I’m watching a woman vacuum leaves. She’s strapped on a sort of large black bag, something like what newspaper boys and girls used to carry on their rounds, before their parents started driving them. The bag is attached to a long, fat nozzle which she points at the leaves she’s raked into a pile. At first things seem to go well enough. When the pile is sucked up she turns off the machine and empties the black bag into a paper sack intended to be put out onto the curb.
But it’s not quite that simple.
You can’t imagine the difficulty she’s having transferring the leaves from the black bag to the paper one. It takes forever and it’s all a bit of a mess. When she’s done she sucks up the trillions of escaped leaves then rakes up another pile for vacuuming.
Now she stops to empty the black bag again but it won’t detach from the nozzle. She fiddles with it for several minutes until the neighbour guy who doesn’t miss a thing saunters out his front door with his hands in his pockets all nonchalant like he wasn’t watching from the window. He offers to help. You can see that he covets her large nozzled leaf sucking machine and is annoyed that he didn’t get one first but pretty soon relief replaces envy as he realizes the thing is a new-fangled piece of crap, unlike his trusty old-fangled leaf blower, which he uses to blow every single leaf off his lawn and onto the street where they’re left in great drifts, free to find their way onto other people’s lawns [possibly causing unpleasant muttering amongst those neighbours who don’t covet leaves as worm food or mulch].
The guy has now patted the woman on the shoulder in a good luck with that stupid thing you just wasted your money on kind of way. He chuckles as he almost heads back to his own house but decides to first offer up some long-winded verbosity that I can’t hear but the woman looks bored and irritated and who can blame her? She still has a whole lawn to rake and suck and transfer from one bag to another. At this rate it make take all night. I want to yell: you live on a ravine, for god’s sake—put the leaves in a wheelbarrow and dump them under a tree!
The guy goes home.
The woman turns the vacuum back on.
Something else is wrong.
She fiddles with it.
Turns it on.
And off. Fiddle fiddle.
She does this several more times. On. Off.
Meanwhile, the rake is right there. Leaning against a tree. The paper bag is still half empty. It’s getting dark out.
On. Off. On. Off.
It’s so sad. The rake is just there…
This is what I call an alien moment. Things we do that make we wonder how we might appear to someone other than ourselves, to, say a spaceship that happens to be passing by. We’re all guilty in different ways. And not guilty at all of course. Given that we’re only human.
The first time the alien thing occurred to me I was at a Sandals resort in St. Lucia where I lay in the sun, slathered in oil (an alien moment right there), watching a couple ride about on those giant paddle boats, my sun-addled brain thinking: hmm, looks like fun until they got semi-stuck, and bobbed about helplessly against this gorgeous backdrop of land and sea, turning in endless circles, waving their arms madly and arguing about how to correctly manoeuvre their fluorescent plastic containers.
Alien moments are times when it strikes me as not that far-fetched to imagine we aren’t the most intelligent life form in town, and that should the little green men and women be looking out their spaceship windows, they could be forgiven for thinking yes! this is it, the perfect time to swoop in, launch an attack, never more confident about their chances of taking over the planet…