Through the Rockets Red Glare There was Spaceship

By Karla Fetrow

When the days are slow and the pedestrians hurry by like they’re  afraid you’re part of a secret gang of armed militants, there’s nothing much a street artist can do except slap at the stand to keep the dust off, and talk about philosophy, science, witchcraft, obscure references to alien sightings; anything except the price of a bag of churros or if the hotel might possibly extend one more day of credit.  Our prospects were hopeful.  There were a few extra tourists settling in with preparations to view some Cinco de Mayo celebrating in Mexico City.  Our ambitions were greater.  Puebla was where the Independence Day Revolution took place.  Puebla was our main target.

“I saw them.  I was selling in Villa Hermosa and I saw them.  It was early morning and the mist was heavy, but you could still make something out because they looked like balls of fire, shooting off, then changing directions as quickly as a thief snatches a wallet.”

“Swamp gas,” said Enrique, who believed in nothing, and consequently led the most boring life; sterile rooms with books, a lap top and a maid who genuflected every time she opened the door to his quarters.   He didn’t have to twist wire or punch leather or hang out on a street all day trying to glean an income.  He had money, lots of it from what we could tell, although he wasn’t very good at sharing and even less adept at imaginative thought.

“It was in the newspapers.  It was in Alarma.  Right on the front page.  Mysterious visitors light up the sky in the vicinity of ancient Olmec ceremonial grounds”.

“The ceremonial aspects of this historically inaccurate depiction of an experimental module for advancing neuron impulses to their maximum efficiency is the highly misguided efforts of trend setters who have yet to realize they are trying to comprehend the motives of a discarded genetic strain.”

As though on cue, there was Spaceship.  Somehow, we always managed to escape any notice of his arrival until he was right there in front of us, despite the fact that nobody could be quite as bizarre in their choices of dress apparel.  Today was no exception.  Apparently, he had exercised his rights to a few evening raids.  He was riding an undersized bicycle, that had been stripped and refitted with body parts of his own tastes.  A banana seat hung precariously from its elongated metal support.  The wheel guard in front was a long, slim, racy blue and white fender while the one in back was short, red and rusting.  Somehow, he had managed to confiscate one of those flashing light boxes the sneaky under-cover cops plop on the hoods of their cars when you think you’re in a safe zone and speed by ten miles over the posted limits.  It was strapped to a six volt battery, which was in turn strapped between the handle bars of the bike.

He was wearing a football helmet, possibly borrowed from one of the graduate schools, although in its battered shape, it was safe to assume it had been a cast-off.  The grilled mouth guard was wrapped in tin foil and decorated with shiny plastic buttons.  The helmet itself was festooned with the gutted parts of an old computer, it’s little green cards tacked into place with protruding metal screws.  Other than the helmet and a number of cheap yard sell award ribbons fluttering from his shoulders, he was as shabbily and as forever consigned to busted blue jeans as the rest of us.

“Spaceship, where did you get that police siren?”  Asked Tomas, who had started the whole conversation about alien visitors.  “If the camioneta catches you, they will break every bone in your body.”

“They are laminated, aesthetically constructed components, chemically reconstituted from primarily calcium and magnesium.  There are over one hundred of these ingenuously inter-connected and actively responsive parts, so it fails the main circuit data directional engines to compute the barbaric undertaking of systemically destroying each and every supporting unit designed for structural integrity.”

“Once they bash your head in, it won’t matter how many other body parts still contain structural integrity.  Spaceship, put that head lamp in your saddle bags.”

“I’ve been establishing the social norm of the indigenous species, Caucasgolian, derived from the late Pandorian epidemic, which contained a mutant, latent gene conceived as transparency.  This transparent gene has enabled me to identify at least five sub-categories of early attention deficit which led to the psychological disorder of outreach mayhem.  I need the beacon to translate my findings to the mother ship, which will then analyze the readings in hopes of isolating the primary genotype and correcting its dysfunction.”

“Do your translating later, in your hotel room or wherever you’re holed up.  We don’t need the publicity.  We’ve got to make enough money to go to Puebla.”

“You’ve acquired the seventh stage of synapse coordination.  The initial foundation for active impulse, geo-magnetic transportation was constructed within the exponentially circulating parameters of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.  By accessing the portals of Intergalactic gateway information, the electrical circuits of advanced technical engineering will improve the artillery drive of data computation by fifteen percent.”

“Automatically?”  Challenged Tomas.

“Automation is strictly a perceptual illusion.  Design engineering involves a specific coordination of impulse signals and response drivers that appear automated but are actually the strategically placed harmonic chords of the spatial awareness guidance systems.  There are indications within my own binary circuits that a re-charge and replenishment of my primary output valves would enormously benefit by a direct connection with the original biometrical construction.”

“Now you’ve done it,” said Victor, who had previously remained quiet.  “Spaceship wants to come with us.”

“It wouldn’t be a bad thing,” argued Tomas.  “He has some of the best wire work jewelry and he’s bi-lingual.”

“He is no lingual.  Enrique, did you understand a word Spaceship said?”

“My mind tends to wander off when Spaceship starts talking,” Enrique admitted.  I still haven’t gotten past his ideas that we’re neuron synapse occurring in Earth’s brain.”

“You are too dimensionally impotent to acquire the high levels of collective, spontaneous conductive energy transmission necessary to acquire conscious awareness of your fundamental circuit signals.  At best, you are probably the elementary emotional response of reflex coordinates.”

“Camioneta!” warned a shrill cry, and the collection of snap open boxes, folding tables and props clattered shut and the street vendors melted into the shadows.  Victor threw a bandanna over the police light and tied it off quickly with a piece of leather.  “Vamanos, compa.  We’re taking you home.”

Home happened to be the run-down garage at the side of his aunt’s almost equally run down apartment.  The hopes of having a vehicle to shelter in the garage had been abandoned a long time ago, and the space used mainly for an assortment of clutter.  In fact, on entering Spaceship’s domain, it became immediately clear how he was able to accumulate the materials and tools necessary for fashioning his wardrobe.  Every rusted bolt, broken hammer, mildewed cabinet, lifeless radio, broken toy within the federal district of Mexico had found its way to his aunt’s garage.

“My laboratory equipment is crude,” apologized Spaceship.  “There is a far more sophisticated array of variable audio transmission frequencies at the main facilities within the Interplanetary triangle.  If you’ll excuse me, I have to purge the next Continental drift of colliding RNA factors within the DNA sequences.”

He then turned his attention to an old stereo receiver that had been wired into a group of mismatched speakers, several pirated DVD players, and a small television/ VCR combination.  The entire spider web of wires had first been wrapped and taped around a rather large quartz crystal before being dangerously plugged into the sole electrical outlet.  “It’s exactly what I feared.  I am hesitant to inform you of this as the impact on your programming for psychological well-being might be jeopardized, but you arrived into existence just one nano-second ago and have been supplied with artificial memories of a previous encounter with animated life forms.”

“Spaceship,” said Victor.  “About going to Puebla with us.  If you come along, you’ll have to follow a few rules.  No shouting at the passengers on the bus.  No announcements that the black plague had been circulated by a computer generated virus.  No attempts to hang Christmas tree lights around the hotel room, and no calling the maids neuron transmitters.”

But Spaceship wasn’t listening.  He had turned on the stereo receiver, and although all we could hear was patterned static and saw nothing on the television screen but snow flakes, he seemed quite satisfied with his invention.  It was obvious Spaceship had tuned us out to tune in on whatever the scramble of squeals and distorted crackles meant to him.  We decided it was probably better to take him to Puebla after all, to at least prolong his inevitable fate of starting an electrical fire.

It was apparently, a decision that served to our advantage.  Spaceship’s aunt was so delighted at having him out of the garage for awhile, she not only advanced the money for his trip, but gave us an extra five hundred pesotes for our efforts.

Spaceship was surprisingly well-behaved on the trip into Puebla.  The bus driver only stopped once to warn him when he tried to place his battery charged police lights on the dash.  Nor did he have any particular insults for the hotel manager other than saying there was an economic discrepancy between his eloquent articulation of modern accommodations and the primitive functions of cubicles that lacked the technology of hot water.  Recognizing only the words “hot water”, the manager assured us it would be available in the morning from seven to nine, and again in the evening from six to eight.

There is really no place to celebrate the Cinco de Mayo like Puebla, the initial site of the Mexican Revolution and its own shots that ricocheted throughout the land and through its history.  The crowd of party goers are larger than anywhere else; its participants dressed in flouncy traditional clothing, flowers and ribbons decorating the hair of the young girls, garlands laying thickly on the bosoms of elderly women.  Paper lanterns flutter.  Children run through the streets with sparklers, and best of all, pocketbooks loosen.  We were all making money, our little leather bags growing fatter with each bill we shoved into them before slipping them back inside our shirts or waist band.

In the evening, we packed up, returned our merchandise to the hotel, and joined the celebration.  The fireworks in Puebla aren’t just something to watch as  spectators from the distance.  They surround you; cherry bombs and bottle rockets, fire crackers and sparklers, bright cinders popping in the air, stinging you with tiny hot ash burns.  You feel no pain, only the adrenalin rushing while your eyes fill with the flaming colors of the fireworks.  We forgot about Spaceship, in this war that wasn’t war, nor even a battle, just a glorious excursion into explosives.  We cheered the rockets red glare and exhibits bursting in air.  We laughed in a rain of hot cinders.

It was Tomas who noticed first our missing comrade.  “who was the last to see Spaceship?”  He asked.

“He went back to the hotel with us,” answered Victor positively.  “I remember arguing with him about leaving his bag.  He said it contained the signature codes for sub-space communications and it could be dangerous if exposed to the mental pathways of an errant neuron. ”

“I saw him swing a left just a few blocks before the plaza,” said Enrique.  “I thought he was getting a torta.”

Tomas groaned.  “Never, ever let Spaceship wander off by himself in a new town.  I once searched three days in Veracruz and finally found him on the outskirts in a small residential area, trying to establish communications with a group of spider monkeys.”

“There aren’t any spider monkeys here,” said Victor hopefully.

“There’s a pyramid, and that’s where he’s been wanting to go.”

“The pyramid’s a half hour away by bus.”

“Exactly.”

We were still weighing whether we should extend our search around the vicinity of Puebla and the hotel, or simply hop on a bus for Cholula, when we noticed a very peculiar spectacle among the smoke and sparkle of the fireworks.  Police lights were flashing in the middle of the displays, along with a siren, but there wasn’t a single police car in sight.  Through the haze, a figure approached, dazzling with its light display.  As it does in the company of all mad men, the crowd parted, murmuring uneasily to each other.

It only took a few seconds to figure out it was Spaceship.  Sparklers were attached to his helmet like antenna, along with a police light in the middle.  On each shoulder, another police light perched, all attached by wires to his battery box, which he held in his hands.  The stripped sound box for a siren squatted like a spider on top of the battery, and he occasionally stopped in his stride to change the frequency.

Our relief at seeing him turned quickly to dismay.  Before we even had a chance to shout his name, several burly law enforcement officers were pushing their way through the crowd, announcing “camioneta” and brandishing billy clubs.  They were a little rough in handling Spaceship and stripping him of his treasures, and enjoyed a good laugh as they pushed him around while he shouted, “yo soy la camioneta.”  They were talking about giving him a good beating, when they noticed something else trailing by a cord from beneath his helmet.  Forcibly removing his headwear, they gasped excitedly.  “What’s this?  An I-Pod?  Where did you get that, chavo?’  Asked one.

“He probably stole it from a tourist,” said another.  “What else do you have?”  They searched his pockets.  They found a pocket calculator, three small Led flashlights and a rabbit foot key chain.  “You can have the key chain,” they told him.  “We’d better take the rest of the stuff for evidence. ”

“In an advanced, civilized  society, there is a medium of exchange for the transference of merchandise,” declared Spaceship.

“We’ll call it a lenders’ fee for borrowing law enforcement equipment.”

“Yo soy la camioneta,” protested Spaceship and watched sadly as they carted off his treasures.  We also felt a little sad as none of us had even held an I-Pod, but at least they hadn’t beaten him.  We guided him back to the hotel while he mourned his loss of status.  “Yo soy camioneta,” he muttered to anyone who would listen, which was really no one at all.

“Do you think Spaceship stole that I-Pod?” asked Tomas, sounding a bit worried.

“No.  Nay,” said Victor quickly.  “He probably made a trade.  He’s the best craftsman among us.  If he’d take his job seriously, he’d make lots of money.”

Spaceship said nothing, only pawed around in his sales bag, muttering mournfully to himself.  We had practically lost interest in him as we settled down to an evening of our new found prosperity with a double six-pack of Dos Equis.  But he was so quiet, Tomas finally glanced over to see what he was doing.  There in his lap, was a hand held DVD player with a fold-out screen.  Beside it was a DVD, which hadn’t been taken out of its case, but that he sometimes turned over to study both sides of the jacket.  “Maybe he has begun stealing,” whispered Tomas.

Spaceship heard him.  “You are assuming that my intellectual capacities are unable to understand the rudimentary requirements necessary for fair medium exchange.  I have the documented codes that establish my credentials as a functioning labor unit.”  He pulled out a sales slip from his wallet and handed it carefully to Tomas.

“This player was purchased several days ago, before we ever left Mexico City.  Spaceship, you’ve had money all along.”

“The symbolic exhibition of wealth is the customary rites performed by undeserving, mentally incapacitated species desiring to enter priesthood or to perform mating rituals.  I’m indisposed to either ambition as I am a spaceship, specifically designed to modulate the activity of earth based intelligence.”

That was good enough for us.  We settled down with Spaceship, planning all the DVD’s we’d now buy, or maybe even own a rental membership.  He was the same Spaceship, with all his grudge and attire, all his bizarre behavior, the Spaceship that we’d always known and cared for, but guiltily, the thought sneaking in like a closet drinker returning for his bottle, that Spaceship was somehow more endearing, more tolerable, more deserving of patience and understanding, knowing he was rich.

About karlsie

Some great perversity of nature decided to give me a tune completely out of keeping with the general symphony; possibly from the moment of conception. I learned to read and speak almost simultaneously. The blurred and muffled world I heard through my first five years of random nerve loss deafness suddenly came alive with the clarity of how those words sounded on paper. I had been liberated for communications. I decided there was nothing more wonderful than writing. It was easier to write than carefully modulate my speech for correct pronunciation, and it was easier to read than patiently follow the movements of people’s lips to learn what they were saying. It was during that dawning time period, while I slowly made the connection that there weren’t that many other people who heard the way I did, halfway between sound and music, half in deafness, that I began to understand that the tune I was following wasn’t quite the same as that of my classmates. I was just a little different. General education taught me not only was I just a little isolated from my classmates, my home was just a little isolated from the outside world. I was born in Alaska, making me part of one of the smallest, quietest minorities on earth. I decided I could live with this. What I couldn’t live with was discovering a few years later, in the opening up of the pipeline, which coincided with my first year of junior college, that there were entire communities of people; more than I could possibly imagine; living impossibly one on top of another in vast cities. It wasn’t even the magnitude of this vision that inspired me so much as the visitors who came from these populous regions and seemed to possess a knowledge so great and secretive I could never learn it in any book. I became at once, very conscious of how rural I was and how little I knew beyond the scope of my environment. I decided it was time to travel. The rest is history; or at least, the content of my stories. I traveled... often to college campuses, dropping in and out of school until one fine day by chance I’d fashioned a bachelor of arts degree in psychology. I’ve worked a couple of newspapers, had a few poems and stories tossed around in various small presses, never receiving a great deal of money, which I’m assured is the norm for a writer. I spent ten years in Mexico, watching the peso crash. There is some obscure reason why I did this, tightening up my belt and facing hunger, but I believe at the time I said it was for love. Here I am, back home, in my beloved Alaska. I’ve learned somewhat of a worldly viewpoint; at least I like to flatter myself that way. I’ve also learned my rural roots aren’t so bad after all. I work in a small, country store. Every day I greet the same group of local customers, but make no mistake. My store isn’t a scene out of Andy Griffith. The people who enter the establishment, which also includes showers, laundry and movie rentals, are miners, oil workers, truck drivers, construction engineers, dog sled racers and carpenters. Sometimes, on the liquor side, the conversations became adult only in vocabulary. It’s a good thing, on the opposite side of the store is a candy aisle filled with the most astonishing collection, it will keep a kid occupied with just wishing for hours. If you tell your kids they can have just one, you have an instant baby sitter; better than television; as they agonize over their choice while you catch up on the gossip with your neighbor. We also receive a lot of tourists, a lot of foreign visitors. They are usually amazed at this first sign of Alaskan rural life style beyond the insulating hub of the Anchorage bowl. Many of them like to hang around and chat. They gawk at our thieves wanted posters. They laugh at our jokes and camaraderie with our customers. I’ve learned another lesson while working there. You don’t have to go out and find the world. If you wait long enough, it comes to you.

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9 Comments on “Through the Rockets Red Glare There was Spaceship”

  1. What can I say? Like all prophets, Spaceship is ahead of his time. A brilliant characterization, and a fella worthy of his own novel–if we as human beings could ever fully contemplate his suffering. One of my favorite Karla stories, though I do feel as if it is lacking a certain, strong, female presence. (And I think Karla knows what I mean) It makes me a little misty-eyed to read this, not only because it involves Street Artists, (a very true-to-life episode in your life) but also because of the tragedy of Spaceship’s character. He speaks to the incomprehensibility of mankind; the fact that he is the gonzo outsider is a sort of Trompe-l’oeil of writing; he represents the brave ones among us who rise above the stagnant, cold current of the world. Perhaps he is semi-living proof that rebellion and nonconformity all stem from a certain sensitivity in people. He’s a Dadaist Messianic figure, deprived of holy power, but blessed with a godlike insight that tragically does no one any particular good. It’s an honor to provide commentary on the great commentator, spaceship and the motherly force that bore him.

  2. Mitch, i always found it curious how many people immediately picked up on Spaceship as their favorite character when reading my Street Artists script. I think there is perhaps a Spaceship in all of us; someone who wishes to reject their human nature for something loftier, more meaningful, someone who protests the norm and status quo through every day actions. Considering his dialog, i think writing a book completely around Spaceship would be a grueling task. Every time i write him, i have to lose my own voice and concentrate on that strange, bicycling character of the past. Still, the prospect is tempting.

    That strong female character… she’s really very stubborn. She seems to think she had only one story to tell and she has told it. I hesitate to disturb her, as i don’t know how she would feel placed in modern America instead of the peso crash in Mexico. She was a follower, not a leader, and she needs someone to follow again.

    Grainne, i’m also pleased you enjoyed the story. Mexico will always be a part of me as one of the most beautiful places on earth; primarily because it contains some of the most beautiful people.

  3. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read. “Spaceship” is a wonderfully funny and enjoyable character. As you said, I think there’s a little Spaceship in a lot of us. There’s probably more in me than in most of the people who read this publication. Rather than dressing like a space ship, though, I prefer my Superman t-shirt. It’s much more comfortable. haha

  4. What a great story! It celabrates the beauty of people in all of their mysterious and colorful glory. Makes me want to go back to Mexico. You are a fabulous writer.

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