Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Ole Debbil Expectation
I met Greg when we were cast into junior high science purgatory by our teacher for putting the right answers on a test. We were correct, but did not agree with the science book, which liked to round things off. We argued with the teacher, produced evidence to show our numbers were more exact, and for our extra efforts, got shot down anyway. There had to be a standard, the teacher, explained, and the science book was it, never mind what the Encyclopedia Brittanica said.
Having thus met Greg in an argument with The Man, I was disposed to like him.
Greg was, by all the IQ tests used to measure such things, a certified genius.
We started to hang out. We spouted poetry, like " The Jabberwocky," and "The Raven." We became, for about fifteen minutes, socialists, then objectivists. We had a fine ole time being the two school oddballs.
Shortly after I met him, Greg revealed to me that he was in contact with a an alien girl named Ackneel Alpha, who lived on Jupiter’s seventh moon. Who was also gorgeous. (It might have been the twelfth moon. It has been more than forty-five years and I can’t recall that one item for certain. But I think it was the seventh.)
Either way, would I like to communicate with her?
As a science fiction geek I leaped at the chance: Are you kidding?
Greg invited me over to his rather dark and dank house, where he had a room to himself, and showed me his communication gear. As best I can recall, this equipment consisted of an orange juice concentrate can sans the label, with a shiny rock glued to the unopened end, a bowl full of water, a bag full of "communication powder" (which, I later ascertained, turned out to be finely-ground soda cracker crumbs,) and a piece of cardboard.
How it worked -- when conditions were right -- was this: The citric acid in the juice activated some kind of crystal in the igneous rock, which in turn sent a vibration to the water. When the powder was dropped into the liquid, the resulting ... something somehow reflected off the cardboard propped up behind it and forged a link. You could talk to and see reflected in the water Ackneel Alpha -- who was thirteen Earth-years old, by the way -- live and direct. Not even a time lag.
That would certainly have been a helluva science project.
Even at that tender age I was -- how shall we say? -- skeptical. My father was a ham radio operator, and I knew a bit about long range communications. And I knew an orange juice can with a rock glued to it when I saw one. But, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and if I could talk to a girl living on one of Jupiter’s moons? I was willing to be convinced, boy, howdy.
You might be ahead of that me here: Every time I went to visit Greg over the next several weeks, conditions were never right. Disturbances in the cosmos, sun spots, ion storms, whatever, and, alas, I never got to talk to the resident of Jupiter’s moon. Oh, well. Shit happens.
I quickly came to the conclusion that one of two things was true. Either Greg was A) in contact with an alien (who spoke English, apparently, and who looked very human) and foul coincidence kept me from meeting her, or b) he wasn’t.
I pretty quickly went with b). But if so, then either Greg actually believed he had made such a contact or he was flat out lying to me. He swore it was true and while I didn’t think so, I was disposed to buy it that he believed it was true.
We became friends because I gave Greg the benefit of doubt.
Why would I do that? you ask.
Well, because if Greg was crazy, if he was hallucinating the whole thing, then that just made him weirder and I could live with that. But if he was lying for no apparent reason -- and at the time, I couldn’t see any reason -- then that was another story ...
In those days at that tender age, I expected people to be more or less honest, unless they had some good reason not to be that way, I believed Greg thought he was telling the truth. Why would he lie? What was to be gained by it?
It was my first adolescent brush with expectations of a friend. I didn’t understand that expecting things to be a certain way sometimes fogs your glass so that what you see isn’t what is there. I needed a friend as smart and as oddball as I was, and if he happened to be crazy? Well, you overlook the little things ...
Years passed and I believed that Greg and I were the best of buds. Then after a traumatic series of personal events to which I have alluded here before, I became convinced that Greg had been lying, not only about his interplanetary girlfriend, but about a whole lot of other things more important to me as an adult. As a result, we stopped being friends. And, of course, I kicked myself for not seeing it earlier. When I heard the Simon and Garfunkel song, "The Boxer," the lyric "still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest." practically resonated my head off.
The lesson seems pretty apparent to me. At fourteen, I would rather have believed somebody was crazy than deliberately lying to me -- because I had an expectation about how life was. Based on how I wanted it to be ...
I mostly know better now. I've realized it is better to avoid as many expectations as you can and just see what is ...