Humor: Open Letter to the Daleks re: Repeated Attempts to Destroy Earth

For grins to mark the return of new Dr. Who episodes, here dusted off is my humor piece ‘An Open Letter to the Daleks re: Repeated Efforts to Destroy Earth’

Dear Supreme Whoever Dalek Is In Charge, We Don’t Know Any More:

Why us? Seriously?

Earth science estimates 300 sextillion (1021) galaxies in the known universe, each galaxy containing a stunning multitude of stars, our own Milky Way some two hundred billion (2×1011), many upon many containing habitable planets. By the time the light wave  beaming this letter reaches your planet or wherever you’re out exterminating, we will have greatly increased those counts–galaxies, stars, habitable planets–as our astronomical capabilities improve.  But already we know this: there are so many stars that humanity has invented denominations like which serve no purpose other than counting stars. Seriously, a guy in an astronomy lab called a buddy at the math department and said, “Hey, it’s me. We found more stars. A lot more.” And the buddy said, “How many more?” And the astronomer said, “That’s why I’m calling. We’re out of numbers.”

Of course, those estimates are just in our universe. Dalek technology, as we understand it, adds near-infinite realities in the space-time continuum. Even filtering out dying or uninhabitable universes, the sheer exponential plentitude of Dalek targets make the odds of finding Earth, let alone attacking us once, let alone renewing the attack every few years, infinitesimal. Miniscule. Rather near zero.

And yet you keep returning.

We understand our cultures may be very different. To the Dalek mind, it may be perfectly acceptable to devastate other planets or exterminate indigenous species. We consider it bad form. This is not to say it does not occur here–say wars, deforestation, pollution, that sort of thing–but the behavior is still, on balance, considered uncool.

Is it us? Are we a threat to you? It seems unlikely. Right now our best minds in space flight are focused on tourism, questions such as the artificial gravity and cabin pressure required to keep the tycoon’s champagne bubbling. Our best defense against an inbound asteroid is our NASA positing, “we might could nudge that puppy a few degrees, I don’t know.” Yes, we sent a lander to Mars, our probes have left the solar system, and our telescopes are mapping the depths of space. Know what we’ve found? Ever more perfectly habitable star systems your empire can just have, no invasion or fleet maintenance, no Doctor Who run-ins, no problem.

Daleks, we are no interstellar threat. Do not mistake Star Trek or similar programs on our airwaves for newsreel footage. It’s just quality entertainment. Certainly someday our popular music and talk radio beaming off the planet will be a universe-wide nuisance. For that, we apologize. But we should also point out that, one, it is a mere nuisance easily jammed and, two, had you minded your own affairs and not attacked our planet, our broadcasting waves would still be eons upon eons from reaching your distant empire.

So you feel compelled to exterminate. Have you sought counseling? Our anger management therapies are quite advanced, perhaps superior to your own. We would be delighted to make our therapists available to you pro bono or at very reasonable rates per hour, a bargain for both races given the alternative of another invasion attempt.

If you are not yet ready for co-existence or therapy, then consider the benefits of inaction. As already mentioned, look how we treat our planet. You don’t want it. Trust us. We are the dominant species and are doing our damndest to exterminate ourselves. You could simply stop attacking, wait us out, and take over after Earth has cleansed itself of our leftover contaminants. Why not let us handle things from here? As a token of good faith, we would be willing to send you environmental progress reports. Another important benefit of inaction, of which no Dalek needs reminding, should you stop attacking us, the Doctor will stop destroying you by the shipload. This will spare valuable Daleks to fight the Cybermen or impure Daleks or whoever else you’re out to exterminate at the moment.

Daleks, it comes down to this: you have far more to gain by not attacking Earth than ever you could achieve by a successful attack. If you refuse to accept the logic of a supposedly-lesser species, consider the cold logic of repeated failure. For so many attempts, all your treasure and shock troops sent here have ended up as so much scrap metal and space junk. And yet, it is not hard for us to picture you yet again working yourself into a tizzy over another invasion, knowing even as you bleat ‘Exterminate!’ that the Doctor will–inevitably and decisively–intervene.

There’s another possible explanation why you keep returning,  one you might not yet be ready to hear. You seek not to exterminate us, but to impress us. Why else the continued but doomed attacks? You crave our attention, perhaps even our approval, and being emotionally stunted you act out: fire death rays, tear up London, ruin our Christmases. Daleks, there is a pattern in psychology known as ‘leaky behavior,’ where no matter the front someone puts up, their true and honest feelings leak out in actions large and small. And here you are in your latest incarnation, decked out like our iPods in their fashion colors, and svelte too, trimmed down and sleek by Dalek standards. Or is there another species out in the vastness of space and time that you know to perk up at Daleks clad in  designs ripped from an Apple store? One wonders, Daleks, if you want to exterminate us or make us a playlist.

Daleks, please, stop trying to wipe us from reality and just talk to us. There’s a saying from a little blue planet to which somehow you always find your way back–you only hurt the one you love.

What’s Great About The Great Pumpkin

DSC00096Ever since I was a kid, something in Charles Schulz’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown has spoken  to me. No kid cares to explore that kind of nuance. For Bob-Back-Then, “I like it because” was enough to pour Coca-Cola in my milk or rush to the TV in time for the piano soundtrack and the velvety-voiced guy making sure everybody knew the show was brought to us by Dolly Madison snack cakes.

So for Bob-Now, what’s the charm years later?

“Because” has become a mature take, the sort that emerges after you realize Coke and milk together isn’t the best beverage combination. The simple answer: The Great Pumpkin is hilarious. Charlie Brown gets rocks instead of candy. Lucy has a five-alarm freak-out after Snoopy plants one on her. Little Sally is torn–but not all that torn–over Halloween as a candy grift.

Even that is too simple to explain how a cartoon endures. After all, I’m not still watching the Laff Olympics. The staying power, like all great humor, lies in what’s below the punch lines. In this case, Schulz’s genius: he speaks straight to the poignancies and universalities so clear in his world. Both growing up and as grown-ups, one way or another, we all have our Red Barons to fight. We all get rocks thrown in our bags.

Shultz presents characters who struggle with their belief systems, often in the face of active derision. Charlie Brown wants to belong–somewhere, anywhere; Sally weighs competing wants, wanting both easy candy and the harder path of true love; and Linus wants the mystical Great Pumpkin to arise and his emotional investment be affirmed.

Ah, Linus. Well, there The Great Pumpkin shines brightest.

Strip the cartoon to its bones. Strip away the jokes, the playful jazz piano, the Red Baron subplots, and what is the main story thread? Linus prepping for the Great Pumpkin and the reactions his ideology/blockheadism provokes. Strip away all but his inner conflict, and here is the enduring question no kid swilling coke and milk would care to ponder.

Faith.

I don’t mean in religious terms, but as humans in humanity.

“Each year, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch that he thinks is the most sincere. He’s gotta pick this one. He’s got to. I don’t see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one. You can look around and there’s not a sign of hypocrisy. Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.”

— Linus Van Pelt

I love the writing skill on display here. The lines build as Linus tries to will the Great Pumpkin to life until it’s damn clear he doesn’t want the Great Pumpkin nearly as much as he craves a sincere and truthful world. And to paraphrase a different special, “that, Charlie Brown, is what The Great Pumpkin is all about.”

DSC00099With hopeless romance, each ignores cynics and danger signs to pursue the apparent object of their faith. Charlie Brown, desperate to go along if it means getting along, looks past his inner authenticity and past the retracted accidental party invite and lets Lucy dupe him, against all experience, into another field-goal turned butt-plant (“this year I’m really going to kick the football!”). His dream Halloween ends in a bag full of rocks. Sally watches the others clean up trick-or-treating while her night devolves, bringing her neither indoctrination nor love (nor candy). Everyone, including the beagle, ridicules poor Linus, but like Quixote he presses on anyway. Eventually, abandoned and alone, he’s found shivering amid mere pumpkins.

The next morning finds Charlie Brown and Sally empty-handed and more jaded than ever. But then they allowed greed and candy to taint their beliefs. Linus fails too, predictably, but only partially. His sister tucks him in, a tacit acceptance, and by morning he wakes still the purest and most authentic of believers. After all, no proof rose from the pumpkin patch, but unlike the Browns, neither was he disproved.

Faith survives for another year.

So here’s why The Great Pumpkin speaks to Bob-At-Any-Age: its deep and enduring questions presented in an entertaining, even innocent package. I root for them all now as hard as then because, in life, all of us are looking for just the right patch to call home.

Behind: “Dark Days for the Professor”

51mTezsunJL__SY346_Southern lit. Family conflict. Race and social issues. Push-pull of tradition. Sense of belonging to place, like it or not.

I don’t write it.

Or at least I hadn’t until earlier this year. So it’s a thrill that my “Dark Days for the Professor” has been included in NWMG’s Southern lit anthology Not So Fast.

So I don’t write Southern–themes generally or voice specifically–but I’m immersed in the South. And oddball humor? I am to oddball humor what cats are to my couch: hairy and all over it.

Game on.

I thought about this one a long while. For me, good Southern lit says something. Stuff gets real. Real real, no magic wind or giant bateau mouche. My first challenge was Continue reading “Behind: “Dark Days for the Professor””

The Fall and Rise of Draft One

Day One

We’re putting together an anthology,” they say. They have an email to prove it. Very few combinations of five words so excite The Short Story Guy. Maybe “short stories turn me on,” or “sure, we’re a paying market.”

It is not a literary style I’ve written in. Despite that, perhaps because of it, I am intrigued.

I fire up the idea engine.

Nothing happens.

Day Thirty

I have researched this strange literary technique, its shining authors and common subject matter. I have started and abandoned a few concepts. Having tossed out the chaff, now is the time of wheat. Surely, I think, an inspired idea is assured. Any time now.

Nothing Happens.

Day Thirty-Seven

Today is the day. Other projects need aging. No other anthology offers. No requests for Short Story Guy to make commencement speeches or sign other people’s books at Barnes & Noble. Theme! I think. Yes, theme. My submission needs a theme. One that matches the anthology.  I select it.

Nothing happens.

Day Thirty-Eight

The white screen mocks me. Where there should be a Continue reading “The Fall and Rise of Draft One”