Friday, May 28, 2010

"Miracles Come By Here Regular": A Visit to Callahan's Bar

If you've made it past ten or more turns around the sun, you've probably figured out by now that a terrifying majority of your fellow travelers are far less removed from their animal forebears than they'd like to pretend.

In other words, way too many of them are horrible, scrabbling for anything they can get as long as the gettin's good. They're happy to pollute the planet, embrace a comforting ignorance, sell out their fellow human beings, and otherwise steal from the future to pay for the luxuries of the present.

And even the ones who aren't doing all that don't seem to be doing much about the ones who are.

If, like any thinking and feeling being, you've come to this conclusion, you are badly in need of a visit to Callahan's Crosstime Saloon. This unusual bar on Long Island, frequented by intelligent dogs and assassin droids and world-conquering cockroaches and other weirder creatures, may be the purest representation in fiction of what it really takes to save the world.

Humor. Empathy. Caring. Understanding. Intelligence. Reason. Commitment. Perception. Joy. Shared responsibility. A conspiracy of a conscientious minority who refuse to give in.

A bunch of pun-happy drunks.

Callahan loses a lot of his regulars. After they've been coming around long enough, they find they don't need to drink any more.

It's that kind of bar.

From the early 1970s until the present, science fiction author Spider Robinson has been telling tall tales about Mike Callahan, Jake Stonebender, Doc Webster, Ralph Von Wau Wau, and a huge cast of irregulars who frequent Callahan's bar. Starting with short stories and branching later into novels, the Callahan's "mythos" has spread through time and space with all the subtle power for change it espouses.

These stories perform their mission, not just describe it: they show people being better than they have to be, reminding us that we're not alone.

The tradition is simple: you enter the bar, pay a dollar for your drink, propose a toast, and then fling your empty glass into the fireplace. In so doing, you name your pain and share it with others, thus starting the process of working it out.

This may sound like a creepy encounter group, and it could well be except for the problems these people address. An alien robot comes in one night, aghast about his assignment to destroy the planet. A political prisoner, lost in a future he can hardly imagine, struggles to figure out what he's good for anymore. A suicidal psychic is ready to end her life just to escape her power. The cosmic equivalent of Hitler, the cause of all our wars and pain, comes in one night for absolution. There are time travelers. Vampires. Narrow escapes. The end of the world.

These people have saved the world more times from their bar stools than Jack Bauer has, that's for sure. They've done it more often with laughter than with violence, too.

"People don't do that; people don't act this way."

My voice softened, saddened. "Upright apes don't. People do."

The central principle of Callahan's time spanning conspiracy? "Shared pain is lessened and shared joy is increased."

That's the solution. That's the conspiracy to join. And if you find these books--The Callahan Chronicals is an omnibus collection of Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, Time Travelers Strictly Cash, and Callahan's Secret--then you can be in on it. You can make a small Callahan's bar of your own, spreading the only good that matters: the one shared between true friends.

That these stories exist at all is proof enough that there's still hope for our species.

The only question is what you'll do to fulfill it.

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