There’s a man I see at night on the subway platform. He rides the same train I do. He stands under five feet, his back is hunched, and his head stooped forward. He’s Chinese, with a wide, kind face. His nose points towards the ground. He pulls a suitcase on wheels nearly as large as he is. He’s hard to miss.
He looks like he’s an alchemist, a wizard of some sort. Like someone from some place close by, but very far away. Where, perhaps, he is capable of great power and commands great respect.
This little old man ambles with his suitcase to the bottom of the first set of stairs in the underground lair of the our subway station. Some kind soul will carry his suitcase up the stairs. He rides the tired escalator to the turnstiles. Once on the upper level, another passerby will carry his suitcase up the second and third flight of stairs, into the starry night. I’ve seen it happen hundred of times.
I’ve known since the first time I saw him, that it will one day be my turn to carry his suitcase. And at that time, I’ll have to make a choice, either abandon my sometimes suffocating shyness and take his suitcase, or rush on by.
I ask my neighbor if she’s ever seen him. Her eyes widen and laughs.
“I saw him for the first time yesterday,” she says. “He was going into the station.”
“He looks like he’s from middle earth.”
She nods. “He does.”
“I carried his suitcase for him yesterday,” I tell her. “It was my turn.”
“I carried his suitcase, yesterday, too,” she says.
“I think he’s magic,” I say.
“I was smiling about him the entire day,” she says.
“His suitcase was light.”
“I don’t think there was anything in it at all.”
“When we stepped outside, the mean man from the paper shop, the one who never smiles, ran out to give him a newspaper.”
“He commands respect,” she says.
“Where does he come from?”
“Where does he go?”
“Middle earth,” we say to each other.
And we marvel at the little man, with a quiet presence, who never asks for anything, but accepts everything… who gives to all an opportunity to carry his suitcase.
“Who is he?”
“Someone must know.”
It’s pumpkin flavor season,. I’m happy about that. I’m driving down a road I’ve driven down many times before with a fancy coffee warming my hands. The leaves haven’t yet changed, but the air smells like fall. Like its trying to seduce me into believing that cold weather is quaint and cozy, like pumpkin pie.
My friend is driving. I’m shotgun. We’re not talking much, for no other reason than the windows are open and the trees are still green and the thoughts in his head don’t match the thoughts in mine.
I’m thinking about what the old man carries in his suitcase. My friend, apparently, is thinking about strawberry ice cream.
“Do you like it?”
“Not at all,” I say. The very thought of strawberry ice cream makes me squirm.
“I guess you’re not an alien, then,” he concludes.
“What’s strawberry ice cream have to do with that,” I ask.
“Aliens like strawberry ice cream.”
He’s so matter of fact and nods with authority. I suppose, since he’s been around, that there is a chance he is correct. Someone out there likes strawberry ice cream, I’m surmise.
“Which aliens,” I ask. “There’s more than one sort.”
He shrugs, which lends authenticity to his claim. There’s nothing more convincing than someone who admits to the limits of their knowledge.
“There are people who sit in their RVs in the desert and wait for aliens. They all have strawberry ice cream in their coolers.”
“Alright,” I say, “this is where that strategy could go all wrong. First, why would someone try to attract an alien from outer space, not knowing what that alien’s about?”
“I don’t know. To say they met one?”
“That’s like putting out bear bait so you can get a picture with one attacking you. Second, different aliens, I would assume, enjoy different things. The strawberry ice cream aliens, clearly can’t get strawberry ice cream on their own planet. But wouldn’t it stand to reason, that some aliens might consider human brain a delicacy? And maybe, just maybe, the ones who seem all warm and fuzzy are the ones who like to dine on human flesh. And the ones you want to run from because they’re oozing slime are actually kind, witty conversationalist, and great at parties.”
“Did E.T. like strawberry ice cream?”
“No. Third, who says aliens and other-worldly life comes from out there?” I point to the sky. “Maybe some use inter-dimensional time travel, or ride sounds waves. Some are probably so small we can’t even see them. So what happens if you attract an alien you can’t see who can suck things through the molecular walls of plastic that are cooling your strawberry ice cream and eats it all before you can share it with the other people out in the desert bored out of their heads, waiting for aliens with their strawberry ice cream. Also, it would be good to know if they like good strawberry ice cream, or bad strawberry ice cream. Gourmet, or, you know, chemical.”
“You are very passionate about this,” he says.
I don’t tell him, because I know he won’t believe me, my profound shyness is the fourth reason I would never try to attract aliens for dessert in the desert. I’m no good at parties. I shudder at networking events. I cringe at bars when someone smiles at me. What if I found myself face to face with an alien and had nothing to say? What then? Would anyone ever believe me?
Per the man from middle earth, with his empty suitcase rattling down the subway platform, I wonder what sort of things he likes and what he transports every night in that suitcase of his.
“Maybe the suitcase has a few odds and ends he doesn’t need. He carries it to give us an opportunity to help him. For his blessings and good will,” says my neighbor
“He said he liked my scarf,” I said. “And asked me if it was going to rain.”
“When I saw him, his shirt wasn’t buttoned properly,” she says. “He was one button off. I told him so.”
This question of aliens and strawberry ice cream seems absurd. Especially, when such beautiful poetry exists amongst humankind.
That’s the fifth reason why attracting aliens from outer space is something I just don’t care to do.