Culture vulture

Not of this Earth
Sometime in the late 1950s Culture Vulture became, by way of Classics Illustrated comics, aware of the legend of the changeling. In ancient Celtic folklore the changeling was an infant of supernatural origin—an elf or fairy—that was secretly exchanged for a baby of human origin.

Mischievous, if not outright malevolent, and possessing wisdom beyond their years, the changeling children would grow up at odds with their unwitting human hosts, causing consternation on all sides.

As a metaphor for personal alienation there are few more effective models than the changeling myth. Naturally the 6-year-old Culture Vulture latched onto it as an explanation for his own origins and difficulties relating to family stictures and human activities in general. “I’m not one of them. No wonder nothing they do makes any sense to me,” young C.V. reasoned.

A few years later the science-fiction concept of alien invasion—and the thought that perhaps I was an alien being secretly embedded into a human family to gain insight into human society—succeeded the changeling theory. Aside from an inability to comprehend the rationality behind such basic human realities such as poverty and war, one of the fundamental aspects of living on Earth that helped fuel these delusions of alien origin was the fact that from earliest childhood I have been afflicted with acute allergies to the native Terran environment.

As a ranch kid I had “hayfever” almost constantly. Going out with my father to load the mangers with alfalfa or drop hay for the cattle in the winter pastures would induce fits of sneezing and eye-watering that persisted for hours. Shoveling dusty grain into gunny sacks to fill the bulls’ feed troughs was an exercise in respiratory distress. Even mowing the lawn necessitated doses of antihistamines that induced debilitating, fuzzy-minded lethargy, recovery from which usually involved an hour or two of reclining on the couch with a science-fiction or fantasy novel—whirling off into a future galaxy as imagined by Robert A. Heinlein or Arthur C. Clarke, or plumbing the depths of some ancient, demon-haunted temple in the company of Robert A. Howard’s immortal Conan the Barbarian. Not to mention probing the inter-dimensional horrors of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, or, best of all, soaring on the back of an eagle over the vast, wonder-laden landscapes of Tolkien’s Middle-earth in the company of hobbits, wizards, elves, dwarves and men.

Oddly enough, those hours spent reclining with a book of dreams in one hand and a Kleenex in the other were probably at least as valuable in reconciling myself to my humble human origins as any formal education.

The intervening years have seen the decline of youthful alienation and the deepening of sympathy with the travails each of us experiences to whatever degree our chance appearance in the grand scheme of things dictates. But each spring as my sinuses inflame and trachea contract in asthmatic spasms at the onset of pollen season, I inhale and ingest the most comforting medications I can get my doctor to prescribe, and regress to speculating on my origins in some mythic realm beyond the stars.