice makes perfect.  Or, it may reduce imperfection to a survivable condition.

When I paddled down the Mississippi river in 1770, it was cold as hell.  I didn’t think about practicing in the cold.  I wished I had brought some Ben Gay.

Rule number eight:  Pay attention to the weather.

No matter.  I had paid really good money to a craftsman that specialized in making authentic period clothing of all types.  When he gave me a tour of his workshop, it was a form of time traveling.

I found some old paper in an antique store.  Old fashioned ink pens are not hard to come by.  I studied several examples of handwriting from the day.  The note I had written said:

I am Roger Smith.  I am mute.  I work hard and play guitar.

The last two of those things are true. 

I made my way down river, to the outskirts of a small, rough settlement that had been named just a few years earlier.  St. Louis.  There was no Arch back then.  As I approached the group of men gathered around the campfire, the apprehension was palpable.  But I was unarmed, and there were many more of them than me.  I handed the piece of paper to the closest man, and hoped he could read.

I made a motion like I was eating soup.  They had a pot boiling on the fire and it smelled really good.  I hadn’t eaten since yesterday.  The man could read.  He told one of his companions to hand me a guitar.

First I did some pantomiming.  I made a digging motion, then acted like I was climbing down a hole.  Then I cupped my hands where a woman would have breasts, any guy would recognize I were hinting at a woman.  I pretended to trip and fall, then acted like I was drowning.

They looked a little confused at that, but as soon as I started playing Oh My Darling, Clementine, they got the idea.  One of the men started singing, then others joined in.  After the song, I got a bowl of soup.  Best damn soup I ever ate.

After that, they started requesting songs.  I had memorized quite a few songs that were popular then.  When someone mentioned one I didn’t know, I shrugged my shoulders, and someone else would play it.  I was a fast learner.

I was fitting in, but I realized how vulnerable I was.  When I had gone on my test visits to the past, I had never stayed very long, and never strayed far from the machine.  And I had never interacted with the most dangerous animal on the planet before.  This was for keeps. 

As far as I was concerned, I was past the point of no return.  Going back at this point would entail the same risks as going forward, although for a shorter period of time.  But I didn’t come this far for nothing.

I spent a few days at the camp.  The men would walk in to town during the day, and look for any work that was available.  There wasn’t much.  But some of the local ranches and farms needed extra hands.  I earned a few coins. 

Plus, I had the coins I had purchased in the present, hidden in the secret compartments in the heels of my boots.  I couldn’t buy the inexpensive coins, the ones that were badly worn.  Those would have stood out back then.  I had to buy the ones that were in almost uncirculated condition.  That cost me quite a bit in 2014 dollars.  In 1770, they were enough to buy a stagecoach ride from St. Louis to Philadelphia, and a week’s worth of living expenses.

There is nothing like a long stagecoach ride to make you realize you really don’t want to live in 1770.  But after you recover it’s a nice place to visit.  Dusty, bumpy roads will make your kidneys sore, and make you cough up dirty phlegm the next morning.

I decided when I left the camp I was ready to blend in.  I had figured out the accent, the vernacular, and most of the slang.  My story, that I grew up on a distant farm, with only my parents around, helped cover up when I wasn’t getting something everyone else got.  I burned the note I had written.

Rule number nine:  If you need to, take acting lessons before you time travel.

Rule number ten:  Make up lots of good cover stories.

Somehow I managed to get to Philadelphia without any major snafus.  Now, how to support myself, and how to meet Ben Franklin?  I already had a plan that.  Ben Franklin was a publisher.  A newspaper man, among many other things.  And I had an advantage over everyone else on the planet, including him.  I knew what was going to happen next.  Predicting the future is easy if it has already happened.  That also makes it easy to be in the right place, at just before the right time.

News travelled slowly in 1770.  No internet, telephones, or automobiles.  Philadelphia would have its first railroad in 1832.  Twenty eight years later, the Pony Express would be able to deliver mail at a pace of 250 miles per day.  They could do that with a series of skilled riders on strong horses, passing the sacks of mail from one rider to another.  Contrast that with the average horse people own today for pleasure.  You may be able to go 15-20 miles in a day on Mr. Ed.

Ben Franklin didn’t have the Pony Express at his disposal, but he was a man of means, and one of the ways he dominated the newspaper business in Philadelphia was by getting the news first.  He had couriers who regularly ran routes between the major cities on the eastern seaboard.  After hanging out in the bar nearest the Philadelphia Gazette, and buying some drinks, I found out it took 3-4 days for a courier to get from Boston to Philadelphia.  If there was a reason to hurry.

There was.  On March 5, 1770, British soldiers fired on a mob of unruly colonists in Boston.  Three died on the spot, two more died later.  The event would later be considered the first battle in the American Revolution.  When I met Ben Franklin, walking in to the office of the Pennsylvania Gazette, three days later, no one in Philadelphia knew of the event, except for me, and possibly the horseman that had just arrived.  The man hurriedly unstrapped his saddlebag and went in to the office.

I stood near the door, with a piece of paper in my hand.  It was my version of what had happened in Boston.  I had written it down, the night before, in my hotel room.  I may have been the first human being to write the phrase “Boston Massacre” on a piece of paper.

When Mr. Franklin approached the door, I begged his pardon, and asked if he would kindly read my article.  I explained that I was in need of employment, and this article would prove that I had sources that rivaled and possibly exceeded his.  He read the article, and angrily said, “Bullshit.  If this had happened, I would already know about it.”  I smiled and said, “You will.  Good day, sir.” I turned and walked away.

The next morning, I was standing in the same spot, waiting for Mr. Franklin.

The look on his face was similar to yesterday’s look, but he said, “I suppose you’ve got something else earth shattering that I won’t find out about until I walk into my office?”  I chuckled, and said, “No sir.  Nothing to report today.  Unless you have a story you’d like me to cover.  I’ll write about anything.  I don’t even want a byline.  I just want a paying job.”

The look on Ben’s face got quizzical, and he said, “Why would a man not want recognition for his work?  I did read your article, even though it threw me off.  You are not much of a writer.  But most of my staff are average hacks.  You’d fit in, if you can convince me to hire you.  What is the answer to the question?”

I looked down, and gave off my best embarrassed vibes.  I said, “Mr. Franklin, to tell the truth, I am a criminal.  Not a violent man at all, but a con man and a card cheat.  I left St. Louis just ahead of a mob that would have beaten me badly, or worse.”

“On the way here, I had plenty of time to think.  I realized, I was over thirty, and had almost nothing to show for my life.  Now that I realize what can happen if you get caught cheating, I don’t know if I can do that anymore.  I need a job.  And, I have figured out how to use my skills to gain information.  It’s not that different than what I used to do when I set up marks.  It doesn’t matter if I am a good writer.  I’ll get the news first, you can rewrite it if you want.  Now you know why I don’t want anyone to know my name.”

Ben smiled, and said, “I don’t need another writer at this time.  But my janitor is a worthless drunk, and if you’re willing to push a broom and empty garbage cans, you’ve got a job.  If you come up with another scoop like yesterday, we’ll talk about a promotion.”

As I was shaking the hand of my favorite personal hero, I said, “Mr. Franklin, you just hired the hardest working janitor in Philadelphia.”

I never got promoted to writer.  I spent the rest of my time in Philadelphia as the janitor at the Gazette.  The rest of the research I had done to impress Ben Franklin was not necessary.  I became a friend and drinking buddy with Ben Franklin that first evening.  When I was cleaning his office, I noticed a Parcheesi game on the side table. 

It was not quite the same as the board game I grew up with.  It wasn’t a board at all, it was a square of silk fabric, with the outline of the game painted on it.  It didn’t have the bright colors our game had, it was just black lines drawn on an off-white background.  But the men were hand carved, obviously by a craftsman.  The dice were made of ivory, the dice cup was made of thick, ornately embellished leather.

When Mr. Franklin walked in the office, I mentioned I had played Parcheesi as a child, there was a game at the general store in the nearest town.  I said I had played once while my parents were shopping.

In real life, I had played the game as a small child, but my friends and I quickly got bored with it.  In college, the game acquired an extra rule.  You have to drink a beer every time one of your men gets sent back, or you can’t move.  At that point, you’re not playing Parcheesi any more.  You’re playing Beercheesi.  It doesn’t have to be beer. 

That evening, I taught Ben Franklin how to play Beercheesi.

And we both got horribly drunk.  The difference was, he was a much more experienced drunk than I was.  When he came back to the office the next morning, I was still lying on the floor.  He pushed me with his boot, presumably to see if I was still alive.  I issued a few curse words and rolled away from him.

But before I got so drunk that I passed out, I had one hell of an evening.  Hanging out with one of the Founding Fathers.  That was awesome.  And it wasn’t the last time we played, and talked.  The next time, he added a second new rule.  When he said I had drank enough, the game was over.  I never woke up on the floor of his office again.

In a few years, the history of the human race would be turned upside down.  A very radical new nation would be born, one that would end up becoming the dominant country on the planet 150 years later.  In 2015, despite what the naysayers would have you believe, it is still the most powerful of all.

During the weeks I spent in Philadelphia, I had the privilege of drinking with and talking to a man who was essential to the birth of America.  And he was one hell of a partier.  I’ll also say this.  With the possible exception of Hugh Hefner, I don’t think I’ve known of a man of Ben’s age that was so irresistible to women.  He loved them all.  Some were pretty.  Some were not. 

He told me the pretty ones were often not as much fun, he just couldn’t figure out how to say no to them.

When it was time to go, I told my employer I had been offered a job.  I had run across an old acquaintance who decided my talent at deception would make for a good salesman.  He was opening up a brewery.  That had sounded like a good cover story for my exit.

We played a short, rather somber game of Beercheesi that night.  Neither I nor Ben were in the mood to party, the opposite of all the other sessions.  He shook my hand, and we parted.

I made it back to the time machine without incident, and returned home.  My first adventure had been a success.

I’ve come to the end of the story.  You might ask, what about the title?  How do you beat Ben Franklin at Beercheesi?  That, my friend, was a ruse.  Simply a tactic to get you to read the story.  I will leave you with the eleventh rule of time travel. 

If you are a Toby Keith fan, you should be familiar with the song, I’ll Never Smoke Weed With Willie Again.  The next rule of time travel is a corollary to that.

Rule number eleven:  Never play Beercheesi with Ben Franklin.

AUTHOR’S NOTE

Does anyone really believe time travel is possible?  Whenever someone starts talking about bending space, or going through wormholes, or alternate universes, my bullshit detector starts making noise.  If you’re one of those PhD folks and you think you know more about that stuff than me, kiss my ass.  I’ll deal with you later. 

But no science fiction writer can resist writing about time travel.  It is too much fun.  If you haven’t read The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, there’s no time like the present.  Unless…

SECOND AUTHOR’S NOTE

Of course, the story is fiction.  But my pal Rusty is real.  He is a bona fide character.  There is only one Rusty Davis on this planet, even though you will find a lot of people by that name if you google it.  Of course, Rusty is a nickname.

The mutual friend that introduced me to Rusty has a son that attended the University of Alabama.  One day, he was walking out of a class he didn’t like, and made some off the cuff remark about how all college professors were idiots.  The guy he was talking to laughed and said, “Mostly I agree with you.  But at the last college I went to, there was this history professor that was really cool.  Nobody skipped his class because they didn’t want to miss anything.  His name was Rusty Davis.”


© Copyright 2017 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.

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