The Night I Was Serenaded By Space Aliens!

The other day I was gearing up to republish one of my early stories, those poor neglected souls that are buried in the WordPress catacombs, though I hadn’t chosen my victim yet. After all, I thought, wouldn’t it be right to give new life to an essay that almost nobody read when it came out in 2015? Why, back then my blog had fewer readers than Donald Trump has good qualities.

But then I pondered the situation a bit more and said to myself, “nah!” I mean, I don’t really want to read any of that moldering stuff either, so I’m going to spare you. Therefore it is time for me to regroup and write another chunk of new material. But what? Oh well, I’ve been putting it off long enough. I’ve always figured that nobody would believe me (not even my wife Sandy), and that I’d be labeled a kook (just like the other people who’ve gone public with stories almost identical to the one I’m about to tell). But I’m pretty sure I don’t care about that anymore. Sandy and everyone else, hold onto your hats or whatever the hell you want to hold onto. I swear upon my dead goldfish’s body that every word I’m about to type is true. What follows are my recollections of the night I was serenaded by space aliens!

Photo credit: The Virgin Group

It was a dark and stormy night. Damn straight it was. Exhausted, I crept into bed at 12:45 AM, about half an hour earlier than usual, and within seconds was sound asleep. Sandy, even more pooped than me, had conked out at 12:15. That’s what dark and stormy nights will do to you. October 25, 2012, my 65th birthday, was off to a very inauspicious start.

I’d been in dreamland for no more than 40 minutes when I felt a tapping on my shoulder. “What’s wrong, Sandy?” I yelled, shocked out of my deep slumber. But nothing was wrong with Sandy, who continued to sleep the sleep of babies. That’s when I saw a hazy ball of pale green light hovering one foot above me. A thick and long projection, aglow in muted yellow, extended from the ball’s core. The projection, a finger to end all fingers, jabbed me in the shoulder good and hard.

“Yo, nitwit, don’t fall back asleep unless you’d like me to slap you real profoundly upside your head. I’ve come a long way to meet with you, so get out of bed, put some clothes on, grab your house keys and follow me. A surprise awaits you,” the aura said. It’s true that I’m pretty much a nitwit, but despite that I know that in certain circumstances it behooves one to follow orders.

“How’d you get in here?” I managed to ask the aura as we went down the stairs, summoning up an iota of courage from I know not where. “And how come you speak English? Are you of Anglo-Saxon descent?”

The aura stopped moving and looked at me, so to speak, straight in the eyes. “Listen,” it said, “I’d have found a way into your house under any circumstances. But you made it easy for me. You left your front door unlocked, genius! And why do I speak English? I am fluent in every language spoken throughout the universe, of which there are millions. I am not your average Joe. And speaking of Joe, my true name would be unpronounceable for you, so Joe is what I want you to call me. Kapeesh?”

“Yes sir, I mean Joe,” I said.

“Okay, Neil, let’s get going again.” Naturally, Joe knew my name.

Moments later we were outside. I locked the front door and followed Joe, who floated through the air very purposefully, to my backyard. Plunk in its middle sat a sleek round vehicle, maybe 20 feet in diameter and gleaming in what little light penetrated the sky’s turbulent clouds. I was getting pounded by rain. With his sturdy finger Joe opened the spacecraft’s door and waited for me to enter. He then floated inside and closed the door. Joe’s dim glow wasn’t enough for me to make out distinct details of the interior, but I recognized the shapes of a table and several chairs. Even an aura needs to sit, or shall we say rest upon something now and then, I surmised. And a table comes in handy almost anywhere, don’t you think?

In any event, the main things going on involved my heart, which was beating at a faster pace than it ever had, and the state of my bowels, which were poised to soil my pants. What was in store for me? Was this the end?

“Joe,” I said, “give me a break. I’m not too bad a guy. After all, I’m doing my bit to keep print publications alive by subscribing to half a dozen of them. And I helped an old lady cross the street not too long ago. Well, come to think of it, that was last year. But you get the idea.”

Joe ignored my comments. “Sit down, Neil,” he said brusquely. He then reduced the volume of his illumination, lowering it more and more till he was invisible to me. The end, I was certain, was only seconds away. Probably Joe’s versatile finger would be involved in my demise.

Next thing I knew, though, the ship’s interior began to brighten. Within moments Joe was shining like a 150-watt bulb. And Joe wasn’t alone. No, beside him another aura had appeared, and its luminance was the equal of his.

“Neil, I would like you to meet . . . wait, pronouncing her name is beyond human capabilities. You shall call her Jane.” From Jane’s mauve core a baby blue projection, as firm and lengthy as Joe’s, emerged. It reached out to me, gently brushing my forehead. I liked that.

“Hello, Neil,” Jane said.

“Jane, I’m honored,” I gulped.

Jane continued to rub my forehead as she settled into a chair next to mine. Joe sat opposite me, waiting for Jane to speak again.

“Neil, it is for a very good reason that Joe and I have traveled the spaceways to make your acquaintance,” Jane began. “We are cosmic ambassadors of good will and visit your small planet every day, quietly and efficiently, from our home many light years away. Back and forth, back and forth. That’s what we do. And each visit is on the occasion of a special someone’s 65th birthday, a day on which many humans need some cheering up. I say special only in an affectionate sense, of course. I’m not implying that there is anything particularly special about you. And here’s why we are crossing paths: On December 31, 2011 Joe and I threw into a humongous hat the names of every person on Earth who would turn 65 in 2012. We drew names until we had one for each date of the year. Neil, you are the selectee for October 25.”

“Yes, you now are officially old, Neil, but we are here to tell you that you shouldn’t feel blue about that,” Jane continued. “Countless millions of humans are on the same rung of the age ladder as you, or above, so take comfort in their company. What’s more, there might be many more years of good life ahead of you. And if not, well, your journey will have been a fulfilling one when it reaches its conclusion, n’est-ce pas?”

And with that Jane and Joe shoved their remarkable fingers beneath the table and lifted up a chocolate birthday cake. Happy Birthday, Big Guy! it read. Sixty-six unlit candles, one of them for good luck, covered the cake’s surface. Jane aimed her finger at the candles and they instantly ignited, just as I knew they would. As I blew the candles out, Joe and Jane serenaded me with the Happy Birthday song. And I soon joined in. Our three-part harmonies were majestic, reaching the ethers.

“Neil, I want to apologize for the way I acted towards you before,” Joe said after the song was sung, shoveling chocolate cake into his core. “I’m kind of testy, on edge. This Earthly assignment is getting to me. Jane and I have been doing this gig for, what, 100 years? I can’t begin to tell you how f*cking sick I am of the Happy Birthday song. Shit, if my planet had a retirement system I’d be first in line to sign up. Ah, what’s the use? It’s been a pleasure, pardner. Adios.” He opened his ship’s door and out I went.

A few minutes later, stuffed with cake, I was back in bed. Joe and Jane silently had lifted off from my backyard, their ship disappearing from sight in less than a nanosecond. Never again, I’m certain, will I see them.

Nearly six years have elapsed since my 65th spin around the Sun. I think about Joe and Jane every day. And I take delight in the knowledge that studied opinions and from-the-heart outpourings, uplifting or not, can arrive from outer space.

 

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Things I’m Thankful For, Only One Of Which (A Movie) Is Real

After the Thanksgiving affair that my wife Sandy and I hosted last week, I really am feeling thankful. Thankful that the big day is over and that (hopefully) I won’t see the guests again for a long time. Never again would be ideal.

What with most of our family scattered around the world, far from our suburban Philadelphia home, and what with our friends chowing down elsewhere, Sandy and I, as usual, were reduced to inviting only the three cousins who live near us — Tom, Dick and Larry — to sit around our dining room table on Turkey Day.

Tom, Dick and Larry are from my side of the family. I never can keep straight precisely how they are related to me. Third cousins twice removed. Or second cousins thrice removed. Something like that. Whatever the blood connections may be, several things are definite: These guys are suspicious characters, unmarried and without girlfriends, and never receive Thanksgiving invites from anyone else. I won’t delve deeply into describing how thoroughly they distressed me last week. Let’s just say that after Tom glared at me 20 minutes into the meal and hissed “pass the gravy . . . or else,” I came this close to soiling my Mickey Mouse-emblazoned boxer shorts. Holy crap, I’m very thankful that didn’t happen! One painful hour later the meal was over and five minutes after that the boys were on their way home. Unsafe travels in the future, fellas.

Now, I pride myself on being not too concerned about lucid juxtapositions. One of these days maybe I’ll set aside my wobbly ways, but that day hasn’t arrived just yet. Which is why I, without embarrassment, now turn away from a Thanksgiving fantasia and toward something entirely unrelated. Its name is The Florida Project. It’s a movie, one that I thought only relative handfuls of people were visiting the theaters to see. But I was wrong about that. A quick look at Box Office Mojo reveals that TFP is in a substantial number of cinemas in the States. It deserves to be. The Florida Project is superb, a piercing examination of human plight. I caught it a couple of weeks ago, am thankful that I did, and can’t get it out of my head.

The Florida Project, though scripted, has the feel of cinema verite. Episodic, it follows the lives, day after day during one summer, of several young kids and their parents who call the Magic Castle motel home. The motel is in Orlando, Florida, close to Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park, but for many of Magic Castle’s residents it might as well be a million miles from that pricey wonderland. That’s because the Magic Castle, where a room may be had for under $40 a day, is loaded with those near the bottom of the economic ladder — folks with low-paying jobs, hustlers and pensioners who are barely getting by, and transients on their way to who knows where.

Moonee, a smart, playful and happy six-year-old girl, has been living in the Magic Castle for quite a while with her single mom, Halley, an angry and majestically-tattooed 20-something who, clearly and unfortunately, never has been part of the mainstream and won’t be joining it soon. Money comes to Halley in various ways, mostly by scheming, and its flow is erratic and unplentiful. Life’s been a bitch for her, as her white-hot temper shows, but the temper never is directed towards her daughter. Moonee is the apple of Halley’s eye, the wondrous creature who can do no wrong, the one person on Earth she loves unconditionally.

The Florida Project is filmed in colors that blaze with brilliance. I think the director, Sean Baker, chose this somewhat jarring motif to demonstrate the way in which Moonee views her surroundings. To her they are an adventureland meant to be savored and explored. And explore it she does with her pals Scooty and Jancey — the fields close to the motel, the ice cream stand where they twist the arms of customers to buy them cones, abandoned buildings that sit under the Sun peacefully and half-forgotten.

At first, none of this seems like much. But the cumulative effect of the seemingly ordinary soon becomes powerful, as Baker paints the children and their parents with unadulterated strokes. The characters are real, vividly real, and totally believable. I’m still hearing Moonee’s glee-infused voice, which provides one of the soundtracks to the film. It’s been a year since I saw a movie, Moonlight being the last, that rang as true as this one.

Well, as they pile up it becomes apparent halfway through the movie that the details within The Florida Project are not a collection of random observations and occurrences. The plot is headed in a definite direction. And it would be most unfair of me to give away the final destination. I will say, though, that anyone whose heart is not composed of stone better be prepared to have it wrenched.

Performance-wise, what can you say about Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite, who portray Moonee and Halley, respectively? Brilliant jobs, young ladies. Utterly brilliant. And Willem Dafoe? He’s the sole actor I was familiar with in the film. His handling of Bobby, the motel manager whose job requires him to put out metaphorical fires right and left, and who keeps a watchful eye out for dangers that might be heading for the children, is understatedly strong.

Sean Baker, who also co-wrote The Florida Project, is yet another I never knew about previously. Maybe I should have been aware of the sitcoms he helped create a few years ago, Greg The Bunny and Warren The Ape. But I wasn’t and am not.

In any event, somebody waved a magic wand over Baker’s head some time ago when he began thinking about the ideas he wanted to get across in The Florida Project and how they might take shape. The magic wand worked.

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An Important Announcement From Neil’s Editor: Neil’s Missing!

Greetings, Earthlings. My name is Edgar Reewright. I’m an editor. And I’m writing to you on bended knee, as I will explain a few paragraphs down the line.

Over the years I’ve worked at The New Yorker, The New York Times and, most recently, Playboy. Prestigious jobs they were, not to mention excellent distributors of cash and benefits to yours truly. But as we know, life can throw curveballs and spitballs at any of us at any time. And come my way they did.

I won’t go into too much detail. Let’s just say that I didn’t do myself any favors when, after having devoured two bottles of Jack Daniels at a dazzling party at the Playboy Mansion in 2014, I made a pass — actually, more like 15 passes — at Hugh Hefner’s wife. When I came to a few hours later I discovered myself to be robed in a Playboy Bunny outfit and draped over a traffic light, 20 feet above ground, on Sunset Boulevard. Hef’s boys don’t mess around. Needless to say, my career in big-time journalism was over.

Thanks are due, therefore, to the blogging gods of small-time journalism. A prime example of which is Neil Scheinin’s blog. The one you’re staring at right now. Neil fancies himself to be a writer. What the hell, I always say, let him believe what he wishes. He’s hardly the only delusional collection of skin and bones traipsing around among us.

Anyway, the flimsy quality of Neil’s opuses doesn’t mean a fig to me. What does matter is the paycheck that Neil sends my way weekly. Seven hundred and fifty dollars ain’t bad dough to someone in my situation. Damn good thing I answered Neil’s ad (“Help! Dork desperately in need of editorial assistance,” it read) in the January 2015 issue of All Praises To The Blogosphere. The rest is history. Or something along that line.

Here’s why I’m writing this article: I’m very, very worried. Neil has disappeared. Foul play? Nah, there’s no evidence of that. By his own volition? You can bet the house on it. The louse didn’t even have a story-in-waiting to be published this week. Who does he think he is, skipping a week of writing? His audience probably could care less, but me? I care like crazy. And that’s because Neil not only put down his story-writing pen, he also put down his check-writing pen. I have $236 dollars to my name. If Neil doesn’t come out of hiding, or wherever he is, and pay me my weekly allowance . . . hell, I don’t even want to think about it.

Readers of Neil’s blog, I’m pleading with you to try and find him. His wife Sandy has looked high and low for him and has reported Neil’s absence to the authorities, but so far they’ve come up with nothing.

Me, I think there’s a chance that, in search of inspiration and beneficial aura fields, he’s gone to visit one of his blogging buddies, people who, unlike him, truly fall into the category of writer. And who not only churn out essays with regularity but have penned books. K E Garland, for instance, whose The Unhappy Wife is a strong look at marriage and relationships. And Andrew Ferguson. He wrote The Wrong Box, a romp of a murder mystery filled with sex, laughs and a twisty plot. Neil has told me more than once that he too would like to create a book one of these days. Yeah, right. Believe me, holding your breath waiting for that to happen would be a mistake of the highest order.

Send out the search parties! Spread the word on Twitter and Facebook! Neil is out there somewhere and he needs to return home. His wife will do just fine without him, sure. But not me. My bank account is staring at me with pitiful eyes. He better come back! And pronto. Here’s a photo of Neil. It’s the only one I have. It’s from a recent New Year’s Eve, and maybe will be an aid in finding him. Say what you will about Neil, you’ve got to admire his taste in leis.

Thanks for your help.

(Photo by Max Scheinin)

Bruce Springsteen Made Me An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse

Source: Jason Kempin/Getty Images North America

I’d always heard that, off-stage, Bruce Springsteen is a very normal sort of person. Meaning that the uninhibited, propulsive sides of his personality are reserved for those many moments when he stands beneath spotlights. Yes, everybody knows that in concert he rocks and rolls like few mortals ever have, sweating up storms of great magnitude while giving it all he has. And now I can attest to the truth of this paragraph’s first sentence too, because last week I met The Boss. At my house, no less. He’s a good guy. As is his buddy Steven Van Zandt, a guitar slinger who has been a member of Springsteen’s E Street Band for many years. I didn’t know that they were planning to visit me. I’d have put on something more flattering than a Donald Duck tee shirt and a pair of candy-striped shorts if I had. Whatever, as they say. The main thing is that it’s a good thing I was home when they knocked on my suburban Philadelphia front door yesterday afternoon.

“Hey, Neil, surprise!” said Stevie when I opened the door. “You’re not the best looking guy I’ve ever seen, but you’re nowhere near as ugly as I was expecting. Bruce and I drove all the way from northern New Jersey to meet you. We’re glad to be here. Nice shorts, by the way.”

“Holy crap!” I said. “Stevie? Bruce? What the hell’s going on? Is this a joke? Am I on Candid Camera?”

“Hi, Neil,” said Bruce, peeking out from behind his friend. “Believe it or not, we’re here on serious business. Well, maybe not all that serious. We’ll explain all. C’mon, man, can we come in? I’ve got to use your bathroom. Half an hour ago I emptied a two liter bottle of RC Cola in no time flat. Big mistake. My bladder is sending out an SOS.”

“Gentlemen, enter!” I said, bowing and sweeping my right hand in a dramatic, welcoming arc. Enter they did, Bruce quickly spotting the ground floor john and heading towards it pronto. Stevie and I shook hands and took seats in the living room. I stared at him in disbelief. He smiled that smile of his that’s wide as a canyon.

“Stevie, what do you want to drink?” I finally managed to ask.

“Got any seltzer? Bruce I’m sure would love some, too.”

“I’ve got gallons of it. I’ll be right back.”

Two minutes later I strode into the living room with a big tray that held glasses of fizzy water and bowls of pretzels and chips. I looked at Bruce, who had finished his business and taken a seat on the sofa, and at Stevie. We lifted the glasses to our lips and reached into the bowls.

“Guys,” I said, “nothing like this has ever happened to me. Woody Allen is the only star I ever met before. That was in 1973 when I was living in Manhattan. I accidentally knocked him over with a shopping cart in a Gristedes supermarket when I made a U- turn in the cereal aisle. He got up from the floor, glared at me and kept on shopping. Never said a word. More importantly, he didn’t sue.”

“Yeah, Woody’s the forgiving kind, so that doesn’t surprise me,” said Stevie. “Anyway, here’s why we’ve paid you a visit. It’s because of that story you wrote last week about your weakening obsession with music [click here to read it]. It found its way to one of the Springsteen-fan websites.” Bruce nodded in agreement. “And Brucie boy, having nothing better to do, checked out that site the other day. Your story jumped out at him like a wild animal. After reading it he knew that he had to take some action to try and help you out. So, he called me, told me what your article was about and explained everything he had in mind. I was on board just like that.” He snapped his fingers to emphasize the point. “Ergo, here we are. And don’t bother asking how we found out where you live. It’s a Google world, my man. The only person that nobody can find hasn’t been born yet.”

“Stevie, Bruce, I’m humbled. Please continue.”

“Neil, we’re all about the same age here. Not getting any younger, that’s for sure,” Bruce said. “But Stevie and I are having the times of our lives. Just like always. We haven’t gotten tired of rock and roll in the least. Man, the passion, the fire are still there. It broke my heart when I read in your article that you’re only one-fifth the music guy that you used to be. Neil, we have come to get you out of what I am convinced is a funk. We want to turn you back into the rock and roll animal that you once were. And you know how we’re going to do that? Hold onto the few strands of hair that you have left on your wrinkly head . . . Neil, we want you to become part of The E Street Band! You’ll have more excitement than you ever thought possible. You’ll travel all over the world. You’ll drown, like me and Stevie and the rest of the band, in audience applause. Man, you’re going to have the time of your life.”

Photo: Don Marshall

I swear, my jaw dropped through the living room floor and into the basement. Whose wouldn’t have? Quickly I pulled it back into place, slapped myself in the face and said, “Bruce, this is an offer only a fool would refuse. My life has been good till now, but I wouldn’t mind it becoming great. Only problem is, I’m unfit to be in your band. You guys are the best. Me, I can’t stay on pitch when I sing. And I have less talent on musical instruments than the average three year old.”

“Doesn’t matter, Neil,” said The Boss. “We’ll teach you to sing simple background harmonies. You’ll sound just fine. And as far as instruments go, I want you to play the triangle. Anybody can play the triangle. And on a few tunes maybe we’ll have you bang on some wood blocks. Some of my songs would be strengthened with some incisive wood block poundings, don’t you think, Stevie?” Steven gave the thumbs-up sign emphatically. “Thunder Road, for instance, and Born In The U.S.A. You will be able to handle this, Neil. I’m totally confident.”

At that moment Sandy, my wife, turned her key in the front door lock and entered our house. She had been out shopping for some Matisse-inspired toilet seat covers. Sadly, none were to be found. Bruce and Steven rose, fine gentlemen that they are, when she came into the living room. Not unexpectedly, her jaw dropped not only into the basement but through the basement floor itself.

Well, Bruce and Steven hung around Sandy’s and my house for a few more hours. We all got on famously. Like I said, they are good guys. Very good guys. Bruce and the band are taking a break from the road right now, but plans for the next round are in the works. Rehearsals and touring start early next year. Sandy will fly to be with me now and then, like when the band is in London and Amsterdam and Stockholm. I’m psyched about what’s ahead.

This is the damndest thing, isn’t it? Me, a schlub who gets yanked from behind a computer keyboard to become a cog in one of the most popular bands in the universe. You know, I’m awake, but pinch me anyway. I won’t mind in the least.

 

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