Saturday, April 6, 2013

On Theft and Time Travel

"Forget about that fire raging right
under my crotch — what time is it?"
More than I'd care to admit (but not so much that I'm too ashamed to admit on in a public blog), I spend a lot of time thinking about time travel. In fact, I've even written plays and the occasional article about it.

Obviously it's because I live in the past and am occupied with many regrets that I would like to someday remedy or erase, but one offshoot of my time-travel musings involves finding ways to make a lot of money with the assistance of transportation to (and, in most cases, from) a long time ago.

I tend to overcomplicate things when it comes to the consideration time travel, however — but not from a purely technical standpoint. I don't care about physics or metaphysics — which for all I know might be the same thing — nor am I interested in the actual transportation vessel. I'll let the scientists or physicists or metaphysicists handle the mechanics like how thick the walls of the time machine would be.

What I focus on (other than trying to kill the parents of my enemies before these enemies are conceived, which is fodder for a different post) is determining the most practical way to make a lot of money off time travel with ease and without causing too many major disruptions in future world history.

Most of my time-travel money-making opportunities involve stealing stuff and bringing them to the present day where they'll be considered old and therefore valuable. Here's a representative example of a scheme I've considered, along with some of the potential roadblocks to achieving financial independence:

Augustus and His Little Friend
"You over there! Could you pry off the
little cherub that's stuck to my leg?"
Scenario: Return to Ancient Rome, preferably during the reigns of Augustus (27 BC – AD 14), Trajan (98 – 117), or Hadrian (117 – 138). (I've done my homework on the best times to be alive during the height of the Empire.) Grab a handful of mint-condition denarii. Return to the present and the rest is (future) history.

Why this could work: Denarii were as common then as the Lincoln penny is today, but anything made of gold that's also 2,000 years old and in good condition is worth plenty of (modern) coin. Because many examples of Roman currency have survived to the present day, my coins could be verified against accusations of forgery. The money is light, and I could fit a fistful into my pockets, so I wouldn't have to worry whether my booty (insert fat-ass joke here) could fit into the time machine.

Rome was a very densely populated and cosmopolitan city, so my mere appearance wouldn't cause as much of a disturbance as, say, appearing in the court of Montezuma in a Quetzalcoatl costume (Operation Fool the Aztecs) an hour before Cortés drops by.

Potential problems: As with most time-travel scenarios, even if I could pass as a strangely dressed foreigner in a land that's never seen a pair of jeans or sneakers, the inability to speak Latin beyond caveat emptor and carpe diem wouldn't get me very far. I suppose I could pass myself as a mute idiot and beg.

The other problem with "bring back something old" plan is twofold. If I grab an artifact from the year 13 AD and bring it back with me in the time machine, the artifact isn't going to age 2,000 years during transport, so when an employee at the Cash for Gold and Ancient Denarii booth at Roosevelt Field Mall eyeballs it, she'll think I made the coins with my a mold from my kid's Play Doh: Age of Empires Edition.

The whole "age" thing is one of those nit-picky but important elements that most people forget about time travel. I liken it to my Observation About The Incredible Hulk's Incredible Pants.

A hybrid Bruce–Hulk character would have made it a much
more expensive — and deliciously campier — show.
I'm not a big comic-book fan, and most of my exposure to The Incredible Hulk was from the old Bill Bixby / Lou Ferrigno show, so this question might have already been answered by people geekier/nerdier than I, but I always wondered why — when Bill Bruce Banner transofrmed into Lou The Hulk — the shirt always exploded/disintegrated while the pants stayed mostly in tact. I mean, I know why — this was CBS primetime in the late 1970s, and the only other ripped pants on the same network on Friday night was Catherine Bach's in The Dukes of Hazzard — but you get what I mean.

Incidentally, did Bruce wear a particular kind of underwear — size, boxers/briefs, color — just in case he came down with a sudden attack of road rage or banged his head on a cabinet? And what was the experience like during that very first time he, uh, grew?

Oh right, time travel...stealing loot not aging properly if I brought it back with me...all that. My point is, even if I found a way to bribe Leonardo out of the Mona Lisa as soon as he put his paintbrush down, carbon testing or whatever would conclude that I had a well-crafted but only recently painted portrait of what would be described in today's terms as a handsome woman.

So I've abandoned that idea and considered another solution to acquiring something old through the nefarious application of time travel, but it has its own set of obstacles.

That solution would be leaving the treasure in the past and finding a way to reclaim it when I return to the present.

One option is trusting the item(s) with a contemporary of that particular era and optimistically hoping that:

  • My candidate and his descendants will successfully pass the stuff down from generation to generation, meaning it would have to survive the owner's greed, wars, acts of God, the family tree dying out, and the like
  • I'd be successful in not only tracking down my candidate's great-great-great-great-great-great-(etc.)-grandkid, but also also convincing that person to hand over the heirloom that's been in the family forever

I could also bury the loot somewhere near its place of origin and hope that it won't be discovered later or disintegrate underground or get washed away or end up as part of the foundation of the Sistine Chapel or under the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Not a good place to hide treasure.
And even if everything turned out in my favor, I'd still have to explain at a press conference how I, a mere white-collar worker with no archeological experience living in the New York metropolitan area, knew exactly where in Italy to dig to find an enormous cache of ancient denarii.

After some more thought, I believe I have a time-travel-your-way-to-riches plan that, based on my geography, my language and cultural limitations, and practicality, could possibly work.

(P.S.: Please don't steal my idea. If you get your hands on a working time machine, we can do the following scenario together.)

I think you have it upside-down.
Scenario: Return to the late 1940s. Drive or take a cab or hop a train to the eastern part of Long Island where Jackson Pollack is holed up in a small studio, splattering paint on canvases laid out on the floor, one of which, No. 5, 1948, would sell for $140 million in 2006. Get a painting from Pollack, either with cash or a bribe of a six-pack of Schlitz. Avoid running into Lee Krasner, because she'll probably put a kibosh on the transaction.

Put the painting into a vault in New York City that's going to be around for at least another 65 years. Return to the present and collect the painting, announce that "Grandpa" was given a Pollack and willed it to me.

Why this could work: I'd likely be able to find a secluded place to arrive. I speak the language. It probably wouldn't be difficult to walk up to the studio and chat with Pollack. It would probably be easy to shoplift beer or liquor in a sleepy Long Island farm town in 1947.

Potential problems: Pollack could refuse. I'd need to get my hands on some prewar currency. The guy at the store where I plan to shoplift or rob might be packing a shotgun. I might show up while Pollack's drunk behind the wheel. Lee Krasner.

Well, not much, other than a glimpse into some of the many things I think about when I think about time travel. And, maybe I should visit more not-yet-well-known abstract expressionist painters.

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