Lucky at Lunch

I had a few nice surprises yesterday. Ray, my father-in-law, had stopped by around noon (which was nice, but not a surprise), and we went to lunch at a southwest cafe at which we hadn't eaten before.

While we were eating, a man walked in holding a book. I recognized the distinctive cover: The New Peoplemaking, by family therapist Virginia Satir. I happen to be a big fan of Virginia's methods, which I learned from my mentors Jerry Weinberg and Jean McLendon. — I use many of Virginia's ideas in my own work, and I've written about them in a growing number of articles and web log entries.

So I introduced myself to the man who was carrying The New Peoplemaking. He was Kenneth Butler, a consultant who works at Center for Collaborative Solutions, where he specializes in resolving labor conflicts. Kenneth, Ray, and I had a nice conversation.

I always enjoy meeting people who are familiar with Virginia Satir's work. So that was the first nice surprise.

The second nice surprise happened a few minutes later. Ray and I left the restaurant and walked next door to a used book store that I hadn't visited before. The first bookcase inside the store was labelled Science Fiction. Two of the shelves were filled with magazines, mostly Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

I had subscribed to Analog in the 1970s and 1980s. One Analog story in particular stuck with me through the years, a story about an extraterrestrial beings with whom humans were interacting. And I didn't remember the whole story, just one specific aspect. Whenever the beings felt the slightest embarrassment (a frequent occurrence in the story), the would express their embarrassment by telling a story about their death. Each story began, "I die," and continued with a horrifying description of how their body wreaked havoc by poisoning the water or destroying the planet, and ultimately "all die."

I eventually let my subscription lapse, and tossed out all of my back issues. But I would recall that story from time to time, and eventually I wanted to read it again. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember anything that could help me identify the story. I couldn't remember either the name of the story or the name of the author. I couldn't remember the issue, or even the year, in which it was published.

About ten years ago, I happened to describe what little I remembered of the story to my friend Dan Starr. "Oh," he said, "that was called, 'A !Tangled Web.'" I don't know how Dan knows what he knows, but he knows lots of stuff. Good old Dan!

So I've remembered the name of the story for ten years, hoping to find a copy.

Back to yesterday. Right in front of me stood two shelves full of old Analog magazines... including what looked like every issue from 1979 to 1993. I grabbed six issues at a time, opening each one and scanning the table of contents quickly. After about 30 issues, I was losing hope of finding the story. Then I opened the September 14, 1981 issue, and there it was: "A !TANGLED WEB," by Joe Haldeman. Page 92.

The book store charged me two dollars for the magazine. That was 50 cents more than the original price, but I was a happy dude.

Here's an example of the "I die" stories:

I die. I breathe in and breathe in and cannot exhale. I explode all over my friends. They forget my name and pretend it is dung. They wash off in the square and the well becomes polluted. All die. O the embarrassment.

Fun, yes?

I'm going to go read the story now.

Postscript: As I was writing this entry, I visited Analog's web site for the first time. The have a Story Index where I was easily able to find the publication information for "A !Tangled Web." You know, this internet thing could really catch on!

comments powered by Disqus