Celebrating Banned Books Week

In honor of Banned Books Week, North Philly Notes posts an excerpt from Ganzeer’s entry, Charlie and the Aliens, from Who Will Speak for America?, edited by Stephanie Feldman and Nathaniel Popkin.


Who will speak for America? Barbara Jordan asked this question in her historic address to the 1976 Democratic National Convention. In the wake of Donald Trump’s first year in office, we posed this same question to over 40 essayists, poets, fiction writers, and artists. Like Barbara Jordan, we wanted to know who would have the courage and dedication to speak for American values. 

Our contributors reminded us that the true question was—perhaps, has always been—who will be allowed to speak for America. Banned Books Week emphasizes this ongoing, central fight. There are forces that would prevent us from sharing our stories, expressing our experiences, raising our voices. We must speak, nonetheless, and advocate for those whom the powerful would silence.

This excerpt comes from Ganzeer, whose protest murals were removed by the Egyptian government during the 2011 revolution.Stephanie Feldman, co-editor of Who Will Speak for America? 


Who WIll Speak for America revised_030818_smWhen I was first invited by Nathaniel Popkin⁠—one of the two masterful editors of Who Will Speak for America?—to submit something for inclusion in the book, I thought to myself: Okay, Ganzeer, this is your chance to write a serious scholarly piece for a serious scholarly book! And when I sat down to write the thing, that was in all seriousness my very serious intention. Yet, what came out was something else entirely.

I suppose the reason for this is… well, it’s really hard to write seriously about something that to you seems so obviously absurd. And let’s be clear; things are tremendously absurd right now. From the rhetoric surrounding the migration of human beings within our planet Earth, to the levels of incarceration in American prisons, to the continued prevalence of racial stereotypes, and the ridiculous myths of “American ideals.” It is all quite frankly very, very dumb.

So I found myself writing about it all through the lens of an absurd science fiction story about a 3-eyed alien named Charlie and his arrival to an Earth only scarcely populated by human beings.

I honestly didn’t think Nathaniel or Stephanie would want to include it, that its tone would be too, uh, absurd to include in their very serious academic tome meant to get at the heart of the American question. But much to my surprise I was wrong.

But y’know what? It’s one of the very few times I was elated to be wrong! Not for my own sake, but for the sake of academic publishing, for the sake science fiction, and for the sake of America!


An Excerpt from Charlie and the Aliens by Ganzeer

When it was my turn, I took a step toward the counter. The clerk raised his hand in a gesture that suggested I shouldn’t and then pointed to the kid standing behind me to step forward instead. And that’s exactly what the smug little brat did. He just marched on over without the slightest bit of hesitation.You might find it surprising that this memory is coming to me now as I sit in a cold, dark jail cell on the Moon with three other inmates, sharing stories about how we ended up here. Like campers around a campfire sharing ghost stories, except all the stories are supposedly true, and the thing we’re gathered around is not a fire but a shared sense of camaraderie. Much like a campfire, it’s this camaraderie that gives us a sense of security.When you first set foot in prison, you assume that everyone there must be bad, real bad. That no one there is anything like you. Which contradicts a popular saying we have on my home planet, Capulanos: “If to prison you are sent, then for sure you are innocent.”

I used to think it was just that: a saying, a proverb. It might’ve been true a very long time ago, when the justice system was anything but just. Or maybe it happened to catch on because it rhymes, and our brains are weak, easily malleable things incapable of standing firm against the irresistible power of the jingle. That may be one of the reasons I fell for Earth, a planet that boasts a great many jingles. Of note is:

     Proud to be an Earthling
     Where life is grand and free
     The entire cosmos is burning
     But here in peace we be
     O the wealth we are earning
     For our eternal shopping spree

In any case, the testimony of two of these fellas—a Menos-Earthling and an Aradis-Earthling—leads me to believe that there may be some truth to that Capulanos proverb after all. Both have ended up here by way of completely convoluted circumstances. The third inmate has yet to speak, but he’s the one I’m most excited to hear from because—dig this—he’s Human. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a Human Being before, despite having lived on Earth for several years.

Figure 5.3 Ganzeer - Starscone BoyBefore Earth, I lived on Capulanos, where I was born. And it was there on Capulanos, when I was still a child, that I walked into Ziggy’s Starscone Store—steps away from getting the most succulent, luscious starscone you could ever dream of—and got my first taste of discrimination. The clerk gave this fat little punk-ass foreigner preferential treatment. Not only did he ask him to step forward when it wasn’t yet his turn, but he covered the kid’s starscone in a thick blanket of Magic Sparkles. Without charging him! I saw it with my own three eyes. The kid then walked out of the store to reunite with his parents, obviously tourists. They had scaly skin and metallic accessories most peculiar in design, and the mother was lavishly overdressed. These weren’t just any tourists: they were from the wealthiest planet in the galaxy, Earth. (But not Human, mind you. I’ll get to that later.)

The clerk, less giddy than he was a second ago, asked me, “Whaddya want, kid?” and when I told him, he gave me exactly what I wanted but with very little interest. He lacked a certain oomph in his manners, which I wouldn’t have noticed had he not been on top of the world to serve the kid who had just preceded me. The kid who most certainly should not have preceded me. When I asked the clerk if I could get a topping of Magic Sparkles, only then did he smile, but it was more of a smirk. He told me it would cost extra. With utmost entitlement and a bloated chest, I pointed out that the other kid had just gotten Magic Sparkles for free. A most unpleasant laugh escaped him, and he proceeded to lecture me on the importance of hospitality toward foreigners. I couldn’t understand why I was being treated as an inferior species on my own planet! And then I wondered: If I were to visit Earth, would I get better treatment than the locals? I couldn’t help myself from staring at the foreign kid and his parents. The kid sinking his teeth into that thick layer of Magic Sparkles while his parents shooed away a couple of locals asking for money. Granted, beggars can be a little pesky, but those kids could have obviously done with a little more meat on their bones.

But more than the local beggars or the parents, I was focused on the kid and his starscone. He noticed. And I’m almost certain that what he saw was a boy glaring back at him with far more hate than the situation called for. Yet the foreign kid’s reaction to this was quite bizarre. After barely a femtosecond of surprise, he smiled. The little punk smiled because he knew. He knew he was a privileged little brat and liked it. He took pleasure in it. For the first time in my life, I felt this sensation: a bulge in my throat accompanied by a cardinal spark of rage. A combination that I can describe only as the thirst for vengeance. To this day, the sweet aroma of fresh starscone brings back feelings of revenge.

The opposite is also true: a thirst for vengeance always brings to mind the smell of fresh starscone. Which is why, sitting here in this murky, bonechilling jail cell about to recall the story of my incarceration, I find myself remembering this childhood incident at Ziggy’s Starscone Store. Because, let me tell you, right now, at this moment, I’m feeling mighty vengeful.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: