The Man From Xebos
Cafe Lena, most wouldn't know, was a focal point for the national folk music scene. Bob Dylan and Loudon Wainwright III and The McGarrigle Sisters and Dave Van Ronk and Don -- whatsisname? Who made a hit of "Bye Bye Miss American Pie", and lots of other famous folkies had been playing there regularly for years. It was only two bucks to get in. I even played there and so did some of my friends. Oh yeh. Don Maclean.
One night one of my pals was playing a set there. I'd had enough of his songs, but a friend's a friend, so loyally, I went.
While waiting around for him to play, a nondescript man in a dark suit with red tie took the stage. He was so nondescript he looked suspicious. Average height, weight, hair, eyes, whatall. "I'm sorry I don't have any jokes for you tonight," he started out nervously, "you can see I'm nervous." He was nervous. His hands were trembling. "I'm not a professional entertainer. I'm not a musician, but I wish I knew how to play... and I hope you enjoy the musicians. It takes a lot of hard work to learn how to play music."
Pause. "Tonight... I'm going to tell you something I've never revealed to anyone before. Not my wife, not my children -- I have two very beautiful children -- not anyone."
Pause. We waited. Then, "I -- am not from this planet." Pause again.
All of us perked up our ears. Oh boy, a comedian!
Giggles of anticipation rustled through the crowded room. But there wasn't any sly set-up expression in his face. If he was putting on an act of appearing nervous, the sweat on his brow in that cool room was quite a feat.
"I'm from a planet called Xebos," he said. "I've been on your planet for 18 years as an observer. I have six months left in my stay here. You will never see me again after tonight, and no one will ever see me again six months from now. "I didn't get here by rocket or flying saucer," he said, "but through the mind.
"You on earth have your greeting signs -- hippies put up the victory symbol with two fingers meaning 'peace,' your generals give each other salutes, and on Xebos, we do this." He put his right hand across his forehead, in what we might think of as an old silent movie actors' expression of grief, but more gently; "...and this greeting means that 'all things can be accomplished through the mind.'"
"We're not supposed to reveal ourselves during our stays on this planet. We observers are never supposed to let the people of this planet know we're here," he said. "But as I've been here observing for 18 years, I've grown afraid that love is dying on your planet," he said. "So in my last six months here, I'm going to go wherever I can and try to sow the seeds of love again wherever I can."
"There are so many things I don't understand about your civilization. The first thing I don't understand about your civilization is your churches. How can you worship a bloody man dying on a cross? That's the most horrible thing I can imagine. That isn't love, that's horrible!"
"And your racial hatreds. All human skin colors are beautiful, but you have prejudices against each other for your skin! On Xebos some of us have stripes and some of us have polka dots and we love each other for it! I don't understand your hatreds for having different skin!"
"And I don't understand your laws! I don't understand why there are laws keeping two people who love each other from living together; but there's no law against two grown adults whipping each other with toilet paper!" He waved his arms demonstratively, whipping imaginary toilet paper in the air in front of him.
This was maybe funny, I thought, hoping he'd be getting to a punchline pretty soon. As I gazed at him expectantly, I thought to myself, maybe he's gay. Maybe that's why he'd want laws to permit gays to get married (it was against the law in most places in those days).
The man looked directly at me. "No, I am not a homosexual," he said. "But I don't understand how your civilization treats love."
"In your schools, you're taught the sciences. You're taught about the five senses" -- he counted on his fingers -- "sight, sound, smell, taste, touch -- but you're not taught a thing about the sixth sense, love! And you're taught about the bodily systems -- respiratory, digestive, reproductive -- oh, especially that one -- but not a thing about the system that creates it all to start with -- the system of love!"
As he stumbled through his impromptu speech for about half an hour, it grew less corny and made increasingly good sense. I looked around the room while he was speaking, and saw every single set of eyes fixed on this man as though all were in trances.
The room had taken on a unique feel of its own. Outside in the spring night, I could feel the soft darkness of infinity. It seemed that all that existed was this room, this earnest man, and these silent folkies gazing at him. We were an island in a familiar universe needing no name on a sweet deep green spring night.
The man never relaxed. His hands, when he wasn't gesturing, twittered nervously like a kid's standing before a class for the first time in his life. He moved anxiously from one point to another, as painfully as a man reading an unexpected Dear John letter out loud. Science taught no love, religion lip-served it with brutal symbols and self-righteousness, spiritual notions taught all about a never-never land in the cosmos, the divorce rate was booming, selfishness and greed were thought of as practical, and on and on. Mankind was in trouble for staying ignorant of the true value of ordinary, down-to-earth daily love.
We jaded might have thought of it as the usual fare, come to think of it. But after awhile, it no longer mattered whether he was from the planet Xebos and some people on Xebos were striped and some were polka dotted and they got along just fine, unlike us and our racisms. It didn't matter that the "dead and bloody man on the cross" was "somebody we sent two thousand years ago." Fairy tale or not, he made his point, and it seemed to be touching every single person there. Even the waitress had stopped and stood listening, jaw slacked.
I thought it was the finest speech I'd ever heard. But who wrote the passage he'd quoted? He quoted what he thought of as the finest passages about love in human literature: a woman lying with her lover staring at the stars in a reverie, invited to go fly forever with the gods in the cosmos; instead she kissed her sleeping lover and stayed on the ground with him. Then he apologized for not being more entertaining, told an old irish joke and disappeared down the stairs and into the night. The audience woke up at the joke and applauded as though he'd been a good comedian after all, but seemed also to be waking up from a trance.
I listened politely to my friend play his songs, then went back to my apartment and wrote down all I remembered of what the man from Xebos had said.
I folded the paper up and sent it to my girlfriend, whom I loved as deeply as a 19-year old boy could love a girl. Wendy was an excellent folk guitarist and singer. It was how we met. We'd done a few gigs together. She had a warm appealing voice and an easy talent for songwriting. It had been a lonely time for me, as I hadn't seen her since college let out. We'd been writing each other often, but lately I hadn't heard from her. I thought she'd love this great, strange story.
I didn't hear back from her for weeks. Something was wrong, I thought. I finally wrote her again, with a guess, which I hoped wasn't a good guess.
It was a good guess. She finally replied. She had been seeing someone else all summer, she said. They'd decided to marry.
He was an older man who ran a horse ranch, she said. He had many more qualities than I. He was older, had money, could provide her a much more secure life than I, and could indulge the fact that she had been a horse-nut since childhood. In conclusion, she was not going to write me any more. This would be my fault, somehow.
A few years later I learned from a mutual friend that this fine new husband was in the habit of beating her and not letting other men speak to her. Her new hubby had forbidden her to play music any more. That was done with. No more of that sort of thing. This was love and love means sacrifice, like the dead and bloody man on the cross. If love isn't whipping each other with toilet paper in lieu of sex, it certainly isn't beating your wife, either.
End of story?
Years passed, I fell in love again, married, had a son, and wound up in Southern California. Yet I still dreamed about her occasionally... my psyche, I guess, still trying to put together how that crazy thing ever happened. I had no idea what ever became of her after last hearing the news of her unfortunate marriage to the better man.
One year I began thinking about the Man from Xebos again. Perhaps Wendy had saved the letter I sent her so long ago? I'd had a series of mysterious dreams about her. In each of them, she lived among huge, lonely, snow-capped mountains, far, far, north. I'd never see her in these dreams, only the immense mountains and an immense feeling of loneliness.
At the time I'd begun experimenting with the dreams I'd remember and write down. What the heck; I wrote a letter to the rural address I remembered -- her parents' summer home in the woods -- maybe I'd hear something. I asked her about the Man from Xebos story in my letter.
Some weeks letter, to my surprise, I got a reply from her, postmarked Juneau, Alaska. She had been living in northern Alaska, among the immense, cold, lonely mountains. She lived with her new husband, Paul. Boy were those two happy! Happy, happy and happy! Paul let her play guitar! She did sets of folk music at some local hotel.
Our correspondence continued. Maybe she had my old letters somewhere, she wrote, with obvious indifference. Life has been this and that and that and this since back when and here is how it is now, et cetera. We exchanged an unexciting drub of mandatory pleasantries, but for some reason, kept writing one another.
One day one of Wendy's letters seemed so extraordinarily happy, happy, happy, happy, AND happy, it gave me a foreboding. Nobody's that happy. On an impulse I looked up her phone number and gave her a call. She answered the phone, quite surprised to hear from me.
I'd caught her off guard. She confessed to me that the night before, Paul had smashed her guitar to pieces and hustled her naked into the bathtub and turned the hot water on full and tried to scald her to death. Her blisters were now peeling, she moaned. He was as jealous a monster as her first no-nonsense useful husband had been.
I was playing in a band at a posh club in Newport Beach at the time. I'd made a couple-three women fans with whom I'd sit during breaks. That night, I told them Wendy's story. Two of them had been through similar. They volunteered to send her money for a plane ticket, to get out of there NOW; Wendy could stay with them until she could get herself back together. I relayed this back to Wendy, but she chose other friends with whom to camp. Fine and good.
A few years wore on, and so did our occasional correspondence. She did do a lot of complaining, but didn't remarry. A new boyfriend here and a new boyfriend there, and a lot of cocaine, which was cheap in Alaska, she said.
One day I got home from work and parked in front of the blossoming plum tree in front of my house. As I stepped under the plum tree, a gentle breeze wafted through it and showered me with blossoms. I stood in the magical bath of blossoms a moment wondering, then checked my mailbox. There was a letter from Wendy. What a strange omen! Love, maybe? Love is magic, after all.
Wendy wrote that she had got into trouble with her friends, all their faults. She knew my wife had left (amicably and unscathed); she was now sniffing around to see what I might do for her after all! I began my reply in a good humor, "Oh, Wendy, stop complaining -- you'll be fine..." knowing what she had in mind. I made a few dry practical suggestions about relocating herself here and finding a job, if she wanted to move here, that is; and a job, that is, not my loving, loving, happy financial largesse.
I never heard from her again. I never saw my letter about Love Dying On The Planet According To The Man From Xebos again.
After all these years, I remember the half-hour speech from the Man from Xebos better than I remember those months and years of Wendy.