This is a true story, or at least as true as I can make it without a contemporaneous transcript. As did most of the youths in these United States, I attended high school. In common with other schools, we had the usual requisites: classrooms, lunchroom, athletic fields, teachers, a principal, detention, bullies, quizzes, assemblies, classmates, and so forth. Let's pick two items from the list, "lunchroom" and "bullies."
The story begins with me being me. I've been me for a long time, and if I assert that the following is not uncharacteristic behavior, you will have to believe me. I've always been a science fiction fan. I discovered SF in grade school (with Heinlein, of course) and read what I could find and find time for. I came upon "Earthman Come Home" by James Blish and liked it very much. Part of the allure was, no doubt, the Spindizzy that allowed my NYC home to be uprooted and navigated through the starlanes. Talk about vicarious adventure! When we smacked into the Vegan Orbital Fort I felt a frisson of personal triumph. But this isn't about the story, it's about the book itself, or, rather, its cover. At the time I read it, the book was available as a cheap paperback—$.35 or whatever—and "desecrating" its cover was not a chargeable literary misdemeanor. Without great consideration and with no premonition at all, I excised the word
and placed it in my wallet, clearly visible through a plastic window, along with my ham license and whatever other documents a teenager may have needed in those unsuspicious days. A bus pass, perhaps? There it reposed for an indefinite number of weeks or months until:
Lloyd *, something of a "bully," was guarding the lunchroom door.
As you may know, I now spend a portion of my time in the genuine scientific search for space aliens, as part of the SETI League. There was no SETI in those days but, perhaps based on an early variant of the theory "it takes one to know one," I was regarded as a bit odd by my classmates. Not terminally odd, not unduly unsavory, just a bit "differently personalitied" as we might say in these days of political correctness. Of course a bully will pick on this sort of difference to enhance his weight and authority, ephemeral though it may be.
I opened the lunchroom door and Lloyd blocked my path. I delivered a quizzical look, a skill which I have retained to this day and improved through many opportunities to practice. He asserted somewhat forcefully: "Only Earthmen allowed in here, Factor." Needless to say, I whipped out my wallet and presented my credential.
I have no idea what Lloyd said about the incident at the weekly afternoon meeting of the bully club. I don't recall much interaction with him after that day.
* I'd like to take credit here for innovative use of punctuation. I've turned a single asterisk to dual use: First, it is a substitute for the family name of the alleged perpetrator, a normal use of the mark. And second, it has directed you to this appended comment, another traditional use of the asterisk. Economy! I used the asterisk, by the way, not out of an exaggerated deference to "privacy" but because Lloyd may still be a bully.
** The pathologically observant reader will have noticed a dual asterisk next to the "Earthman" scan, and also that the cover from which it has been excerpted seems intact. Although punctuationally uneconomical, the double asterisk is meant to draw one's eye to this explanation: The copy of Earthman Come Home from which this scan was derived was printed in 1966, several years later than the one with the mutilated cover, which I no longer possess. By the time of this printing the price of the book had almost doubled to $.60.