Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I've Been Away

Wow, it sure has been a while, hasn't it? If you can't hear me, that's okay. I kind of expect that my fans have all wandered off by now. I mean, I can't blame you. If there was a site whose material I loved, I'd only spend a month, maybe a month and a half tops, refreshing the page every hour before the lack of new content drove me to become depressed and jump out a window.

Fortunately for us both, your window is on the ground floor and all you've done is ruin a hapless bush. I apologize about the bush, and will see about helping you find a new one.

I have an excuse, though, the telling of which is littered with the brand of intrigue and lack of respect for my readers that you've come to expect from me.

It was late February, and I was in my office preparing to write another brilliant post. I figured I'd go with something involving pirates or maybe computers. Maybe tie it together with computer pirates. "Y'arr! Keygen ho, matey! T'will unlock me digital booty!"

Nothing was getting written if I didn't have a cup of coffee at hand, so I had to take care of that first. I spun my chair around, and came face to face with a stranger.

The honed machinery of instinct that millions of years of selection had painstakingly assembled in my body powered up and was online in milliseconds. Just as quickly, my brain bumbled in and leaned casually on the Emergency Shutdown switch, like the comic-relief fat guy who's always accidentally shutting things down in the movies. It sort of realized what it had done and stood there looking sheepish before dropping its sandwich and scampering sweatily off to resume tampering with my memories.

I was so stunned that I just kept spinning. I came face to face with him three more times before I stopped.

"Eep!" I said.

"You'll be wondering why I'm here," the stranger said. He peeled back the lapel of the white lab coat he was wearing to reveal a red nametag stuck to the sweater vest underneath. "Hello, my name is The Government" it read. "As you can see, I am with The Government."

I cleared my throat and regained my storied cool. "If this is about quartering troops, we've been through this before," I said.

"No, no, Mr. Daddy," the stranger said. He brushed some PCI cards off a chair and seated himself. "We've had our eye on you for some time now," he paused to stroke his beardless chin, "and we at NASA think you'd make an excellent candidate for our first manned trip to Mars. Arrangements have already been made, if you are interested in participating."

I was taken aback. No, more than that. My aback wasn't just taken, but wrenched forcefully from my grasp and driven at high speed through rush-hour traffic to be hastily disassembled in an abandoned warehouse and sold for parts on the black market.

"Really and for true?" I said lamely, wasting the buildup.

"For true," the man said, offering his hand. I shook it. "Excellent!" he said, nudging his glasses higher on the bridge of his nose before standing. "Follow me. We have a vehicle waiting."

Now, I don't know about you, but television and the movies have conditioned me to picture government officials driving around in shiny black Cadillac Escalades or other chunky vehicular monstrosities. The bigger, shinier, blacker and uglier the SUV, the more governmenty it looks.

This man had arrived in a red Focus hatchback. "Just throw those boxes in the back seat," he said, starting the engine.

"Snickers bars?"

"Not ordinary Snickers bars," the totally beardless man said, peering officiously over the top of his glasses. "Those are Space Snickers. In fact, the 'Snickers' is an acronym meaning 'Space Nutrients In Chocolate Knickers Enhanced for Rare Sorts'. They're only for our most valuable space cadets."

"Can I have one?"

"Oh, my, no," the agent laughed. "We're here."

We had parked behind a low brick building with a big plate-glass window out front. A pink sign above the window declared it to be a bakery.

"A bakery?"

The man leaned in close enough for me to see that he had absolutely no trace of a beard on his face. "It's just a front," he whispered. "It's actually a seeeeecret entrance."

I was definitely interested now. I loved secret entrances. "Is it? To what? To where? Can I go in?"

"Whoa! Easy there, buckaroo! One at a time." His brow wrinkled as if he were deep in thought, and he again stroked his luxuriant lack-of-beard. "To answer your first question; shut up. Follow me."

With one last, longing glance at the box of cutting-edge, government-issue Snickers bars, I shut the door of the Focus and followed the monstrously un-bearded man into the secret facility.

"Here. You'll need these," he said, handing me a pair of cardboard glasses. The "lenses" were rectangles of thin plastic. One was tinted red, the other blue. "Do not put them on until I tell you to. Go on in."

When I pushed the door open the tinkling of a small bell greeted my ears, and the smile of a matronly woman greeted my eyes. She was standing behind a glass counter full of doughnuts. "What can I get for you two?" she asked.

The man nudged me. "Okay, put the glasses on," he said, "but keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them. The only way to reach a target as distant as Mars is to launch at extremely high velocity. We accomplish this with a terawatt magnetic rail driver, and if some of that magnetism gets in your eyes, it itches like a sonofabitch. Those glasses can only block so much."

I complied. My world went dark, although I could hear the barren-chinned man order a dozen glazed doughnuts. I heard some rustling and then the clang and clatter of a cash register.

"Okay. We're on Mars," the man announced. "You can open your eyes."

I almost didn't. I'd never been on Mars before, and I wanted to savor it. I think I might have even been a little frightened. I was planning on using part of the travel time to sort of psych myself up for what was certainly a journey fraught with peril and the beardless unknown, but it was over so fast.

"Hey," said the man with the defoliated beard area. "I said you could open your eyes. Here. Hold these doughnuts."

I opened my eyes. The world before me shimmered with an unearthly purplish light. Objects appeared to have two edges, one gilded in red, the other in blue. They shifted in space when I forced my eyes to shift focus.

"Have a nice day!" said a voice. Startled, I whirled 'round to locate its source. A purplish matronly woman behind a purplish glass counter full of purplish doughnuts waved goodbye purplishly. I'm pretty sure my mouth dropped open, and I took a few steps backward.

A little bell dingled, and before I knew it, I was outside on the surface of an alien world, looking at a bizarrely alien Ford Focus. It was so different, but so oddly familiar.

"I thought Mars was supposed to be red," I said, surprised at how well my voice carried in the thin Martian atmosphere.

"Close one of your eyes," said the man without any discernible facial hair, unlocking the Focus.

I did. The landscape before me lost its strange double-edged appearance and turned blue.

"It's blue now," I said. "That's worse than before."

The man started his car. "Then close the other eye. Your door's unlocked."

I did. My field of vision went black.

"Shit! Now it's totally dark! What'd I do? Oh, fuck, I've doomed the mission!" I wailed.

"Jesus Christ. I meant close the other eye and re-open the first one. Get in the car, willya?"

I did as my beardless guide instructed. The scene reappeared, washed in a deep red. That was more like it! The Mars I'd read about in books and seen on TV since I was but a lad! Evidently, human society had put in a lot of very hard and very impressive work since the last time I'd taken in any Mars news. I could have sworn I was in an Earth neighborhood.

I seated myself in the Martian Focus, balancing the doughnuts on my lap. They seemed to weigh less, now that we were on a planet with only a third the gravity of Earth's.

"Where are we going now?" I asked the man, who hadn't the faintest beard about him. "Can we see that big canyon?"

"Tomorrow," he said, remaining beardless. "Let's get to the base. I'm sure you'll find the accommodations very accommodating."

He was right. We pulled into the driveway of a house shockingly similar to the one I had lived in back on Earth, except that it was all reddish. Very cool.

"Now," said the man, after we had seated ourselves at a space table and eaten a couple of our Earth doughnuts; doughnuts that had made a 60 million mile voyage that very few other doughnuts had, "I must make a confession."

He stood, and removed his beardlessness with a flourish, revealing a beard. "Ha! It's been me all along, boy!" said my dad, tossing his false un-beard onto the table in front of him. "Got that from Hong Kong. They must have accidentally packed it in with one of my flashlights. Hee."

I gasped. Unbelievable! How could I have missed it? It was right there in front of me the whole time! My father works for NASA!

"Wow!" I squealed, like one of those insufferable kids from 50s sitcoms. "How long have you been involved in the space program?"

Stunned silence.

"And how come you never brought home any space candy when I was little?"

"No, um, boy, I'm not involved in the space program. And you can take off those glasses now. This was all just a little prank," he said, slowly lowering himself back into his chair, as if he were an inflatable man with a slow leak.

"Ha, it's okay, you can tell me! I'm your son!" I said, winking with my open eye.

"Jesus Christ. Just eat your doughnuts."

Well, as you can imagine, that is why it has taken me so long to write a new Blog post. Adjusting to life on a new planet really takes it out of you. It's a good thing the Internet has made it to Mars too, or else I wouldn't have even been able to write this much.