Although psychology is a young science among humans, it has found popular acceptance with astonishing speed. No matter where you go on Earth, you hear talk of traumas, egos, phobias, and complexes. I’m almost ashamed to admit that we Homelanders have found ourselves using the popularized version of its jargon; but it’s only natural. After all, it is specific to the human condition, and we have to deal with that every day.
The term ‘ego’ is particularly handy, because an astonishing number of humans wear an ego which is several sizes too small.
The best example I can think of happened while I was trying to get my mind off my work. I thought I’d go to the movies. There I could sit in a darkened room in total anonymity and disconnect my mind from my work. At least, that was my intent.
“Excuse me please,” came a voice out of the darkness. I stood up and let my theater seat fold up behind me. A man squeezed by me with some difficulty, and began to settle into the seat next to mine.
A late-comer, I thought, as my new neighbor crinkled his way through candy bar wrappers. The movie had already started; in fact, the credits were just fading into the opening scene. I could hear a hand rummaging through popcorn. He ate the stuff as though everyone in the room were deaf but him.
On the screen, a spaceship approached a lovely planet and descended through the clouds. It landed in front of a futuristic castle nestled in picturesque mountains. The gate opened, and the greeting committee emerged: a company of armored soldiers, riding on the backs of large animals.
“Oh, no!” he whispered, leaning over towards me. “I was afraid of this!” There was some more crunching as he wiggled himself into a better position. “This is one of those ‘Sir Lancelot on Mars’ movies,” he advised me disapprovingly.
Oh great. I came to the movies for a simple diversion, and I have to sit next to an amateur film critic! Fortunately, I could discern the sound track over the noise of his popcorn. We managed to get a few scenes into the movie before my neighbor suddenly went into contortions.
“Is something wrong?” I whispered discretely.
“Nothing at all,” he replied in a normal voice. “My shirt’s just turned around in my pants. I have to straighten it out.”
Whoever thought that watching a movie was a passive experience never met this fellow.
“You see the wise old man in the tattered clothing?” he asked, pointing at the screen. I nodded, though he couldn’t see it in the dark. “That’s the Scruffy Old Wise Man with Magical Talents,” he diagnosed. “This kind of movie always has one of those.”
“Uh-huh,” I said in gratitude for this vital information.
He chomped and slurped and explained his way through half the movie. It wasn’t exactly an ideal cinematic experience, but he turned out to be a likable fellow in spite of his faults.
At long last, we arrived at the Obligatory Battle Scene, in which sophisticated cybernetic robots anachronistically defended a high-technology spaceship with crossbows and arrows. (What an entertaining mish-mash!) The arrows burst upon contact, with tragic results for one of Lords of Murk. The explosion was anatomically explicit, which severely distressed a child several rows in front of us. Our view was momentarily blocked as the entire family stood up to leave, so we never did find out how the hero managed to recover the Sacred Emerald.
“Kids!” clucked my neighbor. “Now who would bring small children to a movie like this?”
I couldn’t think of a response to that. “Don’t you like children?” I asked.
“Certainly I do,” he insisted, “but I’m firmly convinced that children should be rented and not owned.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I mean that other people’s kids are more enjoyable,” he explained as he opened a box of candy, “because when you get tired of them, they go home.”
“I see,” I said. I momentarily wished I had rented him, so he would go home; but soon my eyes were riveted to the screen once again. Would the hero learn to polish the Sacred Emerald in time, or would the Lords of Murk capture him once more? I don’t think I could bear another trip to the dungeon.
“Would you excuse me, please?” my neighbor asked, rising to his feet. I stood to let him pass, as did everyone else between me and the aisle. That’ll teach him to drink so much soda pop, I thought. Now he’ll miss a climactic scene!
What sheer delight! I could lose myself entirely in the movie, unencumbered by the resident film critic. The hero decided that the Sacred Emerald was smudged, rubbed it with his cloak, and was instantly teleported to the Lake of Dreams, leaving the Lords of Murk to clack their claws on empty air. What a relief! The tension certainly had me glued to the edge of my seat! We celebrated the occasion by viewing several glorious panoramas, accompanied by triumphant music. Through some mystical means, the hero encountered the heroine in a misty forest. After an ecstatic and blissful reunion, the dialogue got serious, as the two characters plotted the strategy that would entertain us for the balance of the movie.
But I never got to hear it! My neighbor returned, laden with refreshments like Santa with gifts. Each person in our row had to stand to let him pass, and each was duly thanked. Drat! Why didn’t he come back earlier, while the hero and the heroine were leaping idyllically through the heath? Everyone knows that the plot screeches to a temporary halt when lovers are reunited!
It was my turn. I stood. “Sorry to disturb you,” he said, but his apology only compounded the damage.
“Hurry up, sit down, and shut up!” came an impatient voice from behind.
“Oh. Sorry,” he apologized again. He rushed to sit down, missed, and bumped into the arm of the seat. With a loud ‘whoop!’ of surprise he fell noisily to the floor. There he sat for a moment, as though contemplating his sins. A number of people sitting near us made brief hushing sounds.
“Are you injured?” I asked in a whisper.
“Yeah,” he said as he climbed into his seat. He moved as though he wished he were invisible. “If you have any liniment, I’ll put it on my dignity.”
I smiled. Meanwhile on the screen, the hero and heroine were breathlessly inching their way across the face of a sheer cliff. How they got there, I’ll never know unless I buy another ticket. Their footing was uncertain, the ledge was narrow, and the camera angles were calculated to bring on vertigo. In my case, they succeeded. The giant ravens of Limtor flew down and grabbed at the heroine’s hair. She removed her Scarab Hairpin, on the theory that it was attracting the birds. At long last, the hero noticed the similarity between the Sacred Emerald and the Scarab Hairpin. (It had been so frustratingly obvious that I had begun to doubt his intelligence.)
My concentration was interrupted by my neighbor again, although the interval was quite a bit longer than before.
“The lady behind me is snickering,” he reported. “Is something wrong with my head?”
“Not if you get that popcorn out of your hair,” I replied. He hastily brushed his head with his hands, and we watched the remaining movie in silence. I was quite thankful for that.
So you won’t be left in suspense, here’s how it turned out: the Scarab and the Emerald, when fitted together just so, caused a magical blue rainstorm, which melted the Lair and poisoned most of the Lords of Murk. Our heroes were victorious; peace, beauty and freedom were restored to the land, and only a few Lords of Murk were able to escape. I presume they are off somewhere right now, plotting a sequel to the movie.
Well, that was it! The house lights went on. One young couple in the back was taken by surprise, and still had a few last-minute preparations before they could leave; but the rest of us ignored them as we made our way towards the lobby.
The movie critic followed me all the way out.
“I’m really sorry that I ruined the movie for you,” he apologized abjectly.
“That’s quite all right,” I said. “I didn’t miss a thing, and you were equally entertaining!”
“I’m a klutz,” he said. “This sort of thing happens to me all the time!”
“I don’t think so,” I said, squinting my eyes in the unexpectedly bright daylight. “I mean, I’m sure it happens to you all the time, but you’re not a klutz at all!”
“I’m not?” he asked somewhat skeptically.
“No,” I replied. “You spent the entire movie doing things to attract attention to yourself. True, most of the attention was disapproval, but you certainly made your presence known.” He winced, so I continued. “Now don’t take this too hard,” I warned, “but I think you basically don’t like yourself. So you don’t allow yourself to make many friends, and that makes you very lonely.”
The skepticism fell from his face. “So why am I not a klutz?” he asked in a little boy voice.
“Because your accidents aren’t accidents at all,” I explained. “They attract everyone’s attention, which helps your loneliness, but they are carefully designed to reinforce your low self-esteem.”
“My name is Doug,” he said, and meekly reached out for a handshake. “Can we talk for a while?” he asked, “I’ll walk you to your car.”
Doug was horrified to find that I was riding the bus, so he offered to drive me home; an offer he visibly regretted as soon as I told him I lived in Anacostia.
“I’ve survived the bus before,” I informed him, “I don’t want you to get palpitations or anything.”
“No, no!” Doug protested. “I offered you a ride, and I stand by my offer. It just took me by surprise; after all, Anacostia does have a reputation.”
I could only agree. We drove to my apartment, sat in the car and talked until we were blue from the cold, then we moved the conversation inside. We talked about his whole life, from beginning to end, and about his wishes and dreams. There were pieces of his life that he had never fit together, although it was obvious: like the Scarab Hairpin and the Sacred Emerald in the movie.
Finally Doug realized the time. “I didn’t mean to take up your whole day, but you are a fascinating person to talk to!”
“Thank you for the compliment,” I said.
“You’re very good at this. Do you have some background in counseling?” he asked as he opened the door to leave.
“Yes, in fact I do!” I answered truthfully. “It was part of my education. You see, I have a doctorate in Anthropology from Snodgrass University, in Hapdorn, the capital city of the Grand Duchy of Thorgelfayne. That’s on the planet Homeland. We’re here to study and preserve the human race.”
Doug was nearly doubled over in laughter, “You’re very good at that! Imagine coming up with all of that at once! That’s priceless!”
He was still laughing as he closed the door.