Today a story from one of our favorite authors, Jim Bowden. Enjoy!
Perhaps he was slumming a bit when he went to the Mensa meeting but he was in between wives, as they say, and thus he had nothing better to do with his Saturday evenings than had they. These were people who, like him, did not have Full Social Calendars. And there was no local chapter of the International Society for Philosophical Enquiry. So he went. It was an evening of sloppy rain.
The venue was one that had been a government agency and was painted in the usual seasick green so favored by government agencies. There was mildew in corners and along the wall next to the baseboards. Kafka could not have designed it better. Or otherwise. Though maybe Borges could have. The many-doored corridors were by deChirico.
There was coffee available in a pot on a table but the coffee was tepid. And doughnuts, stale.
He had been only once before to a Mensa gathering, and that a specialized one, a Special Interest Group that focused on Poetry. It was about what he should have expected from a group whose favorite color was yellow, straight out of the early to mid-eighteenth century England, and good if you liked that sort of thing. For him it was OK, but no more than.
It was there that he met for the first time a fellow quietly called Aardvark, this because of his long proboscis; he also was drunk, and as such he comported himself with the exaggerated dignity of the drunk. He was again drunk and also he noticed a suspiciously rectangular bulge in the man’s ratty tweed jacket’s side pocket. Aardvark was at the time only recently retired from a fairly prominent university where he had taught Logic, always thoroughly pissed while doing so, said those who knew him well. He used an elementary bit of that discipline that very night. It seemed that the speaker was a Biologist of some sort, from the local state university — not one so prominent as the one Aardvark had come from — and the fellow was asserting that Extra Terrestrials did not exist.
A very small and attractive Pussycat was in the front row, just ahead of him. She seemed bemused. Her mulberry-hued velvet pantsuit well became her. Odd, with her galoshes.
Speaking to this group would count as Community Service on the Biologist’s yearly report. With large circular and dark rimmed glasses he seemed a staring owl, in large part because he did not blink much and he rotated his head but seemed not to rotate the stare of his eyes. Hence, the Owl.
“Can’t prove the negative,” Aardvark said softly when the chap had barely begun, but not so softly as those seated near him could not hear. And perhaps the Owl.
Not quite the Hedgehog and the Fox, but similar.
The gist of the complaint seemed to be that Owl did not fathom why intelligent ETs would visit a couple of drunken fishermen in a Mississippi bayou rather than — well, him.
Aardvark had an answer: “Perhaps these are technological experts who cannot discern human sub-subtleties.” He concealed the belch as best he could. “And, anyway, the range of intelligence of humans may not be that great: consider dogs and the variance in intelligence between breeds is important and notable to us, but after all they still are dogs, smart breed or no. Not much difference, really.” Burp. “The range of human intelligence on the cosmic bell curve may be shorshorshort. And not so high as we like to think.”
Owl was considering this, as evidenced by a blink. But before he could say much a small and slinky woman objected and called Aardvark a racist: “All breeds of canines have the same IQ!” Pussycat smiled at him after the slinky woman spoke: not at Aardvark, at him. Apparently she knew the Gadfly, the Activist of the group, and a hint of exasperation crossed her visage; others murmured among themselves as to the veracity of her insight and to its obvious implications for humans. Pussycat ignored them and winked at him again.
Not quite a kindred soul, but she was female and she had winked. At him. He winked back at her, at Pussycat, and forgot for a moment his urge to tell the group that he had himself had an encounter with ETs. Two of them. They were not blobs, but looked somewhere between Mohandas Gandhi and George Burns, and were about the same size, mainly, though a bit closer in color to Burns. They had big ears and a recessed mouth and they looked not much the way others who met them had described them. It also appeared when they met him that they were lost: they had tried to get back to a bayou in a southern state in the union but were off by hundreds of miles: it was there in the bayou that they had met a couple of men in a boat who were taking liberally of what the ETs came to decide was a sacramental libation that he soon realized was beer. And not a good brand.
They were looking to re-meet those fellows in order to clarify some points of theology. And, clearly, they were drunk.
The Owl discussed the logistics of traveling in enormous space and did not see how any sentient being could survive the distance required to meet other sentients.
“You’re trapped in Newtonian/Leibnitzian physics,” said a proctologist generally referred to as the Mole. Because he looked like one, not because of his employ.
He drifted away from the discussion and recalled the ETs, who had managed to get the formula for the sacrament, and had indulged rather over-much in that libation. They had not fully understood the fishermen at first, but did accept the fishermen’s theology and their apologetic that the Two Seed in the Spirit Predestinarian Baptist Church was correct in all points. Subsequently they had spread the word throughout the galaxies, several of them, and there were some forty trillion fellow believers within easy (for them) travel. Forty trillion members of their church. But there had been a schism, and the Two Seed in the Spirit Predestinarian Baptists were experiencing trouble at the hands of the Double Seed in the Spirit Predestinarian Baptists.
There was a break and over tepid coffee and stale doughnuts during which he learned that Pussycat also was between spouses. But she also had her eyes on the Owl. Who, according to his left hand ring finger, was married. Then he saw the Owl slip said hand into a side pocket and come up empty. Pussycat’s diamonds he noticed were on her right hand. Had he missed that before?
Whatever, Pussycat was speaking to the singularly unattractive Owl about his research in his field. He seemed very interested in microorganisms. Perhaps he saw Pussycat as an instance thereof. Then their talk turned to cats. She declared herself an ailurophile and asked whether the Owl was one too. He fumbled but came up with a yes — yes, he was. Very much. She asked his cat’s name and after another brief fumble and a glance at her galoshes he said Boots. She breathed deeply and sighed and said she was afraid it would be Fluffy. She said hers was named Schroedinger. And, yes, her cat was alive. “Boots,” she said and turned from the Owl and toward him.
He cleared his throat and when the Pussycat turned her head he smiled at her. She smiled back. He said his cat was named Swedenborg. (He had never had a cat but if things worked out he would get one and its name would be Swedenborg.) She gave him an evaluative look and wagged her hips and then he said there were no doubt ten thousand cats named Schroedinger. She breathed in sharply and turned away. The Owl also moved off. And began to speak again.
That caused him to move away once more from that meeting and return to his time with the ETs. That they were highly adept mathematicians was clear, but otherwise a little off. And when they took their sacrament their math wasn’t so good either. He told them they looked like a fellow human, an Indian, and found they knew of Gandhi. They were flattered when he said they rather looked like the Mahatma. But they had not heard of his brother, Gusi-Gusi: oh, yes, it was rather like Moses, who was the front man, while Aaron was the real thinker. They knew about Moses and Aaron and Mohandas but not Gusi-Gusi.
But they were of a genial sort and took no umbrage at his asking why intergalactic travelers such as they would come to assign the centrality of meaning in the cosmos as happening on Planet Earth. They congratulated him on saying Cosmos instead of Universe — too limiting — but pointed out with evangelical certainty that “it had to begin somewhere.” And was he a member of the TSitSPBC? He feared that he was not, and they saw him immediately as not one of the Elect. He said they were no doubt correct, that he had long suspected it. They also wondered why he had named his cat Swedenborg: they knew of the Swede’s teachings on Ultimate Reality and found them seriously erroneous, though they agreed his math was good. At least for his time.
He said he had never had a cat and if he had one he would name it something else.
They shook their heads at that, shook in unison.
And then they were gone.
The meeting was broken up and he had been staring for some time at a blank erasable board on which someone had written the one thing that should be written and left: Tabula Rasa . And the Pussycat was leaving with the Owl. Soon only he and the Gadfly were left, she scowling at something in a waste basket. It was an empty pint. Left by the Aardvark, no doubt. She was still scowling when she fetched it up and uncorked it — why? — and when he turned from the doorway he saw emerge from it a sort of mist that turned into a plume and then into something like a genie. Save that the sprite wore a kilt and spoke, or shouted, in a broad Scots accent: he was not about to give the Gadfly three wishes but only one, and it had to be something tangible and not abstract. She disputed that, on both points.
He left them at that and began his journey alone in the sloppy rain back to his apartment. He wondered if the Renters Association would allow him to have a cat.
Jim Bowden is an author and retired university professor. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife and perhaps some cats…