Space Cowboy Junkies

On September 9, 2017, an object, unlike anything before entered our solar system. Nobody noticed until October 19, when one observatory spotted something strange on their photographic records. 

Astronomers ascertained its speed to be approximately 90,000 kph, which meant the object was barrelling along too fast to be caught by the Sun’s gravity. Not only that, it had deviated from the expected trajectory like it had its own propulsion. What the hell was it, and what was driving it?

Further investigations suggested it was about 100 metres long, and 10 metres wide. The object also tumbled every eight hours. Even stranger, it was oddly luminous, bright as shiny metal.

Maybe a comet, some said. A weird asteroid said others. Maybe none of those things, said Avi Loeb, former Chair of Astronomy at Harvard University. The science rules those answers out, he added.

They named it Oumuamua, Hawaiian for ‘scout’. Good name, said Loeb because it’s probably part of a probing craft or a space buoy placed there by another civilisation. 

He had previously worked on a space sail project which could propel a craft up to one-fifth of the speed of light by starlight or sunlight striking a very thin light fabric. Such a craft would reach our nearest inhabitable planet in a lifetime, not the 100,000 years a rocket would take. If we can build this, then so can other, more advanced civilisations, he said. This may be a discarded sail. 

Ha ha, the astronomical establishment responded.

But as Loeb points out, Earthlings have already produced over half a million pieces of space junk circling our planet. Why would we be the only ones in our galaxy so careless with our rubbish? We have calculated that over 50 billion inhabitable planets exist in the Milky Way. There’s bound to be some messy inhabitants living on some of them.

Eventually, the International Astronomical Union declared it to be interstellar, but wouldn’t decide further on its construction.

So, there the argument lies, for now.

Isn’t it ironic that an early contact with an extraterrestrial may well be a piece of junk?

How human is that?

Avi Loeb,
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021

Too Much Monkey Business

A close relative of mine applied to join a government employment project. The New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, NEIS. All she had to do was suggest a good business idea and they would teach her small business skills.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

But no, conditions apply. The government has firm ideas on what is a good business idea. Here’s a shortlist of what it doesn’t like.

This is where I believe the government has got it wrong.

Pole dancing? A healthy way to spend the night and you get money thrown at you or tucked into any clothing you have forgotten to remove. All of us could do this, and it would create less need for so many hospital beds later in life.

Couriers with g-strings? Well hell, that’s one way of making people stay at home to receive parcels. Wait until Amazon hears about this. No more front-door thefts.

A nudist BnB? I’m pretty broad-minded about this kind of stuff. After all, most of my nude experiences have been quite exciting. But someone needs to think ahead. Who’s going to do the fry-up in the morning, eh? A non-nudist, that’s who.

A religious itinerant? Traveling preacher? That’s a job? I thought it was a calling. If it isn’t, then they need all the business experience they can get.

Helping people to vilify others? Isn’t this a function we’re all born with. Who needs lessons? I stand with the government on this. At last, they got something right.

Anatomical chocolate moulds? And I thought Belgian chocolate seashells were pretty daring. But listen, a democracy has to be fair to all the people, not just us quiet ones. If they want cake? let them eat cake. If they prefer other items, well, why not? What happens at home, stays at home.

An immigration agent who switches roles as a marriage celebrant to help immigrants get a better class of visa? Who could complain about such efficiency? You walk in desperate to get a visa extension, and you walk out happily married. What’s not to like about this?

Overall, I’m going to grade the government a three out of seven for this effort. They’re trying, but not enough to get re-elected.

Playboys and playgirls

Sometimes a guy gets tired of being asked his occupation. I mean when you’re buying a phone, why do they need that information? Don’t tell me, I know. So they can bombard you with irritating advertising they think fits your profile. 

I hate this.

So when I last upgraded to a new phone,  the salesman asked me what my occupation was, I said I was retired.

“What did you do before that?” he asked, his pen poised over the form where it asked OCCUPATION.

Well shit, I did a lot of things before I retired. Which occupation should I choose that defeated the waiting advertisers?

 “I was a playboy,” I replied. Truth be told, I never was a playboy ‘cos I could never figure out where to start. But this guy couldn’t know that. It’s okay to lie to salespeople ‘cos they always lie to you.

 He waited. So I had to embellish.

“I know I don’t look like an ex-playboy,” I said, ” but there are many levels of playboy. I was in one of the lesser ones.”

Still, his pen didn’t move.

“It was a little awkward at first, I have to admit,” I said. “I’d get invited to parties in St Tropez and Monte Carlo. When I got there, they’d all be complaining about jet lag because they’d arrived in their private planes. I’d come by public transport, so I could only complain about the bus lag.”

The guy wasn’t buying it. He was holding out until I said ‘librarian’, or ‘shark-repellent tester’, or something advertisers love.

“Also,” I added, “they’d all be bitching about their Lambos and Ferraris. I told them to get a Camry. I had a ten-year-old that ran ever so sweetly. Started every time. No electrical issues, unlike their fancy Italian speedsters. But they didn’t seem interested in my opinion, although I reckon I knew more about cars than them. I’d owned a lot of real bangers.”

The guy’s eyes narrowed. I went on. “Eventually, somebody explained I didn’t quite fit in, that I was a nice guy and all, but maybe this wasn’t the right circle for me. So, I said goodbye to the yellow brick road, where the dogs of society howl.”

The salesman gave up. His pen moved, and, under OCCUPATION, he ticked OTHER.

I’d made it. No occupation meant no money, I was invisible to advertisers.

At last. Great God a-mighty, free at last.

Words are all I have

The best things in life are free. Especially words. They’re free, they’re pleasurable. A win-win. One of my favorites is callipygian. It’s the perfectly concise description of a perfectly formed butt. It’s of Greek origin, first used to describe the famous statue of Venus. Another useful phrase for the lady de Milo would be ‘No arms’. Neither of these terms has taken hold.

Unctuous is also useful. It means to be oily or ingratiating. Sadly, most people prefer smarmy jerk.

Ammon Shea knows a lot of great words. Check out his Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages. He’s a guy who sat down and read the Oxford English Dictionary from A to Z. All 21,730 pages of them. Holy God. He said, “I had been meaning to read the OED for years, but I always found some way to put it off… because if I read it I wouldn’t have it to look forward to.”  That’s the best reason I’ve ever heard for not doing something pleasurable.

Here are a few of his findings you might think are useful:

Airling (n.) A person who is both young and thoughtless.

Interesting but pointless. Pesky kid is more popular, I would think.

Assy (adj.) Asinine.

I can see this catching on again. Four-letter words are always welcome.

Backfriend (n.) A fake friend; a secret enemy.

Definitely not a person who’s got your back; more like one who’s about to plunge a knife in there.

Gymnologize (v.) To dispute naked, like an Indian philosopher.

I can’t recall any disputes I’ve had when naked, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t last very long.

Mediocrist (n.) A person of mediocre talents.

Well, shit. Ain’t that practically everybody you know?

Miskissing (n.) Kissing that is wrong.

This is so useful. “Sorry, I just miskissed. I’ll have to do it again.”

Petecure (n.) Modest cooking; cooking on a small scale.

At last, a withering comeback to someone who boasts about being epicurean.

Trumpery (n.) Something of less value than it seems.

Well, well. Who would have thunk it? So perfect.

Set (n. v. adj. adv. conj.) Probably the most used word in the English language. As a verb, it has 155 different senses; as a noun, 48.  It’s been in use for over a thousand years. Talk about useful.

So now you know. Find the word and it will set you free. Like money, spend it wisely.


A White Sports Coat and a Reincarnation

I’ve never considered reincarnation as a viable plan for life, despite it being a fundamental tenet of Buddhism, Hinduism and, for its first 500 years, Christianity.

It made no logical sense.  Most people’s recollection of previous lives could be dismissed as genetic memory rather than their own. There was no body of authoritative data, only collections of wispy anecdotes, nor was there any science to make it even half-believable.

But things changed.

First, science changed. Sir Roger Penrose is one of the top 100 scientists in the last century and shares two awards with Stephen Hawking as well as another dozen of his own. These days, he explores human consciousness, defined as the ability to gather information.

He argues that for consciousness to exist now, it had to start with the Big Bang. It existed before physical bodies came into being, and therefore is not bound to our bodies. Penrose is not alone in thinking this; many other cosmologists believe the Universe itself is conscious.

If consciousness doesn’t need a body, then we have a basis for a scientific explanation of near-death-experiences, other out-of-the-body moments, and maybe even, reincarnation.

Well, gosh.

So why would we bother with a physical return? I found a possible answer in this book: Journey of Souls by Michael Newton.

Newton was a hypnotherapist who regressed patients who came to him with pains that no medical doctor could diagnose. He would regress them and discover a childhood accident the patient had forgotten about, but the body hadn’t. The simple act of remembering the event cured many patients.

One day, during hypnotic regression, a patient told of a different life. He described being bayoneted to death as a soldier in the Somme in the first world war. His story checked out. Newton, astounded, switched to exploring other patient’s past lives.

His technique was simple. “Tell me what happened when you last died,” he’d ask a patient under hypnosis. The gates of the subconscious were thrown open, and the most riveting accounts emerged.

Thirty years later Newton had recorded the personal post-death accounts of over 6,000 people. They all had the same tale. Let me repeat that. They all had the same tale.

They told of meetings with previously deceased loved ones (aww), being taken before a Council of Elders who checked if they had achieved their objectives on Earth (uh oh…), and much hanging out with like-minded souls (great!). Then they did it again.  And again. A thousand times, if they wanted to.

Six thousand people with the same account of the afterlife? Sounds like data.

And their reason for reincarnation? To gain total enlightenment, reunite with our Creator, and be as one with the Universe.

I like them apples, Newton.

The cat who became a rat

Here is a true story once told to me.

When we were married, this woman told me, I had this cat that my husband couldn’t stand. He especially hated the cat jumping on the kitchen table, and he would always sweep her off. Not gently either. It made me think just what kind of person I had married.

One weekend we planned to spend the time at our beach shack.

“I have to work late,” my husband said, “I’ll join you in the Friday evening.”

I arrived during the day and began tidying the shack for the weekend. My cell phone rang. It was my husband.

“I’ve had to work later than expected,” he said. “I won’t be able to make it tonight. I’ll be there in the morning.”

“Fine, I’ll see you then.”

A minute later the phone rang again and my husband’s ID came up on the screen.

“What’s up?” I asked, but he didn’t answer. As I waited for his reply I could hear his voice in the background and I realized he was talking on the house phone to somebody. I could also hear something else – my cat purring loudly into the cell phone mouthpiece.

Obviously, my husband had put his phone down on the kitchen table after the call to me, and my cat had jumped up on the table and pressed the redial button.

“Your phone is still on,” I shouted, but he couldn’t hear me.

Boys are about to give up when I realize that my husband was talking to another woman. Not just any woman but his ex-wife. And he was organizing that evening with her. I killed the connection, my mind whirled, my heart became stone. I hadn’t suspected a thing until my cat had ratted him out.

Somehow I managed to keep my mouth shut for the whole weekend; what was there to say?

After my husband left for work on Monday, I saw my lawyer and filed for divorce.

“Why are you doing this?” my husband cried, when I showed him the paperwork, but I never told him why. He wouldn’t have believed me anyway.

That a cat he’d ill-treated had ratted him out was a step too far, too deliciously apt to be believable.






I was Kanye West for 24 hours

Sometimes a man gets bored with his name. Especially in coffee shops and fast food outlets when he’s constantly asked for it. How hard is it to recall one order from hundreds a day? So I decided to make life easier for everybody.

“What’s the name?” the young girl asked me at a Mexican food joint in Brooklyn.

“Kanye West.”

She stared back at me in nervous confusion. “I can’t write that.”

“Why not?”

She said nothing.

“Look,” I said. “This is how it’s going to go down. You call out ‘Kanye West, your fish taco is ready’.  Everyone here will stop eating and look around. I stand up and walk over to you and collect my order. The people resume their meal and later they’ll go home and tell everybody they saw Kanye West today and he sure looked different.”

She pursed her lips. “I’ll just call out ‘fish taco’.”

My friends, I tried. In fact I tried again later that day. In a Manhattan coffee shop near 5th Avenue. Different borough, different reaction.

“What’s the name?” the counter girl asked.

“Kanye West.”

She nearly split her face smiling. “Hey everybody,” she yelled out to the four staff and 10 customers. “Kanye West is here, and he wants a flat white!”

“Woohoo!” the baristas and sandwich makers cried. Two of them danced, two of them cast snaky moves around the floor.

I glanced over to the customers. Suits and business attire. None of them looking up from their cellphones. I had won over only a third of my audience. The staff tried their best. When my coffee was ready, the barista yelled, “Kanye West, your flat white is ready!”

I took it and checked the suits – nobody looking up. Jeez, some people.

Later that day I tried one more time.

“I can’t write down Kanye West,” the counter girl confessed.

“Why not?”

“Because the barista hates him and he won’t make your coffee.”

She had me there. A man will ditch his principles when faced with no coffee.

“Put down George Harrison,” I said.