Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich lived on the family farm outside of town, a little more than two miles from the tiny farm town of Rowan, Iowa. I walked it more than once. It was faster to walk the railroad tracks between the two places. About a mile and three quarters as the crow flies… three hours as the boy investigates the critters in the weeds, throws rocks at dragonflies, and listens to the birdsong along the way. But the point is, my maternal grandparents lived close enough to have a profound influence on my young life. Much of what they loved became what I love. And every Saturday night, they loved to watch the Lawrence Welk Show. And that show had highlights that we longed to see again and again… on a show that never really went into reruns. We lived to see Jo Ann Castle play the old…
I can give you rather accurate and unique insights into the planet called Dancer. I was a resident there for nearly twenty years, working first for the Pirate King, Cat Five, then for the maniacal Mechanoid, Khoolbas DiQuiri, and finally for his usurper, the Pirate King Razor Conn.
When the great explorer Martin Faulkner first surveyed the Beta-Regulan Star System, the system where Dancer was the only livable planet, he wrote it off as a place useful solely for refuel and resupply stops. The planet had a breathable atmosphere, but no land masses at all. Everything was salt water. It rarely ever rained there or had clouds in the sky. It was a lonely little water-ball.
It was part of the genius of Cat Five that he chose Dancer as the planet for his throne world. No other pirate king ever chose an Imperial Rimworld without any land surfaces as his home base. It proved to be a wonderful spot for ambushes as the system increasingly became a necessary stop for the Rimworld Merchant Fleet, Orchides’ Delivery, and GTS(Grand Transport Systems). Cat Five got obscenely wealthy off a mere five percent of the space trade. He designed the underwater city of Castle Orpheum and supervised its construction himself. Soon the master smuggler known as the Thin White Duke, Sir Carleton Keyser, moved in and made the world a key link in the “package industry”, what you and I, being less criminal in nature, would call smuggling.
As with any profitable venture, there would be those who would lust for control of it. The obese Mechanoid known as Khoolbas DiQuiri was Cat Five’s second in command. That motorized fat-thing was my boss during the worst years of my life. He was crafty, conniving, and he smelled terrible. He had been a blobby man in life, but as a Mechanoid, he was a transistorized stack of cyborg Jell-O. When Cat Five met an untimely end at the hands of the Monopoly Brigade, Khoolbas took over as regent. Cat Five’s son, Cat Six was only seven years old at the time. Khoolbas secretly connected himself into the city’s power and environmental systems, as well as the main computer. He secretly administered youth drugs to Cat Six, effectively trapping him in childhood forever. He even tried to take over the package industry from the White Duke. The fat one built an indestructible power base for himself.
I was serving as a computer technician and research physicist to Duke Keyser, the White Duke, when Razor Conn first showed up. He was a swaggering swashbuckler with a cowboy hat and a knack for winning the fights he picked. He was the one who revealed all of the plots Khoolbas was running on Dancer. With the Blackstone brothers as his allies, he made the people, especially the pirates, see that Khoolbas was cheating and using them. He found enough gifted malcontents among the spacers to form his own strike team which he named the Blackhawk Corsairs after his favorite interstellar hockey team. The Blackhawks overran Castle Orpheum and took Khoolbas prisoner all in one swift battle action. He ended up ruling the place, though he showed mercy to Khoolbas DiQuiri and a great deal of administrative wisdom in setting up his democratic government of the world.
The Thirties Gangster Culture that predominates the world of Dancer is mostly a matter of tough-guy posturing and the obsessive-compulsive design tastes of some of the powerful residents, but, corny as it all is, it works. It is a stimulating and imaginative place to live. A water-world pirate kingdom where space pirates could happily live with the fishes.
My first two years as a teacher, the kids all thought I looked like Bob Denver, the star of Gilligan’s Island, which was available to them to watch in re-runs on TV every afternoon after school in the early 1980’s.
My classroom was nicknamed “Gilligan’s Island” and I was called Mr. Gilligan behind my back. But I embraced the nickname. Hey, a tropical island in the Pacific with two beautiful single girls? And by the time they dropped the nickname and started calling me Batman instead, I had two girlfriends at the same time, one a beautiful blond.
They did me a favor. Now, when I need a quiet place in the “let’s pretend” centers of my old brain, I naturally go back to Gilligan’s Island, my island, and stretch out on the beach.
When you spend most of your time writing and thinking with the Sword of Damocles hanging over your head and the hourglass of your life looking more and more like the sands of time are running out, you are tempted to take the curves too fast and make extremely stupid mistakes that make your brain crash into a brick wall of stupidity. You are stuck in a stupor of stupidity that must somehow un-stupid you with downtime and do-nothing brainless activity. I won’t try to explain what I did wrong, because, after all, I am still stupid at the moment and don’t really know what I did wrong.
I bought myself a doll yesterday. I spent some of my birthday money on it. My octogenarian mother sends me birthday money every year to remind me how many years beyond sixty I have aged, especially now that, after more than twenty years spent not celebrating birthdays as a nominal Jehovah’s Witness, I am now no longer associated with prohibitions from God due to the arbitrary rules of religion. It was a stupid act based on the fact that I have been avoiding wasting money on my doll-collecting hoarding disorder for a matter of months. It could be like an alcoholic taking a drink after months of being sober. But the doll is pretty in a magical sort of way and provides me with someone else to talk to when I am brooding about being stupid.
It may seem like, since I am writing this while still stupid, that I am saying that being stupid is, by definition, a bad thing. If I am saying that, it is only because I am currently stupid.
If you look at the smiles on the faces of the gentleman with the brown cap and Scraggles the mouser, you can easily see that being happy is a simple thing. And it is the province of simple people, not complicated and extremely smart people. I can testify from hard experience that being too smart is a barrier to being simply happy. So, I benefit emotionally from being stupid this Sunday.
As to being stupid today and what caused it, well, it may have something to do with the fact that I am currently editing The Baby Werewolf, the most complex and potentially controversial novel I have ever written. Horror stories often mine and expose the author’s own traumas and fundamental fears. And I am trying to publish it as the fourth novel I have published in 2018. Is that biting off more than I can chew with my old teeth? I don’t know the answer. I am currently pretty stupid.
When conservative cultural warriors, Twitter Trolls, or dyspeptic gasbags like Rush Limbaugh call you a “Special Snowflake”, I have discovered, to my chagrin, that they don’t mean it as a compliment. In their self-centered, egotistical world you have to be as emotionally tough and able to “take it” as they believe (somewhat erroneously to my way of thinking) they themselves are. They have no time for political correctness, safe spaces, or, apparently, manners polite enough not to get you killed on the mean streets where they never go. Being a retired school teacher who was once in charge of fragile young psyches trying to negotiate a cruel Darwinian world, I think I disagree with them.
Have you ever tried to draw a snowflake? Believe me, it is difficult. Snowflakes are hexagonal star-shapes with enough lace and filigrees in them to make it a nightmare to draw it with painfully arthritic…