THE SOCIAL CONTRACT AND ME

MY CRIMES AGAINST NATURE

If I’m going to be a criminal, I want to do something to attack the social fabric that tears a really big hole, one that will be remembered for years. Fuck propriety. Where did following rules ever get me?

Some people talk about a “social contract” as if it had been drawn up by lawyers and signed by witnesses. From what I’ve seen, it’s a bunch of unspoken agreements designed by those who have to exclude those who haven’t.

If I want to have sex with barnyard animals, that’s up to me and the critters. If I want advice, I’ll ask for it. Of course you’re free to accuse me of crimes against nature, but I think you’re talking more about yourself here than about me or Nature.

By the way, I don’t want to have sex with animals, that’s just something that came to mind while I was writing. A lot of what I say surprises me. I’m the first one to hear of it as my fingers dutifully type what the voice in my head dictates.

In fact, if the noise in my head were audible to others I’d surely be jailed or hospitalized before the day is through.

MY LITTLE CORNER OF PARADISE

I live in a dilapidated housing project called HIV Estates. It’s right across the street from the Corona Suites, a motel that once had a swimming pool which is now a black pit half-full of stagnant water. Our building is overly hot both in summer and winter. In summer the building bakes because the air-conditioning is faulty, in winter because the furnace runs bull blast 24/7. The shag carpets smell of strawberry incense and Lysol. If it weren’t for the fact that the windows are wide open on even the coldest of days, I’m afraid I would suffocate.

I consider myself lucky to have a place to live. In fact, I have developed a strange affection for my home. Those who occupy the economic level below mine sleep in cardboard boxes they accumulate during the day and tuck into anyplace they can find at night.

At night you can hear the homeless humming themselves to sleep. Some hum so loudly they sound like electric motors that are stuck and unable to rotate. I guess it gives them comfort to do so because almost all of them do it. By dawn there is only one person still humming. His hums blend with the crowing of roosters and birds waking up in their nests.

Many of the residents of HIV Estates have taken a vow to speak only Esperanto. It’s their “thing.” Speaking this once-popular but now-forgotten language gives them a sense of belonging and unifies the residents in a common culture. Esperanto was invented over a hundred years ago as a universal tongue, but never really caught on. In the lobby of their building there is a large portrait of Freddy Mercury, the singer who died of AIDS many years ago.

Those who live in HIV Estates do not necessarily have any connection to the disease of the same name. They are simply people whose rent is subsidized by the city, and who like the location. Apparently the owner is a Chinese businessman who doesn’t speak English, and just like the look of the letters in the sign over the front entrance. His nephew majored in graphic design at a West Virginia community college, and may have proposed the name as a joke on his Uncle. He later made a fortune for himself importing silicone life-sized sex dolls from China, which became a big hit in Middle Eastern countries.

None of these histories impact us, the residents, who enjoy free WI-fi and instant coffee in the lobby. We are unanimous in thinking that things could be worse. Like Thoreau wrote in Walden, we are determined to enjoy the “bliss of the present moment.”

Some nights I am awakened by the sound of heavy machinery moving about on the street and in the parking lot of the Corona Suites. Once I saw a crew of men in hazmat suits emptying what looked like bodies wrapped in plastic into what used to be the swimming pool. It only took them a few minutes to do so and then they hurriedly drove off in a rental truck.

Sometimes the black oval that constitutes the former swimming pool can be seen to bubble furiously. Later there is a pungent odor that lingers for hours. The only thing I can compare this odor to is a fast food restaurant dumpster on a hot day.

But all in all, I still enjoy my neighborhood, with its convenient access to downtown and our city park, which is rumored to contain the mass graves of the victims of a massacre of a rebellious local Indian tribe by the United States Calvary. There’s supposed to be a painting of this event in the basement of our local museum, but ever since everyone became so sensitive about “political correctness” they haven’t been able to display it. I remember seeing it as a child. There were men clubbing children to death. I remember that clearly.

There’s a woman who seems to have taken an interest in me. She eats breakfast at the same time I do and stares at me from across the lobby. At first I assumed she simply followed the same schedule as I and so it was simply a coincidence that we were there at the same time each day, but now I think she is following me. What she wants is still a mystery, though yesterday I caught her licking a muffin while she looked up to see if I was watching. She licked it pretty thoroughly, lapping the butter and jelly off the circle of toasted bread. When she saw me watching she stopped licking and smiled.

Last night I heard knocking at my front door. When I answered, there was no one there. I went back to what I was doing and there was knocking again, and again no one there. After a few more times I decided to remain near the door so I could catch whoever was knocking in the act. When I quickly opened the door after he last knock, I saw her from the rear, rounding the corner at the bend in the hallway. At least I’m pretty sure it was her, wearing the same clothes she had on earlier in the day, in the lobby, licking the muffin.

The next morning she was not in the lobby at breakfast and I assumed the problem had been solved. But then when I got back to my room I left the door slightly ajar, and when I finished using the toilet, I found her sitting on my bed. She had obviously let herself in. Now, she had painted every other tooth in her mouth black, and was wearing a rubber swim cap with knitting needles puncturing the cap and sticking out of her head like porcupine quills. She seemed relaxed and glad to see me.

“Some people are just too attractive to be left alone,” she said.

“Are you referring to yourself or to me?” I asked.

“Either of us. Both of us.”

“What’s the deal with your teeth?” I asked

“I’m a piano. An abbreviated keyboard. Not 88 keys. More like forty.”

“To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?” I asked as diplomatically as possible.

“Kindred spirits belong together. You can run but you can’t hide.”

“So I’m being pursued.”

“You’ve already been caught. You had been pursued, past perfect. Now you’re caught. Present tense.”

“Are you in the habit of pursing and catching men?”

“No. But there’s a first time for everything.”

“I value my freedom.”

“So do I,” she replied. “That’s why I haven’t done this until now. I’ve got a plan for us. Look around. These people are crying out for help, for direction, for guidance. We can offer it to them. Even though no one who lives down here has money, they can spread the word to others who do. We can prosper. We can thrive by helping others blossom.”

“Sounds like in your plan we would become gardeners. And these customers of ours would be plants.”

“You could look at it like that,” she said, smiling wryly.

From that moment on, the two of us were inseparable. Eventually she brushed her teeth, removing the black paint, and took off the knitting needle shower cap. Over time we began to realize that we had much more in common than we could have imagined. We would independently come up with the same crazy ideas at the same time. When I told her that I would like to make a zombie TV series using plots copied from Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best, she said she had had the same idea. Everyone in the show would be a zombie, but the situations, dialogue and developments would be as saccharine as in the original TV shows. At the closing of every episode, the family would gather around the dining room table, say grace, and then feast on brains. As George Romero found out when he asked his neighbors to play the role of zombies in Night of the Living Dead, any and everyone can convincingly play a zombie. Casting would be easy.

Last time I checked, Netflix had ten zombie series running at the same time, and an equal number of movies in the can. The world is as hungry for zombie shows as zombies are for brains.

Allow Me To Introduce Myself

the author a few years ago

Are you as dumb as you look or do I need to have my eyes checked? Although I’m deaf in one ear, I can almost hear through the other one, and when I’m not actually having a seizure of some kind I can usually almost hang onto a train of thought for almost a minute at a time. Usually. Almost.

Fact is, I’m one of those Rothchilds you read about, only when I was a baby they changed my name to Billy Sepulveda, after the street in LA that goes to the airport. That’s where they found me, in a cardboard box hidden behind some bushes. The lady who stopped and picked me up said she could barely hear my crying above the traffic noise.

She did some research and found out that I was blue-blood nobility all the way. My great grandfather came from Austria and he married a Hapsburg. Yeah, it’s all written down someplace, in a courthouse somewhere. Google it.

Anyway, could you spare some change so I can get something to eat? You see, I gave up using money a few years ago when I realized it was the main way “they” control us. You know who “they” are, right? Sometimes you catch them out of the corner of your eye. They’re very thin, with angular features, and they never smile. Sometimes you can smell them before you can see them. They smell like bleach. You can often hear them at night, even in complete darkness, moving about, rustling.

Once I stopped using money, my life got much simpler. As you might expect, I lost weight when I stopped eating “convenience foods.” Now I eat only when someone freely gives me food, the frequency of which varies widely. Yes, I have gone to bed hungry a time or two. What of it?

A Girl’s Gotta Do…

I’m flying to a tropical island with a couple of supermodels. Natalie and Natasha. They’re so right brain. I’m the analytical type and could have been a rocket scientist if only I liked rockets and did well in math. But then, Natalie and Natasha love me the way I am.

I’ve never before felt such unconditional acceptance from anyone, especially from beautiful supermodels who also happen to be fabulously wealthy. At least that’s how they described themselves when I first met them in that Aeroflot flight from St. Petersburg that almost crashed when both the pilot and co-pilot were too drunk to fly. Nobody at the airline seemed surprised by their condition.

Natalie and Natasha were former Aeroflot stewardesses who quit when somebody tried to force them to engage in what they insist was child trafficking. I tried to explain to them that UNESCO was a legitimate NGO that specialized in advocating for families, but they weren’t having any of it. They said they knew a child trafficker when they saw one.

I’m proud of them for caring about someone less fortunate than they. Each comes from a super-rich family, a father who is an oligarch and well-connected to Trump and his mafia banking buddies. I asked them if they ever peed on Trump. They blushed and giggled and I took that to mean “yes.” Finally Natalie rolled her eyes and said “A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!”

YOU’RE IMPEACHING THE WRONG MAN!

The orange-haired, stocky septuagenarian you think you’re impeaching is not Donald Trump. He’s the result of a CIA experiment gone wrong, a half-man, half-protozoa that can often simulate the essentials of human cognition and communication. His real name is UX48053. It’s stamped on the back of his neck, which is why you never see him with his shirt off.

The Republicans in Congress know this, and that’s why they’re not really worried about the outcome of the impeachment proceedings. They’re mostly excited about showing off their cocky disregard for the judicial process. Like smug fraternity boys, they tease and provoke, hoping to get a “rise” out of their former colleagues, now enemies.

Eventually, UX48053 will stimply stop dead in his tracks. He will no longer Tweet, no longer call Fox News, no longer insult other world leaders or abrogate treaties. His batteries will have run down. If he’s replaced by Mike Pence (ZX48022) tbe batteries should be good for another six months to a year. After that, it’s anybody’s guess who will occupy the White House.

So Much Diversion

Why do so many people feel they need for so much diversion? From what exactly do they need to be diverted? Is reality really so grim that we can’t face it head-on? Would we simply die of boredom or ennui if there were no competing, light narrative to distract us from the grim facts?

Maybe so. That would explain why nothing of substance seems to make it through the popular culture filters. Why do we still perform the music of Bach and Chopin hundreds of years after their deaths? Nothing has taken their place in terms of profundity and quality.

It’s obvious that the world is going downhill and quickly. Our rapid descent knows no precedence. There have been wars, famines, droughts and natural catastophes galore, but after a brief period of recovery, progress has continued. Not so now.

Now people are growing stupider by the hour and proud of it. Facts are scorned, while opinions of any kind are lauded. Opinions with no factual backing are celebrated and used as a basis for rapid action. Let’s tear down the careful work of centuries with a wave of one hand. Why? Why not? I’m of the opinion it’s a good idea, that’s why!

CELEBRITY PLASTIC SURGERY TRANSFORMATIONS

LET’S GO STEADY, ARNOLD STANG, 1945
Wally Cox, 1953

Debby Reynolds wanted to look like Joan Rivers in the worst way, so she went under the knife at the Plastic Surgeon to the Stars clinic on Rodeo Drive, and emerged looking just like Burt Reynolds. Such are the risks inherent in trying to hire someone to accomplish what Mother Nature couldn’t.

Arnold Stang was friends with Wally Cox who had once been Marlon Brando’s roommate when both were struggling actors in New York. Wally had once played a plastic surgeon in a TV drama on Playhouse 90, and after a night of heavy drinking, Arnold persuaded Wally to take a scalpel and turn him into Marlon Brando.

When Arnold looked into the mirror the next morning, he was amazed. Marlon Brando was looking back at him. It wasn’t just Marlon Brando but a younger, better-looking Brando. Wally joined AA the next day, vowing to never pick up a scalpel again.

Donna Reed wanted to look like Eddie Van Halen, and ended up the spitting image of Florence Henderson, who then took her to court for identity theft and lost. The judge had just been on an elevator with two Sigourney Weavers and found the experience life-affirming. Case dismissed.

My Big, Fat, Pointless Vocation

fiction

I’ve been under the impression that they’re going to let me out soon, any day now, but each day that goes by I find that’s not the case. The administrators and supervisors who could or should know, avoid me when they see me in the hallways.

When they brought me here, they lavished me with praise. I was the kind of young man they wanted. My vocation was immediately apparent. It would be an insult to God and a grave mistake for me to squander such an opportunity to serve Him.

As time went on, their enthusiasm waned. I was no longer the idea candidate. Other boys came and went, but I remained, having been thoroughly charmed by their appraisal of my gifts. Boys like me were the reason this place existed. I was their walking mission statement.

My original mentor, Father Pretorious, a kindly old man with rheumy eyes and a long gray beard never gave up on me, but after he died, it was sort of like I ceased to exist. I was now more of a ghost than he. My name was rarely mentioned in our institutional newsletter. True, I still taught classes, but my name did not appear in the course directory. The instructor for the sections I ended up teaching was listed only as “staff.”

They’ve cut back on food, both in variety and portion size. I’m always a little bit hungry, which makes me edgy and nervous. My old well-fed self was lethargic and complacent compared to the new skinny me, the one that dreams about donuts and ice cream.

Ours is no longer a religious institution. For a while we were a “benevolent society” but now we’re not even that. We’re just a vocational school, the kind for people who don’t plan on attending college. Shoe repair is no longer a popular line of study, but writing cellphone apps and graphic design are in demand.

We all wear the same uniform, dark blue pants and matching shirt that make us look like warehouse workers or bus drivers. Even the women wear pants. No hint of style or glamor, no opportunity for self-expression. We are all the same. Drones.

They have given me a group of younger boys, pre-teens, whom I mentor. We all wear hush puppies, soft, effeminate shoes with crepe soles, as well as polyester shirts that cause our underarm odor to fester and increase in potency. Since my superiors chose these garments, I know they are deliberately trying to ensure our lack of success with women. None of this is accidental. We have been given copies of old Superman comics to study and hopefully incorporate into our lifestyle. I was instructed to encourage us to emulate Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen, the cub reporter with no ego and little “on the ball.” We are well-intentioned yet impotent just like Jimmy.

We had a “rap session” in the “dugout” one night, and some of the boys thought we would do better to model ourselves on Jughead of the Archie comics, or Mayard G Krebs from the Dobie Gillis TV show. But I sensed danger. My superiors would be threatened by such eccentricity, such quirkiness. Jimmy Olsen was a safe conformist, while Maynard G. Krebs was a unpredictable beatnick. This school had no use for rebels of any kind.

We were recently brought to a conference room in the administration wing and told that our program had proved so successful that we were being sent abroad, to share the secrets of our success with orphans in Borneo. Since none of us knew how to find Borneo on the map, we were shown a brief travelogue produced by Lowell Thomas in the 1950’s. It looks like the kind of place where people wear bones in their noses. The boys looked uneasy. I tried to smile and project confidence.

“How many orphans do they have in Borneo?” I asked, just to appear proactive.

“A lot. Tens of thousands. Nobody there feels they can adequately support their children, so they hand them over for adoption as soon as they can walk.”

The boys looked at me with increasing concern. By now I was grinning like an idiot.

They had us pack and await further instructions. Within a few hours we were in a van heading toward the airport, within a day and a half we were on the tarmac at the Sarawak International airport, waiting for another van to take us to the orphanage. By now our cheap, permanent press shirts were drenched with sweat, or Hush Puppy soles melting into the hot asphalt. No longer smiling, I was simply making a brave face. Like Magellan or Cortez, my first job was to project authority and confidence.

Borneo was completely unlike Central Missouri. It was, first of all, hot. Hotter and muggier than the hottest July day back where we came from. The bugs were very large, the size of sparrows. Hardly anyone spoke English. We were taken to a dormitory on an institute of some kind, but the place seemed to be closed for the season. The swimming pool had been drained. The lawns were unkempt. The building itself smelled like phenol, a disinfectant used in some parts of the world instead of chlorine.

Each of us was assigned a very large room. Back at the school, we had slept twelve to a room in a dormitory, but here we were astounded to find such luxury. Each room had its own bathroom, again something that seemed incredible compared to the shower down the hall we had endured for years. The bathrooms contained a large porcelain covered copper bathtub, big enough for three people. On the other hand, there was no “hot” water tap. Maybe in this climate, hot water would have been a punishment instead of a luxury.

As the days dragged on, we waited for instructions. What was expected of us? Our meals were announced by a bell rung at 8, 12 and 5. There was a library full of dusty books written in Indonesian. Other than that, when it came to entertainment we were on our own. A crew of cleaning women attended to our wing, but they would not look any of us in the eye, and slumped over in an attempt to make themselves even smaller than they were when one of us passed by.

Finally, after five days, we were invited to meet the Head Master in the Main Lounge, and were taken by an open-air bus to another building. The moment we entered through the automatic sliding doors we were delighted to be greeted by air-conditioning. It is only after deprivation that we really appreciate what we’ve taken for granted.

The Head Master was a very tall man with an extremely bushy head of snow-white hair. He seemed alternately nice and scary. He spoke English with a strange accent, maybe Dutch. He spoke for an hour, and I don’t think I was alone in not getting much out of it. Maybe we were too jet lagged, or maybe he simply wasn’t making sense. Either way, it didn’t seem to matter. We were here. It was hot. Those were the facts.

Later on, I was to find that our job was to educate a class or orang-outangs who had been taught elementary English. As difficult as this was to comprehend much less believe, it turned out to be fact. This is why we had been brought here. Great effort had been made to take these apes from the wild and teach them to speak at the level of the average eight-year-old. Our employers had hopes of getting at least some of them to graduate from University.

It turns out that they had been giving the apes high doses of LSD since they were babies, then forcing them to watch English-language movies on YouTube. If they watched an entire film, they were allowed to eat. Pretty soon the group had seen every talking picture in the public domain made. Some could even pull off vocal impressions of Edward G Robinson, Cagney and Jimmy Stewart. Our Christmas show featured two orang-outangs bringing to life the famous scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life” where George Bailey tells Mister Potter that he doesn’t want the job he’s been offered, and calls Potter a “a warped, frustrated old man.” You haven’t lived until you’ve seen an auburn-haired orang-outang doing a Jimmy Stewart impression deliver that speech.

Some of the apes progressed faster than the others. They asked me if I could help them form a poetry study group. They wanted to start with Milton and progress on through the Victorian poet Tennyson. I did my best to give them some background on Milton, his blindness, and his becoming England’s first poet Laureate. They were impressed by the scope and complexity of Paradise Lost. I asked them why they ignored Wordsworth and Coleridge. They shrugged and said they found them mediocre at best. For two months we slowly read through as much of Paradise Lost as we could. They especially liked Satan’s comment “I would rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

Tennyson really caught their imagination with Idylls of the King. They ended up liking him more than Milton, and were enraptured by the many images evoked by the Arthurian legend. They wept when Arthur bade his loyal friend Sir Bedivere throw the sword back into the lake and then depart. The brightest ape said that Arthur’s line “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of” gave him goosebumps.

The apes were curious about world travel. How does Malaysia compare to Vietnam? They had heard that Thailand discriminates against apes, and that they would simply be imprisoned in a zoo instead of accepted into a University. The brightest ape wants to receive a doctorate and become a professor. I tried to encourage him, because affirmative action would allow him to garner a tenure-track faculty position, even though as a white male I had never been able to do so in the twenty-five years I applied for such jobs.

I asked the apes if they were lonely, if they missed their fellow apes. They could not understand my question. “What would anyone miss about apes?” they asked. “We have already experience everything there is to know about apes.” I told them about my feelings of homesickness after moving across the world.

They laughed and said “But the opportunities here are so much more important than the momentary discomfort you might feel after arrival.” I had to admit they were making sense.

It turned out that the apes were immune to religion. The idea of making up facts in order to satisfy emotional urges seemed laughable to them. I began to think they were smarter than us. Much smarter.

So when I was called back to Missouri as a punishment for encouraging our students to think for themselves, I was puzzled. Hadn’t they known about the great intelligence of the orang-outangs when they brought my group to Indonesia? Maybe not. Perhaps they had assumed they were primitive apes covered in red fur who could become an attraction at an Ozark petting zoo.

After Boreno, I found Missouri horribly depressing. Back at our school, smug men in crew cuts lectured me on patriotism and laughed at my artistic and literary pretensions. It was good old boy central, white male anti-intellectuals who ran everything and intended to keep it that way. It was their way or the highway.

The boys in my care had been reassigned to a Christian mission in Sarawak, and were forbidden to communicate with me. Although I am not being held prisoner here, I will not leave until I have formed a plan of action.

First I have to find some shoes. Something more durable than these damn hush puppies.

Waiting for the Saucer

It’s after midnight but they still haven’t arrived. I’m getting sleepy but am determined to stay awake until the saucer lands. They cautioned me it won’t make a sound, but I might feel a rush of wind and smell ozone. The ship itself won’t be terribly bright, just a burnt orange glow. If you’re looking right at it you’d see it, but then why would you be looking in my yard in the middle of the night?

So far I’m the only one in my family who takes this seriously. I’ve been packed and ready to go for days now. My wife is unsympathetic. The kids can’t get bothered. Fine, let them stay. I’ve been ready for a change ever since I retired five years ago. There’s nothing I want here. Nothing at all.

The other retired guys all meet for coffee at the local supermarket coffee shop at six a.m. If they’d open the doors at five half of them would be there at that time. They talk about politics and sports. Their wives take a several table, but there aren’t as many of them as there are of us. I don’t know what the women talk about. Probably us.

The fact is, we’d all be thrilled if aliens really were taking an interest in us and wanted to take us away. Only I seem to have the faith. The others may follow as their hollow lives become even emptier. I have no interest in converting them to my faith. What’s in it for me? Where I’m going, I don’t need more friends from back home. They never did much for me in the past. No, I’m looking forward to transformation, to becoming somebody else entirely.

What will it be like to wake up my first morning on another world? Will be there one sun or two? Will the vegetation be completely different or just exotic? Will women find me attractive? Will I be attracted to them? Do they even have men and women, or do they lay eggs or give birth through a hole in their sides?

I’m sure it will be way different, but I find that prospect exciting. Anything but more of this same old same old. I figure if the saucer doesn’t land, I can always move across the world to some place like Mongolia or Tasmania. Things might be different enough there to stave off boredom for a few more years.

A few hours passed and the saucer landed. All that waiting made the landing itself seem anticlimactic. Once I was inside, we took off and were far away from Earth within a matter of minutes. For the first time in a long time, I began to relax and enjoy myself.

The saucer’s interior was decorated in 1960’s Bachelor Pad. Men with van Dyke beards smoked pipes. Women in capri pants, their hair in long pony tails lounged about, examining LP record album covers. There was an elaborate Hi-Fi sound system, though it was in mono, as there was only one speaker. We were listening to Miles Davis’ Kinda Cool. A man started reciting an improvised poem. A woman sang scat. I expected to see Hugh Hefner appear wearing a silk dressing gown and an ascot.

A bald and bearded professor type came over and started talking to me about music theory. He was explaining the concept of the Circle of Fifths in harmony, and how that could be applied in unusual time signatures, like 12/8. I pretended to understand what he was talking about, and nodded my head as he elaborated each point. Someone was burning incense. I thought I caught a whiff of ganja.

This was far from the sterile world I had come to expect thanks to all the movies I’d seen set in space ships. Maybe I would be able to fit in. I guess I had assumed that whoever these aliens were, they wouldn’t be much like us. At least from what I’d seen so far, I had to conclude I was wrong.

The women became more friendly towards me as our voyage continued. They seemed to find me “interesting.” As much as I enjoyed our conversations, I never gained much insight into their specific personalities. They were just pretty women with pony tails, being flirty in sort of a Junior High way.

I guess we were headed somewhere far away, for we were en route at least a week before we landed. I had hoped for a planet that was lush and verdant, sunny and full of fresh air. Instead, we emerged into a series of dimly-lit tunnels. As we were walking I asked the professor where these tunnels lead. “To other tunnels,” was his reply.

The first few days they took me to an institute of some kind, maybe a research university, where after a brief physical examination, they simply asked me questions. How did Bach’s music differ from Chopin’s? What was the radio of the diameter of a circle to its circumference? What is plutonium? Do most compounds exist in more than one state? How many apply to water? What was the first network situation comedy filmed instead of shot live? Where was it filmed? Why were so many early television shows based in New York?

I knew the answers to most of the questions they asked. Whether or not this impressed them I couldn’t tell, because they simply moved on to the next question. After three days of this, I was tired and told them so. I wanted to be shown their planet. This request confused them. “But this is our planet,” the replied.

So this was it. They lived in bunkers underground. And I thought my options were bleak back home.

I asked them what they did for fun. The replied they watched a lot of our television shows, but since the speed of light was only a measly 186,000 miles a second, they only now were getting the shows we had broadcast in 1957. They asked me who I preferred among newscasters, Douglas Edwards, Walter Cronkite or that new duo, Huntley and Brinkley.

I told them I was homesick and asked when the next saucer would leave headed back toward my home. They laughed nervously. I told them I was serious. They said they’d ask, but there was a big universe out there and they couldn’t guarantee the timing would suit me.

In the meantime, we could try collaborating on a TV show. In our interviews, I had mentioned that my earliest memories of being delighted by creativity and wit came from watching Steve Allen on the Tonight Show. I told them I had always hoped I could have a show like that, and improvise as effortlessly as Steve Allen had. They proposed that we do such a show, and went so far as to buy me some over-sized glasses that resembled those worn by Mister Allen and Roy Orbison, for that matter. I would interview a bevy of pony-tailed starlets with names like Gigi, Gidget and Brigette, as well as some bearded hipsters named Dirk, Bret and Clay. We could talk about upcoming movies and hit records we were excited about, even though there were no such products. I’m not sure they even had television on this planet, but they did have a way of storing our performances.

They gave me a piano onstage which I could pretend to play, while they piped in Bill Evans performing in his unique style.

We made five, one-hour shows, and I became more and more comfortable playing the role of TV talk-show host. In the course of my conversation with these faux starlets and stars, I learned:

That the surface of this planet was a radioactive wasteland, the result of an unfortunate nuclear war that took place years ago.

That the forms my hosts had assumed for my sake came from their study of our planet, but in actuality they were a green, bubbling foam that rose a few inches when it got excited and then settled down to being a slimy carpet.

That they couldn’t guarantee me that upon return I would find the Earth at the same era it was when I left. Time was a slippery thing across great distance. Celestial navigation was both an art and a science. Fortunately, my memories were equally likely to become foggy and vague, and if we did return at a different time, it would be sort of like an alcoholic coming out of a blackout and having to buy a newspaper to find out the date.

But I was willing to risk it all just to get home.