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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

35. Lights

It was a cold and miserable night and C.W. had just called up and asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. I tried begging off but he said this was important and that I should bundle up and come downstairs. When I still hesitated, he reminded me of my obligation as his North American host. What could I say?

I exited the back door and immediately wished I hadn’t. It was frigid, and there stood the perfect imitation of a 1930s college student complete with raccoon coat, a hat with the front pinned up, and the type shoes that we used to call “saddle oxfords.” He was holding a pennant that simply read “State U” and was obviously excited.

“Come look,” he said. He motioned toward the houses along the street adjacent to our building. “Look at all the lights. Gee willikers. Look at all them lights.”

He was referring to the Christmas decorations adorning the homes and yards along the street. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s walk.

“I can’t go walking with you looking like that,” I said.

“Why not?” he said, waiving the pennant. “This is neaty Pete.”

“C.W.” I said. “They are just Christmas lights. People put them up every year.” He had grabbed me by the hand and was pulling me along the sidewalk.

“”Why”? he said.

“I don’t know. It’s just for Christmas.”

We stopped in front of an old, old house of the type so prevalent in this part of town. The structure itself was decorated with all the architectural features that the Victorians could imagine. In addition to that, the owners had attached lights outlining each of the features and had included lawn ornaments lighted with flashing illumination.

“Is that not something?” he said.

“It’s something all right,” I said. “It’s a big waste of money and time.” I don’t know what made me say it. Maybe it was the cold. Maybe it was the getup he was wearing, or maybe it was that stupid smile he had on his face. Did I mention that it was freezing? Well, as if to emphasis it, snow began to fall, drifting through the bare limbs of the massive oak trees that adorned downtown Little Rock.

“Oh my goodness,” C.W. said. He stood motionless as he watched the flakes fall between us and the lights.

“C.W., I said. “Did you have something you wanted to tell me?”

“Shush,” he said. “Be quiet,” He was enthralled at the quiet beauty of the scene.

I stomped my feet with impatience.

“Yes,” he said. “I have something important to tell you.”

“Well?” I said.

“You’re missing something.” He said. “Something that even an alien to your planet can notice.”

Best Holiday wishes to all. - C.W.

“And just what is that?” I said.

He reached into the pocket of his massive coat and retrieved a scrap of paper.

“This man named Ron Wild put it best,” he said. He moved toward me to use the light of a street lamp and read.

“Seek the wisdom of the ages, but look at the world through the eyes of a child.”

I didn’t say anything.

“Couldn’t you just try? Just once, at this time of the year?” he said.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

34. Imposters

C.W. has discovered that he can use the wireless internet service at the public library and he is showering me with e-mail messages. This morning he sent a particularly anxious one and asked me to meet him at the intersection of Ninth Street and Interstate 30. It’s only around the corner from where I live so, more than a little apprehensively, I agreed.

When I arrived, I had the shock of my life. There, on the corner by a deserted convenience store stood … well, stood me, at age 23. He had obviously “enphased” back to the 1960s and found me in military fatigues. He was holding a terrified man in dirty clothes and wearing a sign around his neck stating “Vietnam Veteran needs your help. God bless you.”

“What the …,” I began.

“I want you to make a citizen’s arrest and have this man incarcerated,” I, or rather C.W., said.

I was confused. “What are you doing?”

“It’s simple,” C.W. said. “This man is breaking the law, and I want him arrested.”

“What law?”

“Ask him to show you his DD-214,” the young Jimmie said.

“What’s a DD- 2, uh, whatever?” the terrified man said.

“Oh, shit,” I said as a police cruiser pulled along side us and stopped. A side window rolled down.

“What’s the problem?” A young officer said.

Before I could answer, C.W.—or the young me, if you prefer—piped up. “We want this man arrested for lying about military service.”

“Oh, jeez,” the “homeless” one said. “I didn’t mean no harm.”

The officer studied him. “Well,” he said after a long pause, “Do you have a proof of service—a DD-214?”

“Aw, man,” the hapless fellow said. “I’m just trying to make an honest living.”

“Take his ass to jail,” C.W. said. “I’m tired of folks pretending to be veterans and grabbing publicity.”

“What about you?” the officer asked C.W. “You have on the attire, but do you have any proof?”

C.W. looked a little startled. “Ask him,” he said, pointing at me.

Up until this point, I had tried to stay out of it. “Officer,” I said. “Maybe we ought to forget about this whole thing.”

“Maybe,” he said. “I have better things to do.”

“You aren’t going to arrest him?” C.W. was regaining his confidence.

“If I arrested him, I might have to arrest you as well,” The officer said. “And if I arrested every homeless person that claimed to be a veteran and wasn’t, we’d have no room in the jails for rapists and murderers.”

“Well, I never,” said an indignant C.W. “It’s certainly different where I come from.”

The officer ignored him and continued with an air of finality. “Besides, I’m two tours in Iraq myself and, believe me, I understand.” He looked at the homeless man. “I’m going to count to three and maybe I won’t see you here.”

The man had disappeared by “two.”

The officer then looked us over. “You guys favor one another. Father and son?”

We didn’t say anything.

“Why don’t you go home and have a nice day?” he said. He didn’t have to say it twice.

Friday, December 10, 2010

33. Fan Mail

I allow C.W., in this posting, to respond to some of his many fans who have taken the time to send questions or comments via e-mail. Caveat: bear in mind as you read these that the greatest joy among Falloonians appears to be BS-ing anyone who will listen. With that in mind, enjoy yourself.

Studmonkey Three: Do Falloonians marry?
C.W.: Falloonians mate for life, as your species in American used to. We have three genders, however. One, Kolookas, are designed to become impregnated and then to bear and care for children, maintain feeding centers, and keep relaxation outlet bunkers orderly. The second, Prostones, are similar to your male. The third, Suprotonians, contain characteristics of both your male and female. Prostones and Suprotonians mate, based on similar interests and the measurement of a high degree of electrical impulses generated by their proximity. Either of them may impregnate a Kolooka, which they do periodically to maintain a stable population. Otherwise, the Prostones and Suprotonians mate for mutual satisfaction, study, and the enjoyment of Falloonian recreational outlets.

Ladiesdream: Why do you never carry firearms?
C.W.: Oh, I want a Glock so badly, but the Big Guy, Jimbo, won’t allow it. He claims I did some damage once with a slingshot but I’m sure he mistook someone else for me. Why don’t you talk to him?

Thebigevader: Why do you use the element of surprise so often? We always know it’s going to be you.
C.W.: To keep Big Guy in shape. Believe it or not, he used to be lithe and perky and once ran a marathon. Now he has devolved in to a fata(CENSORED.) I use surprise in an effort to keep him in shape.

Totaltanner: Why do you appear as an attractive woman so often?
C.W.: Because, in the words of America’s Number Two Media Darling, Bristol Palin: “I enjoy being a girl.” I only wish we were talking in person so I could mimic the version of that song she is preparing for her future appearance on “American Idol.”

Brushcutter: Why do you not ask many questions about our politics?
C.W.: Quite frankly, although Falloonians have had a recorded culture for over 6 billion years, can travel almost its entire extent, and converse with most of the universe’s cultures, we can make neither heads nor tails of your political system.

Big Sam: Don’t you find Americans to be the top dogs in every aspect among the cultures on earth?
C.W.: Of course that is what we are here to determine and I am only responsible for North America. But from our monthly meetings so far, the Albanians are well out in the lead in the attributes we consider important.

SecretLove: How do you explain your good luck in landing such a cultured and educated host as Big Guy Jimmie?
C.W.: Well there’s a Falloonian expression that translates roughly this way, “As long as people eat, there’s going to be s …”

Oops, that’s all we have time for today. Keep writing. See you next posting. Over and out.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

32. Indifference

C.W. and I were sitting on our balcony watching the sun sink over western Little Rock. Its rays combined with the ozone layer to produce a marvelous sight—physics and nature in a whirlwind of jagged colors. He whacked the railing with his “thumping stick” and regarded the sights our planet can produce.

He was in the form of a service station worker, complete with an insignia of a long-forgotten oil company. I would guess his assumed age at about 18.

“Where have you been?” I said. I guessed that he had been “enphasing” as he calls it—going back in time to revisit life in the past.

“Working in a service station in your hometown back in 1960,” he said. “Just a temporary job parking cars during the holiday season.”

“Seeing anything interesting?”

“Not much. Just observing how much calmer things were back then.” He paused and whacked the balcony again. “Oh we did fire somebody yesterday … that is the two bosses fired this colored man.”

“Don’t call people that,” I said. “Why did they fire him?”

“He didn’t call one of them sir, or something. They said he was a smart aleck.”

“Is that all?”

“Well he was a couple of minutes late coming back from dinner.”

“You mean lunch?”

“We call it dinner. Anyway, they said they wasn’t going to pay some smart assed ni…”

“That’s enough!”

“They wasn’t going to pay somebody like him 50 cents an hour and have to put up with his disrespect.”

“So they just fired him?”

“Well, he had to walk home every day for dinner since there wasn’t a place downtown for him to eat. He evidently lived way over on the east side and sometimes he was a few minutes late getting back.” He whacked the balcony again.

“So they fired him,” I said. “For being two minutes late?”

“Yep. Kinda sad seeing him turn around and head back home. Guess his wife was pretty disappointed when she found out.”

“Did you try to help?” I asked.

“Wasn’t none of my business,” he said.

“Hmmm.”

He whacked once more and turned to me. “Did you ever help one of them back then?”

“No, I lacked the courage.” I paused and offered, though I know it was weak. “I never knowingly mistreated anybody of any color, though.”

“I see,” he said. “You know, your species has made an art form out of indifference.” He whacked the balcony.

“Careful,” I said. “You’ll chip the paint.”
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference. Elie Wiesel

“I just keep thinking about that man walking back to his family.” He stared at the city. “Well, got to go.”

“Where?”

“Got to select a shape for the peace march Saturday.”

“It’s been cancelled,” I said. “Not enough interest.”

“Crap,” he said, whacking my balcony rail again.

Friday, December 3, 2010

31. Gratitude

Those behind me in line reacted to the smell before I did. We were at one of those fancy fast-food restaurants with a “snake-through” line and I was about to order a cheeseburger with fries when I noticed it. I turned and saw a man in a working uniform being stared down by everyone around him. His shirt announced that he was a city wastewater department employee and, to put it mildly, he was gamey.


I purchased my food and sat as far from the line as possible. The entire place was buzzing and those in line formed a three-foot gap on either side as they moved slowly through the process of getting their lunch. Even the clerk at the ordering register couldn’t suppress a grimace as the poor fellow went through.

I resolved not to think about it and bent over my food. But then I noticed a figure standing over me and I almost gagged from the spell. It was the smelly man.

“May I join you mister?” he said. “All the other tables seem to be full.”

I looked around. Sure enough, the place was packed and whatever seats were vacant had suddenly been filled with packages, coats, or even empty food trays. Before I could answer, he sat across from me and began unwrapping his food.

“Thanks,” he said. “I’m starving.” He began to devour his burger and I pushed mine away.

“If you don’t want the rest of that, I’ll take it,” he said, and flashed me a smile.

Crapola. It was C.W.

“What the hell are you doing?” I fairly hissed it out.

“Whatschew mean?” he mumbled through a mouth of food.

“You smell awful.”

“You would to if you had my job.”

“Dammit. You don’t have a job. What are you trying to prove?”

“I’m not trying to prove anything. Just testing your species on gratitude and honesty.”

“Honesty?”

“Yep. I been reading the newspapers and couldn’t help notice all the politicians braying on about doing something for the common working man. So I’m running some tests.”

“By ruining everyone’s lunch?”

“You mean you don’t think resolving problems involving the sanitary collection and disposal of wastewater represents an honest endeavor?”

I chewed on a fry and thought. “Well, sure,” I said.

“You just don’t want to be reminded of it,” he said.

“Maybe not during lunch.”

“When then?”

“When the problem arises.”

“I see,” he said. “A necessary evil, that’s all I am?” He ate silently for a moment and then looked up with hurt in his eyes. “You know, I learned this morning that your newspaper editor doesn’t even believe I deserve a pay raise this year.” He said it loudly enough for the whole room to hear.

Would serve them right as far as I'm concerned. - C.W.
I wanted to crawl under the table. I’m not sure the embarrassment was for me, personally or for, as he puts it, “my species.”

“Oh well, he said. “I’ll get by,” and he took another bite of food. “It’s a pretty easy job if you can remember one thing.”

“I’m all ears.”

“You have to remember not to bite your nails unless you’ve been wearing gloves.”

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

30. Houses

Truth be told, I wasn’t bothering a soul, just sitting on a bench enjoying the last day of November and watching the renovation of an old railroad bridge that spans the Arkansas River. They were renovating it for pedestrian use. I was thinking how nice it is for old things to be re-used when a rather handsome blonde-haired lady in her late 30s walked up. She looked like an ad for L.L. Bean, complete with a sweater that announced “I love my Yorkie.”

“May I sit?” she asked.

I nodded at the empty portion of the bench and scooted as far as I could to the other edge.

“I’m just pooped from holiday shopping and need to take a break,” she said as she sat. “I’ve been at it since four A.M. on ‘Black Friday.’”

I nodded as if I had any idea.

She sat quietly for a few minutes before turning to me as if she had just received some hidden radio transmission.

“I’ll bet my house is bigger than your house,” she said.

“I beg your pardon?”

“And better too. Mr. Donald designed the interior.”

“How nice.”

“My husband wants to get an even bigger one after our next child.”

I started to rise when she began to giggle.

It was C.W.

“You little prick,” I observed.

“Had you going, didn’t I?”

“Oh yes. Ruined my day completely.”

“But tell me,” he said. “What is with these big gaudy houses that Americans love so much? They even plan TV shows around them. Isn’t it a bit wasteful for a family of four to live in four thousand square foot structure when so many have none?”

“I dunno. Some form of ego compensation? Why do you ask me? I don’t have one.

The figure spoke. “Well, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Maybe some day you’ll be as well off as we are and you can afford a decent home.”

“I have a decent home,” I started to say and then realized I was speaking to an alien, a smart-assed one at that. “Don’t you have something to do?” I said.

“Well, I am scheduled for a pedicure later this morning but I thought I would come downtown and see what it is about this ghastly place that attracts people. It’s so old here, and the houses are so small.”

“Perhaps the people who live here don’t rely upon the size and décor of their home to complete their raison d’être.”

“Their what?”
Houses like this were fine for your Greatest Generation.
Why not for this generation? - C.W.

“Forget it,” I said. “Didn’t you say you had something to do?”

“Well, I do have to pick up my maid, oops—they taught me at Women’s Club to call her ‘my friend.’ Sorry.”

“Say goodnight Gracie.”

“Goodnight, Jimbo.”

“Goddamit. Don’t call me that.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

29. Tanning

Back to the antics of the Alien after he crashed our recent cruise—hoping to be rid of him for a spell, I found myself reclining under an overhanging deck in the “adults-only” section of the ship. I had been reading and fell asleep. Proust will do that to a person. I awakened when someone shook my arm and thrust a bottle of suntan lotion in my hand.

“Hon,” a voice said and I looked next to me at one of the most perfect bodies I had ever seen. “Would you mind spreading some of this on my back?”

My mind left France where I had been pleading with Marcel to lighten his prose and I focused on the source of this request. It was a stunning woman with ebony black skin face down on a deck chair and inclined slightly toward me with the most beguiling smile one could imagine. Then I noticed that she had untied the strings on her bikini top and was beginning to expose a near perfect gift of nature.

“Just a bit on my back Hon,” she said with a wink. “So I won’t burn.”

I must have been groggy from the sleep and inquisitive from the Proust, for all I could manage was, “Do African-American people sunburn?”

She managed a deep-throated laugh and then, “You don’t learn much from all those books, do you Jimbo?”

Shit! It was C.W.

“Don’t call me that,” I said. “And what are you doing here?”

“Getting some sun, Hon. What are you doing here, except staring at my assets, and I mean assets with a capital a-s-s-?”

“Shut up,” I said. I looked around to see if anyone was watching.

It laughed.

“C.W.” I snapped. “In the first place you are a goddam alien. In the second place, we are in the shade.” I gave him back the tanning lotion.

“Hon, you are getting excited.” He gave me this coquettish smile that would have made a World War Two veteran do the Buck and Wing. “Now tell me something.”

I made sure my wife hadn’t appeared on deck. “What?” I said.

“Why are you people so hung up on burning your skin so dark? Isn’t it unhealthy?”

“Yes, doctors say it is very unhealthy.”

“And isn’t it true that, up until recent history, a darkly tanned skin was considered a ‘thing that is a perfect example’ of the lower classes?”

“The ‘epitome’ of the lower classes. Yes. You are right. Mae West would have been appalled.”

“It sounds a bit like pertonelicka++.”

“What?”

“Well, an ancient Faloonian practice of conjuring up images of monsters to make children behave. You know, an attractive but damaging solution to a minor problem.”

“Yes. Maybe.”

“Then the coquette spoke. “But I know what it really is, Hon. Want to know?” It tapped me on the forearm.

“Sure.”

“I think you people finally figured out that ‘black is beautiful’ and you want to get there no matter what.” Then she turned toward me. “See what I mean?”

I gathered my Proust and headed for our cabin. I could hear the squeaking of deck chairs all around me.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

28. Rituals

For weeks I had begged C.W. not to follow me. I was taking my first long vacation since 1974, a cruise to Mexico. I needed some time away from his antics.

Lots of luck.

The most embarrassing thing happened this way. With some schooling in architectural history, I looked forward to a trip to Chichen Itza, the Mayan site. Little did I guess what would follow.

At the site, descendents of that great culture are reduced to selling trinkets to the tourists. They are small people, troublesome and annoying, but hey, they were there first.

Anyway, as we toured the great ball field, I didn’t notice a group of young Mayan boys playing soccer until one of them picked up the ball and wandered over to me.

“Pretty something, alright,” he said, nudging me in the side.

“Pretty something,” I said.

“Did they really chop off the head of the winning team captain?” he said in perfect English.

I looked down at a small, dark boy with black hair and a twisted smile.

Yep. It was C.W.

“Dammit,” I said, “I told you to stay home.”

“Jess,” he said. “Me at home.”

“Aw, man,” I said in exasperation.

“About this head chopping,” he said.

“There are differing opinions,” I said. Some say it was the losers who lost their heads.”

“You people do like your rituals,” he said. “Chopping off heads, eating your gods with a sip of nice Chianti, sacrificing your children. What’s the deal?”

“It makes us holy,” I said. “Now why don’t you go back home?”

“If it will make you feel any better,” he said. “By the way, did they really bounce the heads down those stairs?” He pointed toward the magnificent Castillo, or temple pyramid.

“Piss off,” I answered.

With that he kicked the soccer ball across the field and disappeared behind a temple wall. I thought no more about him until we followed the guide back to the Castillo for a discussion of the remarkable acoustics of the site. I became engrossed in the image of a great ceremony, imagining the costumes and headdresses of the priests and the huge crowds of people. I raised my camera to the uppermost section.

Then I saw it.

There was a blur at first—a figure darting between the uppermost columns. This was odd as tourists are forbidden from climbing the pyramid.

It got worse.

Down the temple stairs came bouncing—if you can believe it—a soccer ball. Not a head, but a soccer ball. I wanted to crawl under a statue, particularly as the entire crowd turned to stare at me as the last one who had been seen near such an object.

Look Closely to notice the alien's Mayan prank

Needless to say, this put a damper on the whole visit. The ball bounced all the way into the plaza and I must confess to imagining a head exploding into the crowd. I eased back toward the entrance.

I had almost made it when I heard a voice behind me. “Pretty neat, huh?”

“Get away from me,” I shouted at the top of my voice.

The young boy looked hurt as everyone turned to look. “Please Mister. You buy?” he said, thrusting a cheap plaster mask toward me.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

27. Pickups

C.W. was late. We had agreed to meet by the river. I was watching a barge navigate the channel between one lock and another. Finally, I saw him and immediately wanted to run. He was channeling a prisoner from some classic movie such as “I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang.” He wore tattered striped clothing and carried what appeared to be a metal bowling ball attached to a chain bolted to his leg. Every dozen yards or so he would put the ball on the ground, rest, and then pick it up and proceed toward me again.

It was too late to run. He had already seen me so I began studying my fingers in the hope that he might walk on by. No such luck.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said as he plopped down beside me and rested the ball on the ground. “I became distracted while gathering data and failed to take into account being slowed by the ball and chain.”

“I’m not even going to ask,” I said.

“Good,” he said. “I wanted to ask you something.”

“I can hardly wait,” I said, averting my face from a bicyclist who nearly ran off into the river looking at us.

“It’s about your means of moving about.”

This is a common topic for him. His fascination with the internal combustion motor and the automobile never slackens. He refers to it as our “global insanity.”

“I was down at one of the high-rise buildings taking notes on the vehicles coming from the parking deck,” he said, as he fiddled with his chain. “I assume these are people who work in the building.”

“Mostly yes,” I said. “Or people having business in the building.”

“That makes sense. They were dressed formally as if they had what you call “white-collar” jobs. How did that term evolve?”

“I’ll explain it to you some day,” I said. “Go ahead.”

“Well, would you believe that in less than an hour, I recorded no less than 10 men in business suits exiting the building in ‘collecting-things trucks?’”

“You perhaps mean ‘pickup trucks.’”

“Precisely. Now what exactly are they picking up there?”

“Well, nothing,” I said.

He assumed that look he has when something doesn’t pass through his “internal analysis mechanism” as he calls it. It’s a cross between looking stoned and falling asleep. He said, “That doesn’t calculate.”

“How do you mean?”

“They don’t haul goods for a living, do they?”

“Oh no, they probably don’t haul anything in those vehicles. It might scratch the paint.”

“They are so large and cumbersome—I can’t imagine trying to maneuver them through a parking deck.”

“I agree.”

“They have deplorable fuel efficiency?”

“Yes.”

He assumed The Look again. “I’m trying to understand,” he said.

“It has come to be an expression of masculinity and power,” I said.

“You are evacuating me from your bowels, right.”

“I am not shitting you, if that’s what you mean.”

“It’s going to take me awhile for my systems to recharge,” he said, with quite a bit of sadness in his voice. “Then I want to tell you about a 90-pound woman who was trying to enter a parking space in a ten-passenger monstrosity.”

“An SUV?” I said.

“No, she looked like a regular person who just didn’t have the ability to reason properly.”

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

26. Math

It was early morning and I was taking my walk in anticipation of a nice plate of eggs and grits at the end. It was cool, and a low-hanging fog was sliding up from the Arkansas River onto the park around the William Jefferson Clinton library and park. It was a good morning for thinking of past loves, Bob Dylan songs, and homemade bread.

Off in the distance, I could see a figure through the fog, sitting in a hunched position on one of the park benches. It was off the walking path, so I ignored it until I heard someone calling.

“Mr. … Mr. ... come here. You want math lesson?”

I looked toward the voice and was surprised to see an elderly Chinese man with a large, pork-pie hat working with intensity over what appeared to be an abacus. I decided to ignore him.

“No, no, come here please, mister.” He yelled insistently, and though it was morning, I feared he might attract attention, so I walked over. He thrust the abacus toward me with a grin.

It was C.W.

“Hey sailor,” he said.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Giving math lessons. Can’t you see?”

“Math lessons?”

“Ah, quite so, young mister.” He assumed his character’s voice.

“Why are you giving math lessons? And to whom?”

“Your species is severely lacking in analytical skills. We discuss before.”

“So?”

“Not to worry. Low analytical skills just make TV preachers rich. But lacking math skills make you destitute.”

“How so?” He had my curiosity aroused.

“Look,” he said, and pulled a news-clipping from a file beneath the abacus.

I glanced at the article, which I had read a few days earlier. It reported that the United States Treasury had issued bonds offering a negative return as the latest insult in a long period of low interest on savings.

“That’s something, isn’t it?” I said.

He relaxed. “It’s not going to get your species into the Intergalactic Math Bowl,” he said. “What’s the idea behind this latest brain atmospheric disturbance?”

“Brainstorm?”

“Whatever.” C.W. loves to pick up mannerisms from young people, sometimes forgetting his present shape.

“Best I can figure is this,” I said, trying to put on my best pundit’s face. “In a Corporatocracy such as ours, it is vital that corporations— our deities—receive cash infusions. We must place our savings in the stock market, and not in fixed-income instruments. So we offer no return on them. It’s a financial strategy known as ‘nudging,' as in out of fixed-income savings and into the stock market.’”

“Is that all?”

“Well, there is the additional fact that U.S. Treasury instruments are the safest investments in the world.”

“Oh,” he said and smiled. “So your money is safe while it slowly disappears.”

“Or, you put it in the stock market.”

“Ah,” he resumed his character. “Then you have ‘preasure’ of watching it quickly disappear.”

“More or less.”

He fiddled with his abacus. Then looked up at me.

“Most civilizations in the galaxy would, at best, use your species for cleaning sewage conduits,” he said.

Friday, October 29, 2010

25. Walking

The figure moved along the walking path with a slowness that was almost painful. Dark skinned and aged, she leaned against a walker that helped her stay upright but provided no other assistance in mobility. She wore a long shirt and one could see that, beneath it, she wore a pair of men’s work pants. She also wore men’s work shoes, slit down each side. I was on a bench reading a book and tried not to notice her as she drew near. No luck. Reaching me, she spun her walker around and steadied herself as she sat down beside me.

I kept reading. She poked me in the side. “You white folks shore don’t like us, do you?”

“Excuse me?” I managed in the form of a question. I made sure anyone listening knew I was insulted.

“People who have to walk places,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“You just treat us like domesticated canines.”

It dawned on me. It was C.W. “What are you doing?” I said.

“Resting.”

“Resting from what?” I asked.

“From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.,” he said.

“Give me a break,” I said.

“I thought you white folks didn’t like colored people, like your president,” he said. “But you really, really, really, don’t like folks who have to walk places.”

“Don’t talk like that,” I said.

“I’m sorry. I mean pedestrians.”

“I’m talking about what you call people,” I said.

“What do you call them?”

“Just people,” I said.

“Tell you what,” he said.

“What?”

“Why don’t you come go walking with me?”

“Sorry, I’m busy right now.” I held up my book.

“Afraid?”

“Of what?”

“Crossing streets given over to homicidal maniacs in personal vehicles.”

“No,” I said. “I do it all the time.”

“What? Walking?”

“Yes.”

“How long you been walking?”

“Since I was two or so.”

“No, I mean your species.”

If you count our closest relatives, more than five million years or so, as I understand it.”

“And how long you been driving cars?”

“A little over a hundred years.”

“Don’t make no sense to me.”

I made a show of returning to my book.

“You like to read?”

“Very much,” I said. He didn’t take the hint.

“Do all members of your species read?”

“No, only a small percentage of them bother.”

“What do they do?”

“Various things,” I said. “Eat, drink, sc ….”

He interrupted. “No, when they go home and relax.”

“They generally watch television.”

“You mean that device that shows people eating maggots and trying to dance with famous people?”

“That’s the one.”

So tell me why.”

“Why what?”

The figure sighed and looked at the ground. “If that’s what they do after they drive all the way home.”

“Yes.” I was getting impatient.

“Then why is they in such a dad-gummed hurry to get there?”

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

24. Prophecy

Who in the world should knock on my door last night while my wife was gone but—get this—Bernie Madoff? In the flesh. Well, it was C.W. in the shape of Bernie Madoff’s flesh but I still thought it was pretty neat. And was he excited.

“Jimmie, guess what?” he said, with that famous hustler’s grin.

“You’ve been in prison?”

“No. What makes you think that?”

“Just a wild guess. What’s up?”

“I have discovered this ability that I have. You are going to love it. It must be something I transported from Falloonia that evolved in earth’s atmosphere.”

“What do you mean?”

“I have the 'thing willingly given' of prophecy.”

“Uh, the ‘gift’ of prophecy?”

“Quite so.”

“Have you tested it?”

“Yes, I told the girl who makes sandwiches at the Cox Center that someone was going to give her a 20 dollar tip the next day, and guess what?”

“You’re kidding.”

“Like magic, there is was: stuck in the tip jar, crisp and new before noon.”

“Have you ever heard of ‘beginner’s luck’?”

“No. What’s that?”

“Never mind. Have you tried it again?”

“Oh yes. I struck up a conversation with a lady at a nursing home last week when I went to see how you treat your old people.”

“And?”

“She was in tears because her son in California hadn’t called her in a month. She was on the verge of giving up.”

“And”

“I told her that her son would call her that afternoon. And guess what?”

“He did?”

“Like timepiece-work.”

“Are you sure this is legitimate?”

“Absolutely. Now, one reason I came is that I need to borrow some money.”

I allowed myself to dream. The stock market would open tomorrow at 8:30 p.m. our time, and we were right in the middle of college football season. Less than 50 miles from here was a simulcast horse betting casino. Holy Mackeral!

“C.W., if you are right, you can borrow all the money you want. But are you certain about all this?” I was feeling great.

“You are proof positive.”

“Me?”

“Yes you.”

“What do you mean?”

“I told my colleague in South America that you would receive a visitor at exactly 8:00 p.m. tonight.”

“Me? A visitor?”

“Yep. Now check the time.”

It was 8:10 p.m.

“But you are the only visitor I’ve had.”

“Well?”

“Holy crap!”

“I knew you would be astounded. Now about the money. The airline ticket to California was expensive, not to mention the 20 dollars.”

“You little Falloonian asshole.”

“What’s wrong?”

“C.W., if you make it happen, it’s not the fulfilling of prophecy.”

“According to the ministers on television, it is. Where do you think I got the idea?”

“I hope you rot in jail.”

Friday, October 22, 2010

23. Pins

He was one of the happiest looking men I ever saw. I noticed him wheeling himself along Bill Street (President Clinton Boulevard) whistling and speaking to everyone he met—a real delight to behold. As he neared me, I noticed both legs were missing from just above the knee. When he reached me, he suddenly pivoted directly in my path and stopped.

“Hello brother,” he said. “Ain’t it a wonderful day to be alive?”

Then he winked.

Yep, it was C.W., the little Falloonian himself.

“Come over here and sit,” he said. “I got some questions to ask you.”

We moved over to a bench, and he pointed to pin attached to my shirt.

“What’s that?”

“It’s my Red Cross Donor Pin,” I said.

“What’s it for?”

“It means I am an 11-gallon donor.”

“Of what?”

“Blood. I donate blood and platelets that are used when needed in operations or other medical procedures. I started doing it years ago, at my wife's suggestion.”

“Well bless you, brother, and your wife as well. I must have needed a bunch of such stuff once upon a time.” He nodded at his legs.

“C.W., you didn’t really go through that.”

“Never you mind. Now here’s the thing: I see a lot of folks wearing pins. Is that what they all mean?”

“No, different ones mean different things.”

“I see. Well some folks wear these little flag-looking pins. Does that mean they are veterans of the military, like you and me?”

I winced. “Not exactly.”

He looked puzzled.

“What do you mean?” he said.

“In my experience, it almost always means that they never served in the military.”

“Sort of making up for it, huh?”

“Sort of.”

“Well, answer me another one. I saw this woman wearing the symbol of a cross on her blouse. That’s all about your Jesus, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Then tell me why she was wearing a bunch of expensive clothes and jewelry while she was cursing a homeless person who asked her for money.”

“I can’t explain it.”

“Wouldn’t that sort of make your Jesus wince? Or maybe even weep?”

“He’s not my Jesus, but, yes, as he is presented to us in literature, it would.”

“I don’t understand.”

He stopped to greet a group of tourists walking by.

“Bless you folks,” he said as he smiled and waved.

“What do you not understand? I said.”

“I don’t understand all this disconnect in the logic of your species. We’ve been through this before.”

“And I’m sure we’ll go through it again. Many times.”

“Well I have decided …” He stopped.

“What?”

“Never mind.”

“No. What?”

“You’re sure you want to hear this?”

“Yes.”

“It seems to me that not everyone who waves a flag is a patriot, and not everyone who waves a Bible is a Christian.”

Out of the mouths of strangers.

Monday, October 18, 2010

22. Secrets

C.W. provokes me to no end. I know we have an agreement. It’s called, for some reason, “Don’t Inquire and Don’t Enlighten.” This simply means I am not to ask him directly about the vast store of useful knowledge his planet must have about the universe. He, then, is not supposed to tell me anything that would disrupt the normal development of our evolution.

But, hell, he could give me a hint on occasion, couldn’t he?

Not this little prick. Today, for some reason, he had assumed the shape of a carnival barker, complete with a striped sport coat, white pants, a red-satin bowtie and a straw hat. We were strolling down Capitol Avenue and I was keeping a sharp eye out for anyone who might know me.

“So, step right up young man,” he said. “I understand you want to know the secret of life.”

“Just a little info about the formation of the universe will do,” I said, ducking my head as a city-owned vehicle appeared in sight.

“The secret of life. Well I’m here to tell you,” he said in a loud, huckster’s manner, more TV evangelist than Carnie. “The secret of life is this—now listen closely,” he paused for effect. “Life is just a bowl of cherries.”

“Screw you,” I said.

He looked hurt. He hurried a few steps ahead of me and then spun around. He gazed directly into my eyes the way a puppy will when he realizes that you have no treat for him.

“You mean,” he said. “Life is not just a bowl of cherries?”

“C.W., “I growled. “I have heard that joke dozens of times.”

“It’s still funny, though. Isn’t it?”

“If you say so.” I walked along saying nothing.

“Are you going to pout?” he said.

“Leave me alone.”

“Yowza, yowza, yowza,” he said, loud enough that people on the street turned to look.

“Forget about it,” I said.

“Okay, I’ll tell you one thing,” he said.

He could be slippery. “What’s that?”

“I will tell you the most important thing for your species to know at this exact moment in your history.”

“Really?”

“You can take it to the bank, brother,” he assumed his carnival voice again.

“No tricks.”

“No tricks. Nothing in my hand, nothing up my sleeve.” He demonstrated this.

“Okay.”

“What do you think it might involve?” he said.

I thought. “Some might say religion.”

“Good guess, mister. But you’re absolutely wrong. Try again,”

“The type of political structure.”

“Nice try, young man, but wrong. Try again.”

“I give up.”

“So quickly?” No wonder your species still believes in ghosts.”

“Just shut up and tell me.”

“Okay, you are ready for the most important piece of information there is?”

“I’m ready. Tell me.”

“Just this,” he said, as he put his hand to his mouth to whisper it.

I leaned forward, shaking with anticipation.

“If A equals B, and B equals C, then A equals C.”

I was exasperated. “C.W.,” I said. “Our leaders already know this.”

He looked at me, sadness in his eyes.

“It’s not your leaders I’m talking about.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

21. Cigars

Captain Kirk and I were sitting on the balcony of my condo smoking cigars and enjoying some Glenmorangie Scotch. Actually it was C.W. and I, he being in the shape of one of Captain Kirk’s later kin, a Boston attorney. And he only claimed it was Glenmorangie. He can be such a liar. Anyway, it was good and we were feeling expansive, watching the night lights of downtown Little Rock sparkle like flakes of diamond dust being blown across a flame.

“Tell me something, Jimbo,” he said.

“Don’t call me that,” I said and then: “What?”

“Why does your species hold such grudges?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean why did I have to get these Cubans from our South American representative and then sneak them in to your country?” he said, regarding his cigar at arms length.

“It’s complicated,” I said.

“That’s what you always say,” he said. “Now tell me, is your country at war with Cuba?”

“No, not really.”

“Was it ever?”

“Kinda, sorta,” I said.

“Judas Preacher!” he said. “Were you or not?”

“We invaded them once, and it’s Judas Priest.”

“I see,” he said. “Then what?”

“They tried to threaten us with nuclear weapons.”

“Tried to?”

“It didn’t work.”

“And since then?”

“We haven’t traded with them.”

He took a long, sensuous draw from his cigar. “And when was that?”

“It was 1961, I think.”

“Almost 50 years ago?”

“Yep—and is this going somewhere?”

He ignored the question. “And since then?”

“Nothing much, just some mutual mischief making and no trade.”

“Any effort at reconciliation?”

“A few attempts, some progress on occasion, and some near misses.”

“Close, but no cigars, eh?”

“Screw you,” I said, but I couldn’t keep from laughing.

He studied the hot end of his cigar. “So since 1961, the Cubans haven’t done any real harm, say like a group of its citizens flying planes into your buildings or something like that?”

“Not really.”

He indicated his cigar, “This is the only major product that they have embargoed?”

“Entertainment, too.”

“I see.” He looked at the skyline and smiled.

“I’ve been studying this character named Jesus that your people write about.”

“Yes?”

“He advocates forgiveness.”

“I think so.”

“Has your country ever considered following his teachings?”

“Oh please. His philosophy would be the most blatant sort of liberalism today, and liberals are despised by much of society.”

“Along with the poor?”

“Quite right.”

He took another draw from his cigar, exhaled, and then took a sip from his drink. He smacked his lips in delight and formed a smile so broad that it challenged the moon for attention.

“Yeah well,” he said. “Screw ‘em.”

Friday, October 8, 2010

20. Politics and Brotherhood

A group of friends and I were seated comfortably, enjoying the 25th year of the King Biscuit Blues Festival on the banks of the Mississippi River in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas. The crowd was loving the music. In fact, beer and enthusiasm had already combined to convince a number of folks to start dancing. It was a beautiful October day, and all seemed well with the world.

A friend sitting beside me offered to make a beer run before the next act, one of his favorites. He left and I became distracted by an elderly white lady dancing with a whole group of folks and anyone else who happened to walk by. A hand tapped me on the shoulder. It was my friend, the beer-runner, or so I thought.

“Perry,” I said. “You back already?”

“Shhh. Be quiet. I want to talk to you for a minute.”

Jeez. It was C.W. in the shape of my friend Perry. I had left the alien a while back sitting on the seat of a Harley Davidson Motorcycle on Cherry Street belting out a blues rendition of “The Promised Land, and in the shape of a motorcycle gang member.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I been walking around looking,” he said. “There are at least a dozen different races of folks gathered up here from all parts of the Globe having fun together. Look there.” He pointed at an elderly African-American man who had stopped and was dancing with the lady I mentioned earlier.

“Yes,” I said. “That’s what happens at blues festivals.”

“That’s amazing,” he said. “In many parts of your state, people leave their homes and move away to some dreadful place to avoid living near people of different races. Here they travel from all over to be together.”

“It’s something alright,” I said.

“Do the races get along this well all the time here?”

“Maybe not always.”

“Really. That’s too bad.”

“But,” I added. “I am told that people do work together as a single soul to put this show together.”

“Interesting,” he said.

We watched the act for a moment. A young guitarist was putting on a show and the crowd was urging him on.”

“I don’t much like the politics of your species,” he said from out of nowhere.

“I don’t think anyone does,” I said.

“Why don’t they change the process?” he asked.

“Too much cost sunk into maintaining it, I suppose.”

“Wouldn’t it be better if Congress met only at blues festivals?”

I looked at him to see if he was serious. He was.

“Let me get back to you on that. Here comes Perry.” I pointed to our right.

When I glanced around, he was gone.

Perry eased back and handed me a beer. He started to say something but a wave of excitement moved through the crowd. There were shouts of: “Look,” and “I told you he was alive,” and “Oh my god, he’s real!”

It seemed that Elvis was walking along in front of our part of the park. He hurried along but stopped every once in awhile to wave.

“That goddam little twerp,” I thought to myself.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

19. Collapses

I almost missed him, being deep in thought with a deadline looming. I was imagining scenarios when he stopped to ask the time. I told him and then couldn’t help staring. Since they built the President William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library in my neighborhood, it is not unusual to see someone famous, or near famous strolling about. “Aren’t you someone?” I asked.

“Could be,” he replied. “Who did you have in mind?”

I thought, then the book cover appeared in my head.

:You’re the author,” I said. “You wrote the book Collapse. Jared Diamond. Right?”

“I did pretty well,” he laughed. “Had you fooled.”

Shit! It was C.W.

“What in the world?”

He enjoyed my discomfiture for a moment and then led me to a bench. “Did you enjoy my book?”

“I enjoyed his book. Why are you he?”

“Went back in time doing research,” he said.

He had been “enphasing,” as he calls it—a process by which he places himself so mentally deep in a time that he is able to visit it.

“Why Mr. Diamond?”

“To answer a question he asked in his book. It involves a matter of behavior among your species in which I am particularly interested.”

“And that is?”

“It involves Contacura++. You remember that, don’t you?”

“I think it means Literally, the act of sitting on a baby’s face, or a foolish course of action.”

“Precisely. The kind your species is famous for.”

I winced. “So what have we done now?”

“Remember the Easter Islanders?”

“Oh yes. They exhausted the timber resources on their planet with no conservation measures so that the species died out. And they left those famous giant statues as their only legacy.”

“Well, Contacura++ was their legacy as well.”

“Oh yes.”

“Remember the haunting question I asked in the book?”

“You mean that Mr. Diamond asked?”

“If you must.”

“I think he wondered what was said when the last tree was cut, spelling society’s collapse”.

“Yes. He suggested maybe: ‘Jobs, not trees’ or ‘We don’t have proof that there aren’t palms somewhere else on Easter, we need more research, your proposed ban on logging is premature and driven by fear-mongering.’”

“So you went back to verify?”

“Yep. You want to guess what was said just before they cut the last tree?”

“It’s my property and I can do what I want to on it?”

“Nope.”

“We can’t do anything that might hurt the economy?”

“Wrong again.”

These summbitches are ugly and dumb. - C.W.
“Okay, I give up.”

“There was this big meeting and the head man spoke. It took me awhile to master their language but I think I got it right.”

“And what did he say?”

“Well he first said: ‘Facts are stupid things.’ Everyone winced. Then someone said it was the Village Council’s duty to save the society from ruin. That’s when the chief made his final pronouncement.”

“And he said?”

“Government is not the solution. Government is the problem.”

“And they cut the tree down.”

“Without another word.”

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

18. The Blues and Unified Theories

A crowd had gathered near the entrance to the Clinton Presidential Library and I could hear music so I walked that way. There, in the center of a great deal of excitement was a blues singer. Thin, leathery, and missing a couple of teeth, his ebony-black skin was glistening from the midday heat. He was picking a time-encrusted Fender Telecaster plugged into a small, battery-powered amplifier. He was belting a fair version of Kind-Hearted Woman Blues. The crowd loved it.

He finished a verse, added a neat run on the A minor scale and finished. “Thankee,” he said to the crowd’s approving applause. That’s when I knew.

Yeah, it was C.W. alright. But how did he learn to sing? I remembered the last time he tried. It was pitiful. I stood and watched as a few coins sailed into his guitar case.

“Thankee, thankee,” he said. “Now I got to be goin’. The city don’t allow no guitar playing colored men in their parks. I be back later.” He gathered the coins, stored his guitar, and looked up at me. He grabbed his amp and guitar and walked over.

“Jimbo.”

“Don’t call me that. And what are you doing?”

“Let’s walk,” he said.

So there we went. A strange couple if there ever was one. A fat old white man and an ageless blues singer ambling along as if the world had been created in their honor.

He broke the silence first. “Tell me what you think is the most moving literature your planet has produced so far—I mean that which has most affected the way your people write in prose and poetry.”

I thought. “Maybe Shakespeare?”

Good choice. Some would argue the Bible but for some reason your myth-spirits gave Brother Bill a big edge in the writing business.” He looked over at me. “You white folks got funny ways.”

I ignored him and kept walking.

“Now what poetic meter did Billy use?”

“I am told that it was the iambic pentameter.”

“Precisely, Now tell me what modern form of music do you find most expressive, emotionally that is, and across the broadest spectrum of folks.”

It was a trick question and I knew it. “Maybe the Blues.”

“Maybe. Now what rhythm does it employ?”

“Iambic pentameter.”

He started singing: “This old man got a funny point to make ...”

“What?”

“This old man got a funny…”

“Cut that out, C.W.,” I snapped just as we met two tourists coming from the other direction. They scowled at me.

“Your species is real interested in finding a so-called “unified theory of the universe.”

“Yes, and?”

“Maybe it’s the iambic pentameter,” he stopped to study a sculpture of a boy and his grandfather heading off on a fishing trip. “Or maybe fishing.”

The Blues Rule!

“What on earth are you talking about and where did you learn to sing?”

“I’m talking about the tendency of your species to look for answers in all the wrong places,” he said as we walked on. “And I got my music abilities at the Crossroads.”


Editor's Note: C.W. wants me to remind everyone that the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival will take place in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas on October 7, 8, and 9, 2010. See www.bluesandheritagefest.com. He is threatening to appear on some street corner. I don't know.




Wednesday, September 22, 2010

17. Optimism

Some strange characters wonder around downtown Little Rock and I thought I had found one. I left the library with a couple of books in my hand when I heard someone behind me carrying on a heated conversation. With himself.

I couldn’t hear all the dialogue but I could tell he was asking questions and answering them all in one breath.

I did catch, “Who in the dark-red shadow of hell do they think they are? Ruffians, that’s who. Oughta kill ‘em. No, killing’s too good. Send them to a work camp.”

He went on like this until he reached me and bumped into my shoulder so hard I dropped the books. He immediately spun around and snarled, “Out of my damned way.”

Before I could answer, he said. “Oh, it’s you, I want to talk to you.”

“C. W.?”

“What of it?” he said. “Come with me.” And he headed to a sitting area in the library complex. I picked up the books and followed. We sat, and I looked at him. He wore a rumpled summer suit and a green visor, looking every bit the prototype 1940s movie version of a newspaper editor.

“Know where I been?” he said.

“No idea.”

“Washington By God, D. C.”

“Man, that’s great,” I said. “Have fun?”

“Shut up,” he answered. “What do you think of Franklin Delano Roosevelt?”

I thought for a moment. “My father thought he was one of the greatest Americans who ever lived.”

“And you?”

“I can’t disagree,” and I started to peel off the benefits that Americans enjoy because of his work.

“Be quiet, and listen,” he said. “Have you ever seen his memorial in Washington?”

“Oh, yes,” I said. “Quite moving since they decided to present him seated in his wheelchair.”

“Know what the bastard little kids have done to it?”

I shuddered. “No, what?”

“They disfigured it.”

“No! How?”

“The figure of this great man has a finger extended.”

“Yes, and?”

“The little punks have polished the end of his finger until it is bright.”

I thought for a moment and smiled. “You don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?”

“It’s an old American tradition. Old men used to trick young boys into pulling on one of their fingers.”

“Whose finger?”

“The old man’s”

“Why?”

“As soon as they did, the old man would … you know, ‘break wind,’ exhibit flatulence.”

He looked puzzled. Then the clouds lifted. “Do you mean …?” he stopped. “You’re telling me those kids are trying to make the statue fart?”
“Yep.”

Had I not seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it. The old editor—that is to say C.W.—broke into a smile. Then into a laugh. Then into a fit of laughter until he fell back against the bench and roared into the sky as if he wanted the very heavens to share his joy. He laughed so hard that he farted, to the delight of those watching.

“Godammit, that’s funny,” he said.

I agreed.

“You know, Jimmie,” he giggled when he finally composed himself. “There may be hope for your little species yet.”

I think FDR would have been pleased at the thought of making a newspaper editor laugh.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

16. Anger

C.W. was aggravating the hell out of me. He had intruded upon my lunch in the park in the form of a twelve-year old boy with slingshot, one of those plastic models designed for serious business. He had just aimed a rock at a jogger. It bounced in front of the poor fellow and when he turned around, C.W. had laid the slingshot in my lap and was studying his cell phone.

“Hey, buddy. Watch what you’re doing with that thing.” The runner glared and then gave me the finger. As he jogged off, C.W. snickered.

“What the hell are you up to?” I asked him.

“Oh nothing.” He gave me this sincere look and reached for the slingshot. I held on to it

“Gimme it,” he yelled and everyone in earshot turned toward us. “Gimme back my slingshot, Mr.” He screamed it louder this time. “My Momma gave it to me. You give it back.” I’ll be damned if he didn’t start to cry.

I handed it to him just to shut him up.

“What the hell are you up to?” I asked him.

“What do you mean?”

“You are acting like a complete asshole.”

“Are you getting angry?”

“You’re damned right I am.”

“That’s great,” he said. “How does it feel?”

“It’s spoiling my lunch.”

“Oh boy,” he said. With one fluid motion he whipped a rock into a passing car. It screeched to a halt and C.W. tried to hand me the slingshot again. I stepped away as the driver of the car stepped out and yelled a detailed description of what he would do if I didn’t make my son behave. I didn’t have heart to tell him.

“What has gotten into you?” I said.

“Are you getting angrier?”

“You’re damned right I am. Why don’t you leave me alone?”

“Can I take your blood pressure?” He began to swing a backpack from his shoulders.

“You can leave me the hell alone.” I yelled.

“That’s it,” he said. “Now you are really pissed.”

I began to see a pattern. “Why are you concerned about my getting angry?”

“It’s natural,” he said. “When you have an object to be angry at and a defined reason.” He stopped for a moment and waited for me to catch my breath. “But your species seems to have unique approach to it. I keep reading about a group of people who claim to be angry but no one can explain why.” He paused. “They drink tea or something. Is that what causes it?”

“I don’t think so. Don’t people on your planet get angry?”

“On occasion. But not for the pure enjoyment of it. Never to draw attention to ourselves. We would call that ‘Wabobeling.’”

“What does that mean?”


Oh ... lets' make sure this guy is well-armed: C.W.


He blushed. “It has to do with sex, like without a partner.”


It was my turn to blush.

“You see,” he said. “We would call selfish and undirected ‘anger: emotional masturbation.’”

Well, he had me there.

Monday, September 13, 2010

15. Talking

It was hot and I wasn’t in the best of moods. I sat in a shady spot at the park waiting for my lunch “to settle.” A teenage girl with in-line skates whizzed by, missing my feet by few inches. She was wearing naught but the scantiest of shorts, what appeared to be an old man’s armless undershirt and, of course, her skates. She was tall and slim and I couldn’t help but stare.

“Bitch,” I muttered and drifted off into reverie, not noticing that she had stopped a block away, turned, and was speeding toward me again. This time I had to move my feet to avoid being hit.

“Hey,” I yelled just as she executed a u-turn and stopped a few feet away.

“Hey yourself,” she yelled back. She looked at her skates and then at me. “These things are—like—great.”

Yep, it was C.W.

He smooth-skated to my bench and flopped down beside me.

“I’m—like—having loads of fun.”

“I can tell. What’s up?”

“I’ve been skating with my friends.” He pronounced it “frands.”

“You don’t have any friends except me.”

“You’re—like—such a drag. Now, tell me something. I’m—like—curious. What is the deal with teenagers not communicating? I’m—like—wanting my ‘frands’ to go have a soda and they’re—like—wanting to talk into hand phones or computers and I’m like—‘no, let’s sit and talk, and they’re—like—‘eeew.’”

“Well, best I can tell, that’s how they communicate.”

“What?”

“By talking into phones or computers. That’s their means of communicating.”

“Eeew.”

“Yep.”

“But I mean truly communicating. Like sharing thoughts or ideas. You—like—can’t do that over a phone. It’s gross. It’s …,” he thought “It’s Lashewenga.”

That, I learned later, was a Faloovian term literally translated as the act of eating with your toes, which I understand they can do if they wish. It refers to an act that may accomplish a purpose but in an unseemly way.

“That’s not really how your species transfers ideas, is it? How do they judge reactions or interpret physical reactions to an expressed thought or … whatever?”

“I don’t guess they do.”

So, I’m—like—supposed to know what my ‘frands’ think by listening to or watching a device? That’s not the way the Greeks did it, I am told.”

“That’s the way they do it now.”

“By mechanical means?”

“Yep.”

Do they—like—perform any other intimate acts by means of mechanical devices?” He/she blushed a deep color.

“Well they do have this thing called “sexting.”
Eeew!

“Let me guess. Sex by texting.”

“Absolutely.”

“No, I mean the real thing.” A deeper blush this time.

“Not at that age.”

“You mean they postpone such things?”

“No, I mean they don’t need mechanical assistance.”

“Eeew.”

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

14. Extinctions

C. W. came to me in a dream last night. At least I think it was a dream. You never know about him. I was sitting on a fallen tree by a well-worn path in a tropical rain forest. I knew the place from the slightly sweet rotting smell of fecundity and the bright colors of the forest flowers flashing against the dark background of the giant trees. I remembered it all from a trip to a similar place in Puerto Rico taken long years ago courtesy of the United States Navy.

A group of children came along the path laughing and singing. One split from the group and came to me. She was six or seven years old and a throwback to a time around the end of the 19th Century. Rope-like ringlets dangled from each side of her head in blond profusion and she wore a white dress adorned with lace and embroidery. She could easily have been Carroll’s Alice.

She walked silently up to me and then spoke. “Want to see something interesting, Mister?” Then she shook the front of her dress and looked down. The small green head of a snake appeared from beneath her bodice and looked around with interest. It nuzzled her cheek, looked at me with what appeared to be a grin, and slid back into hiding.

“You do know, don’t you Jimmie,” she said. “That in the Victorian era young girls used to keep green tree-snakes in their dresses for sport and to keep cool?”

“I have read that, C. W.” I said.

“It must have kept the snakes warm as well,” he said. “You don’t see such co-dependency among the two species these days. You know that don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Then you must also know that Homo Sapiens are one of the most destructive forces on the planet.”

“True that.”

“Why, do you suppose?”

“It may be that we are evolutionarily disposed to have a short-term perspective on life.”

“Hmm,” she said. “You know it means your ultimate destruction.”

“I suspect so.”

“Want to know the saddest image I will take from your planet when I leave?”

“I would hate to guess.”

Martha - The last Passenger Pigeon
“The image of Martha.”

“Martha Washington?”

“No, Martha the last Passenger Pigeon. The one who lived out a long, lonely life in a Cincinnati zoo without a mate to save her species. Just sat on a perch, staring into space and, we may hope, not thinking about being the last. I think they stuffed her when she finally died.”

The young lady straightened her blouse and felt to make sure her pet was safe and then brushed her hair from her shoulder with her hand.

“I have to leave now,” she said. “Enjoy the forest.”

She turned to leave, but then said over her shoulder: “Next year it will be a golf course.”

Friday, September 3, 2010

13. Labor Day

Ah, nice weather, prospects for a long weekend. I’m gathering things to take to join my wife for a weekend at the farm. As I am waiting for some laundry to finish, a knock comes at the door. I open it to find what? Of all things, I find an oriental figure in a Chinese Coolie outfit, bent slightly with arms clasped under his chin and head bowed.

Ni houma, hau boohau,” he said, or something like that. Then: “Prease to arrow in?”

It had to be. “C. W.?” I said.

“Thought I fool honorable friend,” it said, gliding past me. I couldn’t help noticing a long pigtail falling down his back.

“What’s going on?” I said. “I was just getting ready to leave.”

“Ah, not to disturb. Want to wish Happy Rabor Day.”

C. W., would you cut the shit?” I said.

He looked up at me with a hurt expression. “Why so angry? No rike rong weekend?”

I resumed packing.

“Why does your species work so hard?” he finally asked in a normal voice.

“It is our curse, I suppose.”

“Curse or choice?”

A person has to eat and have a roof over his head.”

He sat and arranged his flowing gown. “Not take much time work to provide that.” He was back in his faked accent.

“Forty hours a week or more.”

Another change of voice: “Wrong, I calculate much less. Maybe half, Why not spend the rest of the time helping the distadvantaged and needy and then imagining and thinking how to make world a better place?”

“We call that Communism.”

“Ah, my mistake, I thought you call Christianity.”

I just looked at him as if to say, “How stupid.”

“You know about first Rair-road across country?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Who build?”

I was getting tired of this, so I mimicked a redneck conservative. “Muricans, by God.”

“Ah, not so. Mostly Chinese immigrants. Do all dangerous work. Brast and chip through mountains hanging from baskets. Make one foot progress per day through sorrid granite. More than one thousand roose rives.”

“Okay, and we are all grateful.” He was badly getting on my last nerve.

“Just a couple more questions, Jocko.” Here was the old C.W.

“Yes?”

“How many times in your country’s great economic history have you produced great things without the use of free, slave, or below-living wage labor?”

I didn’t feel like playing his game. “Look,” I said. “My parents were sharecroppers during the Great Depression. Don’t blame me for slave labor.”

“Not brame,” he said, shifting back to his impression of coolie talk. “Make try to understand.”

“Understand this,” I said, extending a middle finger.
C.W. asks: "What's missing from this picture?

“Okay,” he said. “Another question.”

“One more, and that’s it.”

“Your country cerebrate working people this weekend. True?”

“Yes.”

“Working people take day off from rabors, right.”

“Right.”

“Everyone honor honest rabor.”

“Right.”

“Then why bankers off too?”

Well, hell. How was I supposed to know?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

12. Context

This time I smelled C. W. before I saw him. He was approaching me from the windward side and I got the unmistakable whiff of the chronic homeless person. I was sitting in the park and enjoying the first cool day in a long time when he neared me, odor and all. He was in the shape of a young man in his late twenties or so, with course black hair extending in all directions. He was dark-skinned and appeared darker still because of the dirt and grime that encrusted him. He wore cheap sneakers, jeans and a reasonably new T-shirt with “Thank you for not sharing your hate” emblazoned across the front. He stopped for a moment to ask a stranger for money, accepted a rebuff, and then wandered over.

“Jimmie,” he said, taking a seat beside me.

“Jesus, C. W., I said. “You stink.”

“Try not to judge people by your sensory perceptions,” he said. “I have often observed that they can mislead.”

“How so?” I said.

“By confusing the context.”

“Say what?”

“Just as you did now,” he said. “You miss a message I might bring when you deny it due to the context in which I appear. It’s called ‘shalowaraten++’ on my planet and it seems to be a mental linchpin in most of your religions.”

“Shalowaraten, tsk, tsk?” I couldn’t mimic the clicking sound.

“Yes, saying ‘black doesn’t mean black when I wish it to mean white.’”

“I’m confused.”

“Haven’t you noticed that your so-called religious commandments never mean what they say?”

“How so?”

“Well, if a prophet says: ‘Give all your money to the poor,’ his followers who wish to keep their treasures to themselves say: ‘Oh, you’re taking that out of context.’”

"I see.”

“The command to love our enemies really doesn’t extend to those who really irritate us. It’s a command that almost always is …”

“Taken out of context.” I was getting the picture.

“ Precisely, and if the prophet says says, ‘Kill all apostates,’ the followers say …”

“I know, ‘You’re taking it out of context. He didn’t really mean that. Ours is a loving religion.’”

“Yes, and so on and so on. It seems to allow those who allege themselves to be devout to maintain their sanity.”

We were interrupted just then by a motorcyclist who stopped to yell at C. W. “Go back to Mexico you dirty Muslim.”

He took on a look of eternal sadness. “One can always spot the truly sanctified, can’t one?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“My son, I despair at times as I mingle with your species.”

I didn’t respond.

Then he said: “Perhaps you could tell me one thing.”

“I’ll try.”

“Why are “In-context” religions so rare on your planet?”

“I really don’t know,” I said. “Perhaps it’s a matter of some evolutionary need to retain our options.”

“Peace be with you then,” he said, as he rose to leave. As he walked away, I saw the message printed on the back of his shirt.

“Critical thinking—Our only real hope.”

This from a filthy beggar who stank to high heaven.