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My father's time loop


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My father's time loop

Michael OHara

Michael Robartes

For Father’s Day, we loop back to our previous topic of time loops (see what I did there?) for a story my father shared with me one night.

My father comes across as a no nonsense, down to Earth guy. He spent eight years as a police officer, and then bought a bar - the customary career path for the Irish (though apparently these days hunting ghosts and monsters is an option). My father does not talk about esoteric matters. He doesn't read much. He watches cop shows, sports, or news on TV when he is not working. On occasion, he has said things to me like ``Did you ever see those two dopes on TV that wander around looking for ghosts?'' I don't bother to tell him that those are people I know and that I sometimes work for them.

My father's nature always had me believing that I was somehow a black rabbit in the family. It was not until one night at a bar that I realized that even my old man had dipped his toes in the Rabbit Hole.

My father’s tale

As I sat having a beer with him one night, my father told me a story about when he was back on the beat as a cop. At the time, his friend Rick owned a gas station in town, and so, due to the hours he worked, my father used to stop in and have coffee with his friend on his night shifts. One night as they stood chatting, a woman pulled up and pumped gas into her car. She came in the to the station to pay (as people did in those days) and it was obvious by the way she spoke to my father's friend that they knew each other. Rick introduced her to my father by name and she left. My father thought she was cute (this was long before he met my mother, for the record), so he asked Rick who she was. Rick explained that she lived in the neighborhood up on the hill above the gas station and often stopped in. He said he thought she worked at Boscov's (a local department store) in the shoe department.

My father left with this information and apparently this woman stayed on his mind, enough so that on his next day off, he thought to take a trip to Boscov's. He made his way to the shoe department, and there he found the woman he had seen at Rick's station. My father casually made his way over to her. He said hello, and could tell by her response that she did not recognize him.

``I met you at Rick's gas station a few days ago while I was on duty. I'm a police officer. ''

Then, he could see the spark of recognition. ``Sorry,'' she said. ``I didn't recognize you out of uniform.''

They exchanged a bit of smalltalk, and then my father said. ``I actually just came in to get a new pair of shoes for work. Do you think you could help me pick some out?''

``Oh," she replied, ``I really wouldn’t know much about that.''

My father was puzzled. ``But you work in a shoe store...''

``Oh, I don't work here,'' she said, ``I’m just here shopping for some shoes, just like you.''

At this, my father, being less accustomed to life in the rabbit hole than his descendant, got flustered. His game plan was thrown off and he needed to reorganize, so he extracted himself and left. He never saw this woman again.

After finishing his story, my father sipped his beer, got up and went to the men's room, as I sat trying to process what I had just heard. When he came back, he changed the subject, and we never spoke of it again.

Time loops all over again

Although Skeptics would say this was just an odd coincidence, any reasonable amount of thought suggests this is extremely unlikely (review our approach to analysis here). Why would my father’s friend Rick think that she worked in the shoe department when she did not? And if she didn't, what are the odds she would happen to be there shopping for shoes just when my father went looking for her? She could have been anywhere in the world at that point! Running into her again would be a coincidence. Running into her in a place where he specifically went looking for her, based upon wrong information, is off-the-charts unlikely.

A traditional romantic interpretation might be something about them being destined to meet, and some might see this as a missed opportunity at destiny or something of the sort. But to me, the biggest question in the story is not about my father, but about his friend Rick. What made him think she worked at the shoe department? It is as if he somehow had a premonition that she would be at the shoe store at that time.

My father did not specifically mention going back and telling Rick the story later, but I have to assume that he would have done so. Assuming he did, and using Wargo’s Time Loops framework, a possible explanation is that Rick’s belief that she worked in the shoe department was a “premembering” (Wargo’s term) of hearing my father’s strange story about finding her there.

If that is true, then this is a classic time loop story. My father only went to the shoe department because of Rick’s information, but Rick’s information came from my father’s trip to the shoe department.

I doubt my father would buy this explanation, any more than he buys those dopes hunting ghosts on TV. But, he found it strange enough to remember the story after all these years, and tell it to me. I thank him for that. And the beers are on me.