ONLY THE BEST WHILE I KEEP THE REST

toasted english muffin

I just learned — hot off the presses — we are sending a capsule into space. Deep space. The deep, dark outer reaches of our galaxy. For some peculiar reason, we think other, non-human intelligent life forms will be interested in our culture. They will want to see our artifacts, gadgets, widgets. The best examples of what makes us great. Imagine that.

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What to show them?

You’d have to include the cell phone. Probably an iPhone, clearly the quintessential techno-gadget of our generation. Or maybe one of the new Android tablets that’s sort of also a telephone, or is it a telephone that’s sort of a tablet?

Kindle and iPad

What about a loaf of sliced bread? Everyone always says “It’s the best invention since sliced bread!” Thus sliced bread must, in some way, be a classic piece of intelligent design from the people who gave you the Edsel and the Bunny Hop. The open bar and happy hour. How to you package up those high points of culture?

Do you include a few drunks in the capsule? How about a box of White Castle sliders? How about at least one politician?

A toast!

I know I’m not thinking clearly. I’m missing so much. So many great things. Monumental achievements we could package in the guise of a small gadget by which any advanced civilization would be instantly recognized peers, equals, and perhaps, superiors. I just can’t think of them right this minute.

Don’t forget to include a cold six-pack of beer. It will be the intergalactic male bonding moment when they all chug it down together.

A SECRET LIST

I don’t have a bucket list. Until I saw the movie of the same name, the concept had never occurred to me. The things I have wanted to do — which were doable — I’ve done.

Then, there are the Other Things. My hidden agenda. My secret list. The things I terribly want to do but somehow think are unlikely given the current state of reality.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND US 1977 THE MOTHER SHIP CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND US 1977 THE MOTHER SHIP Date 1977. Photo by: Mary Evans/COLUMBIA PICTURES/EMI FILMS COLUMBIA PICTURES INDUSTRIES I/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection(10307178)

The Mother Ship — from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” 1977. Photo: Mary Evans – Columbia Pictures/EMI / Ronald Grant/Everett Collection (10307178)

WAITING FOR THE MOTHER SHIP

Since I first read a science fiction story, saw “Forbidden Planet” and “The Red Planet Mars,” I’ve been waiting for the big ship to come and take me away. I have slightly modified this so that they will come and take both of us away. To wherever they went in “Cocoon.” Where we get to be young again. Leave the mortgage, the bills, the problems behind. But we bring the dogs so they can be young again, too.

MEETING THE ANCIENT ONE

Somewhere out there in the dark of night, there is an ancient vampire. So old, he is nearly made of stone. He remembers Egypt, perhaps even ages before that. He will offer me eternity in exchange for living in eternal night. Will I accept? I’ve only gotten as far as the offer. I have yet to determine my answer … but I’m thinking about it.

DISCOVERING MY POWERS

Because magic is real and I can do it. I just never realized it until one day, in the kitchen, while mixing up a batch of my internationally renowned chili, I accidentally conjured a spell of enormous, overwhelming power. No longer a sickly senior citizen on a fixed income, I could rule nations. At the very least, I can probably make enough money to pay the bills and have something left over. Money or not, magic would be the greatest adventure of all, would it not?

wormhole

THE WORMHOLE

There it is, the time tunnel. It has been there the whole time and I never knew it. That’s the problem with having such a heavy bed. I can’t move it aside, so I didn’t see the wormhole. It’s a good one that will let me travel to other dimensions or any-when. Talk about adventure!

I promise not to try to change anything. I just want to go hang out in the past and watch. I’m sure Garry would be happy to join me. Does anyone have a couple of Babblefish they can spare?


While I’m waiting for these things to happen, I’m still hoping someone will invent a workable transporter. Because however unlikely it may be, nothing is entirely impossible.

GORT! KLATU BARADA NIKTO!

As Patricia Neal said to Gort (per Michael Rennie): “GORT! KLATU BARADA NIKTO!”

That’s alien robot talk for “Hey, Gort! Don’t destroy the world, but please bring me back to life, if it’s not too much trouble. Thank you very much.”

ROBBIE AS GORT

An afternoon of classic 1950s science fiction can ruin your brain for days afterwards. “It Came From Outer Space” (based on “The Meteor” by Ray Bradbury), followed by “The Day The Earth Stood Still.”

I’ve got my own robot, so around here, I give the orders.

“Gort! BERENGA!” (Get in the spaceship, we’re leaving.)


 

Honorific – If you could pick one person to be commemorated on a day dedicated to him/her alone, who would you choose?

I CHOOSE ROBBIE!!

HORROR LIVES IN THE DRAIN

Just last night, as I was performing my late night ablutions, I realized my sink was clogged. 

I have long, fine hair and a clogged drain in the bathroom is not a rare occurrence, but the timing might have been better. I was ready to climb under the covers, turn on my audiobook, and sink into the world of Laurie King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes.

Instead, I was going to have to clean out the drain because it was completely stopped.

I gave the room a keen looking over. Not too bad. Dusty, as ever, but I’d been keeping it up. Since I got rid of the rug that had been shedding, it was a lot easier to keep it reasonably clean, but the hair in the sink … well … as long as the mirror is over the sink, there’s an inevitability about the clogging of the drain.

porcelain sink sunshine BW

You can run, but you cannot hide. But why a quarter of one in the morning? It could have done this any other time of the day and I wouldn’t have minded nearly as much. Or so I thought.

I looked around and spied a full container of Liquid Plumbr. “Aha!” I cried, promptly emptying the entire container into the offending drain.

I tooled around for the requisite 15 minute. That stuff rarely fails. It’s pure lye and will cut through just about anything. So, when the time had elapsed, I turned on the hot water tap and fully expected some gurgling, gulping, and then free draining. Not this night.

bathroom morning shadows BW

Instead, it started to burp up the most revolting things I’d ever seen. Mold that looked like tiny leaves of lettuce from hell. Black gunk in globs. Nameless, hideous, furry things. It was the stuff of nightmare. And the drain wasn’t clearing. The water was still not going down.

Near to panic, I found long tweezers and started to extract clumps of god-knows-what from the drain. Still not draining. I got my long, skinny drain brush and the most nauseating crud was coming out.

By now it was heading towards two in the morning. I’d used my big gun and it hadn’t done the job. I poured down the de-lime, de-slime agent. All of it. Finally, some hint of water movement.

I added a few cups of Mr. Clean and reamed out the drain as far as I could reach. The water went down. Next, I will have to get my son to clean the trap, a job that I am absolutely positive he will not want to do and I don’t blame him. I will make ever effort to be anywhere but home when the event occurs. The cursing and swearing that accompanies this activity is more than I can bear.

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Bathrooms. Drains. Lovecraftean things are living, growing, and breeding down there. Hideous things. Green and black slimy things.

I don’t think I’ll sleep for a week.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO STAY FOR DINNER?

CELEBRATING THE FAMILY WE NEVER MET AND MAYBE DON’T WANT TO

“So,” says Uncle Shmuel, who having appeared out of nowhere, now miraculously speaks vernacular American English — albeit with a heavy Yiddish accent, “Nice place you got here. I see you keep your animals in your house. That one there sounds like a pig but looks like a dog.”

“They are our pets, Uncle Shmuel. The oinker is Nan. She just makes that sound. She’s kind of old. I think that’s the dog equivalent of ‘oy’.”

“Pets, shmets. Animals. In the house. What’s next? Toilets? Never mind, your life, your choice. Oy.”

“Can I give you something to eat? Tea? Coffee? Cake? If we don’t have it, I can go out and buy some.”

“Are you Kosher?”

“Uh, no. Not Kosher,” and I shiver, remembering the bacon that has passed through our kitchen. “Oh, wait, here’s my husband. Uncle Shmuel, I’d like you to meet my husband Garry.”

Shmuel looks shrewdly at Garry, then at me. “He doesn’t look Jewish.”

Garry’s eyes twinkle. “But really I am,” he says and deftly pulls a yarmulke out of his pocket. It say “Joel’s Bar Mitzvah” across the back in big white letters. Fortunately, Shmuel doesn’t notice.

“So,” Shmuel continues after a pregnant pause, “You have problems with the Cossacks?”

“No Cossacks, but lots of politicians,” I reply.

“Cossacks, politicians, there’s a difference?”

“Not so much,” I admit.

“And for a living you do what?”

“We’re retired. But before that, I was a writer. Garry was a reporter. On television.”

“What’s a television?”

I look at Shmuel, realize we are about to embark on an extended conversation, so all I say is: “Oy vay is mir!” Which seems to sum it up.

Oy vay. Can someone set the table?

MAGIC IS EVERYWHERE – THREE QUOTES, DAY THREE

Nothing is certain anymore. Nothing. Chaos is king and magic is loose in the world. – Robert Heinlein, “Waldo”

I’m astonished how many people have either never read these two novellas, or read them and manged to miss the point.

If you haven’t read them, you really should, if you are any kind of science fiction fan. They are fundamental to the mythology of science fiction. The concepts Heinlein posits have become axiomatic to later writers.

"Waldo Astounding SF Aug 1942." Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - Waldo Astounding SF Aug 1942

“Waldo Astounding SF Aug 1942.” Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – Waldo Astounding SF Aug 1942

Many readers — I take this from the reviews I’ve read by people who say they have indeed read the two novellas — apparently don’t see a connection between the stories. They think they are in one volume “to fill up space.” Either they didn’t really read them or they are conceptually challenged, unable to connect two related ideas.

The point is that technology is a based on our belief it will work (see Clarke’s Three Laws). As long as we believe in it, it works, whatever “it” may be. If or when we stop believing, it won’t work. It is all magic. Science is incantation. Witchcraft codified.

When we lose faith in technology, magic becomes the new technology. The difference between one and the other is style, not substance. The stories’ plots are irrelevant. It is all concept.

The best science fiction is concept-driven. Characters and plot usually take a back seat. These two stories have stuck with me for a lifetime. Both are based on a single concept.

We believe in what works — and what works is what we believe.

CONSIDER STUPIDITY – THREE QUOTES, DAY TWO

For the second of my three quotes in three days, I present to you my all-time favorite quote. I use it as a signature line on my email. I try to remember it whenever I think someone is out to get me.

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. – Robert Hanlon

This quote has a long, rich history. Despite the attribution, no one can say exactly when or where it originated. Called Hanlon’s razor, it is an aphorism. It suggests a way to eliminate complicated explanations for a phenomenon when a simpler one is available. It suggests before looking for ill-intent, consider the possibility of stupidity.

Stupidity is common. It requires neither forethought nor planning. Anyone can be stupid. No special effort is needed. It is, therefore, the most likely explanation for actions. Why look for other motives? Go with simplicity.

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Although the saying is officially named after Robert J. Hanlon, there are a variety of earlier sayings that convey the same idea dating back at least as far as Goethe in 1774.

Arthur C. Clarke’s Three Laws are considered closely related:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

The third law, my other favorite, has been incorrectly attributed to many different writers, but it really does belong to Clarke. Really. No matter what else you may have heard. If I ever change my signature line, Clarke’s third law is a strong contender for the position.