For whom the Alex Bell tolls…..

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I didn’t set out to build a time machine.

I just wanted to test a crazy idea.  I thought maybe a microwave would be more useful if you could actually see how well cooked something was. The only problem was how to do that. After a good long think my ultraviolet light dawned on me. I use it for my stamp collection so I can see subtle changes in paper. Would that work with food?

So I hooked my UV light up to my microwave and ran a test. It sort of worked because as the food cooked, the UV light vibrated and even seemed to change its hue. Actually it was quite pretty to watch. I knew I’d have to calibrate this thing so that colour matched doneness. Solving that bit, I then had another inspiration. “What if I set the whole thing to music?” Then, time to cook would be reinforced by both colour and sound. Made to order for the clock-challenged.

My ring tone is a few bars from Ride of the Valkyries, an eccentric choice that is amusing to me except when it chimes in at a funeral. So if I could just get my tech savvy son involved, we could link my DVD player through the UV light and into the zapper’s timer so they all worked together.

It was time for a pilot test. I put a cup of water in for 20 seconds and gave it a shot. Excellent! Tepid water with a dash of a light and sound show. Now I was ready for prototype testing.

It seemed natural that haute cuisine would be most appropriate for my first “syncro-dish,” as I decided this revolutionary process should be called. It definitely called for something exotic.  Ah ha! Of course. A poached egg. Delicately spiced, with pepper.

Into my plastic mic-dish goes one farm fresh egg, sensitively peppered (to taste) and of course, covered with a thin film of saran wrap. Zapping eggs have been known to precipitate a nuclear explosion.

I set the time for 1:00. That should do it. Lights flash, the music soars dum dum de dum, dum. Ding! I opened the door, expecting to be delighted, but nothing was there. No dish, no chef-guided poached egg. My microwave was empty. Good grief, I thought. I made my meal disintegrate.

I had heard rumors about the dangers of using plastic in microwaves but I thought the hazard was to those eating food cooked in them, not the dishes themselves. Clearly this experiment demanded properly durable dishes. I put a new fresh egg in a glass dish. Lights, sound and action. Ding!

For some reason that I cannot explain I was not totally surprised to find the microwave as empty as before. This despite the fact that, as far as I know, there is scant evidence of microwave food containers spontaneously breaking up into their constituent atoms. Again, there was no egg, no dish.

Evidently something was very wrong here. Perhaps it was the eggs. Or maybe I was not cooking the thing long enough.  I got a mic-dinner out of the freezer and, following instructions religiously, set the timer for 08:11. Dum, de dum dum. Ding. Door open,  no dinner. I close the door and scratch my chin professorially. Ding!

Well, now this is different. The meal is there but it has developed a layer of mould that could generate two litres of penicillin. Now I am really confused. My dinner looks like it has been sitting there for a year. Hey, wait a second. What if my dinner really has been sitting there for a year? And I have been Rip Van Winkling. No, that can’t be right. I’m sure I didn’t lie down.

The alternate explanation was even crazier. If I hadn’t been out of it for a year, what if my he-man dinner had? What if my rigged up contraption is sending food somewhere, then coming back as a life form the Museum of Nature would pay big bucks for?

But it was gone only a few minutes. And it had obviously aged a very long time, and spoiled. So therefore, wherever it was, time moved faster than it did here. I decided I had invented a time machine.

If this was really a time machine it was maybe something that I could use, though I didn’t know what for. For sure, I would need to be able to control times and destinations. I would have to replace the clock with a calendar to get year, month and day in as well as hours. It would take fourteen digits to do the job. With my long-suffering son’s help my device took on a decidedly Rube Goldberg appearance.

I put in another insta-dinner, and set the timer for 20:12:03:15:11:30:20, in other words, 15 seconds from now. I hit start and then opened the door. Ah Ha! No dinner. I closed the door and waited. Ding! Dinner. Eureka! A time machine. And another spoiled meal.

Though I was pleased at this success, as inventing a time machine in a day was probably not a bad piece of work, I wondered if this thing might be used for something more significant than sending frozen meals backward and forward in time.  When the phone rang advising me that carpet cleaners were in the neighbourhood I got an idea.

What if I was able to go get Alexander Graham Bell and show him around? He did a lot to help create the world we live in, and it would be fun to have him visit. It would just take a bigger microwave with an installed travelling box and seat. I’d have to find out where Bell was going to be at a certain time and place, and send the box to him. If I could get him into the box I’d only have to bring it back. But as we inventors know, it’s one thing to imagine something and another thing to make it happen.

It took two weeks to convert our master bedroom into a large microwave, complete with fourteen-digit timer, a black light strobe array and a shatter eardrum sound system. Locating the time and place for Mr. Bell proved to be no challenge at all. The whole world knows when and where Mr. Bell conducted his first viable telephone experiment.

Now I needed to set out instructions for Mr. Bell that he would be sure to follow. With him being an inventor like myself, I knew that he would take the bait if it was enigmatic. My note to Mr. Bell would prove effective. It said simply, “Bell, come here! I want to see you.”

I set the time for June 2, 1875, five minutes after Mr. Bell had run his successful test with Watson. With the music trying to out-do the strobes and the numbers having run down as planned, my passenger box disappeared into the ether. I discovered later that the box landed on top of Mr. Bell’s prototype for an electronic book. As he had yet to sketch it out or document its inner workings, the world lost that potentially interesting technology. He told me later he planned to call the thing Bell Book & Kandle.

History of course does not record the arrival of my box at precisely 2:46:35 PM, as yours truly knows enough about paradoxes that I erased all this activity later through a series time travel adjustments.

Suddenly, in my converted master bedroom, with my uber-annoyed wife looking on, was Alexander Graham Bell. He looked a little the worse for wear, but not nearly as bad as my mouldy dinner.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Bell,” I said. “What the………….?” he said.

It took more than an hour to get him to calm down. Then, he accepted my apology for crushing his e-book, an idea that he said held far more promise than his nutty “telephone” idea. He seemed to accept the notion of time travel much more readily than the clothes my wife and I were wearing, and what a “microwave” was normally used for.

As my wife and Mr. Bell seemed to be adjusting to the circumstances, I felt confident enough to invite him to tour the house. He insisted on touching everything and succeeded in getting several shocks and serious burns. I told him the kettle was hot but he just wouldn’t listen. He grumbled at all the light bulbs and kept muttering, “Damn that Edison.”

I would have liked to have had him stay the night but we had people coming over. “Never mind,” he replied, “I have some further tests to do before nightfall.” There was just time to offer him a TV dinner and a glass of beer while we watched a re-run of Hollywood Squares. My wife told him about all the sales calls for carpet and chimney cleaning we were getting. He especially liked the ads on the TV that he said were better entertainment than anything they had back home.

I told him about the Internet, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and that most everyone had two or three phones now. He was curious when I told him that people carried their phones with them wherever they went. He asked if they had travelling boxes like my maxi-microwave for all the equipment they would need. And he wondered if the telephone lines didn’t keep getting caught in doors and things. I decided cell phones would take too long to explain, so I turned the conversation to other matters.

“Mr. Bell,” I said, “Edison’s light bulb was built on a Canadian patent, and your telephone was conceived in Ontario. But today the world believes these are American inventions. Can you do something about that?” He promised he would, but sadly that monumental promise was erased when I did the paradox clean-up.

I then asked him if he was going to form a company and issue shares, to please put me down for $100 worth of Bell stock. I gave him five plastic twenties but the cagey inventor said he would accept only real 19th century money. I didn’t have any. So, another opportunity lost. “Never mind,” I said, “there is one thing you can do for me, and something I can do for you.” That got his interest.

“Here’s what I would like. On the fifth of June, 1875 I want you to put $100 into a savings account at your bank, and in my name. In exchange, I have a few things for Mrs. Bell. Darling, please go get those lovely panty hose you bought today. And also, do you have a spare lip-gloss I can have? Thank you honey.”

With these fabulous gifts in hand, Mr. Bell returned to my Maxi-Wave (yes, while we chatted I had come up with a name). I set the timer to one second after he had entered the box and cranked up the Valkyries, flicked on the purple strobes and FOOSH. He was gone.

“That was excellent,” I said to Marjorie. “It’s not every day you have a man as talented and interesting as Alex Bell over for dinner.” That got my customary eye roll, something that I have experienced several thousand times during my exceedingly happy marriage.

But an inventor’s day is not early done. I had to program a series of corrective transmissions, all scheduled to occur in a way that erased everything that had happened, except Mr. Bell’s kind deposit to a bank account in my name. That little event would not change history, at least not very much. That done, and being utterly exhausted, I headed upstairs. There I came face to face with my simmering spouse. Where, Mr. Inventor, did you intend we would be sleeping tonight? If you think I’m going to cuddle up in a microwave you are out of your mind.”

There was only one thing to do, and that was to go out to dinner and stay at a hotel. Of course, that wasn’t a problem. I had a million dollars in the bank.


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