Mrs. Kastenmeir is the nice Jewish lady downstairs. She visits from time to time. Usually she brings some sort of pastry, as far as I know all kosher, which is kind of interesting. She says I’m one of the righteous goyim, from the Yiddish term for “not Jewish”. I don’t know about righteous, but she’s more correct than she knows about the not Jewish part.
My name--or at least the name I use here--is Al Creature. I’m a sociologist from another star system, here to study your species. In my native form, I don’t look remotely human. However our technology is farther from yours than yours is from the Stone Age. It is easy to “pass” as one of you.
You might think Mrs. Kastenmeir is too mundane to interest me. Nothing could be further from the truth. She perfectly exemplifies many of the blessings--and problems-- humanity has experienced as a result of recent history.
For example, although she doesn’t get around as well as she used to, modern advances have made it possible for her to live much longer than she probably would have in an earlier time. Good, right? Maybe not entirely. A century ago she might have died younger, but it probably would have been as a respected matriarch among family and friends. As it is, her husband’s been dead a decade now. She has one daughter who lives in New York and doesn’t get to see her often. Most of her friends have moved, many to Florida. The synagogue she used to attend closed. She could go to another one, but she doesn’t think it would be the same where she doesn’t know anyone. And, face it, plenty of you humans don’t feel real comfortable around old people anyhow. Old age on Earth in the twenty first century might be better than dead, but it’s not always easy.
But she does find ways to pass the time. One of her big distractions that amuses me is she’s very interested in “crop circles”. You know, alien (from your standpoint) attempts to communicate with humans by making patterns in crops.
I do not believe in crop circles. True, I have inside information. But even if I was human I’d be skeptical. Crop circles are supposedly communication, or even warnings of invasion, right? Wouldn’t you think a very advanced interstellar civilization would be aware of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter? Why stamp on plants? As for invasion, not that we would attack, but if we did, we probably wouldn’t tell you first. Eisenhower didn’t tell the Germans about D-Day.
But regardless of what I think, crop circles are REALLY important to Mrs. Kastenmeir. She’s got books, magazines, videos, and talks about the subject for hours. Maybe it’s silly, but I’ve seen humans waste a lot of time and effort on plenty of things that were stupid if given some thought. Better she has a hobby than sits around waiting to die.
But Brenda didn’t see it that way.
Brenda is Mrs. Kastenmeir’s daughter. She came one Thursday evening, planning to stay a week. It had been a while--I guess in part because of a divorce situation. As you can imagine, Mrs. Kastenmeir was really excited.
I heard arguing from below all Friday evening. And again Saturday, sometimes from the apartment, sometimes from the patio. It wasn’t a matter of eavesdropping, there was no missing it. I had no idea what was actually said, but anyone could have told there were serious problems between mother and daughter.
Saturday evening, Brenda knocked on my door.
At least by human standards, she was pretty good looking for her age, trim with short salt and pepper, slightly wavy, hair. A rather square face with very black eyes. She practically radiated determination. Nice tan, too--obviously worked on it. She had come because she wanted an opinion from someone who knew her mother. She stated her mother was starting to have trouble getting around, which I couldn’t deny, and that she wasn’t sure the older lady was fully rational. For example she had tried just to discuss--that was all--assisted living. Mrs. Kastenmeir became so agitated the conversation couldn’t continue.
I didn’t doubt that. You had to be there. By “there”, I mean World War II. when Mrs. Kastenmeir was growing up Jewish, and I studied human warfare as a captain in the Russian army. Got my tail shot off--literally--at Kursk, but at least I was awarded the “Order of Lenin”. After that, I was sure I’d seen it all.
Until I helped liberate certain “camps” in Poland.
Let me put it this way: I know exactly why Mrs. Kastenmeir was afraid to be “sent away”. I’m not saying that the fear was rational, but it was understandable and real. But it was hard to explain that to Brenda, especially since I couldn’t just tell her about my Red Army days. It wasn’t that she didn’t know her mother’s background. She couldn’t appreciate it. She Just Wasn’t There.
I soon got the feeling that Brenda’s mind was really made up about an assisting living solution--even a nursing home. In a way it didn’t matter. Even if I were human I would have no right to get involved. But Brenda wasn’t finished.
“Then there’s that crop circle stuff. You don’t believe in crop circles, do you Mr. Creature?”
“I guess not,” I said slowly. She cut me off.
“It’s ridiculous! When you stop to think about it, the whole idea of life on other planets is stupid, don’t you think? I mean, think about it!”
I wasn’t quite sure what to say to that one. But I didn’t have to respond because she continued before I could think of anything.
“I mean, I hope there’s no life on other planets. Have you seen the movies? Reality would probably be worse. Can you imagine how awful real aliens would probably be?”
She might be surprised at what I could imagine. But what I was really imagining was an end of the conversation, which came a few minutes later. It left me with a lot to think about.
Mrs. Kastenmeir was in danger--as she would put it--of being “taken away”. And while in some ways that wasn’t any of my business, in other ways I wasn’t so sure. Brenda--doing her best in a very difficult situation--just wasn’t making a fair assessment. It’s not nuts to believe in aliens. And if you concede that, it’s hard to say how crop circles are crazy-untrue, perhaps, but not crazy. I had knowledge Brenda needed, but was there any way of conveying it subtly? It didn’t help she was so prejudiced against aliens. Actually, she wasn’t my idea of a dream date, either. Maybe to a human, that tan looked nice, but...
I had an idea.
To you, it might seem like magic, but you’re technologically backward. As a researcher, I naturally had access to a satellite capable of tracking individuals, and of taking various actions depending on what they were doing. It was routine for the satellite to be equipped with an ultraviolet emitter for various experiments. It would take some reprogramming to do what I had in mind, but then we’re well ahead of Microsoft here. The thing I couldn’t control was I needed Brenda to work on her tan sometime while she was visiting. Based on what I had seen, I thought the odds were in my favor. I was right.
Two days later I came in to find a message from Mrs. Kastenmeir on my machine.
“Brenda’s got crop circles! Come down here!”
I went down, and was ushered into the kitchen. Mrs. Kastenmeir was very excited. Brenda, sitting at the table, wearing a blouse with a very high collar and very long sleeves, was very subdued. I sat next to her.
“Come on, honey, roll up your sleeve, and show him!” Nodding, Brenda complied, just enough to show a faint but unmistakable five pointed star. I tried to act impressed as I said,
“That’s interesting! It reminds me of a Russian Army star from--never mind. But, you know, it really looks like a natural tan--only a little darker than the surrounding skin.” Which actually was exactly the case. At that point, Brenda finally opened up.
“I know! But I’ve got them all over--different shapes about the same color. Well, not all over, just where I was exposed to the sun. Here.” She rolled up her other sleeve to display a Tao symbol.
I managed to interject, “Interesting, it’s almost like they were designed to complement your natural beauty.” That was laying it on a little thick, but it was true--I added an extra subroutine. That earned me a relieved and grateful smile. I think she was ready to listen to anything that made her feel better. But she was still worried as she continued,
“They just appeared today. I was hoping they would go away, or that I was just imaging things, but they’re getting sharper. Mom is right, taken all together they look like--crop circles. I know I should go to a doctor, but I don’t know anyone here, and I’m afraid they’d just laugh. Mom says you know a lot of stuff. What do you think?”
I gave her a reassuring smile, which doesn’t really come naturally to my species, but seemed like the right thing to do, “Well, I guess you’ve been hearing a lot about crop circles lately, right? And, if you happened to be under a lot pressure at the same time...” I hoped that was diplomatic enough, “...the mind could do strange things. Maybe your best bet is to just take it easy for a while. You can always change your mind about the doctor. I think I can guarantee there is a perfectly benign, logical explanation for this.”
I could tell I was winning her over, when Mrs. Kastenmeir broke in triumphantly, “But they look like crop circles!” And then with sudden desperate pleading, “See baby, I’m not crazy, am I? Strange things happen!”
Brenda looked right at her mother for a few seconds. She nodded.
I won’t say things are perfect now, but they’re better. Brenda has set things up so that nice girl Lydia from Jewish Social Services comes twice a week. And Rabbi Tony checks on Mrs. Kastenmeir about once a month. He convinced her she was not too old to learn Hebrew, which may not have ended the crop circle thing, but at least cut it down to size. I enjoy talking to Rabbi Tony, although I’ve only done it a few times. He has interesting ideas. For example, he admits he can’t be sure about life beyond Earth, But, he thinks it’s improbable because, “It’s more likely God wants us to handle our own problems.”
And mostly, I’d agree with that.
But some day I’ll have to tell him about that Red Sea thing.