A blog about nothing.

Monday, December 12, 2016

EVERYTHING'S INTENTIONAL


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There is no such thing as screw-ups.

Case in point. My excellent friend Deej comes over to help me beautify the garden. He immediately dives in, crouching down on his knees and weed whacking with his bare hands. Before I can say yay or nay, he proceeds to remove a huge clump of daisy greens from the oblong patch of Earth adjacent to the driveway. The area instantly looks bare. Like the back of Woody Allen's head. Smoothing out the soil and shaking his head Deej mutters to himself "I fucked it up!" over and over again. We try everything. Planting succulents in the daisy's place. Covering it with rocks. But still the area looks barren. And every time you water it the water trickles down onto the sidewalk in the absence of roots to hold it in place. It's getting dark so we go back inside. The next day I return to the spot with a clear perspective and remove all the other daisies, leaving only rose bushes and the succulents that DJ planted, and depositing 10 bags of mulch. It takes all day, but the yard looks ten times better than it did before DJs "mistake." The screw-up he berated himself over was actually a necessary step in where we needed to go. His rash act had given us a glimpse of how the garden needed to be. Peering, as it were, pointing a dirty-nailed finger into what needed to be done. My hat's off to the good man. Lovin' you, Deej.

Have you ever done something which at first you thought was in error only later to realize that it was essential to your success? How about putting your foot in your mouth and saying something which at first seems foolish only to turn out to be true? A Freudian slip, also called a parapraxis, is a mistake in speech that reveals subconscious feelings and shows what the speaker is truly thinking. There are many popular examples of Freudian slips. Once Senator Ted Kennedy cupped his hands in the air and told his audience that "Our national interest ought to be to encourage the breast" when in fact what he meant to say was not breast but "the best and brightest." Far from mistakes, Freudian slips give insight into the deeper workings of the mind, i.e. the unconscious.

The unconscious sees everything and acts from pure awareness of totality. It is the conscious mind that labels things black or white, good or bad, the conscious mind that classifies, judges, celebrates or condemns. Dropping glasses, falling and breaking a leg, rear ending a car. I've done all of this. Not intentionally, at least not consciously so. Because the conscious mind avoids repercussions and ramifications. It seeks peace and self-preservation. The unconscious is alive when the sleepwalker gets out of bed, dresses himself, walks the dog and refreshes his thirst with a cool glass of milk. The conscious mind remembers none of this, and would have much preferred lemonade! 

To some extent we sleepwalk through life, because we are aware of merely a minute fraction of all the sights and sounds in our surroundings, and even fewer of the impressions these have in ourselves, the thoughts environmental stimuli give rise to and the feelings they engender. We can only focus on one thing at a time, even when we are trying to do two, like watch Sunday Night Football while writing these words. When we attempt to do more than one thing at once, we do neither well. So off goes the tube. 

But the unconscious mind, the witness, perceives everything, and desiring nothing, yet ensuring the good of the whole over the preservation of the individual, it does things that the conscious mind views as wrong as they may inconvenience the individual or put her at risk, or even things that the individual dreads or avoids or condemns. And yet the results are always for the best. 

Of course we can't put this truth to a perfect test. We haven't yet the benefit of a time machine to take us into an alternate version of the past in which the glass doesn't slip from our hypothetical hands. And in life we are conditioned from an early age to get things right, which is to say do as we are told. We are raised and disciplined and taught to mark the one "best" answer. And so we pass or we fail. We are told not to be a dumb-ass. We regret our mistakes, especially when condemned or corrected by others. If only we could see how life might have panned out had not our mistakes and first impulses been corrected. But we do! Look back at your biggest mistakes in life and see what came out of them. You'll find things always work out in the end.

Every first draft is shabby, said one writing professor. Yet the philosopher Voltaire wrote the classic Candide in three days. Essentially a first draft, the short picaresque novel has stood the test of time, entertaining millions around the world, and me just the other day. RL Stevenson wrote Jekyll and Hyde in twice as many sittings, which amounts to 10,000 words a day. It's spawned at least a half a dozen movies. I on the other hand write 2,000 words each morning and call myself prolific. I'd better get up to speed! But the author was on speed when he wrote his famous book, in the form of cocaine. I've tried the stuff. It makes me much too paranoid. And besides, I have other things to attend to, like cleaning up my dog Max's pee. Because every day without fail he urinates just to the left of the wee-wee pad, narrowly missing the mark. By mistake, you say? Naw, just to spite me!

In our dreams we get it write the first time - that's a Freudian slip, since I meant to write "right," but our dreams are so like compositions I suppose both words are right, I mean write. In our dreams we fashion an entire universe in the blink of an eye and put ourselves at the center of the action. If the dream were a book, then the dreamcatcher himself, Stephen King, who in his memoir, On Writing, dispenses advice on the time required to pen a 100,000-word epic, would say each dream requires 6 months to create. And yet we spin several in the span of a few hours of nightly shut-eye! We're all prolific authors in our own right or write.

So I've made it a habit of watching things unfold, whether asleep or awake. I often do not think these essays are going anywhere - like right now - and then voila they somehow wrap themselves up, nice and neat. I wake up each morning with little more than a rough outline of how the day is to proceed and by sundown I've astounded myself at what I've managed to do or not do. Because often rest is best. That's living freestyle. At parties I listen to myself talk, watch myself interact, and rather than edit my actions I'll just let them happen, just let life be lived. And everything works out just fine. Would that I could have been raised this way! Instead I learned to second guess myself. As a youngin, I practically majored in self-doubt. It wasn't until medical school that I learned that the first answer, even if it is a guess, is usually the right one.

Expand your awareness. Understand why it is that you do and say what you do and don't do. You will be amazed at how right you are. Earlier in this piece I wrote the word oblong to describe the shape of my garden - without even knowing that oblong meant rectangular, which is what I wanted to say. I didn't consciously know it, but my unconscious mind had heard the word before and registered the meaning. Ya see? Everything happens for a reason.



So since we have all the answers, let's address the question about the broken glass. What would have happened had it not slipped from your hand? Perhaps had you not been cleaning up the mess you would have burned yourself at the stove. But that would be the unconscious mind intending for you to get burned - so that while visiting the drugstore for a bandage you'd meet the love of your life. See, not so accidental after all. King himself confesses to writing books without even having an outline. Just throwing himself into the first page and seeing where events lead. One of his book is called Everything's Eventual. I say Everything's Intentional - even though you don't know it. The trick is to find out why.

When you know the truth, you'll see that each moment is perfect, whether it is perceived as such or not. In the grand scheme all is how it should be. As Leibniz proclaimed and Voltaire satirized centuries ago in his Candide, we live in the best of all possible worlds and everything is just right. I'll be sure to remind myself of this the next time I scrub that soiled rug.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

I PREFER CHOCOLATE


"Man is a perpetually wanting animal." This is a quote by Abraham Maslow, 20th century American psychologist and mystic. And it goes for women too. Ah, the days we could be unabashedly sexist. Maslow was best known for his theory of psychological health. And to a much lesser degree for dying of a massive heart attack while jogging in Menlo Park at the still tender age of 62. He wasn't sexist at all, though he did marry his first cousin when he was twenty, and they stayed married until his coronary. Probably because they were related before relating. Or because they didn't have kids. My  bad: they had two.


Maslow's theory, called the hierarchy of needs, is cleverly dubbed as it is based on the fulfillment of basic human needs. These needs, among which are physiological needs (such as food and water, and arguably sex), the need for safety and love as well as the need for self-esteem, culminate in what Maslow called self-actualization. Each yearning, once satisfied, gives way to a new and "higher need." When there is plenty of food you are free to devote your attention to such pursuits as writing sonnets, buying a house, studying psychology and getting married, perhaps not in that order, if at all. Until a basic need is satisfied you cannot climb the ladder, so to speak, which is why starving artists are never literally that, since if they were perpetually ketototic or catabolic, to borrow medical terms, their waking hours would be spent procuring foodstuffs rather than painting portraits. 


Part of the safety need (stage 2) is for undisrupted routine or rhythm. We all share this desire as babies, and are so innately satisfied with "a predictable, orderly world" furnished by all-powerful parents that the common notion of the ideal society is one which makes its members feel safe enough from wild animals, harsh weather, criminals and tyranny so that its citizens can concentrate on sonnets, which nobody writes anymore. But falling in love has not yet gone out of style. 

From the desire for safety spring such modern inventions as tenure, health insurance, retirement and the trusty savings account. Even religion, with its attempt to organize the world into a meaningful whole, is aimed at providing us with security, which is safety with one extra syllable. Watching the news may trap you at stage 2, since your world view becomes whatever the media presents to you, which is a planet dominated by violence and bloodshed and social unrest. I prefer sonnets. But the neurotic does not. The neurotic, like the obsessive compulsive not to mention our fictional starving artist, is stuck at the lower motivational levels and is so preoccupied with these more basic drives that love seems far-fetched, fanciful and completely unnecessary. For the product of romantic union is a usually a child, and who would want to bring a kid into such an unsafe planet, where there is not even enough food to go around! I need to watch less news. And if sonnets are not your thing, love comes in many shapes and forms, notes Maslow. In fact, a desire for an ice cream cone is often just a thinly veiled desire to get busy. Both can be sweet. If only ice cream existed in Casanova's time, we wouldn't have his memories. Wait, it did!

Of course love is not synonymous with sex, which unlike cookies 'n cream is calorie-free. Love often exists in the absence of coitus, as between friends, or first cousins, or the longly wed - but not always. And whether platonic or no, for its perfect fulfillment love must be reciprocal. It may be better to love than to be loved, but it's best to do both. Who says you can't have your cake and eat it too, especially when dessert actually makes you hungry again (at over 400 calories an hour, I wonder for what position).

We all desire self-esteem and the esteem of others, which is the penultimate need. That is to say we want to achieve something great, and to be appreciated for our efforts. Either one on its own does not quite satisfy. What use is it to write the perfect essay if nobody reads it but me? (And yet I continue to try.) Conversely, universal praise for what the starving artist knows to be derivative garbage falls flat. Although with the hefty payday he can at least fill his fictional belly with ice cream.

Maslow was aware that even with the satisfaction of all these needs, even with a full stomach, safety, a stable relationship and financial success, a new discontent invariably follows, and restlessness soon develops. Why? Because we are wanting creatures, like the man said. But we are also creative creatures. And even making boatloads of cash will not cut it if your job does not really fulfill you. You must do what you are meant to do. What a person can be, he must be. The writer writes, the painter paints, and the performance artist does whatever the hell performance artists do. Self-fulfillment lies in actualizing what exists in you in potential. I'm beginning to sound preachy. It's not me! It's my man Mas, who makes a very good point when he says that people who are satisfied in the basic needs are basically satisfied people, and from them comes the highest art and creativity. But here's the rub: basically satisfied people are the minority, perhaps accounting for 1 percent of human beings. And so most of the what's out there passing for art is rubbish. Or as a writing teacher of mine used to say, it's mulch. Mulch is actually pretty versatile and inexpensive, and it really brings to life the garden, as I've recently come to find. Another matter, I mean mulch. Maslow actually believed that he could judge from a piece of art how fully the artist had satisfied his basic needs. That is he could gain insight into the writer's soul by reading his words. I know I can. How about you? What does this piece say about me, I wonder.

Of course, most "normal" people are partially satisfied in all their basic needs but also partially unsatisfied. Who wants to be normal? I say strive for that one percent. Strive for perfection. The fortunate few who have realized their true potential have "no sex needs or hunger needs, or needs for safety, or for love, or for prestige, or self-esteem, except in stray moments of quickly passing threat." Why, because they are fulfilled, if not transcended. It is possible to do without, especially if in the first 2 years of life you had great parents who saw to the satisfaction of your every craving. I think my mom and dad did fine. I just can't remember. So, transcendence is the key. 

Many sages have been noted to bypass the fulfillment of many needs, for example choosing celibacy over matrimony (stage 3) and taking up the begging bowl and walking stick in lieu of practicing a more traditional profession (stage 4). And yet these exemplary individuals are regarded as great beings and revered throughout history. I'm talking about the reluctant founders of the world religions, Christ and the Buddha and the like. When you think of how integral a part of our security religion can be, you are really grateful for these saints, who in exposing themselves to the harsh elements and jeopardizing their personal safety added so greatly to our own; and in declining the fame and fortune that their talents may have won them had they been so like their egoistic peers, their selfless deeds and simple ways have become celebrated for centuries after their death and earned them the recognition of ten Bruce Lees or Muhammad Alis. Doesn't life work out just right all the time?

Now, the popular version of Maslow’s hierarchy is based on his early work and includes only the five aforementioned levels. But his later work and private journal entries point to a sixth motivation. This zenith or high point for which we all should strive is, you guessed it, self-transcendence. This higher octave of self-actualization lies in giving yourself to some goal bigger than yourself, such as altruism and spirituality. Altruism is universal over individual; and the aim of spirituality is to experience the unity of all being. Maslow's highest need therefore, the one all lower needs pave the way for, is to sink our ordinary consciousness into some ineffable whole and perfect truth, whatever this truth may be.

To quote Maslow in an article entitled "The farther reaches of human nature," published in 1969 in the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology and later expanded into a book: 






You do not live by bread alone. That being said, eat, drink, sleep, be safe, have sex and make a name for yourself. But when it's all done know there's something bigger than you that awaits you. To find out what it is, look inside your heart. If you are not guided by your inner light, then help others find theirs. For as Maslow concludes his Theory of Motivation, the sick person is the frustrated person, and frustration of one's basic needs is made possible only by forces outside the individual. That is, by society. A sick individual is therefore a product of a sick society, and a healthy society is one which permits our highest purpose to emerge by satisfying all our basic needs. If that's not an argument for ice cream, I don't know what is! But I still prefer chocolate.



Friday, December 9, 2016

THAT NAMELESS THING



My second favorite John L. MacDonald potboiler is A Bullet for Cinderella. And if you aren't acquainted with this fine author's oeuvre, I suggest you start with the 1958 novel The Executioners, on which both versions of the excellent film Cape Fear were based. In the former quick and satisfying read, which is obtainable on Kindle for the reasonable price of under a dollar, one restless character says to another: "I've always been looking. Like that game where you come into the room and they've named something but you don't know what it is and you have to find out. I've been looking for something I don't know the name of. Ever feel like that?" 

The other character answers in the affirmative. 

"You don't know what it is, but you want it. You look in a lot of places for it. You try a lot of things, but they aren't it. This time I know I'm going to find it."

If you have ever looked for the car keys only to find them in your pocket, or rummaged through the hamper for a favorite shirt only to catch your mirror's image reflecting it back at you stains and all, or frantically ransacked the house for your designer sunglasses until you stop dead in your tracks and feel them on your head, or like me all of these, then you know the feeling of desperately seeking what you already have - or even, what you already are. This is so common we can go so far as to say it is part and parcel of the human condition. 

And so we live our lives striving, always seeking and never satisfied, at least not for long. Because who still wears his favorite shirt from high school, or those sweet Oliver Peoples shades he swore he'd never give away, or for that matter still owns that dope ass Jeep he tooled around town in when life couldn't get any better. Not even a minimalist like me. Tastes change. We want something new. We come restless for stimulation. But everything feels so tired, and we feel tired too. And we sing to ourselves, "Ho hum, it's all been done." And just like that we're the lyrics to a Marilyn Manson song. Which is I suppose better than being a character in a MacDonald thriller.


Because at the end of the novel the needful character, whose name is Antoinette, gets brutally killed. Shot in the face at close range. In the author's books as in our lives, death is the ineluctable end. As Tal the protagonist stares at her lifeless body, he wonders if bodily demise "could have been the nameless thing she sought. But I guessed that had she been given her choice, she would have wanted it in a different form. Not so ugly. Not with ruined face and cheap clothes."

What can we learn from this? Two things. First, that such childish behavior is actually quite common in adults. The other day my friend told me that while sharing a meal with his son, the boy who is seven was more preoccupied by the dish between them than he was by the food already on his plate. We so often look elsewhere. We "keep up with the Kardashians." The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. And then, after spending our lives in the enervating accumulation of possessions and experiences, with weary limbs and bleary eyes, and possibly empty pocketbooks, we seek death as a cessation of striving if not an escape from creditors. We want "eternal rest," or "lasting peace," to borrow the designations assigned by pastors to the recently departed at memorial services everywhere. And we believe that with the death of the body comes the death of the mind and all its willy-nilly whims! 

But what if this is not the case? What if the mind outlives the body and with it the endless yearnings for "something other," be it sense pleasure, distraction or preoccupation? And what if like the ghosts of drunks who are said to haunt their favorite watering holes, we are doomed to an eternal itch we cannot scratch? What a nightmare this would be!

But what if it were possible to die while still alive. To die to the desires which seize your breast seemingly at random, which is after all what willy-nilly means. To be content, come what may? This death while alive brings new life and lasting peace. Once you see the merry-go-round for what it is, desire leading to striving leading to temporary satisfaction leading only to new desire, once you realize you are going around in circles expending a lot of energy and incurring a lot of frustration but never going very far, you can consciously decide to step off. An option which suits me to a T. Even as a child I've never been one for carnival rides. 

Newsflash: that nameless thing has a name, and it's called I. It's what I call myself, and you call yourself, and what unites us in this crazed rat race for lasting equanimity which we can never know until we stop our rodent running. Sitting in stillness you realize that you already have everything you desire, because you are everything, or all that matters. Pure, crystalline consciousness. Timeless, ageless, without boundary or limitation. The medium through which all is experienced, without which nothing could ever occur! You, my friend, are an endless breath of fresh air. And you smell so sweet! Ahhhh.... But still, you say, wanting things and getting things is so much friggin' fun!

Which brings us to lesson number two. Be careful what you wish for.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

SIMPLY I(RRESISTIBLE)

As a child growing up in an atypical American household, I was taught to eliminate the ego, or at least to be very suspicious of it. But what is the ego? A glance at the dictionary indicates that this word has many meanings, not all of which are synonymous. 

The ego can be a person's sense of self-esteem or self-importance. Which is healthy and not to be eradicated, lest you become a yellow-bellied, spineless, mind-benumbed basket case. Sound like anybody you know? One would hope not. 

In psychoanalysis, the ego is "the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity." Again, not something we'd want to do without in daily life. Personal identity is important, or else we'll find ourselves in the post-apocalyptical world envisioned by Ayn Rand in her prose-poem, Anthem. A world in which individuality is replaced by collectivism, where the word I is struck from the vocabulary and replaced with the all-embracing word We. A world where "it is a sin to think words no others think," where "there is no transgression blacker than to do or think alone." In this world, the slogan is "we are one in all and all in one. There are no men but only the great WE. One, indivisible and forever." 

It's weird how the most laudable feelings can be twisted and employed for devious ends. For isn't "all for one and one for all" the celebrated slogan of the Three Musketeers, whereby they are united in brotherhood, putting individual gain aside for the good of the team? Isn't this what teamwork is about? There is, after all, no I in team. Thanks, Coach. 

But yes, all good ideas, like tools, can if used wrongly lead to suffering and death. Like the notion of slaying the ego. I get that we should de-emphasize the lower self, the ego-based consciousness that views itself as separate and in antagonism to others, and so it focuses on self-aggrandizement and winning rather than losing. But what if the individual's gaining translates into a greater loss, for the community, the planet, for posterity? Isn't this what happens when we seek to get rich by polluting or pillaging the environment, as big business has done in the centuries since the Industrial Revolution? Not to point fingers, but as Prince would say, if the shoe fits... And so maybe individual industry and invention should be tempered by a consideration of what such invention and industry may lead to, in the big picture. Just one person's take on the subject.

But there is a deeper meaning to the word ego. Or at least it is more fundamental. For the ego, in philosophy, designates a conscious thinking subject. This is what you are, or should be. The word itself is Latin, and literally means I. And the I is the very word that the Hindus use to refer to the Self, or the Lord, or the Awareness that is the Source of all. In Sanskrit it is proclaimed, Tat Twam Asi. All that there is, I AM. In the Bible when Moses asks the Lord who it is that sent him, the Lord's reply is "Tell them I AM sent you." It's a confusing world in which the term you use to refer to yourself, I, is the very term designating all that there is, the entirety, which is I as well. Confusing or revealing. Because maybe they are one and the same. The individual and the totality. Like a drop of water and the ocean from which it is distilled. The essence is the same.

We cannot slay the essence of our existence. I've tried, and I've just wound up indecisive, lost and confused. But not anymore, because I've learned that what we can do is to allow the pure consciousness to envelop the small, opinionated, often petty and self-centered point of view that seems to dominate our day and age. We can be conclusionless, expecting nothing while being prepared for everything, open to all possibilities. And in that state of abeyance, floating like autumn leaves in the gentle and even not-so-gentle breeze, we are truly free. Did I say we? Excuse me. I mean you and me. Or for the sake of brevity, simply I. You'll find, as do I, that the I is irresistible!

Because, as Ms. Rand writes, "Whatever road I take, the guiding star is within me, the guiding star and the loadstone which point the way. They point in but one direction. They point to me.... My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose." Yours too. So, let's be happy! Whatever loadstone means...


Monday, December 5, 2016

INDIVIDUALITY IS EVERYTHING


Individuality is everything. When I die, put these words on my tombstone. But before you do, be sure I'm cremated.

Ah to be a kid again! Remember those worry-free days? As a child, my thoughts took the form of daydreams, heady imaginings, idle fancies, call them what you will. I remember in the seventh grade, my most persistent concern was how to wear my hair the next morning, whether to blow-dry and spray my bangs in place or part to the side with gel. But then something happened. Actually it happened before I was 13. As a fifth grader, the teacher began assigning us homework. Suddenly our after-school focus was no longer exclusively on fun but had to make room for the 2 hours of busy work including grammar, algebra, essay-writing and Bible studies we were made to do each night before bedtime. How could I enjoy myself even while at soccer practice when I had a test the next day? But at least as children most of us get the basic tasks done for us. Our meals are prepared, room is cleaned, we are practically dressed and taken to and from school so we can spend our childhood without these cares. 

This changes in adulthood, for some earlier than for others. For me it was in college, actually before. As a high school senior I got a job waiting tables. Soon I began chipping in with expenses, making and buying my own food, cleaning up after myself with a thoroughness that would have impressed our housekeeper had she not moved back to Guatemala. Suddenly there was so much stuff to do. And still I had my schoolwork! The phrase used to be "I think, therefore I am." This is by the French philosopher Descartes, who must have had a lot of time on his hands. The motto in the harried modern world seems to have become "I fret, therefore I exist."

Something else happened in elementary school. I went to parochial school, where students wore uniforms. The boys dressed in blue corduroy and white collared shirts and the girls wore plaid skirts. We had to sit in rows and recite in unison at the teacher's prompting. We had to memorize poems. If there is a better way to make a child not appreciate Robert Frost than by making him commit "Stopping by Woods" to memory and regurgitate it on command as he stands in front of his snickering classmates, I have yet to come across it - though I'm sure the nuns will devise a newer brand of torture if it exists. "And miles to go before I sleep" indeed.

As my worry grew, my individuality was taken from me. And individuality is everything! One of my favorite passages in all of literature reads: "There are those who barter [individuality] for security, those who repress it for what they believe is the betterment of the whole society, but blessed in the twinkle of the morning star is the one who nurtures it and rides it, in grace and love and wit, from peculiar station to peculiar station along life's bittersweet route."

The morning star is the planet Venus appearing in the east before sunrise. It is also used to designate Jesus, and ironically, Satan. Hey, both dudes were consummate individuals.

How many of what we do is conditioned by society, influenced by others? All the pastimes and pressing engagements. What we eat for breakfast, the clothes we wear. Our political beliefs, and morality. We watch the shows our friends watch, raise our kids as our parents raised us (despite our efforts to the contrary). Chances are you got your hairstyle from a magazine or celebrity, whose perfume you've also made a mental note to at least give a spritz (I've thus far resisted Johnny Depp's Sauvage but don't know how much longer I can hold out). You read what the tabloids tell you is a must-read. Maybe it's LA, but everyone around town seems to drive either a Range Rover or a Mercedes, as if these were the only two vehicles on the planet. Every guy is pasty, exercises in ill-fitting athletic Ts, and sports a paunch. And what chick under the age of say 40 isn't trying to mimic Kardashian's unnaturally full lips and bulbous backside?

Does individuality even exist anymore or has everyone resigned themselves to a cookie-cutter existence? How to live authentically in an age of mass-hypnosis and the relentless assault of our attention by marketing schemes? How to be truly who you are meant to be, the best version of yourself, without cutting yourself off from others completely and being like an island isolated at sea? This is the question of all questions.

Start by ceasing to think what others want you to think. It all begins in the mind, and ends there as well. Don't watch the news. Yesterday my father sends me this e-mail, its title: "example of mainstream media distorting news coverage." Beneath it my father writes: "The media have their own agenda so they will distort their coverage accordingly. It's called 'mind fucking.'" 

Not the most enjoyable topic to consider on a Sunday afternoon. Indeed his words gave me indigestion. 

Without clicking on the link I wrote: "Because it sells." 

Dad's reply: "The liberal media have an agenda and damn the facts which conflict with their agenda. In this case, all but Fox News were against Trump. To show a black woman urging the rioters to 'take it to the suburbs' would demonstrate the potential that blacks are a threat to middle class suburbanites thus influencing the vote of both white liberals and educated blacks who vote Democrat."

To which I wrote: "The media airs what appeals to viewers, that is, what titillates. And this is usually violence and controversy. Since news shows overemphasize shootings and bombings and catastrophes, they give the false impression that these unfortunate events are all that occur when in fact tragedy constitutes a small fraction of the events of everyday life. This coverage, skewed to what evokes one’s fight or flight mechanism and activates stress hormones, gives a distorted picture of reality. Fox News especially, since all they seem to feature are blustering hotheads talking about some version of how the sky is falling. Until programs such as these devote at least a portion of their coverage to such things as people lending a hand to their neighbors, trying to be better individuals, dealing with personal travails and other such seemingly non-noteworthy features, which actually form the bulk of daily life, they can justifiably be accused of distortion. Such coverage as I see it is really not worth the sane and healthy person’s time. Which is why I do not watch the news."

And neither should my dad, because though he'd never admit so much, the media was definitely activating his stress response by making him afraid. Race riots is the fear du jour.  (I'm not afraid. And neither should you be. Because we're all black. We all hail from Ethiopia, so many sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, or Lucy if you believe anthropologists.) News and shows and the advertisements that bracket news and shows and are interspersed throughout, sometimes subtly via product placement and a casual line of dialogue endorsing a convenience item, are subtly and not so subtly conditioning you on how to feel, how to think, and how to live your life. Leaving aside the fact that being stressed by catastrophes is unhealthy, and purchasing whatever you are told to purchase can quickly leave you without a pot to piss in, who in her right mind wishes to be a follower? 

Have some originality, for Godsakes. God knows I try. I listen to Sarah McLachlin. Heard of her? It's unlikely, if you're a heterosexual male. I run 30 to 50 miles a week. I did not grow up with anyone who ran this much. I picked up the habit on my own for the health benefits, the challenge, the enjoyment. I run barefoot without having any barefoot running friends. I have written a half dozen novels. I do not know anyone in the literary field. None of them have sold, likely because I do not know anyone in the literary field. Or because they all suck. I wear my hair long and use hoop earrings in each ear despite the constant urging of friends to quit being stuck in the 80s. (Actually, I started wearing hoops in the 90s.) But I look like a heavy metal reject because I feel like it, because having short hair requires too much time and maintenance, and maybe because I simply do not wish to fit in. Your appearance is a statement to the world. I'm not saying I'm perfectly original. Everything I think or do has been inspired or influenced by others, maybe not in my immediate social sphere but via what I read or (yikes!) what I see on TV on the rare occasion that I watch it. But I'm aware of this influence and conditioning as it happens, and so I can choose to adopt the next fad or, far more frequently, leave it for the sheep. May you not be among them.

Scientists say that the unconscious mind, the part of your psyche that you are not aware of, perceives everything. Every license plate number you encounter on the road, every word uttered in that crowded restaurant, every product placement item in that show you binge watch on Netflix. The more you expand your consciousness by becoming aware of your surroundings and your inner environment, the more you become in touch with the subtle forms of conditioning ever-present around you, and you finally break the mold. Then, when you give in to societal pressure, you do so consciously, which is to say, of your own free will. Thus you maintain your individuality and authenticity even while seeming to fit in and be like everybody else. 

Whatever you choose to do or not to do, I strongly advise growing your hair as long as you can and going without shoes as often as possible. I promise you'll thank me.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

GET THE MOST OUT OF VICE

A vice is an immoral or wicked behavior, often involving criminality. Which begs the question, what constitutes immoral behavior? Immorality does not conform to the accepted standards of morality. Morals are principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. A particular system of morals is held by an individual or society. Which means morality is subjective, and there are as many opinions as there are people to hold them. 

For example, you may be against cigarettes, calling them cancer sticks, but are okay with a hit or two off a doobie. The tobacco smoker may take the high road, calling you the druggie, since carcinogenic chemicals notwithstanding, at least cigarettes don't alter one's consciousness, slowing reaction time and in the parlance of a friend of mine, merely making the user "horny, hungry and tired." I can see his point.

Drinking a bottle of wine and then driving your kids across town gets classified as immoral behavior in practically everybody's book because it involves the twin faux pas of child endangerment and drunkenness. Fine. But to the Christians in the house, having a glass of wine, perhaps even two, is acceptable behavior since it is endorsed by the Old Testament (God made wine to make men "glad") and accords with the habits of the Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ after all gave wine to his disciples, saying "Take this all of you and drink it, this is my blood, which shall be given up for you." I recited that from memory. Old parochial school habits die hard. 

However not all religions hold spirits in such high esteem. To the Hare Krishna a mere taste of any intoxicating substance, be it wine or beer or even coffee or tobacco, is strictly forbidden. And it goes without saying that drinking blood in the literal sense is pretty much unacceptable to all - excepting our vampire brothers and sisters, of course. We must remember, however, that morality is less about what goes into your mouth as it is about what comes out of it. If you speak softly and sweetly and practice kindness, then you are at liberty to defile your personal temple in whichever way you see fit. Or at least until it is no longer fun. Because enjoyment is everything. And too much of the good life can make you say stupid shit. Dope is aptly named.

Just my educated opinion, borne of observation and experience. Because let's face it. So called bad behavior is its own punishment. After a bender I don't fear fire and brimstone as much as I do the next morning's hangover, with its pounding headache, puffy eyes and leaden limbs. Cancer is an almost inevitable consequence of the injudicious use of tobacco, and the result of indiscriminate promiscuity is venereal disease, or can be. So pursue these pleasures at your own risk.

But let's allow for the sake of discussion that the common physical vices - those which people are the most vociferous and divided over - are drinking, smoking, caffeine, meat and sex. What place should these behaviors, if any, be accorded in your life? If your wish is to derive the most enjoyment out of existence with minimum damage to your physicality, can you indulge in these pastimes without harm and even more importantly, without the guilt? We are conditioned to feel guilt. About our naked bodies. About our pleasures. It is indoctrinated in school, and by religion and our parents and our elders. And once you hit adulthood, by your peers as well. There are so many goody-goodies! At some point almost every brand of fun is labeled bad, to be avoided, or at least moderated. Food, Internet, TV, porn, smart technology. Even so-called healthy addictions like exercise and sleep and reading, if indulged in excessively, quickly become too much of a good thing.

But can you be a little vicious without endangering your life or making yourself feel bad and pathetic? I think so.

If you drink, choose low alcohol varieties. I'm talking beer and wine. This is what the Bible speaks of when it says to drink and be merry. Higher alcohol content (40 to 50 percent alcohol or more, which is ten times what is in beer) results from distillations of potatoes and mash as found in the hard liquors, whiskey and vodka and their like. The strong stuff did not exist in biblical times. In modern times these spirits lend themselves to abuse, drunkenness, and the irresponsible behavior that arises, like driving your kids around town or getting busy with your neighbor's wife. I am not speaking from experience, because I lay off the hard stuff. And a little alcohol has a lot of benefits. Beer can safeguard your heart, boost your immunity, make you more creative, protect your bones, and more. Provided you are moderate. The expansive feeling and heightened well-being and confidence generally disappear after more than two drinks, maybe one if you're female. So make ETOH work for you rather than be its slave. For me drinking was always a test of manliness, a chore to get through. Shots! Or, a keg. Something to be overcome. By the time my friends and I did, we were sloshed. The fun was gone. Don't be like that me. And if wine is your brand of poison, take heed: red leads to heavy head and limbs like lead, while white is light and bright. Like you, if you have a glass.

Of the many intoxicants (drugs) out there, caffeine and tobacco have been used for centuries for their stimulating effects. The coca leaf as well, from which cocaine is derived. I've become a connoisseur of caffeine. I've had it in as many varieties as exist. Coffee and its incarnations as espresso and cold brew. Various energy drinks and sodas. I can say that the best buzz, the clearest, least jittery and without the lull that comes with adrenal exhaustion, is to be found in teas, and in yerba mate, a Brazilian holly which provides "the strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate." Sold yet? You should be. These substances have compounds such as theobromine, which works synergistically with caffeine to produce euphoria and also mellow out the buzz. My favorite these days is a couple tea bags (green and black) brewed with cocoa powder and stevia, or 12 oz of yerba mate made in the coffee machine. The caffeine content is about half what you'd find in coffee, but the buzz in much cleaner.

As for tobacco, I've tried it all. I smoked cigarettes for a time in college, but hated the lung burn and the difficulty breathing that ensued. I'm a runner, and so anything that prevents me from running fast and long is anathema to me. I have smoked a lot of cigars in the succeeding decades. They are all-natural and you don't inhale. But cigars can be expensive and they don't taste as good if they go out and are relit. So you are committed to a one-hour smoke, which is a lot of time seated on one's behind. Recently I've experimented with a pipe. After the initial purchase of said pipe, the habit itself is quite economical. For $5 or $10 you can get a bag of good tobacco that can last for several weeks. You can pack your pipe loosely or densely, depending upon how long you wish to experience it, and if it goes out, as it often does when you are in intense conversation, as you'll often be while smoking your pipe, you can always relight without sacrificing flavor. There have been many famous pipe smokers, from Einstein to Doyle and many other writers besides. And remember our Native Americans with their peace pipe. An Indian proverb goes: "A pipe is to the troubled soul what caresses of a mother are for her suffering child." Which is why I sometimes find solace after my mother's death in the pipe she once bought me.

If you eat meat, and I currently do not, at least don't eat mammals. They are too human for my taste. And hair and hooves are not exactly my idea of appetite stimulants. Stick to fish, and the eggs of mammals. And eat these infrequently and in moderation. The world's oldest lady, who is 117, attributes her longevity to eating 2 raw eggs every day. Be like her but in the interest of taste and salmonella avoidance, just be sure to boil your baby chickens first.

Gambling is never a good idea, as the odds are always with the house. If you do take a risk, play the game of life and always bet on yourself. Sex with strangers is always a gamble. You never know what you are going to get. True love, fatal attraction, a night to remember, or a pesky rash? It seems that with sex, as with a lady's nether anatomy, the elusive sweet spot varies with each individual. Which is fitting, since the conception of morality does too. Lest we forget what the hell we're talking about. I adopt the advice of anti-aging expert Norman Shealy, MD, and suggest you do too. The good doctor suggests that we make an effort to orgasm twice or thrice weekly, which is really no effort at all, it feels so damn good. And if you're currently unaffiliated, be like me and engage in self-love frequently. To those in search of visual stimuli, this pretty package is gender friendly. Because who doesn't appreciate a firm behind? And it comes pre-wrapped. I always love when Christmas comes early.


Friday, December 2, 2016

YOU CAN CALL ME A CAB

My friend was trying to convince me to get a smartphone. I'm one of the 30 percent of American adults without said technology. But I do own a cell phone - a trusty 2006 Blackberry without Internet capabilities - I just never use it. Or only when I leave the house, which is rare, and only in the event that I need to make calls or send texts. Mostly the only calls I receive are from telemarketers. Each voicemail they leave robs me of one of my minutes. Which peeves me, because I pay as I go. I don't like plans. (How do you make God laugh? Make a plan.) Nor do I like monthly fees. It works for me.

My friend's argument was this. If I were her only lifeline, her emergency contact, and she got mugged and needed a Uber and called me, I wouldn't be able to rescue her without a smartphone, so I'd have to call her a cab, that overpriced throwback that smells like smoke and never comes on time. Imagine failing to come through and in a matter of life or death! Never mind that this scenario is as unlikely as it gets. She has more of a chance of getting mugged and being left with her smartphone than she does of getting struck by lightning while she is swimming in the ocean during a shark attack. In other words no chance. And never mind that the day before I had tried to call this friend, and emailed her as well, I didn't hear back until the evening. When I reminded her of this, she said she hadn't gotten the message. She had been working on a project and had turned her phone off so as not to be interrupted. Even with her fancy device she had been unreachable. So if I had been the one mugged and she was my only hope I'd have been shit out of luck. She later confessed that she had gotten my morning message when I had left it but had chosen not to reply. Catching her in a lie didn't do a great thing for our friendship. I'd expect more from a human. Not even my computer would leave me hanging.

We broached the topic of cost. Her cell phone costs $800 and with planned obsolescence built in she will need to replace it next year. Thanks Steve Jobs, you mf. Planned obsolescence is his legacy, a model that many other companies are following. If you don't believe me, have a look at our growing landfills, filled as they are with last year's Christmas gifts. Which is why I don't give them. I heard that with the new model of some phone, the battery is not replaceable, so after it dies, after I think 700 hours or something, the phone itself is worthless. My friend's way around this fee is to put only half down and pay the other half in installments, then to cell the phone (get it?) after the year is almost up and purchase the newer version. Who would want to buy a year old device? This implies that there are many users unlike herself that don't want the latest model. And $75 a month for unlimited minutes and text and data seems like a lot to pay. This is in addition to her $50 monthly Internet fee, and she doesn't even get TV. I tell her I pay $100 for Internet and a land line, which is $25 less than she pays, and I at least get basic channels so in the event my friends come over and want to watch "the big game," I can oblige. May that day never come.

And so my answer is no. No I will not get a smartphone. No, neither should you. And if you have one, use it less than I do my computer. Because I check my laptop practically every hour for emails I hardly receive. It's a compulsion, which would be compounded by having a handheld device to check as well. And those unwieldy things look so bulky in one's pocket. Can they really fit in one's jeans? If so, are you packing a piece or just glad to see me? Yada-yada. And if you do cherish your technology, which you simply cannot live without, as it's tied to your business, then at least make your employer pay for said phone, which is nothing more than a silicon leash. It's what my friend does. And if you are that employer, write the thing off. 

Now I know that more and more people are in a relationship with their phones. Sleeping by them in bed. Checking them when they have sex. If you are such a person, don't be that guy or gal. But even if you long for the day when your device will be implanted beneath your skin so that you merge with your technology, having all this data, knowledge, processing speed not merely at your fingertips but on the tip of your tongue, on the top of your head, please oh please: preserve your humanity. It's the one thing you have that the computers never can, because they are not human. Our computers are already smarter, faster and more longevitous than us (longevitous really needs to be a word, for how else to say longer-lived?) They are better at math, more efficient at problem solving, better able to focus for long periods without getting distracted by Facebook/Twitter/Instagram or Reddit/Snapchat/Netflix/Amazon/Hulu not to mention the ads on these sites and video games besides, with memories far more reliable than yours or mine. But they are not human. 

And what does it mean to be human? For one thing, it means frailty. Because I can get sick, break a bone, be helpless, I know that you can too. And when you do or are, I can be there for you. Unlike the phone that freezes or whose battery dies at precisely the most inopportune moment in time. Unlike the friend who wouldn't take my call. The friend who may need a lesson in humanity to really be the friend I need. And don't lose your ability to laugh. Even Siri has a sense of humor, or so I hear.

Because haven't you noticed how serious many people are? Especially the younger generation. That is, younger than I, who am 40ish. It's as if they mistake talking fast and hording facts for intelligence and expertise. It's not. It just makes you sound like you're on crack, or are manic, or have OCD. Because flight of ideas and pressured speech can be hallmark signs of all three. Sweetness is something that Siri, or Cortana, or Google Now can't manage. And Amazon Echo doesn't take offense when you bark orders at it. But people do, so don't be so curt and monotone with me. Remember your Ps and Qs! Please and thank you.

I think the more time we spend interacting with nonliving things that more and more seem living, able as they do to speak and almost to relate, the more we take on those nonliving characteristics ourselves, the more our intelligence morphs into some inferior version of the very artificial intelligence that we spawned to serve us. It gets so under my skin when I interact with people who with their lifeless eyes and flattened affect seem more like automatons, or like the clinically depressed. Maybe too much Ritalin is getting passed around. I've taken enough of amphetamines both legal and not to know they make you live in your head. Seriousness should not be mistaken for smarts. A quick reply is not always the correct one. Einstein was reported to have waited hours or days before getting back to people, because he really mulled over what they had said, and his replies were well thought out. I leave a more terse term to the top of your head, or your word search. And some of the most brilliant people in the world are also the funniest. So don't mistake levity for lack of smarts. Mark Twain, or Einstein's twin, has written some of the wittiest stuff under the sun. 



Be kind. Judge yourself by your capacity to love others, your tenderness and willingness to feel. Stop finding fault, correcting, being pedantic. Leave these traits for the unfortunate OCDers of the world. A preoccupation with detail is a sign of this personality disorder. With your furrowed brow and straight face you can seem very efficient but ultimately you get nothing done. This curious phenomenon, mistaking the appearance of efficiency for actual efficiency, is ego-syntonic. Appearing smart or quick is consistent with one's ideal self-image, which makes it very difficult to dispel. But we are not always what we pretend to be. Ego-dystonic refers to behaviors which are in conflict with the ideal self. And spending so many hours on your device is precisely that. It is not fun, it is not making you smarter, you are not getting things done. You are wasting time, ruining your vision, and building a bigger behind. In a word, don't. 

Permit me a speculation. Why is autism on the rise? I asked my friend who is a clinical psychologist. Is it due to the greater prevalence, or to more sensitive methods of detection? was my query. Both, is his surmise. At least he didn't implicate vaccines or the entire restaurant would have joined us in heated debate. I preferred the food on my plate. But here's a tidbit to test your palate. Consider the characteristics of autism. Little eye contact, minimal acknowledgment of others. These poor buggers are losing their humanity as a result of spending too much time in front of screens, raised by parents who do too much of this themselves. Reluctance to being touched? How about because mommy and daddy are holding them less? The cure for this condition and so many others is love and tenderness. Try it. I am not a child psychologist, so this is only my opinion. If Google told you this you'd believe it, so why not believe a humble guy with an MD?

You are not your device. You will never be. Even if it is implanted in you, you will always remain separate. Its processing speed and storage capacity will remain foreign and unfamiliar, even if they are under your skin. But you will always have your humanity. It's something you're born with, like your breakable bones and my brain farts. Your ability to empathize is uniquely human, as is your creativity and capacity for non-linear thought. Next time you hold your phone, it cannot feel you. Unable itself to feel pain, your handheld device can never put itself in your place. So leave the cold rationality, the insensitivity, to the overpriced 2 dimensional screen you feel obliged to carry around with you and check impulsively mainly because that's what everybody else does. But know that there are still some of us who do not. Have some humanity. You are 3D. That third dimension is where all the fun is at. And surfing Facebook really isn't such a good time, is it? It's hard on the eyes. As is reading this. So I'll stop for now.

Oh and if I ever need a Uber to come visit you, you can always call me a cab.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

SOUL CYCLE


This is not a commentary on the latest fitness fad. Because if it were, the little I'd have to say on the subject would be largely derogatory. I simply cannot see see how crouching in a stuffy, dark, cramped room surrounded by sweat-drenched strangers while expending a lot of energy and going nowhere deserves to be called fun, though aficionados tell me it is (fun). I tell these aficionados that if no pain no gain is your thing, discomfort can be had for a lot cheaper than $50 an hour. Try plucking your nose hairs. What we don't do for the sake of beauty. This endurance heir to the Stairmaster and elliptical is all hype. There's a name for the type who likes to run (or otherwise move) in place. It's called a hamster. 

This reminds me of a joke my father likes to tell, about what living with a woman turns a guy into. You go from a wolf to a sheep to a hamster. After nearly 40 years of married life, my dad has added cockroach to the zoological lineage. Which I'm sure is no reflection on his wife. It's in the feminine nature to tame. And we can't really escape who we are. And being tamed may not be a terrible thing. The lap dog has a nice life, and the resilient cockroach will outlive us all - if it can avoid getting squished. Girls, go easy on your men.

This reminds me of another joke, which because it involves talking animals is really more of a fable. A horse is about to cross a river. In the original form it is a frog, but I like to imagine it's a horse. One with really powerful haunches and a thick mane of lusty brown hair who loves to munch on apples and carrots all day, which when he's not munching on apples and carrots he spends galloping through the fields as fast as the breeze. Because that's how I see me. But aforementioned perks aside, I wouldn't want to be a domesticated animal, not even a horse, and if I did, definitely not this horse. As this stallion enters the water he is stopped by a scorpion who asks to ride on his back. The scorpion (who I like to think is a she) has an important appointment on the other side, and her only way for safe passage is atop the steed's brawny haunches. The horse hesitates, for though it is in his nature to give lifts to the needy, he is worried that the scorpion will sting him before they reach the other side. The scorpion replies that she wouldn't do such a thing, for if she were to sting her only mode of transport and cause the horse to drown, she too would sink to her death. Convinced by this impeccable logic, the horse accepts his lethal passenger, who climbs aboard. Sure enough, midway across the river the scorpion takes a chunk out of the horse's hind quarters. As the waters engulf his dying form, the horse reminds the scorpion of her promise. The scorpion's reply: "I'm sorry, to sting is part of my nature, and I can't help who I am."

This fable, about the passage across a river, reminds me of Buddha, who spoke of the river of life. At least he did in Hesse's fictional account of his life, detailed in the novel Siddhartha. And the river of life brings to mind the soul's passage across its sometimes inquiescent waters. Buddha himself did not subscribe to the notion of reincarnation, though the Buddhists who have succeeded him do believe in past and future lives, and quite vehemently. Just like Hindus and Sikhs and practitioners of the other religions that arose in India (which I cannot think of at the moment); just like Plato too, who believed the immortal soul has many lives. He probably borrowed the notion form the East. But the idea of multiple lives may be the mind's attempt to explain the inexplicable. Why does my life unfold the way it does? Often in this tumultuous world we sing with the Pet Shop Boys: "What have I done to deserve this?"




Take the life of my brother Justin. The poor boy was born with a heart defect (both atrial and ventral septal defects, or "three holes in his heart" to the layperson); and in his 22 years on this Earth suffered a long list of afflictions and set-backs, among which were learning disabilities, a brain condition and finally cancer, which curtailed his adult life when it was just getting started. The question was, "Why all this?" What had the poor boy done to merit being born with a dysfunctional ticker? Since before this he was nestling quietly in the womb, incapable of causing anybody any offense, it is assumed that his actions in a prior existence merited the unfortunate condition in his present one. And my parents, who were familiar with Eastern philosophy (particularly Hinduism), embraced the notion. Perhaps Justin was a lady's man in another life, a womanizer, a heart breaker who came back with his own heart broken. Maybe in another life he had fought a duel to the death and been mortally wounded by a sword thrust through his chest which pierced his blood-pumping organ. 

But I say that this is all hogwash. I am of the Buddha's mind. The mind tries to understand what it cannot understand, like the blind person trying to fathom colors, or a fish attempting to experience what it means  to be on dry land. The fish can't, until it is dead. And we cannot know life before and after the physical one until we're there, that is until we're dead, and when we're there, we may not be us at all. At least we won't have the mind with its trying to know. We must reprogram ourselves. Life can be pleasant, good, enjoyable. We are not "made to suffer," as Annie Lennox sings. Original sin need not be our inheritance. Even Justin's life was largely pleasant. He had a lot of good times, many of which I got to share with him, as his big bro. And many of these involved Mickey's and Miller Lite. They don't call it the high life for nothing.

I was reading in this month's Esquire  Magazine how even in this frenzied age, ridden as it is with hostility, petty fault finding and blood-sucking injustices, there is actually a ton of stuff to be thankful for. Such as longer life expectancy. An American boy born in 1900 was lucky to reach the age of 50. Today most males can expect to still be around at the age of 80. And more leisure hours. At the turn of the 19th century an American textile worker typically logged 100 hours of hard labor a week. Now we complain if we have to sit at our desks for even one hour over 40. And some experts, like the author of the new book Rest, believe we can be extremely productive in half that time, or just four hours of focused effort per day. We've eradicated many infectious diseases and nearly ended extreme poverty, which fewer than 10 percent of the world's population suffers from. See, the sunny side of life. Maybe one day even I shall get paid for putting words on the page.

Buddha didn't believe in reincarnation (like me, and now maybe you too), but he did believe in bliss, which he called nirvana, and which I like to name joy. The horse's nature is to gallop, the scorpion's is to sing, ours is to be happy. And the world is a reflection of our irrepressible urge to enjoy ourselves. So don't see the world as the media wishes you to see it, one filled with suffering and strife, which they focus on merely to sell advertising space. Don't view the world through rose colored glasses either, because this would only be a distortion of the way things really are. 

I say step out into the sun and see things in the clear light of day. Take a deep breath of fresh air. Smell the flowers. Life is good. You are even better. You are grand. The best things in life are free, and I can think of a lot of better ways to spend half a Benjamin. If you ditch the SoulCycle I'll be happy to show you how. But only if you let me buy you lunch.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

ABDUCTION IN PARADISE

or, HOW I BECAME THE SAVIOR OF THE HUMAN RACE

I was in Brazil, my reason for being there I won’t get into, but suffice it to say that the trip had gone all wrong, my traveling companion and I were at one another’s throats, and I could not have been more miserable. I was a man adrift. I suppose I had it coming, for trying to convert a lesbian.

What do I mean by this? Simply that Marisol had a preference for girls, I am not a girl, and I was bent on persuading her to have a preference for me. Well, I failed miserably.

One night, when I was feeling particularly down, I even wished death on myself.  I said, Take me. It may have been Kill me. I really can’t remember. At the time I was very drunk, or more accurately, in that no man’s land between supreme intoxication and a blistering hangover. Its synonyms are oblivion and . . . but I drift. I am a man adrift. A stranger in a strange land to which I had come with the very specific intention of writing a novel based on my romantic conquest. Sadly, my romantic conquest had conquered me, and I wanted out. My date of departure being four weeks away, I decided the most expedient course of action would be to take an exit from my corporeal prison (my body). Either that or remain in Marisol’s presence, which I simply could not do. Marisol is not a bad person. Yes, she had me thinking she was interested in me romantically, and she wasn’t, so you could call her a liar. As I saw it, she had been using me to pull the wool over her family’s eyes. Her traditional, Christian family did not countenance homosexuality. To the DeLordes’, girl on girl action was an original sin. Or was it mortal? I can’t remember. I am ten years out of parochial school.

I wasn’t acting very rationally when I agreed to go on this trip in the first place. I was acting out of desperation. My parents newly divorced, my dear brother Jonah recently deceased, and I was jobless, carless, and clueless. You may ask what Marisol saw in such a loser. Why were we hanging out? As any pragmatist will tell you, people come together to fulfill needs. All relationships are at some level codependent. Our codependency was pretty obvious. I didn’t have a car. She did. She didn’t know her way around L.A. As I native, I could navigate the city with my eyes closed. I directed her to her auditions (she had come to Los Angeles intent on making it as an actress) and along the way we could stop and run any errands that I needed running, which got me out of the house. You see, codependent. Quid pro quo.

The summer before, I had had to sell my beloved Jeep – black, raised tires, tint, stereo, one helluva car - for less than what it was worth in order to pay off credit cards I had taken to finance a writing career which was going nowhere. Since quitting my job at the restaurant, I had racked up something like thirty grand in debts over a two-year period, and a dozen credit cards, many of them with exorbitant interest rates of 25 percent or more, so that my minimum monthly payment, once I had maxed out my dozen cards, came to well over $1000 a month. A huge sum, and yet not even enough to cover the interest, which I was accruing by the day. Financial suicide, with bankruptcy on the horizon. But I persisted in my writing addiction, churning out screenplay after screenplay which few bothered to read and no one was willing to produce. So I decided to try my hand at the novel, and since everyone knows that all first novels are flagrantly autobiographical, with places, characters, sometimes even names cribbed from the author’s personal experience, why pretend to be otherwise? Why reinvent the wheel, as they say? Never mind that my skills are more suited to the brevity of a screenplay. I hate long blocks of text telling you what the sun looks like and the color of this person’s hair and that person’s . . . I mean, a picture is worth a thousand words. If you want to paint one, take a friggin’ picture! It’s just me. So why even bother with a novel? The challenge, I guess. And I’m a big believer in beginner’s luck.

When I reconnected with Marisol and when I discovered her romantic proclivities, I knew I had my topic. We had met four years ago. Marisol was the cousin of this girl my brother had dated. Her name was Daniela. Eventually Jonah and Daniela broke up for reasons I won’t get into, Daniela and Marisol returned to Brazil. Four years later, and a few months ago, Marisol came back to L.A. from Rio, looked me up, and we started hanging out. By this time, my brother had passed away, and I was down in the dumps. Hanging out with Marisol lifted my spirits. It recalled a fonder time, and we had a genuinely good time together. One night, we even kissed. On the cheek, but still. She said we should remain friends, she didn’t let on why. I thought she had a boyfriend. I should have known she was a lesbian. She would always want to go to West Hollywood, and to the same bar, the Palms, which happened to be a lesbian bar. But we’d dance the night through, and though we talked to a bunch of girls (which I didn’t at all mind), at the end of the evening she’d always go home with me, so I figured she was into me. And we’d spoon each other. What with my brother’s death and my parents’ divorce, and my career woes and financial tribulations, and you can guess I was pretty much depressed all the time. Also, my mother, who I was living with at the time, had kicked me out of the house for siding with my father during the divorce (I didn’t side with him: I just understood his point of view, that two people should not continue cohabitating when they had fallen out of love). It didn’t help that the real reason for the divorce, or the overt cause, was that dad had cheated on mom and lied about it. But that’s another story.  With nowhere to go, I was looking for an escape, couldn’t find it in drugs (I did a lot), too chicken shit to kill myself (I hadn’t even considered the option, that would come later) so when Marisol needed to travel back to Brazil to renew her visa and invited me along I figured what the hell. By then we had been hanging out several days/nights a week. Spending six weeks in constant companionship seemed the next logical step. She said she wanted me to come along to assure she’d return to L.A. I was her anchor, her insurance policy. I had to return (Americans can only be in Brazil for a few months on a tourist visa), she didn’t. If not for me, she said the temptation to remain with family and familiarity would prove too great and she’d never return to Hollywood, and what would happen to her dreams of making it in the movie industry? This was a couple weeks ago. Back then I believed the real reason she invited me to join her was because she had a major crush on me. That’s when the idea for the novel occurred to my mind. This girl wants me, says I. I need to make my move. In a time of reality everything (the year was 2004) why not document the seduction of a lesbian! The topic was fresh, was it not? I was sure the novel would practically sell itself! And so I used the money I made from the purchase of my car to pay my credit card minimums for a couple months in advance and buy a round-trip ticket to Brazil. I was left with about $1000 to my name. I called it spending cash. The trip would be rent free. The DeLourdes family was well off, a major player in big business, manufacturers of lumber, water, and natural gas. I’d stay with her and her family in various locales – Minas Gerais, Bahia, and finally, in Rio. With room and board provided, I could devote my funds to the task of getting the girl. And so I loaded a suitcase with pens, legal pads, and a half-dozen novels, and we set off for the Land of Seduction, as Brazil was called. I knew a little something about the country, with emphasis on the word little. I had enrolled in a Portuguese class during my short-lived stint in community college – having taken Spanish in high school, I figured it couldn’t be that hard to learn, since the two languages are related – only to drop out of the class three weeks into the course. I found Portuguese to be an impossible language whose words were pronounced nowhere near how they were spelled. But Marisol was patient, and in the months we hung out she helped me to some sort of grasp of her native tongue, and I am proud to say that I know about three words in Portuguese, and can correctly pronounce at least one.

But when we got here, it all went wrong. I think it was being together all the time. Back in L.A., we’d spend a couple days together, be attached at the him during that time, get bored and restless, and then she would go back to her apartment, while I’d pine away for a few days at my mother’s, tinkering with old screenplays until next we reconvened, and it would be like new. Our arrangement was like hitting the refresh button. But here in Brazil, with nothing at the farm to do all day . . . 

Our first stop was in Minas Gerais, in a town called Paraiso. I’d spend me days lying in a hammock all day, drinking beer, and writing in my journal. My journal would be the source material on which my novel would be based. After all, a novel doesn’t get written by itself. Marisol seemed annoyed. Perhaps I got along too well wither her stepfather, Mineiro. I was spending a lot of time with him, sure. We’d play volleyball together. I’d listen to him sing and play guitar. The man was some musician. And perhaps best of all, we could go beer for beer at the bar. And just like me, he liked to drink first thing in the morning. Mineiro cooked up the meanest steaks, and we washed down thick cuts with pints of Brazilian lager. I didn’t understand a word of what Mineiro said to me, and he didn’t understand me, but we communicated, all right. A regular bromance. I justified the time we spent together by calling it research. A novel (fictional memoir? frank autobiography?) does not get written by itself. Everything is material. I reacted to Marisol’s irritability by giving her the cold shoulder, and she reacted in kind. Soon she began spending more and more time with Francesca. Definitely a lesbian, and her predilection was rubbing off on my sweetheart. They started sleeping in the same room together! I asked to join, and they closed the door in my face. How’s that for hospitality! What frustrated me most was that earlier in the evening Marisol had gone off with a group of girls, leaving me with a bunch of country pumpkins (males) I couldn’t understand. And then I saw her holding hands with another girl, and in plain view of her mother!

 I became so frustrated and left out that I drank myself into oblivion, woke up in the middle of the night, and staggered to my room. My hopes were dashed. In the darkness, I called out imploringly, in a voice hardly above a whisper (I didn’t wish to awaken anyone), I said . . . whatever it was I actually said when I begged God to take my life, the desired effect was not achieved. Nothing happened. Within moments, I fell fast asleep. Let me first say, before I write what follows, that one of the books I brought with me to Brazil happened to be on UFO’s. I’ve always been interested in the subject. Who isn’t? Besides, since my brother’s death I’d had a series of really weird, really vivid dreams that left me believing in life after death, so much so that life on another planet, or other life on this planet, didn’t seem like such a stretch. If I had come upon, in the new releases section of Barnes & Noble, a book on ghosts, I’d probably have picked that up, but given the event I am about to unfold, the choice could not have been more . . . what’s the word . . . apropos? Fortuitous? Fatalistic? I can’t be sure. I’m still in it. You may think I am an unreliable narrator. You may be asking yourself (or you will), whether what I read influenced what I went on to experience. You may be wondering whether, now that I lack an idea for a novel, with four weeks left in Brazil, and nothing else to do but sulk, this is my attempt to conjure another story from my dreams.

Let me go back a second and tell you about the dreams I’ve had since my brother’s passing. I won’t go into detail; let’s just say they involved three pretty singular phenomenon: levitation, the sensation of a sinister presence in my room, and out of body experiences.  There were other separate but related occurrences: rattling doors, the feeling of a weight on my chest, of sinking into the ground. Once my brother came to visit me but I didn’t think it was him. He seemed so different. More, I don’t know, removed. Remote. Like an imposter! Would you believe that, according to my book on UFO’s, these are all signs of alien abduction? Often the abductee cannot remember being taken. Sometimes he recalls being poked or prodded, or has a vague remembrance of a hazy encounter with creatures that invariably look like cone heads, with eyes like flies and no mouths. Incidentally, do you know why aliens have such small mouths? It’s because their jaws have shrunk. Why have their jaws shrunk? Because they do not eat solid food. Instead, they drink blood! The book says so. And according to the book, they have designs on our planet and our race.  Specifically their wish is to create a hybrid race and infiltrate our society. I’ll stop dolling out tidbits piecemeal and just get to the meat of my story.

For starters, I am no longer on the planet Earth. I am . . . I don’t know, really. On some sort of spaceship? They’ve allowed me to keep my journal, and have instructed (commanded?) me to write down everything I see, think, feel, and experience faithfully and honestly. And so I shall. 

It began that night, in a guest room in a farm in the small Brazilian town of Paradise, after I had cried myself to sleep not before wishing for my own death, which happened shortly after I made this final journal entry:

I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my mind is diseased. I am a plagiarist. A slacker, loser, degenerate. Unkempt, slothful, a drunkard and a quitter. I am, at the root of everything, a coward.

A coward. Wishing myself to death is the closest I’d get to suicide, even if you handed me a knife and a loaded gun. Because I am a coward. But wishing death on myself was not without its purpose. It was the key that unlocked the door to all this. Shortly after my soliloquy with my maker, I fell back to sleep (as I have already mentioned) with tear-drenched eyes. When I rose from the bed, the tears had dried. I write rose, but what I mean is elevated. Levitated. The first phenomenon. But first. I sensed a presence in the room (visitation, the real first phenomenon). 

Has this ever happened to you, my friend? It is as though someone has entered the room, stands over you in your bed, watches you, and you know he (she? it?) is watching you, but you are wholly unable to open your eyes. This is precisely what happened to me. My flesh crawled, a wave of coldness coursed through my veins. I was terrified of this unholy intruder, for that is what it was, I was sure of it! I exerted the force of my mind to open my eyes and behold whatever it was that had trespassed into my sleeping quarters, but to no avail. I was paralyzed! I did not fear bodily harm. I knew my intruder was no mortal. The farm was safely tucked away in the woods, and the neighbors, many of whom I’d met in the first week of my stay, eaten and drunk with, were a kind lot, mostly inbreds. Besides, the house was quiet, and what would a thief want with me? No, I knew whatever presence was in my room was a ghost, a demon, or an alien. My initial inclination was to the first of these. Since Jonah had died, I’ve had several of these visitations, and never before his death. (How could it not be Jonah, coming to check on me? He was my mentor and my idol, and the day he passed, I asked him not to leave me. I even gave him permission to haunt me. I know it sounds ridiculous!) But after reading the book, I wondered about aliens. As I’ve said, the book says levitations, visitations, and (possibly) violations are all hallmarks of alien encounters. 

Before I knew it, the presence was gone. Beads of sweat had collected on my brow. This was no dream. Still too unnerved to look over my shoulder and verify the intruder’s absence (nonexistence? departure?), I fell back to sleep.

After the visitation came the levitation. It began with a glimpse of my brother. His face, smiling, made of light, rested on a fairy or unicorn’s body, and I was spun around the room three times in dizzying succession and, I kid you not, flung out of my body and landed, my spirit that is, in a corner of the room. From that vantage point I beheld my body lying motionless on the bed. Instinctively I moved (walked? glided? flew?) over to my journal, which rested on the bookshelf adjacent to the bed. There must have been some emotional attachment, and before I knew it I was back in my body, and fast asleep. 

Next came the violation, or sex dream. I lay with three beautiful women. One red haired, one blonde, the third a brunette. They were stimulating me (without touching me) and I was on the point of ejaculation, but for some reason I felt unclean (an unfamiliar feeling for a guy who has visited whores and massage parlors many a time) and pushed them away. They grew angry. Fangs sprouted from their teeth. They snarled at me. Then, they morphed into diminutive creatures, bald-headed and gray in color, and laughed at me, all three, before the dream ended and I awoke gasping for breath. I lit a cigarette, inhaled two puffs of smoke and began coughing. I needed air. I didn’t want to go back to sleep. Who knows what vision would follow? It was still nighttime and winter, but winter nights in Brazil are quite warm and breezy. I checked my watch. 2:34 A.M. Funny. I was born at precisely that time! 2:34 A.M. Outside the moon was full, or nearly so. Since arriving in Brazil I had made it a habit of taking walks in the woods. To get away. Be by myself. Why else does one take walks in the woods? Also, I have the habit of talking to myself, and I didn’t want anyone overhearing me. But this night I was drawn outside, inexorably. The creaking branches, the moaning wind, the eerie light of the moon through the clouds, all this conspired to create a mood that was just that, eerie. I wore what I had worn the evening before: bermuda shorts, an oversized t-shirt, my brother’s baseball cap (backwards), and flip-flops. I walked a distance of roughly fifty feet from the house – it was still in view – and found the rock I had taken to calling my own.  A boulder, really. Huge, with a flat face, rising from the ground at an angle of forty-five degrees, perfect for lying against and stargazing, and in this rural setting, how the stars did shine!

There I sat, in the moonlight, gazing at the firmament glistening overhead. In all my twenty-two years I’d never seen a sky like it. In L.A., you practically never see the stars, what with the smog and city lights. But here, in the middle of nowhere, there were millions of them. Some twinkled. Some were reddish. I saw a star fall from the sky. A shooting star. I thought of the Disney song, When you wish upon a star… I thought of what I wanted out of life, other than basically to die. My life was over. I had nothing. I was an outcast. I had no purpose. Where had my life gone wrong? A better question: had it ever been right? Another shooting star pierced the black sky. Strange, says I. I had never seen two shooting stars in the same night. I couldn’t remember ever seeing one, for that matter. Wasn’t that as rare as lightning striking twice? But this was no shooting star. What began as a spot of light dropping from above morphed into something a whole lot bigger. A circular thing, with flashing lights, incandescent, about as big as, I dunno, a large trampoline, but it was hard to tell how far away it was, so I had difficulty accurately gauging its size. And there were trees in its way. You can probably guess what happened at this point. If you’ve seen E.T. or Close Encounters, or read the work of H.G. Wells . . . A blue light beamed down. My first instinct was to get up and run, but I was rooted to my place there on the rock, as if it were a refrigerator, and I a magnet! The light blinded me, and so I tried to look to the side, but I could not. I was paralyzed. For the second time that night! I closed my eyes. Then, as in the dream I had had, I felt myself levitate. The effect was similar to what you feel in an elevator when it starts to move. Up I went, my insides turning over, my heart catching in my throat. Higher, higher, each time I opened my eyes a blinding flash of brilliance made me close them again. My whole body vibrated. In my ears I heard Wawawa, as though a helicopter were spinning inside of me. It got louder as I got closer. I opened my eyes again to see that I had arrived at the ship and I watched the door open. It slid up to reveal darkness. Standing there, first the feet, then the body, then the face, was a little guy, maybe four, at most five feet in height, with a large egg head and huge eyes, no mouth or nose, and no hair, just skin the color of bluish gray. And its body was covered by some sort of shiny suit with no buttons or zippers that I could see. From behind it appeared two other similar looking beings. Their eyes appeared over its shoulders. I landed on the floor of the spaceship, and I was still unable to move. They looked down on me, the three of them, then they looked at each other and nodded slowly. A very human gesture, I thought. As the door to the saucer began to close, I regained the use of my limbs, and turning my head looked down at the ground whence I came. I was surprised to see, there on the boulder, looking dreamily at the heavens, me. Myself. Or, the very image of me. My likeness! Whatever happened next, I cannot remember. I must have passed out.

I awoke some time later. My eyes scanned the room. It was all metal, from floor to ceiling. Seated on a chair in front of me was one of the little gray creatures. We stared at each other. I’d come to find that Ra (that was its name) could read my thoughts, and could speak despite the absence of a mouth. The voice was much more powerful than what one might associate with a being of such diminutive stature. Also, it had a slight English accent. It sounded like the actor Michael Keaton.

“Where am I?” I asked, rubbing my eyes as if doing so might erase this strange vision and restore me to the scenes of nature I had just left.

“Aboard a spacecraft,” was its laconic reply.

“How long have I been here?”

“Three hours, Earth time.”

“Why am I here?” asked I.

“You volunteered.”

“For what?”

What proceeded turned out to be the most amazing conversation I have ever had. This being, this Ra, told me some very interesting stuff. First, the aliens’ plan to mate with our race. This crossbreeding had been going on for some time now, long enough to get to the third and final stage. In the first two stages, the humanoids, as the product of alien/human copulation were called (I learned that hybrid, the popular term used on Earth to designate this race, the aliens find abhorrent) still looked too much like aliens to pass for humans. I was chosen to participate in the third stage. When I asked why the aliens wished to breed with humans, mix their DNA with an inferior species (I was parroting what I had read in my UFO book), Ra said they had great interest in the welfare of our planet – the inter-dimensional counsel did, that is, in whose service all souls worked – and if left to ourselves, humans would destroy the world. In fact, we already were. But by some universal law the aliens were prohibited from directly intervening in our affairs. Humans needed to do it for themselves. But we needed help. The hybrids – I mean humanoids – were the solution. The alien DNA would make them more highly evolved, and the upbringing they’d receive – by humans in positions of influence - would ensure that once they had infiltrated society, they’d swiftly climb the sociopolitical ladder. The humanoids were destined to be the next world leaders. Really only one was needed. This sounded a lot like an Anti-Christ scenario to me, or another Hitler. I mean, absolute power can only end badly for us all, can it not? Here I asked whether by mating with humans the aliens weren’t already influencing our affairs, and therefore in violation of this universal law of which Ra spoke. Ra was silent here, sparing only a slight shrug of his slender shoulders. A very human reaction, I felt. The third and final stage would produce an offspring that looked human but had enough alien DNA to achieve the right combination. There were many second generations walking around Earth, Ra told me. They were generally repulsive, but some had had success, mainly in the fields of finance and entertainment. The songstress Lady Gaga was a second generation. Christina Ricci, an actress, was another. Ra mentioned many others whom I won’t name. He went on to say that alien abduction had gone on for centuries but had come to the end of its road for reasons of jurisdiction and legislation and other complications he wouldn’t go into. I was the last abductee, and they’d rely on my genetic material to beget the third humanoid generation. In short, the fate of humanity, and of the alien nation, a term Ra coined, and which included residents of other planets on other star systems the universe over, was in my hands. My stomach rumbled. My lips were parched. My throat was dry. My limbs were sore, and my eyes burned. I had to take a dump. I tried to remember the last time I had eaten. I looked down at my crotch. The last time I had urinated had been more recent, as the wet spot around my zipper attested. I burped. I had that metallic taste that cheap beer leaves, combined with the aftertaste of vomit. I may have puked while still on Earth, I couldn’t remember. I regarded my body. Scrawny white legs covered by coarse black hair, scratched and bruised from many falls, many while drunk . . . the early formation of a beer belly . . . the chocolate smears on my shirt from where I’d eaten a box of Brazilian candy after being seized with the munchies the night before, they looked like skid marks of the anal variety. I sure cut a pathetic figure, and I was appointed the father of the race?

Ra offered a short critique on our way of life: killing other sentient creatures to feed ourselves, destroying the environment, depleting natural resources, waging unnecessary wars (Ra said all wars were unnecessary and stemmed from our reliance on meat-eating, which caused land and resource scarcity and consequent border disputes), raping, pillaging, plundering, killing our brothers, robbing our friends, sleeping with our neighbor’s wives. He criticized our pastimes, how most of what we paid good money for, calling it entertainment, was known as torture in other worlds, like our penchant for sitting, in front of the t.v., big screen, stage, field, in the car, at the desk, when eating, etc. He criticized our use of money. In other worlds, everything was free, and cooperation sprang naturally from an innate sense of goodwill. Humans were inane, idiotic, inefficient, and the grand irony was that we held in our unworthy hands the fate of the entire cosmos. The cosmos! How this could be possible was beyond me. I asked him why Earth was so important. His answer: if one link in the cosmic chain is compromised, the whole chain breaks, and the result is chaos. Also, since aliens live on this planet - many races of them peacefully going about their business, unknown to man, in subterranean caverns, and deep at sea, for instance – the Earth’s destruction would mean the lives of trillions of nonhuman beings, in addition to the ten billion or so homo sapiens. Trillions. Ra’s race, dwarfs relative to humans, were on the large end, as far as species size was concerned, and many alien races were microscopic. Bacteria were considered big by comparison. (Incidentally, some strains of bacteria were actually extraterrestrials, but I won’t go into that.) I wondered about the wholesomeness of the aliens’ designs. I had read about alien infiltration of our race in the book on the subject I had brought with me to Brazil, and there were two schools of thought. The first: the aliens had designs on our planet, and wanted to take us over from within, replacing members of our species one by one with alien look-alikes until no humans were around to tell the difference. This was the stuff of popular tales such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The second scenario, the one endorsed by Ra, was that aliens were older and more evolved than we humans, had given us technological advancements and parts of their DNA before, and this was just the most recent instance of the phenomenon of evolutionary upgrading, as Ra explained.

“Humans are inherently slow, dull-witted, and inept,” Ra said in his mesmerizing drawl. “Our race is behind every great achievement attributed to the human race, while humans are solely responsible for all the world’s tragedies. If not for us, humans would never have evolved from apes.”

I had seen 2001 Space Odyssey. I wondered whether he did, too. I did not ask, but he answered.

“We wrote it, he said. “To clue you fools in!” He went on: “Earth is a freewill planet. You can do as you please here. Which makes it so special, and so prone to disrepair. On other worlds, citizens abide by strict modes of conduct. They are not enforced. There are no laws. Morality is instinctual. Like a child who enters the world reaching for its mothers teat, we come into the world and simply behave, but not you, oh no!”

Ra said aliens genuinely loved humans but regarded us as retard bastard children (I paraphrase) who couldn’t be relied on to do anything right. Clearly he was also referring to me. I asked him again, why me? Why was I deemed worthy? If I were choosing the father of the next generation, I’d have gone more the direction of a Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp. I was more Groucho Marx meets Charlie Chaplin. In response Ra repeated what he had said earlier: “You volunteered.”

I didn’t remember doing so, and I told him this.

“Maybe not in so many words.”

He reminded me of my death wish, for lack of a better term.

“Some kill themselves and are gone before we can intervene. Others simply wish it.”

“The cowards,” I interjected.

“We are free to do with the cowards as we see fit. It is universal decree.”

“Who makes these decrees? Is there a God?”

“A difficult answer,” Ra reflected. “I’ll start by saying there is no heaven or hell, no religion, no reincarnation, and no death. I’ll leave it up to you to infer the existence of God from this.”

I had forgotten about God. I keyed in to the subject of death. “If there is no death, as you say, then suicides—”

“Simply transmute.” Then: “Enough stalling!”

I could tell he was getting frustrated, a very human emotion, so I shifted gears. 

“Why me?” I asked.

Surely others wished for their own death but lacked the courage to go about it in the same night as I, surely one other person in ten billion?

Ra shook his head. “Only you.”

For the first time in life, I felt unique, almost . . . special. Even if I was no Brad Pitt.

“You are mighty in our eyes,” says Ra.

I looked down at my gangly arms. “Mighty?”

“Where I come from, no one stands taller than four feet ten inches. You are nearly six feet tall. You are stronger, more robust. You have a higher sperm count. It would take ten of us to approach the strength of one Justin Bane (my name).”

“Well then,” I says, “perhaps the better question is, why you?” I was speaking only partly in jest. Ra’s legs were spindlier than my own.

“What we lack in physical constitution we more than make up for in smarts, to put it dumbly. We are the most intelligent species in the multiverse, and nothing less will do, if Earth is to be saved. Our brains, coupled with your brawn—”

Ra didn’t complete the thought, but he seemed supremely satisfied staring off into an imaginary distance. Another expression I had always taken for uniquely human, although dogs seem to do it too.

I was on the point of saying, “Who’s the lucky girl?” and throwing myself headlong into the enterprise of siring the next race, as it were. I was filled with sexual frustration. I had had two months of blue balls. That was how long I had lain with Marisol without one instance of ejaculatory release, and I had not masturbated since coming to Brazil (in a house filled with kids – Marisol had two younger sisters, and each had brought along a friend – I was too preoccupied with getting caught in the act to ever, you know, get it up). A week was a long time for a twice a day spanker. Translation: lots of sperm. And you know what that means: the first humanoid would likely be a boy! But then I remembered what I had read in the book about abductions and anal probing and artificial insemination and semen extraction being, let’s just say, less than pleasant. Why would I submit to this? And did I even have a choice? 

Ra read my mind. “You will submit because it will be pleasant, we assure you. And no, you do not have a choice.”

“But I thought you said Earth was a free will planet,” I said.

“It is, but you are not on Earth,” Ra replied, pointing below.

At this point I happened to remember my levitation, and leaving myself on the ground stargazing. What happened to that me? Had I died and was now disembodied? It was strangely similar to the body snatching scenario . . . What if an alien would take over my body and pose as me, as part of a plan to replace the human race one at a time and take over the world? What if all this talk of my being the father of the hybrid, I mean humanoid, race was just a dupe, a ploy, a fabrication, a distraction, a what have you, and my doppelganger was right now planting his seed in a woman and giving rise to the alien nation? If this was the case, I hoped he had better luck than I. And with Marisol. Once again, Ra read my thoughts.

“That you, your pathetic Earth self, will be fine. You are not dead. There is no death. And even if there were (I marveled at his perfect English: I could never train myself to use the conditional ‘were’ with any consistency) – down there you’re walking around as if nothing ever happened.” Ra thought about it. “Hmmm, maybe with a bit of a hangover, and a bad case of blue balls, which Olaris is working on.”

“Olaris?”

“The one who took you over.”

“I knew it!” says I. “You are planning to infiltrate our race, starting with me.”

“Nonsense,” Ra said, shaking his head, again the annoyance in his tone. I was thankful for his pint size, or else I might feel threatened. “Olaris will just be keeping up appearances, while you are away, reproducing.”

“I’m not convinced,” I said, giving my head several gruff shakes. “No one can play me but me. He’s bound to fuck it up, excuse my language.”

“If he, as you say, foibles it up, then he’ll play his part to a T. Look at what you’ve made of your own life.”

We stared at each other. I looked down at my scrawny legs and calloused feet. 

“Not much to look at, is there?” Ra said. “Olaris’s input will be an improvement, if it is anything. You will find, on your return, I assure you, that being Justin Bane is not a bane at all, but actually a bounty. A boon, if you will. Ha ha. I made a pun. I always wished to do that. He he!”

But I wasn’t laughing. The thought of another person, thing, alien being, masquerading as me . . . but why should I care? I had wished for death. Had my wish been granted, I’d be disembodied. As it was, I had merely been transplanted. I would be free return to Earth when my tour of duty, as I took to calling it, was through. I decided to plunge myself to the task at hand, which Ra said would be—
“Pleasurable, yes, you’ll find it so, quite.”

I wanted to know the details. How long would the process last? Would I be mating with the Grays’ version of Salma Hayek (I like ‘em busty) or perhaps Maria Sharapova (I like ‘em big too)? How would we do it? Traditional missionary? Was there such a thing where they came from? Perhaps I’d learn a new position or two. Imagine, losing my virginity to an alien centerfold! Where would we do the deed? On Earth? In outer space? Would we be weightless? In an arena? Would we have an audience? What if they just handed me a stack of stag mags, sent me to the bathroom, and told me to do my thing?

As long as I wasn’t subjected to a suction cup or unpleasant device to, you know, summon sperm from my sac, I was in. Even if we were watched. I supposed being watched by aliens was like your dog watching you take a crap. It didn’t really make you feel self-conscious. I was in. But I wanted to know the details.

“When we next meet,” Ra said. “You must be hungry, and thirsty, and . . .” he looked at my crotch, where the pee stain had dried to a yellowish residue the shape of a Rorschach. “Hmmm.”

“Yes,” I wanted to say. “Very much. All of the above.” But I wasn’t about to show my hand. Too much enthusiasm always backfires. And so I said: “What if I don’t want to go along with it?”

Ra became very grave. “If you don’t . . . ” He shrugged. “Even aliens cannot predict the future. But I can assure you, it won’t be good.”

“That’s intimidation,” I said. “Underhanded, even for an alien. Such a tactic will get you nowhere with me.”

“I can also say that if you do go along with the insemination plan,” Ra went on, “you will see your brother again.”

“Get to see Jonah!” I exclaimed (I have only one brother). “But-but Jonah’s dead!”

Ra stared at me. “Right, there is no death,” I said, getting it.

I was in.

*

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth . . .

Olaris had entered Justin’s body. It took him a few moments to orient himself. His mission was simple: to babysit the body until the insemination process was concluded and the Grays had no further need for the real Mr. Bane. The instructions were simple. Don’t stand out. Fit in.

Olaris picked himself up off the rock, dusted himself off, and slowly made his way back to Justin’s room. It was now dawn. Olaris stood on the porch and watched the sun rise. Although his planet didn’t have a sun, or perhaps because of its absence, he found it gave him exquisite pleasure to watch its golden rays embrace the world. Not long afterwards, a girl joined him on the front porch. This was Marisol (although he didn’t know it yet). She gave him a withering look, shaking her head, but said nothing. 

“Who am I?” Olaris asked Marisol, to verify that he had not entered the wrong body by mistake (errors of this type had sometimes been made).

“Who are you?” Marisol repeated, wincing as if she had bit into a sour grape. “You’re an asshole.” Having said this, she promptly walked to her room and slammed the door. Olaris  wondered what in the world Justin had done to receive such a reception. Though the aliens had been watching Justin for quite some time (as a malcontent, he represented a potential volunteer) Olaris had not been involved in any way with the insemination project. Olaris was an engineer. It was his job to assure the spaceship ran smoothly, with no knocks or pings. Anook had taken his place. Olaris disliked Anook, whom he considered conceited and rude, and his craftsmanship shoddy, but this is beside the point. In order to more convincingly play Justin, Olaris thought it best to gather information about the young man, and since asking others didn’t seem to work on Earth – it worked quite well for Olaris and other aliens, as most alien races were blunt and to the point, speaking their minds freely and without artifice, as all intelligent beings do – he resolved to go into Justin’s bedroom and determine from its contents something about their owner. On entering, the first thing he noticed was the stink. Justin’s room smelled of dirty socks. Olaris looked down at his (Justin’s) feet, and found he wasn’t wearing any socks. Seating himself on the unmade bed, he moved aside a half-eaten bag of potato chips and proceeded to examine his (Justin’s) feet with exquisite care and diligence. Both feet were inflicted with a rather florid case of athlete’s foot. Red scales ran along the sides of the toes, into the web spaces, had even begun eating away at the great toe nail. He put his toes to his nose. Sure enough, they smelled like dirty socks. Poor hygiene. Diabetes. Immunosuppression. These were all possible causes of such shabby-looking toes. Looking on the bed, on which crumbs and stains of various shapes and colors resided, mingled with the occasional fingernail (Justin was a compulsive nail-biter) Olaris opined that the cause of Justin’s (and now his) athlete’s foot was poor hygiene. He sensed an itch in his crotch. It seemed the same fungus had migrated to his groin to produce jock itch. Olaris then scratched the stubble on his cheek. This Justin character was an inveterate slob! The room was a mess. A damp and dirty towel was strewn over the desk, the bedding was in disarray, dirty underwear decorated the bedside lamp. A scuffed suitcase lay haphazardly in the corner. It was open, and a collection of clothes, books, and other miscellany bulged out of it. There was an ashtray on the desk, spilling over with cigarettes in various stages of having been smoked. Olaris crinkled Justin’s nose and frowned. Grays didn’t drink, eat, breathe, or smoke, and never ceased to marvel at humans’ preoccupation with these life-sustaining, and in some cases, life-draining, pursuits. It was bad enough to be obsessed with food, as so many humans seemed to be, but at least it was necessary for one’s health. But smoking? Sucking yourself full of pollutants? Killing yourself puff by puff? And paying for it? He glanced at the bedside wastebasket, which was brimful with empty beer cans, flattened rather neatly into shiny circles. Olaris thought they looked like miniature flying saucers. At least Justin possessed one talent (the talent for destruction). Olaris caught sight of a backpack on the floor by the desk. He opened it to examine its contents and found there a package of cigarettes, one metal pipe, a bag of a greenish, pungent herbaceous plant. Druggie paraphernalia, muttered Olaris, familiar with the pot and the pipe from having watched Cheech and Chong movies (American movies, particularly from the 80’s were intergalactic favorites). The backpack also contained a pad of paper, canary yellow. On the first page, written in bold, were the words: Seduction in Paradise. It appeared to be a journal. The entries dated back several days, and were written in spurts of five to ten pages per date, in mostly illegible scrawl, two, sometimes three entries a day. It gave off the flavor of a novel, at least began that way, about a seduction, written in the first person, in self-conscious, stilted, ornate prose, but the narrative had abruptly ended two days before, giving way to a journal which was . . . to put it kindly . . . really pathetic to read. Olaris read it all, however, but the final words pretty much summed up the gist.

I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my mind is diseased. I am a plagiarist.  A slacker, loser, degenerate. Unkempt, slothful, a drunkard and a quitter. I am, at the root of everything, a coward.

Olaris had asked who Justin was, and there was his answer. He set down the novel/journal and regarded his borrowed body in the full-length mirror by the bed, his eyes scanning himself from head to toe, noting salient features. Height: approximately six feet. Weight:180 pounds, give or take. Build: Lanky, but with a beer belly (the term skinny fat man was one with which Olaris was unfamiliar). Legs: knobby, hairy, pale. Eyes: bespectacled. He peered into the mirror. Justin’s eyes were blue. My best feature, Olaris said. He took off his glasses but it felt as though he were trying to look at his reflection underwater, everything was blurry, so he put them on again. He wore a baseball cap backwards. He took it off. His hair, like matted steel wool, rose nearly six inches from the crown. He replaced the cap on his head. Olaris lay Justin’s body on the bed and stared at the overhead ceiling fan, which was spinning lazily. He had his work cut out for him. His instructions were to fit in. Not to stand out. This meant acting as Justin would at all times. But Justin was a slob, slacker, loser, bum, by his own admission. Olaris was none of these things. On his planet, he was a highly regarded man of applied science. An Einstein, if you will. If his planets allowed patents - it didn’t: everything was common property, for the common good, but if it did, he’d have dozens of them. He had been alive some 74,000 years, and travelling to the far reaches of the multiverse was only possible because of his groundbreaking discoveries. Olaris had volunteered to come to Earth, patiently waited in line for his number to come up. He had waited for millennia! Abduction numbers were down, and aliens, at least those on his planet, could only become human in place of the abductees, while they were away. This was the final abduction, and he just so happened to get the call. He would not let the opportunity go to waste. Though humans were slow, stubborn, clumsy, full of ineptitude, close-mined, and simple, there were many perks to being human, not the least of which concerns the pleasures of the flesh. It would be possible to indulge the new senses, enjoy food, drink, and other delights, but the benefit extended well beyond mere sensuality. The real benefit, of course, had to do with the matter of free will. On Earth, unlike anywhere else, and we’ve mentioned this already, but it deserves reiterating, because it is of vital importance, on Earth, we repeat, one can do as one pleases.  Lie in bed eating peanut butter pretzels and watching porn. Climb to the top of the highest mountain. Sit in traffic two hours a day then behind a desk another eight. Bask in the sun. Earn a million dollars. Slit your best-friend’s throat. Whatever your pleasure. Sure there were consequences. Eat too much, get fat. Spend too much, go broke. Commit a crime, get caught and submit to the consequences of incarceration. But if you were mindful, aware, judicious . . . Olaris was all of these things, peerlessly. What he was not was a loser, slob, degenerate coward, all the things that Justin confessed to being. On the spacecraft, as Olaris, he had promised to fit in on Earth, to act the part. But now he was not Olaris. He was Justin. And for however long the insemination process took, and it could be days, months, or longer, he was on Earth, and would enjoy his free will. He would do as he pleased. Not as Justin did. Smoking, drinking, masturbating, and eating large quantities of processed foods. This was not his idea of a good time. But sex as a superior alternative to masturbating . . . and Olaris did find Earth women rather appealing. They were taller than aliens, more curvaceous. On his planet there was little difference between the sexes, except that males had a penises, and women had vaginas (but no breasts: they did not suckle their young, who like alien adults, did not require nourishment). Earthlings were so very different. Earth women were soft, sensuous . . . Olaris had a wife on his planet – she was also an engineer, and a very busy one at that – but no children (no time!). Would his wife mind if he dabbled a little? On his planet, a male’s penis was about the size of a child’s pinkie, which was more or less proportionate to such a small build.

His groin itched. He pulled his shorts down to inspect himself. And he noticed: Justin was hung like an elephant. At least one thing about the aborted novel was true. . . .

Olaris read Justin’s journal a second time, noting several misspellings, and an abundance of grammatical snafus. The characters were see-through thin, and the plot wooden, even for a romance novel, as Justin’s was intended to be, though Olaris would have classified it more as a combination of fantasy and soft porn. Looking at his reflection, Olaris summed Justin’s attempt at wooing a wayward girl and chronicling his success in two words: wishful thinking. Olaris had read many novels back home. As with movies, Earthlings were alone in the multiverse for their production of literature. No alien wrote novels or created art or music, because novels, and art, and music, served no real purpose, other than to be enjoyed, and aliens were born happy and unlike humans, stayed that way despite or perhaps because of the lack of entertainment. But novels were his guilty pleasure. They were not forbidden, just frowned upon. And always when finishing a novel, even those written by great masters, he’d never fail to say to himself, I could do better. If only I were a writer, and human. And now he was both. He didn’t know how long he’d be human. As we’ve said, the insemination process could take weeks or longer, judging from prior stages, Olaris had read all about it in his planet’s version of the newspaper, it was a pretty drawn out ordeal, at least the first two stages had been. And the third stage was bound to prove more complicated. As the humanoids took on more human characteristics, they required distinctly human things. Courtship. Wooing. Roses. In some cases, jewels. Promises of an eternity together. The humanoid women were coy. Aliens were never coy. Aliens never demurred for its own sake. Aliens never required any tokens of appreciation, no sweet nothings. Aliens were unromantic. Sex served one purpose. It was for the procreation and perpetuation of the race. (From this you’d have thought that aliens had founded Catholicism, but as we said religion is a distinctly human phenomenon.) Females ovulated once a year, the ideal mate chosen (often not her mate) and sex took place antiseptically, in a hermetically-sealed vault not much bigger than a tomb, and complication free. No bodily fluids were exchanged, other than sperm. Aliens did not sweat. The community raised the children. It was not left merely to the father and mother. What a silly notion, that! Aliens found it ridiculous that humans left the rearing of their kids to a pair of (largely incompetent) individuals who often held jobs, sometimes two, and were children themselves, judging by their tastes and pastimes and conversations; or handed their children off to teachers that who beat them with straight edges, priests who would molest them with straight edges, nannies who’d ignore them. No wonder Earth had become a dumping ground for incorrigible souls. The wastebasket of the multiverse. Tough love!

Olaris was happy he had been born on his planet, but happy for the opportunity to be human. He looked at his watch. It looked like the black plastic Casio with a Velcro band and digital face that Justin wore. But it was not Justin’s watch. It was a replica, only instead of the time was a blank face. The watch that was not a watch would turn red and go beep when Olaris’s time was up and when Justin was scheduled to return. Until then, he would spend his days freely and with impunity.

Just then a knock at the door. Marisol’s mother, he surmised. She looked like an older version of the aborted novel’s heroine. She asked him if he was ready. He replied that he was. He was ready for anything. She told him, in a mixture of English and Portuguese, that they were leaving in five minutes. The family was bound for the second destination in their six-week, three-city Brazilian trip. They were leaving Paradise and heading to the coast, to the state of Bahia. Now this represented a problem. Olaris had no way of contacting the ship to notify them of his change of location. He did not know whether they’d be able to find him if he left the town, and if they couldn’t find him, life as Olaris would end and life as Justin would be permanent. Aliens had been abducting humans for longer than Olaris had been alive. The first time was probably half a million years ago, maybe more. You’d think they’d have devised a tracking system! For all Olaris knew the watch may function as a tracking system. He didn’t design it so he wasn’t quite sure. Thus he was faced with his first challenge: whether to leave the town with his hostess’s family and risk being lost by the aliens, or stay in town (how he’d go about convincing the family to let him do so was another matter) so he could stay close to where the ship had dropped him off, but doing so would leave him stranded in a strange land with a bunch of unfamiliars. Then Marisol appeared at the door, looking glorious in a dress the color of sunrise. She stuck her tongue out at him. The expression was clearly meant to convey extreme distaste, but Olaris found it curiously inviting. He saw instantly what Justin had seen in the girl. She was the embodiment of all that he had written about her. He was smitten. He packed his bag in two minutes, cleaned the room after three, brushed his teeth, washed his face, and was in the car with time to spare.

Meanwhile, back on the spaceship . . . 

The spaceship came equipped with two rooms. The one Justin was in consisted of nothing but a floor , four walls, and a ceiling. One of the four walls rotated to reveal a high backed chair on which Ra had been seated during their first meeting, at the end of which the wall rotated and Ra had disappeared. Justin’s meals had appeared to him via a slot at the bottom of one of the walls. He had only to call out what he wanted and it was instantly served to him. He asked for a bed, and one manifested. Through a segment the size of a bed in the wall slid out to reveal the bed. After Justin had been regaled with as much food and drink as he could consume, and of the varieties he had requested (meat, cheese, and beer mostly) and allowed to sleep for as long as he wished, and do everything else he pleased, and that could be done in a room not much larger than a jail cell, and with no amenities, his host returned and informed him that they would continue their conversation on the home planet. Justin was wary of traveling far from Earth. As it was, to avoid detection by Earth-based surveillance systems, the spaceship had had to ascend to an elevation from which Earth looked like a maze of brown, blue and green ink smudges, and how this sufficed to evade satellite surveillance did not even occur to Justin, but if it had, he’d have been at a total loss. But this was beside the point. He was home sick, even though he really didn’t have a home. He was afraid of heights, and wanted down. 

“What do you have to tell me that you can’t say here?” he asked Ra, hoping to buy some time.

Ra informed him that as showing was superior to telling, it behooved them to repair to the home planet where Justin could meet his mate for a day without further ado. The host explained that she was a second generation, meaning a child of a humanoid and a human, meaning she was two-thirds human.

“If you do the math, your child will be two point five thirds human, roughly eighty percent.”

Justin wished to know what part of his child would be human and what part would be alien.

“The twenty percent, the alien part, we are hoping will reside upstairs, in the noggin,” said Ra, pointing to his own head to demonstrate its whereabouts. “The brain is equivalent to roughly twenty percent of one’s body weight – aliens, rather; human brains weigh only a few pounds, which probably explains the species-wide idiocy. Twenty percent conforms to our designs rather neatly.” Justin thought about it. Christina Ricci wasn’t all that bad, and she was a second generation. He hated Lady Gaga, though.

“If I don’t like the girl you choose for me to . . . you know, can I choose another?”

“We are not a brothel, my dear sir,” replied Ra. “You cannot,” and here Ra gave the sign one does when quoting someone, the peace sign with wiggly fingers, “have your pick.” Justin wished to know how many millions of miles, or light years, or what have you, they’d have to travel to get to Ra’s planet, assuming he was okay with going, and he still hadn’t decided.

“Miles don’t apply,” responded Ra. “Our planet does not lie in your universe but in a parallel one. We travel there by accessing a portal invisible to the human eye. Arrival time is instantaneous.”

The science fiction novels that Justin had read had never explored multiverses and parallel realities, and so he didn’t know what he was getting into, but he was adventurous by nature, not to mention rather horny at this point. So Justin gave Ra the thumbs up, which he assumed was a universal, or in this case a multiversal, sign, indicating he was in. Ra understood.

“Are you comfortable?” asked Ra.

Justin replied that he was comfortable, but he was also claustrophobic and lonely. Ra suggested that both of these feelings may be alleviated if they repaired to the planet forthwith, which meant immediately. Ra began to rotate in his chair. Justin asked whether the other room, where Ra came from and was returning to, was the control room. Ra shook his head, saying that the spacecraft was a mental fabrication, and Ra, and his voice, just vehicles for getting the message across. Justin wondered whether his body was also a mental projection. Ra nodded, then shook his head. It was a mental projection, but different from the type of one the aliens employed. They used holographic images to assumed the forms that their minds desired. Justin’s body was gross, as all human bodies were. This was not meant to be a put-down, just a physical description, like gross anatomy.

“All this will become more familiar to you once you arrive on our planet. You get the information by osmosis.”

Justin didn’t know what osmosis was.

“You will,” Ra assured. “You are much smarter on the other side. Coming here, to Earth, there is a dumbing down that occurs, which may explain why you humans screw things up so much of the time.”

“So you’re stupider here too?”

Ra nodded. “Still smarter than you.” Justin thought he was gloating, or was being a braggadocio merely a pathetic front for self-consciousness, perhaps insecurity? Suddenly Justin was seized by the desire to squeeze the little blue-gray creature. Ra looked like Gollum, a good-natured version. He was so cute! Justin had always wanted to be smarter. He had always wondered what the world looked like through the eyes of Einstein. Ra told him that Einstein was a humanoid. “First generation, so only fifty percent alien. Your son will be eighty percent, which is thirty percent smarter.”

“Wait,” Justin said. “I thought you said my son will be eighty percent human.”

“I said that,” said Ra.

“No you didn’t,” corrected Justin.

“Whatever,” said Ra.

“How do you know I’ll have a son?” Justin asked. “I thought you said you couldn’t see the future.” Justin didn’t remember whether Ra had in fact said that Grays couldn’t see the future, maybe he just assumed it, because he didn’t think it possible.

“Enough talking!” Ra said. “How humans love to stall.”

“But, just one more question,” Justin said. “Will I come back? To Earth, I mean. Will I return?”

Ra nodded his head slowly. “After the insemination process is concluded.”

“Insemi-what?”

“After you’ve knocked her up, yes.”

“And will I be dumb again?”

Ra said: “You’re not dumb. You just lack creativity. Who knows, there may be a story in all this, by the time we’re through. Come, let us go.”

Ra vacated the spot on his chair, motioned for Justin to seat himself, which he did. Ra then seated himself on Justin’s lap, the door rotated, and his life was forever changed.

The first thing Justin noticed on the new planet was how light he felt, and how bright everything looked. He thought he may be wearing a new pair of glasses, but when he reached for them he discovered he wasn’t wearing any glasses at all. And his clothes – he wasn’t wearing any clothes either. He was naked as the day he was born. Ra instructed that while visiting the planet, Justin would not need to eat, sleep, breathe, or drink, though he could eat and drink if he chose to. All his body’s needs would be placed on hold in this weightless, airless environment. All he needed to do was plant his seed. Justin’s first thought was he never wanted to leave this place. It was like being in the Amazon rain forest, without the mosquitos or other critters. Exotic plants, dewdrops, the colors of the rainbow and others that Justin never knew existed. It was like being in a snow globe without the snow. Or on the set of the movie Avatar. As they walked through the square or the city or the park – Justin couldn’t tell which, as modernity coexisted with nature – all the little blue-gray people seemed to stop and stare at him, and what’s more, to nod their approval. Justin turned to Ra questioningly. 

“They’ve been expecting you, and are very pleased it is you.”

Justin noticed that many eyes strayed to the fleshy protuberance between his legs, which happened to semi-erect at the moment, and he wondered whether this was the cause of the approval. Ra and the other aliens were also naked, and none was nearly so well endowed. Pricks like pinkies, Justin said inwardly, and instantly felt ashamed at the lewdness of his remark.

“It is really best not to waste time, so rather than show you around, let’s introduce you to the girl in question.”

But first, Ra expressed some very interesting little tidbits. “In order for mind to express itself, it must choose a form. Earth’s is the grossest form. Flesh and blood. Rot and decay. Other realms it is more subtle, the flesh, if you can call it that, more pliable. On some the distinction between thought and manifestation is one of degrees, instants, and on our planet thought itself is a manifestation, simultaneous with itself. For your eyes, we’ve adopted an expression more physical in nature. Or else you couldn’t see us, or touch us. And you need to be able to see, and to feel, for obvious reasons.”

They arrived at the end of the street and stopped in front of a building with the words Motel Bar in blinking neon.

“So we’ve conjured up a motel room, and a bar, and will place the two of you inside. We’ve found it is better to simulate the art of courtship rather than adopt the very primitive form of insemination you are probably familiar with.”

“Stag mags and plastic cup.”

Ra nodded. “We don’t want you to feel like merely a sperm donor.”

“But isn’t that what I am?”

“Yes, but we want you to form a bond with Helena.”

“Helena?”

“The name we’ve given her, for your sake.”

“What’s her real name?” Justin asked.

“Her birth name would be unpronounceable to you. Let’s not bother with it.” Ra swatted at the space between them as though shooing a fly. “We want you to develop a relationship with Helena. This is very important. Determines the soul that will choose Helena as its birthing vehicle.”

“The soul?”

“All beings have souls. Regardless of the planet, or star, or universe. Souls, or spirits, or essences, or potentials, call them what you will, travel to where they are needed most, or if they are wayward souls, to where they can learn the most lessons in the manner most expedient to their development. In the present instance, for the first member of the third stage race, we are trying to attract a soul of the highest caliber. A godchild. To do that, we need the right energy. For that, Helena must have feelings for you. Feelings! And of the right sort. Not anger, frustration, disappointment, or ambivalence. You are familiar with these emotions. You have excited them in members of the opposite sex before, I am sure.” Ra added, shaking his finger up at Justin like an angry schoolmaster in miniature: “You must not screw this up like you did with the Brazilian lesbian back on Earth!”

“You could have selected a better human,” Justin said, not up for the task. “I don’t have a great track record, as far as, you know, wooing women is concerned.”

Ra shrugged and held his hands in the air, as if to say, we must work with what we have. A very human gesture.

“So let me get this straight,” Justin said after a time. “You want me to pick this Helena up in a bar, and take her to a motel room, this one here,” he pointed at the building in front of which they stood, “where I seduce her, we have sex, and nine months later.”

“Thirteen months on our planet, but who’s counting?”

“Thirteen months later, she pops out this high being with twenty percent alien DNA who will be the savior of humanity.”

“Yes. But the sex must be consensual. She is humanoid, remember. She has free will.”

“I wasn’t hinting at forcing myself on her, I was just saying that . . . wouldn’t it be better to set the tone . . . I dunno, in a meadow or park, or five-star hotel or maybe a palace, if you’re trying to attract a high being?”

“High beings are indifferent to signs of status,” Ra replied. “They respond to energy.”

“I’m talking about Helena. Wouldn’t she feel . . . isn’t it more appropriate . . . hey, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, guy! I could have a motel any old time. What about a castle on a cliff, or something out of Perrault?”

“No,” Ra said. “A bar followed by a motel room is what has been planned. It is what was in our budget. It will have to do.”

Ra went onto say that none of this could appear in any way planned or scripted. Helena had to feel that Justin was an Earthling merely visiting from Earth (Earthlings did this, now and then) who had seen her from across the room and was instantly smitten by her “radiant beauty and unparalleled charms.” Love at first sight was a phrase she’d understand, hyperbole was speaking her language, and so forth. But Ra could not give more specific advice; he was not versed in matters of courtship. On his planet, matings were arranged, and so he couldn’t tell Justin what he should do, but Helena would know, being part human, and having watched a lot of American T.V., soap operas mostly. 

Justin wished to know why Helena had been chosen as the mother of the third generation.

“It is her job. Her birthright. Humanoids have been created for the express purpose of contributing to the alien revolution. Ultimately all roads have led to her, and to you, and to the product of your loins. Her soul’s purpose is to become pregnant by you. Your soul’s purpose is to seduce her so that you may plant your seed.”

Justin thought how he’d been right in viewing himself as a seducer. He thought back to his aborted novel, his beloved Seduction in Paradise. The object of his affections, Marisol, had been wrong. But his mission – getting her into bed – had been spot on. He felt he could have chosen a better body for a seducer, but on this planet, he was a veritable superman, standing over a foot taller than anyone else, and hung like the devil himself.

“Helena is a lonely woman. We, the Grays, don’t interest her, nor do the first generations. There are not many of her kind, not many second generations, and even they bore her.”

Viewing herself as superior to the Grays (physically) and yet superior to humans (mentally), she was somewhere in the middle, in a sort of no man’s land. Justin knew the place well. He thought of his attraction to Marisol. In trying to win her affections, he had been barking up the wrong tree.

Ra said, “I can tell you have many more questions, but in the interest of time I will answer all your queries in a few words. There aren’t many bars and motels on our planet. Consider yourself lucky to be about to enter one. The few around exist solely for the humanoids, a type of playground, and for the aliens that desire to watch, as one would do at the zoo. Aliens and humanoids are not at all self-conscious. There is no such thing as privacy. Everything that happens, happens under public scrutiny. There are no homes. The planet is our home. We take, we give back, we share.”

“Does the motel room have a door?” Justin asked.

“A frame, but the door is removed. So viewers can watch. This is a matter of multiversal importance, this mating between you and Helena, the fate of the cosmos is in your . . . but we want it to feel as natural as walking the dog. But remember, you must inseminate her today. Plant your seed.” Ra did a mini pelvic thrust twice. “Humanoids, like aliens, ovulate only once per year. Today is the day.”
Justin wanted to know what would happen if he failed to get the job done.

“You sure do ask a lot of questions. Curiosity killed the cat. Just go.” Ra thrust Justin through the doors and into the bar.

A bit later . . . 

“I have behaved pathetically,” Justin wrote. He was seated at the desk of the imaginary motel room drinking a glass of imaginary . . . what was it, something blue and fizzy that he had ordered from the bar. 

What follows is his account of the events which took place subsequent to Justin’s entering the bar.

I entered the place. It was bustling. There were humanoids. And there were aliens. But no humans except for me. Of course I felt special . . . they were gawking at me like I was some zoo animal! Manly first generations (I could tell by the rather striking resemblance to pure Grays). I saw Helena over at the bar, recognized her because she was the only second generation around. But I have to say, she was not my type. I like them tallish, blondish, buxom; she was short, with bulgy eyes and a huge forehead. But she must have sensed me looking at her because she was sucking down her drink from a straw and looked right at me. She motioned for me to come over by wiggling her index finger. I did so. I navigated a sea of inquiring faces and eventually made it to her table. She said that I looked like I had something to tell her. She didn’t seem to care that I was fully human. I was at a loss for words. I knew I was supposed to tell her that she was my special purpose, or how my special purpose was to have sex with her. That’s how things are done here, right? People are blunt about things? But I also needed to be romantic. Oh, forget it. I couldn’t do it. Not even if she was the last human on Earth - and she wasn’t even human, and we weren’t on Earth! What had I agreed to?

“Sit down,” she said.

I did. She lit a cigarette. On Earth I smoked, but here I didn’t feel like it. Such a filthy habit. I was also rather unselfconscious about being naked, and her being naked too. She had no boobs. She did, however, have nipples. They were the size of pennies and flat, as though the skin had merely been tattooed.

“They’ve sent you to me, haven’t they?” she said through a smoky haze.

“Why, yes,” I said. “Was I that obvious?”

She took another drag from her cigarette. “I’m ovulating, and it only happens once a year, and they always send me someone when I’m ovulating.”

I looked at her.

“You’re probably wondering what I do at other times of the year.”

“Actually, no. I was wondering who they usually send you.”

“Humans, obviously. Abductees. No one famous. No one you’ve heard of.”

“They said abductions have ended.”

“Since when?”

“Since me.”

“That’s the first I’ve heard of it.” She took another drag of her cigarette. “If that’s the case, now is your only chance.”

“Chance to do what?”

“To have sex with an alien.”

“You’re more human than alien, actually. Sixty-some percent, is what they told me.”

She looked at me.

“Am I wrong?”

“No, you’re right. You’re kind of cute, in a nerdy sort of way.”

“I get that a lot. The nerdy part, at least.”

“Tell me something,” Helena said, stubbing out her cigarette and turning to face me. “Am I your fantasy?”

“How do you mean?”

“Just that . . . everyone has a fantasy girl. Who’s yours?”

I thought about it. “I dunno.”

“Come on. If it will help you think of someone, I’ll tell you mine.”

“Okay, then,” I said. Then: “Wait, that won’t do any good. I don’t know any famous aliens.”

“Human, silly. Aliens are a bunch of twirps.”

“Okay. Human, then.”

“Angelina Jolie.”

“She’s a girl.”

“She’s a girl,” she repeated, lighting another cigarette. “Now, tell me yours. Who’s your fantasy girl?”

I thought about it.  I didn’t have to think very long.“Kim Basinger,” I said.

“Does she still work?”

I shrugged.

“I haven’t seen her since The Marrying Man."

“With Alec Baldwin.”

I nodded. “She’s had my heart since then.”

“That was a lifetime ago, your time.”

“Ten years is not that long.”

“Time is relative. Here minutes pass, there, as many years.”

Before I could respond to this, Helena asked again: “Does she still work? The last time she was in the tabloids—”

“You get the tabloids?”

“We read yours. Aliens are always observing humans. It’s because they have no life. Their only shot at a life is to become human.”

“Like you,” I said.

“Uhhh, not really, not quite. More.”

“Ah, the infamous third generation.”

“Ra told you all about it, did he?” she said, swirling her drink.”

 “Yeah, the next world leader, to bring in the new age and all that hullaballoo.”

“Is that the crap they’re feeding abductees these days?” She lit another cigarette and took a deep drag. She looked at me squarely. “They have other plans.” Her tone was ominous.

I shrugged. “Not my concern. I’m just here to do my job.” And then I thought about my job, and realized I didn’t want to do it, not with Helena. She was too old, and her voice was hoarse, and her skin was wrinkled. Her hair was stringy and dry, and done back in a pony tail, which was pencil thin and wispy. I’ve always viewed hair as a sign of personality, and sex appeal. She didn’t have much. Hair, or personality, or sex appeal.

Helena ordered me a drink. I can’t remember the name. All syllables and consonants. It came blue and steaming, like something you’d see brewing in a witch’s cauldron. She settled back on her bar stool and took a sip of her drink. “They plan to take over the world,” she said. “I want no part of it, of course. Which is why I’ve let myself go.” She looked down at her leathery arms and then at me. “Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed.” She pushed up her nonexistent breasts rather proudly and swung her hair behind her ears. “I used to be a real looker. But that was before . . .” She took a drag of her cigarette and let out a chuckle. “The last three abductees wouldn’t even touch me. I take it as a mark of distinction. They used to go gaga for me, but that was back in my heyday. Anyway, the powers that be keep insisting that I be the mother of the next generation Why? Something in my DNA. I guess it’s the most human-like of my kind. Which explains my vices, and I have a lot. Humans just love to kill themselves, don’t they? Love is slow suicide. It’s kinda sad.” She shook her head and stared down at her drink glumly. Then she seemed to revive. She straightened her posture and appeared to take a huge breath of air, although I could tell she wasn’t breathing, basically because I wasn’t. It was like being underwater, and never having the urge to inhale, or the searing pain you get from holding your breath too long. “I’m serious, though,” she went on. “They’re going to infiltrate the human race, starting with our seed. The Antichrist. Our little Antichrist Superstar.”

I got the reference. I was a big fan of Marilyn Manson, used to be, before he got dumped by Rose something or other. 

“Of course,” she went on, “if you wanted to have sex with me, I wouldn’t refuse. I’m a regular ole nymphomaniac. I’m always horny. All aliens are. Don’t let them tell you any different. Those that don’t have sex, can’t get it up, but they all want to.” She chuckled to herself. “Heck, that’s all they ever think about.”

I took another sip of my drink. It was sour, but the taste was growing on me, and it gave me a full body buzz, which is what I imagine a full-body erection but feel like, only my thought process was becoming a little cloudy, which also happens when you’re horny, but I definitely wasn’t horny. I needed to sum things up. “So your tactic is to make yourself crummy enough that no human will touch you.”

“Basically,” she said, breathing smoke into my face. It dawned on me. She didn’t need to breathe, but she was able to smoke. How did that make sense. This planet didn’t make a whole lot of sense. “Oh sure, there are a lot of second gens who will buy what I’m selling, and I’m up for the grabbing, but there’s no harm there. Two second gens will never give rise to a generation three. That’s simple math.”

I took another sip of my drink, then told myself I needed to slow down. “So you’re saying, if I have sex with you, you’ll give birth to an anti-Christ character who will take over the world?”

“It’s not that simple. Humans are suspicious by nature. Which figures. They’re a bunch of cheats. That’s how it will start. One third generation, with alien DNA, aware of his mission to rule planet Earth. He’ll be attractive and charismatic, and he’ll have sex with a lot of women, and you he’ll live a really long time, so before long, there will be a lot of people with alien DNA.”

“That’s how they’ll do it? It doesn’t sound very sinister to me. It’s like mating a wolf with your dog. What you get is a genetically superior pet, better at hunting, more ferocious.”

“That’s where it gets interesting, though—” she began.

Just then, on the stage, the curtains opened and there appeared under the spotlight a sensational-looking woman. I didn’t realize that showgirls gave performances at this bar, in fact I didn’t see the stage until now – had there been a stage when I first entered? - and yet, here she was, and here I was. Here we were. In her . . . oh, what can I say that will make what I’m trying to say any clearer than if I just say: in this showgirl, I beheld my destiny. I no longer paid any attention to the hag beside me. I sat enraptured by the goddess on the dais. She was blonde (yes, she had hair) with full lips, liquid eyes, and an ingratiating manner. She looked human. None of the second gen facies: the high forehead, bulging eyes, small mouth, slack jaw. She was perfect. It appeared as though she performed just for me. She sang a song with which I was unfamiliar, but she sang it with such verve, such flourish, such virtuosity that I became an instant fan of hers, and of it. I felt the humanoid tugging at my arm as I paid her no mind. Eventually she gave up and by the song’s end, she had vanished. Was her name Elba? Elma? I can’t even remember. But the songstress . . . Applause. Ovation. The crowd adored her. She stood in front of me, gazing down on me with a look – a cold look, not of indifference, but with a touch of cruelty. The aliens and humanoids, who had been fawning over her and vying for position at the front of the stage, quickly moved aside when they saw that she had set her eyes on your humble narrator.

“Care to buy me a drink?” she asked. She spoke in a whisper, but somehow her voice floated above the din.

Dumbfounded, I held up what I had been drinking. She looked at the bar and signaled to the barman. Sooner than I thought possible, an alien appeared with a drink for my songstress. With ineffable grace she hopped from the stage and glided into the stool beside me, where the hag had until recently been sitting. She held up her glass to me. I clinked it with my own. She took a sip, eyeing me suggestively. Like she knew me. Like I was an intimate, a familiar. Oh, how I hoped to be!

I set my drink down and swallowed. Looking her in the eye, I said, “I have a room here at the . . .” Motel didn’t quite seem to cut it.

She threw her head back and finished her drink in one swallow, put down her glass, swiveled on her stool, rose, took me by the hand, and led me to my room. Led me. I had not paid for our drinks. I had no money on me. Did this planet take money? I had nothing but my birthday suit and the blonde by my side, which was in some ways more than anything I could have asked for. The motel room was your run of the mill, standard issue, bed plus desk plus phone plus T.V. affair. The bed even vibrated, if you put a quarter in. In a planet without money, it probably didn’t get much use, but in their quest to appear man-made, they had gotten all the details right. We sat ourselves down on the bed, and before I could say or do anything, the blonde beauty rose, walked over to the bathroom, turned to me and said: “I’ll only be a minute.”

She disappeared behind the closed door, only to reappear in the blink of an eye, wearing a nightie. She had gone in wearing nothing – oh, what a body, round, toned derriere, shapely thighs – and come out clothed. And we hadn’t even kissed? What was this, backwards day? She sat down on the bed beside me and swept her ankle under her bottom, lying back on the pillow as she did so. She turned on the television, flipped through channels to programs with which I was unfamiliar – I’m not much of a T.V. watcher, but I recognized some of the actors, and they were human. The guy from Doogie Howser. The girl from Married with Children. She lit a cigarette, then, appearing to grow frustrated by the state of alien television, or by the vagaries of her mind, I wasn’t sure, turned off the T.V. and threw the remote at the screen. She had good aim. The flat screen tipped over on its side and fell to the floor with a crash and a thud and the remote’s battery lid snapped off and the battery fell out. I looked at her in confusion. She looked at me with disgust. We sat side by side. Actually, she reclined against the pillows, while I sat on the edge of the bed, like an uncertain schoolboy. I said the first thing that came to mind: “Why did you get dressed?”

“Isn’t the better question why I was naked in the first place?”

“Everybody is naked,” I replied.

“If everybody jumped off a bridge, would you?” She coughed and put out her cigarette. She leaned over to me. “You know why I came to your room with you?”

“Because you like me?” This sounded overly confident, but walking around amidst a race of dwarfs with pinkies for peckers, gave me a Jesus complex.

She shook her head and gave me a withering look.  “I just saved your life.” I looked at her dumbly. “You’ll never understand,” she said, stubbing out her cigarette. Then she rose from the bed and walked to the door, stopping to check her face in the mirror, and to brush a few stray hairs from her beautiful brow. She could have been Kim Basinger’s twin. At the door, she opened the closet, reached inside and liberated a wool overcoat from a hanger, put the overcoat on, reached again inside the closet, this time came out with a hat, put that on, looked at me, shook her head again, and left. I was alone in the room with a broken T.V., a phone that was dead, wondering what had just happened. And then it hit me. I would never see my brother or his ghost again. Had I simply tolerated that Helena hag, gone through the motions . . . and the sex may have been good. Instead I overshot my mark, was seduced by a woman out of my league, and left by the roadside, as it were. But if I had gone to bed with Helena, and set in motion events that would have resulted in the end of the human race . . . but I had not gone to bed with her, and so I remained a virgin and at the same time, the savior of the human race. They’d have to wait til next year, and with no more abductees to choose from, and I wouldn’t be around. Where would I be?

A knock at the door.

“Come in,” I said, before I knew what I was saying. It was Ra.

“Your mission has concluded,” he said. “You have failed. The ovulating period has elapsed.”

I lowered my head, expecting to get verbally abused or throttled or beamed to a remote corner of the galaxy. Instead he moved to the side of the door. “Come along, I’m taking you home.”

“Really? That easy?”

“Don’t opine until you arrive.”

I followed him through the city the way we had come and back to the ship that was to serve as our inter-dimensional portal. Ra commanded me to lie down in the corner, on the bare metal floor, in the same position I had assumed for the ride from Earth. 

“We had trouble locating your doppelganger,” Ra said. “It seems in the two decades that you have been absent from the Earth—”

“Two decades? That’s twenty years! But I’ve only been gone a few hours!”

“Time warps relative to dimensions. Two hours here is twenty years down there.”

Ra shrugged. I stared at the floor, incredulous. “So where does this leave me?”

“It seems Olaris did a bit of wandering while you were away.”

“But you found him, right? You found me?” I couldn’t stand the notion of not having a body to go back to, or of staying on the foreign planet, where the chicks were weird.”

“We found him,” Ra said. “but he has made a—” He stopped himself. “Perhaps it’s best for you to draw your own conclusions. “Nice knowing you!” Ra’s chair rotated to reveal its back and then slid into the wall facing me. I was alone. I grew tired, I closed my eyes, I slept.

When I woke up I found myself luxuriating beneath the soft, satin sheets of a king size bed. I felt foggy, which was I assumed from the trip back. Interdimensional space/time travel will do that to you. Then again, it may have been the aftereffect of that strange drink. I stared at the ceiling. An ornate pattern came into view, like the square of a Persian rug, enlarged to fit the entire room. My arm was asleep. I turned my head and found out why. A woman’s head lay on my right biceps, probably in the vicinity of an artery, and her face faced me, and she was sleeping, and snoring, and not just any woman. It was Marisol! I was hard pressed to recognize the face beneath the twenty years of accumulated pudge, but she was there. I drew nearer to her face. Her halitosis was atrocious, like a cat had died in her mouth. She let out a fart, only partially muffled by the mattress. The bed rumbled. Soon, I was overwhelmed by the smell of rotten eggs. My throat was dry. I coughed. She opened her eyes and asked me why I was staring at her. I apologized. She sat up in bed. Rolls of fat fell from her neck, beginning at her boobs and continuing down her belly, where they met flabbly thighs, amorphous calves, and cankles which gave rise to swollen feet with corns. I took this all in. She was naked and above the covers. The woman was twice my size.

“I don’t mind you staring at me. I quite like it,” Marisol said, stretching an yawning. Her great big arms jiggled in the air like jelly. “You haven’t looked at me that way in twenty years,” she said.

“Back when you were a lesbian,” I said.

“I was experimenting with women, yes,” she said, brushing her hair away from her face and raising her right butt cheek to let out another fart. “And you were a drug-addled deadbeat without a dime to your name.”

“And now, what am I?” I said, trying to seem casual as he clung to the covers around me like a wet baby.

“You’ve got it all,” she said, patting my belly. “Enough for two.” I looked down at myself. My gut was huge!

Marisol leapt from the bed with an agility which belied her age (mid 40’s) and her weight (240’s). She took a roll from a pile of assorted breads that stood on a platter by the bed and munched on it delightfully. I looked around the room. Gold. Gilded. Gaudy.

“Is this ours?” I asked, watching her perform her morning exercises, squatting up and down by the bed, chewing in time to her repetitions, one, bite, two, chew, three, swallow, again.

“What an idea,” Marisol said. “Our room is twice as large, at least. This is a hotel. It’s the palacial suite, largest they had, but cramped, if you ask me.”

“Where are we?” I asked.

“You must be really hung over,” she said, taking a second roll from the platter. “We’re in New York.”
“And we are doing . . . what exactly in New York?”

“Promoting your new book.” She marched to the table, I watched her thighs wiggle. She took a hardcover book from the table and tossed it onto the covers at my feet. I picked it up and read what was written on the cover: Every Man’s Dream, or, My Worst Nightmare.

I wondered whether the book was at all autobiographical.

Then, the reality of the situation dawned on me. I had been gone some twenty years, in my place had been an alien genius, living for two decades as me. What exactly had he done with my life? 

I got out of bed, got tangled in the covers and fell on the floor. The rest of my body was in proportion to my fat belly. I was huge! I stumbled to the mirror and saw . . . how to put this? Fat Bastard. You know, from the Austin Powers sequel, in which Mike Myers plays a Scottish bagpipe playing, kilt wearing . . . Fat Bastard. Fat, bald, hairy . . . and me. I was in there, hidden somewhere. The eyes were mine, and the nose (though mine had been less bulbous twenty years before), but the double chin? Where was my jawline?

“I don’t feel too well,” I said.

“I know just the trick,” said Marisol, my wife. In twenty years she had lost every trace of her Brazilian accent. It had gone the way of her toned body, and her tan. Her backside was so white it almost glowed! She went to the bar and with her backside displayed proudly to me, poured me big drink. She turned and handed it to me. Thinking it was water – it was clear and odorless – I drank it down in one gulp, only to gag. I swallowed some, managed to spit some out, and the rest went up my nose.

“That’s ha-hard liquor,” I said, “at ten in the morning!”

“That’s how you start every day, after a roll in the hay of course, which we’ll get to later.” She took the glass from me and set it down on the table. “Come on, let’s go get breakfast.”

Breakfast was a lavish affair. Bread, bread, and more bread. And  butter. And cheese. And ham, which Marisol devoured by the thick slice. We ate in our room, two fat slobs, seated across from one another, engaged in a silent eating contest. I just kept eating long after I had consumed my fill. I did not know why. The food was there, it was rich. Must be force of habit, I said to myself.

Between mouthfuls Marisol said, “Book signing is at noon.”

I sat back and muffled a belch with my fist. I had heartburn. “How many books have I written again?”

“This is your twentieth,” she said, helping herself to more ham. “All number one bestsellers.”
“What are they about?”

“You have to ask me? What an idea?” She took a pamphlet from the table and flung it my way. 

“Refresh your memory. I have to take a dump.” She sounded like Roseanne Barr, and looked more like her than you can imagine. Telling Marisol she looked like Roseanne was a compliment – to her! She rose and farted again on her way to the bathroom. I read the pamphlet, which introduced me as an author and listed my works in a short bibliography section. Science fiction novels, all of them. Alien abductions, alien invasions, all the stuff . . . I read a blurb from my latest book, reviewed by the New Yorker – in scintillating terms. Tour de force, etc. What was Nightmare about? An alien comes to a world and passes off his life story as fiction, earns a huge amount of money, acclaim, etc., in a word, every man’s dream, only to realize it wasn’t all that. It felt so contrived! How could this junk even find a publisher? And how could Olaris let himself go this way? How did he manage to convert Marisol? How had he done it, fulfilled my dreams? He had gotten the girl, wrote a novel based on his exploits – sure enough, on the author’s bibliography section of the pamphlet, the first book, which was published the year of my abduction, 2004, was entitled Seduction in Paradise. That was my title!

I saw a stack of books on the chair and grabbed the topmost book. Marisol came out of the bathroom and saw me looking at it. She came around the table and stood behind me. She put her hand on my shoulder.

“That book is what made me fall in love with you. That book.” (It was Seduction.) “You wrote our love story, before we lived it, the least I could do was make it come true.” She bent down to kiss me, farting as she stooped. I smelled butter, and her cheek was greasy. There were breadcrumbs in her teeth. “It’s been heaven ever since.”

“Speak for yourself,” I muttered.

I needed to get to know myself. I resolved to do so by reading the books I had written – in lieu of a diary, which I figured my doppelganger didn’t keep, unlikely in the setting of such a prodigious literary output. I decided to begin at the end, and read Nightmare, for I was beginning to think I was in one. After all, I had lost my life. The best years were behind me. I fell asleep at the age of twenty-four, a young man with a world of promise ahead of me – how inane I was at the time, wishing death on myself! – and now, my youth spent, I am . . . what? Middle-aged, overweight, bald in areas I’d rather have hair and hairy in areas I’d rather not. What had my doppelganger done with my youth? Evidently he was a lover of pleasure, a regular voluptuary, and his days had been filled with rich food and heady drink. I could understand the allure these sense pleasures held for him. Coming from a place where you do not need to eat or drink, and rarely have sex, to a world where you can engage in these pleasures to your heart’s content can make an epicure of the staunchest stoic. But he hadn’t drunk my youth away. He had done quite a bit of writing. Twenty books in as many years? And these were no novellas. I picked up Seduction in Paradise again and it felt like a brick. Judging from its girth, at least five hundred pages. Frank Herbert revisited. 

From my seat there at the table I looked over at my wife, who had returned to bed and was devouring an elaborate pastry while she watched T.V. She noticed me looking at her and motioned with her finger for me to join her in bed. She looked at me lasciviously. Where did Olaris find the strength to meet her sexual demands, which if they were anything like her appetite for food must be prodigious? And to maintain such a prodigious output of written work for all that time? In that way, he was my new idol. And how did he react to being unceremoniously extracted from my body and beamed or zapped or what have you, back to his dimension? Had they given him a head’s up? My mind was wandering. I needed to stay on point. What was my point? Yes, I stumbled into saving the human race, but at the expense of twenty years, likely my best. What did I have now? Money, yes. Fame, yes. I went through the twenty books there on the chair beside me, in chronological order, beginning at the beginning, and in each book, the author’s photo had depicted a man flabbier and looking more tired. What was money, fame, a wife, if I could not enjoy these things? I was jaded, spent. My blood stagnant. I needed to get some exercise. And how could I write? What future could I have? Writing a book in my own style would likely prove unsalable and expose me as a fraud. One look at his style . . . filled with flourishes, honey-coated phrases, bombast. I could never adopt such a style of flowery prose. Sickly sweet. Cloying. And the topics. Culled from his tens of thousands of years living as an engineer, on another planet, in another dimension (Ra had told me about my doppelganger)? He had done his research, lived it. How could I compare? What had I done or seen in my forty-eight  years, twenty-four years, my second half robbed from me, what had I witnessed that was worth turning into a book? My first attempt, my Seduction in Paradise that never was, had been a failure, aborted before it failed. I was through. The critics would call me washed up if I tried to write another book only to churn out drivel. Better not to try. But if I didn’t write, they would call me washed up for not churning out drivel. Ah, what to do with the rest of my life? Have sex with my wife? She was busily munching toast and channel surfing. She felt my eyes on her.

“Go get dressed, fatso,” she said with a grunt. “The driver will be here in fifteen minutes.”

“You’re not coming, dear?” I managed to ask.

“Seen one signing, seen ‘em all,” she said. “Mind picking me up a box of chocolates on the way back. Truffles. There’s a love.”

There’s a love? There’s a love?

I went into the bathroom to be alone, and to give the pretense of a morning toilet. I sat on the toilet and waited . . . and waited. My bowels would not move. I needed a cigarette, looked around. It seemed this new me, this old me, did not smoke. I splashed some water on my face and ran a tooth brush across my teeth. I dimmed the light so as not to regard myself in such unflattering stark detail, because the details were atrocious. I sprayed some of my wife’s perfume on me, because the odor in my armpits was enough to kill a horse. This did not suffice. In my bag of toiletries I found Old Spice. I hated Old Spice! I hated silk pajamas, and I was wearing them. Pink is my least favorite color. My pajamas were pink. I examined my features. I looked like a bald Ray Bradbury, which was interesting, because my books had recently outsold his (it was on the pamphlet). The book signing! I panicked. Where were my clothes? What was I to wear?

“Love?” I called from the bathroom. 

“Hanging in the closet,” Marisol yelled back from the bed.

I trundled out of the bathroom and opened the closet, in which hung a gabardine suit. I dislike wearing suits. I do not like to get dressed up. My own brother’s funeral I attended in board shorts and a hoodie. Apparently, the new me liked to dress lavishly, in layers. I looked outside the window. It was snowing. What about my bald head?

“Your hat is on the chair,” my wife said.

It seemed that after twenty years of marriage, Marisol had developed the ability to read minds. I put on my suit, made a mess of my tie, which my wife fixed, and a knock at the door announced the arrival of the driver. Marisol kissed my cheek, gave my backside a pinch, and whispered: “Remember the truffles.”

As the driver negotiated busy New York streets, I attempted to devise a plan.

“Love your latest book, Mr. B,” the driver said.

“Justin,” I said. “Mr. B was my father.”

“Justin, then,” the driver answered good naturedly. “I’m a writer myself. Trying, you know. When I’m not driving. Tell me, where do you get your ideas?”

“Real life,” said I. “Personal experience.”

The driver’s brow furrowed.

“Even Nightmare?” he asked.

“Why not?” I replied.

“But, Nightmare is about how an earthling comes back to his life after twenty years to see he has grown fat, successful, and he hates every minute of it. You’re telling me that was based on personal experience?”

“You have no idea,” I replied. “Tell me . . . since you’ve read the book, how does it end?”

“Quizzing me?” asked the driver.

“Not at all. Just wanted to get your interpretation.”

“Well,” he said, “there’s not much room for interpretation. On the way to a book signing, the author is involved in a fatal car accident.”

“Fatal for whom?” I asked.

“All parties,” the driver said morosely.

“And where was this book signing?”

The driver thought about it. “Here in New York City.”

“And what was the driver’s name?”

“Mitch, I believe.”

“And what is yours?”

“Why, you know, I ‘ve never thought about it, but my name is Mitch too? I never put two and two together till just now,” he said, looking at me in the rear view mirror.

“Watch out!” I screamed.

Thinking about the parallels in his life and my fiction caused Mitch to run a red light. Almost. He screeched to a halt and came to a stop halfway through the crosswalk.  Cross traffic blared by, a mix of semis.

Once Mitch had backed out of the crosswalk, I resumed: “How does the author die? I know you said car accident, but how exactly?”

“The driver runs a red light,” Mitch said.

“The driver? You mean Mitch,” I corrected.

“I mean . . . me?”

“Pull over,” says I. “I’m outta here.”

And that is how I left my life. But what am I leaving my life for? Where do I turn? What do I do? Everywhere I go, people recognize me. Even young people. Imagine, all these people still reading books in the year 2024! Reading me! It’s what I always wanted. And I’ve done it. But it wasn’t me. But it was. I wasn’t there for the process, the writing, rewriting, agonizing over turns of phrases, tinkering with plots, unsure, alone. Was my doppelganger unsure and lonely, or so intelligent that these books flowed out of him like the wine flowed in? For me the process of writing had always been excruciating, filled with self-doubt, fits and starts. My journal was the only thing I could write without difficulty, stream of consciousness, perhaps because I knew nobody would read it.

I passed a bookstore. My face, on the back cover of my latest book, smiled back at me. Was this the site of my scheduled book signing? I decided to investigate. I entered the store, walked past the new releases and best-seller sections to find a group of people seated on chairs. The chairs formed a semi-circle. The crowd was mostly female. A lady stood at the podium. Thin, older, brown hair tied back severely in a bun. No makeup. She was speaking to the audience but I couldn’t make out what she was saying. When she saw me, she gestured for me to come towards her. The others turned and seeing me, erupted in applause. By the podium sat dozens of copies of my latest book. I took my place behind the podium. The audience fell silent. I didn’t know what to do. I had never been to a book signing or reading. Did the two go together? Was I to read from my book and then sign it for audience members? Was I to entertain them first with anecdotes from my life, perhaps with a few jokes thrown in? Was there to be a question and answer session? My shirt collar was too tight. I had the sensation that I wasn’t getting enough air. My skin pricked. I grew hot and itched all over. I am not a good public speaker. Sweat dripped from my brow. I wished to disappear. I would have wished death on myself if I thought it would do any good, but the aliens were through with abductions, and even if they were still abducting humans, I had failed them on the first attempt so they probably wouldn’t pick me up a second time. I said, in a hoarse voice, “I am a fraud. An imposter.” A moment of silence for the gravity of my words to impress the audience.  The sound of a throat being cleared. Someone coughed. I went on: “I did not write this book. I wrote none of the books attributed to me. That is because I am not me. I am not me!” I stared down at the audience. I scanned their faces for some understanding. I wanted sympathy. Instead, smiles.

“Who wrote them? A ghostwriter?” someone from the audience said. A would-be comedian.

“An alien,” said I. “Twenty years ago, I was abducted by aliens as part of a project to create an alien human hybrid . . . humanoid . . . to take over the race. I refused to cooperate. I was returned after a few hours to find that my life . . . I was not me . . . this, all of this . . . do you all understand?”

The crowd erupted in laughter. Apparently I was known for this sense of humor (as the mistress of ceremonies, the severe woman with her hair in a bun, informed the audience: I had been quoted in interviews saying my books were channeled by an alien consciousness, she told the audience).

I shook my head and seated myself on a chair beside the podium. I opened “my book” to a random page, and read a paragraph. I stopped a quarter of the way down the page. “Gibberish,” I said. I closed the book. I stood up, bowed elaborately, and walked out the front door.

On the street I walked aimlessly, my head hanging. Before I made it to the corner, a girl ran up alongside me, out of breath. She carried a copy of my book in her hand. She asked to walk with me. She was beautiful.

“Would you be so kind?” she said. She held my book open to its title page in one hand, a pen in the other. I stopped walking, turned to her, looked deep into her eyes, took the pen, and signed. Scribbled. Something illegible. For I was not me!

I handed her back the book. She regarded my signature, frowned, and said: “Your signature doesn’t look like itself.”

“That is because it isn’t,” I mumbled. I walked on. She followed. Apparently she did not hear my words. She went on:

“I have all your books, and several of them are signed. By you. In person.” She waited. “But you probably don’t remember me.”

I told her I never forget a face, which is true.

“Then you do remember me?”

I shook my head. “No,” I said. “Because I have never seen you before.” I amended: “With these eyes, yes. But not with this soul!”

She laughed. Laughed! I laughed too. It was funny, and I didn’t care.

We walked for a time in silence, side by side. I walked faster, she kept pace. I looked straight ahead, out of the corner of my eyes I saw her looking at me. The snow had let up. Now, it was just cold. We came to a crosswalk. She had ceased looking at me, and now regarded the ground before her gloomily. She could tell I was in no mood for discussion.

“This is my street,” she said. “I’ll be going now. Thanks for walking me part of the way home.”

She was beautiful. She looked like an actress in my favorite sitcom twenty years ago, a younger sister of my favorite actress. What was her name? I brightened. Suddenly I felt free. I was in a world without consequence. I was not me, and nobody believed I was who I said I was, or was not what I said I was not. What did anything matter? I could be dead or dreaming. It didn’t really matter. There were no consequences. I decided to put my theory to the test. My desire has always been to wake up within a dream – specifically a dream involving a pretty girl – to wake up in my dream and know I’m dreaming and within the inconsequential atmosphere of the dream, say or do as I please, which would involve having sex with the girl, possibly many girls, and possibly waking up in wet sheets. Who cares? And so I said, “Would you like to go to bed with me?”

The girl burst into laughter. Apparently she thought I was joking. Or was she laughing at my fat face and piggish nostrils? She laughed so hard she doubled over, as though I had punched her in the stomach. I looked around, embarrassed, wondering whether we were being watched, whether onlookers thought we were father and daughter.

“Oh look,” a passerby said, “there’s Justin Bane.” The woman pointed me out to her two children, approximate ages eight and thirteen, who recognized me and waved. When the girl had stopped laughing, emboldened by the recognition, I repeated the question, in a lower voice. “Will you sleep with me?”

“You’re serious?” she said, once she had caught her breath. Her eyes danced with mirth. “Walk me home.”

She took me by the arm and we proceeded west on 52nd Avenue. This new life had its perks, I reasoned. I had no emotional ties to my wife, no loyalty, since she wasn’t my wife. I wasn’t present for the wedding. I felt no affiliation with anything that had taken place in the twenty years I had missed. All I remembered of Marisol was her rejection of me. I would resume my life from where it had left off, in pursuit of a girl, this girl, why not? This Jenny by my side. (That was her name, she revealed to me along the way.)

“How old are you?” I wished to know, suddenly cognizant of this girl’s very youthful appearance. She had no breasts, her legs were spindly, her makeupless face too fresh to belong to anyone but a teen.

“I’m fourteen,” she said in the most natural way.

“Great God,” I replied. “I’m old enough to be . . .” I thought for a second. Who was I? How old was I? I am not me. “I refuse to go to bed with you. I find the notion preposterous.” I ignored for the moment how anyone might wish to sleep with a hairy pig like me. I needed to lose at least fifty pounds. I needed a hair transplant.

“You can still walk me home,” Jenny replied.

“To your p-parents place?”

“Don’t worry,” she said. “They’re not home.” She took my hand and gave it a voluptuous squeeze.

A curious tenement. Brick. Dark. Surrounded by dirty snow. I believe the term for dirty snow is snirt. She punched in numbers on the grimy security pad. Her unit, number four, had no designated name. She led me up a flight of stairs, down a soiled blue carpet, past scuffed walls, and into a rather cozy apartment, more spacious than I had imagined based on the appearance from the outside.

“What am I doing here?” I said after we had entered. “I feel misplaced. I need to be going.”

“Sit down,” Jenny commanded, pushing me onto the sofa. “Let me fix you a drink.” She fiddled with the stereo. A moment later, loud music issued from the speakers. A band with which I was unfamiliar. A vocalist barked incomprehensible lyrics below the pitch of the cacophonous guitar. And I used to favor rock music . . . and I used to never use the word favor! Who was I? I am not me.

Could it be 2024. The future looked an awful lot like the present. Nothing had changed in twenty years but me. Was this possible? “What year is it?” I wondered aloud.

“Who cares?” Jenny said. I noticed for the first time that she was wearing the plaid skirt of a schoolgirl. She had probably ditched school to see me read someone else’s . . . I am not me. What grade was she in? What would her parents think? 

“What do you wanna drink?”

“Vodka.” I disliked vodka fiercely. Jenny disappeared in the kitchen and quickly returned carrying two glasses filled with clear liquid. She handed one to me.

“Cheers,” she said, holding up her glass.

“Cheers.” I set my glass down on the glass coffee table, undrunk. “Aren’t you too young . . .” I pointed at the drink.

“Mine’s water,” she said. “What should we do? Let’s dance!”

“Don’t you have homework to do?”

“It’s winter vacay,” she said, setting her drink next to mine. “Time to party.” She took my hands and started hopping around the room frenetically. I began gasping for breath. “I’m too old for this,” I said. And then, chest pain, a crushing pain, someone tearing open my insides with a crowbar. My arm went numb. “I don’t feel well,” I stammered. I attempted to sit down on the sofa, but landed on a corner of it and fell onto the coffee table, knocking my drink to the floor, and the lamp, and collapsing onto the ground myself.

“Get somebody,” I said, wheezing. “A doctor.” Then: “No!” I remembered my mortal dread of doctors. “Call 911. No!” I despised officers of the law. “Do something,” I added feebly, my face felt as though it were about to explode. I saw stars, and colors and trails and . . . “Do something!”

“You mean, like CPR?” Jenny said. She was standing over me, looking very calm.

“Hmmm, hmmm. You know it?”

“No!” she said, and she hopped onto me, straddling m waist. She clasped her hands together, raised them over her head, and came down on my chest with a wallop of a blow. A resounding thud. A crack. Then, blackness.

I awoke in the hospital. The smell of latex. Blinding light. I was hooked up to gadgets and cords and . . . a man in a white coat enters.

“Mr. Bane?”

“You know who I am?” I ask.

“Your identification card was in your wallet. Plus, I’ve read your work, I’m not ashamed to admit, though there are those in this ward who might think otherwise.” He raises his voice here, looking at the nurses in the hallway, who snicker back at him and shake their heads. Is this a dream?

“You’ve had a major heart attack,” he says. He pats me on the arm and leaves the room.
The doctor is replaced by a police officer. Heavyset, Latin, bald put with a ferocious mustache. “Mr. Bane, you are under arrest. Sexual relations with a minor.”

Visions of Jenny squatting on my chest. “I didn’t touch her. She pounced on me.”

“Tell it to the judge.” He chuckles and leaves the room.

Next up, a lawyer. How do I know? Suit. Briefcase. Eyes like a thief. “Mr. Bane, I am hereby serving you with divorce papers,” he announces officiously.

“So soon? It’s not even . . . what day is it?”

“You have been unconscious for two days.”

“Unconscious? But the doc said I suffered a heart attack.”

“And a stroke.”

“Why didn’t he tell me that?”

The lawyer shrugs. “I can’t say. I am not a doctor.”

“But-but—” Then I notice my speech. It comes out in garbled jibberjabber.  I ask for a mirror. The lawyer reaches over to the bedside table, lifts a mirror and hands it to me. The left side of my face does not move the same way as the right. The neurologist will later tell me that my speech may return with time, and hours of speech therapy, a language coach.

And to think, I could have died in an accident! Would I have been better off? Now, my marriage is over, my career, my earnings, everything. My face, my voice, but was any of it really mine? I wanted none of this! I was not me! And I was left cleaning up the mess.

“I am not me!” I scream. But nobody hears me. And if they do, nobody thinks it important enough to do anything. Nobody comes.

I spent a lonely night in the hospital. There were no visitors. Not even my wife. The nurses did not sympathize with me. Word had gotten out. I was a child molester. Alleged. I overheard the nurses talking. Jenny’s parents had come home unannounced to find me on top of her (funny how the story got changed here: I on top of her?). They had called 911. I flipped through the T.V. stations. Nothing on but the news. People killing, hating, attacking each other. Where was the love? The world was going to hell, and I was leading the march! I considered my plight. I’d beat the rap. They had no evidence. No sperm sample. I could beat it. I wouldn’t go to jail. But I’d be a loser in  the public eye. Once an alleged molester, always an alleged molester. So long writing career. But I could make a comeback, on my own terms. Reinvent myself. Like Pee-wee Herman, or that kid from the Bad News Bears. Marisol would still want a divorce. She’d never believe the truth, and she might not look or sound Brazilian, not anymore, but she had the Latin temper. It was better that we not see each other. She was liable to kill me, and I’d hate the thought of her doing prison time. But what about me?

Weeks later. My symptoms have improved. I can form sentences, and my lisp is minimal. I can almost lift my left eyebrow. The heart condition did not require surgery. The doctor put me on a boatload of medication and sent me on my way with prescriptions and follow-ups and all that. I tore the prescriptions up. I wouldn’t keep the appointments. I had been in the stroke ward for two weeks, and in that time I had let my beard grow. I trimmed the edges, so as not to look like a grizzly man. Facial hair makes me look dignified, and hides the blubber. I’m still bald, though. Not many fixes for that. I look like a heavier Zach Giaflawhatsisname. I lost some weight in the hospital. They had me on a cardiac diet. Low salt, low fat, low sugar. It was also discovered I had diabetes: how many years I had had it was a mystery. One thing me and my doppelganger share is an aversion to hospitals. We hadn’t been to the doctor since I was fourteen.

And so I left the hospital with a new lease on life. I spent as much money as I could in as short a time as possible, liquidating my assets, figuring otherwise Marisol would get her grubby hands on my riches, turn it to pastry, and eat it. I left the city and moved to Jersey. I set myself up in a one-bedroom apartment outside of Hoboken. It’s by the train, in case I ever want to return to NYC. My place is small, but I keep it tidy. I have undertaken an extensive exercise regimen, managed to lose about half of the weight my doppelganger had put on me. Still bald, though. Probably genetics. Can’t blame him. I got a job at a local bookstore. I enjoy interacting with customers. I used a different name on the application (my middle name in place of my first) and nobody recognizes me now that I’ve lost weight and wear a beard (and a toupee, but don’t tell anyone). They don’t carry my books. I don’t blame them. Written by a hack. I write in my spare time. Journal entries, mostly. Now and then I throw a short story in there, just to mix things up. Nothing I’d ever show anyone. I met a girl. A real nice girl. She’s a Jersey native. I’d never thought I’d wind up in Jersey, or that I’d be dating someone from Jersey. I never did like the accent. But stranger things have happened. I visited another dimension and almost had sex with an alien. You probably think I’m either crazy or lying. I admit that there are fellas who like to claim they’ve been abducted by aliens. It makes them feel special. I’ve met some of them. But I was. And this was my story. I don’t have any proof other than these words, but I’m sure if I could summon Ra up, bring him back here through his interdimensional portal, he’d back me up.

When I compare my life now to what it was at the beginning of this story, I’m inclined to believe that I’m better off in the present. Sure, I lost decades of my life in the span of hours, and yes, I’m a stroke and heart attack survivor and the author of twenty books I never wrote. What does it all matter? I got the girl. I haven’t written a book about it. Don’t know that I will. But I can. And I just might. And I’ll always go down as the guy who saved the human race. If it weren’t for me . . . but you’ve already heard that one.