Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Wendll shifted his weight from right to left in an unsuccessful attempt to get comfortable as he straddled the stool. The stool was set slightly too high for him, but the adjustment mechanism was jammed. He didn’t mind when he was balanced in the middle so that all four of his feet dangled off the floor, but the rounded seat was polished so he tended to slide from one side to the other. Wendll sighed, dismounted, and put four books on the floor as footrests. He reseated himself. The books helped, but he resolved to fix the stool tomorrow. Tonight, he didn’t have the time. A paper for his Unified Studies Class at Purple River Preparatory School was due the next morning and he could put it off no longer.

The assignment was to write a footnoted report of at least 1000 words on any speculative matter of science, art, or history. The broad freedom to choose his own topic hadn’t made the task any easier for Wendll. He had chosen “On the Search for Extra-Sullenean Intelligence,” but now he was having second thoughts. Wendll pushed his reservations aside; it was too late to change his mind. After all, he already had finished up in the library where he had jotted his notes on index cards. In truth, for the general sense of his essay he was relying almost entirely on a single article in the Globe Book Encyclopedia, but he knew he needed to appear to have consulted more than one source, so he had flipped through two other books as well. From each of those he had copied quotes he could use and then cite in his footnotes. Wendll rolled a sheet of paper into the typewriter, accidentally jamming his thumb-claw. He cursed, pulled out his claw, reset the paper, and began to type.

On the Search for Extra-Sullenean Intelligence
by Wendll Uodrenjn
Unified Studies 2-8 – Miss Yooldrn

Wendll stared at the paper for several minutes at a loss as to what to write next. At last, he decided any beginning was better than none.

Many people believe alien visitors have been part of the history and prehistory of our world Sully from the very beginning. They postulate that aliens even helped to found our ancient civilizations. Cave paintings seem to show strange creatures and objects in the sky. Most archaeologists interpret these as mythological images, but a few have suggested they might be depictions of ancient aliens. Support for this view is provided by the ongoing rash of Flying Sickle sightings, so many of which remain unexplained. The Defense Agency’s press liaisons continue to insist these sightings, even when they are documented and not faked, are of common objects such as weather balloons or of natural phenomena such as ball lightning. A cadre of believers in Flying Sickles, however, dismisses these explanations as deliberate deceptions by the government. Some of the more extreme conspiracy theorists claim our military is secretly in possession of a Flying Sickle that crashed at the time of the infamous Pendl Incident; they even consider rumors that one of the alien pilots was captured and is still alive to be plausible.

Confederal authorities do appear to have covered up something at Pendl, but it might have nothing to do with outer space. Some stories in foreign newspapers indicate an experimental propeller-less military airplane is what crashed at Pendl, which would explain the Defense Agency’s secrecy. Two civilians claim to have been at the crash scene and to have seen something extra-Sullenean there before army guards showed up and shooed them away; one even claims to have seen the dead bodies of bipedal aliens. Their claims are intriguing, but both witnesses have some credibility issues, not least because both try to make money by writing and speaking about their experiences and about Flying Sickles in general.

So, it must be admitted there is no firm evidence that Flying Sickles are real. Thus, by Fernl’s Razor, we must assume that the existence of Flying Sickles is unlikely

Wendll paused because he wasn’t entirely sure where Miss Yooldrn stood on the question. He decided to be on the safe side and added

at least tentatively.

Wendll worried the sentence structure was awkward, but he didn’t want to start over with a fresh sheet of paper.

Doctor Rondlf is best known as a science fiction writer, yet she was a practicing scientist before that. In fact, when she was still young enough to be a he, he was part of the team that discovered the radioactive isotope tritium.

Wendll included the gender detail because he, too, fantasized about earning a doctorate long before his own maturation and transformation into a female, though he doubted he had the discipline for such an early academic achievement.

Though Rondlf’s novels abound with aliens, she tries to be both cautious and openminded. She famously asked fellow scientists at Twin Mountain University where she teaches, “Where are they?” This is sometimes called Rondlf’s Paradox. If alien civilizations are out there, shouldn’t we see some evidence of them?

Rondlf, in her amusing autobiography Rented Space, recalls that her colleague Doctor Zanwlp responded to her query by saying, “Even if they exist, which I doubt, unless these hypothetical aliens have powerful communications lasers pointed in our direction, we wouldn’t see them even if they are only a few tens of light years distant.”

“Suppose they don’t use lasers. They could rely on some alternate technology such as radio waves,” Rondlf suggested.

“Impractical,” Zanwlp countered. “Radio waves propagate fine in space, but on the surface of any habitable world, ionization from magnetic fields makes a hash of them.”

“Suppose they live on a world that is quieter in those parts of the EM spectrum,” Rondlf speculated.

“Oh come now,” Zanwlp chuckled. “How could plant life exist without magnetosynthesis? It is a contradiction. Besides, think of the vast quantities of refined heavy metals required by radio technology if it is used on a large scale. Realistically, the fundamental technology of any advanced civilization will be based, as is ours, on ceramics. I know you’ve written fiction tales about iron-rich alien worlds with iron cores, but life is very unlikely anyplace like that.” She added, “The gravity would be crushing and the surface might be very unstable.”

“How can we be so sure?” Rondlf persisted. “We could send a probe into deep space that is designed to listen to the full radio spectrum, and it could laser its results back to Sully.”

“You are writing science fiction again,” Zanwlp complained to Rondlf. “The probe you describe would be very expensive. Try convincing the Confederal Council to spend money on such a silly idea in this economy. We are in a recession, you know.”

Despite her skepticism, the conversation did cause Zanwlp to consider what the requirements would be for extra-Sullenean civilizations. In the anthology, Speculations of Leading Stargazers, she says the following:

“Any plausible world with intelligent alien life must, like Sully, be a satellite of a gas giant much like our own Colossus. It must be in a very precise and stable orbit around the primary. Too close to the gas planet, and tidal forces will overheat the interior; too far, and the life-giving radiation and magnetic flux from the planet will be too attenuated to support magnetosynthesis. The orbit around the sun also is important. A world must have liquid water for life, which means the gas giant and its life-bearing satellite together must orbit the sun at a distance that will neither vaporize nor freeze water. The alien star surely would be, like ours, a red dwarf; anything larger would be unsuitable for gas giants in its habitable orbital zone.”

She then presents what is known as the Zanwlp Equation:

N = R* x fp x fpm x ne x fx fi x fc x L

This means the number of detectable galactic civilizations is equal to the rate of star formation times the fraction of stars that have gas giant planets, times the fraction of gas giant planets that have moons, times the fraction of moons that are habitable, times the fraction of those moons that develop life, times the fraction of those that develop intelligent life, times the fraction of intelligent species develop technical civilizations, times the length of time technical civilizations last.

“It is likely,” Zanwlp said bleakly, “that civilizations inevitably self-destruct not long after they become technical, which means the number of civilizations in our galaxy at present most probably is just one, our own.”

Wendll estimated the number words he had typed and figured he had met the requirement. He quickly wrapped up the paper.

In truth, there is a lot of guesswork when assigning numbers to any of the factors of the Zanwlp Equation, so some people, including Doctor Rondlf, have suggested there might be as many as 10,000 civilizations contemporary with our own. Our very existence proves it is not impossible for intelligent life to arise. Unless the pilots of a Flying Sickle see fit to land in full public view on the Executive Castle’s flower garden, however, we may never know for sure.

Wendll added his footnotes and typed a bibliography. He sighed in relief.

His best friend Berkjj from the neighboring dorm room stuck his beak in the door, and said, “Hey Wendll, let’s get a beer.”

“Sure, why not?”

Sully was tidally locked to its primary, and, at the longitude of Purple River Prep, a mere sliver of Colossus peeked above the horizon. So, on clear nights the sky always was dark enough for hundreds of stars to be visible. As Wendll and Berkjj strolled across the Hex toward town and its strip of bars, Wendll looked up at the stars. He wondered if anyone up there was looking back.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Brown Acid

The warning came repeatedly from the stage, “Do not take the brown acid!”
I should have listened but I didn’t. It was raining. I was hungry. I was wet. I was cold. My bladder was full. There were people everywhere. I mean everywhere. You scarcely could take a step in any direction without stepping on someone’s hand, foot, or leg. Mud and blankets and coolers and garbage filled the small spaces between flesh. It was best to use your hands as additional feet. The result made it look as though a giant game of Twister was being played on the entire farm.
The music was great but it wasn’t great enough to take my mind off my discomfort. The only times I was mellow were when I was high or making love. The two often went together because my old lady wouldn’t get it on in front of everybody unless she was stoned. A freak, whose wild red hair made me think of Bozo the Clown, offered us some LSD. My girl Vicky snatched at it, and you know that if she was doing something I was too. So, yeah, I took the brown acid.
Most people who took it didn’t notice anything wrong with it. A few got a little sick or got paranoid for a while. Not me. The stuff really did a number on me. I wish I never heard of Woodstock.
I’d dropped acid before plenty of times. I started when I was 16. It is embarrassing to be such a cliché for my generation, but I had gone to hear Timothy Leary speak at a nearby college in Madison, NJ. The man spoke of higher consciousness through chemistry. He said there was more to life and to awareness than the petty materialistic concerns which so obsessed our parents.
Right after the lecture he went back to the mansion in New York where he lived with an heiress. I thought about what he said all that evening while floating in the pool in back of my folks’ house. I remember the stars were crispy bright that night. Ursa Major was the only constellation I could name for sure. It occurred to me that it might be fun to learn more about stars.
Two days later was Saturday. I took a train to NYC with a buddy and bought some caps in Washington Square. The dealer was an NYU student earning cash for college tuition. We were stupid teenagers. We dared each other to drop the acid on the train ride back home. We knew we were being stupid, but neither of us wanted to cop out. I put the cap on my tongue and let it dissolve. At first we both thought the dealer had ripped us off; 20 minutes went by and neither of us felt a thing. Then I handed the conductor my ticket and saw the afterimage of my hand hang in space across the entire sweep from my shirt pocket to the aisle. The view outside the window became a swirl in a pattern like cream makes when you pour it into coffee.
“Oh wow!” Ron said. “This is pretty cool, Aardvark!”
I guess I should explain the name. Critics ask me about it all the time and I make a point of not answering. Mystery makes mystique. The truth is simple enough. My first day of high school a varsity linebacker I accidentally brushed grabbed me by the back of the neck and ground my nose in the dirt. From then on I was Aardvark. I couldn’t shake the name so I just went with it. Professionally it has been an asset. Folks remember me.
Anyway, it was plain from that first use that LSD affected me differently. My friend described seeing sharp crystalline edges and vivid colors, but he by no means lost his grip on reality. The world I saw belonged in another galaxy. Maybe another universe.
I’m not sure how we made it to my house from the train station. I have a vague recollection of being led by the arm. The people we passed on the street transmogrified into every one of the major Warner Brothers cartoon characters. We somehow avoided attracting the notice of the police even though I remember shouting at Porky Pig something about wearing pants in public. The effects wore off by the next morning. My parents said nothing to me about my behavior. To this day I don’t know whether they didn’t notice or shrugged it off.
Just to save themselves embarrassment, my friends soon learned to keep me out of public view whenever we got high. They enjoyed my company because I was entertaining. I once repeatedly played “White Room” by Cream for an hour and expostulated loudly at the profundity of the lyrics. I have no idea what I said. I would laugh uproariously at Ed Sullivan, seeing comic genius in his deadpan face. One time I dismembered an orange in fascination and then cried all night in horror at what I had done. The laughter of my friends on that occasion boomed like cannon fire.
At least my sex life improved. To be more accurate, it started. Freud was looking too deep when he asked what women want. Most times, as Cindy Lauper revealed much later, girls just want to have fun. As soon as I became known in school as a boy with acid to spare, I had girlfriends to spare.
Generally, LSD is a major distraction away from sex, but if you can keep your mind on the act when high it is an experience all its own. My first time I was convinced I was making it with a giant ripe plum. I never told that to any shrink for fear he would tell me what it meant. It can’t be anything good.
Already I was a pretty good painter in a pop art sort of way and I sometimes thought about drawing for some comic book company. You can see elements of my later style in what I did then. I lacked originality though. My sketches and splashes were nothing special.
In 1969 I was one of the fools who bought tickets to Woodstock. More foolish still, I didn’t keep them as collectors’ items. I paid $18 each which by the standards of the day was an outrageously high price. Now they are worth thousands.
Vicky, who was a year older than I was, drove us upstate in her VW Bug. We ran out of gas in a huge traffic jam several miles from the concert site. Somehow everyone seemed to know the way to the concert even though it had been relocated at the last minute to some town named Bethel that I had a hard time finding on a map. It was 50 miles from Woodstock. We pushed the car off the road onto the lawn of a small ranch house. I talked to the owner. He wanted $50 to let us leave it there. I had to sell my stash of acid to the freaks still caught in traffic in order to raise the cash. I should have kept a few.
Vicky and I hiked the rest of the way. We approached the site over a field nowhere near an official gate. There was no one to take our tickets. We were not alone. About a dozen other kids were there and more were approaching. A few of the rowdier ones pushed over the makeshift fence to the applause of the rest of us. We all entered the grounds. The MCs on stage yelled about that that sort of thing for a while. Eventually they gave up and declared Woodstock a free concert as though they had a choice in the matter. I wanted to keep some distance from the stage where we could have some elbow room but Vicky wanted to be as close as we could get. So, we staked out a blanket space pretty near the front.
I went around bumming for extra drugs. Back then people were pretty generous with what they had. Then Bozo showed up with the brown acid.
I never was on a trip like that. The world didn’t merely go surreal. Instead, my perspective became all crazy. When I looked at the stage it was like I was on the stage. I was Melanie singing “Beautiful People.” I could see the audience out there including me and Vicky. I could see me. I could feel through the clouds and through space to the surface of the moon. I could feel the mountain ranges, the craters, the plains and the valleys on the surface. I swam through the Atlantic with tuna and was entangled in a net. I returned to the stage and for a while became Arlo Guthrie singing “Coming Into Los Angeles.” I located myself the crowd and willed myself to return to me. I succeeded, but it didn’t last. I grabbed a handful of dirt and saw microscopic creatures living inside. I became an amoeba and stretched out my membrane to absorb a piece decayed matter for food. I became a biology teacher in some California classroom I never had seen before writing the word “phagocytosis” on a blackboard.
I don’t remember much of the concert after that until Joe Cocker took the stage. I remember rain. I remember becoming rain droplets in the clouds which fell on me and then slid down my own face. I remember exploring the solar system. On the third day I was mostly back to myself. I was pretty sick. That might have helped restrain my mind from traveling. My first totally sane view was of Vicky making it with a dude on the next blanket.
I lost it again for a while during Hendrix. It’s a shame. I hear he was good. Vicky, like most of the audience, was gone by then. She was kind enough to pin a note to me that said “I’m splitting.” After the concert, I hitchhiked back to Chatham, NJ.
My mind never was right after that, but the experience gave my artwork a special edge. It made my career. While it was very much inspired by the prevailing psychedelic scene of the time, my work was nevertheless distinctive. I made my first sales to a poster company before I graduated high school.
In order to avoid being sent to the jungles of Southeast Asia, I enrolled at Syracuse in order to get a 2S deferment. While still enrolled as a Fine Arts student my work became highly commercial. My warped “inside out” perspective appealed to many in the counterculture, and more importantly, to wealthy folk who liked to seem to be “with it.” I socked away a good little nest egg. I never was as big as Peter Maxx or as significant as Warhol, but my stuff sold. It was a rare head shop or boutique in the early 70s that didn’t have Aardvark T-shirts, Aardvark paper airplane books, and Aardvark posters.
My success didn’t help my grades. I wonder to this day if my professors resented me for my success or if they really thought my work was trash. At least they didn’t fail me. I never did get an A in my field of study though.
You may be surprised to learn that I never dropped acid again. Certainly everyone assumed I was a total head. I didn’t need to be. The brown acid had wreaked some permanent change in my brain so I could go on a trip just by meditating. It was harder to stop tripping than to start. It was especially hard to stop if I had any THC in me, so I cut out weed too. I was worried I would go over the edge for good if I took more LSD.
The first inkling that I might be in for trouble even if I stayed straight came in the Spring of 1971. The South Vietnamese launched an offensive into Laos. President Nixon at the same time renewed the air campaign against North Vietnam. Anti-war protesters planned a big demonstration in Washington, DC, on April 30. The demonstration was intended by the organizers to be peaceful. It was an open secret that more radical activists would follow up the peaceful demonstration with an attempt to shut down the government in the first few days of May. Their plan was simple enough. They would block DC traffic to prevent federal workers from reaching their jobs. The Metro subway was not yet open, so nearly all government workers drove or rode buses.
On April 29, myself and five other Syracuse students, four guys and two girls in all, crammed into a Chevy Nova and drove to DC. Parking in DC was impossible. It was not a very big a city, though it has grown a lot since, and the private garages were overwhelmed. We found a parking lot in Virginia and ended up walking along the George Washington Expressway and across Arlington Memorial Bridge to get to the city.
The demonstration was exhilarating. 200,000 people, mostly young, crowded onto Constitution Avenue. They spilled over into the Mall and onto the Ellipse and all the way to Capitol Hill in a human sea of protest. No one knew it would be the counterculture’s last big political outing.
I camped out on the Washington Monument grounds that night. The scene was familiar. A near solid blanket of human beings covered the ground between Constitution and Independence Avenues. A haze of marijuana smoke filled the air. Loud live rock music blared from the stage backing up to Independence.
Police were on hand but they were not obtrusive. They made no effort to interfere with open drug use. I entertained myself for a time by watching a thoroughly stoned young blonde help a cop on Constitution Avenue direct traffic. She waved directions to a bus that, if followed, would have directed it into the wall of a Roman style federal building. He shooed her away.
“OK. You’re a good cop!” she shouted in his face before complying.
“Yeah I know,” he said.
I walked toward Independence where a rock band I didn’t recognize was playing. It was about then that I began to lose it. Maybe it was the similarity to Woodstock that triggered the trip. Maybe it was a contact high from the pot haze. I became the sound waves radiating from the band’s giant speakers and collided with the eardrums of 50,000 people. I became the Washington Monument and felt the break across my midsection where construction had been halted for many years a century before. I sunk beneath the grass and became underground electric cables stretching out to a nationwide grid and pulsating my electro-magnetic fields at 60Hz.
I collapsed on my back. No one bothered me. They probably assumed I was tripping. They were right.
I returned to a more normal state of consciousness thanks to the stink of tear gas. It was just before daybreak. The Metro Police, the National Guard and federal troops had surrounded the Monument grounds. Gas canisters exploded in the air as Guard units began a sweep.
Literally thousands of people were herded into trucks and hauled off to RFK Stadium. The Stadium was one of the few structures able to hold that many people so it had been appropriated for use as a temporary jail. I ran with a clump of 20 young people. We avoided the Guardsmen but collided with a holding line of helmeted police. More than half of us pushed through. One cop grabbed my shirt and tore it but I kept running and got away.
As I ran my perspective wandered. I was a demonstrator face down on asphalt with cuffs behind my back. I was a cop wrestling with a bearded freak while shouting at him to give up. I was a Metro bus driver stopped at an intersection blocked by hippies. I was the engine of the bus and I could feel a demonstrator feel about for sparkplugs and then curse when he realized I was a diesel. I was the Eyewitness News cameraman in a helicopter filming the events from overhead.
The pain in my lungs from overexertion and the tear gas helped me to keep enough sense of my own self to navigate. I turned right on 19th Street NW and headed north. I looked for someplace where I could go inside. On the sidewalk in front of me near F Street was a college-age woman in a T-shirt and bell bottomed jeans. She was holding a handkerchief over her face. She ran up the steps of a Georgian high rise, which I recognized as a college dorm, and opened the door. I followed her into the building. Through the window in the door I saw a convoy of 7 squad cars rolled by in a show of force that I found convincing.
Even inside the building the smell of tear gas was sharp. I would be better off on a higher floor. I hurried to a bank of elevators and stepped inside an open one. I pushed the top button for the 8th Floor.
The air definitely was better up there, though still a bit tangy. The hallways were crowded out-of-town demonstrators, most of them still sleeping. They were sprawled everywhere with backpacks and bags of food. I stepped over them all the way to the window at the end of the hall. Two intersections were clearly visible below. Five or six demonstrators would block one or the other until police showed. Then they quickly ran off, only to return when the police were gone. Presumably, scenes such as this were being repeated all over town.
I found an open spot on the floor of the hall and settled down with my back against the wall. I became the wall. I became the building and all the people inside. I was the three couples who at that moment were making love in the building. I was the sewage flowing through pipes to treatment and to the Potomac. I was the rats who lived in the pipes. My fur itched. It was afternoon before I largely came back to myself. A tripping student in the hall apparently was no novelty, so everyone had left me alone. I found the hall lavatory and decided to spend another night in the dormitory. Nearly all the other hallway squatters left, leaving mostly just the regular residents of the dorm, which I learned was Mitchell Hall, ironically named after military hero Billy Mitchell, at George Washington University. It was the evening I met my future wife.
I stood for a moment outside an open door. Inside the room a half dozen students were arguing about reality and the meaning of life. Each spoke full of passion as though he or she really knew the answer and the others were being obtuse. A woman with stringy light brown hair waved me in when she saw me sitting in the hall.
“Come on in! Don’t just stare at us.”
I stood up and walked over. “Hi, guys, what’s up?”
“Well, I’m trying to explain to these assholes that reality is like universal. You know, the whole Buddhist Nirvana thing where you become a drop of water returning to the ocean. Individuality is just an illusion where we cut ourselves off from seeing the truth.”
“Bullshit, Carolyn!” a conservatively trimmed young man objected. “We whom cutting off whomselves? Your very statement presupposes individuality!”
“Now you are being seduced by pronouns!” she responded. “Grammar is just a construct.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” objected a thin young man in torn jeans and green striped shirt.
“I want to know what this guy thinks,” said Carolyn.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “I haven’t thought about it much.”
“Think about it!” she demanded.
“Well, there is something to both points of view. You are not the whole universe, but you are an inseparable part of it.”
“Cop out!” they all shouted in unison.
“What’s your name?” Carolyn asked.
“Oh, like the artist?”
“That’s me.”
Carolyn was impressed in a way that my co-students in Syracuse never were. I was too familiar up there to be taken too seriously.
“You must be rich.”
“I do OK.”
“I hope you give it to the poor.”
I shrugged. In truth that was something else I hadn’t thought much about. I didn’t even spend money on me.
Carolyn spent that night with me. She insisted I get a room at the Roger Smith Hotel up on Pennsylvania Avenue for us. “Doing it in the dorm is tacky,” she explained. “Besides, you can afford it.”
Carolyn grounded me better than anyone has before or since. Despite her willingness to give away my earnings to charity, she was the most self-centered person I ever met. Whenever I felt my consciousness bleeding away into my surroundings I would concentrate on her. There was a black hole of need inside of her that sucked up all of my wandering attention. The furthest I could get away from myself in her presence was Carolyn herself.
Carolyn wanted a horse farm in Maryland. She wanted highly trained horses that could take her to the Palm Beach Wellington show and bring her back blue ribbons. She wanted a mansion and a swimming pool. She wanted emeralds because she liked them better than diamonds. She wanted 24 carat gold because anything less than 18 carat gave her a rash. She wanted a Porsche. She wanted a goose neck horse trailer and a truck with dual rear axles to pull it. She wanted to travel. She wanted a condominium in the Virgin Islands. All the while she listed her wants to me she simultaneously railed against the unconscionable inequalities of capitalism. She was perfect for me.
My traveling companions from Syracuse all had been arrested, but they were released the next day. The police had been so overwhelmed by the numbers of arrests that they had failed to fill out individual arrest forms. Therefore, charges had to be dropped against almost all of the demonstrators. They had no idea where I was, however, so they had driven back north on their own. I took a flight out of National. Carolyn and I called each other regularly after I returned to Syracuse. Carolyn always reversed the charges.
          My draft lottery number was 183. At the time it was picked it was low enough to make me a potential draftee if I lost my student deferment, but in June it was announced on the news that few young men would be called up over 160. My 2S deferment was no longer necessary. I dropped out of college, bought a Porsche, and drove to Silver Spring, MD, where Carolyn lived with her parents. I asked Carolyn to marry me. She agreed subject to certain conditions that were, in her words, "fair to myself." These included the purchase of a "suitable" Maryland residence and support for her equestrian ambitions.
          Carolyn often was fun. An example was in 1973 when I hand-painted the backs of two jackets, one for each of us. The artwork was so stylized that the messages were not immediately recognizable. If you looked closely you could see that mine read “Impeach” and hers read “Nixon.” We wore them on the White House tour. We got as far as the Ballroom before a White House guard stopped us.
“You can’t wear those jackets in here!”
“Why not?” Carolyn objected. “They’re our jackets.”
“Could you at least cover them up?”
“You’re pretty good at that around here, aren’t you?”
We were thrown out, of course, but we enjoyed the ejection. The incident made the news and that gave my art sales another boost. I licensed production of those jackets for a tidy sum.
Carolyn’s incessant demands kept me sane. We bought a 900-acre estate on the Eastern Shore with a 10,000 square foot Greek Revival home, a 24-stall horse barn, and an indoor riding ring measuring 200 x 100 feet. Carolyn was disappointed because she had her heart set on something larger and closer to the city, but I simply couldn’t afford it. It came as a shock to her that my net worth scarcely came to more than $11,000,000 in the dollars of the day. However, as long as my art continued to sell, she could hope to trade up one day to a more respectable residence. Meanwhile, she bought a condominium in Watergate, more fashionable than ever since the scandal, and signed a long-term lease on an apartment in the East 70s in Manhattan.
Sex used to be a big risk for me. I could lose myself in a consciousness of mutual biology. I would feel and be blood coursing in veins, sugars absorbing through cell membranes, gametes struggling to make another human. I would sense amino acid molecules assembling into proteins on an RNA matrix within an individual cell. I was the proteins. I was the RNA. It is strange and somewhat disturbing that none of my partners ever called an ambulance for me, because my “normal” consciousness didn’t always return for as much as an hour after the act was over. A few left me alone and went home. One of those was kind enough to call back to see if I was all right. “I must have done an exceptionally good job,” she giggled.
Carolyn and I didn’t have sex very often because she didn’t much like it. She probably would have forgone lovemaking if abstinence weren’t contrary to her self-image as “a liver of life.” The woman was not a conscious hypocrite, mind you. Her most outrageous contradictions were sincerely mutually held. When we did have sex her self-absorption with all the discomforts involved in the act kept me focused superficially on her and prevented my mind from wandering. It worked out for both of us.
She was ambitious in her own way.
“It is my dream to ride in the Olympics!” she often told me with an edge to her voice that implied I was the major obstruction to her goal.
My art productivity suffered during this time but the prices I received continued to rise, so we kept our head above water although just barely.
If this existence sounds less than idyllic, one must remember that my situation was not normal. This life was ideal for focusing my attention on my immediate surroundings. There was not much opportunity for my senses to wander beyond Carolyn’s needs. I understood her nature when I married her and in large measure I got what I wanted.
Trouble started in 1975 when the counterculture was drowned by disco music. My work suddenly became passé. Prices for my art plummeted when it sold at all. My income fell off a cliff. Meanwhile one of the Smythes from the pharmaceutical company Smythe and Smythe bought a 2000-acre estate several miles from us. Jane Symthe owned Olympic show horses. Jane drove a Ferrari. Carolyn was livid.
“I think it’s disgusting that people can live like that when there is so much poverty and suffering in the world!” she groused. “It shouldn’t be allowed. That car of hers just sucks gas. Doesn’t she know there is an energy shortage?”
I made a rare objection. “But you can’t survive on less than a million per year. Your truck is worse on gas than that sports car.”
“I’m pursuing a dream!” she responded as though that answered everything.
For all her disgust, Carolyn made a point of befriending the Symthes, including their 23-year-old son Kevin, who was a well regarded rider on the show circuit. He and Carolyn often rode in the same shows. Her acquaintance with the Symthes sharply increased our expenses just at the time when my annual income fell to near zero. She began to travel with them to international horse shows with her own horses. She attended celebrity fund-raisers with Jane for left wing causes. Mr. Smythe, who apparently had different views, never accompanied Jane to these. Carolyn spent ever longer amounts of time in the District and New York. My increasingly alarmed expositions of our financial situation only brought back derision and anger from Carolyn.
“That is your job! When we got married you clearly said you could support us and let me keep horses!”
“Yes, but not on this scale.”
“We’re talking about my dream!”
In June 1979 I filed for bankruptcy. In the same month Carolyn filed for divorce. I did not answer her complaint charging me with extreme cruelty, so a default judgment for divorce was granted in the autumn. Carolyn took whatever the creditors didn’t. In December of 1979 she married Kevin Smythe. They defied President Carter’s ban on the 1980 Moscow Olympics and entered the equestrian events there. Their performances were unremarkable.
I was nearly destitute. I lived in a one-room apartment in Baltimore. I didn’t trip out much. Poverty proved almost as effective as a demanding spouse for focusing the mind.
One day, I received a call from a campaign worker at the Republican National Committee. An amazing collection of people endorsed Ronald Reagan for President that year. They included such unlikely folks as civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy and the former Democratic peace candidate Eugene McCarthy. The RNC worker told me he had several of my posters on his wall during his college years. On his own initiative, he looked me up. He wanted to know if I would speak at the Convention. I accepted.
When my upcoming appearance at the Convention was mentioned on the news, I got a call from the ex.
“Are you entirely out of your mind? Now you’re a freak-o fascist? Do you know how humiliating this is for me?”
“I hadn’t thought about that…”
“No, you wouldn’t, you selfish bastard!”
“…but that is not a disincentive for me to go. I’m not a fascist, by the way. I’m just tired of America being pushed around. I’d like to keep more of the money I earn too instead of it all being taken in taxes. You realize there is currently a maximum marginal rate of 70%.”
“You don’t make any money! You don’t pay any taxes. You are broke! Look what a fix you left me in after all your promises to support me! You’re a loser!”
“Goodbye, Carolyn.”
The RNC sent me a plane ticket and paid for my hotel. The events leading up to the Convention were so diverting that I had no trouble with my sense of self. I began to think I was cured.
I’m not surprised if you didn’t hear my speech. It was after midnight in three time zones. If you did hear me, you may have noticed that after a strong start I seemed to lose my place and then rush to finish. I used only four minutes of my allotted ten. The truth is I was beginning to trip. You wouldn’t think that Republicans would remind me of Woodstock, but they did and I started to lose a grip on myself.
My political conversion faltered that night in large part because of my consciousness wandering around the Convention Hall. I became a right-to-life housewife from Kentucky. I became a manager of a strip mine in Montana. I became an anti-busing activist from Georgia. I became a survivalist from New Hampshire wearing a shirt with the legend “Happiness is a warm AK47.” I may have become these people, but they weren’t me.
In November I neglected to vote. My ex and her friends had turned me off leftish politics. The Republicans themselves turned me off rightish politics. The Anderson campaign that year simply combined things that bothered me about both Carter and Reagan.
My appearance at the Convention had one salutary effect for me personally. It reminded a large audience that I was still alive. It seems that there were widespread misconceptions that I either had overdosed fatally or “bought it in Nam.” My phone started to ring. Enough of a niche market returned for my work that I at least was able to pay my bills.
One of the numerous post-hippie neo-yuppie Reaganites who had come into government with the new Administration even offered me a chance to do some large scale temporary art in Yellowstone. It would have involved Day-Glo paint, lasers and Old Faithful. In the end, Secretary of the Interior James Watt nixed it the same week he canceled the Beach Boys for the July 4 celebration. My notoriety from this cancellation beefed up my sales even more, so I was able to come to terms with my creditors and put a down payment on a modest townhouse in Baltimore. To my amazement, American Express approved me for a card.
The return of financial security had a down side. It eased my mind enough to cause it to slip again. I found a chemical that could help: alcohol. My caution with mind-altering substances had dissuaded me from trying this earlier to any great degree, but one night while I was tripping anyway, I drank six shots of Southern Comfort. The stuff brought me back to planet earth. I spent the next morning leaning over the toilet bowl, but it was an earthly toilet bowl.
I became a serious alcoholic for the next decade. I don’t recommend this for most people but it kept me sane. Booze took the place of Carolyn at a tiny fraction of her cost. I don’t remember much else about the 80s.
My next clear memory was getting a phone call for “Mr. Aardvark” from someone named Dick Cheney in 1990. A major US build-up was in progress in the Middle East in an operation called Desert Shield. It was news to me. I hadn’t kept up. Mr. Cheney remembered my appearance at the 1980 Republican Convention. He asked if I wanted to do some nose art for US aircraft stationed in the Gulf. Many of the pilots were veterans of Vietnam and were familiar with the Aardvark name. He thought they might appreciate it. It would be good for morale.
I agreed, but not out of politics. I knew nothing about the crisis at the time. I simply liked the notion of being appreciated by old fans.
I arrived in Saudi Arabia in November 1990 aboard a C5 cargo plane loaded with high-tech munitions. Somebody should have told me Saudi was a dry country. My next few days of detoxification were terrible, but my illness kept my mind on the work in front of me.
You may have seen photographs of A10s with purple pterosaurs on their noses, others with multi-color representations of the Milky Way spiral, and still others with zoot-suited wolves. Those were mine. The pilots seemed to like them.
I settled into a routine of working in the morning, hanging out in the mess, napping in the afternoon, working some more in the evening, chatting with the soldiers, and getting a good night’s sleep. I rather enjoyed it. I felt almost normal. Once again I had cause to hope I was cured. Perhaps, I thought, years of alcohol abuse had destroyed enough brain cells to stop my unscheduled trips.
I had such a good time I began to wonder if I would have liked being in the military. On January 17, 1991, I decided the answer was no. The first waves of F117s, F16s, F15s and cruise missiles assaulted Iraq’s air defenses. As dawn broke I walked out to the runway. The sky was cloudless. The sun was peeking above the eastern horizon. A hot wind blew sand in my face. Some grit irritated my right eye. I watched a wing of A10s with my nose designs take off. The planes were armed with anti-tank missiles, HARM missiles, guided bombs, and 30mm cannon.
My mind left me. I felt myself soar with the aircraft. I was an A10. I felt my jets suck in air as though they were lungs. Fuel fed into them, mixed with compressed air, and exploded creating a rush of raw power. I felt out to the surface below where hundreds of pieces of artillery and heavy equipment were dug into the sand. I locked onto infrared signature of a tank. The airflow around my wings disrupted as I swooped to the right and began an attack descent. I reached out to the signature with a Maverick missile.
I was the Russian built T72 struck by the missile that was myself. I was the Iraqi tank crew who lived just long enough to understand what was happening to us. My consciousness spread out. I was hundreds of tanks APCs and crews. I was hundreds of aircraft. I was thousands of 30mm shells. I was what and whom I struck.
I woke up in a hospital in Riyadh. A doctor with a heavy accent told me I had passed out at the airfield, probably from heat exhaustion. I would be sent home on the next available flight. Within an hour of reaching Baltimore I was drunk.
My health deteriorated over the next several years. I was diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome. I didn’t argue but I knew my case was special. In one respect it was not so special. I was a drunk and suffering the usual effects.
My finances, at least, improved. The 60s had something of a revival in the 90s. As the Boomers occupied positions of power, they could afford to indulge their nostalgia. They bought Grateful Dead concert jackets and attended movies about The Doors. My work became popular and valuable again. I even got contracts for TV commercials. That neo-psychedelic animated Fresh Flowers Butter commercial that ran all during the latter half of the 90s was mine.
Much of my restored income went to lawyers because my ex-wife sued me as soon as she realized I was commercial again. She had divorced Smythe years before and had spent her way through her multi-million dollar settlement. She argued my current success was entirely due to her assistance earlier in my career. She demanded half of everything plus a 15% agent’s fee. We settled out of court. Even afterwards I had enough money to be comfortable provided I steered clear of another Carolyn.
I bought a nice but unimpressive home in Columbia, Maryland. There was a detached garage that I converted to a studio. Despite my health problems and my drinking I was reasonably content. After the stock market crash in 2000 the demand for my work diminished. This was partly a wealth effect but it also marked another generational shift. Generations X and Y grew increasingly dominant culturally, and they had little interest in the 60s, except, oddly, in The Beatles whom I never liked very much. It didn’t matter. I could get by.
The Defense Department called me again in 2003 with the onset of the Second Gulf War, but this time I declined.
Later in the Aughts, I reacquired a romantic life. Jeri drove locally for Federal Express. She turned up at my door now and to pick up the occasional special order. She was in her late 30s, divorced, attractive in a tomboyish sort of way, and had a daughter just entering college. One day we struck up a conversation. She returned after her last delivery to finish it. She stayed over.
This time sex did not cause me mental disturbance. Unlike Carolyn who had focused my mind with the strength of her own ego, Jeri achieved the same result with kindness. Our relationship thereafter was more than casual but less than consuming. She was a stress-free lover. I loved her in an easygoing 1960s sense. It was my favorite form of nostalgia.
For her sake I cut down on my drinking. Also for her sake I did not quit entirely. I drank just enough to keep a grip on myself. She was concerned but tolerant.
Jeri moved in with me in the year 2006. At her urging, for the first time in 20 years I tried to pay some attention to political matters. The economic collapse of 2008 might have drawn my attention in any case. I voted for Obama, she voted for McCain. We probably were the only mixed party couple in America who thoroughly enjoyed the election that year. We agreed on election eve that we would make love whatever the outcome, but if Obama won I would be on top and if McCain won she would be. I don’t think either of us was too worried about losing the bet.
In January 2010 Jeri was diagnosed with lung and liver cancer. She had never smoked and always had been health minded. By May she was gone.
          Last evening I walked along my quiet street. A warm breeze refreshed my face. I smelled freshly cut grass. My consciousness leapt to the setting sun. I became hydrogen nuclei fusing into helium. I became plasma forming enormous arcs shaped by magnetic fields which also were myself. I followed light from distant stars and became them as well. Below me I was earth's nickel iron core churning in a magma sea. With a mighty effort I pulled myself back into my own shell. I walked home.
          I read somewhere that human beings are the universe becoming aware of itself. Are my flights of consciousness real at all? Are they a connection to a greater whole or are they simply insanity? I have no answers but I know where to look for them. I have no reason to stay here. Tonight I will be a drop of water returning to the ocean.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011


            The shadowy Normandy Tudor loomed behind stone-pillared gates in the moonlit hills of Watchung 40 minutes west of New York City. The house had been the scene of a grisly multiple murder. This is what had made the property irresistible to Rudy. He had negotiated ruthlessly and bought the property for $200,000 less than its appraised value. He knew that the more shocking the violence, the better the buy. (Celebrity murders are an exception; sites of these go up in value; apparently folks don’t mind being haunted by someone famous.) The bullet holes had been easy to spackle over but the ornate banister was so damaged by ax blows that it had to be replaced. Nondescript stains, presumably blood, remained in the marble foyer. Rudy still debated replacing the tiles or leaving them for character.
            Rudy stretched out on the couch in the so-called family room, though Rudy was a family of one. He leaned over the coffee table and flicked the remote. The wall mounted 73 inch LCD TV lit up. Rudy picked up a 2-liter bottle of Cherry Coke from the coffee table and drank directly out of the bottle. Also on the coffee table were a plate of taco shells and a bowl of syrupy junk food called Scum. Rudy wasn’t sure whether to drink it or use it as a dip. Weird Occurrences, the show of which he himself was the host, came to life on the screen. The sound from the stereo speakers echoed noticeably off the undecorated walls.

            [On screen a sequence of pyramids, tarot cards, zodiacal signs, and occult symbols advance toward the viewer. Each dissolves as it fills the screen. The theme tune is a jarring full orchestra rendition of When You’re Strange. An image of Rudy fades in before a legitimate star map.]

NARRATOR: Good evening. This is Rudy Renkel hosting a special edition of Weird Occurrences, the show that explores unexplained phenomena and the dark side of human existence. This may be the half-hour that changes your view forever on whether we are alone in the cosmos. Tonight also the producers of this show will answer charges made by a rival news organization. But first some words from our sponsors.

            [Ads follow for corn flakes, feminine hygiene products, automobiles, and Scum. A new product aimed at 10 year olds who want to gross out their parents, Scum looks just like its name. Fungal clumps float in lemon/lime flavored slime. Ad shows parents heaving as kids happily drip goop into their mouths. Return to program.]

NARRATOR: Some of you may have seen a skeptical This Evening episode aired a few nights ago on the topic of UFOs. Guests on the program asserted that fraud was so rampant in UFO reporting that no evidence should be taken at face value. The journalistic practices of this program were held up as a particular example. This Evening used footage obtained without the permission of Weird Occurrences that allegedly catches myself and accomplices in the act of faking an alien encounter.
            [Narrator looks contrite.] I will be honest with you. For years I have interviewed farmers standing in crop circles, hikers who claimed to have shared beers with Bigfoot, and weekend fishermen who said they hooked Champ or the Loch Ness monster. The goal was your entertainment. Perhaps in the interest of good television we accompanied some of these interviews with questionable footage that, say, 60 Minutes might hesitate to run. Some viewers may be forgiven for wondering if the ghost in last week’s episode resembled a flashlight beam played over steam from a portable room humidifier, or whether the shots of Sasquatch didn’t look awfully like a man running in a gorilla suit. I say this in hope that you recognize my complete sincerity on this occasion. Because the irony is, This Evening picked an event that I know for a fact was real. The alien footage was not faked. Yet the very act of revealing how This Evening came by it is sure to damage my credibility. They knew that of course. And by “they” I don’t mean the folks at our rival network.
            [Narrator resumes deadpan expression.] We have employed professional actors for the re-enactments, but wherever possible we have used the actual locations and dialogue.

            [Fade to a glassy black lake surface covered with mist at nighttime. The leisurely putter of a 25 horse Evinrude can be heard. The bow of a small skiff breaks through the mist.]

NARRATOR [Overdubbed]: Crystal Lake in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, is shaped like a fist with a beckoning forefinger. Greg Thomas, a successful insurance broker from Manchester was vacationing with his wife and children at their weekend lakefront cabin. Exhausted from a long day of family values, he sought respite with a quiet cruise alone. Unknown to Mister Thomas as his boat entered the finger shaped cove, yours truly waited on a nearby stretch of undeveloped shore.

            [Zoom back and bring into frame a man looking out over the lake from behind a large pine tree. For some reason an actor plays the role of Rudy Renkel. The actor does not look much like Rudy. He is better looking and even has a mustache whereas Rudy is clean shaven.]

NARRATOR: Earlier that day I had prepared for just this opportunity. With a garden scythe I had flattened out a circle 30 feet in diameter in a scrubby area near the shoreline and sprinkled lithium on the site. Lithium is a likely element in a fusion powered spaceship. I set strobe lights powered by my truck battery in the middle of the circle. As the red and green bow lights of the boat approached I suddenly remembered why the name of the lake seemed familiar. A popular teenage slasher movie was set by a fictional Crystal Lake. [The actor smiles knowingly as though recalling this.] Fortunately for Mr. Thomas, my trap involved nothing so deadly.

            [Camera perspective shifts to boat. Weirdly colored strobe lights flash behind a row of trees at the shoreline. At the same time, a low-pitched cacophony erupts that only a practiced ear might identify as White Zombie played at extremely slow speed. The red dot of a laser flickers over the boat and passes over the chest of the boat driver. Greg’s confused interest turns to grossly overacted fear when a silhouetted being with an enormous head appears at the shore and wades into the lake. Greg guns the engine and spins the boat 180 degrees. From the perspective of the shore, the boat vanishes into the mist.
            Close-up of Rudy removing a large helmet; he slips a laser pointer into his pocket, and turns to pack up his F150 pickup.]

NARRATOR: The next day my cameraman and I approached residents on the far side of the lake in a search for the owner of the boat. Told that there had been UFO sightings the night before, several, as usual, said they too had see something. They described an object in the sky performing impossible maneuvers. No one seemed to remember the fog last night which obscured any view of the sky. Eventually I found a cabin with a familiar boat tied up at the dock. Much of what happened next is on tape. However, the following is a recreation. When Mr. Thomas learned the content of this show, he refused to let us use the actual interview. Mr. Thomas, a guest speaker at this week’s UFO congress in Houston, insists that his alien sighting was real and that my report tonight is part of a cover-up.

            [Camera focuses on boat. “Evinrude” is plainly readable. Pan to front door of cabin where actor playing Rudy knocks on the door. A cameraman stands by him.]

RUDY:  Good morning sir. My name is Rudy Renkel. I’m investigating reports of UFO sightings last night. Did you see anything unusual?

GREG: Hi. Greg Thomas. (Expletive deleted) yeah! My wife thinks I’m nuts. Hey honey! Look who is here! It’s that guy who does that show. You know, the one last week had those K2 climbers who saw Yeti!

MRS. THOMAS: Oh, give me a break.

GREG: You see, I’m not alone. Other people saw something last night!

MRS. THOMAS: They sell liquor to anyone over 21.

GREG: (Expletive deleted.)

MRS. THOMAS: The kids can hear you Greg. It’s bad enough that they think you’re a lunatic. Do they have to think you’re an (expletive deleted) too?

GREG: They can hear me but they can’t hear you?

MRS. THOMAS: (Expletive deleted.) [Exit.]

RUDY: Excuse me, Mr. Thomas.

GREG: Greg.

RUDY: Greg. Could you tell me exactly what you saw?

GREG: Sure. Um...

NARRATOR: Mr. Thomas at this point assumed an expression with which I have become very familiar in my investigations.

GREG: [Greg raises an eyebrow craftily.] What’s it worth to you?

RUDY: [Addresses cameraman] Cut it, Fred. [Readdresses Greg with the tone of an algebra teacher explaining the binomial theorem to a thick headed student.] Let me explain how this works. We get the incident in a local newspaper. That’s part of my job. Then we put your story on the air, preferably with good pictures of the scene. That gives you a veneer of credibility.

GREG: Veneer? I’m telling the truth.

RUDY: Totally irrelevant. What matters is credibility. We give a “serious researcher” something to find when he or she checks out your story. A police report should be filed no later than today for the same reason. After we put you on the air you can get on the UFO gravy train. You can write a book about your experience, give lectures, attend conferences, the works. You should be paying me. But I’m willing to do this for you for free. I like you Greg. I’d like to see you get your slice of the pie. But Flying Saucer spotters and alien abductees are a dime a dozen. So, do I turn the camera back on, or do I leave and talk your neighbors instead?

MRS THOMAS [who had listened from the next room]: Talk to him, Greg.

GREG [Annoyed that agreement sounds like obedience to his wife]: OK.

RUDY: Roll it, Fred.

NARRATOR: Mr. Thomas not only cooperated but, as is usual in these cases, added his own flourishes. He said the alien was 4 feet tall, a description which unconsciously made me lift up on my toes. He described large deer like eyes. He said that the alien had called out to him using mental telepathy and that only concern for the future of his family prevented him from joining some intergalactic love-in.

            [Cut to shoreline scene where a circle is visible in the brush. Tall pine and spruce trees are in the background. Twenty people mill about. Two police cruisers are parked by the circle and several other vehicles occupy the wood road leading to the site.]
            This is actual footage shot that day after Mr. Thomas filed his report. The police, who were in a jovial mood, plainly considered the incident to be a teenage prank of some sort. But in the quiet town of Gilmanton, it was a pleasant diversion from writing speeding tickets. At my urging a local reporter took a soil sample and had it sent to an independent lab; I even suggested she look for lithium. The traces of lithium were found, of course, and duly were reported in the article. The young woman had done her homework. She explained the possible use of the element as a deuterium/tritium source in fusion devices.
            Everything was going according to plan, but danger lay on the road ahead. These shocking events after some words from our sponsors.

            [Ads follow for Scum, Ford trucks, and Evinrude outboards. There is a repeat of the Scum commercial, which is wearing thin on entertainment value. Show returns with scene of diner. Actor playing Rudy sits in a booth.]

NARRATOR: Yes, I was happy with the way the story was progressing, but it needed more before it was ready for prime time. It needed sex. It needed more pictorial evidence. I already had arranged for both. But while eating lunch at the Lakeview Diner in Alton Bay, a village by Lake Winnipesaukee, a tall attractive woman with shoulder length red hair and mirrored sun glasses appeared by my table. She seemed familiar.

            [Camera slowly pans from toes to head of a beautiful woman. Inexplicably, the actress playing the redhead is blonde.]

CINDY: Hello Rudy.

RUDY: [Cautiously] Well hello. What brings you here?

CINDY: [Cindy picks an ice cube out of his water glass and chucks it at him.] You don’t have the slightest idea who I am! [Having waited long enough for an invitation, she simply sits down.] Thanks, I’d love to join you. [She removes her glasses. The actress’ eyes are blue.]

NARRATOR: Her piercing green eyes and Australian accent gave her away. She was the woman most responsible for my career.

RUDY: I remember you, Cynthia. [She glares.] Er, Cindy.

CINDY: I wonder if I make such lasting memories with all my dates. [The actress’ accent is Southeast British. There is no trace of Down Under.]

RUDY: In fairness, you didn’t accept any calls after the story aired.

CINDY: In fairness, you were a jerk. Are you one now?

RUDY: My ex thinks so.

CINDY: [Cindy laughs.] Mine too. It wasn’t just the show, Rudy. You were too cynical for me. You know, you actually quoted Nietzsche to me. On more than one occasion. But it was partly the show. I’m still waiting for my apology.

RUDY: It was only a local broadcast channel. It never went national.

CINDY: Local? You mean only the DC metro area? You misrepresented me, my coven and all our beliefs. You made our occult salon look like The Psychic Whorehouse. The way your camera focused on our knives whenever we mentioned our festivals made it look like we were into human sacrifice or something. The police took it all seriously enough to stop by and ask me questions. They tested a bloodstain from my townhouse. Even when it tested as pig’s blood I’m lucky they didn’t call the ASPCA. I told them it was just spillage from a pork roast, which is what it was.

RUDY: The ceremonies didn’t take place at your townhouse.

CINDY: Well I’m glad you didn’t tell them that or they would have raided all my friends’ homes too. [She smiles.] The show did double our membership though.

NARRATOR: [Overdubbed. Actors remain in frame but speak soundlessly.] Perhaps a few viewers still remember my very first broadcast show more than 10 years ago.
            An ambitious young writer, I had researched an article I hoped to submit to The Washingtonian on DC area witches. Cindy at the time was a self-described high priestess of a secretive cult she described as “pagan but non-Wiccan.” Every member I met was a woman, though I was given to understand that men were inducted into the cult from time to time.
            Cindy operated a salon where she and her coven members gave astrological, tarot, and psychic readings. We hit it off well together during our first interview. The photos and interviews had just the right touch of sleaze and mystery, or so I thought, but the magazine rejected the article saying it was too tabloid.
            Rather than scrap my work, I borrowed a professional video camera and reworked the article into a video documentary. Cindy let us film some ceremonial naked dancing which we blurred appropriately for broadcast. The nakedness actually was my idea but the coven went along without objection. Cindy and I dated while I was making the documentary. A local TV station liked and aired the piece. Afterwards she refused to accept my calls. I suppose I did overstate the sensuality and suggest sinister goings on, but that was a ratings thing. She should have understood.
            The documentary was popular. I received an offer from a New York based cable station to host this weekly show, Weird Occurrences. I accepted and moved north.

            [Actors’ voices become audible again.]

RUDY: So what are you doing here? In Alton Bay, New Hampshire, of all places.

CINDY: I like the smell of pines and my car freshener wore out. What’s your scam?

RUDY: Scam?

CINDY: Scheme.

RUDY: Much better. I read about some UFO sightings up here, so I came to see what I could dig up. I found something too. Over by Crystal Lake.

CINDY: I’m sure you found whatever you put there. Why a UFO though? Why not bring in Nessie from your Loch Ness special. How did you get that ripple effect by the way? A toy submarine?

RUDY: [Gratified that she had followed his work] Crystal Lake is too small to hold a monster. But there is something in the Loch.

CINDY: Your toy submarine. My very favorite episode was the Black Helicopter one. That was great footage. I have to give you credit Rudy. You hovered there and gave that survivalist time to photo the UN markings on your chopper while his buddy unloaded a shotgun at you. How much did you have to pay them for the pics?

RUDY: [Laughs.] The SOB shot right through the floor. I understand now why the Air Cav boys in Vietnam used to sit on their helmets. I didn’t pay a thing. They were eager to have me air the pictures.

CINDY: Do you even know what is real anymore?

RUDY: I hope so.

CINDY: Do you have any ethics?

RUDY: I hope not. Nietzsche, remember?

CINDY: [Smiles.] That’s OK. I married a man with ethics. I have no wish to repeat that experience.

RUDY: You haven’t told me what you are doing here. Are you casting a spell on someone?

CINDY: Possibly. I’m here for recreation. So recreate with me. Let’s have some fun. Show off for me, Rudy. We made a good team once. Let me help. [She leans back and lets her cleavage carry the proposal. Rudy sits speechless for several moments with his eyes fixed below her neck.] I must have grown taller since last time.

RUDY: What? Oh. [Rudy makes a decision.] OK. You’re on. I have a costume for you.

CINDY: Good. I like to play dress up.

NARRATOR: The viewer may question my good sense at this point. I knew that meeting with Cindy in this place was an unlikely coincidence. But it was fun to think she might have sought me out deliberately. With an excess of ego, I assumed her plans were romantic.

RUDY: I need footage of aliens, preferably scaring unsuspecting people. I’ve decided an encounter of the Third Kind will happen to that couple in the corner booth. [He waves at an all-American couple. They wave back.]

CINDY: Grant and Tabitha over there with the $1500 matching dorky biking outfits?

RUDY: Yes. Their names are Rolf and Tiffany, actually.

CINDY: Seriously?

RUDY: Yes. I chatted with them in the parking lot. They work for a chemical company in some surreal white-collar jobs. Personnel Network Management or something like that. [He points out the window.] They drive the SAAB with the Massachusetts plates.

CINDY: With the Greenpeace bumper sticker and the bicycle rack?

RUDY: French bikes. Apparently no irony intended. They’re up from Boston for a weekend cycling trip around the lake country. They live together but from the way they argue they should get married soon.

CINDY: Argue about what?

RUDY: Something about how he never agrees to drive the extra distance to Vermont instead of New Hampshire which is so working class and how she always avoids meeting his parents.

CINDY: How would you react if I complained like that?

RUDY: I’d make you meet my parents.

CINDY: Sadist. [Enjoying a bit of yuppie bashing] So, do they live together in Beacon Flats and watch reruns of Mad about You?

RUDY: The North End, but they are moving to Weston because of parking for the two cars. They only watch WGBH to which they contribute, but somehow they knew who I was.

CINDY: Is the other car a Volvo?

RUDY: Beamer.

CINDY: Great. When do we get to kill them?

RUDY: We don’t.

CINDY: Are you getting ethical on me?

RUDY: Please. We need them for the interview. The girl is sexy...

CINDY: You think so?

RUDY: ...and I’ve already primed them with stories about local UFO sightings. I told them I would pay for any unusual footage, so they should keep their digital camera handy.

CINDY: What if what they record isn’t believable?

RUDY: Then we don’t buy it.

            [Commercial break for Scum, digital cameras, and, yet again, Scum.]

NARRATOR: The trap was laid by a brush-lined dirt road overlooking Crystal Lake. The blue lake stretching out below formed a beautiful backdrop. Although the climb from Mounatin Road is a tough one for cyclists, the view makes the trip worthwhile, as I had emphasized to Rolf and Tiffany. Cindy and I set up the strobe lights and sound effects.

            [Rolf and Tiffany appear in distance. Zoom in. Tiffany no longer wears the biking outfit but a pair of cut off jeans and a skimpy blouse tied off to expose the midriff. The camera does a quick close-up of Rolf’s face but lingers over a full body shot of Tiffany pumping the pedals. Cut back to Cindy who is donning an alien costume that looks like surplus from a low budget 1950s SF flick.]

CINDY: This suit should be more form fitting.

RUDY: We’re staging It Came from Outer Space not Barbarella.


RUDY: Never mind. Where did you get those boots? [Cindy is shown donning boots, each of which ends in two large toes, rather like an ostrich foot.]

CINDY: I had them made for me for a costume party. I should have worn them for your first special.

RUDY: I liked the naked dancers better.

CINDY: I’ll bet. Here, record me in this outfit.

RUDY: Didn’t Watergate teach you anything?

CINDY: Didn’t Rob Lowe teach you anything? Bad publicity sells tickets too. Anyway it’s just for me.

NARRATOR: Against my better judgment I video recorded Cindy. A copy of this recording ended up in the hands of This Evening.

Our Bostonian bikers approached. When they had neared to 300 feet I set off strobe flashes and played a few bars from White Zombie. The couple stopped and took out their camera. We would have something to buy from them after all. The plan was working beautifully. I was then startled to see new actors in the piece.

            [Actors in gray-skinned alien costumes emerge from brush and attempt to abduct couple. They are short and match the usual deer eyed description, but they have two toed feet similar to Cindy’s boots. They push at Rolf perfunctorily but grope Tiffany extensively for the camera. Both Rolf and Tiffany manage to pull themselves free and run off down the hill on foot. Cindy walks casually to the bikes. An alien picks up the cyclists’ camera which is lying on the ground and scans Cindy from her boots to her face. She curtsies. As Rudy approaches dumfounded, Cindy takes the camera and records him.]

CINDY: I’ll send you a copy of this, but I have to keep the camera.

RUDY: [Overwhelmed as much by Cindy’s actions than by the presence of aliens] Why?

CINDY: My boys were caught on film recently, though fortunately at a distance. We had to find a way to discredit the footage before any serious news outlet bought it. I thought of you and came looking for you. I knew we could make it look like one of your scams.

RUDY: You won’t get away with this. I’ll put all of this on the air.

CINDY: I’m counting on it.

            [Cindy and the aliens walk into the brush. A moment later a Ford Explorer containing them all bursts onto the dirt road and disappears in a whirlwind of dust.]

NARRATOR: What you are about to see now is not a re-enactment but the actual footage from the scene taken by Rolf and Tiffany’s camera. Cindy did indeed forward it to me as well as to This Evening.

            [Shaky video shows a dirt road. Screams accompany blurred pictures of gray torsos and two toed feet. Glimpses of the couple themselves show both to be wearing biking outfits. The camera falls to the ground and records some sideways images of feet including some with two toes. The camera is picked up and, held steadily, pans slowly from the two-toed boots to the face of the red headed woman who wears them. She curtsies. The narrator is then seen approaching on foot.]

            Yes, you have just seen actual alien footage. If there are doubts in your mind, remember that this is not an isolated case. 1 in 50 Americans, now including myself, claims to have met an alien face to face. This is far too many to be dismissed lightly. Are there outsiders among us? You must decide for yourself. But 1 in 50 of us knows the answer.

            [After the credits the Scum commercial begins to run yet again.]

            Rudy flicked off the TV and sat quietly in the room.
            “Mind if we join you?” asked a red head in the doorway. The reflections of large eyes shimmered in back of her about four feet off the floor in the dark hallway .
            “Obviously I need a new security system,” observed Rudy.
            “Oh, it’s OK for common crooks. My boys electromagnetic pulsed it. Thank you so much. I couldn’t have produced a better show myself. No one will believe a word you said.”
            “Polls show a majority of our viewers believe our reports.”
            “No one will believe who matters. That 1 in 50 number was great. Where did you get that?”
            “Polls. The number is real.”
            “Let’s see, 1 in 50 is 6,200,000 people. Spread over 35 years, which is the US median age, that comes to 177,000 encounters per year in this country alone. You know my boys aren’t responsible for those. The sky would be ablaze with flying saucers. All that figure shows is how many people lie. Do you know what is real anymore, Rudy?”
            “I’m beginning to wonder.”
            Four gray skinned aliens scrambled over the couch and began to gobble Scum, scooping it with taco shells. One alien perched on Rudy’s knee. Rudy didn’t know whether to be alarmed or flattered.
            “They love the stuff,” Cindy laughed. “Earth foods are banned on their home world so they make a fortune smuggling it. Go figure.”
            Rudy sighed. “I don’t get the witch alien connection.”
            “Pure accident. Not everything is an occult conspiracy, Rudy. Coincidences really do happen. They stumbled on us during one of our equinox ceremonies out in the country, and they recognized that they could trust us. What a kick, huh?”
            “For real?”
            “Knocked my socks off. How would you like another shot at covering us, by the way? The coven I mean. These guys like their privacy. I feel I owe you something. You can get the inside picture on us. We’re going to need a new Sun King on December 21. One year term. I think you would be just perfect.”
            “I don’t know.”
            “There’ll be naked dancing,” she cajoled.
            Something about the proposed term seemed to him ominous, but nevertheless he answered, “You’re on.”
            Cindy smiled and toyed with her ceremonial knife.