Just the other day I was hanging out with one of my newest friends: an alien who recently escaped from Area 51. I know that area is supposedly fictitious, but trust me, it exists; my friend is living proof. He’s either an alien or the weirdest looking human who’s ever existed. His name? For now, let’s just call him Engelbert. Seems he was listening to the radio after they captured him one day and he heard the song, “Release Me” and it made him long for his home planet so much it brought a tear to his one eye. Which is quite a feat considering his race doesn’t have any tear ducts. The rest, as they say, is history. Hey, it could’ve been worse; he might’ve been listening to “Can’t Touch This.”
Anyway, after we stopped off at a local pizzeria and got a couple of slices – old Engelbert can really throw down the Sicilian – I thought it would be a good idea to head back to my place. Figured the less exposure the better. There wasn’t a paper bag big enough for my friend’s head and it was a little early for Halloween, so it was home sweet home for the both of us.
I gave Engelbert the remote control and he immediately started channel surfing. In no time at all he discovered what the vast majority of Americans already know: that despite a plethora of viewing choices, the sad fact is there isn’t all that much worth watching on television. Some reality TV, cable news channels reporting on the outbreak of tornado activity, and a lot of crime shows. My friend sat mesmerized by the dichotomy. “Your race spends most of its time either pretending they’re someone they’re not, or glorifying death and destruction.” I had watched Law & Order for years and never would I have come to that conclusion. It took my friend less than five minutes to arrive at it.
And then he flipped to Fox News and we began watching Hannity. Ugly, vile, disgusting, and completely devoid of any integrity, pure and simple. My friend could feel the contempt I had for this man, and the pained expression on my face as he continued to watch it was as obvious as the, well, whatever that was on his face below his eye.
“Are you alright?” he asked, concerned for my well being. “He infuriates me to no end,” came my reply. “He distorts the facts and twists the truth to suit his own narrow agenda. He spews hatred and is a hypocrite.”
He continued to watch and after a few minutes, added, “He does seem to have some very definitive opinions which are clearly biased. How long as he been on the airwaves?” “Too long,” I quipped.
Having pity on me, my friend switched the channel to MSNBC, and for the next few minutes we watched Rachel Maddow. My friend immediately noticed I was considerably calmer and commented on my newfound demeanor. “You clearly agree with her views.” “What’s there not to agree with?” I replied. “She’s obviously right!”
My friend looked puzzled, as though I were speaking to him in a foreign language, which I thought ironic since he was after all an alien. He continued to flip back and forth between both programs, pausing just long enough to get what he thought was an earful from both hosts, and after about a half hour or so proceeded to turn the set off and sat silent for a minute or two staring at the blank screen.
I finally interrupted his seeming wistfulness. “What’s the problem? What’s troubling you, my friend?”
“I don’t get it,” he finally said.
“Don’t get what?” I queried.
“You clearly preferred one program over the other, did you not?”
“Well, yes, I should think it was obvious. Didn’t you?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know enough about your country, much less your world, to determine who was right and who was wrong. Clearly from what I saw, the woman – it was Maddow, right – seemed more calm and easier on the senses, than the man – Hanny I think it was – but I must be frank with you, from where I sat the two seemed quite similar to me.”
“WHAT?!” I screamed back at him. “Are you crazy?”
“I don’t believe I am. I was simply making an observation based on what I saw and heard.”
“How can you be so blind and deaf? Hannity is a pig and a racist who hates people and deliberately lies to achieve a political objective.”
“That may be so; I don’t know him well enough to either confirm or deny your charge. But insofar as how both people comported themselves, it was very difficult to tell them apart. Both held strong viewpoints that were clearly biased toward their own agendas (is that how you say it), and both seemed overly zealous to the point of being argumentative, even derisive, towards anyone who disagreed with them. And while I could tell you clearly favor one over the other, I’m just letting you know that, as far as I could tell, there was no discernable difference between them.”
“Wow,” I said, flabbergasted. “I invite you over to my house and in less than an hour you proceed to insult me. I would’ve expected someone with your level of intelligence (why do humans always assume that visitors from another planet have superior intelligence?) to be able to tell the difference between reason and myopia. Clearly I overestimated you.”
“I am sorry if I disappointed you, that was not my intent. I gave you my honest opinion, based on my observations. Apparently it has elicited a rather emotional reaction in you. Perhaps I should leave.”
“Perhaps you should.”
He got up and headed for the door, but before leaving he turned around and said a few parting words to me.
“You are a most amazing and perplexing race, did you know that? What makes you amazing is how diverse you are and unique you are. In spite of your differences you have achieved many great things. Before being captured, I had the chance to visit many worlds and I have never come across a race as adventurous and as ingenious as yours. No is a word not written into your DNA. I am almost envious at how much you have accomplished in so short a time.
“And yet, with all the great moments in your history, it is those very same differences that continue to haunt you and threaten your very existence. That is the perplexing thing about you. It is the paradox which defines you. Even now your politics is corrupt and broken and your leaders are unable to lead. Your passion is both your best asset and greatest shortcoming. You allow it to possess you and if you are not careful, it will eventually destroy you.
“I have seen it happen on other worlds; people so driven by their own narrow-mindedness that they cannot see the very forest for the trees. Most of them end up being consumed by their own arrogance and righteousness. Your race stands upon a precipice, dangling precariously between greatness and oblivion, and even now you cannot see the darkness in your own heart or the threat it beckons. I feel both sorrow and great contempt for you.
“I hope you are somehow able to break free of your primitive tendencies as a race and achieve the ultimate greatness that awaits you. But I fear the task maybe beyond your abilities. You insist on engaging in pity and trifling debates among yourselves while you whittle away the potential in front of you.
“In one of your golden books – I believe you refer to it as the Bible – there is a phrase that goes like this: ‘Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done.’ Your own prophets predicted your demise and yet you proceed at full speed toward your epitaph. Such a waste.
“But I have said too much. I bid you my leave. Good luck, my friend; I feel you will need it.”
And then he shut the door behind him. I stood there stunned and speechless. I had just been read out by an alien, an ugly alien by the name of Engelbert, no less. I was furious at my friend for having the gall to come into my home and preach to me about not only my faults, but the faults of my entire race. Who did he think he was anyway? And then it hit me, I wasn’t angry with him because he had the nerve to say those things; I was angry with him because he was right. He nailed me; he nailed the whole damn human race.
I ran out the door after him.
“Where are you going?” I asked him.
“Home,” he replied.
“Home where? Area 51? You broke out of there.”
“No, my home world. I think I’ve traveled enough.”
“You mean, they’re just going to pick you up and take you back home? They’re up there?”
“We’ve been up there for quite some time, studying you.”
“We first visited your planet many years ago. As I said, you fascinate us.”
“Well you just can’t walk around town looking like that. You’ll never get two blocks. I’ll drive you. Come on get in.”
He got into the back seat and we proceeded to drive out of town, all the while Engelbert was giving me directions. After several miles, he finally told me to pull over so he could get out. “This is it,” he said.
“Wait,” I implored. “You have to tell me, are we gonna make it?”
“I don’t know what the future holds for you; your destiny is in your own hands.”
“I thought all you aliens had some kind of clairvoyance. You can see into the future.”
He smiled at me. “I think you’ve been watching way too much of that television of yours. We’re mortal just like you.” And then he challenged me. “You want to make sure you make it? Then change who you are; don’t settle for what you’ve been. Become the species you’re capable of being. Your existence doesn’t have to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s your choice.”
He reached out his hand to mine and shook it. “May whatever Providence you worship to smile upon you and guide your steps.”
And with that he got of the car and walked away into the darkness. As I started driving back home I saw a bright white light in my rear-view mirror. I jammed on the brakes and got of my car to see what it was, but as quickly as it appeared it was gone just like that. I got back into my car and resumed my ride back home.
As I pulled into my driveway I was filled with a sense of melancholy, and not because I knew I would never see my friend again, but because it began to dawn on me that maybe, perhaps, we just didn’t have it in us to change who we were after all.
I’d always considered myself a fairly reasonable man, and yet there I was, unmasked by someone I had known for only a few hours. He hadn’t just read me out, he nailed me right where I lived. And I didn’t like it one bit.
As I walked into my house, I knew our goose was cooked. There’d never be anyway we could extricate ourselves from this fate. Like being married to the mob, it was too ingrained into our collective conscious. We could no more divorce ourselves from it than a fish could live on dry land. Case closed.
I was exhausted. It was getting late. It was after midnight and I had to go to work the next day. But try as I could, I just couldn’t shut my eyes, so I did what any insomniac would do. I turned on CNN, and in no time at all I was fast asleep.