John T. Anderson
42 Foliage Lane
12 Tenthmonth 17829
Sometimes I think that my friend Panu cares about me too much. Or perhaps he just annoyingly pokes his nose into areas where I’m sensitive and tries to help where I don’t want him to help at all.
Like last night, for instance. I was sitting in my favorite reading chair in the living room, deeply engrossed a book about the ancient astronomers of Halakan, when he interrupted my concentration.
“That must be a very absorbing book,” he ventured.
“Oh, yes it is,” I confirmed, glancing momentarily at the cover, “It’s all about the Golden Age of Telescopes, and how the planets and moons of the Tau Cetian system were discovered.”
“Oh, it is, huh?” Panu said.
“For example, did you know that Lanago, the first astronomer to use a telescope, was the discoverer of rings of Madrash?” I gushed in excitement, and lay the book in my lap. “He was held in ridicule for almost a decade, before the other astronomers condescended to try telescopy!” Panu nodded. I continued, “That was centuries before Galileo, the first human astronomer to use a telescope. His discoveries led to worse penalties.”
I looked up from the book, because it appeared to me that Panu wasn’t really listening.
“I think you’ve missed my point,” Panu said. “It’s already half past twenty-six o’clock. Didn’t your Alien Cultures Club meeting start thirty-two minutes ago?”
I glanced at my watch. “So it did!” I moaned, but I don’t think it was very convincing. “I got so absorbed in this book I forgot the time! Oh well, it’s too late to go now!” I sighed as I picked up the book from my lap to continue my reading.
“Is something wrong?” Panu asked.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I said, feigning instant reabsorbtion into my reading.
“This is the fourth club meeting you have missed in a row!” Panu said. “First, you developed a strange desire to clean out your bedroom closet, and lost track of the time. The second time, you said you had to work late, but you acted suspicious. Last week you just walked around the house and sighed and moaned until you decided not to go. And today, all of a sudden, you’re interested in astronomy!”
Well, my ears stung at that, and I had no ready answer. I closed the book and lay it on the end table. Then I rubbed the bridge of my nose with my thumbs as I thought this over.
Panu was right, of course. I didn’t want to go to the Alien Cultures Club meetings anymore, kept looking for excuses not to go, and now I have to face up to it.
“Well?” Panu insisted, “What’s wrong?”
“Give me a minute!” I pleaded. I had more thinking to do. I joined the club, because I thought that I, as a human and an alien myself, could not only learn about the cultures on other civilized planets, I could serve as a resource to the club as well. It didn’t work out quite that way, however. Human culture is to other alien cultures like a tricycle to a spaceship; I knew that going in, but I did not know how inferior it would make me feel. It was particularly bad the night I took a recording of Gustav Mahler’s music to the meeting on the same night that someone else took a recording of some ancient Natonian composer from the planet Zerpick. It’s not that I possess any great love for Earth, because I don’t; but I was humiliated. The Natonian composer left Mahler in the dust. It was like attending a pot luck dinner and discovering after it was too late that I had severely underestimated the elegance of the evening, and that my contribution was inadequate and shabby! Oh, they were very nice about it (people here are nice to a fault), but my humiliation made their niceness seem like condescension.
“I don’t feel comfortable in that group,” I told Panu finally. “Frankly, I feel completely outclassed.”
Panu tried to discuss it further, but seeing that I was unwilling to pursue it, he gave up and left me to my reading.
Ah yes, here is my place: Chapter Ten. “Is there Life Beyond Tau Ceti?” the history of the first attempts to seek intelligent life beyond Homeland and its star system.
Somewhere between the radio telescopes on First Moon and the launching of the first deep space probe (on page F1), there came a knocking at the door. I ignored it at first, thinking that Panu would get it; but the knocking persisted, and Panu didn’t answer my calls. I impatiently marked my place, put the book on the table, and went to the door. When I opened it, I found myself nose-to-nose with Lorma Haksiman, the director of the Alien Cultures Club!
I stood there breathless, trying to imagine why the director of the club, with whom I had no prior social contact, would skip a meeting to visit me.
“May I come in, or would you prefer to continue your stupefied gaze?” he asked. I motioned weakly with my hand, and he stepped in. I closed the door behind him, and we walked over to the sofa and sat down.
“John,” he began with a sigh, “Everyone at the club is worried about you! You haven’t been attending the meetings lately!”
“I don’t see what the big deal is,” I said defensively, “A lot of members miss meetings now and them.”
“True,” Lorma conceded, “but never four meetings in a row, and never after suddenly failing to participate in discussions.” He got right to the point, “Did something happen to embarrass you?”
“It’s very nice of you to come,” I said, “but it really wasn’t necessary for you to come. You’re needed at the meeting!”
“I suppose so,” Lorma sighed, “but it is simple etiquette. If we had done anything to offend you or to embarrass you, it is my job as club director to work things out.” He stretched back in preparation for reminiscence: “When I was a boy in Herlup Province—that’s the smallest and most mountainous province, you know.”
I nodded for him to continue. I know about Herlup Province, becuase that’s where Panu is from.
“When I was a boy,” he continued, “my father was a herdsman. He spent days at a time with his pjanel, as he herded them from the summer meadows in the mountains down into the valley for the winter. Sometimes he even took me along with him. Oh, that was grand! The bracing air, the clear skies, the sounds of night! But, I’m straying from my point. Whenever one of the pjanel strayed off, Father would go after it.”
“I don’t get your point,” I confessed.
“Well, he could hardly send one of the pjanel after it!” Lorma said.
I conceded that point, but I didn’t see its relevance.
“I am the director of the Alien Cultures Club; the ‘herdsman’ if you will,” Lorma explained, “If one of the members wanders off, it falls to me to find out why and solve any problems, don’t you see? It’s just common courtesy.”
After that, I had no objections against accompanying him back to the club meeting. It ended before we arrived, so we were just in time for the social hour.
I had a very nice time.