“If a robot had a pussy, best believe I’d fuck that robot until its screws fell off,” said Mr. Patrick before breaking into a long playful howl.
This is how our conversations usually concluded. We were standing under a tree at the side of the local library, trying to dodge the blistering Texas sun. It was a busy mid-afternoon and a mother clutching on to her toddler’s hand overhead us. She shot us an icy glance and shook her head in disgust.
If you were to spot Mr. Patrick walking along the side of the road you would assume that he was a homeless vagrant. He always wore the same white muscle shirt and pair of gray sweatpants, which was always sprinkled with cigarette ash clinging to fibers for dear life.
Mr. Patrick moved down to Houston from New York and loved to complain about the ignorance here. “Man, I wouldn’t get treated like this back in Brooklyn,” he would say. Another school board had turned down his proposal for a rocketry after school program. He has a grand plan to “bring back science to the forefront of education.” Mr. Patrick believes that there are too many lazy, overweight kids with nothing else to do after school but get into trouble—or simply do nothing at all.
After school programs in general, and science-oriented ones in particular, have gradually been in decline over the last few years, and Mr. Patrick took it upon himself to change the statistics. He has brilliant ideas involving perpetual motion and free energy using electromagnetism, and wanted to pass this knowledge on to the younger generation.
“These high school kids,” he said, just as a group of teenagers from the local high school walked in to the library. “They don’t know jack about the basic mechanism of automobiles and airplanes. They don’t retain information that’s given to them.”
Mr. Patrick stepped a few feet from the entrance and lit a cigarette underneath a No Smoking sign. “I’m gonna change that. These kids are going to learn the fundamentals. If they don’t, then we might as well dump all of our engineering jobs to the Indians now, and get it over with.”
When he went on one of his long monologues, feverishly articulating an idea like a professor possessed, I couldn’t help but be captivated by his long, winding unbroken sentences to the point of experiencing something like a mental paralysis. I once had asked him where he learned all of this knowledge. He paused and nonchalantly said, “The aliens told me.”
He was only a child, maybe ten or eleven-years old at the time. His mother asked him to go to the corner store to buy some milk. While walking through the dimly-lit Brooklyn streets, this snot-nosed kid suddenly found himself bathed in an intensely bright light.
“Next thing I knew I was being probed and shit,” Mr. Patrick recounted. “It was real fucked up.”
It was after these alleged experimentations that the extraterrestrials taught him about their propulsion system and how to harvest energy from stars to power an entire civilization. I pointed out that this was the fundamental idea behind Freeman Dyson’s sphere.
“They probably probed him too,” Mr. Patrick replied.
The idea of being abducted by extraterrestrial beings is a 20th Century phenomenon. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the claims of alien abduction came into the mainstream. Some researchers who study such cases claim that abductions have been going on for centuries, as “evidenced” in historical documents that describe extraterrestrial events, despite the vagueness of these ancient writings.
Psychologists, on the other hand, claim that “memories” of alien abduction aren’t real memories at all, but rather replacements for a much more traumatic real-life memory. It’s all up in the air at this point. Theories (and conspiracy theories) abound.
In any case, I can’t refute what I haven’t seen firsthand. If someone tells me that they were probed by gray insectoid creatures that travel in spaceships decked out with technology only a Trekkie can fathom or appreciate, I have no choice but to take their word for it.
Observing his speech and sifting through his stories, you do get the sense that he had a colorful past. Whatever lies underneath that stormy cranium of his, deep in the halls of his memory library, will probably remain a mystery—at least to me.
“They see a black man and suddenly they change their mind,” Mr. Patrick said as he slammed a thick spiral notebook on the steel bench. He had been talking to school board members from across the city and surrounding counties for the past few months.
He told me that the Houston Independent School District shot down his proposal without hearing the full presentation. However, he was most furious about the school he visited the week before. He had spoken to the board members on the phone and he explained, in detail, what his idea was. They were excited about it over the phone and had set up an appointment to meet him.
I imagined Mr. Patrick ironing his best suit; picking out a duo-tone tie with diagonal stripes that says, I’m all about serious business, but I’m not a social ladder-climbing corporate prick.
I asked him how it went. He recounted how the panel scrutinized him from top to bottom, trying to find holes in his program. In the end, they declined his proposal.
“Once they saw that I was a black man, they clammed up. They told me they didn’t want to do business with me,” said Mr. Patrick.
I thought he was over-exaggerating, but then again I have no right to question his experiences. I will never know what it’s like to be a black man in America. Personally, I’ve only heard a few blatantly racist comments growing up in the South, but interestingly, most of the racism I’ve witnessed were from other minorities.
I myself have not felt the sting of racism besides the time a black police officer pulled up to the side of my car and asked if I knew what “ching-chong” meant. After I told him that he was just speaking gibberish, he repeated the rhythmic nonsense before peeling off in the Impala cruiser I probably paid for with my tax dollars. My friend, who was driving, and I looked at each other and laughed. We were always mistaken for Latinos and we high-fived each other that someone finally guessed our race correctly. Our membership to the Oriental Gang had just been revalidated.
I wonder how Mr. Patrick felt under his own skin. Does he feel alienated? Like an alien? There are times when his patience for humanity reaches a boiling point, but I can’t blame him. This world is full of shit. I learned that when I was a toddler and experienced my first set of broken promises from my dad, mom, and just about anyone else who lied to save me from being hurt but was actually saving themselves from raising an unwanted child.
I could relate with him when he says he does not belong in this world. More often than not, I half-believe that I’m actually an anthropologist sent to this planet by my superiors on another planet. “Go to that trailer trash planet,” I imagined them telling before I embarked on my mission. “And find out if they’re as dumb as they look.”
However, there are times when his cynicism can be so overwhelming that storm clouds begin to form over my head. When that happens, I would ask him to tell me more stories about UFO sightings, and his angry facial expression would turn into glee. He had a lot of stories. I know all of them better than my own poetry.
After three months of sparring with board members, hundreds of hours of phone conversations, Mr. Patrick was still hitting the pavement, this time with a large stack of printed brochures. I read it and noticed a typo. His sister had loaned him three-hundred dollars for the printing cost. I didn’t tell him about the error.
I once asked him where he gets the drive to keep going despite numerous failed attempts and obstacles. “Those aliens told me that if we don’t change the direction we’re headed in right now,” he said with a hint of exhaustion in his voice, “then the next generation won’t have a chance for a decent life.”
I don’t know if these were the words of a wise extraterrestrial or the prophecy of a man who truly believes he can make a difference in the world. Whether as a black man or a space man, Mr. Patrick represents the selfless individual in a world where how you look, or how well your ideologies fit in with the beliefs of the majority, is placed at a higher value than good intentions.
Just ask those who are persecuted for their culture or principles. During the height of the Cold War, many law-abiding citizens were blacklisted during Senator Joseph McCarthy’s campaign to weed out suspected communists in the country. Talk to those who have been discriminated against for being a Jew; persecuted for being a Catholic or Muslim; arrested on false charges for being black; killed for being gay.
You don’t have to be an abductee to feel alien. In an increasingly impersonal world—ironically as instant communication becomes more accessible globally—the definition of what it is to be human becomes less clear.
Mr. Patrick walked into my study room at the library with a wide smile on his face. He looked clean and business-like.
“Good news?” I asked.
He said nothing at first, his smile getting wider. Finally, he told me what he was so damn happy about.
“A school on the west side of town says I can use their facility for the program. All I need now is to pass out these brochures and get enough students to sign up for it,” he said triumphantly.
I congratulate him and tell him that all of the toil and heartbreak was worth it.
“Oh, you bet. We’re making progress, but there’s still a lot to be done. In a year, we’ll be off to space, my friend!”
With that he was out the door again, hitting the pavement.