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Our Exalted Emperor
      Ponk Vonsydow

Ever since January Nelson and forty-seven other hippies became casualties from the same batch of bad acid they dropped during a 1968 Jefferson Airplane/Jimi-Hendrix concert, Jan the Homeless Man, as he prefers to call himself, has lived on the streets.  For forty-four years now, Jan panhandles while incoherently babbling to himself and to people who look at him with disgust, telling him to clean up his act and get a job. Jan's plight is really no different than the other homeless people because nothing short of a miracle will ever change their situation.

Jan lives inside a discarded refrigerator box turned on its side and placed next to a dumpster in an alley somewhere in the middle of New York City.  He gets his meals at the local soup kitchens and there are several of them close to his alley.  Still, New York City is a tough place to be homeless although it has one advantage for the homeless.  It is filled with millions of people.  Based on simple principals of attrition, even if only one-in-twenty people give him a nickel or dime, there are hundreds of people to beg from passing by during the day, so January earns enough for his daily pack of cigarettes and a few beers.  

On this particular day, Jan earned enough money for three quarts of beer and his two packs of cigarettes, so he was all set for the night and was back in his box drinking and trying to stay warm under a pile of filthy blankets. His box has a practical lifespan depending on the weather.  If it rains or snows, the elements cause it to collapse under its own weight but somehow he always managed to find another box to replace the worn-out ones.  If he can't find a big enough box, he hobbles together more than one to make his shelter that way. The boxes don't keep out the cold, but they do break the wind, and it is the wind on a cold day that can do a fella in. The bottom of the boxes also puts something between Jan and the cold pavement. Having a box also allows Jan to drink his beer out of sight of the law who will run him in for having an open container if they catch him drinking in public.

Jan survives his homelessness by continuously reminding himself things could always get worse and that he is actually luckier than some people. Jan knows being homeless in America, with the soup kitchens, cheap booze, and donated clothes is still several steps up from being a starving, naked native in Africa with AIDS for example.  So, from Jan's point of view, life isn't actually all that bad. Plus he isn't stuck with a nagging wife, two or three ungrateful brats that need money for a college education, or working his life away in some dead end, nine-to-five job, with a jerk for a boss. When Jan looks at it that way, he is actually kind of glad things worked out for him the way they did. But still, he dreams of riches and living a life of luxury, so sometimes he takes a chance and burns a dollar buying a lottery ticket. But so far, like millions of other unlucky bums, he never won the big one, except once when he got four numbers right and won three-hundred dollars.  Of course, he smoked and drank the money away in just a few days.

Jan was asleep in his box when a bright light shining in his face woke him up. At first he thinks it is a flashlight from a mean cop who will send him packing in the middle of the night. But the light dimmed and he notices a kind of humming sound which winds down slower and slower until it stops. Then he hears sounds that remind him of the hydraulics used on the garbage truck when it picks up his dumpster, but what he sees now isn't any garbage truck.  Astonished, words come out of his mouth when he realizes what he is seeing.

“Well, I'll be damned! It's a flying saucer!”

Jan crawls out of his box, gets to his feet, and takes a few steps toward the direction of the saucer.  Figures emerge from inside the saucer, coming down a ramp and onto the pavement. Whoever they were, they are dressed for a harsh cold climate because they are wearing thick layers of bulky clothing with caps and fingerless gloves.  Once Jan gets a look at their faces, he is surprised to discover they looked like human beings. One of them speaks:

“Excuse me, sir, but by chance is your name January Nelson?”

January can't believe his ears. An alien that got out of a flying saucer knows him by name!

“Yeah, that's me alright. What can I do for you?”

The three humanoid aliens talk amongst themselves.

“Praise the Gods, we've found him after all these years!”

Jan interrupts the three men.

“What do you mean you found me? Why would people from outer space be looking for a tired old drunken bum like me?”

One of the aliens replies.

“Exalted one!  Please forgive us. Allow us to explain. Sixty-seven of your Earth years ago, one of our Imperial flying saucers was on a site-seeing tour of this planet when something went wrong with the anti-gravity emitters and it crashed in a place we eventually learned was called Kalamazoo, Michigan. But we didn't learn that until after the Emperor and his pregnant concubine settled to live there and the concubine gave birth to the Emperor's heir. While the prince was still a baby, the Emperor and his concubine were killed in a bizarre jump rope accident making the prince an orphan and he went to live with a new family who adopted him. They were named the Nelsons. But the child already knew its royal name, January, so his adoptive family kept it. For you see, you are that lost royal prince. We have finally found you after searching high-and-low on this planet, not knowing where to look. Then you signed your name on the back of a lottery ticket, and that ticket got entered into a computer database we monitor. We realized you must be somewhere in the vicinity of the convenience store where you purchased the ticket. We started our systematic search at the store until we finally located you. Now that we have found you, your highness, we will take you back to your real home, where you are our planet's exalted high Emperor!  From your throne, you will rule billions of people not unlike yourself! What do you think of that, sire?

Jan is amazed.

“You mean I get to go inside that flying saucer and fly into outer space and go all the way to a different planet, and then when I get there, I will be the Emperor of your world and sit on a throne?”

One of the aliens replies.

“That's just exactly what we mean. Come. We're ready to depart immediately.  Your kingdom awaits you.”

Jan follows the men up the ramp which closes behind them and then the flying saucer levitates from the surface rising higher and higher into the atmosphere until it breaks the Earth's gravity, flies past the Moon and other planets, and then out of the solar system reaching velocities many times faster than the speed of light.

Jan can't wait to get where they are going, and his mind is filled with what he thinks such an important person as an Emperor will get to have. He thinks they will dress him in the finest fabrics with a golden jewel encrusted crown and scepter, and he will sit on a solid gold throne upholstered in equally fine materials. He will dwell in a massive palace and be attended by a royal court and will have a harem full of the most beautiful females who will hand feed him only the most savory and delicious foods and beverages.  After his meals he will pick and choose from his harem whichever female he wants to service him for the evening, and if that one doesn't do, he will choose another until he finds one he likes. These thoughts comfort Jan who eventually calms down from all the excitement and falls into a deep sleep.

Jan awakes to the noise and vibration of the flying saucer making its landing, and the three aliens inform him they have arrived in the courtyard of the royal palace. Jan can't wait to get out of the flying saucer to get a look at his new digs. Eagerly he descends the ramp, but what he finds is not exactly what he imagined. All he sees is a large cardboard box and an old broken toilet surrounded by empty quart beer bottles, crushed up cigarette packages, and other refuse. But now the three aliens are ushering him towards these things and pointing at the cardboard box.

“Your palace, sire!”

They gesture towards the broken toilet.

“And your throne!”

Jan is taken aback. They can't be serious! Yet it is obvious they were quite serious.

“And below is your illustrious kingdom full of loyal citizens who have long awaited you!”

Jan looks in the direction the alien is pointing and discovers an entire city composed of cardboard boxes no different than the boxes he has slept in the past forty-four years. Jan now realizes that the course his life took on Earth was obviously a matter of destiny.  Evidently he is a prince of bums by birth only he is just now assuming his rightful throne as the exalted high Emperor.  His entire life certainly reflected that position even though he'd been light years from his kingdom. One of the aliens handed him a fresh beer. Jan took the beer and took his seat on the broken toilet.  He held his chin up, put his shoulders back, and puffed out his chest.  He held up the beer as if to offer a toast to the multitude of bums in the kingdom below saying...

“It's good to be the exalted high Emperor and good to be home!”

Jan took a big swig from the forty-ounce beer and ceremoniously reached back and pushed down the plunger on his toilet throne.  The crowd cheered. He was home indeed.