Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Alien in the Comic Book Store

You'd be surprised how difficult it can be to identify an alien. They don't simply trot out before you in their natural form, green, three-fingered, and slimy, with heads measuring at least as tall as their trunks. Last week, for instance, I saw one in a comic book store and he totally looked human. Average height. Sandy, messy hair. Wire-rim glasses. White. Early twenties.

So how did I know he was from another planet? He was moving around a little oddly, stopping and pretending to stare with interest at various items, but none of these behaviors really raised an alarm. Then he walked to the register with a box set DVD collection of the once popular television series Friends. That's when I knew.

Why would a fairly normal-looking young man buy the entire run of Friends? And why now, so long after its cultural moment has passed? Because he's an alien. And I can even tell you where he's from.

Last week, scientists also announced that they'd discovered the two closest habitable planets on record. A habitable planet is one that appears to have a reasonably friendly environment. So, for instance, Venus doesn't count. We'd burn if we tried to hang out there. And it wouldn't be terribly fun to breathe the air. These new planets, on the other hand, appear to be a little more human friendly. And they are roughly thirteen light years away. Which, as you know, is the distance covered by a beam of light traveling for thirteen years.

So here's what I think happened. Right around 2001, or the peak years of Friends, some of the NBC broadcast leaked out into space, racing right along at the speed of light. Thirteen years later, these broadcast waves struck the just discovered twin planets. The aliens, using inconceivably advanced technology, decoded the signals and converted them back into a view-able format. I don't know if they caught an entire episode, a whole season, or just a particularly moving or hilarious scene. My guess, though, is that the entire civilization was mesmerized. Immediately they needed to know what happened to Ross and Rachel, the former stars of the show. So they chose one brave explorer, programmed their wormhole for Earth, and tossed him inside. A few seconds or perhaps even days later I saw him, disguised as a young man, in the comic store. Disoriented, maybe. But focused. He did not wait long to grab that box set.

Sadly I don't know what happened next. Did he go somewhere to watch the series, then travel back to his home planet and fill everyone in? Or did he run to Best Buy, purchase a DVD player and a flat screen, and then hurry back? If I had more foresight I would have followed him.

That's it for aliens. Now on to surfers. Years ago, while reporting a story, I met a man who defined the term "surfer" so precisely that I ceased counting myself among this tribe. I realized that even though I love to surf, I am not a surfer. I'm on his email list now, and a few days ago he sent a few rules, including this one:

One afternoon, after surfing some great waves, and dropping his son off late to a girl's birthday party, he told him to buy some flowers in addition to the gift. "Why flowers?" his son asked. "A surfer always brings flowers," he replied. "Why does a surfer always bring flowers, Dad?" "Because a surfer is always late."

On the reading front, I just finished Cities of the Plain again, and after some Cormac-MacCarthy-related Googling, discovered that his scholarly devotees do not call themselves McCarthyites, since that might associate them with followers of the controversial senator. They're Cormackians. Which kind of makes them sound like a race of aliens. Not the ones who needed to catch up on Friends, though. I'd call them Anistonians.

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