Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York City, December 31, 1960, 10:30 PM.
Nick de Peyster smiled to himself, cigarette in his mouth, as he walked back toward the ballroom, resplendent in his new dinner jacket. The youngish Korean War vet had a beautiful wife, a new baby (this was their first night out since he was born), and a good job. Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians were playing, their first New Year’s ever on television, and Nick had managed to get tickets. It looked like 1961 was going to be a very good year, indeed.
Just then, an older man, also in black tie, stepped in front of him. “Mr. de Peyster?”
Surprised, Nick said, “yes?”
“Sorry to bother you, especially on New Year’s Eve, but I really must speak to you, and we have very little time.”
Nonplussed, Nick allowed himself to be led into an alcove where the stranger simply stared at him for a moment. “I don’t know how to say this, Mr. de Peyster, but --- I’m from the future!
Nick gawked for a moment, and then began laughing. “Happy New Year to you too, buddy! Let me have a taste of whatever you have in your flask!”
But the older man very gravely said, “Please, Nick. There isn’t much time at all. The process can only last a little while, and I’ll just sort of wink out and return to my own time. But look. I can prove it!” He pulled out coins and bills.
Sure enough, many of the coins had odd designs, and all had post-1960 years on them --- some as late as the 21st century. The dimes and quarters weren’t silver, but some odd, cheap metal, with copper-colored lines on the side. The dollar bills were similar to the ones Nick knew, but there were differing details --- and the other denominations had big garish pictures on them; the dates were all in what would be the first decade of the next century as well. It was a pretty convincing collection, actually --- Nick had worked as a cashier for a while.
“Okay, pal, let’s say I believe you. What year are you from?”
“Well, 2011 --- but it’s New Year’s Eve. So 2012 in an hour and a half.”
Not sure if this could be true, but suspecting it might be, Nick started probing. “You look pretty unhappy, but you’re well-dressed. So what is your future like? Have we had a nuclear war? Has Communism conquered the planet?”
“No, nothing like that. No World War III, and the Soviet Union no longer exists. But China is still Communist --- calls itself that anyway --- and they own most of our national debt! The country is near bankruptcy, we’ve spent billions on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our president was a freshman senator from Illinois --- a Dailey man.”
“Well, that’s daunting, but the country’s been through worse. I mean, you’re older than I am --- you remember the Depression and World War II, right?”
“Only what I’ve read. But it’s not just that. Abortion is legal, the government and media are pushing for gay…er…homosexual marriage,” and eying Nick’s cigarette, the man added, “It’s illegal to smoke in bars and restaurants, and…you don’t need a tie at 21!”
“That does sound pretty dismal,” Nick said thoughtfully.
“Don’t get me started on not being allowed to say ‘Merry Christmas’ --- although that’s been better this year. And the authorities REALLY hate drunk driving!”
“But abortion is legal?”
“It’s a constitutional right, according to the Supreme Court.”
“And smoking and drinking are frowned on?”
The strains of Guy Lombardo’s band playing The Stars Fell on Alabama drifted in as they spoke. “Yes, but it’s not only that. Dismal... Yes, that’s just it. And fearful. And stupid. And…God, I could go on and on. We had a terrorist attack on the Twin Towers…”
“Two pretty ugly skyscrapers they’re going to build in ten years. Anyway, they were destroyed by terrorists, and since then, all sorts of civil liberties have been threatened in the name of ‘Homeland Security.’ God alone knows where we’re headed. Computers allow us to communicate with people all over the globe instantly, and to read almost anything we want. But people are just so…ignorant!”
“I see that you’re getting yourself upset,” Nick said --- and indeed, the man was getting increasingly agitated. “The picture you paint is pretty bleak. But if, as you say, you don’t remember the Depression and the War, let me tell you, they were bad. ”Memories briefly surfaced, Nick shuddered slightly, and then said, “Korea wasn’t a picnic either, for those of us who were there. If you aren’t fighting an atom war, then I guess you muddle through eventually. I mean, if the Soviet Union is gone, life must better for somebody, after all.”
The time traveller brightened slightly. “I suppose it is!” He then added swiftly, “do you really think we’ll manage?”
Thinking back over what he had seen in his life, Nick said, “Well, that or die. Sadly, we all do that eventually.” At that, the stranger looked oddly --- almost longingly --- at him.” But I have a question for you. If you really are a time traveller from the future, why did you choose to visit me, of all people? Why don’t you warn the president or the United Nations?”
Silently, the older man drew his wallet out of his dinner jacket, took his driver’s license out, and handed it to Nick. He read it, first noting the card’s strange surface and design, the 2014 expiration date, and then the name. Nick gasped, gave the card back, and croaked out, “little Petey?”
The time traveller silently nodded, and the two men tightly embraced. The older man said, “I’ve missed you so much, Daddy, and I’ve been afraid for so long!” They stayed like that until Peter de Peyster shimmered away.