Unquestionably a moon
or an Asteroid
Within this circle or sphere that I look upon, an ash-colored formation, lozenge shaped, not quite oval, in the lower right quadrant – indicative of different terrain? I imagine myself with my eye pressed to the eye of a telescope. One lens sending light and images through another lens; one of glass, one organic.
So. A moment ago I was in the local pub. “On the Rocks Cocktail Lounge”, the sign says. We just call it “Rocks.” A Monday morning turning to afternoon. Steve in here with me, drinking Coors Lights. He will drink a total of four. He arrives nearly every day at eleven a.m. in his silver Corvette. Leaves by one p.m. He calls it his morning shift, a joke often repeated.
I’m nursing a Heineken. An occasional swig, fragmented conversations with Steve and the bartender Alyssa in between. Alyssa is wearing a low-cut top, and my gaze keeps wandering there. Steve is telling us about a charity he’s doing for the Elks Lodge, donations for needy children.
Then again, maybe I’m outside on a break from drinking (I told myself before arriving that I would only drink one, but undoubtedly it will end up being two or three, especially if Alyssa keeps leaning over the bar in front of me, deliberately being so revealing. I’m out here, sitting on a low concrete shelf attached to a pillar supporting the strip-mall’s walkway roof. Quite likely I’m smoking a cigarette while studying a circle on the walkway pavement. A nearly perfect circle on the stained concrete.
Alternately, think of this: An observational satellite, an orbiting telescope, with me aboard, weightless, holding a bulb of coffee while studying what is unquestionably a moon or an asteroid revealed by the telescope. This is probably not in your solar system. Still, I’m a human being, possessed of all the contradictory characteristics thus implied. I’m strapped into the observation chair so that I will not drift away. Beneath the telescope, a keyboard, upon which I type instructions to the computer, closing in on my view of the lunar circle. Unless, say, it’s an asteroid.
Brad enters the bar—
Brad is unquestionable a gentleman, always polite to the bartender and the other customers. His bald head is fringed by grey hair kept neatly trimmed, burr short. He owns a woodworking business but is in the process of retiring, Often I try to engage him in discussions about the meaning of the cosmos. He would rather talk about golf. He’s not really very interested in the Big Bang theory or the mysterious behavior of subatomic particles – still, he’s an interesting person, and I always enjoy talking with him.
He buys me another Heineken after we talk a while – he tells me the tale of how he fell from a second story balcony in Cancun back when he was young and dumb and drunk – and then, after another interval I offer to buy him another Blue Moon, but he explains he needs to leave, he has a meeting in the afternoon. So then I explain to him that he needs to let me buy him another drink so that I’ll have an excuse to buy myself a third Heineken. He laughs. He stays for one more. Or maybe it’s another time, the time I explained to him that, because of the ten dollar minimum on my credit card, I needed to buy him another drink to meet the minimum, which also made him laugh and accept one more. Three-quarters of the way through my third beer, I’ve stepped outside for another cigarette—
Staring at a circle. Except that nothing is ever that simple. Even though what or whichever cylindrical container was placed here for a long interval without being moved – let us speculate a waste basket or a large ashtray – its circular base did not leave a stain in the shape of an exact circle. The stain is carious-edged at the southernmost arc, as if something has been torn away in the early, cataclysmic stages of the solar system’s formation. Unquestionably this is the image of a moon or an asteroid or a dwarf planet.
I mentioned the pale ash-colored formations in the lower right quadrant. In the lower left quadrant there is a series of brown patches indicative of irregular terrain; and in the upper left quadrant a startling ink-black formation – perhaps natural, perhaps evidence of an artifact so immense the Great Wall of China would seem inconsequential in comparison. This circle, inexplicably three-dimensional: this moon. This planetoid. This possibility. And here I am, eye pressed to the telescope of insobriety, studying this world and the various discolorations upon its surface.
Corvette Steve – that’s his nickname – leaves because his “shift” is over. Brad leaves because he has a meeting. I decide to stay for one last Heineken.
And then there is the “me” – another me – who is merely seeing the image in an astronomy magazine, as opposed to observing through a telescope. This particular issue of the astronomy magazine also has a story about cataclysmic, civilization-ending events. It mentions the Death Star Galaxy, the so-called death star a black hole at the center of the galaxy spewing a stream of near light-speed particles toward a neighboring galaxy, tattering existing atmospheres and stripping away nascent atmospheres. Hypothetically destroying civilizations and sterilizing new planets. The article also discusses the possibility of a large asteroid or comet impacting with the Earth. The probably obscure potential for CERN or one of the giant cyclotrons/colliders creating a minute black hole that does not evaporate, but consumes the Earth entire. Other cheerful speculations are included.
“Multiverse: Science or Science Fiction?” – the title of an interesting article in a different issue of the same astronomy magazine. I cannot give a definite answer to the question posed by the title, although I suppose I lean toward the latter explanation. Still – who can say, really? Either conclusion requires a leap of faith. Certainty, either way, would be illusory.
I’m down to my last swallow of beer, meditating upon the multiverse, which contains infinite possibilities. Somewhere my circle is mimicked down to the most minute details by an actual moon or asteroid. Therefore, somewhere, at an indeterminate locus, you and I are an alien possessing an external mesh of minimally sheathed nerves coating our flesh. Seated somewhere on our world close-by a telescope. And the moon of our world is exactly the one described, with pale ash-colored markings in the southeastern quadrant. We – I – do not have eyes. The telescope cooperates with a computer, sending impulses through thousands of artificial neurological connections with our flesh. Thus we can feel an image of our moon, just as vividly as one might see the circle previously described. However, what the alien “I” does not know, is that an unseen asteroid approaches, on a collision course with our world. The asteroid is sixty-eight miles in diameter, of a size sufficient to destroy our civilization and probably all multi-celled life upon our planet. And let us say that every possibility I’ve mentioned is in a world with a similar fate awaiting. The works of Shakespeare, the equations of Einstein, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis – they or their otherworldly equivalents will be defunct. Steve and Brad and Alyssa, all gone. You and I and they and he and she, all ceased to be.
I take one last look at the circle as I leave the bar. One leg of a small newspaper stand rests in the upper right quadrant, along with several more brown stains. The stand contains copies of a free advertising newspaper. I know it’s free because the sign on the stand reads “Gratis!”, except that there is an upside down exclamation mark preceding the word, in addition to the right-side-up exclamation at the end of the word. The sign also reads “El Classificado,” the title of the publication. And below that the words, “The Spanish Classifieds.” We should disregard the newspaper stand. I realize this is much like a judge advising the jurors to ignore presented evidence because it is inadmissible, yet it’s best that we forget the newspaper stand entirely. It has little to do with moons or asteroids.
I crush out my cigarette. Fortunately, I decide, only one out of all these possibilities I’ve mentioned has been realized; all other are merely potential branchings or alternates within the multiverse. The circle that I look upon is unquestionably not a moon or an asteroid, and remains nothing more than a circular stain upon the pavement, the front right leg of the newspaper stand pinning the image to, at least, this one reality