I move through my day, things unfolding around me as expected. Following the same path on weekdays, I see the familiar buildings and storefronts, noticing the rotation of dresses in the shop window. I’m part of the surge of workers leaving the train, crossing the block, entering the building, scanning ID cards, and waiting for elevators. Days and weeks have a comforting pattern. Until the morning I look up from my seat on the train and realize I don’t know where I am.
With a quick glance at the system map, I decide to get off the train and climb the stairs up to the street. I must have been distracted by my phone and missed my stop; I’m not that far off, but the corners of this intersection don’t immediately clue me in. I circle the block before I get my bearings and head to my office. It’s a little embarrassing to realize my grasp of the Loop can be thrown so easily, my knowledge only superficial. If it was important for me to vary my route every day to elude surveillance, I think I’d fail.
When something odd pops into your day, it’s disorienting and can make you question your reality. One morning I saw Darth Vader on the train. I looked for rebels in pursuit. Multiple times around town, I’ve seen a Volkswagen beetle painted pink and decorated like a pig – complete with ears, a snout, eyes with eyelashes, a curly tail, and a piggy-sounding horn. I’m looking for the barnyard parade. A man was “skiing” in the park though there was no snow on the ground – he had roller skates attached to the skis. Where are the other Olympians?
When record players and vinyl were the norm, I enjoyed my Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief album for hours on end, listening to the routines until I could repeat them from memory. Then one day, I set the needle down on Side B and it was different. Bits I’d never heard before. I was transfixed and a little scared. I lifted the needle and set it down again. Now I heard the familiar Side B. I lifted the needle again and set it down again, only to hear the alternate Side B. Was it some kind of magic, or was I crazy? I’m not sure how long I puzzled over this Twilight Zone-worthy mind trick, until I realized that Side B had always been mysteriously shorter than Side A. But the alternate Side B made up for the deficit. There were actually two sets of grooves on Side B and the version you heard was completely dependent on where you dropped the needle. I never listened to albums the same way again.
I’m waiting in the elevator lobby on my way up to the office. On the side of the elevator door is the word “IF.” I get in, welcoming the alternate reality, wondering where I’ll end up.