Wednesday, January 10, 1990

Adventures on Marrs...Landfill: The Diary Begins

Please begin with this introduction:


I am surprised that Marrs is a planet of wet garbage, rotting clothes and lots of broken electronic junk. I must write all of my observations down in my diary. I love Ms. Goff as if she were my first cousin, but was she ever wrong! Ms. Goff showed us pictures of Marrs as a dry, cold, and desolate world. She described it as a planet probably “devoid of life”. I was just dive bombed by a Marrtian wasp and nearly gobbled up by a Marrtian centipede. No more than a football field away from me there are Marrtian aliens roaming around, strapped to big smoke-breathing monsters . I wonder if football fields are the same distance on Marrs as they are on Earth? I will remember to measure both once I know exactly what a yard is.

When I get back home, I will suggest to my favorite sixth grade teacher that she let us eat all of her out-dated science books. I will inform her that Marrs looks just like the floor in her classroom after a day with her children. Writing this diary about Marrs exploration will not be easy. I must observe everything and write it all down. What an important job for a sixth grader!

My fellow astronauts are sort of confused and scared at the moment. They don't understand why our beautiful glass house was shot off into space. It's now a complete mess. But we will survive because that's what we do for a living: Survive. Ms. Goff said that you couldn't kill any of us off with nuclear weapons,whatever those are. We will all work together to make the best of a situation made more difficult because none of us know what we're supposed to be doing or who we should be following. We did not volunteer for this mission. We didn't even know we were in training to go anywhere except around the next leaf or twig; otherwise we would have packed overnight bags (though we also have no idea what an overnight bag is).

We never signed a contract to be anything but who we are; but if Mr. Houston orders us to colonize Marrs, then that's all the reason we need. We're patriots if nothing else. We would have made all of our relatives proud of us -- except we brought them all along with us. I just wish we were packing ray-gun heat like in those games Ms. Goff's kids play when her back is turned. I wonder if this is a good beginning to an astronaut journal?


I have always fantasized about being an explorer, especially of outer space, and now here I am. When he could remember my name apart from all of those of all my brothers and sisters, my dad would call me, Irvin the Dreamer. My mother would just call me too thin to be her son, so eat. For the longest period of time, I thought my name was "So Eat."

Instead of learning how to secrete like all of my friends, I would sit alone and stare up at the skies at night, dreaming I was floating around with all the other astronauts Mr. Houston sent up there. Not without proper insulation, mind you. I wouldn’t want the vacuum of space to squash me like a bug. I’m a bug already so who knows what I would have ended up looking like.

I wanted to leave home ever since Ms. Goff first put up a map of the solar system and began showing films about space travel. I never thought I would ever escape my glass house, let alone end up walking around the surface of Marrs -- especially not with all of my lifelong friends, as well as those mean neighborhood bullies who look at me as a box lunch.

Our very existence depends on us being adaptable and getting along with one another. The Marrtian terrain has mountains and mountains of hot and cold junk. What isn’t on fire or blowing in the wind is collecting icky maggots or rusting away under a blazing sun. The Marrtian air has a stinky smell that, surprisingly, we all find quite appetizing.

Right now I am reconnoitering our position, traipsing on enough red planet food to keep all of us fat and sassy for a million lifetimes. Why does all of this look suspiciously like the mystery meats and tuna salads found on the walls of Ms. Goff’s classroom after her offspring throw their lunches at each other? At least none of us will starve to death up here, but is that really why Mr. Houston spent millions of dollars to send us to this place: so we can feed ourselves until we can’t scuttle, waddle, fly or flee? The others on my team could care less, but I for one believe we have a higher mission to accomplish.

We must watch wherever we walk. A greasy, sticky liquid cakes everything. It oozes out of the ground and tastes like a combination of marmalade, old cat food, bread crumbs, poop, and transmission fluid -- all food groups that are wonderful in their own right, but can be poisonous when mixed together. Lucky for me I overheard Ms. Goff say once that my kind not only breeds like cockroaches but have cast iron stomachs as well. I hope that was not meant as an ethnic slur! I note with sadness what getting stuck in this slop has done to past explorers. It seems to have made them slap happy before they died. They all have smiles on their faces.

I just got hit in the face by the tail of a rat the size of a turkey pot roast. Birds flying overhead look like things Ms. Goff called Pterodactyls though I’m certain on Earth they would be called sea gulls. One of the kids in class brought in a documentary that showed a Pterodactyl destroying Tokyo until an even larger monster came up from the sea and hit him in the nose. We never found out what a Tokyo was or why it was always being destroyed, but I’ve already discovered these very same monsters here on Marrs. The wind blows them around a lot. I swear they look like balloons.
There are smoke-belching dragons only yards away from our space pod. They do nothing but move our food source and our communications equipment from one hill to another. Then they compact it all and toss it on another hill. Seems like a waste of time. Two-legged martians in white suits marked "Toxic" roam around the landscape. They have human features but they never take off their helmets. Maybe Marrtians can't breathe their own air.

These creatures keep picking shiny things up and putting them into bags only to cart the bags away to who knows where. Maybe these human-like things are not Marrtians after all, but time travelers from some other planet. This really scares me because they might be the sort of flying saucer people I keep hearing about who do those weird experiments on confused humans and dairy cows. This Marrtian world is fit for neither man nor beast. Luckily for us, we don’t fit into either of these categories. I like how this journal is coming along.

What sort of jerks lived here before us? Ms. Goff never mentioned any previous civilizations on Marrs, but whoever they were, they certainly were wasteful. Everywhere I step looks like a commercial for a big box store on Earth: cartons of cell phones, ugly pairs of shoes, oversized dresses, coats and ties that only sportscasters and clowns would be caught dead in, computers, batteries, cars, plastic bottles. There is also a half-eaten baloney sandwich now under my feet.

I know from box stores because at night the janitors who cleaned up around us turned on the television set in Miss Goff's room to a channel selling all this very rubbish under our feet. Now what are the odds of that?

Have I mentioned my name yet? My name is IRWIN and this is the most important mission any cockroach could ever be entrusted with. I wonder if NASA offers good medical insurance? All the bugs, slugs, grubs, worms, ants, flies, beetles, stink bugs, grasshoppers, centipedes, millipedes, and other Arthropods and Mollusks who unwillingly accompanied me here look to me, I guess, for direction because I look very studious in my glasses and I know where we are. The responsibility is already killing me. I need to rest longer on this baloney sandwich.

Our home now is this partially cracked glass house. It was so beautiful and stately before it traveled to Mars. Ms. Goff called it a terrarium, but we called it Casa a Pupae. It was located north of her desk near a dictionary, a globe of our planet which never moved beyond some island called Manhattan, a gold-star filled wall, a flag, and a picture of some guy in a suit with snake eyes smiling down on us.

Casa a Pupae broke apart when we crash-landed, but we can still take sanctuary within it. We have fortified it as best as we can against both the weather and the indigenous life forms found here. We will soon try to establish communications with Earth. I wonder what “indigenous” means?

My great-great-great-great-great-grandfather used to tell me that his great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Tucker, was the very first occupant of the glass house -- even before there were any plants and water. That shows you how tough my bloodstock is, though I don’t think I have any blood. According to legend, Tucker was lifted off the floor and placed inside by a teacher who caught him eating tuna salad sandwich droppings. From that day on, Tucker was known as Tuna Salad Tucker. That name stuck just like his many feet did.

Over the centuries, the glass house became home to millions of creatures and zillions of plants. The house extended for such a distance that no one I know had ever walked its length. Another Tucker once claimed there was a large body of water off in the distance, but I was not going out there to find it.

I was satisfied with my little piece of ground I called "my little piece of ground". As for water, well there was always that stupid looking kid Jerry who, when Miss Goff's back was turned, would open up our ceiling and pour over me a warm yellow liquid from a can. He laughed, but I was refreshed for the day. Then Ms. Goff began to talk about outer space.

Danger lurked in every corner of the glass house, so you would think that a sensible cockroach would not want to leave the safety of his leaf. Many of my relatives, however, had what SOLLY THE APHID said were "shpilkes," which I always thought had something to do with dating. Those wacky teens wanted out of our small community in the worst possible way. Not one ever came back to tell us what they saw. That map of the solar system looked so inviting and not just to eat. I knew that I would have to leave one day as well.

CECILIA MANTIS was no bedtime ghost story.
She was out there somewhere, just waiting to pounce on anything that came close to her. Walking around in circles was fine with me for the time being, as was climbing up to the glass ceiling to get a better view of Ms. Goff and her kids.

Ms. Goff taught science most of the time, but answered questions on any subject. I never yawned once, let alone fell asleep,though something called an isosceles triangles made no sense to me.

I learned that science was all about small poofs of smoke, flames that shot out of tubes, and much shaking of liquids. Often her children would just stare at us and forget to pay attention to what Ms. Goff was saying. Sometimes they even made faces at me or threw paper in my direction. Other times they would gaze up at the ceiling. I would gaze up at the ceiling as well to see what they were looking at. I saw nothing but cracking plaster. I still have no idea what her kids were looking at. Then they would all cry when test results came back.

Except for the ghost stories about Cecilia, I had a good life in the glass house. I would wake up at dawn when I remembered to and then stare at the big map of stars across the room. Every day Ms. Goff would show a lot of films to her class. Everyone at Casa a Pupae would gather in the front row and watch and snack and watch and snack.

There were movies about our relatives and how we were born and eaten. That scared most of us into not chewing on anything afterwards for at least a minute. Most of the girls wondered where the cameras were located and became very paranoid whenever they went away to do certain things. I guess I didn’t care because I was a guy.

I especially loved watching movies about space travel. I did get tired of hearing the sound of RHONDA MILLIPEDE trying to recreate the roar of a rocket launching while scratching her back legs. JOSE TARANTULA would sit in the back making fun of the special effects. He said we were actually watching something created in a barn he once lived in. Of course no one told Jose to quiet down. Anyone who did was never heard from again. Jose called it the law of the jungle. I never knew he went to law school.

It was a good life, a carefree life, a life worth living. Then one day it all ground to a halt. No more movies; no more Ms. Goff; no more water or free food or yellow liquid poured on me; no more classes in space travel. The lights never came back on and the room remained silent. Our glass top became so dirty we couldn't even see outside our world. We began to live in a perpetual twilight that upset everyone's sleep cycles, except, of course, the cicadas.

Something strange was happening. We checked the last school calendar on the wall. We were aware of all holidays because Ms. Goff and her kids would feed us extra grass and wave goodbye before leaving. Some would throw us boughs of holly or decorate our walls with photographs of pumpkins or turkeys or drawings of human skeletons. She had some very strange holidays, but she and her family of kids always returned.

There was that long time during the summer when only large humans in green overalls appeared. They came and fed us and made sure all the waterfalls were working. They dusted and swept the floors, and tore things apart and put them back together again. And then, when the leaves began to change color by SALLY LADYBUG’S accounting process, a bunch of new children would arrive with Ms. Goff.

A lot of the females were quite jealous of Ms. Goff. Every year as summer approached, she would wave goodbye to her kids; then, three months later she would arrive back with 20-30 new kids almost fully grown. Only ODETTA THE DRAGONFLY produced better behaved offspring that quickly.

It was already fall and no men in green overalls had come into the room to dust or to check on us. RALPH THE ANT kept saying that the end was close at hand and that we should stockpile while we still had a chance. How could Ralph know when he had no hand? SEDGWICK THE GRASSHOPPER laughed whenever Ralph said that. Sedgwick stole whatever he needed from Ralph's stockpile when he was away visiting his Queen. SIDNEY THE DUNG BEETLE threatened to tell on him, but Sedgwick cut him in on some of the food so Sidney kept quiet.

So one morning, while I was sitting on top of a mulberry leaf thinking about traveling to Marrs, a bunch of really big humans came into the room. They were not dressed in green. They began to take away the desks and chairs and tables. They broke open the floors and cracked apart the walls. Our glass house began to rattle. Then someone threw a large cloth over us. We were in total darkness.

Then Casa a Pupae shook like it never shook before. All the trees and bushes tore away from the ground. We all went sailing hard against the sides of the walls. I finally met Cecilia who looked just as terrified as the rest of us. I knew something was wrong when she clung onto me to keep her balance. It felt just like the way I imagined a rocket ship might feel on the way to Mars. I told everyone that.

We were swinging back and forth so much I thought I would never get Cecilia off of me. Then bang! The glass house landed on something. We were screaming and shouting but then a rough-voiced human said, "This load is heading to Marrs…" I didn’t catch the last word but it sounded like “fill” or "spill". Maybe we were going to one of Mars' moons though I never heard Ms. Goff talk about any.

Then engines revved up. I screamed we were starting lift-off into outer space. Everyone went nuts and began biting each other's heads off, but I felt exhilarated. I climbed up the wall to get a better view of the booster rocket. I also wanted to see what Mr. Houston looked like.

At first we moved very very slowly. Then, with a sudden whoosh, I lost my footing and fell back to the bottom again right into the waiting claws of Cecelia. I told her we were trying to fight our way past Earth’s gravitational pull. She looked as if she had just eaten one of her husbands. I told her about pounds per square inch and thrust power. She told me not to leave her and started to cry.

Then I heard the secondary rockets kick in. It was a sort of herky-jerky grinding sound. We were climbing at a steep angle. I wondered whether NASA knew what they were doing because cracks opened up at the top corners of Casa a Pupae. The sealant was coming apart. I could see my life before my eyes, all of them. We would end up floating around in space like some old Russian satellite and come down to Earth on someone's head.

Cecelia pushed me along as we crawled up the side of the glass house, trying desperately to get through one of the cracks. More and more cracks appeared. We were losing air pressure. I felt faint. I wanted to see Earth one final time. Cecelia cried out that she was sorry for eating all of her husbands. I guess marriage is tougher than I thought.

Outside, the world was moving past very quickly. We still seemed to be on the ground. That was strange: Rockets always went up in Ms. Goff’s movies not sideways. Then I saw something up ahead. It said MARRS NEXT EXIT. Holy wheat stalks! I must have passed out and just regained consciousness. We were already there.

Marrs was closer to Earth than Ms. Goff let on. The rocket ship had turned into a truck and was now traveling down a bumpy dirt road. Very clever engineers at NASA to design a rocket ship as a truck. Ms Goff had spelled the planet with only one "R". Maybe she needed more than a masters to teach after all. I slipped back down into the waiting tentacles of Cecilia who hugged me as if I were one of her half-eaten children.

Casa a Pupae stopped rattling. A sudden Marrtian wind lifted our house up in the air. We felt weightless but only for a few seconds. We were coming down ugly onto the Marrtian landscape. This would be a hard landing. There was a large crash. Our house tumbled over and over again. Everything was breaking up around us.

The covering blew off. Casa a Pupae was resting on its side next to mountains and mountains of Marrs junk. Several soldier ants came out from under some leaves and saw this as a very good defensive position.

According to my calculations, we’re now been on Marrs now for years. I can't tell time yet, but so far the sun has yet to set. We’ve tried to fix the break in our shelter, but the warm smelly Marrtian air continues to make work difficult. Our home is a total disaster, but now the place really does have a lived-in look.

We’re already had plenty of multi-legged visitors sniffing around our house. I’ve convinced Matilda to try to set up some form of communications with Planet Earth. Lodged in a bottom corner crack is a cell phone. The Earth signal is weak. Mr. Houston asks if we want anchovies with the pizza.

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