efore I was forced to focus on the vagaries of adulthood, including such tedious enterprises as taxes, love, and journalism, there was Boris and the Martians.
I first met Boris in 1961, in the verdant Washington neighborhood where I lived distractedly as a boy. He had corkscrew red hair and a small blue mole on his cheek that he’d bravely named “Foster.”
Boris, his limping Irish setter Mervin, and Foster spent whole summer days in a tree house at a neighborhood estate known as Rosedale.
When I first visited the tree house at Boris’ invitation — whispering, he had pledged me to secrecy — I chose (unwisely) to compliment him on his dwelling.
“It’s not a tree house,” Boris said emphatically, pawing both Mervin and Foster. “It’s a outpost. This is where you see the Martians from.” The “a” instead of “an” clinched the difference.
I had never considered the implications of seeing a Martian until I met Boris, whose father worked at the CIA, which I believed was a restaurant. Living abroad, I had instead witnessed the French and a considerable number of Spaniards, both in their native habitats. But Boris professed little interest in such sightings. “You have to have a planet to count,” he said.
At home, I scanned the encyclopedia for evidence that Spain or France had owned a planet, even a small one, but came up empty-handed.
The Martians, Boris informed me, already owned seven planets, and were preparing to conquer an eighth, known only as Gravy. The Martians, he explained further, had already landed in Africa. Soon, they would come here, to Rosedale, hence the need for the outpost and absolute vigilance.
“The Martian leader is called Lumumba,” Boris confided. “My Dad has pictures of him. He wears feathers and has whole armies.”
Most alarming about these African Martians and their terrible Lumumba, Boris said, was that they had no pets. “They eat animals. That’s how they survive in the winter because it’s colder here than there.”
Mervin, who slept for long stretches in the afternoon, his paws twitching, was not really sleeping, Boris said. No. “He’s feeling where the Martians are. That’s the way dogs do it, through their feets. He’ll know.”
Once Boris trusted me not to betray him, he left me alone in the outpost while he went to the local store to purchase needed fortress provisions, usually cookies, which he rationed. “We’ll need these in case they attack and we can’t get away from the Jell-O beams they use before they eat you.”
I wanted to alert my parents to the peril, but I was sworn to uphold the “wickle code,” a Boris invention, which united anti-Martians throughout the neighborhood. Boris had once failed to adhere to the “wickle code,” taking the Martians too lightly, and had been branded with Foster, the mole.
This was a scary thought, the sudden arrival of an unwanted mole, so I said nothing and spent long afternoons peering out at the woods and at the evening stars before dinner.
“What exactly does Lumumba want?” I once asked Boris. Apart from eating us, of course.
“Lumumba,” Boris announced gravely, “is a Commuminist.”
This was a bold and impressive remark, particularly so since I had no idea what a Commuminist was. So I asked. Boris sighed.
“Commuminists are meat-eaters. They landed in Russia 1,000 years ago. They rode radiation beams. They built big jails. They stopped all the dancing and the music and infected the water. My Dad told me even the cookies went bad. They closed all the cookie factories because they don’t eat them where they come from.”
That, I realized, was serious. Without cookies, Boris could not survive. The outpost didn’t stand a chance. Soon, we faced a world without cookies run by a Martian African “Commuminist” fearsomely named Lumumba who ate pets and women, depending on the time of day.
The day the police came to get us, two officers with balding heads and blue hats, we were discussing escape plans. Boris had suggested we travel (by cannon, of course) to a galaxy called “frick,” where people lived forever and grew beards. Cookie factories flourished.
“Boris,” said one of the officers, “come down from up there. It’s private property. Come on.”
Boris turned white. “They’ve got us! Don’t tell them anything!”
And we were escorted back home to our families. My father awaited me. “Lumumba is coming,” I sobbed, “and so are the Commuminists!”
He smiled. “Perhaps they are,” said my father, gently. “But I would expect they still have a fair distance to travel.”
And so it was, in 1961, that he coaxed me, and my secret, to sleep.