I Met Myself
Alexander Shalom Joseph
I met myself at my favorite pastrami place across from the flatiron building under some scaffolding and through a greasy glass door at the third booth on the right past the bar counter and the drink cooler, on a Tuesday afternoon in the wet part of March at the same place I’ve been sitting for years. One day, I found myself with the afternoon off after our foreign partners canceled the video call on account of some revolution in their country causing bandwidth errors and with these extra and unpaid hours I went into my favorite place at a time when I would usually be working. I crossed the street in front of the flatiron, ducked under the omnipresent metal bar scaffolding which seemed to provide a rise to a construction project of which there was no evidence except for the scaffolding and which had been ongoing for the entirety of the eight years I had been visiting the restaurant at least twice a week which led me to have developed a working theory that the scaffolding was a cheap way to hold the building up and keep it from collapsing. And so anyway I passed through the scaffolding and then the glass door which despite the frequent rag cleaning I see the man with the grey Afro who works in the back giving the glass on the door, said glass is always just as finger printed and streaked. And then I passed the counter full of the same handful of scratchy suit wearing old, old timers who are always at the bar and probably have been since the antique suits they wear were fashionable and then I passed the drink cooler full of old-timey glass cokes which have most likely been there for long or longer than the old timers and then I was finally at the booth my booth which is usually empty on account of the fact that it is a bit smaller than the rest of the booths in the restaurant but perfect for one person which is usually my part size. And but then there in my booth for the first time in a long time there was someone else, someone who sat in a much more faded version of my favorite dark grey knit sweater which I was actually also wearing. And so I poked my head around the side of the booth which was facing away from the door in which the me I would soon meet sat eating a pastrami sandwich reading Moby Dick which I have always meant to read but have never had time to, wearing my favorite sweater in which he was slightly hunching over in a way which I have been trying to correct for years with PT exercises and stretches and resistance bands but which I now know I will never fix. And as I leaned, the me in the booth looked over his shoulder, a mouthful of pastrami and bread and kraut and mustard bulging the side of his cheek, and showed surprise with a scrunch of his forehead which I have done ten thousand times but have never actually seen. There was a moment of silence in which I felt woozy, like I was about to pass out and the me in the seat could tell what I was feeling without me having to say it and stood up and ushered me into the booth bench across from where he was seated. As soon as I sat, the waitress Betty who’s name I have known for years and who I have seen and introduced myself to at least every week but who never has remembered my name and also has never even shown the slightest inkling of recognition when I have come in despite my frequency and generous tipping, stopped by. As she came over she smiled which was something I before that day wasn’t sure she could do and the smile was directed at the older me and she said hello to him by name, my name, and then turned to me, the smile fading and said “whatdyawant” all in one word to which I replied “the same as him” to which she didn’t reply but wrote something on her pad, then turned to smile again at the old me before waddling away, not once seeming to realize that she was speaking to two identical people separated in age by enough years for the hair of the older me to grey at the sideburns. And so, for a while I sat in silence with myself, while the older me continued to eat. There didn’t seem a way to start speaking even though there was so much to say. I am happy to report that I didn’t eat loudly or in gross way which is a pet peeve of mine in others and one which I am happy I don’t hypocritically do also. In our silence, the sounds from outside on the street were loud as it is always loud is in this city no matter where you are within it and the city sound was added to with the occasional opening and closing squeaks of the front door and that of the kitchen in the back. There were other sounds too, of my breathing, of my heartbeat, of the other me eating and breathing quietly, the little sounds of our bodies moving slightly in the vinyl seats, of a slight murmur of voices at the counter bar or walking past the windows. Eventually I started to ask “are you me from the future?” which I know is a ridiculous thing to say which is why I had to sit in silence for a while to actually believe that I was about to say it and which I only got two words into before the I across from me responded “yes.” He apologized for the confusion his being here caused but added that this place closes in seven years because what do you know the building actually collapsed and well he didn’t have to explain to me how much this place means to him, and before I could say anything, he said yes the theory about the scaffolding was sort of right in that it was originally for construction but was left for years and when it was taken down in three years the building started to fall apart eventually resulting in the collapse of the structure and the closing of the restaurant and of him having to come back to me now and eat. I thought about asking about if Betty survived the collapse and also why she all of a sudden liked me after years of disinterest bordering on distain, but again before I could speak he said that I shouldn’t worry as it collapsed at 3 am when there was nobody there, and then added with a wink that the secret to Betty, by the way, is milk chocolate and that leaving a Hershey’s kiss or two with the tip and the bill will make her remember me. And so anyway, he said, also in seven years there is some minimal time travel technology but that they have only figured out how to go back into your own life or places you have been in your life at the time you were there. To this I just sort of listened blankly because although what he was saying was insane sounding, seeing myself was proof enough to believe what he was saying was true. And so, chewing the last bite of his sandwich as he spoke (which is a habit I hate in others and which I realize I hypocritically do as well), he described how with this time travel tech he comes back here a couple times a week in the afternoon before I am out at work to get the sandwich he no longer can in his time. I wondered in my head what else he had done time travel wise, to which he said nothing or well mostly nothing. He said it had been hard to not go back and be cool in high school or do better in that environmental science class in college to prove to Mr. Vargas that he/I was not in fact an idiot as he had called us, but he had learned from other’s mistakes that changing things in your past rarely had the desired effect and so he stuck to the sandwiches and also occasional visits with my grandmother who we call Babka who died when I was 25 and whom we loved dearly and wanted to be able to spend more time with, visits which he justified because she couldn’t remember much toward the end and so it wouldn’t mess up any timeline and eating lunch a few times a week did nothing either, “well it didn’t until we met” he said. And as a siren went off outside and Betty brought my food, three of the French fries of which were immediately stolen by the older me which is exactly what I would have done were I eating with a friend, we decided that eating lunch together couldn’t really hurt anything as long as we only did what we would normally do, plus maybe a bit more conversation. So, we ate or more accurately I ate and the other me got a coffee how we like it, with one half packet of sugar and no cream because cream upsets our stomach and we sat together in our favorite place and the company was good. I have always wondered if I was pleasant to be around and I can say that I make pretty decent conversation and seem to listen rather attentively. After my normal amount of time, the older me stood and said the we should be going. I had so many questions left to ask, as most of our conversation had been with regard to mutual regrets or triumphs which was fun to be able to reminisce with somebody about, but the older me said that I had to find out the future for myself and we left it at that. I shook my hand and was impressed with the strength of my own handshake, strength which loosened as I thought about making an effort to not shake so hard in the future, as if my thoughts were shaping his actions. And with that I said goodbye and decided that the future me would say adios more often and so the older me said adios and then we both walked out under the scaffolding and went separate ways down the street into an afternoon that was surprisingly dry and bright and warm for that time of year and I hope one day to see myself again.