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 ...


steve-vh said...

I learned this not too long ago myself!
You can have expectations of what you think someone is and should be (easiest example being MA teacher).
Thing is, those are your expectations. Their's for themselves, are their own. They have their own goals. Lucky is the person who finds one that matches. But usually if you can't accept that they are never going to be exactly what you expect, you will be in for some very frustrating times.

Anonymous said...

Thought I'd drop in:
Was reading your blog and driftin' over some of your stuff in the past year and noticed that you had mentioned that you have a counter watch your site and that a lot more people are lurkers than responders. Kind of fitted in with the idea of expectation. See, I like to enjoy a good craftsman’s work, but I have always thought that it would be an imposition to take up a writer’s time reading my amateur blathering when he/she could be using the time more productively, like writing more good stuff. Always assumed that a truly WORKING writer wouldn't have the time, only so many hours in the day, so forth.
Well, as usual, It's three A.M. and I am up for some crazy reason (Lightning storms and an eleven year old this time) and I'm armed in my slow hunt n' peck way and I thought I would mention that (a little ego boosting here) as a consumer, my expectation is that when I pick up something with your name on it, I'm NOT going to get screwed out of the price and the time, when the last page is turned. Never been disappointed, don't EXPECT that I will.
I try not to control or guess what people will do on a day to day basis, but in the long run.........

Steve Perry said...

Thanks for the kind words, Dave.

Experience is the best teacher, and I don't mean to indicate that one should never have any expectations. If you stick your bare hand into a fire and it burns you every time, then you'd be an idiot to expect that it won't the next time.

Often, though, the expectation of how somebody will behave is wrapped up in how you *want* them to behave, or how you'd do things, were it you on the hot seat. We tend to apply our standards to those around us: Well, a friend wouldn't do this -- at least, I wouldn't do it to my friend.

Know about the physical effects of fire is one thing; knowing about the mental or moral state of another human being, both of which sometimes shift on the fly, that's another, more complex game.

If you've read half a dozen books by somebody and liked them, experience would offer you'd probably like the seventh, but that's not always the case. Attitudes sometimes shift, both the reader's and the writer's, and sometimes they diverge far enough so the experience falls short of what you thought you were going to get. There are writers I've read for years, ten or twelve novels, only to pick up the next one and find that they went somewhere I didn't want to go. Didn't mean it was a bad book, only that it didn't work for me this time.

Nature of the beast ...

Anonymous said...

A short note:
Not to beat this theme to death, when I said "not get screwed" I didn't mean like. I will guarantee you; NO ONE (at least anyone who is being honest with them selves) will "Like" EVERYTHING any artist does. But, I DO expect to get my moneys worth. Saw "Bridge to Terabithia" with my daughter on Saturday. Extremely depressing, can't say as I "Liked" it, but powerful and well worth the money.
Reminded me of when I read "The Prince." Not a pleasant, easy read, but......

Got into a conversation with Harlan Ellison one time (Weird circumstance)and he mentioned that art is for the soul, both yours and the audience. Just let it come and #@*% the critics. Kind of like that old Rick Nelson lyric, "Can't please everyone..."