It’s after midnight but they still haven’t arrived. I’m getting sleepy but am determined to stay awake until the saucer lands. They cautioned me it won’t make a sound, but I might feel a rush of wind and smell ozone. The ship itself won’t be terribly bright, just a burnt orange glow. If you’re looking right at it you’d see it, but then why would you be looking in my yard in the middle of the night?
So far I’m the only one in my family who takes this seriously. I’ve been packed and ready to go for days now. My wife is unsympathetic. The kids can’t get bothered. Fine, let them stay. I’ve been ready for a change ever since I retired five years ago. There’s nothing I want here. Nothing at all.
The other retired guys all meet for coffee at the local supermarket coffee shop at six a.m. If they’d open the doors at five half of them would be there at that time. They talk about politics and sports. Their wives take a several table, but there aren’t as many of them as there are of us. I don’t know what the women talk about. Probably us.
The fact is, we’d all be thrilled if aliens really were taking an interest in us and wanted to take us away. Only I seem to have the faith. The others may follow as their hollow lives become even emptier. I have no interest in converting them to my faith. What’s in it for me? Where I’m going, I don’t need more friends from back home. They never did much for me in the past. No, I’m looking forward to transformation, to becoming somebody else entirely.
What will it be like to wake up my first morning on another world? Will be there one sun or two? Will the vegetation be completely different or just exotic? Will women find me attractive? Will I be attracted to them? Do they even have men and women, or do they lay eggs or give birth through a hole in their sides?
I’m sure it will be way different, but I find that prospect exciting. Anything but more of this same old same old. I figure if the saucer doesn’t land, I can always move across the world to some place like Mongolia or Tasmania. Things might be different enough there to stave off boredom for a few more years.
The first few days they took me to an institute of some kind, maybe a research university, where after a brief physical examination, they simply asked me questions. How did Bach’s music differ from Chopin’s? What was the radio of the diameter of a circle to its circumference? What is plutonium? Do most compounds exist in more than one state? How many apply to water? What was the first network situation comedy filmed instead of shot live? Where was it filmed? Why were so many early television shows based in New York?
I knew the answers to most of the questions they asked. Whether or not this impressed them I couldn’t tell, because they simply moved on to the next question. After three days of this, I was tired and told them so. I wanted to be shown their planet. This request confused them. “But this is our planet,” the replied.
So this was it. They lived in bunkers underground. And I thought my options were bleak back home.
I asked them what they did for fun. The replied they watched a lot of our television shows, but since the speed of light was only a measly 186,000 miles a second, they only now were getting the shows we had broadcast in 1957. They asked me who I preferred among newscasters, Douglas Edwards, Walter Cronkite or that new duo, Huntley and Brinkley.
I told them I was homesick and asked when the next saucer would leave headed back toward my home. They laughed nervously. I told them I was serious. They said they’d ask, but there was a big universe out there and they couldn’t guarantee the timing would suit me.
In the meantime, we could try collaborating on a TV show. In our interviews, I had mentioned that my earliest memories of being delighted by creativity and wit came from watching Steve Allen on the Tonight Show. I told them I had always hoped I could have a show like that, and improvise as effortlessly as Steve Allen had. They proposed that we do such a show, and went so far as to buy me some over-sized glasses that resembled those worn by Mister Allen and Roy Orbison, for that matter. I would interview a bevy of pony-tailed starlets with names like Gigi, Gidget and Brigette, as well as some bearded hipsters named Dirk, Bret and Clay. We could talk about upcoming movies and hit records we were excited about, even though there were no such products. I’m not sure they even had television on this planet, but they did have a way of storing our performances.
They gave me a piano onstage which I could pretend to play, while they piped in Bill Evans performing in his unique style.
We made five, one-hour shows, and I became more and more comfortable playing the role of TV talk-show host. In the course of my conversation with these faux starlets and stars, I learned:
That the surface of this planet was a radioactive wasteland, the result of an unfortunate nuclear war that took place years ago.
That the forms my hosts had assumed for my sake came from their study of our planet, but in actuality they were a green, bubbling foam that rose a few inches when it got excited and then settled down to being a slimy carpet.
That they couldn’t guarantee me that upon return I would find the Earth at the same era it was when I left. Time was a slippery thing across great distance. Celestial navigation was both an art and a science. Fortunately, my memories were equally likely to become foggy and vague, and if we did return at a different time, it would be sort of like an alcoholic coming out of a blackout and having to buy a newspaper to find out the date.
But I was willing to risk it all just to get home.