MT VOID 11/15/96 (Vol. 15, Number 20)

MT VOID 11/15/96 (Vol. 15, Number 20)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 11/15/96 -- Vol. 15, No. 20

Table of Contents

Upcoming Meetings:

Unless otherwise stated, all meetings are in the Middletown cafeteria Wednesdays at noon.

  DATE                    TOPIC

(no meetings scheduled)

Outside events:
The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County meets on the second
Saturday of every month in Upper Saddle River; call 201-933-2724 for
details.  The New Jersey Science Fiction Society meets on the third
Saturday of every month in Belleville; call 201-432-5965 for details.

MT Chair/Librarian:
              Mark Leeper   MT 3E-433  908-957-5619
HO Chair:     John Jetzt    MT 2E-530  908-957-5087
HO Librarian: Nick Sauer    HO 4F-427  908-949-7076
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist:
              Rob Mitchell  MT 2D-536  908-957-6330
Factotum:     Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433  908-957-2070
Backissues available at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.


I'll warn you at the start that there is not a whole lot of point to this week's journal entry. Most times when I sit down to write I have what I am going to say all planned out and I either have a point I am intending to make or some punchline planned out well in advance. This time I was somewhat affected by an incident that happened a few minutes ago--a few minutes before I wrote this article, who knows how long it will take to get into print--and I figure I have enough to say about it that I don't really need to know where I am going. I am just going to talk to my computer. What happened is something that has left me feeling as if I just betrayed a friend. Or a least I just wasted a sort of friendship. Now if you have been reading this column a while you know that I kind of consider the squirrels in my backyard as friends. If feed them and am happy to see them. They as yet play it cautious around me since they are afraid of predators and they don't really know my intentions. But I like them and I give them sunflower seeds and watch them out of my patio window. But they after all are mammals and really not very far from us on the evolutionary tree. We probably even have some emotions in common with squirrels. So it is not too much of a stretch to relate to squirrels. They are fairly interesting animals.

On the other hand, it is very difficult for a human to relate to most non-mammals. By the time something is far enough away from human to not suckle its young, it is already a good deal different from humans and human psychology. That makes it tough to relate. Most birds, for example, seem to be terrified of humans and not very good fodder as friends. I even had a bird for a pet in the first decade of my life and frankly I never felt a whole lot of affection for it. It seemed to feel the same about my family. I am not sure why we would have such an uninteresting pet. We must have been pretty hard up for something that we could feed and see it move. But a lot of that stand-offish behavior is probably because the thing was not very smart and it was raised in an environment with lots of predators, so it was too cautious to be friendly. Penguins, on the other hand, generally do not worry a whole lot about predators and are fairly intelligent. I think I could like a penguin. You know they say that if you are feeding fish to penguins, they will not swarm you. They will queue up and each will wait for his turn. And suppose a penguin does not get as much fish as he was expecting. Does he grouse and hold up the proceedings until he gets what he wanted. Actually no. He waddles back to the end of the line and waits for another turn to come up and another piece of fish to come his way. That has to be pretty high intelligence for a bird. It also speaks well of what was possible from dinosaurs. I am told that birds have now been officially declared to be dinosaurs, by the way. I am not sure who declares it, but they are no longer just close relatives of dinosaurs, they are surviving dinosaurs.

But I digress. What I was going to say was that I never thought that I could relate at all to an insect. But I have had some dealings with an insect that I might make an exception for. The other night we came home after dark and Evelyn went out to get the mail. A moment or two later I saw her standing around with a peculiar look on her face and she told me that she had just let a really big insect into the house. Evelyn thought it was a huge dragonfly. It had been standing on the mail and when she opened the door it flew in. I was expecting to see something a little disgusting. She pointed it out and it was indeed big. It was easily four inches long. Had she said it was that big I would have been a little afraid to go near it. But seeing it, it turned out to be far less bothersome than I thought. It was a praying mantis. Now a mantis is the biggest and meanest insect you are likely to run into in New Jersey, but it is mean only to other insects. It has no venom, it doesn't sting and it doesn't bite humans. Furthermore it is the king of its world and has very little fear of humans. I crept up to it to see if I could get a better look. It stood its ground. After a few moments I noticed that it had cocked its triangular head around and it was watching me. A mantis has a head like an isosceles right triangle. It has very sharp angles at the three corners. The mantis wanted to be sure I would not do anything really threatening, but it let me stand there a foot or two away without trying to escape. I don't think it could have thought I didn't see it, it is possible, but it really stood out, and I think I did too. But the mantis stood his ground and watched me. I could have caught it and thrown it outside. I have a butterfly net for the purpose of safely catching insects in the house and moving them back outdoors. But the mantis had taken shelter in our mailbox because it was raining pretty heavily. I figured I would wait until it was dry and light before throwing him out.

Well, this turned out to be a mistake, at least if I wanted to get rid of him. (I am intentionally calling the mantis a him not because I have any reason for doing so, but the female mantis is meaner than the male and particularly mean to the male. I am just choosing to think of this one as a male.) Come the morning and it was still raining and the mantis was nowhere to be seen. On one hand I had pictures of the mantis starving to death under the couch, afraid to show himself. On the other hand I had pictures of him living in our house symbiotically killing off the invading insect population. My house is in an area that once was a swamp and we get quite an array of arthropods, especially spiders.

This was Tuesday night and off and on in the week I looked around to see if I could find our visitor and perhaps let him outside where he could find more insects to eat. Not luck, however. I began to be afraid that he would hide and never been seen again until he started to decay. Come Friday night I was sitting down eating it when I heard a buzz with the speakers off. From somewhere I could not trace, the mantis flew into the den and perched over the doorway from the kitchen. Well, I figured I should at least try to catch him and put him outdoors for his own good. So I put down dinner and grabbed the butterfly net and a magazine. I put the magazine in front of the mantis and with little coaxing he stepped onto the magazine like a human stepping into an elevator. I put the net over him and took him out the patio door, which I had left open to allow an easy exit. I took the magazine, the mantis, and the net out to the patio and put them down. The mantis did not fly away or even cower. He simply stepped off the magazine, in so doing actually walking closer to me, and stood on the porch. I took my paraphernalia and quickly went into the house where he might have lived. For several minutes the mantis stood on the porch looking toward the house. I watched him through the glass door and he just stood there, looking at the house. A few minutes later, I looked again and the mantis was gone. Presumably with night falling he went to find shelter. I have captured insects in the house before and let them outside. I have even wished them well, silently to myself. But this was a new experience in that I felt that I was missing something putting the mantis outside. If I thought that the mantis was contented to be inside, I might have left it and to heck with what human visitors thought. But I didn't want the mantis to go hungry if my house did not provide enough prey. Now my question is what did the mantis feel, looking at the house. I wondered if I had opened the door would he come flying back in. Would he go flying away, convinced that after all that had happened I had at the last moment turned on him. Or maybe he wasn't thinking at all. Maybe insects don't think or think in some ways incomprehensible to us. But I feel a bit of a loss of the four-inch insect that chose to stand and watch me rather than to fly away. [-mrl]

                                   Mark Leeper
                                   MT 3E-433 908-957-5619

Quote of the Week:

     Romance, like the rabbit at the dog track, is the
     elusive, fake, and never attained reward which,
     for the benefit and amusement of our masters,
     keeps us running and thinking in safe circles.
                                   -- Beverly Jones