Chapter 1: Drinking
I yelled at my girlfriend for mentioning Plato in a note she wrote to me.
Like, mentioning the fact that we knew him. That we knew the boy that is Plato. I bet you didn’t know he was a boy, right? I bet you thought Plato was really a spaceship. The ship is a boy. He’s a high school kid. People have all kinds of theories about who/what he is, but that’s it. And when she wrote me that note, nobody but nobody knew that but us.
Boy did they want to, though.
Plato was this kid named Marlo, and in our little Pittsburg, Kansas high school, he was a chubby loser. He was also my best friend, but I guess I shouldn’t say I yelled at my girlfriend. I should say that I yelled at my ex-girlfriend. She dumped me. Not because I yelled at her. I think she was going to dump me anyway.
We’re not talking about Plato the famous philosopher. We’re talking about Plato the Flying Saucer. Who cares about the Philosopher?
Marlo might have been able to turn his body into a flying saucer that could circumnavigate the earth in a few seconds, but I had a girlfriend. He never had a girlfriend. I had Marigold and I felt great about it. He got to be the most powerful human being on Earth, but girls still snickered at him — if they even noticed him at all.
He talked about his abilities as if they made him feel more alone.
You know, like in the boo-hoo Spider-Man way. The nobody understands me way. Though I think it was also in the I-don’t-have-time-for-friends sorta way. Not that he really had friends, but he could hang out with me and my friends.
Back before he was Plato.
Now he doesn’t have any time for any of that.
And the only person he could talk about it with was me. Well, and, I guess, Marigold, too.
Anyway, if you’ve ever read two issues of Lee & Kirby’s Spider-Man, then you already know this script. In fact, the only reason I’m even writing right now is because I think the reason my girlfriend dumped me had something to do with Plato. With Marlo. Whichever.
I can’t even believe that I am writing about the two of them on the same piece of paper. Ever since Marlo showed me what he could do, I felt like I was more careful with his secret than even he ever was. To me, it was the most important secret in the entire world!
Now the most important thing in the world is figuring out why she left me. No, actually, the most important thing in the world is getting her back.
My ex-girlfriend, Marigold, was the only other person in the world who knew that Marlo was Plato: The Flying Saucer Philosopher. I didn’t tell her. Marlo told her. He told her one night after a party. The party was at our friend Brown’s family business place. They had this really huge basement that was great for a kegger. We could be as loud as we wanted. No one would ever know.
I drove her back from there. We didn’t really talk until we got to her house, and then we sat in the driveway in my car for a while. It was autumn. Not really cold yet, but we had jackets on. We parked the car.
“Baby carrot, what’s up?” Marigold asked me.
“Nothing. Sorry,” I said. I didn’t want to talk about it.
“What is it?”
“You’ve got to get inside. Your dad will be mad.”
“Don’t worry. He knows we aren’t having sex in the driveway. What is it?”
“I think it was nice of Marlo.”
“I was really stressed out about the aliens. What I thought were aliens.”
“I mean, I guess I know for sure that there are aliens now, but they aren’t here.”
“Honey what is it?”
It went on like that for a while, but she wasn’t letting it drop, and of course girls have ways of making a guy relax. My tension started to melt. It helped a lot that she wasn’t the one I was mad at. It was Marlo that I was mad at. But I was mad at Marlo because he was going to make me get made at Marigold. I knew I would get mad at Marigold, because Marigold wouldn’t be careful enough.
We left the party late. Marigold’s dad trusted me with his daughter, so I didn’t have to get her back till 1AMish. It was half-past midnight and Marlo made us go out the back door and then he led us out into the alley, even though my car was out front. On Broadway. I kept being like, “What the fuck do you want, gaylord?” but he wasn’t saying. I didn’t know what was going on until he had us back in this crazy overgrown back alley, deep in darkness and he told Marigold to stay where she was standing.
He was going to show her that he was the spaceship. The one she’d seen on TV. Fuck. I could already see G-Men locking down our high school.
“Remember,” Marigold said, “How badly I slept after the first time that spaceship showed up on TV?”
“Yeah, I know.”
“I thought it was really nice,” she said. I didn’t reply. “Marlo and me were having a really nice conversation at the party, you know? We mostly talked about how he’d gone about trying to get Lisa McGonegal to hang out with him.”
“My chubby buddy.”
“But I also told him about how stressed out I’d been about the flying saucer.”
“I told you that you didn’t need to worry about that.”
“Honey, what do you know about flying saucers?”
“I am the second most informed person about flying saucers on this entire planet.”
“How was I going to believe that you knew what you were talking about if you weren’t going to tell me anything more than ‘don’t worry, it’s going to be fine.’”
“You don’t trust me.”
“Honey, guys say all kinds of things to girls.”
Marlo had sprung this one on me. I guess he’d had a drink or two. I was drunk out of my mind. I shouldn’t have even been driving. I felt okay, though. I had gotten so angry flying across the continent inside Marlo-as-flying-Saucer, what you know as Plato, that it had sobered me up.
Everyone got home okay. Marigold and I only lived about a quarter-mile apart.
She said, “It’s just that I started telling him about all the research I’d done on-line about this spaceship, and how I didn’t find any of the theories, you know, credible. It really seemed to bother Marlo.”
“Yeah, he gets really hung up about the stuff on-line. It’s been all I can do to stop him from blogging.”
“He was like you, though. He wouldn’t say why he was so sure that all the information I found was wrong.”
“Too bad he didn’t stick to his guns,” I said. And regretted saying it as soon as I’d said it. There’s a difference between being right and the right thing to say. Did you know that? It’s one of those things you are supposed to learn from your first girlfriend.
“Why don’t you trust me?” Marigold asked. And now that I think about it, that was an important question. I didn’t answer it that night. You know how sometimes something important is happening but something else that isn’t nearly so important is also happening and you have a hard time sorting out which most merits your attention?
Say, your girlfriend shared one of the most unique experiences any human is ever going to experience with you: she flew thru the air in a flying saucer and then it went into the ocean and showed her a legit mystery of the deep, unknown to science.
You were there. You shared it with her. Now you are in her driveway, talking about it. You’re talking.
All her dad has to do is look out the window and he can see that she’s safe and she isn’t having sex with you. That’s all. But you are still really worried about what her dad is thinking in there and that worry is preventing you from thinking about bonding over this experience, this ineffability.
You’re thinking about him, though.
It’s 1AM. He’s probably asleep. You’re still worrying about it.
You’re also thinking about the fact that there is absolutely no way your best friend should have shown her that he was Plato. No way. But it’s done, so maybe you should be thinking about what this all means for you and your girlfriend, now, right?
Only I wasn’t thinking about that at all. And I wouldn’t have had to have so much insight into the human psyche if Marlo hadn’t been so stupid about the biggest secret in the entire world.
“Can you imagine what it must be like to be Marlo?” Marigold asked.
“What do you mean? Fat? Lonely? Kinda slow?”
“No, I mean, that he’s able to fly like that. Go into the Ocean.”
“His feelings about it are pretty mixed.”
“Can he go into space?”
“Yeah. I mean... flying saucer.”
“And it’s easy?”
“I think so.”
“Can you imagine? Human society has been working for years and years to get into space and he can do it like -- no problem. He can go for an afternoon.”
“It’s pretty amazing.”
“I wonder if he knows how lucky he is?”
“Well, when Marlo talks about it, he doesn’t talk about it like he’s lucky. He says he hardly feels like it is him anymore.”
“When he is the flying saucer?”
“I mean, he’s not a boy anymore when he’s a flying saucer, right?”
“I still think it must be amazing.”
“Yeah, he has some great stories. I don’t think he’d want to go back.”
“I wouldn’t think so.”
“Does he say anything else? About feeling like he’s another person?”
“I think the main difference is that he talks a lot.”
“He talks a lot?”
“What does he say?”
“It’s all ethics and society and probability analysis and demographics. It’s weird.”
“Well, that’s what I mean. That’s what Marlo always says. It’s not him. When he changes back into a boy and thinks back on the stuff he can remember saying he’s like, ‘What the hell was I talking about?’ He doesn’t know where it comes from.”
“It’s okay that Marlo showed me what he can do.”
“Be really careful, okay?”
“I will, Baby Carrot.”
“It’s the biggest secret in the world. He just shared the biggest secret in the world with you.”
OK, I didn’t think I needed to revisit this part but I keep thinking about it, so maybe that does mean that I need to go back. Here’s what happened that night. Here’s some of what happened that night. It’s after the party. It’s pretty late. We’ve all drank too much. We’re worried about getting back and we don’t want to go home quite yet, right?
Marigold’s parents haven’t texted her or anything, so we’re pretty cool, but we’re also all drunk. I should back up. This was how I was looking at everything. I don’t think that’s how Marlo and Marigold were looking at it. They had had a really good time at the party, right? Drank quite a bit. I think it was the first time that Marlo had ever had fun at a party.
Mostly, talking to my girlfriend, but he had fun at the party.
Marigold and I are out front kind of debating what we should do. My car was parked out front of Brown’s family’s place, right on Pittsburg’s main drag. We were thinking about walking over to the 24-Hour Wal-Mart for some seltzer’s and lemons and to let the walk sober us up a little. Marlo said that there was something really cool behind Brown’s building, though, and he insisted we go back there.
So we leave out the back, not the front, like I said. I didn’t see anything coming but I’d been hitting a bottle of Stoli pretty hard that night. I remember saying:
“You’re not going to show us your dick, are you, Marlo?”
“No, man, come on!” he said.
“Good, because that’s not impressive.” I said. Marigold told me not to be gross.
So when we get back there he takes us all the way to the alley, which is kind of a ways back and it is really dark and hidden and the trees have overgrown it. We’re like, “so what is it?” Marlo doesn’t answer, but he closes his eyes and his head kind of tilts up. When Marlo turns into a flying saucer (the one you know as “Plato”), he does it by picturing this weird symbol in his head and imagining that symbol changing into a sequence of colors.
You and I could do this all day, but it wouldn’t work for us. Marlo has this machine built into him. That’s how he turns it on. Anyway, I see him doing this and I’m like, holy crap, no! I know what he’s going to do and he shouldn’t be doing it in front of Marigold. He’s drunk. He’s in a good mood for the first time since puberty. I get it, but he can’t be so careless with his secret. I.M.H.O.
All at once it hits me. Our planet only has one Superman. Marlo is it. His weakness isn’t Kryptonite or fire or the color yellow. His weakness is himself. Plato’s weakness is the fat virgin built into the wiring of that spaceship that has transfixed the world.
I love Marigold. I trust her completely. I do, but he never should have told her.
Right there in front of us, though, he becomes a flying saucer. I’ve seen him do this plenty of times. He kind of floats up in the air and his skin starts to change color and he sort of spreads out and then this framework starts to grow out of him, real thin and spidery and then it becomes all covered in metal and then -- boom! He’s not he. He’s it. The flying saucer. Roughly the size of two Volvos. I mean, Marlo’s a fatty, but he’s not that big. That’s the part I always wonder about, but there he is. Floating in the air and ready to go.
Only, there is one difference this time from all the other times I’ve seen him change. Whenever he’s done it before, he’s been this perfect, sealed saucer. Like in Plan 9 from Outer Space. This time he had a cockpit built for two, sealed in with glass. I didn’t know he could do that. I didn’t know he could vary the design when he changed. He had always told me he could not take passengers.
As Plato, Marlo has a whole different voice. He can speak, but his voice sounds like an orchestra. Seriously. It’s like a whole orchestra is talking to you. So in a voice like a hundred violins playing softly and the trumpets and trombones following their lead, he asks:
“How would you guys like to get a look at some sea monsters?”