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.

Friday, August 27, 2010

11. Dating

I almost had a heart attack and I still tremble when I think about it. It happened this way: I was walking toward our city’s River Market district for lunch when I found myself at a traffic light standing next to a dark-skinned goddess. She was almost my height, was perfectly formed, had features as flawless as if they just appeared on a movie screen, and was adorned in a willowy outfit that glamorized a set of legs that would make Julia Roberts use the back door. Her long dark hair smelled faintly of sea spray.

“Mister,” she said. “You look like an interesting fellow. Would you join me for lunch?”

I tried to talk but only produced a flapping sound and a large amount of drool. If I hadn’t noticed a hint of that crooked-assed Falloonian smile, my knees would have buckled.

“C.W.?” I said.

“Hey sailor.”

“What on earth are you doing?”

“Tell me about this thing called dating,” he, she, it, whatever, said.

The light changed and we turned onto a side street and walked to a courtyard bench. As we sat, I could feel the eyes on me and feel the righteous heat of envy from every direction.


“Yes dear.” I swear the figure put her hand on my leg.

“That’s what couples do to investigate the potential for friendship and, perhaps, intimacy.”

“You are suggesting courtship rituals, eh?” (This was one of his “Canadian Days.”)

“I guess so.”

“So I have been (pronounced ‘bean’) reading about this and my research indicates that this ritual often includes the display of something large, colorful, or gaudy by at least one of the participants.”

“I think so, in the animal kingdom, yes.”

“Have you ever tried it?”

“Once or twice.”

“Do you have something extra large that you display?”

“Uh, no.”


“Uh, no.”


“Not particularly.”

“Then I gather you are not very adept at it, eh?” The figure leaned in closer and began to stroke my leg. People were beginning to stop and watch us now.

“Would you please stop that?” I said. “And yes, I have been successful at it once or twice. I do have a wife you know.” That last sentence came out a little louder than I had planned and several of the onlookers clucked disapproval.
“So there is hope for almost anyone?”

“I wouldn’t put it that way. But yes! Now please move over.”

C.W. slid away a couple of inches and made a noticeable fuss of straightening his (?) dress and hair.

“Well at least tell me you like my outfit.”

“I think you look silly,” I said.

At that exact moment, a clean-cut young man in a business suit walked by and C.W. reached forward and grabbed his arm He gave what I can only describe as a Beyonce´ Smile and asked in a husky voice. “Sir, my friend just told me I look silly. What to you think?”

I almost had a heart attack

Monday, August 23, 2010

10. Letters

I came across C.W. in the park again. He waved me over from a bench were he sat in the form of a young man in an army uniform. He was ruddy-faced and mirroring the army of forty years or so ago—dress military wear, not the “in your face” GI Joe outfits the boys parade around in now.

He was holding a yellowed and wrinkled letter and his face was red as if he had been crying. In fact, I think he had.

“What’s the matter?” I said.

“Look at this.” He handed me the worn and stained page and I began to read.

Dear Son

I never wrote no letter in my life so don’t blame me for this one. I mean if it ain’t to good. Yore mama made me.
I thank about you ever night. You know, when I go to feed the cows. It’s the smell I thank. Before I get to the barn I can smell it and I thank about when you and me used to feed them. You was so little I had to hold you up to it.
When I do I thank about what I might could have done before you had to go it makes me want to bawl. A man and his boy is a special thing. Now that you are over there and who knows if you might come back or not I know that more than ever. We don’t know things when they happen. If we did, we wouldn’t do them that way no more. When you get back, we can do things again, caint we? Only better? I promise more time. You promise me you will keep your head down. And you do like Mr. Hester said and don’t volintear for nothing like he said. I won’t be able to sleep agin. Sometimes it helps to take a drank. Not always. I wake up when it wares off. The paper keeps saying the army thanks it may end soon. I don’t. They said that before. Yore mama cries ever time she reads it. That’s about all. We want you back so bad and can’t say how much in a letter but I done my best. You be careful now. We love to hear from you.

Your daddy
Tomas H. Hinton.

I didn’t want to look up after I read it. I didn’t want C.W. to see that I was crying too.

Finally, I composed myself and looked over at him. He was a lot more serious than usual.

After an embarrassing silence, he spoke, as much to the park as to me.

“Can you explain something to me?” he said.

“I’ll try,” I said. “What is it that you want explained?”

“This thing your species calls “Twitter.”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

9. The Good Old Days

Have I mentioned before that C.W. can shift into any shape he wants, even famous people—dead or alive? I found that out when Ozzie Nelson showed up at my door one evening. You remember Ozzie and Harriet, the ideal couple of the 1950s. Well there was Ozzie, all smiles.

“May I come in?” he asked.

“Please do,” I said. “What’s up?”

“Went back and visited a typical family in 1957.”

“You can go back in time?”

“Maybe not in the sense you think,” he said. “We can absorb enough of the essence of a period—through books, moving pictures, music, that sort of thing—that we can “enphase” ourselves into a time period, so to speak.”

He was making up words again so I just listened.

“It was a very good experience,” he said. “We all had dinner. Well I didn’t. They couldn’t see me so I just pretended. Do you ever just pretend, Jimmie? It’s a marvelous feeling.”

“On occasion,” I said. “So what happened?”

“Well the father read the evening paper while he ate and the others all took turns telling about their day.”

“Anything juicy?”

“Now listen to you. You should be ashamed.” He smiled, then: “Well their teenage daughter did say that there was a rumor about a girl in a grade behind her who got, well… in a family way. But she had found a man who was going to help her do something about it.”


“She was evidently in the hospital near death.”

“And the man who did it?”

“Which one?”

“The one who put her in the hosptital.”

“She didn’t get to finish. Two of the young kids started playing a game and one knocked a glass on the floor.” He paused and looked around the room. “Did you know that parents back then would physically assault their children?”

“Oh yes, I know it well. What happened?”

“Well, one minute the father was sitting at the table smoking a cigarette and the next minute he is pounding this five-year old with a thin board that he apparently kept ready.”

“Pretty bad,” I said.

“Oh, that wasn’t the worst,” he said.

“No. After dinner he called the daughter in to speak privately with her, and I listened in.”

“What did they talk about?”

“He told her that she wouldn’t be able to go to college because he couldn’t afford to send both her and her brother. She didn’t take it well. Became hysterical. Guess it meant a lot to her.”

“Anything else?”

“Before they went to bed, he called his son in and told him he had better buy some “sheaths” if he wanted to go out with girls for he wasn’t about to take care of some bastard kid.”

“What did his son say?”

“He said the church wouldn’t approve of the use of sheaths and then the father said, ‘Piss on the church.’”

It was quiet for awhile. Then C.W. looked at me. “Did they really do that?”


“Urinate on church buildings.”

“Not as a general rule,” I said.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

8. Trash

It happened this way. I was coming back from my morning walk and had gotten within three blocks of my condo and was enjoying the quietness of an urban side street. Then this high-pitched whine interrupted the calm. The whine changed in scale and volume and I looked down the street to see what was coming.

There, speeding down the street, was the oddest sight. It was a tough-looking hombre that looked a lot like the pro-wrestler Hulk Hogan. He wore wrap-around sunglasses and had a bandana tied around his head. He had chains hanging from every pocket and wore a leather motorcycle club jacket with ID patches sewed up and down each side. From top to bottom, he looked like a badass who was ready to deal—from his blond hair flowing in the breeze to his heavy motorcycle boots. He spelled trouble.

Sure enough, he scowled in my direction as he sped by, letting me know he didn’t brook a lot of nonsense. The whine reached its crescendo as he sped away …

On a Vespa.

It dawned on me just about the time he hit the brakes, slowed, turned around in the street, and motored back to me.

“What are you looking at, buster?” he growled.

You and I need to have a talk, C.W.,” I said.

“About what?”

“Images, for one thing.”


“Yes, how you present yourself.”

“How would you present yourself if you wanted to intimidate people?”

“We’ll talk about that later. Who are you trying to intimidate?”

“I’m on ‘Trash Patrol.’ I’m trying to scare people out of throwing their trash on the street.”

“Is it working?”

“Not very well. I just stopped these three black dudes, man, and chided them for throwing their cigarette butts on the street. They just suggested that I wanakalate++.”

“That you what?”

Wanakalate++, you know, perform a physically impossible act. Like licking a Bakataloran Tree. You see, Falloonians can’t extend their tongues outside their mouths so that would be a physical impossibility, no matter how pleasant it might seem.”

“I think I understand.”

“Good, now tell me why people trash their physical surroundings so much, man.”

“Good question. Does it happen on your planet?”

“We don’t have trash on our planet, man. I’ll tell you about it some day. But for now, why doesn’t your species make it illegal to spread trash?”

“Well, it sort of is, but the law is not really enforced,”

“I see. Like your city’s laws against violating traffic signals? I almost got mammary-gland secretioned over on Sixth Street, man.”

“Perhaps you mean ‘creamed’?”

“Ain’t that what I said, man?”

“Well, not exactly but we’ll let it pass.”

"Man, I'll tell you what: trashing your streets is a stupid man's way of being eloquent."

"True that," I said.

“Later, man,” he said. “I’m off to do the Lord’s work.”

And with a high-pitched whine, he was off.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

7. Logic

C.W. showed up at my place last evening as a set of conjoined twins. Seriously. They were perfectly formed young men save for a stretch on the outside of their hips about eight inches long. They didn’t seem to have a lot of trouble walking as long as they agreed on a direction.

My wife wasn’t home, so when I opened the door, Lefty (I swear that was his name) attempted to turn around but was stopped by Lucky.

“I ain’t going in,” said Lefty.

“Yes you are,” the other said. “I’m not moving until we talk to this guy.”

“Well talk away, asshole, I ain’t stopping you.”

“Couldn’t we go in and sit?”

“I’ll stand. You sit.”

“Now godammit, there you go again.”

I was still standing in the doorway with my mouth wide open when Lucky finally said “Hello Jimmie.”

“Hello C.W. Come in.”

“Kiss my ass,” Lefty said and planted his outside foot just outside the doorframe.

“Dammit,” said Lucky. Can’t you stop being a total jerk for one minute?”

Lefty didn’t move so Lucky leaned in toward me.

“We want to know about this remarkable trick you people have of simultaneously holding two diametrically opposed beliefs.”

“Dumbass,” Lefty interrupted. They don’t hold the opposing beliefs. They just express them at the same time.”

“Hell no,” Lucky said. “Sometimes they are willing to die for either one of them. Right Jimmie?”

I still just stood there.

“It seems to be a trait unique to homo sapiens,” Lucky said. “We haven’t noticed it in other species.”

“We haven’t looked at all the other species,” Lefty said. “But go ahead and answer the question, jerkoff.”

“Well sometimes we might seem inconsistent in our logic,” I said.

“Inconsistent, ha!” Lucky said.

“Inconsistent my ass,” Lefty said.

“So there is something you two agree on,” I was trying to buy time.

“Well it’s not like we’re joined at the hip or anything,” Lefty said.

“Actually we are,” said Lucky. But you know what he means.”

“Not precisely,” I said.

“Look,” said Lucky. “There is this weird little dude who manages a state just south of here, ‘Lustyanna’ or something like that.”

“I think you mean Lousiana.”

“Whatever,” said Lucky. “Now one day he comes out and says his state is being destroyed by the effects of drilling for petroleum in the floor of the ocean that borders his state.”

“And,” interrupted Lefty, “The next day he comes out and says it would destroy his state if the government put an end to drilling for petroleum in the floor of the ocean that borders his state,” he paused. “And the people around him don’t even notice.”

I was trying to think of a way to describe the intelligence of the typical southerner when Lucky said. “Now that is the sign of a bunch of real idiots.”

“Or,” said Lucky, “A bunch of truly talented minds.”

With that, they walked away. I watched and they did quite well, except that every hundred feet or so they would stop and turn in circles for a minute or so, first in one direction, and then the other.

Friday, August 6, 2010

6. Water

Today we met in an isolated portion of the park, C.W. and I, for he insisted on assuming the shape of a Bedouin Tribesmen and I refused to be seen in public with him. He sat cross-legged on an elevated ledge overlooking the Arkansas River. I sat beside him and waited.

He turned and, as he did, the numerous necklaces he wore made a rather pleasant tinkling sound. “I see your people doing many strange things,” he said.

This from a man dressed like a desert nomad near downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. I didn’t respond.

“Tell me about these devices they carry with them everywhere.”

“Devices?” I asked.

“From what I can tell, they are suspended noxious chemical compounds formed into a container for your hydration source, how do you say … Dihydrogen Oxide?”

“We just call it H2O,” I said. “Yes they carry water.” I was a little peeved since he was assuming an accent today, something he did rarely and, I guessed, when he did it was to jack me around.

“May I ask why?” He was as polite as an insurance salesman on Valium.

“Maybe they’re thirsty,” I said.

“All the time?”

“Maybe not all the time.”

“Do not they have sources of hydration in their homes?”

“Yes, they all do.”

“I read in a recent magazine article that 46 percent of the people on your planet do not have such indoor sources.”

“Probably true,” I said, wondering where he was going.

“Aren’t they the ones who should be hydrating from containers?”

“Well, yes.” That made sense to me.

“So does this containerized hydration provide some other health benefit?”

“What do you mean?”

“Does it keep the liquid safer?”

“Uh, no, quite the contrary. Water from public sources is highly regulated whereas the water purchased in containers is, well, it is not regulated at all.”

“Totally unregulated?” he asked. “Even as to the source?”

“Even as to the source.”

“So it could come from this river?”

“Quite so.”


“It just seems to be a fad that started several years ago and caught on. It’s one of those things Americans do that has no logical basis whatsoever.”

“It is free?”

“Oh no, one must pay extra for it.”

He said nothing, just watched the river roll by for what seemed like hours. Finally he spoke, as much to the river as to me.

“I suppose it is a harmless extravagance given the fact that they re-use those poisonous containers and don’t release them into the environment when they are empty.

I didn’t say a word.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

5. Music

A rare compliment: C.W. informed me this morning that he had formed a deep appreciation for several of our accomplishments. He had found our universal crown of glory. You could have knocked me over with a limp metaphor.

“Your music, art, and literature are the best things about you,” He announced from nowhere. I had come upon him sitting in one of his favorite spots—a grassy spot overlooking the Arkansas River. He had assumed the shape and dress of a country and western singer, complete with a coat adorned with musical notes and an oversized cowboy hat that would have made a real cowhand wet his chaps laughing.

“How did such an otherwise unremarkable species manage it? I am particularly liking or having an affection for your music.”

“Do you mean to say you are fond of it?”

“Isn’t that what I said?”


“So tell me about your music. Earlier, I heard three little girls singing a song that consisted of the same line in offset sequences while maintaining harmonic equilibrium and stabilizing the musical impulses. Was music created to teach interpersonal cooperation and mathematical sequencing technology?”

“Uh, not really.”

“Oh. Then what for?”

“It’s just something folks do to express emotion and entertain. It’s more complicated than that but I’m no expert.”

“So can anyone produce or create these wonderful sounds?”

“Some better than others.”

With that, he let loose a Falloovian squeal that had a few recognizable notes of Love Me Tender scattered through it. When he finished, he raised the brim of his hat and managed a smile and “Thankee.”

People were stopping to stare from the path above where we were. I waved at them, pointed toward C.W., and shrugged as if to say we were rehearsing an act. They stared a few seconds more and moved on.

“So?” he looked at me as sincerely as any earthling could have.

“You may be one of the ones that don’t do it very well.”

He dropped his hat back down upon his forehead and appeared about ready to cry.

“Don’t feel badly,” I told him. “I don’t do it well either.”

This didn’t seem to cheer him much. I don’t think he had found anything that I did well so far. I was damning him which faint empathy.

“If I were a true member of your people,” he asked in a quiet voice, “Would I have been able to advance my capabilities by means of public education?”

“Once, perhaps,” I said trying to encourage him. Then honesty overtook me. “Nowadays they are starting to omit musical education in our schools. Costs too much, they say.”

He slammed his hat on the ground and growled at me. “Partner, do you mean to tell me that the state won’t train young people to do one of the few things you people excel in?

“Come on Tex,” I said. “Let’s go get us a beer.”

Monday, August 2, 2010

4. Pets

Today I almost didn’t recognize C.W. For reasons locked deep in that Falloonian mind of his, he appeared as if he had just escaped from a gated community. I’m talking fitted Polo shirt, slacks with a crease that would have sliced an apple, and white buck shoes. He sported an expensive looking pair of sunglasses and he could have just stepped out of a tanning booth.

“Hi guy,” he said. His enthusiasm just about made me nauseated.

“Hi yourself,” I managed.

“Guess where I’ve been.”

“No idea.”

“That place where they keep homeless animals.”

“The pound?”

“Why do they call it a pound? There must have been a ton of animals there?”

“It’s just an expression. What prompted you to go?”

“We believe that you can tell a lot about a species by observing how it interacts with other species.”

“So, what do you think?”

“I think it was the most terrible place I’ve seen on earth so far.”

“Maybe, but the intentions are honorable. Even when they have to kill the un-adopted ones because of lack of space, they do it humanely.”

Hmmm,” he said. He has just learned the use of “Hmmm” and has been overusing it some, but I didn’t let on.

Hmmm,” he repeated, trying to impress me.

“So what is so terrible about a place where they comfort the afflicted of another species?” I asked.

“The fact that they have to. It’s consuractic.”

“It’s what?”

Consuractic, that means a series of irrational acts, literally despoiling your food with your own feces and then saying that you’re hungry.”

“Why do you call caring for animals that?”

“Not that, I’m referring to the thought processes of a species that would breed animals as an occupation when there are so many homeless ones already that places such as pounds are necessary.”

“Oh, you mean the stylized forms of pets.”

“Yes, what’s the story on that, pal?”

I picked the first answer that popped in my head. “Some people had rather pay to own a genetically specialized animal than to care for an existing stray one.”


“Don’t know. I suppose it’s an ego thing.”

“A what?”

“Ego thing. It increases the owner’s feeling of self worth.”


“Well, the fact that he has a special kind of animal indicates he is either wealthy or has good taste."

“He’s going to eat it?”

“Oh no, I mean he is a discerning person who owns the type of animal a discerning person would own."

“So you are not really caring for the other species but exploiting it in order to construct a desired image.”

Later on, I saw this semi-beautiful lady by the side of the road ... C.W.?