Voices from Tomorrow

by Mark Koerner


Tape recorder in hand, a time-traveling oral historian has returned from the future. Below are excerpts from his interviews.

LEGAL MARIJUANA “Smoke it? I’ve heard of such things. But 99.9% of everyone drinks Colamarijuana or CoffeeHi. You know, one of those drinks.”

DENTAL INSURANCE “That’s out. I don’t think there’s a single ‘dental plan’ left in the country. You go to the dentist, you get your cavities filled, and you pay the dentist. That’s all there is to it.”

SMOKING “First, they learned a virus causes cancer, and then they found the vaccine. Now cancer is 100% gone. So now 80% of adults smoke. A lot more kids smoke, too. The emphysema rate is scary. And I don’t even want to think about the surge in heart problems, what with these new artificial hearts that everyone and their brother gets, at a cost of $230,000 each.”

NIGHT “Like most people, when we go to sleep, we turn off the electricity for the whole house with the master switch in our bedroom. Then we turn it back on in the morning.”

RACETRACKS “A science-fiction writer first proposed the Kiddy Window, where little tykes could bet up to a dollar. Now every racetrack in the country has one. It’s always lower than the rest and manned by a so-called midget. But a grown-up can use it too, if you don’t mind stooping.”

PUBLIC LIBRARIES “What kind of world was it where we thought you had to return your books at the library? Now you can return them in any bus or taxi. They collect the books at the end of the day and a library van picks them up. But there’s an OFR — Offsite Return Fee — if you go that route.”
“Wouldn’t that be an ORF?”
“Well, whatever.”

LABOR UNIONS “Yeah, they used to try to prevent people from getting fired. There’s still some of that, but more often, they try to get people fired. If a worker endangers his fellow union members by driving a forklift when he’s drunk, or if he steals a camera from a co-worker — anything like that — the union wants him out. It can get pretty hairy if the guy in question is a friend or relative of the boss. But what can you do?”

COLLEGE “We used to say you had to finish high school before you started college. Now we see that as a waste. At most colleges, even if you dropped out of high school, you can register as some kind of special student, take a few classes, and, if you do well, you get admitted. It doesn’t happen all that often, of course, but I’d guess we have at least a few thousand college graduates who are also high school dropouts. I’m one of them.”
“So you can eat your cake and have it, too.”
“What?”
“You can be both self-educated and a college graduate.”

CRIME & PUNISHMENT “Fighting a last-ditch effort, the opponents of the death penalty pushed through a requirement that executions had to be done by unpaid ‘Citizen Executioners.’ This means that people get notices telling them to report for Execution Duty. Once you show up, you can say you don’t want to, and they have to excuse you. This was supposed to make people think twice about supporting capital punishment, but it didn’t work that way... ”

POVERTY & THE JURY SYSTEM “The jury system. It’s the best poverty program we have. Every morning, bright and early, a few dozen unemployed people line up at the courthouse to get a day’s work on a jury — at a pretty good wage, too. They’re paid by the hour, so if they go through the selection process but aren’t chosen, they get only about two hours’ pay, but that’s a lot better than nothing. And you can even get health insurance. And now no one has to serve on a jury who doesn’t want to.”

BACKYARDS “It’s a fad, sort of like Ant Farms for adults. Every backyard of any size has a beehive. People watch Honeymaker Village on TV. That woman tells you how to keep your bees from dying on you.”

PENS & PENCILS AT WORK “Where have you been — or shouldn’t I ask? The state penitentiary supplies its inmates with pens and pencils. So do mental hospitals. But at a regular workplace, you bring your own. But I guess I’ll loan you one, just for today.”

TEST TUBE BABIES “A beautiful young woman was carrying her fetus in a Comfy Womb. You know what I mean: one of those big metally canisters for when you’re traveling. They have a squarish sign that says, “Caution: Fetus on Board.” Well, it was just a lovely museum. I was walking down a long marble stairway, and all of a sudden, I felt a rumble and I knew it was an earthquake. I stumbled and broke a heel, but the poor woman dropped her Comfy Womb and she shouted, ‘Oh, my baby!’ Then I heard the CLANG!, CLANG!, CLANG! as her baby bounced down the marble steps. When it hit the bottom... Oh! I can’t go on! It was just horrid.”
“It helps to talk about it.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“How about if I just stop the tape...”

MUZAK A lot of places still have it. But instead of music, they have a computer-generated babble of human voices — fake background conversation. That’s in the daytime. At night, they switch to the click-click-clicking of crickets.”

BUREAUCRACY “People got fed up with everything being so confusing, so the federal government made literally a few thousand changes to make itself more understandable. One idea was a “truth in labeling” idea. The Securities and Exchange Commission became the Stock Market Regulation Commission. The Department of Commerce became the Department of Business, on the theory that ‘Commerce’ was a word people just didn’t get. The State Department became the Department of International Affairs, and the Attorney General became the Secretary of Justice. He’s not a general, after all, as ordinary citizens think of generals.”
“The generals belong in the Department of Defense, then.”
“Right. Only, we’ve brought back the old name ‘War Department’.”

BASEBALL & ELECTIONS “The American baseball players got the idea from the Brazilian soccer players. Every four years, exactly a week before the election, they hold the Professional Players Mock Election. Nobody paid much attention at first, but now we do, because the baseball election has predicted the winning candidate for the last 10 elections. It’s the best predictor we have, better than those bellwether counties that political scientists love so much. A few wags even say we should dispense with the real election and just use the baseball election.”

VOTER TURNOUT & THE RICH “Voter turnout is still a national disgrace, but it’s a different national disgrace. It used to be that the poor didn’t vote. Now they vote like mad. Today, the rich don’t vote. They’re the ‘hole in the electorate.’ You hear people waiting in line at the opera saying that their votes don’t count ‘because there aren’t enough of us to make a difference.’ It’s scary to see people like that, so alienated from the political process.”

CAMPAIGN COVERAGE & SENIOR CITIZENS “A generation ago, First Time Voters were the hot thing; reporters went around asking incredibly attractive 18-year-olds about the upcoming election. Now we have a new fad: the Last Time Voter. A reporter says to an old person: ‘In all likelihood, this is going to be your last election, which makes you a Last Time Voter. How does it feel and who are you going to vote for?’”

SOCIAL SECURITY “That got fixed a long time ago. We just kept raising the retirement age until we got to the magic number: 81. Now no one wants to repeal Social Security. What can they say? That the 82-year-olds should go out and get a job? So our senior citizens are very well taken care of!”

GRAVEYARDS “The mega-graveyard is a relic of the 20th Century. Now we put graveyards in every nook and cranny. Hundreds of vacant lots have a new life. Thousands of churches have made better use of their front lawns. Lots of our wider bike paths have become some of our narrower graveyards. And we don’t call them ‘cemeteries’ anymore, either.”

LUNAR GRAVEYARDS “And that first graveyard on the Moon didn’t look too different from a graveyard on Earth. There was no grass, of course, but the stones looked the same — and when you read the names, for a few seconds you forgot you were even on the Moon.”


Copyright © 2005 by Mark Koerner

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