Life Cycle

Posted August 3, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I’d been in the Army three years and then came August and I was out. August 1958 — sixty-three years ago next week.

I was out and took the Atlantic Coastline Railroad from Fayetteville, North Carolina, all the way north, through dinky southern towns and then dinky Yankee towns, past Washington, past Philadelphia, into Grand Central Station. Switched onto the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad and rode like on a magic carpet all the way to the tiny train station in Guilford, Connecticut, where my folks and my brother were there to meet me and we hugged and laughed and got into the car and headed to our summer cottage on Leete’s Island. And it was as if I had re-entered heaven.

And then came September and I packed up again and headed north to Boston to begin college at Boston University.

I have always treasured the days in the early 1950’s, when my family stayed put. I am not a move-around-a-lot kind of person. I prefer to stay wherever it is I am. That’s probably because my earliest years were shaggy and rootless, up until I was 9 years old. The four years my mom and I lived with my grandparents were the first stable years of my life and everything about those years was calm and magical. I could just stay there, surrounded by forests and a big house and a fascinating and loving family and look at empty fields to the south that went on for miles. We had to go through the woods to get to the mailbox.

When my mom married a good man and we moved to the city and he adopted me and I entered a Catholic grammar school and soon a brother was added to our new family, my life began to gel and I enjoyed being in my home, surrounded by people I could rely on.

When we left the city and moved into a new house in Cheshire, I felt as if we were all beginning fresh. I wasn’t moving into someone else’s life that was already defined. We were all defining our new lives in the same place and at the same time. And for the next fsixty years, we settled in like landowners in a town that measured time with a sundial.

My brother and I are the only ones left in the family now. And Cheshire has been ruined by money and real estate and the American need to barbecue.

But back in the 1950’s, when life was more coherent than it is now and lived more slowly and people took time to enjoy the small things and the only electronics you had were a radio and a TV and the only phone call you made was on a phone inside your house, we made decisions that carried a quiet weight.

So when I graduated from high school and then joined the Army, that was a big deal. The local weekly newspaper ran a photo of me in uniform. Most of my friends found jobs nearby or went off to college. Bob Upson took over the family farm.
I hated leaving my brother, Bill. He was the person I would miss most of all. Our hearts broke as we said goodbye. We could hardly talk. We wept as if the world was ending.

And in a way, it was.

I would go and find a place in the Army where I could start reading Andre Gide and Stendhal and Rabelais and listening to Mozart and Bach and Beethoven’s Pastoral Sympathy.

By the time I left the Army three years later, I had been spoiled by literature and art and music. I was no longer the person with simple needs and domestic pleasures.

It would take me the rest of my life to find my way back to those simple needs. The slowing down that comes with old age helps. But at this age, simple often comes accompanied with pain.

As for domestic pleasures, I have lived in just two apartments on my street for the past 47 years. That’s about as much moving as I care to endure. There was, of course, my Paris years, when I traveled to that city 16 different times and spent nearly as much time there as I did here.

But my ‘Ulysses’ period is over and I have settled whatever long-distance needs I had. I have come home to my Ithaca to complete the cycle that began 84 years ago in a second-floor apartment in a brick building that is just a 10-minute bicycle ride from my front door.

Jelly Bread

Posted July 26, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I have the same lunch everyday: peanut butter spread on a large piece of good bread. For years, I ate peanut butter called “Once Again,” which I bought in health food stores. But for the past couple of months, I’ve re-discovered the delicious taste and texture of the Teddi brand, which I buy in supermarkets.

As for the bread, I have switched to another supermarket brand of multigrain Panini. The combination of bread and peanut butter is delicious and healthy and easily concocted, and I eat it daily, not just out of habit or routine but out of simple pleasure.

I will often add to the coating of peanut butter a layer of fresh honey made by bees working two towns away.

On rare occasions, instead of honey, I will add a layer of strawberry jam from Italy. And it is on those strawberry days that my peanut butter mood will turn a little more complicated, a little more poignant.

The reason for that shift can be summed up in two simple words: “jelly bread.”

“Jelly bread” was what the mother of former New York Times columnist, Russell Baker, offered him in compensation for an especially sad day, when he was just five years old. His father had just died and his mother had just given away his sister Audrey.

Baker and his parents and his sisters, Audrey and Doris, grew up in a small, poor town in Virginia. They were almost dirt poor. Little money, skimpy food, hard times day to day. The mother was strong and out-spoken, while the father was good and sensitive but weak and drank too much. He worked as a stone mason and could just barely make ends meet. The children loved him. His wife was continually disappointed by him. And they all clung to their poor rural life by their fingertips.

But then the father got diabetes, which went untreated. And it got worse as the years went by until one day he was taken to the hospital. The children were sure it was just for a short time. They waited for him to return home. But after a couple of days, he died and that was the end of that. He was just 33.

Russell was heart broken. “He is not dead,” he kept shouting, as he ran up the road towards home. “He is not dead; he is not dead.” But then the reality took hold and his five-year-old broken heart had to accept the fact.

The family was immediately plunged into deep, inescapable debt. No money coming in and no prospects. Three young children and a mother without a way to earn sufficient income. They had to give up their home and move in with one of the mother’s younger brothers in New Jersey. They had to give up what little they had and leave the state and move north.

But there was always the business of the children. Russell was five and his sister Doris was just a year younger. But Audrey was merely 10 months old, and bringing her along to New Jersey to move in with the mother’s brother and his family seemed too heavy a burden on everyone.

And so Russell’s mother gave Audrey away to Russell’s uncle Tom and aunt Goldie, who had always wanted a child but were unable to have one of their own.

He wrote about it in his wonderful autobiography, “Growing Up.”

“A few days later,” he wrote, “Uncle Tom and Aunt Goldie arrived in Morrisonville again. My mother helped them carry out the crib and the boxes packed with baby clothes. When the car was loaded, my mother bundled Audrey into blankets, carried her outside, handed her to Aunt Goldie, and kissed her good-bye.

“When their car was out of sight I went back into the house. My mother was sitting in the straight-backed oak rocker, the fanciest piece of furniture we owned, staring at the stove.

“ ‘When’s Audrey coming back, Mama?’

“She didn’t answer. Just sat staring at the stove and rocking for the longest while. I went back out into the road, but she came out right behind me and touched my shoulder.

“ ‘Do you want me to fix you a piece of jelly bread?’ she asked.”

On those days when I add a little strawberry jam to my usual peanut butter sandwich, the thought of Russell Baker’s ‘jelly bread’ often comes to mind. And I find the combination a little harder than usual to dismiss as simply ‘lunch.’

Not Exactly Clearing the Air

Posted July 21, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I went to the sea yesterday, even though the weatherperson advised against it. He said the air was “poor.” By poor, the Accuweatherperson meant that “the air has reached a high level of pollution and is unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

I’ve always considered myself a member of a sensitive group — a reading and writing group, mainly, but also a group that favors music and cinema . . . and baseball.

I was headed for Lighthouse Point. But the description of the air was not encouraging.

“Reduce time spent outside,” warned the weatherperson, “if you are feeling symptoms such as difficulty breathing or throat irritation.”

Her warning went on. “Fine particulate matter are inhalable pollutant particles with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometers that can enter the lungs and blood stream, resulting in serious health issues.”

Not only that, but the temperature at the time was hot. At 1:34 pm, it was 86 degrees F, but ‘felt’ like 97.

Only a reckless, albeit sensitive, person would go out in weather and air pollution like that. But I needed the sea . . . even though the high tide had peaked five hours before and wouldn‘t surge again for another seven hours.

But just having the sea — even a lower-tide sea — a mere hundred feet from my seat under the black cherry tree — would be enough to nourish my dehydrated soul. And so off I went, the sky the color of gun metal, the shoreline just barely visible under a cloak of fine particulate smog.

When I arrived at the lighthouse, I found myself surrounded by a couple of hundred men, woman and children from, I assumed, India and Pakistan. The men were dressed in light cotton sheaths with pull-on trousers and light, long-sleeved tunics. Male children were similarly dressed. The females were not so formally attired, though they mainly sat in chairs and on the ground, preparing picnic food and looking after the children.

The mood was light and relaxed. The boy children ran around a lot. The girl children stayed closer to their mothers. Middle-aged men strutted around like cocks of the walk. Children scampered over the grassy areas, though not close enough to the water to get wet.

This was not what I was looking forward to. I was hoping for no crowds and seaside silence. It was a weekday, after all, not a busy weekend. Why were all these people here?

But I tried to make the best of things. I set up my chair under the black cherry tree, after straining my back to move one of the heavy, intrusive picnic tables.

But I couldn’t get into the quiet, calm mood I was hoping for. There was too much distraction, too much celebrating, too much wandering around, too much pleasure.

I had never seen so many East Asian people at Lighthouse Point. I figured they must have arranged a special, all-purpose get-together. Perhaps they were members of a mosque or a church.

And then this morning I read an Associated Press article in the New Haven Register that said that yesterday was a Muslim holiday. It was called Eid al-Adha, translated as the ‘Feast of Sacrifice.’

In Saudi Arabia, the holiday was celebrated in happy fashion by celebrants performing the symbolic ritual of stoning the devil. They threw pebbles into a pit where the devil’s presence was trapped in symbolic bondage.

There were no stoning rituals that I could see at Lighthouse Point. And since the devil had been voted out of office last November, there were no signs of him there, either.

I assume it was this holiday that brought all the Indians and Pakistanis to Lighthouse Point yesterday. In all the many years I have come to this part of the sea, I had never before seen such a peculiar feast day celebration.

I went home after sitting under the black cherry tree for an hour. I was still edgy and discontent. The temperature was still high. The air was still unhealthy. The sightlines were still hazy.

But, at least, somewhere in the world, the devil had been bruised by all those pebbles.

And I figured that life being what it is: sometimes you just have to settle for something like that.

Getting Old

Posted July 13, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

Nothing gets better when you get old.

You don’t see better; you don’t hear better; you don’t taste food better; you don’t think better; you don’t remember names better.

Your feet don’t feel better. Your back doesn’t bend better. Your joints don’t move better. You don’t run long distances better.

Your vocabulary doesn’t get better. You don’t sleep better. You don’t pee better.

Your energy level doesn’t rev up better. Your horizons don’t widen better. Your ambition doesn’t propel you forward better.

If you’re lucky, you can keep much of what you had when you were ten years younger. But what you had a decade ago doesn’t get better. It just lingers longer.

Old age is what we call Nature’s plan to kill us. Nature is always on its own side, never on our side. So when we get old, Nature treats us the way it treats everything else that ever lived. It kills us by taking away what it is that kept us alive. It slows the sap in apple trees, flutters the heartbeats in humming birds and hardens the arteries in human beings.

If you were strictly vegetarian about what you ate and disciplined about doing exercise, and didn’t die in a war, you may live longer than fat meat-eaters. But in the end — and there always is an end — you wind up as dead as the nearest doornail.

Of course, religions can’t handle death. So they make up stories about ‘heaven‘ and ‘eternal life.’ We don’t die, they say. We just move on to an afterlife that is even better than the one we’re living now.

They just make it up.

There is no evidence — except for wishful thinking and vague words from people we call gods — to support an after-life that’s personal and supports autobiographies.

For Nature, of course, there is always an after-life. Nature just keeps going on and on, without taking notice of us. It was Nature that propelled the Big Bang and it will be Nature that causes our sun to blow up and become inert. And it will be Nature that causes the universe to speed up by extending the separation between stars. And it will be Nature that drives the universe into eternal darkness or that reasserts gravity and brings everything back into a bundle that explodes again into another Big Bang.

There may already have been a million or a billion Big Bangs in the timeless of non-Time.

My old age and your old age are just fading lightning bugs flittering around the nighttime of a dying Sun.

The most we can do in our final earthly dance is grab onto our old age and make the best of it, as we complete our plunge into the Nothingness of forever.

Compared to extinction, our old age is like a farewell gift, a last-minute piece of chocolate, a farewell sound of the sea.

The Sidewalk ‘Hearts’ That Failed Him

Posted July 4, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

He drew heart symbols on Manhattan’s sidewalks, using chalk. There was nothing especially artistic about these drawings. They were just simple, everyday kinds of hearts that anyone can and has drawn on greeting cards and letters for generations. The kind of heart symbols that take about five seconds to draw.

Only he would draw them on sidewalks all over Manhattan. And people loved them. He became know as the “heart guy.” His chalk hearts became symbols of love and hope at a time when people were feeling discouraged and at loose ends and isolated. But when people walked down the street and came across these simple heart drawings, they felt a little better.

It seems odd to think so. That simple, sketchy chalk drawings of a heart symbol on a sidewalk could boost people’s morale. But the sheer volume of such simple drawings seemed to have that effect.

It shows how fragile and needy people nowadays can be. A cluster of chalk drawings of hearts can cheer up people desperate to feel good about something . . . about anything.

The man who drew these chalk hearts on sidewalks became the focus of a profile in today’s New York Times. He went by the name of Hash Halper. He was 41 and identified as a ‘street artist.’ He also did paintings on canvas and other materials and was scheduled to have a one-man show until his work was destroyed in a physical fight he had with someone he knew.

He began drawing the chalk heart symbols as a tribute to a woman he loved. But when that relationship ended, he kept doing the drawings because people seemed to like them.

But he himself was emotionally troubled and had and lost the love of other women and friends and was sometimes homeless. Although he drew hearts on the sidewalk that seemed to make people happy, he had trouble finding happiness for himself.

He was beloved as the creator of public chalk heart drawings that made strangers feel good. But those drawings didn’t work their happy magic on him.

But he never brought up his own pain. He couldn’t talk about it. It wasn’t the sort of thing the creator of happy heart drawings was supposed to feel. And so he felt trapped inside his own depression. A graduate of Yeshiva University as a history major, he stumbled through life unable to live the kind of orderly, coherent existence that can handle the normal ups and downs of daily living.

And yet his chalk heart drawings kept bringing smiles to countless people in his city.

Until he just couldn’t do it any more: couldn’t cope, couldn’t recover his destroyed paintings, couldn’t figure out what to do next, couldn’t find the secret to happiness that strangers found in his sidewalk chalk drawings.

And so on June 11th, he decided that enough was enough. And he did what many others have done before him: he jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge.

And that, thank god, was finally that. No more suffering, no more pain, no more loneliness.

His sidewalk chalk hearts would just have to live on their own, until they began to disappear, smudge by smudge, under the summer rains that would fall indiscriminately on the sidewalks upon which he would no longer walk.

They Came by the Hundreds

Posted June 27, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

It was today, in fact, this very Sunday morning in the city, around 11 o’clock. I drove my car down Prospect, turned right onto Grove and saw that I’d have no trouble finding a parking place. Only one car was parked opposite the Yale gymnasium. So I pulled over to the curb next to a parking meter and got out, locked the car, and headed across the grass toward the Yale bookstore. Parking on the street is free on Sundays.

I’d taken about six steps, when suddenly I heard a low rumble coming from the street. A rumble on the Grove Street I’d just driven down. It sounded far off but was gathering speed and headed my way.

And then all of a sudden, cops on motorcycles and a couple of cop cars with flashing lights went speeding by, followed by streams of bikers on large, powerful motorcycles — some traveling with just one driver, many others with beefy drivers in the saddle and their women straddling the seat behind them.

I headed back to my car and sat in the drivers seat while the bikers roared past me.

They were in fast-moving rows, three and four across, all neatly lined up across from each other, and all maintaining the same speed, which I’d guess was around 30-35 miles an hour moving through the city. They were in formation, like a battalion of amateur overseers.

And they kept coming, wave after wave, moving through the center of New Haven, through the streets bordering the Yale classrooms and dormitories, past the Grove Street Cemetery — which already hosts my gravestone and is waiting for me to run out of reasons to be alive.

The bikers were old pros at running their bikes. They sat easily on their laid-back seats, with their companions securely balanced on their own black leather perches. .

A few hoisted the red-white-and blue of the American flag. Some hoisted American flags with the red and the blue painted black. Nobody smiled, nobody shouted. Everybody was calm and comfortable about being where they were and doing what they were doing and being who they are or who they imaged they are.

These riders were riding their motorcycles to make a point. What that point is has a rumble to it and a drama that defines itself through formation and posture. The threat of violence lurks innocently below the surface. But they keep it in check through the self-consciousness of their rumbling narrative and their biker camaraderie.

And they kept coming: row after row, bike after bike. Five minutes went by, ten minutes, fifteen minutes. They kept in formation, three and four across, passing along Grove Street onto Tower Parkway, heading for Whalley Avenue and points west.

This was masculinity on parade, the no-bullshit code of simple ideas. Sneering at the effete culture represented by the Yale Ivy-leaguers they were rumbling past. This was movie mentality, running roughshod over reality’s contradictions.

This was Freedom in the guise of noise and power.

The police kept shepherding the group by riding their own motorcycles alongside the demonstrators, blocking traffic and making the transitions easy for the bikers.

It turns out that this was an organized event, a biker’s rally, made with the approval of the city’s police department.

After the last of the demonstrators had passed by, I edged my car back onto the street. I waited at a stoplight before turning right and heading home.

A Yale security guard was in a truck stopped next to me at the light.

I called out to him. “There must have been 300 to 400 bikers, “ I said.

He smiled. “Eight hundred,” he said.

“Where are they headed?”

He shook his head. “I have no idea.”

Time to Say No

Posted June 22, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

It’s been six months since I developed an occlusion in my right eye. That’s a kind of blood clot in the retina that gets in the way of seeing clearly. During the past few months, the occlusion has grown slightly smaller. But it remains right in the middle of the eye, which means there’s like a small, blue-ish cloud that gets in the way of my trying to focus.

I can see around the cloud and that’s clear and it gives my healthy left eye help in giving me stereoscopic vision. So when I walk around or drive my car or watch television, I have the impression that I am seeing with both eyes. And to some extent, I am seeing with both eyes.

But when I close my ‘good’ eye, I can see the little cloud interfering with my focus. That means my good left eye is my focus eye. My right eye is the fill-in eye. Most of the time, that’s fine. The division of visual labor seems workable.

But when it comes to reading or writing, 90 percent of the burden falls on my good left eye. That’s the eye that can make out the words and see complete sentences. The right eye merely gives me bits and pieces of words and sentences.

So when I read the New York Times and the New Haven Register each morning, I put on my regular glasses or sometimes reading glasses, and I get through the newspapers just fine. The same with The New Yorker magazine. It helps that I read bits and pieces, rather than long articles, although sometimes I do read long articles in the Times.

It’s when I read books that I run into more trouble. The words and sentences are squeezed together page after page after page. After awhile, my good eye becomes weary, without my other eye able to share the focus burden. And so I either just keep reading, pushing on through my over-burdened left eye, or I take a little break to give both eyes a chance to relax.

But now I am coming to the realization that I probably have to be a little more fussy as to what I read and don‘t read. Instead of reading indiscriminately, I should probably pick and choose more carefully. Instead of reading about the political troubles in Poland or Hungary, I should stick with articles about animals. Instead of reading about France’s soccer team, I should save my eyes for reading about black holes, which I find fascinating.

As for novels, this will be the hardest part. For most of my life, I have finished novels I began, even if after awhile, they bored me. I always felt that maybe the author would pull things together. Or maybe it was connected to my childhood, when I was told to finish the food on my plate, even if I didn’t like it. Maybe it was just the Puritan in me that said I should finish what I begin.

My diminished eyesight suggests that maybe I have to start being rougher on those books. Maybe I have to let a novel go, once it stops interesting me. Maybe I have to just say No, I won’t carry this book any further.

Maybe I have to be tougher about a lot of things. Maybe I have to be more demanding, not just of books but of myself.

Maybe it’s time for me to say “No” more often.

Maybe it’s time for me to say “Yes” and really mean it.

Thinking of Death by Railroad

Posted June 13, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

The story, as reported in the New Haven Register, is skimpy. It’s only about 7 inches long and is based exclusively on a police report.

But what little we do know from the newspaper is unsettling. Even with key details missing.

The incident took place this past Friday. A 38-year-old man and a child were seen hanging around the tiny train station in Guilford, Connecticut. The report doesn’t give the child’s age, but the impression is that he is quite young.

Someone reported to the local police and the fire department and the railroad police that the man and the child were acting strange around the railroad tracks leading into and out of the station.

The man especially was acting erratically. Since the newspaper report doesn’t give the child’s age, I don’t know whether the child was walking with the man or whether he was being carried by the man.

But something did not look right, which is why an observer called the police. The police later reported that the man “was attempting to harm himself and the child.” That’s the way the newspaper puts it.

The article doesn’t say in what way the man was attempting to harm them both. But when you’re hanging around a train station — even a tiny train station — there are tracks to lie on and passing trains to throw yourself in front of.

Were the man and the child waiting for the next train to run over them? Was the child passive? Was the man distraught? Was there any kind of struggle going on between them? The newspaper report doesn’t say.

We don’t even know if the man and the child are related. Is he the father, the uncle, the husband, the lover of the woman who gave birth to the child?

And the man is not even from Connecticut. The news story reports that he’s a resident of Maryland. So what is he doing up here in Connecticut, with a child he intends to harm in some way on the railroad tracks of the small town of Guilford?

How serious was he? When the police arrived, he took the child and ran into the marshes nearby.

A middle-aged man and a small child hanging around a tiny railroad station preparing to do what — die by suicide? Did the child know that was the plan? Did the child trust the man so much that he was willing to die with him? Or is the child so young that he or she didn’t know what was going on?

The Register reporter has left a lot of missing facts dangling in empty space.

Neither the man nor the child were injured, according to the report. But the police took them both to a hospital anyway for “further evaluation.” We don’t know what hospital.

But we do know the man’s name. It’s Ari Gejdenson. The police are holding him in custody on a $250,000 bond.

That’s a lot of money for hanging around a small train station. The police must take his double-suicide threat seriously.

After his stay in the hospital, Gejdenson will be held in custody by the police. But where — in a jail, in a psychiatric clinic? And what about the child? Is the child in the hospital with Gejdenson? Has the mother been notified? Where will the child go when he’s released?

Is this a local police matter or have the state police been brought in, or even possibly the FBI?

Will we ever learn more about this drama or will it just disappear from the news, as most compelling, open-ended stories do?

What little we do know is already enough for a short story or even a novel or a film.

It’s a compelling story, even with our knowing virtually nothing about the details and the personalities involved.

What we need now are more detailed facts to come out — facts to fill in the picture of a desperate man far from Maryland and the innocent child traveling with him, both circling around the railroad tracks of a small seaside town, wondering if it’s time to ‘catch the westbound.’

When young children are dragged into adult plans for suicide, even the forces of cosmic chaos call out for mercy. No child should ever have to pay for an adult’s depth of despair.

Humans Are Nature’s Biggest Mistake

Posted June 7, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

It has been clear for a long time, but is now catastrophically clear, that evolution took a terrible turn when it produced human beings. Of all the decisions evolution has made during the past millions of years on Planet Earth, producing humans has been the most toxic and the most hazardous and the most fatal.

It has been a horrendous mistake.

No other creature has brought more destruction and pain and suffering and poisonous consequences to Planet Earth than have humans. We are the stuff of nightmares. We are the reason our planet may die. We are the executioners of our own destiny, the rampaging scourge of our entire eco-system.

No other animal or plant or land or sea or sky is safe from our poisonous presence.

Dinosaurs lived on Earth for 165 to 177 millions years. Humans and our ancestors have lived on Earth between 5 and 7 million years.

Compared to us, dinosaurs were a blessing to the planet and the planet rewarded them with long life. In our short time, we have brought our planet to the point of collapse. We’ll barely continue existing for another thousand years. After that, we will wear our atmosphere like a shroud.

And we have raised cruelty to the point of psychosis. We have tortured and slaughtered animals needlessly and with utmost pain. We have lashed out against other humans with cold-hearted vengeance. We have slaughtered one another in the name of gods whom we’ve invented.

We have justified our worst behavior by declaring ourselves the favored children of mythical beings.

And now suddenly, we are once again seeing strange flying objects in the sky. We chart them. We take photos of them. We clock them on radar. But we can’t identify them or explain them. Are they real? Are they from another galaxy? Are they friend or foe? Are they a sign of something good or something dangerous? Should we be encouraged or fearful? Will those creatures like us? Will they share our high opinion of ourselves?

A letter in this morning’s New York Times from a writer in Atlanta, Georgia, brings up the question of attitude.

He says that there’s an important issue concerning our likeability, when it comes to the presence of aliens. He raises “the possibility that any extraterrestrials from an advanced civilization visiting us may not be friendly, which should be of great concern to all of us.

“Let us hope that whatever aliens we encounter do not turn out to be like us — blithely devastating and exterminating other creatures and the biological systems that sustain life on Earth.

“Even and especially if they are kind and compassionate, they might feel obliged to exterminate such a dangerous and destructive ‘pest’ species as human beings. We clearly represent a threat to most others on our planet.

“Our sense of morality and ethics rarely restrains us in our pursuit of domination of animals and nature. Why should aliens treat us any differently?”

He asks pertinent questions.

Maybe compassionate aliens he describes would look at slaughterhouses as too cruel to be sustained. Maybe they would look at lab animals as suffering unfairly for results that will not benefit the animals at all. Maybe they would look at footballs and baseballs and soccer balls as too cruel to justify the slaughter of cows and pigs for their recreational skins.

Maybe they would consider great mountains of plastic in oceans to be too toxic for life. Maybe they would consider anti-crab grass poison on lawns to be too high a price to pay for neatness.

Or maybe they will consider the situation on Earth too far gone to be fixed and will shut down the whole operation and give Nature a chance to re-think evolution.

Only this time, let dogs play the dominant role.

The Childish Dream of Immortality

Posted May 31, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I am exactly 10 years and one day older than the novelist Salman Rushdie. The day after I turn 84 this June, Rushdie will turn 74. But neither of us has or ever will achieve immortality, even though Rushdie is world-famous and I am not.

But immortality is not in the cards — not in Rushdie’s cards and certainly not in mine, nor in anyone‘s cards.

Eventually, everyone — which is to say, all of us — will be forgotten.

Even Shakespeare and Plato and Bach and the ancient Chinese poets Li Bai and Du Fu and the famous Chinese philosopher Confucius — all will eventually fade from memory.

Everyone and everything will one day be forgotten. Even the Earth itself, after it is destroyed once the Sun runs out of fuel and explodes as a White Dwarf and obliterates all the planets that now circle around it.

Eventually, there will be a hole in space where the Earth used to be. If someday there are space travelers passing through what is now our space, they will have no idea that a planet we called ‘Earth’ was once there or that Shakespeare once wrote “Hamlet” or that Ted Williams once hit .406.

It’s just a matter of time. And even Time itself will someday no longer exist. Everything that ever was will no longer be. And there will be no one to notice, no one to sing our praises or to lament our mistakes.

Perhaps there will be another Big Bang, as cosmic energy collapses upon itself. Perhaps suns and planets and black holes will again be thrown across the tenuousness of space. But there will be no humans and no editions of “The Satanic Verses” and no “Headwork Revisited.” Nothing we call ours will have survived the catastrophe of extinction. Nothing Earth-like will ever again exist. It will be as if we never were.

Immortality is simply a noun without substance.

Except in fairy tales.

Rushdie tells of a time when he was a small child in India and encountered the great Indian epic story, Mahabharata, and how the great god Indra “churned the Milky Way, using the fabled Mount Mandara as his churning stick, to force the giant ocean of milk in the sky to give up its nectar, ’amrita,’ the nectar of immortality . . .”

Rushdie says that as a child, he imagined that nectar of immortality dripping from the sky.

“Maybe if I opened my mouth,” he writes, “a drop might fall in, and then I would be immortal too.”

What is so touching about childhood is its capacity to imagine the impossible.

For a child, there is no death that can’t be overcome, just as there is no god who can’t churn milk from the star-crossed boundaries of The Milky Way.

We create fairy tales to make up for the disappointments of real life. We use them to give childhood a fighting chance at happiness. We rely on fairy tales to lift us above truths that drag us down. We need fairy tales to translate our fears into happy endings.

The better the fairy tale, the happier the ending.

Except . . . that the ending is always the ending.