A Strange Few Weeks

December 9th, 2009

Recently, while I was on deadline for NASA, an alien showed up. And then things got weirder.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Several months ago, astronaut Clayton Anderson asked if I would be interested in drawing two cartoons that would fly with him during his space shuttle flight early next year. Cartoons in space? I had always fantasized of going to the moon, so when the opportunity to send a little part of me into orbit presented itself, I was thrilled.

I first met Anderson a few years before, via an email about one of my cartoons he sent from the International Space Station. I’ll never forget the subject line: “Greetings from Space.” I almost deleted it, thinking it was spam. We kept in touch and once, through my friend, Liz Hruska, I got to shake his hand on gravity-laden earth. Meeting him in person served as a reminder that he wasn’t perpetually orbiting the earth, a place I imagined him existing exclusively.

As my shuttle cartoon deadline approached, my head was filled with all thoughts space. I recalled my first cartoon character, Dogie the Doggie, created when I was growing up in the 1960s. It had been my little-kid intention that Dogie would become the first canine in space. So when the security guard at the newspaper called to say that I had an alien visitor in the lobby, I wasn’t sure I heard right.

“Excuse me?”

“There’s an alien here to see you.”

I could almost see him, a stuffed and furry little creature, a cute alien that I would place upon my drawing table.

As I approached the security station, the guards had the kind of sheepish look that guards have when they appear to be involved in something clandestine. Like, for example, an alien autopsy. Which is exactly what appeared to be taking place, a four-foot tall almond-eyed extraterrestrial splayed out on the guards’ desk.


Attached to the alien, was a note and copy of this cartoon I had drawn a few days before, regarding the Vatican’s announcement that it was planning on studying the possibility of extraterrestrial life. The gift came from a reader.


I keep my new friend at work and each morning, when I come in, he’s striking a new pose—sitting, reclining, standing. Once, he was holding the newspaper, appearing to be reading the editorial page. Someone is having fun with my friend during the third shift.

A few nights later, I was hanging out at my neighborhood bar, The Dundee Dell, in midtown Omaha. When Susie Buffett, daughter to Warren, walked in, I wasn’t surprised. It’s not unusual to see the Buffett clan out and about in Omaha. But when a pair of blingy sunglasses came in behind her, I have to admit, I gasped a little. It’s not that I’m the star-struck type. Yes, it’s well-known that the Buffetts and Bono are friends. It’s just that I don’t expect to see Bono showing up at my neighborhood bar in Omaha.

Within moments, the place was swarming, mostly with attractive and well-dressed women. Mind you, it was nearly 10 p.m. on a weekday night, but that’s what texting and twitter will do for you. It was as though these women had been biding their time in their apartments all these years, all dressed up and ready, waiting for this very tweet. It was the closet thing to a flash mob I’d seen.

The next day I was off to a book signing in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, at the beautifully-quirky Zandbroz Variety, simply the coolest store I’ve ever visited. Where else in the Midwest can you find books on famed graffiti artist Banksy and wind-up robots?

That afternoon, before my appearance at Zandbroz, I stopped by the Sioux Falls Barnes & Noble to sign copies of my book, and, where, by coincidence, Sarah Palin was scheduled to appear two days later. Already, customers were calling in, asking what time they should arrive to get in line. Also, a TV news crew was interviewing B & N representatives as to how they were going to handle the crush of people.

Maybe it was the combination of the appearance of the alien, and the Bono sighting, that lingered in my psyche, but as I left the store, I wondered what would happen if someone showed up to Palin’s signing wearing a moose costume.

But by Sunday, long before Palin would arrive in Sioux Falls, I was back in Omaha, waiting for the terrific blizzard that was still brewing off to the west, the storm that would eventually turn Nebraska into a lunar landscape.