Brightness Falls from the Air (James Tiptree, Jr)

I happened upon an imaginary protester as I was riding along Greenbelt Road the other day. He was wandering about in the wide shoulder/bike lane across from the Kmart. He smiled and waved at the passing cars, remembering every so often to hold up his sign. His smile seemed a bit manic, if you ask me, if not downright scary.

The sign read, "Put a STOP to homo-hegemonic, humano-expansionist, xeno-repressive, Terran-cultural-imperialist policies of the National Aeronautics and Space Agency." The "ist" of imperialist curled a bit up the side at the end of its line.

He also had a smaller sign that read only, "Thanks." But I never saw him use it.

"That's quite a mouth-full there," I said as I stopped to check my tires. Lately I've been stopping every block or so to make sure I am still adequately inflated. So far, so good. "I mean, I'm not sure that the cars are going slowly enough to read the whole thing."

He disagreed, of course. He wouldn't be worth his salt as a protester if he agreed with every Tom, Dick and Harry that stopped by at his protest zone. He pointed out that the light at NASA's entrance tended to slow drivers down. I countered that he was standing too far upstream to get the benefit of that. In the end, we took turns reading the sign out loud as cars approached and passed. He read with an unrealistic speed that made his disgruntlement with NASA sound like the whining of Alvin and the Chipmunks. I suppose I read slowly enough to make one wonder about my level of literacy, eyesight, or both.

In any case, his best effort got him to "xeno" and mine never got beyond "hegemonic." He threw down his sign and shook his fist at the shaking trees of the Goddard Space Flight Center. From the shoulder of Greenbelt Road, the space flight center is not impressive. There are no visible space-age superstructures. For the most part, the chain link fence seems to be guarding a deciduous preserve. During most of our conversation, in fact, a small rabbit observed our debate from the safety of the grounds.

I wonder if it had an opinion.

"What has got you so riled up anyway?" I asked the disheartened protester. He told me he had read this book that had convinced him that humanity had nothing good to bring to the cosmos and should keep its little feelers down here on Earth so the rest of the universe could go about its life in peace.

"That's some major hatin'," I said and asked him which book. He showed me a copy of Tiptree's novel, Brightness Falls from the Air. "The My Little Pony book!" I exclaimed. He looked at me like I was the crazy guy on the side of the road. "A major confrontation in that book hinges on the love of a girl for her horsie, don't you see? And there were all those butterflies and rainbows -- well, aurorae anyway."

My imaginary protester protested. He told me that the book was a grim reminder of the evil at the hearts of men. The book demonstrated the ongoing practice of humans to silence the other. Two separate races were subjugated by the human race -- one suffered complete xenocide because of human fear and the other was tortured because of human greed. He really seemed to think Tiptree was suggesting we don't belong out there.

"Well, I never 'othered' somebody," I told him. "Besides, the blurb says that the book is about hope. And, and, and those bugs got to be happy in the end, don't you know, getting to sell stuff and buy junk from catalogs."

My protester seemed to feel it was somewhat unlikely that a race tortured for profit would be thrilled to join our economic system just because they're wowed by some shiny Kmart circulars. He used the word "consumerism" as if it were a bad thing.

I shook my head. "I think you are overlooking the inherent goodness in the majority of humanity. Why, given half a chance, most people would open their arms and hug aliens tight to their ever-loving chests. People are basically nice." And so I wished him a good day and mounted my bike to ride off home. I felt like a shining example because I hadn't crushed him by explaining that GSFWC didn't seem to have a lot to do with manned missions.

And that's when a water bottle bounced off of my helmet. A passing driver shouted out, "Get a job!" and I rode into the grass at the side of the shoulder.

So that's why I'm here in the Kmart now, looking for a black marker and some poster board.

4 thoughtful messages from friendly readers:

Mike said...

Hint: If you buy him burger and fries from the Five Guys, he'll use the "Thanks" sign.

AbbotOfUnreason said...

I have to admit I'm not a big fan of 5 Guys, especially the fries. I'd rather eat at Chicken Rico.

Bowie Mike said...

Ha, I was trying to think of something in that plaza off the top of my head. Five Guys came to mind. I'm not much of a fries guy in general. I'll have to check out Chicken Rico.

They've since shut down the Baskin Robbins at the end of the plaza. Last year when they had their free scoop of ice cream day, I drove by and there must have been 50 people in line. I'm not much interested in waiting 30 minutes for a free ice cream.

AbbotOfUnreason said...

It's surprising the variety of food that's in that little strip: Japanese, Jamaican, Peruvian, Indian, and four American joints (including burgers and soul food).

I never stopped in at that Baskin Robbins. It always struck me as odd that Greenbelt had two Baskin Robbinses, but no Dunkin' Donuts.