I n “Back to the Future Part II,” accidental time traveler Marty McFly makes a temporal leap from 1985 to 2015 – which at the time seemed like the distant future. As soon as he and mad scientist Doc Brown zip through the decades in their flying DeLorean, they emerge onto a mid-air highway choked with airborne vehicles, swarming like locusts over a cityscape that somehow looks like the plastic toys they used to stick inside Cracker Jack boxes.

Great movie, annoying legacy. Because now all everyone asks is, “How come we don’t have flying cars yet?”

There’s a quick and easy answer to that one. We don’t have flying cars because then everyone would need to get a pilot’s license. And even then, there’d be drivers so abysmally awful that they’d slam into another motorist – only, instead of the crash victim dejectedly standing by their wrecked car on the side of the road, they’d drop stone like out of the sky and fall to their probable death, all while morning radio hosts played canned burping noises over sound clips of Ted Cruz stump speeches.

Flying cars would be a nightmare.

But there are other technological advancements that should have been made by now. In many ways our modern era feels like the future; we’ve got high-definition TVs that automatically record our favorite shows, robots that do our vacuuming, and phones that close our garage doors and teach us how to play “Baby Got Back” on a ukulele. Great stuff, all of it, and yet it seems like there should be more.

Take beds, for instance. Making the bed is about as much fun as eating a transistor radio; why is this not an automated process by now? We’ve made cars that drive themselves and GPS systems that use satellites pinpoint our exact locations, and yet we still break our backs doing the hospital tuck in tricky corners. Whenever I successfully get my sheets on without muttering string of expletives I feel it’s an occasion worthy of chocolate cake and a high school marching band. It takes time getting everything right, and

I could have that time back could dedicate it to more worthy pursuits. I could juggle bowling pins and speak fluent Mandarin by now if it wasn’t for the bed.

Clearly, the solution here is some kind of robot, but not humanoid robot like Rosie, the Jetsons’ mechanical maid. No, I’m thinking arms that pop out from underneath the box spring, equipped with sensors on the hands that detect sheet location and can plan accordingly. With three programmable settings – Loose, Tight and Folsom Prison – you’d be unstoppable. Think of all you could accomplish. Cooking, cleaning, correspondence, all because you’ve been freed from the shackles of slumber slavery by the BedBot 3000. Patent pending.

Or how about this: an automatic gift-wrapping machine. Sure, some of you may enjoy the act of wrapping, but for people like me – we’ll call them men” – it can be an intimidating and harrowing experience. Lacking both a game plan and any sense of manual coordination, each of my attempts seems to get progressively worse, with simple, ordinary items transformed into gross monstrosities. A Jeff-wrapped gift is the packaging equivalent of a bad hair day, all cowlicks and chaos. I don’t even use wrapping paper half the time. My presents are usually covered in some kind of newspaper, and if I really like you, I’ll use the Sunday comics, even taking the care to ensure that Garfield stays intact. That’s the utmost sophistication I bring to the table, and there are others just like me, walking the earth with our clumsy hands and cluelessness. We need help, and I’m not just talking about a shrink.

That’s where the still-hypothetical Gift-O-Matic 3000 comes in. (All of my fake inventions end with “3000.” Makes them seem super advanced.) You stick an electric shaver onto a conveyor belt, watch it go through a mysterious box that looks like the X-ray apparatus at airport security, and poof, out comes a gleaming package that looks like it was wrapped by Grandma Cobblepot herself. I still haven’t worked out what actually happens inside the mystery box, but if someone wants to work that one out, I’ll gladly sit back and collect royalties.

So many things could be automated if we just set our minds to it. Corn shucking. Electronics dusting. Xenophobic YouTube comment posting. Tire inflation. Basketball.

Yet even as it comes rushing toward us, the future seems to slip further and further away. When Hollywood cranked out the “Back to the Future” movies, last year was still 30 years away, and there existed nothing but possibilities – a ceaseless train of innovation heralding a world in which sneakers tied themselves, wet jackets were dried in seconds, and you could cook a pizza in less time than it takes to scrape gristle off a frying pan. Some of the predictions of those movies have actually been realized: Hoverboards, for instance, have more or less arrived, making it possible to “skateboard” on air. Other predictions missed the mark. Dust repellent paper? Do kids these days even know what paper is?

Someday we’ll be closer to achieving a Marty McFly future. Until that happens, it’s high time we set to work on eliminating the few remaining nuisances of daily life; I mean, you can’t carve out time for hoverboarding when you’re breaking your back over a queen-sized bed that smells like fabric softener and cats. Let’s get to work on my fake inventions, and while we’re at it, I’ve got one more to throw into the mix: Robot police cruisers. For safety reasons, we’ll need them to patrol the skies if flying cars ever actually happen.

You’re welcome, patent office. Now give me my royalties.

Jeff Lagasse is an editor at a Portland media company who for some reason still has to cook meals from scratch. To arrange that bread and pies be sent to his house, contact him at [email protected]


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