Friday, January 28, 2011

Larry And Pastor Tommy

By John McDonnell

It was another aimless Saturday afternoon at the bar, and Murphy was washing shot glasses and serving beers to a motley collection of patrons who were watching a ballgame on the battered TV.

Larry was practicing time jumps, and kept disappearing and reappearing with souvenirs from different eras. So far he'd brought back a dinosaur tooth from the Cretaceous era, a whalebone corset from 16th century England, and a five course Thanksgiving dinner from the future that was the size of an aspirin. He was dressed like a Turkish pasha, complete with a scimitar in his belt. 

The serenity was interrupted by a portly man who burst through the door wearing a blue silk suit, a black pompadour and rings on each of his fingers.

"Tell me, brothers, have you seen The Light?" he said, walking over to Larry and Murphy.

"Light?” Murphy said. “My customers don’t like much light in here.”

“Actually, light is an interesting phenomenon,” Larry said. “When you get to the quantum level--”

"I’m talking about The Light of Salvation," the man said, slapping the bar for emphasis. "My name's Pastor Tommy Bogus, and I'm here to offer you eternal bliss. Have you seen my TV show?"

"Yes I have," said Edna, who had just been dropped off by Dolores while she did her Saturday errands. "You're that nice man whose show comes on between my soap opera about handsome doctors and the other one about cheating wives. Or is it cheating doctors and handsome wives?"

"There will be no room for cheaters in the Kingdom," Pastor Tommy said.

"I often wonder about religion," Larry said. "Interesting sociological phenomenon. Does it describe reality, or is it just the brain's way of explaining what it doesn't understand?"

"Why, it's as real as this solid wood bar," Pastor Tommy said, slapping the bar again.

"That’s actually vinyl," Murphy said.

"I think religion is such a comfort," Edna opined. "Why, I don't know how people can do without it."

"There are some civilizations in the universe that think it's nonsense," Larry said.

"There's nothing wrong with nonsense," Edna said. "The world needs more nonsense, if you ask me. It would improve our dispositions."

"As I was saying," Pastor Tommy said. "There's only one truth in the universe, and my religion has it."

"Truth," Larry said. "What is truth? When you ask someone to tell the truth, what are you saying?"

"You're saying he's screwed, if he’s married," Murphy said.

"Would any of you care to make a donation?" Pastor Tommy said, holding out a tin cup. "It takes a lot of money to keep that TV show going."

"Take a look at this place," Murphy said. "Does it look like I'm wallowing in money here?"

"I have a trust fund, and I'd be glad to dip into it for a donation," Edna said. "The only thing is, Father set it up so I don't get any of the money until I reach 65. I can’t imagine what he was thinking. You’d think I was the world’s worst spendthrift!” She readjusted her black taffeta cocktail gown and pillbox hat, looking at herself in the mirror behind the bar.

"How about you, son?" Pastor Tommy said to Larry.

The air shimmered and Larry disappeared. In a matter of seconds he reappeared with a small birdlike dinosaur, covered with feathers and sporting a mouthful of needle-sharp teeth. It was blinking as it stared around the room. It locked eyes with Pastor Tommy, flapped its wings, said “Auk!”, then cocked its head, waiting for a response.

"Good God, what is that?" Pastor Tommy said.

"A Bambiraptor,” Larry said. "From about 75 million years ago. Cute, but beware of those teeth. I thought you could sell it to a zoo and get some cash that way."

"Not if you paid me a million dollars," Pastor Tommy said. "Son, there’s only one word for that. . . ‘unnatural’!”

He bolted for the door, dropping his tin cup on the way. It clattered to the floor and rolled around, but Pastor Tommy paid no attention to it. He was headed for the light. 

"Funny, he looks taller on TV," Edna said.


Friday, January 21, 2011

A Viking In The Kitchen

By John McDonnell

"The neighbors are all getting their kitchens redone," Dolores said. "Why can't we?"

"I’ll be leaving now,” Murphy said, hoping to get out the door before Dolores told him for the 100th time that he needed to make more money.

"Did you know that the British actor Michael Caine was teased because he had a habit of reciting inane factoids and then saying, 'Not many people know that?'" Larry said. He was eating fish and chips at the kitchen table and wearing a mackintosh raincoat. Dolores did not know where he got the fish and chips, certainly not from her kitchen.

"I like Michael Caine," Edna said, coming into the kitchen in her nightgown, which had a raised collar and a long train, and looked like something Liz Taylor might have worn to the wedding of a close friend. "’To be or not to be, that is the question.’ Wasn't he terrific in Hamlet?"

"I don't think he played Hamlet," Murphy said. "You couldn't play Hamlet with that Cockney accent he has."

"Oh, dear," Edna said. "That must have been my father I'm thinking of. Yes, he played Hamlet in 1949 at the Stratford Festival in Canada. I remember it well, because we had to share a bedroom with Charlie Chaplin."

"Fascinating," Larry said. “In a parallel universe sort of way. Now, as I was saying, you could fix this kitchen up in a jiffy."

"Would you?" Dolores said. "I mean, you seem to be able to do anything, Larry, so--"

"I wouldn't recommend that," Murphy said.

"Why not?"

"Because Larry might come up with something different than what you're expecting."

"Nonsense, Murphy,” Dolores said. “Why Larry has the most wonderful taste--"

There was a shimmering in the air and everything seemed to go foggy for a second, and then the room was transformed into a Viking castle kitchen, with a stone floor, a huge oak table, pots of boiling chicken entrails cooking over a roaring fire in the hearth, and a whole hog roasting on a spit. The place stunk of cabbage, moldy cheese, blood and seaweed, and Dolores’s stomach did a somersault in response to it.

What smelled even worse, though, was the very large hairy man wearing ill-fitting clothes made from animal skins who was standing in the center of the room and blinking. He was carrying a large axe, and he looked like the type of fellow who settled the finer points of philosophy by using it.

"Larry, who is that?" Dolores said.

"I think his name is Athelred the Disemboweler," Larry said, "and I would say he's ready for his supper."

"By Thor, I need a hog's haunch and a mug of ale now!" Athelred said, and chopped off the corner of the table for emphasis.

"My, he's a bit high-strung," Edna said. "Although I do admire a man who knows his mind. The last time I met a man like that it was 1953, and I was introduced to my future husband at a barn dance. I had on a red pleated dress and a sky blue petticoat. Of course, you'll want to know why I had that color petticoat on--"

Athelred threw his axe at her head, but it missed and clanged off one of the pots on the fire, sending scalding grease and water all over the kitchen.

"I'll be leaving now," Murphy said, making for the door. "I’m not a fan of angry Vikings."

"By Odin's beard, I'll not miss again!" Athelred said, picking up his axe and hefting it in his large hands.

"Do we have any herbal tea?" Edna said. "If ever anyone needed a cup of tea it's this poor fellow."

"Larry, do something!" Dolores said, correctly surmising that Athelred was about to throw his axe again.

Larry went on calmly eating his fish and chips, but he stuck his foot out and tripped  Athelred, causing him to fall hard on his head on the stone floor. The Viking got up quickly, but seemed to have misplaced his higher mental faculties.

"Now, that's better," Edna said. "Let's go in the other room and watch some TV." She took the dazed Viking’s hand and led him away, saying, "Do you have game shows where you come from?"

“Thanks, Larry,” Dolores said.

“No problem,” Larry said. “How do you like this layout? Of course, the ventilation is not great, and you get a lot of smells from the carcasses in the storehouse next door, but--”

“Larry, I’m fine with the kitchen I had,” Dolores said. “Could you change it back?”

“Are you sure? I know I didn’t include utensils, but they didn’t really use them back then--”

“Larry, change it back.”

“Yes Dolores.”

And Dolores decided her kitchen was not so bad after all.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Larry Wins A Million

By John McDonnell

“I hate the winter,” Dolores said one day. “I need a vacation at the beach, but we have no money.” Larry had gone into hibernation mode and he was asleep in the corner of the TV room in the form of an 800 pound male grizzly bear.

“I remember when Father used to take us to our winter home in Florida,” Edna said. She was watching a game show in a sequined pink tulle gown, bedecked with jewelry. “We’d spend our winters playing in the sand and watching the alligators maul deer that wandered too close to the lake. I missed a lot of schoolwork those years, but Father said with a mind like mine it wouldn’t matter.”

“You never had a house in Florida,” Dolores said.

“Didn’t I?” Edna said. “Oh, well, it must have happened to somebody else.”

Then there was a knock at the front door and when Dolores opened it a TV announcer smiled at her, temporarily blinding her with the glare from his teeth. 

“Is this the home of Larry the Alien?” the man said, shoving a microphone in her face. He was smiling so hard it looked like his face might crack, and his eyes were bulging with manic energy.

“Who wants to know?” Dolores said.

“I want to tell him that he won the ‘You Can Be Fabulously Wealthy Marketing Sweepstakes’, and he’s won a million dollars!!!” the man shouted. Dolores had the sensation that the oxygen was being sucked out of the neighborhood every time he opened his mouth.

“Oh, that’s lovely,” Edna said, from the couch. “But you’ll have to come back in several months. Larry is taking his winter nap.”

“That’s not possible!” the man said, whipping a poster-sized check out of a briefcase. “He needs to take his check today! I have TV cameras waiting!” He pointed to a group of people behind him, and they did indeed have a battery of cameras pointed at the house.

Before Dolores knew what was happening the group had brushed her aside and were inside the house.

The announcer found Larry in his corner, and said, “Here he is, boys! Make sure you get a good angle on my teeth!”

He started shoving Larry, prodding him to wake him up. Larry snorted once and tried to keep on sleeping.

“Come on, Mr. Larry,” the man said. “Wake up to the wonderful fact that you’re a winner! Did you hear me? You’re a winner!”

Larry growled once, but did not open his eyes.

“I’ll bet he’s dreaming about salmon,” Edna said. “It’s a lovely dream for a bear.”

The announcer picked up a pepper shaker from the kitchen table and poured some into his palm, then threw the handful at Larry’s big wet bear nose. Larry scrunched up his nose, snuffled, and then sneezed loud enough to rattle the windows. He opened his eyes blearily and looked at the announcer.

“There’s the sleepyhead!” the announcer said. He turned to the camera, grinning even more broadly. “Folks, we’re here at the home of an average Joe extra-terrestrial who just happened to sign up for the ‘You Can Be Fabulously Wealthy Marketing Sweepstakes’, and he won! How are you feeling right now, Larry?”

He shoved the microphone in Larry’s face, there was a pregnant pause, and then there was a blur of activity involving Larry, the announcer, and the camera crew, who abandoned their equipment and ran like a herd of stampeding buffalo through Dolores’s house and out to their van, where they drove off without saying goodbye. Larry roared and chased the announcer through the house, cornering him as he tried to climb a crystal chandelier in the entryway, and the man’s sobs and shrieks could be heard in the next ZIP code.

Dolores finally got Larry away from the announcer by offering him several pounds of salmon steaks from the freezer, and Larry went sleepily back to his corner in the TV room and curled up with his snack, after emitting several more thunderous roars.

“I’m so sorry,” Edna said, helping the announcer down from the chandelier. “He’s not very pleasant until he gets his coffee. Would you like to stay for some tea?”

The announcer seemed to have lost the ability to speak, and he simply picked up his microphone and hightailed it for the door, where he made a run for the high ground.

“Well, dear,” Edna said, picking up the check and handing it to Dolores. “I guess we can take that Florida trip now. I can't wait to see those alligators again."


Friday, January 7, 2011

Do Aliens Facebook?

By John McDonnell

“An old girlfriend looked me up on Facebook,” Murphy said. He was tending bar, and the  blue slanting rays of the TV screen at the end of the bar gave his face a pensive, wistful look. Larry was sitting across the bar in his rumpled scientist persona, working out an advanced particle physics formula on the back of a napkin.

“On whatbook?” Larry said, without looking up from his work.

It’s a social networking site. You post pictures of yourself and network with people. You look up friends from years ago.”

“Not for me,” Larry said.

“Why not? Think of all those people that passed through your life and you lost track of them. Well, now you can reconnect. It’s a great thing."

Larry shuddered. “That’s horrible. I wouldn’t want to know what my classmates from space colonization school are doing. I bet I’m the only one who hasn’t conquered even the barest sliver of a planet. I bet some of them have taken over whole solar systems. Meanwhile, I can’t take a rubber chew toy away from a cocker spaniel. Why would I want to look up anyone from my past?”

“My thoughts exactly,” said Edna, coming up to them. Dolores had dropped her off at the bar while she ran some errands, and Edna had been whiling away the time beating all comers at darts, which amazed everyone because she wore glasses with lenses that looked like they’d come from the Hubble Space Telescope. Larry had a theory that she navigated through life using echolocation, like dolphins and bats.

“What is the point of the past, anyway?” Edna said. “Who wants to remember their childhood? Or encounter people one went to school with? Ugh, it’s too odious to think about!” and she went off in search of a pool game in the back room.

“She’s probably right,” Murphy said. “Take this old girlfriend. I have fond memories of her, and they can’t possibly match up with reality 35 years later, right? I mean, how could they? She sent me a friend request, but I don’t know if I should accept it. I don’t want to see if she got fat and old.”

“Oh, because you haven’t changed at all?” Larry said. “You look like a 55 year old man, but in theory I suppose you could have looked this way for years. Are you saying that you always had thinning hair and that paunch?”

“Certainly not,” Murphy said, drawing himself up to his full height. “I was a handsome devil in my youth. I had to beat the girls off with a stick.”

Larry looked puzzled. “Why would you want to do that?”

“It’s just an expression,” Murphy said.

“That’s the trouble with you humans,” Larry said. “You use all these expressions that just complicate things.”

“Oh, and your civilization just tells the simple truth, I suppose.”

“Actually, no. If one of us ran into someone we hadn’t seen for 35 years we would never point out that the other was old and fat. We’d shower them with compliments as if they looked exactly the same. It’s considered bad taste to hurt anyone’s feelings, so we never say what we mean. You have to be an expert at reading between the lines.”

“In this world you learn that skill when you get married,” Murphy said.

“Marriage is different for us. We have queens, and some of us mate with them and then die. Similar to what your ants do.”

“The ants are the lucky ones,” Murphy said glumly.

Just then Dolores arrived to pick up Edna. She said, “Murphy, look at this place. It’s 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon and you have six customers. You’ll never make a go of this miserable excuse for a bar if you can’t draw more people than this. Honestly, I don’t know what makes you think you’re a businessman. . .”

And then Murphy had the strangest experience. He saw Dolores’ mouth moving but he couldn’t hear a word she was saying. Instead, his mind was filled with a sweet, unearthly music and visions of waves on a beach, palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze, and a slight tang of mango in the air. He didn’t know how long Dolores went on with her rant, but then she finished and took Edna home, and Murphy returned to what passed for normal consciousness in his world.

Larry was scribbling away at more calculations on his napkin, but Murphy thought he saw a glint in Larry’s eye.

“Did you do that?” he said.

“It’s a defense mechanism the males in my species have evolved over many generations,” Larry said. “Selective deafness. Comes in handy sometimes.”

“You’re a gentleman and a scholar,” Murphy said. “The next beer’s on me.”