Welcome to the social-minded world of the 21st century! In this millennium we are faced with a number of causes to support and to debate over -- from Darfur to global warming, and from stem cell research to human cloning. Fortunately, we have legions of activists and responsible world citizens to get behind these many causes (as well as a number of Hollywood celebrities who just want to get their face on the latest magazine cover!).
Recently I participated in a peaceful protest for a cause very dear to my heart. No, it wasn't to call attention to the conditions in Darfur or to sound the alarm against global warming. Rather, it was in support of the (dwarf) planet Pluto. I know what you're saying. Surely there are more important issues on our own planet that require attention. Poverty. Education. Crime. Terrorism. Rain forests. Melting polar ice caps. Renewable energy sources. Steroid use by professional athletes. Yes, yes, these are all good and worthy causes. But I'd rather concern myself with a tiny celestial body drifting through the blackness of space some 3.5 billion miles away.
If you remember from last year, Pluto was downgraded from a regular planet to a "dwarf" planet. This created an increased financial burden on the one-time 9th planet as its new status meant it was no longer eligible for group health insurance under the Milky Way Galaxy's planetary benefits plan. And as we all know, Pluto is a single planet caring for three small moons - Charon, Nix, and Hydra. She needs our support! (It is rumored that 8th planet Neptune is the father, yet that deadbeat dad refuses to pay child support! Swine!)
Wanting to do something to help out poor Pluto, I joined with a handful of like-minded folks to stage a protest in order to call attention to the "dwarf" planet's plight. Our small band included two rather nerdish amateur astronomers (neither of which, as far as I could ascertain, had ever been out on a date with a girl before), a couple of astrologer-vegetarians named Sundance and Starburst (both members of the transcendental group "Sisters of the Solar System"), and an odd fellow named Nick (who claimed he once lived on Pluto). After much discussion, we decided to go on a hunger strike until Pluto's status as a full-fledged planet was reinstated. Here's how it turned out:
Day 1: Encountering no resistance, we took over the maintenance department of the Massachusetts Institute of Astrophysics and then telephoned the local newspaper to announce our intended hunger strike. I left a message on the voice mail of the newpaper's sports editor, but never received a call back. For the remainder of the day we consumed only water seasoned with lemon juice. By bedtime, as we crawled into our sleeping bags, we were a bit hungry but determined.
Day 2: Awoke with the fragmented dream of a large breakfast of eggs and bacon in my head, but then remembered our protest. Throughout the day we read poetry aloud, played chess, sang protest songs, and emailed news releases to the media, yet not one reporter arrived to cover our hunger strike. By evening hunger pangs arrived. Just before bedtime I caught Sundance hiding in the janitor's closet eating a granola bar, which she quickly devoured.
Day 3: Awoke to find the astronomers wolfing down a dozen doughnuts they had smuggled in that morning from a local coffee shop. In another room, the astrologers were each finishing off a bowl of Fruit Loops in soy milk. I was outraged. Nick, unaware, meditated alone over in his corner of the room. That evening, a pizza delivery car pulled up to the back of the building to meet the two astronomers who handed the kid a twenty and told him to keep the change. Later the same night I discovered the astrologers with Chinese take-out.
Day 4: Opened my eyes to complete silence. No one around. Only myself ... oh, and Nick in the corner meditating. Around noontime the rest of the crew returned from an all-you-can-eat brunch buffet, holding their stomachs and talking about taking a walk in the afternoon to work off the calories they had consumed. That evening, the astronomers located a charcoal grill on campus and had a barbeque of steaks and ribs. Sundance and Starburst joined them with a case of beer and a couple of bags of organic potato chips. Back in the room I drank my water and lemon juice and tried to do some reading, but my brain was weak from lack of food. Meanwhile, Nick continued with his meditation, completely oblivious to everything going on around him.
Day 5: Awoke to find a note pinned to my sleeping bag. The astronomers and astrologers had packed up and left together - headed to Niagara Falls for the weekend in Starburst's VW Beetle. So, I was alone with Nick, who meditated until noontime when he suddenly opened his eyes and announced he was needed back on Pluto. At that moment, his corporeal body transformed into a ball of pure light and then "he" swiftly exited the room out the window and up into the sky. With that, I rolled up my sleeping bag and headed to the nearest fast food restaurant.
Despite our protest, Pluto remains a "dwarf" planet. Occasionally, I receive a postcard from the astronomers and their astrological girlfriends as they make their way across country from hostel to hostel. And just the other evening, my regular TV programming was briefly interrupted by a celestial transmission from Nick. Dressed in the uniform of his home world, he warned me that his fellow Plutonians were planning to attack Earth over Labor Day unless their dwarf planet status is upgraded - so I might want to think about being out of town that weekend.
Gee, I wonder what Mars is like this time of year?