ALAN v27n2 - An Encounter

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from the talk that Stephen Gould, author of WILDSIDE (TOR, 1996) gave at the 1999 ALAN Workshop in Denver, CO.

He graciously handed it to us before he left the conference room the morning of
his talk, to the delight of all of us who heard him.

"An Encounter"

by Steven Gould

Psst, Hey kid. Pssst. Over here.

[inarticulate] huh?

Yeah, yeah. Over here. Come on, come on.

[Heavily distorted] What do you want?

Why are you talking like that?

[Heavily distorted] My tongue.


[Slightly more coherent] My tongue!

Oh! I see, man. Duuuuude. You got your tongue piercing stuck on your braces. Wow, that's gotta hurt. Here, let me help you with that- [pop]

Oh, wow! Thanks, man. That was, like, so unpleasant.

Boy, I'll bet. So, you like that tongue stud?

Oh, no man. I hate it.

Then why do you still have it?

My parents hate it, too.

[beat] Ohhhhhhhhh.

What's you want, man? Why'd you call me over here?

I got the stuff, man. I'm the source, the connection, the place you can get it. I got the stuff that will take you up, bring you down, take you all around.

You're a pusher.

Hey, man, I don't got to push anything. All my customers want what I have.

No offense, man, I'm, uh, just . . .

This is your first time, isn't it? You've never dealt before, have you?

[offended] Of course I have. I've done roofers and all of that stuff.

Roofers? Oh, you mean reefers. Oh, man, no, my stuff's a lot more specialized than that.

Well, uh, what do you have?

I've got it all. You name it, I've got it. What's your interest?

Uh, well, I've always been interested in altering reality.

Trippin'? I've got plenty in that line. You might like this one- it's a classic. Uh. [beat] Is it inside?

No, man. That's it.

[slowly] That's a book.

Man, you drop these words and you'll see trees talk, little people no higher than your knee, talking mice, walking scarecrows, a metal man. Flying monkeys, man. Flying freakin' monkeys.

I don't know, man.

Look at this one, then. A mushroom that makes you grow or shrink. Talking flowers. A cat that disappears, leaving only its smile. A talking rabbit.

Weird, how about anything more in a marijuana-type thing?

Got just the thing. Here you go.

Something Wicked This Way Comes. That's like marijuana?

Oh yeah, man. I smoked through this one book in one night. First it made me paranoid, then the next thing you know I have the munchies. I had to read three Bradbury short story collections to get rid of them.

What about coke?

Better than that, man. Here's some stuff that goes really fast and gets you up really high, but, uh, then you've got to have more.

Hmm. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. What if I get hooked, man?

Well, there's two more of those, and then you can tune into A Wizards of Earthsea or A Wrinkle in Time.

But what then?

I'm always here, man.

I don't know. I mean, my parents tell me I should read all the time.

Do they read?

Uh, no. But they watch TV movies made from books.

So, like, do you think they want you to read? Wouldn't they be doing it themselves if they really approved of it? I mean, they didn't go out and get their tongues pierced, did they?

Uh, I guess you're right.

Lots of adults don't want you to read this stuff, man. This book was banned in Kansas.

Well, that's not very hard.

It's more than Kansas. Harry Potter is under attack in Minnesota, Michigan, New York, California, and South Carolina. The Wizard of Oz has been challenged in nearly every state in the country. Every book I offer has been challenged or banned in the last ten years.

Coooooooool. They don't want me to read this stuff? Why not?

They're afraid, man. They don't want you to know what's in these books. They think if a kid can't read about it, they won't know about it, and if they don't know about it, it won't happen.

Like, I don't know about this stuff already?

I don't understand it. They never think it through. If you don't read about this stuff, the only way to find out about it is to actually do it. I mean, really, do you want to find out about war and violence by running into it for real? Do you want to find out about getting your heart broken by letting it happen? This stuff is the ultimate virtual reality simulator.

It's just a book, man.

You don't get it. You drop some of these words, do some of these verbs, pop a few short-shorts, and it does stuff to you. It puts pictures in your head. It takes you places light years away from home, thousands of years into the future or the past, into the lives of people you'd never meet around here. You can have happy childhoods, miserable ones, find out what it's like to be rich, be poor, older, really old, be a girl, be a parent, be an alien. Be a hero, be a villain, save the world or end it. That's gotta change your head.

And they don't want that, man. You start seeing other ways to behave, other things you can be. Different things from what they want. They lose control.

Does it piss them off?

So much, man.

Duuuuuuuuuude. Sign me up. How much?

The first one is always free.

Uh, okay. Ummm, well, I'll take this one.

Catcher in the Rye? Excellent choice. Been in trouble ever since it was published forty-eight years ago. [voice shift] A fascinating and enlightening description of our human condition.

What did you say?

Uh, nothing.

Wait a minute. I could swear I just recognized your voice. Let me look at you.

Get away.

Take off those sunglasses, man. Hey, your goatee came off in my hand. I know you.

No, you don't, kid. I'm just a businessman trying to push a little product.

No, you're not! You're Mr. Dobbs, the eleventh grade English teacher! What are you trying to pull here?

I'm not pulling. I'm pushing. [heavy sigh] Don't give me away, kid. Do you know what they pay teachers in this state? I'm just trying to make a little money.

What for?

My habit. [clears throat] Uh, first editions of John Steinbeck. You still want the book?

You're sure it will piss my parents off?

Absolutely guaranteed! Especially if you start talking like Holden.

Okay, I'll take it. Don't wrap it. I want everybody to see it.

It comes with this complimentary tattoo.

"Where do the ducks go?" I don't understand.

You will, kid. You will.

Reference Citation: Gould, Steven. (2000) "An Encounter." The ALAN Review , Volume 27, Number 2, 18-19.