The most badass moment of Back to the Future Part II (a movie full of badass moments, and one that’s way superior to the more widely praised third installment) comes late in the film when “our” Marty McFly, the Marty we’ve been following throughout the sequel, finds himself back in the Hill Valley High School auditorium on November 12, 1955 watching the Marty McFly of the original Back to the Future storyline performing “Johnny B. Goode” up on stage. It’s badass for a lot of reasons, but the one that makes it “really cook” is the way in which it puts us squarely into Marty’s Nikes. He can’t believe he’s looking at himself, and neither can we.
Despite the urgency of his mission — preventing Biff’s trio of goons from delaying BTTF 1 Marty’s arrival at the court house and subsequent return to 1985 — “our” Marty can’t resist the opportunity to pause for a moment and watch himself; a self that’s only a few hours or days old in linear time, but feels much further removed in the space-time continuum. This occurs mostly for the benefit of a laugh as Marty nods in approval of his past self’s performance, but like much of the Back to the Future series, it resonates with us because we recognize the behavior as our own.
Returning to my undergrad alma matter earlier this month put me in a similar state. I was back on campus to rep my employer at an internship fair for the School of Communications, the kind of thing I might have attended as a student had I not been so busy avoiding all aspects of my adult future at the time. Overall, standing in the student center for the first time in ten years was not nearly as surreal as I’d expected, but that’s probably because I spent more time there for this expo than I did my entire undergraduate career.
I didn’t exactly “have it together” in school. College wasn’t a career path for me; at best it was maybe a bench where I sat for four years and occasionally overheard something valuable when the right person passed by. I wasn’t the driven, portfolio-building type, and neither were the people around me. We didn’t really even know the professional world existed. We slept in our cars, or fought with our significant others, or worked two retail jobs so we could buy Chinese food and Screeching Weasel patches for our jackets, or stayed up all night watching the Back to the Future movies; we didn’t dress up and pass out resumes.
So I didn’t recognize most of the people who showed up at my table at the fair, shirts pressed, heels high, business card in hand. But I did catch a glimpse of this one guy, back in the corner of the room, swimming in a dress shirt a bit too large, hair untamed, shoes untied. I was only able to watch him for a moment before the next Banana Republic ad stepped into my field of vision, but in that time I didn’t see the guy approach a single table or representative. He just stood there, kind of shifting his balance back and forth, his eyes nervously glancing around the room, trying to look at something without looking at anything in particular. Out of place and time.
And then he was gone, probably back to his dorm or apartment to get out of those clothes as fast as he could and back into the jeans and t-shirt that don’t treat him so unkindly.
I don’t know anything about that guy’s past or his future, but it feels like his right now happened just yesterday.