Just call me Al; you couldn’t pronounce my real name. I’m a scientist from a world you never heard of, here to study humanity. In my ‘native’ form, I don’t look much like you. But, thanks to our advanced technology, I could pass for anyone on the street.
I live in Cleveland, Ohio. I have a job at the National Weather Service, which lets me act a little odd and get away with it. In my off time I do research on humans.
I pretty much hate Cleveland. It’s too cold and waaaayyyyy too sunny compared to home. Not to mention the wind.
But I’ve got a job to do. Today I ‘m conducting research at the beach on Lake Erie. It’s not fun. Too sunny. Too windy. Humans look a lot better with their clothes on. But as a scientist, this is a great place to observe--there are all kinds of people.
Take this woman standing in front of me in the concession line. She must be in early middle age, but she’s still in pretty good condition. And believe me, she is dressed so no has to guess about her condition. I wish I’d brought certain instruments; it would be interesting to measure if she’s wearing more oil or more clothing by weight. Even the way she moves suggests she wants the world to notice her.
Behind me is another interesting example of humanity. This person, whom for some reason I instantly think of as “Redneck”, is in his mid 30s or so. He isn’t in shape. At about 6 foot 4, he must be over 350 pounds. He’s wearing a fishing hat with the stars and bars. A tee-shirt with a picture of a nuclear explosion and the wording “Made With Pride in the USA”. Knee length plaid shorts. Sneakers, no socks. It’s the tee-shirt I find most illuminating. I was in the Nova War. Your own veterans will tell you--only idiots make light of warfare.
The attendants at the concession stand are Bobby and Ron. Bobby waits on me. He has Downs Syndrome, but he does his job cheerfully and carefully. For some reason they only have pop in cans today--no cups. Bobby wants to know if that’s OK. Actually I don’t like that metallic taste, which I can pick up better than you. But it’s that or nothing. I’ll have to make the best of it.
I sit on a bench overlooking Lake Erie. Good landscape, but even in the shade, that sun is murder. While working on my notes, I reflect I gained evidence to support my theory: appearance is everything with humans. Oil tanker lady is really trying to prove she’s not losing her youth. Redneck, is fat, dumb, and probably, in his own way, happy. Bobby is OK, but certainly a man of few secrets. The beach is only the most extreme example of what seems to hold everywhere. One glance at a human, you’ve usually got their measure. You often seem to believe it yourselves.
I get the Coke down, decide I’d like a soft pretzel. We can eat practically anything you can, although whether it tastes good is a different matter. Back at the concession stand, Bobby is by himself for some reason. It shouldn’t be a problem since there are only three people in line counting myself. Redneck has reappeared, up front. After him is a girl with a dollar in her hand. Her bathing suit suggests she’s on the swim team at “Bishop Pilla High School”.
The contrast between the girl and Redneck is amusing. Her suit is pretty conservative—what would you expect at a Catholic school--but she’s so tiny it might not contain enough material for him to use as dental floss. She’s well under 5 feet, and I’d be surprised if she weighs over 90 pounds. Her hair is matted and dripping. If he’s Redneck, she’s “Drowned Rat”.
Suddenly, Redneck says something sharp. Evidently he doesn’t like the fact he has to get his pop in a can. Evidently he likes it even less if he has to get from a person with Downs. He makes it real clear he doesn’t like “dummies”. Bobby gets flustered.
This is so typical of you people. Redneck seems certain screaming at Bobby is useful. The really irritating part is the invincible stupidity. What does he want? Bobby to open a cup factory?
In a small way, I’m tempted to give Redneck something else to think about. But I’m supposed to study your affairs, not interfere with them. There’s also the matter of what I could do. I’m slightly stronger than a human of the same weight, but not enough to do any good here. Of course I learned a few things in the service. But that was back when I was a hot blooded larva. Now I’m a not-so-hot blooded middle aged researcher. Besides--and this is the real clincher--most humans wouldn’t do anything in a similar situation.
Drowned Rat does something! Her voice wavers, but she tells Redneck to stop picking on Bobby in no uncertain terms. I just stare. I thought I knew something about human sociology. Drowned Rat is not acting according to accepted parameters of relative size, age, etc. She doesn’t seem to care about those.
Redneck stares for a minute, but then just snorts and dismissively turns back to Bobby. In fact, he has a new idea. First time in his life and I have to be there. “I’m going to get you fired dummy!” he snarls.
It’s the worst thing he could say. Bobby’s face dissolves and he screams, “No please don’t fire me!” This is infuriating. But, it’s not my business.
It’s Drowned Rat’s business. She slaps Redneck in the small of the back--about like slapping a tank--and yells, “Leave him alone!” Redneck spins around. This time there is real anger in his eyes. I suppose at this point most humans would do something—it would even be conspicuous not to. The important thing is to stay calm and keep everything under control.
“Look sir, why don’t we…” Oops. Probably I should have practiced social interaction in emotionally charged situations more. Before I can say anything else, Redneck makes a suggestion.
You would consider it relating to reproduction. For my species the concept is so ridiculous that I can’t help but make a small smile. Smiles relieve tension in emotional situations, right? Oops. He seems to think I view him as a joke. Actually, that’s perfectly true, but...
He hits me so hard I can hear my own lips split.
That was probably less than an hour ago, but it seems like a lot longer. I’m leaning against the split rail fence around the parking lot. The ambulance and the police cars are gone. For a while they argued over who would get Redneck, but the police decided they would have him over the long haul, and let the EMTs take him. I should go home and fix myself up--the EMTs did a little but I need my own stuff. But to do that I would have to move, which doesn’t seem appealing.
Maybe it’s true what some of you say--there’s no intelligent life beyond Earth. I was stupid. Thank God what my combat instructor said during the Nova War was true—once you learn how to take out a reticulated razor raptor without a weapon, you really can take out anything. I’m also fortunate that the police didn’t mind about the big hole in the concession stand--they actually seemed impressed. But still...
Drowned Rat! I didn’t even see her come up. I barely recognize her in shorts, Bishop Pilla High School sweatshirt, sneakers, and bouncy hair.
“Are you OK?”
“Oh, I feel out of this world.”
“That was the coolest thing I ever saw.”
“It was just a trick I learned in the military. Now you were brave.”
“Nah. I take on quarter ton maggot brains when I’m practically naked--well, you know, not wearing a lot, almost all the time. Catholic school.” She was nodding earnestly.
“They do have a reputation.”
Then she asks what I’m sure she really wants to know.
“For just a minute there, I thought you were, you know, really going to hurt that guy. Why did you stop?”
“You're making it sound worse than it was. Lots of people survive that injury, especially these days. But anyhow Bobby stopped me, didn’t you hear?
”No, I heard him say something, but I was excited.”
Understandable. Besides, she was farther away.
“First Bobby yelled at me not to hurt Redneck--the guy I was fighting. And I shouted back I wasn’t going to hurt him, I was just going to make him regret being born. But then Bobby said, ‘No! It’s wrong to hurt people! I don't like it when people hurt me!’ And that made me stop.”
“You mean, like, Bobby stood up for this guy who made him cry like that? When he could have just stood there and got even?”
She thought about that. She was good at looking serious. After a while, “Wow. Sister Emily always talks about ‘what would Jesus do?’. But, like, you know? Wow.”
I would have articulated it more in terms of Bobby’s principles not depending on whether he had the upper hand or not in a given situation. But I knew what Drowned Rat meant. You know?
Her face brightened, “Hey, mister! Do you want me to get you a Coke or something? They’ve got it in cans!”
“No! No, thank you. I’m going home.”
I went home and got patched up. But I’d realized I’d have to hit the beach again, soon. Great place for research. You can’t tell anything by appearances.