8/25/2003

is there life on Mars?


Robert came over and we went to the Oak Ridge Observatory in Harvard, MA, to try to see Mars. Didn’t actually manage it. The clouds sort of rolled in around sunset and obscured the view. But I doubt we would have been able to get in to see it anyway. There was limited space, obviously, and a lottery to determine which sixty lucky visitors would get in. They actually have several telescopes on the premises, but the really big one’s the one you want to look through, obviously. It’s a 61” Wyeth reflector telescope. But even it’s not state of the art anymore, though some guy who, in the chaos and confusion that ensued as darkness fell, claimed to be an astronomer there, says it was the telescope the first planet outside our solar system was I.D.’d with, in 1995. In 1995! I could’ve told you there was one out there if you’d asked. But that’s science for you.

Scientists really are just as stupid and scatter-brained as is supposed, at least by the evidence of this event. I mean, there was no order and no organization. No one to tell you where to go to register for the lottery—or even that there was going to be one. Basically when you arrived, you saw all these queues, but if you asked anybody in one of them what they were queuing for, chances are they’d just shrug. I mean, people were just queuing up, trusting that at the head of the queue there was actually something worth queuing for. We did, too. We ended up in the queue for the lottery, as it turns out, but there were no instructions and no one manning the tables once we got in.

I suppose we could have filled out more than one ticket, you can bet some people did, but I don’t think it would’ve done any good in the end. I’ve never had any luck in drawings like this. I don’t think I’ve ever won anything. I decided if I did this time, and Robert didn’t, I’d let him go in my place. The whole thing was his idea.

After we got that out of the way (and no one told us when the drawing would be, or where, or anything), we had a look around.

There were four other buildings on the site, one was an administrative building, it looked like, two housed older telescopes, and in the fourth was some kind of jerry-rigged tin-foil and cellophane contraption they claimed was a receiver for messages from outer space. It looked like something your dad would’ve built in the basement when you were a kid. When I was growing up, my dad always had his little secret projects, and they all looked a little like this thing, only smaller.

There was some crackpot in the room talking out his ass about it, saying it was designed to receive about three terabytes—that’s three trillion bytes—of information per second. And? One guy was like, so what do you do with all that information? Well, the old quack said, we throw most of it out! He burst out in a fit of laughter. We left.

On our way out there was a kid—he looked about thirteen—one of these painfully brainy kids who maybe works with the crank, explaining something no one could possibly understand. And there was a lot of that going on. You could’ve told these sods in the crowd just about anything—just throw some jargon in there, and they’d think you knew what you were talking about. I mean, people just assume, don’t they? You could say, ‘yes, and this instrument here is called an ologyrit, and it’s function is to praxillate dicuplurobra, which it does, ingeniously if I may say, by airfibrolating the ionchiaphanth right here at a rate of approximately a trillian decatrophs a second!’ And so long as you said it loud enough, people would be like, damn, he’s smart! He must be in charge. You could be speaking Pig Latin and these clowns would be nodding, squinting their eyes, and stroking their beards thoughtfully, following you around, tripping over tree trunks as they did.

Because they’d just cut down a whole bunch of trees—that very day, by the looks of it. In this age of liability law suits, I was shocked to see so little effort put into crowd control. I mean, here you had all these kids and old people stumbling and staggering around in the dark, on this lot like an obstacle course. This was lawsuit heaven!

We had a lot of time to mill around in the dark tripping over things, too, since Mars wouldn’t make an appearance in any case until a quarter after ten. There was no real order anywhere, like I said, no signs telling you what to do, no PA system. Occasionally you’d bump into a little pocket of order, where someone people assumed was in charge because he was talking louder than everyone else was badgered with questions by the others.

Chuck disappeared at one point, and we found him off by himself smoking a fag. We had just heard one of the declaimers in the crowd declaiming on how, if extra terrestrials were going to contact us it would be with densely-packed bursts of laser light, like in Carl Sagen’s Contact.

Robert asked me what I thought about extra-terrestrial life, about space aliens. I said I thought they were already among us. One in three, he said.

Then he revealed that some years ago when he had lived in New Mexico he had had very realistic dreams of having been abducted by aliens, but he said he was pretty sure they were just dreams. But they were very realistic.

I said if I were an alien and had a choice of any of the three of us to abduct I’d probably choose Robert, too.

Then I told them about my incubus experience. It’s supposed to be a succubus that visits men, but it was definitely not a female demon that oppressed me one night in the cellar of the old house on Prow where I lived for a couple of years while attending Indiana University.

Why an incubus and not a succubus? I think probably demons are pretty clever, and they knew a succubus would get nowhere with me. Actually, it was widely believed, by the likes of Thomas Aquinas, in fact, that the same demon could appear as incubus or succubus. The same demon could, as a succubus, steal the semen from a sleeping man, and then go off and, in incubus form, impregnate a sleeping woman. Aquinas wanted it noted that the semen was not the demon’s own—it was purloined human sperm. According to Caesarius of Heisterbach, this is how the demons created new bodies for themselves. According to one 17th century source,

What incubi introduce into the womb is not any ordinary human semen in normal quantity, but abundant, very thick, very warm, rich in spirits and free from serosity. This, moreover, is an easy thing for them, since they merely have to choose ardent, robust men, whose semen is naturally very copious, and with whom the succubus has relations; and then the incubus copulates with women of a like constitution, taking care that both shall enjoy a more than normal orgasm, for the greater the venereal excitement the more abundant is the semen.

By the 18th century they’d pretty much figured out that incubi and succubi were either clever covers for real-life lovers, or the wild imaginings of hysterical, horny bitches.

My incubus didn’t actually do anything nasty. But otherwise he behaved as incubi generally do these days, although I was not really aware of their existence before the episode. I mean, we’ve all seen the famous painting—Fuseli’s The Nightmare ...


...where the demon crouches on the swooning woman’s trunk. Well, that’s just what it looked like when it happened to me, although I was not quite so elegantly dressed. I don’t remember what I was wearing. I sleep in the nude whenever it’s feasible, but that cellar was not the place for languishing in the all-in-all.

It was pretty creepy even before the demon came along. I was working the graveyard shift in those days, and was napping before work. I felt as if something had leapt onto my chest and I awoke with it, crouching there, staring me in the eye. I will never forget it. It looked like a miniature version of the already sort of miniature Michael Mazer, whom I’d known since my first days in the dorm at college. All but the eyes. See, Mazer was a major stoner. He could not have opened his eyes that wide had he just been told he’d won 300 million dollars in the state lottery.

I was paralyzed for a moment in absolute shock and fear, but managed finally to shake the demon off, whereupon I ran upstairs, screaming like an hysterical bitch, and, as I said, never slept in the cellar again.

I never had an alien abduct me. There’s definitely something sort of exciting about that probe. Though Robert assured me there was nothing in the least arousing about it.

We talked a little about the movie Contact and Chuck reiterated his admiration for Jodie Foster. She was so god-awful in that film, but then the film itself was pretty slushy. I mean, the script and all. She was perfect for it, actually. I don’t think she has a subtle bone in her body.

At some point we moseyed back over to the Wyeth building, where they were already calling off numbers for the lottery. No one had said anything, of course, so we had no idea how many they’d already called. They never called ours, though, not even any number close. Robert said he hoped it wouldn’t clear up, so nobody would see it. And that’s just what happened in the end.

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