Monday, December 4, 2000

Little Green Man from Alpha Centuri

The other night as Mr. Max and I were watching the bickering boys and girls on the McLaughlin Group an odd looking light flashed outside our front window. Then there was a whirring noise like unpopped kernels at the bottom of a popcorn maker. Suddenly out of nowhere a little green man appeared. Mr. Max looked half ready to pounce half ready to sprint away, but seemed too paralyzed in curiosity and fear to know exactly what to do. I turned down the sound of the television.

"Take me to your leader," the little green man with a protruding forehead and pencil thin nose said.

I shrugged not knowing how to answer him and who to point him to. "Hmmmm, you are the third human who has given me that unresponsive response tonight," he said. He muttered underneath his alien breath something about civic responsibility and disappeared into the dark night.

"Well that was kinda peculiar," I said to Max who looked up at me with a "when ya gonna feed me" look in his attentive feline eyes. I took another swig of my Old Weller whiskey, pulled the quilt Grandma Maeda made me further over myself and turned my attention to Eleanor Clift who was chastising a visibly bothered Michael Barone. We thought the excitement was over but it was not.

Poof, the little green man reappeared. He carried in his hand a piece of paper. "There are things you just should not take for granted," he said as he tossed the paper at me. I looked at it. There were names with arrows to the left of some and to the right of others. Perforated slots ran down its cleavage. It was by golly a butterfly ballot.

Just as I thought that the long national nightmare was never going to end the paper transformed itself into a caterpillar about 1 4/5 inches long. Then it began to pupate into a pale green golden spotted chrysalis. It remained in that state for only a moment when a small creature began to emerge. I looked over at the little green man who had a look of disdain on his face as if he really didn't have the time to spend teaching me whatever lesson was forthcoming.

What now appeared was a familiar member of the Danaidae family (order Lepidoptera) a butterfly with distinctive coloration, orange brown wings marked by black veins and a black border with two rows of spots. Forget that it was the most beautiful monarch I'd ever seen. It's graceful flutter was perhaps the most picturesque spiritual silhouette I'd ever shown my heart to. It flew around about a foot above my head. Max sat up and followed its every move closely. His tail thumped impatiently. The little green man remained very still.

There was familiar clanking in the basement as the furnace coughed up and kicked in. I remembered my lessons from school how butterflies hated Minnesota's cold and migrated every fall down to the otherworldly sands of Mexico. I was lost in my thoughts, in my dreams when the little green man finally spoke up.

"Sometimes you humans have the ability to convince yourself there is no choice even though a choice is apparent," he said. "You complain at times of having to choose between the lesser of two evils but that's more out of your own laziness than any actual empirical study." He pointed out that a rudderless ship would only lead to disasters like insurance companies giving breaks to SUV owners because they have the safest vehicles despite the danger they cause all around them on the road.

I had no real idea what he was talking about but I had a vague understanding of where he was headed. "You think that is a monarch butterfly don't you?" he said chidingly. I nodded. "Well taste it," he said as the butterfly floated into my mouth. I knew the coloration served to warn predators of its bitter taste but this butterfly was anything but bitter. It left the sweetest memory inside my mind.

"That was a viceroy butterfly," the little green man sneered. And the deceptive butterfly reappeared. It sauntered into the palm of my visitor. Max looked at me as if expecting me to do something about things. I knew enough about nature to know that viceroys cleverly imitate the monarch's color so its own enemies won't touch it. It may look like a monarch, our state's 13 state symbol, but it's an imitator like the difference between love and heartache. Great lights of Zetar my brain's bulb burned a little brighter. The little green man smiled and left me to concede that you can always come back but you can't always come back all the way.

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