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Sunday, March 1, 2015

239. Intimacies

Saturday is usually “explanation day” as C.W. calls it. He persisted for some time in calling it “making something clear” day until we adjusted his translator. Anyway, it’s the day when he forgets his get-rich schemes and practical jokes and quizzes me about specific aspects of our species. His appearance and behavior at such times would be best described as a mix between Mr. Rogers and Glenn Beck.

Anyway, you should have been there the day he tried to penetrate the puzzle of how the simple act of procreation, apparently somewhat of a drudgery on his planet, had become such a pervasive theme on ours.

“Let’s see,” said. “Am I to understand that it all starts with fore-activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation?”

“Uh,” I said, “We actually call it ‘foreplay’ and that, according to some females of our species, is considered optional by some male members of our species.”

This set his electrodes to sparking and he wrote in his notebook for a long time. Then he looked up with a combination of curiosity and disgust. “Frequency?”

“Frequency?”

“Frequency.”

I turned suspicious. “What about it?”

“Why would not once a year be the absolute maximum frequency?”

“Are you serious?” I said.

“I am always serious when probing about things,” he said. “Wouldn’t once a year maintain the population of your species?”

“Not in a very happy state, I’m afraid.”

He wrote in his notebook and then looked up at me. “Explain,” he said.

I turned serious. “I think frequency has to do with statistical probability,” I said.

“Like the law of larger things?”

“Large numbers,” I said. “It’s the Law of Large Numbers.”

“Your species seems to be intrigued by large things in many facets of its daily life,” he said.

“Could we talk about something else?” I began.

“Guns, for example.”

“Anything else. Please.”

“Automobiles.”

“Anything at all.”

“Houses.’

“I have to go now,” I said.

“Wait,” he said. “It is my understanding that too much attraction to what you refer to as sex is thought to cause problems.”

“Yes,” I said. “They say it can become addictive to the point of an obsession.”

“So that a member of your species even wants to sit around and watch …”

“C.W.” I said, “surely there is some other aspect of our species that we could discuss.”

He sighed and stopped writing. He flipped through his notebook, found a page and read. “Okay,” he said. “Religion.”

“Oh no,” I said.

He ignored me and read. “It says here that some religions develop extremely stringent and bizarre doctrines about sex.”

“So I understand,” I said, my antennae going on full alert.

“It says also that some of these attract followers that seem to be forever wanting to kill someone.”

“Where,” I said, “did you find that?”

“From notes left over from my predecessor.”

“Oh my,” I said. “You had a predecessor?”

“We don’t talk about it much,” he said. “He turned to acting and wasn’t doing his job of investigating.”

“Is he still here?”

He ignored me, made a note, and looked up. “So about sex,” he said. “Am I to understand that too much can be dangerous and too little can be dangerous as well.”

“Seems to be the case,” I said, turning it over in my mind.

“So how much is considered optimal?”

We were suddenly interrupted by a female voice from the next room. “You are actually asking a man that question? Why don’t you ask how often the wind blows?”

I rose quickly and closed the door. “C.W.,” I said, “can we talk about something else?”


So you had really rather do this than read a book?
Think of the sand, the salt water, and grit.
The horror. The horror.  - Your confused alien friend, C.W.
He placed his pencil on his pad, ready to write. “Is this making you feel uncomfortable?”

“Something else,” I said. “Anything else.”

He looked disappointed, but turned to a blank page and said. “Okay. Guns.”

“Guns?”

“Yes guns,” he said. “What sizes do you own?”



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Sunday, February 22, 2015

238. Music and Things

It was one of those mornings that I didn’t really want to deal with C.W. I was busy and enjoying one of those euphoric moments when one feels as if one is about to make some sort of intellectual breakthrough. I had no idea what, perhaps some little bit of gain ahead of “The Eternal Footman.” You get the picture.

Oh hell. Not only was it C.W. who walked in, he happened to choose one of his favorite adolescent forms. I call it “Curious Carl.” He plopped down beside me, rested a pair of dirty sneakers on the freshly cleaned coffee table and said, “Hey Big Dope. Whatcha doing?” as if the earphones I wore failed to provide a sufficient clue.

I raised one earphone partly above my ear. “Listening to music.”

“Oh. What?”

“Gustav Mahler.”

“You were listening to him yesterday.”

I drew a deep breath. “That was Symphony Number Two. This is Number Three.”

“He wrote more than one?”

“He completed nine.”

“Just like that German guy.”

“Just like Beethoven.”

He said, “Why?”

“Why did they write nine each?”

“No. Why did you choose this one?”

“I’ve decided to listen to all nine in order. One day at a time.”

“Why?”

“It gives me a break from your questions. That is nice in itself.”

“Why?”

“Don’t you have something to do?”

“Have they ever used music to kill people?”

That startled me. “Why of course not.” I stopped. “At least I don’t’ think so.”

“Do they use it to torture people?”

Now that one started me thinking. Before I could answer, however, he broke in. “I mean the way Mrs. Big Dope uses ‘ZZ The Highest or Uppermost Point’ on you.”

“I like ‘ZZ Top,’ I said, “just not always while I’m eating breakfast.” I’m sure I sounded a bit defensive. “And perhaps at other times.” I let it go at that. “Besides, I thought you got your Galactic Universal Translator adjusted.”

“Let’s leave my GUT out of this,” he said. “What else does your species use music for?”

“To promote love,”

“That’s nice.”

“To relax and comfort.”

“Commendable.”

“To inspire and elevate.”

“Very good,” he said. “Now let me ask this … is it ever used to promote procreation?”

“Not that I know of,” I started, but then thought better of it. “Maybe some have argued that it does.”

“How about,” he said, “to promote war?”

That stopped me cold. “Well I have heard that if you gave an army the right music, it would set off to conquer the world.”

“Those people,” he said, “the ones who wore the belt buckles that said, ‘Gott mit uns,’ the ones who didn’t like the Jews, did they play music when they marched them to the gas chambers?”

“I never read where they did.”

“Those Spanish Conquistadors, the ones who would dash the heads of Indian babies against stone walls so they would die in a ‘State Of Grace,’ did they do it to musical accompaniment?”

“As far as I know, they did not.”

“Did Torquemada use music as background when he, on behalf of the Church, tortured his enemies during the Spanish Inquisition?”

“You are ruining what started out to be a wonderful moment,” I said. “Why don’t we just listen to music?” I offered to disconnect the earphones.

“Who is performing this musical masterpiece?"

“The Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein.”

What a marvelous picture of joy and grace.
Wait. What was her sexual orientation?
Isn't that important? - C.W.
“Oh,” he said. “Wasn’t he what you call lighthearted and carefree?”

“What difference would it make if he were gay?”

“I couldn’t listen, that’s all,” he said. “It’s against my religion to participate in anything involving … involving … uh, those people.”

“C.W.,” I said. “You don’t have any religion.”

“Oh but,” he said, “I’m scheduled to give it a try so I can report about it.” He nodded his head defiantly and swung his feet from table. “So I need to start practicing. Hate doesn’t come naturally to Falloonians, you know.”

The symphony used a succession of ephemeral chords to briefly resolve into a mood of peace before the woodwinds broke into what almost sounded like a jig.

I groaned.
 
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Sunday, February 15, 2015

237. Idioms

 Oh dear. I can always tell when C.W. is in what he calls his “thoughtful in character or manner mode,” i.e. his serious one. He takes on the form of a monk of the Dark Ages, complete with robe and hood. That is how I found him today. He also had what he says is his Galactic Universal Translator manual spread out before him.

Of course I couldn’t read it as it was in a form only understandable by Falloonians, but I was glad to see him at work. His GUT has been volatile of late.

“What’s up?” I said.

“Idioms, my child.”

“Idioms are up?”

“Please, Big Dope, don’t be showing a lack of common sense or judgment; absurd and foolish.”

“I’m not being silly,” I said. “Besides, I’m glad you have been listening to your GUT and helping it to digest our language.” I giggled.

“For your information, I’m adding idioms to the language base,” he said, “and the flow through my GUT is fine. There are no blockages.”

I giggled again and he frowned at me most seriously. I decided to play along. “So, can I help you?”

“These are informal terms,” he said, “that seem to be related.”

“Such as?”

He looked at a note. “Cherry picking. What does that mean?”

“That is the practice,” I said, “of selectively choosing the most beneficial items from what is easily available.”

“What about those remaining items.”

“Tough sh…,” I started, but his robe caught my eye, “too bad about them.”

“I see,” he said, making a note.

“Anymore?”

“Yes,” he said, and checked his notes again. “Low hanging fruit.”

“Hmm,” I said. “that is a thing that can be obtained with little effort, that is to say you don’t have to reach very high or strain yourself to collect it.”

“Fascinating,” he said, and I’ll swear one eyebrow raised independently. He made another note.

“Is that all?” I said. “Mrs Big Do…, uh, my wife and I are going to rake leaves and I want to beat her to the places where there isn’t any junk to sweep around.”

“Two more,” he said.

“Give me the easy one first,” I said.

“Pretty bolling.”

“Ah,” I said, “you are in luck. That is an old, rural term and might be unknown to anyone who didn’t grow up in cotton country.”

“Cotton country?”

“Areas where they grow cotton, or used to. Back in the day, they picked it by hand and it was a serious offense—a beatable one during slavery—to quickly pick the largest and easiest bolls of cotton, the pretty ones in other words. This increased your daily production but left money in the field, i.e. the bolls of poorer quality or smaller size, problem ones of one sort or another.”

“Really?” he said. “That is interesting.” He made notes for several minutes.

“You said you had another.”

Fascinating. Unlike Latin, in English the
terms "rat pack" and "pack rat" don't mean
the same thing. Hmm. I wonder about the
term "house cat." C.W.
“Yes,” he said, turning over a sheet. “Ah, here it is.” He looked up at me. “Charter schools.”

That stumped me for a second or two. Then it dawned on me. “Well sir,“ I said. “Charter schools are private schools operated with public funds but permitted to cherry pick, pretty boll, or otherwise select students that are statistically likely to succeed without much effort, in other words,  the low hanging fruit of the student population.”

“Get out of the city,” he said.

“No, really,” I said.

“What about the other students, the ones that present difficulties?”

Xin Loi,” I said. That’s a Vietnamese term roughly meaning tough sh…”

“I know what it means,” he said. Then, believe it or not, a tear fell from his eye. “So the good kids get educated and the others get lost?” He said.

“Pretty much so.”
 
Another tear fell. “Are your people really that cruel, my son?
 

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- C.W.
 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

236. Updates

What on earth was Truman Capote doing at my computer desk? I had no idea. It wasn’t Truman Capote of course, but C.W. enjoying one of his sight gags. I heard him from the next room and walked in just in time to hear him muttering.

“To, like, begin with,” he said, “this case, like, should never have come to trial.”

“C.W.?”

“Please be quiet,” he said. “I’m trying to concentrate.” He looked off into space, then back at my computer. He spoke as he began to type. “The state, like, hasn’t proven that Tom Robinson, like, dissed Mayella Ewell in any way. I’m, like, LMAO, all the time. She’s, like ‘He raped me.’ He’s like ‘She wanted to get down.’ I’m like ‘Bo … ring,’ The whole thing was totally un-awesome.”

My head was spinning. “C.W.,” I said, this time loudly enough to get his attention. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Updating,’ he said. “Why?”

“What are you updating?”

“That book by Harper Lee, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird.’ Can’t you tell?”

“Updating?”

“Yes. Now please be quiet and let me think.”

“Why would you update a classic?”

“Haven’t you heard?”

“Heard what?”

“She—Harper Lee—is going to publish another novel.”

“I heard. But what does that have to do with you?”

“Renewed interest,” he said.

Renewed interest in what?”

“Her first novel.”

“And you are …?”

“Updating it for modern consumption by young people.”

“What on earth for?”

He sighed and looked at me with his arms folded. “Do you recall how we sometimes take walks around the park across the street and pass by the Law School campus?”

“Of course.”

“And we listen to the law students converse?”

“Yes.”

“Do any of them sound like Atticus Finch?”

You know, he had a point. “Not really,” I said.

“In exact terms; without vagueness.”

“Precisely what?”

“We need to update the dialogue to get young people interested. We’ll publish the new version and get rich.”

I was beginning to understand. “You want to publish an updated version of an American treasure?”

“It can’t fail. I call my new company ‘Modern Phonetics,’ or ‘Mo-Pho’ for short.”

“Uh, C.W. …” I said.

“Can’t talk now,” he said. “Busy.” He turned back to the computer and resumed his dialogue.

“Now, like, what did she do? She tempted an African American. She was, like, white and she tempted an African American. She did something that in our society is a real no-no: She kissed a gansta. Not, like, wow, an old uncle, but, hello-o, a strong, young African-American man. Big no-no.” He stared away again and returned. “She couldn’t even, like, text her friends that it was bitchin. He couldn’t tell anyone it was awesome.”

“C.W.,” I said in my firmest voice.

“What?”

“Stop it.”

He ignored me and continued talking to himself. “And, like, a quiet, humble, respectable oreo, who, like, had the unmitigated TEMERITY to feel sorry for a white woman, has had to put his word against, like, two white peoples. Bummer. The defendant is, like, not guilty. But somebody in this courtroom is. What …ever. Du uh.”

I couldn’t stand it anymore. “Stop, stop, stop,” I said.

He said, “What?”

“This is insane.”

“Why?”

“You can’t simply re-write published books.”

“Not even so young people can understand them?”

“Not for any reason.”

“They re-write the Bible all the time.”

“Uh,” I said. “That’s different.”

“And Shakespeare.”

“Well they shouldn’t.”

He pursed his lips and said. “Well at least hear my new ending.” Before I could respond, he grabbed a sheet from the table and read, “Atticus would, like, be there all night, and he would, like, be there when Jem waked up in the morning ... awesome."

Snazz up his dialogue a bit and you will
have a real hero. - C.W.
I hung my head.

He looked at me in a quizzical manner. “And?”

“I’m afraid,” I said. “Very afraid.”

“That it will flop?”

“No, that it will be a mega-hit.”
 
 
 
 
 
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- C.W.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

235. Movies

“What’s up?”

C.W. was sprawled on the couch at our farm watching TV. At least I assumed it was C.W. The form I saw was more from a late 1960s crash pad than anything modern. I’m talking tie-dyed shirt, faded jeans, and long, late-John Lennon hair. The only thing that jarred was a pair of modern running shoes.

Don’t ask.

He answered, “Watching a movie. Interesting one, too.”

“What is it?”

“Something called ‘Not Clean or Pure Harry’ and it’s not bad.”

“Say what?” Then I saw a young Clint Eastwood snarl “Well do you, punk?” and I understood. “Oh, it’s ‘Dirty Harry.’”

“Ain’t that what I said, punk?”

“Uh, well … oh never mind. What do you think of it? I probably looked a lot like you do the first time I saw it.”

“Interesting,” he said. “I see it as a study between the polar extremes of human physiology as concerns the maintenance of an orderly society.”

“How so?” I said.

“You have a character—it’s just a movie, you know—and the character touches what may be an archaic remnant, that is the visceral desire to protect the tribe or individual from outside forces or disruption within the established order.”

I looked him. “My,” I said, “aren’t we getting intellectual in our older years?”

He ignored me. I said, “How old are you anyway?”

A commercial appeared so he turned to me. “In your years?”

“In earth years.”

“Probably a couple of centuries, On Falloonia, we measure time by the development of our ability to be cognizant of universal truths and not by a concept based on solar orbits.”

“Anyway,” I said, “so the Dirty Harry character is just a residual urge from our evolutionary development?”

“It’s just a movie, you know.”

“Well yeah. Is that all there is to it?”

“No, balanced against that rather prehistoric survival instinct is the knowledge that societies must learn to live within a framework of established and accepted social structures, hence the conflict and tension.”

“So the prehistoric wins this time, right?”

“Nobody wins,” he said. “It’s just a movie, you know.”

“Seems to me that Dirty Harry wins.”

“He prevails,” C.W. said. “That is different from winning.”

“How so?”

C.W. thought. “He prevailed against his opponent,” he said. Then he broke into that wicked little grin he uses so well. “Tis a consummation devoutly to be desired by our visceral side, right?”

“Right.”

“But tomorrow he must live in a world of more subtle tones, would you agree?”

“Well, yeah.”

“How many of those who cheered when the bad guy’s body exploded would want the Dirty Character to be their arresting officer if they were caught speeding on a deserted stretch of highway at midnight and he was in a bad mood?”

“I see your point.”

“The film does what it was intended to do,” he said. “That is to sharpen our cognitive skills. No more. No less.” He nodded. “It’s just a movie you know.”

“I wish,” I said. “Fast forward to modern times. That actor who plays Dirty Harry is a producer and director of films now.”

“Oh,” he said. “So his films are excellent vehicles with which to sharpen our thinking skills.”

“Uh,” I said, “not exactly.”

“What then, to introduce us to higher level thinking?”

“Uh,” I said. “That may be the intent. It hasn’t been the result with his latest.”

“Impossible,” he said. “What has it done?”

“Seem that it has made folks want to kill one another.”

“Impossible,” he said. “It’s only a movie, you know.”
 
Well don't we wish things were this simple? - C.W.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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- C.W.