Recently, while I was spending the weekend in the bosom of my boyfriend’s family, which is both hellish and enlightening, a hearty yelp of discovery was heard. The impetus was a story my beloved had written, well, jeez, 30 years ago, on a night very much like this one, I would imagine.
At first, I thought it was very cute: my little shnookums1 had written a science-fiction story. It was about six astronauts going to explore Mars in their space ship, called the Monitor. It was written entirely in pencil and nearly every page had an illustration, including one in color. The pages had been carefully numbered to 10, although the actual story took 7. There was an illustrated title page that said:
The Trip in the Monitor to… Mars
Story and Pictures by Thomas J. Chlipala
Night Starker Press Inc T. R.
Dearborn Hts, Mich ©1975
He had bound the story nicely in some contact paper that depicted the colors of the time: harvest gold, avocado green, poop brown, and white. And, thoughtfully, he had heightened the professionalism by covering the inside front and back covers with green construction paper. All in all, I thought it quite an impressive feat.
But then I remembered I had to write something for this issue. And that’s when my perverse, inquisitive, and lazy nature goaded me into what was perceived as a fair rivalry with a nine-year-old who no longer exists.
I’m not not proud.
Some people might think that a 34-year-old woman critiquing a story her boyfriend wrote when he was 9 is kind of bullying. But I say it’s a form of empowerment. Besides, he’s like a foot taller than me and can put things on top of the refrigerator and retrieve them again with maddening ease. He’s a veritable giant.
To that end, here are some of the insights I gained when I focused my brilliant analytical powers on this work.
Dumbness. The story reveals an obsessive scorn of being dumb. This is typical of males of the author’s age and culture. In fact, it is implied that the protagonists of the story, six male earthlings, are so dumb that they flunked out of what is commonly held to be the first level of Earth school, or ”kindergarten.” Still, the author belies a deep-seated confidence in his own intelligence by deliberately misspelling the word dumb at one point in the story. He both underscores his perspective and maintains the integrity of the story by having the misspelled word flow from the mouth of one of the dumb astronauts.
Heroism. The author expresses an understanding of heroism far beyond his age. I found examples of both the classical Greek hero and the modern American hero in the story. In the classical Greek sense, the protagonists are resourceful, but they are not necessarily role models (see Dumbness, above). They are very real men with faults. It is also not lost on me that they are astronauts (Greek for “star traveler”), moving readily between worlds that are not available to all mortals. In the American mythology, I see a very strong parallel with Evel Knievel, an American hero of the 1970s, who was both brave and dumb. The concept of the modern American hero is expanded when the captain of the Monitor sets himself apart with his self-deprecating humility. He requests validation of his leadership from his crew, and they happily reply that he wears the uniform because he is the one it fits. This is a clever double entendre that clearly indicates both his recognized fitness for the job and his American “can-do” attitude.
Physical Sustenance. This was a rather troubling area. The space explorers share a preoccupation with food, particularly remarkable in a science-fiction story. For example, all of the men are described as being “good cooks,” rather than “good scientists.” There are few things specifically enumerated in the story, but of them, it is individual food items that make up the bulk. There is also an explicit scene in which the astronauts halt their explorations for the purpose of lunch. These areas of the story help the reader gain a window into the author’s unique view: my guess is that he was hungry and was writing before supper. However, it is more disturbing when, in the opening scene, a key part of their strategy is revealed: should problems arise, a reliance on hard-grain alcohol is integral, both as a way to deal with trouble and as a method for avoiding it—most unsettling when we recall the author’s tender age.
British Colonialism. A colonialist attitude is dominant throughout the story. The objective is to explore a “non-explored” planet. I find the author’s usage of that phrase to be most telling. It’s not an “unexplored” planet—which would seem to imply only that no one has gotten around to it yet—but a non-explored planet. The implication is that the power exists to explore, but that it has been consciously neglected or possibly thwarted. It was fairly common, beginning in the post-Cold War era, to feel that the Last Frontier had been found and conquered, and even that the manly desire to seek and conquer had been deliberately curtailed. Some men blamed feminism and the government, whereas the author looked to worlds outside of ours. The other interesting assumption found in the story is that the world of Mars serves merely as a waiting vessel, full of “things to take back to Earth.”
Western Religion. One of the odder characteristics of the story is the I/We narrative. Periodically, the author (we presume) interjects narratives that confuse the perspective. This is strongly reminiscent of the Genesis story, where the Judeo-Christian God switches back and forth between “I” and “We” when describing Creation (go ahead, check your Bible). The end result is that we, the readers, are rendered more conscious of the identity of the author. I suspect this is a Freudian revelation that the author is in the act of Becoming; he sometimes considers himself as being a product of his environment, while at other times he is aware that he, himself, is developing independence and selfhood. There is also a seemingly invisible adversary who torments the crew, mocking them in an effort to remove them from the shelter of the Monitor. This is clearly an homage to the wrestling match that Old Testament Jacob had with an angel.
Realistic Ending. Finally, this story contains what I find to be the most fundamental, realistic, and honest conclusion of our age.
Mr. Neubert, the fourth-grade teacher who commissioned the story, inscribed his opinions on the inside cover. You can’t see it, but the script is really girly. After reading the commentary he provided, I think you will agree with me that Mr. Neubert was supportive and well-intentioned, but at heart a stoned pedophile.
The cover is very impressive—both attractive and protective. Thank you for including these nice green cover inserts. The spine is neatly sewn and should hold up for many years to come.
The cover is beautiful but so is your title page which is also accurate and complete. The story is well written and beautifully illustrated.
Continued success in the future years Tom. Have a most enjoyable summer.
Mr. Neubert [he included a smiley face under his signature]
For your own interpretation, I now provide the actual story. I have corrected spelling errors not germane to the story, but otherwise I’ve served merely as a scribe.
(Technically, this story is copyrighted because the title page has that little “c” in a circle, but it was written in pencil by a minor, which probably doesn’t count. Just in case, though… Reprinted with permission of Night Starker Press Inc T.R.)
The Trip in the Monitor to… Mars
Story and Pictures by Thomas J. Chlipala
Mars is a non-explored planet. We will go to Earth and try to go to Mars with six brave men. Their name is the SpaceHadesthe. Their spaceship is called the Monitor. And they are good cooks, so when they land on Mars they can make cookies and pop and most important of all vodka and whiskey. Because if any things on Mars come, they just get drunk.
But they are dumb because people on Earth are not supposed to flunk kindergarten. I guess that is why they got the job, because they are dumb.
On the day 2075 May 22 they will blast off to Mars, and after they go around the Earth five times, their retow rockets will blast them out of orbit.
The date May 22 AD:
They are in their spaceship and the countdown is almost over and the tap is 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0. Blast off!
After five times around the Earth the retow rockets blasted them out of orbit and the captain said, “Do you know why I got this uniform?” And the crew said, “Because you were the only one who could fit in it.”
Well, after a day in space they were orbiting Mars and were ready to land.
Then after they landed they heard a knock! They went to the door and found a gift and unwrapped it. And all at once a voice said, “RAP! RAP! You beast, you piece of pig iron!”
Then they went outside to see what strange things there were to take back to Earth.
Then after a while they were going to have lunch.
Then one said, “Do you know what we are?” And one guy said, “Dumm.”
“NO, NO, NO!” he said, “We are heroes.” And then they started to laugh: ha! ha! ha! ha! ha! ha! ha! ha! ha!
Then one said, “Hey, do you know where we are?” And everyone said, “Oh, no!”
1 I don’t actually ever call him little shnookums, if it’s all the same to you.
Copyright 2005, Team ChlipalaPace
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