Joe: My name is Joe January. I was a private investigator from the South Bronx, circa 1940. Was once described as an indignant Humphrey Bogart. Who am I to argue? The difference between Bogie and me is that I was the real McCoy. Where he took the scripts that Hollywood wrote for him, I took on the tough cases nobody else would. Unlike Bogie’s, my bumps and bruises were the real deal, not makeup.
Bertram: What is your story?
Joe: One Hot January is anything but a story, although it could be construed as a Hollywood type script Bogie might’ve been interested in bringing to the screen were he alive today. Not being a scientist, I can’t tell you the how behind what happened, only that it did happen. I know, it reads like science fiction, spanning two centuries and dealing with time travel and alternate realities, while the denouement is less than satisfactory—boy loses girl, boy finds new girl, loses her, finds the first girl and this time she loses him. But such is life: a happily ever after, while often promised, is never a given.
In a nutshell my story could be termed what Nietzsche called “the bungled and the botched.”
Bertram: Are you the hero of your own story?
Joe: Funny, just not in a humorous sense, but I’ve been accused of arrogance in my self-depiction, creating a sort of comic book superhero of myself. Yet in youth, we often view ourselves as invincible. It isn’t until later that we realize how fragile life is; furthermore, that we see the repercussions of our actions.
Antihero was a term first coined in the early 18th century to describe certain protagonists, those whose armor was less than shiny, indeed, tarnished. They often fall short of literary ideals, just as happens in real life. Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Polish-born Jewish American author who won the 1978 Nobel Prize in literature and was noted for his short stories, wrote: “Children have no use for psychology. They detest sociology. They still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other such obsolete stuff. When a book is boring, they yawn openly. They don’t expect their writer to redeem humanity, but leave to adults such childish allusions.”
Yeah, I’m an antihero.
Bertram: What is your problem in the story?
Joe: Imagine an alternate history in which the United States fails to enter World War II in time to help the Allies defeat the Tripartite before Germany becomes too strong to defeat. Imagine a future in which Germany has perfected genetic engineering and is systematically eradicating whole nations in an effort to secure the empire Hitler vowed would last a thousand years; a future in which Hitler lies in a cryogenic chamber, awaiting treatment for a cancer for which a cure has been discovered. Imagine a future in which a faction of genetically engineered people, opposed to Hitler’s tyranny, travel back in time to amend future history by influencing Churchill to withhold from U.S. Intelligence the vital decrypt specifying the date and time of the raid on Pearl Harbor. Now perhaps you begin to see my problem in the story.
I managed to uncover this seemingly impossible plot by agreeing to help a pretty young woman from Gramercy Park locate her missing father—a Professor of Archeology from Columbia College who was tasked with preventing the secret of Hitler’s location from falling into the wrong hands.
But the real meat of my story is about regret: how, through my own foolishness, I lost the two women who meant the most to me.
Bertram: Do you embrace conflict?
Joe: I always find myself at the center of conflict. It seems to find me the way it finds the protagonist of any good detective novel. Do I embrace it? Does anyone ever embrace conflict? I don’t run from it, which is not the same as embracing it. I guess, as Philip Marlowe could tell you, it came with the territory during those years I was a PI. Like Marlowe, it became a way of life for me—fighting, in my own way, for truth, justice and the American way.
Bertram: Do you think the author portrayed you accurately?
Joe: I approached J. Conrad Guest in 1992 with my story. He was an unknown back then. He had talent, although it was unpolished; still, he was no hack. What I liked about him was that he refused to write the formula drivel that the major publishing houses seek today.
It was a chance meeting, and I suspect he didn’t believe he could complete the project. Our encounter resulted in January’s Paradigm, the first book in the January trilogy. He’s since written the second volume, One Hot January, and the final volume, January’s Thaw. Both are forthcoming from Second Wind Publishing. Combined, they paint a profile of a man out of place out of time.
Although it took him ten years to complete the project, I’m pleased with the result. I think he managed to remain true to my story as well as my voice.
Bertram: What do you need?
Joe: There was a time, in my youth, when I would’ve said the only things I needed were a challenging case and a beautiful woman with whom to lay for an evening of divine debauchery. The first was true, until circumstances deemed it necessary I find a new career. The second was a lie. Unfortunately it took my losing Lindy to make that clear to me.
Bertram: What makes you angry?
Joe: Having been thrust one hundred years into the future in the blink of an eye, perhaps it’s easy for me to see how the world, our society specifically, has devolved: pornography, pollution, global warming, corrupt politics, terrorism, the pursuit of materialism—the American Dream—as a basis for happiness, and for all our purported connectivity through the Internet and cell phones, we are more disconnected than ever.
Why does there have to be a battle between the sexes? “Battle,” by default, denotes a winner and a loser. Sometimes the only way to achieve victory is through negotiation—by seeing an issue from the other’s perspective. If more people, men and women alike, attempted to see through the eyes of their partner, I daresay there’d be far fewer unhappy couples and fewer divorces.
Bertram: What, if anything, haunts you?
Joe: That after I abandoned Lindy—it wasn’t my choice, merely circumstance over which I had no control—she’d had to marry another man out of necessity. We met once, Lindy and I, thirty-five years after the accident that took me from her. It took her a moment, but she recognized me and I knew her feelings for me had never diminished. Furthermore, that she forgave me the betrayals of my youth as well as my abandonment of her.
That anything but chance meeting resulted in my finding the closure I needed to give my past self a second chance to find the love he didn’t yet realize he had.
Bertram: Are you lucky?
Joe: Most people either find love or love finds them, and they hold onto it, stay with it their entire lives. They are the fortunate ones. The unfortunate manage to make it out of this life without experiencing love, perhaps taking solace in the juxtaposed adage that it is better never to have loved than to have loved and lost.
I was fortunate in that love found me not once but twice, in two different centuries. In the first case I never realized what I had until it was too late. In the second, I fully realized what I had, but knowing didn’t prevent my losing her. You could say I’m living proof that one can be both lucky and unlucky in love.
Love found me the second time a hundred years after the first time. Her name was Ecstasy, and she once told me that she loved my loneliness—a man out of place out of time. I surmised that her love for me was born of pity. I didn’t have the heart to tell her my loneliness was the result of my losing the one woman who, at one time, mattered most to me. To this day I regret that I never told her how much she mattered. After Ecstasy was killed, I often wondered if she might not have known that all along—that my loneliness was for a woman who could never threaten to usurp her place in my life.
Bertram: Are you honorable?
Joe: At one time I thought I was. I never stole money from a client for services I failed to provide; but that’s only a part of my life. I never kept secret from Lindy that I had other lovers and patted myself on the back for my honesty, crediting her for her choice to accept that arrangement. But in retrospect, such an attitude was anything but honorable. Once I realized I would never again find my way back to my own time, to enjoy the warmth of Lindy’s familiar and loving embrace, I lived my life to honor her memory, because it was the right thing to do and the only way I could make up for my treatment of her.
Bertram: Did anything newsworthy happen on the day you were born?
Joe: I was born on October 21, 1911. Newsworthy events of October 21 include:
The Battle of Trafalgar began in 1805
Thomas Edison invented the working electric light in 1879
The first transatlantic radio telephone was made, 1915
Trumpeter and bebop pioneer Dizzy Gillespie was born in 1917
A new typewriting speed record was established by Margaret B. Owen in New York City, when she typed 170 words a minute with no errors, 1918
Carrie Fisher of Star Wars fame was born in 1956, as was my biographer, J. Conrad Guest
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum—the only building in New York City designed by Frank Lloyd Wright—opened in 1959
Bertram: Who was your first love?
Joe: That would be Lindy, my gal Friday in 1947. Sadly, I never told her how I felt about her. Then one day I was gone—whisked into the future. I took little comfort in knowing she still lived in her own time. To me, in 2047, she was dead and buried. Obviously she got on with her life after I abandoned her. But I like to think I could’ve made a difference in her life, the way it turned out for her.
Bertram: Who is your true love?
Joe: Ecstasy Givens, who I met the very day I arrived in 2047. I needed her in order to survive in the 21st century. Initially I loved her for her body, but in time she came to mean much more to me. In losing Lindy I learned what love is. Ecstasy was the beneficiary of what Lindy taught me, which pains me even if I imagine Lindy might be proud of the Joe January she in part helped to mold.
Bertram: Have you ever had an adventure?
Joe: Duh. Read One Hot January and January’s Thaw.
Bertram: Was there ever a defining moment of your life?
Joe: The day I was transported into the future. Not only did it save my life, it defined how I lived the remaining days of my life.
Bertram: What is your most prized possession? Why?
Joe: My memory—specifically of Ecstasy and Lindy. Since they are both gone from me, they—their memories—are all I have.
Bertram: What is your favorite scent? Why?
Joe: Smell and memory are intimately linked. Since Ecstasy was killed my favorite scent belongs to those items that still bear her essence—the clothing that remains in our closet, the afghan with which she covered herself while reading on cold winter nights.
Bertram: What is your favorite beverage? Why?
Joe: A single malt scotch—Aberlour a’bunadh (pronounced ah-boo-nar) is my favorite. If I have to explain why, you’re obviously not a scotch drinker and wouldn’t understand anyway.
Bertram: What is your favorite item of clothing? Why?
Joe: That would be my fedora, which I was forced to give up wearing in the 21st century. You’ll read why in January’s Thaw. In the 1940s it defined who I was, as it defined Bogart’s screen persona. But I wore mine first, and my persona wasn’t make believe.
Bertram: If you had the power to change one thing in the world that didn’t affect you personally, what would it be?
Joe: We face many choices each and every day of our lives, which over a lifetime add up to myriad decisions. Whether we choose to act or to refrain from acting affects the world and ourselves. There is nothing we do, or choose not to do, that doesn’t leave a mark on us. All of which lends credibility to the theory that countless universes exist, the result of the choices we make (or fail to make) and their interactions with the billions of other choices made or not made by others.
Too New Age for you? Remember, I come from an era before New Age.
Excerpt from One Hot January by J. Conrad Guest
Interview with J. Conrad Guest, author of One Hot January
Chapter One — One Hot January by J. Conrad Guest
Click here to buy: One Hot January