EP380: Punk Voyager
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Rated 13+ for rebellious vulgarity
By Shaenon K. Garrity
Punk Voyager was built by punks. They made it from beer cans, razors, safety pins, and a surfboard some D-bag had left on the beach. Also plutonium. Where did they get plutonium? Around. f*** you.
The punks who built Punk Voyager were Johnny Bonesaw, Johnny Razor, Mexican Johnny D-bag, Red Viscera, and some other guys. No, asshole, nobody remembers what other guys. They were f***ing wasted, these punks. They’d been drinking on the San Diego beach all day and night, talking about making a run to Tijuana and then forgetting and punching each other. They’d built a fire on the beach, and all night the fire went up and went down while the punks threw beer cans at the seagulls.
Forget the s*** I just said, it wasn’t the punks who did it. They were f***ing punks. The hell they know about astro-engineering? Truth is that Punk Voyager was the strung-out masterpiece of Mexican Johnny D-bag’s girlfriend, Lacuna, who had a doctorate in structural engineering. Before she burned out and ran for the coast, Lacuna was named Alice McGuire and built secret nuclear submarines for a government contractor in Ohio. It sucked. But that was where she got the skills to construct an unmanned deep-space probe. Same principle, right? Keep the radiation in and the water out. Or the vacuum of space, whatever, it’s all the same s*** to an engineer.
f*** that, it wasn’t really Lacuna’s baby. It wasn’t her idea. The idea was Red’s.
“f***ing space,” he said that fateful night. He was lying on his back looking up at space, is why he said it.
“Hell yeah,” said Johnny Bonesaw.
“s*** ain’t nothing but rocks and UFOs.”
“Ain’t no such thing as a UFO.”
“Like hell there ain’t,” said Red. “CIA knows all about it. Them and the astronauts.”
Red was always saying that s***, though. Everything was the CIA and the saucer people with that burnout.
“That’s why they sent up that cigar-box spaceship with the porn in it,” said Red. “They know there’s life up there.”
“What spaceship?” said Johnny. “There’s no f***ing spaceship.”
“He means the Voyager space probe,” said Lacuna. “Which is real, asshole.”
Lacuna was pissing off everyone but Mexican Johnny D-bag with her knowing-s*** routine. That and eating all the mushrooms and throwing them up in the ocean.
“I want wine,” Johnny Razor yelled down the beach. “Mexican wine. Weren’t we going to Tijuana?”
“We already went,” yelled Mexican Johnny D-bag. “We went without you. We’re not even here.” Then he laughed like a pinhead. He was on some s***.
“Keep it down,” snapped Lacuna. “I’m telling these assholes about the space probe.”
“f*** the space probe,” said Johnny Bonesaw.
“The Voyager 1 space probe,” said Lacuna, “was launched into space to study the gas giants and then continue out beyond the solar system.”
“Told you it was real,” said Red. “But the thing is, the important thing is the messages it’s got in it. For the space people. Tell him about the messages.”
Down the beach, Johnny Razor and Mexican Johnny D-bag started punching each other, mostly for something to do.
“Okay, yeah. Voyager carries a record of stuff from Earth for the aliens to find.”
“And naked pictures. They put in naked pictures of people.”
“Yeah, whatever, naked pictures. And photos, different languages, music, stuff like that.”
“Music?” said Johnny Bonesaw.
“What music?” said Red.
“Um.” Lacuna chewed her lip, thinking. “Beethoven, maybe. Or Mozart. You know, classical music. And tribal stuff, like, from around the world. And ‘Johnny B. Goode.’”
Johnny Bonesaw and Red stared at her. They stared up at space. They stared back at her.
“Chuck Berry?” said Johnny Bonesaw.
They looked up at space, then back at Lacuna.
“f***,” said Red, “That. s***.”
“f***ing Chuck Berry,” said Johnny Bonesaw.
Down the beach, Mexican Johnny D-bag took a break from the fistfight to throw up. Lacuna swore under her breath and got up to help him.
“Chuck Berry!” shouted Red. He ran into the ocean and stomped the waves down. They kept coming back and he kept stomping. “Chuck Berry!”
“This is bulls***,” Johnny Bonesaw agreed.
“Aliens are gonna think we listen to Chuck Berry. They’re gonna think we walk around naked and listen to Chuck Berry.”
“There ain’t no aliens,” said Johnny Bonesaw. “But if there was, they’d think we suck.”
Red paced on the sand, dripping seawater. “I tell you what we should do. We should make our own space probe. Show the aliens what we’re really about.”
“Right. And how are we gonna do that?”
“How hard can it be? It’s not like a full-size spaceship. It’s little.”
Lacuna stalked back and glared at the fire. “Why’s that asshole have to get himself f***ed up? He’s gonna be puking all night.”
“Hey, Lacuna,” said Red. “Build us a space probe.”
“Build your own space probe, assholes.”
“We will if you show us how.”
Lacuna chewed her lip hard. “Yeah, okay.” She yelled down the beach. “Hey! Get my toolkit out of the van, D-bag!”
All the punks started up the beach.
“Not you D-bags! Mexican Johnny D-bag! The rest of you, comb the beach for materials.”
Then the punks built Punk Voyager. They made it from beer cans, razors, safety pins, and did I do this part already? Whatever. They loaded it with the most precious artifacts of human culture they could find in Mexican Johnny D-bag’s van. Johnny Razor found some surf magazines. Johnny Bonesaw found a guitar pick and a book about prison tattoos. Mexican Johnny D-bag got upright long enough to find his second-best roach clip and third-best weed. Red found a Clash eight-track. And Lacuna, with great ceremony, placed within Punk Voyager the first and only LP by Bad Feet, the band they were in sometimes.
“You gotta make it faster than regular Voyager,” said Red. “So our culture gets to the aliens before the CIA’s fascist pseudo-culture.”
“Piece of cake,” said Lacuna. “Hold this beer can in place while I weld it to the array.”
Lacuna tied a fuse to Punk Voyager’s plutonium fuel cells. She lit it and screamed at them to get back, way back. Mexican Johnny D-bag kept standing there poking it with a stick, but when it started shaking and glowing purple and screaming like a skinned cat, even he made a run for it. In a haze of fire and a cloud of smoke, Punk Voyager screamed into the sky. The punks stared up after it until it disappeared. Then Mexican Johnny D-bag threw up, and they punched him and went to look for the train to Tijuana.
A couple days later they’d all forgotten about it, and when they got back from Tijuana, smelling of good booze and bad sex, suddenly it was the Eighties. Things went bad from there. Lacuna and Mexican Johnny D-bag got married and had a house in the desert until some CIA turds showed up at their door to ask about the perpetual motion machine Lacuna had built in the back yard, and then they disappeared off the face of the earth. Johnny Razor moved to Australia or some s***. Johnny Bonesaw went Yuppie, swear to God. Red did part-time construction work, played folk guitar, and thought he was staying true to his roots, which shows you what a self-deluded asshole that guy was all along.
A bunch of years passed and the aliens showed up.
They landed in the Mall in Washington, D.C., the way it happened in movies. President Reagan came out to greet them and they punched him in the c**k. The Army and the Marines and the Secret Service drew a hundred guns on them. They nudged each other and made extraterrestrial whooping noises. Vice-President Bush convinced the military to hold fire for fear of creating an interstellar incident. He offered his hand and the aliens punched him in the c**k. Nancy Reagan stepped forward and the aliens punched her in the tits and shouted, “Pleeglix!” The First Lady said she’d been called worse. She punched three of them until she hit what turned out to be their c**ks. Then they laughed and slapped her on the back and asked, in English, where they could find a bar that didn’t suck. They were long gone by the time the U.N. delegation arrived.
Red listened to the whole thing on the radio while installing frosted glass doors in some asshole attorney’s master bath. That was the kind of s*** he did all day, the sellout. Something itched in the back of his brain while he listened to the news, a drunken half-memory of watching a top-heavy aluminum flying surfboard blast into the stars. But it didn’t come back to him until that evening, when the aliens made their first television broadcast.
Red stopped at a bar to watch it on TV. The aliens were at a bar, too, some D.C. dive. They looked like Jell-O and cowhide with spikes growing out of it. Ted Koppel was trying and failing to get them to talk into the mic.
“Can you tell the people of Earth where you come from?”
“What brings you to our planet?”
“We heard it used to be cool.”
“And…what are your impressions of Earth so far?”
“Plastic bulls***. Same as the rest of the galaxy.”
“Except Arcturus,” said another alien.
“f*** Arcturus, it’s fascist now.”
Ted Koppel’s smile grew even more strained. “Don’t you have any…any purpose here? Any message for the human race?”
The first alien sat up. “Oh yeah. We’re looking for Bad Feet.”
“They’re this awesome band. We’ve listened to at least two bands from Earth, and they’re the best.”
“Well, s***,” said Red.
The next day, Secretary of State George Shultz called a press conference on behalf of the President, who was still recovering from his c**k-punching but reported to be in good spirits. Since, Shultz explained, the only Earth artifacts in which the aliens showed any interest were beer and a band called Bad Feet (not true—they had also asked if anyone could score them some heroin), and no one could find any information whatsoever about Bad Feet, the United Nations was organizing a rock concert in the hope that the aliens could find some other Earth music they liked. Shultz delivered the press conference on the White House lawn while the aliens threw handfuls of Cap’n Crunch at him.
The concert was a disaster, of course. I mean, they had Billy Joel. Afterwards, one of the aliens stood up in the VIP box and made a speech.
“That sucked,” said the alien. “You s***heels were fun for a while, but now we’re going to stomp this planet into a state of awesome anarchy.”
Then the aliens stole some bicycles from some nuns, biked back to the Mall, and kicked the Washington Monument until it fell over.
For the next couple of days they flew around the world on rocket skis, hitting things with sledgehammers. They did donuts in the Vatican until the Pope came out and yelled at them. They climbed Tokyo Tower and dropped quarters on people’s heads. They blew up the Falkland Islands.
Red stopped following the news because he was a f***ing pussy. He watched “Cosby Show” reruns instead. That was what he doing when his phone rang.
“Is this Red Viscera?” said the voice on the other end. “You used to be in a band called Bad Feet?”
Aw s***, thought Red, they found me. The CIA or the President or the U.N. or maybe some Mafia guys who were pissed about the graffiti the aliens left all over the Vatican. “No.”
“Come on, Red, I know it’s you. It’s me. Johnny Bonesaw.”
“Johnny Bonesaw? No s***?”
“Not that I go by that name anymore, of course.”
“I heard you’re an accountant now. How you like that?”
“I’ll get to the point, Red, because I know you’re thinking the same thing. We’ve gotta contact those aliens.”
“What do you mean, why? They’re destroying the Earth!”
“It’s just a little property damage.”
“But they’re looking for us! Don’t you want to save the planet, Red? …Red? Are you still there?”
“I’m shrugging. I guess you can’t hear me shrugging.”
On the other end of the line, the former Johnny Bonesaw groaned. “Okay, consider this. The aliens want to meet us. They’re visitors from another planet, and out of the entire population of the Earth they want to meet us. Doesn’t that excite you?”
“Not really. What was that s*** about liking our music better than the Clash?”
“Pretty cool, huh?”
“It’s stupid. The Clash is classic. What kind of d**k-licker likes our s***ty band better than the Clash?”
“Extraterrestrial life, Red. Are you coming with me or not?”
“I don’t want to meet some idiots who don’t appreciate the Clash. Get the other Johnnies.”
“I can’t find them. Come on. At least come out and see me. We’ll talk. Old times.”
“And where the hell are you?”
“Escondido. You’re still in the city, right? I’ll give you directions.”
An asshole in thinning hair and an alligator shirt met Red at the bus station, and Red knew he’d made a mistake. “Red!” the asshole yelled at him. “Or what’re you calling yourself now? Tell me you’re not still trying to go by Red Viscera.”
“Just Red is fine.”
“Sure, sure. Me, I went back to the name I was born with. Had to, for the firm.”
“No more Johnny Bonesaw, huh?”
“Nope.” He handed Red a business card. It read REGINALD BONESAW III, C.P.A. “You can call me Reg.”
They had lunch at the tackiest s***hole you ever saw. Street signs on the walls and everything. They drank Fuzzy Nipples because there wasn’t any beer.
“The way I see it,” said Reginald Bonesaw, “we can work this thing. I’m seeing Carson, Letterman, book deals, movie of the week, you name it. And of course our album goes platinum.”
“Our album sucked.”
“It still sucks. No one will care. It’s the album the aliens listen to. Then we do a concert, make the aliens happy, they stop tearing the place up, hello we’ve forged world peace. How’s a Nobel Prize sound to you?”
“Is that what this is to you? Another opportunity to make a buck?”
“Another? Hello? This is my first opportunity. You think I wanted to work under my father in the accountancy firm of Goldman, Davis, Bonesaw and Bonesaw?” Reg leaned forward, smearing Redeye Bourbon BBQ Sauce™ on his elbow. “Tell me the truth. You want to install hot tubs for Yuppies and play acoustic guitar at college folk festivals for the rest of your life?”
Red avoided his gaze. He flicked a French fry across the table.
“This is it,” said Reg. “This is our ticket out.”
Red looked up. “You think?”
Reg drove the two of them to his house in the suburbs, which was even worse than what you’re picturing. He surfaced from the basement with a damp cardboard box full of Bad Feet albums. “Always knew these’d come in handy,” he said, more to himself than to Red, who was in the kitchen eating the fruit out of the decorative fruit hammock. Then Reg called the local newspapers, which called the local TV stations, which called the national TV stations, which called the Secretary of State and Ted Koppel, and by the end of the day the world knew that BAD FEET HAD BEEN FOUND.
Reg and Red were flown to the Grand Canyon in the President’s own helicopter. They went to the Grand Canyon because that was where the aliens were. The aliens were chucking things into the canyon—mostly beer cans, but occasionally mules and cars. They were having a good time.
A retinue assembled at the lip of the Grand Canyon. Vice-President Bush was there, looking much better, and a lot of senators and the Secretary-General of the U.N. and the guy who sang “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” Marines came out in formation. Yo-Yo Ma played something on the cello, like he did at s*** like this. It was a Bach piece that was, that very moment, approaching Neptune on the non-punk Voyager, but Reg and Red, standing to the left of the Vice-President, didn’t know that.
“I told you,” said Reg. “Didn’t I tell you? We’re celebrities. We’re beyond celebrities.”
“Damn, that canyon’s huge in real life,” said Red.
The aliens approached. A spokesperson stepped forward to greet them. She was a Russian schoolteacher selected through an essay contest, and she held a wreath of paper cranes made by terminally ill Japanese children as a gift to the stars.
“Sirs and/or madams,” she said, because humanity still hadn’t figured that detail out, “we found that band you like.”
“No s***?” said one of the aliens. It peered at Reg and Red. “Where’s the other Johnnies?”
“We’re not sure,” said the schoolteacher. “But rest assured, we’re looking—”
“What you mean is,” said the alien, “Bad Feet sold out.”
“And got old,” said another alien, eyeballing Reg and Red.
“The f*** you know,” said Red. “What kind of assholes like us better than the Clash?”
“This sucks,” said the first alien. “Let’s get out of here.”
“I’m with you,” said Red. He stepped up to the aliens. Up close, they smelled like a pine-tree car air freshener, and Red could see dark shapes floating in their jelly parts. “You know a good place for a beer?”
“Yeah,” said one of the aliens, “but it’s a ways. Around a double star we passed on the way in.”
“We get started now,” said Red, “we can be there by dark.”
“What the hell are you doing?” shouted Reg. “What happened to making this work for us? What happened to interstellar harmony?”
Red gave him the finger. The aliens gave him appendages. Then they got the hell out of there, and it’s time for me to get the hell out of here, and you’ll stop riding me if you know what’s good for you, d**kface.