Martian Racing originally appeared in Turf & Sport Digest, September 1976
A flying saucer landed in my backyard the other night.
I didn’t think too much of it at the time, since I was engrossed in watching ‘Godzilla vs The Pom-Pom Girl From Party Beach’ on television, when my doorbell rang.
“Hi,” said a little green man with an antennae in the middle of his forehead. “I’m XL-y from Mars.”
“Sure, kid, and I’m Ray Walston. Look, Halloween’s not for another two months. Don’t you think you’d better be getting home?”
“You don’t understand. Didn’t you see my flying saucer land?”
“Yeah, but I figured it was a rental car for O. J. Simpson. Does your Mother know you’re out late?”
“But I really am from Mars.”
“Okay,” I replied, deciding to go along with the gag. “What do you want?”
“I represent the Martian Racing Association. Since you Earthlings will be landing on our planet in the near future, we felt it was time to establish direct communication and acquaint you with our civilization.”
“The Martian Racing Association?”
“Yes. Racing is the principal source of pleasure on Mars, and we decided to invite a writer such as yourself to get a first hand look so you can familiarize Earthlings with the ways of our planet.”
“You mean horse racing?” I asked with increasing curiosity.
“Very similar, except in our language they’re called gunals.”
“And you want me to go to Mars with you and write an article about gunal racing?”
“Look, kid, why don’t you give me your parents phone number and I’ll tell them where you are.”
“We were afraid you’d be skeptical. Tell you what, if I were to perform what you Earthlings call a miracle, will you believe me?”
“Well,” I hesitated, “maybe.”
“Then look at your television set,” he commanded with a sudden vibration of his antennae.
I looked. There was a horse race on. “Shades of Secreteriat,” I cried, falling to my knees and bowing at the television set, “it is truly a miracle!”
“Now will you come to Mars with me?” he asked.
“Take me,” I responded with sudden awe, “to your leader.”
We landed on Mars next to a large canal.
“This,” XL-7 announced with a proud flourish, “is one of our most famous racetracks.”
“You mean the canal?”
“Yes,” he continued, “we are aware that for years you Earthlings have speculated on what the canals were for. You are the first to know. The one we’re standing next to is called Churzeldowns.”
I peered into the canal. At the bottom I noticed something that strikingly resembled a starting gate. A number of four-legged green animals, each with an antennae, were approaching it. They looked like green unicorns. On both sides of the canal groups of Martians sat in anticipation in a staggered array of box seats.
“Come,” said XL-7, “we are just in time for the Squa Tront. Uh, that’s stakes race in your language.”
We passed by a stand, where a smiling Martian handed us each what appeared to be a program. I glanced at the first page which, to my amazement, was printed in English.
“You seem surprised,” XL-7 commented.
“Well, yes, I mean, these names…”
“For many years we have monitored broadcasts from Earth, which is how we learned your language. In anticipation of the first visit by an Earthman the gunals in this race have all been named after what we have gathered from earlier broadcasts to be some of your most important phrases. Though I must admit that some of them seemed a bit strange to us.”
I studied the names. The field consisted of Duz Does Everything, Hey Abbott, The Shadow Knows, Hiyo Silver, Here’s Johnny, You Deserve A Break Today, Dodgers 3 Giants 2, and Hexa Hexa Chlorophene.
“Well, I can certainly tell you’ve been studying our older broadcasts. Tell me, XL-7, I noticed that no one seems to be paying for the programs. In fact, I didn’t even see an admission booth. Is that customary?”
“Oh, yes. You see,” he confided, “in the early days there were charges for saucer parking, canal entrance and programs, with special extra charges to levitate to higher levels or even just to sit down. We learned that there were many Martians who wanted to wager on the gunals but couldn’t afford all that, so we simply eliminated it. Plus we sell the refreshments just slightly above cost. Since we did that, gunal betting is now overwhelmingly the predominant recreation of all Martians.
“Of course,” he frowned, “we had to increase our take-out of the wagering to an entire five percent to cover expenses, but it’s still worked out very well.”
“Yes, I know it seems high, but this canal alone will probably handle the equivalent of $10 million Earth dollars today, so we manage to get by. Tell me, what is the take-out on Earth?”
“Uh, I’m suddenly very thirsty, is there a refreshment stand nearby?”
“Certainly, right over here. Allow me to buy you a Martian Jewelup, which I believe costs 17 cents in your money. Would you like a qwertyuiop to go with it? It’s very much like your racetrack hot dogs, except it has meat in it.”
“The Jewelup will be just fine.”
I studied the program.
“Y’know, I was thinking about making a bet on this race, except I don’t have any Martian money.”
“Your money will be acceptable. We have a friend at Chase Manhattan. There’s a window right over there.”
I walked up to the window. The clerk smiled. “Spa fon?” he said. I jumped back, slightly startled.
“What’d he say?” I asked.
“Merely a customary greeting. We think it translates to ‘May I help you, sir’, though we admit that we are still underexposed to some areas of your language.”
I bet two dollars to win on Hiyo Silver.
“Tell me, XL-7, everyone seems so happy. Isn’t that unusual?”
He looked puzzled. “Why should it be? Everyone is here to enjoy themselves.”
“Well, I mean, don’t you sometimes have problems with impolite employees, strikes for higher wages and less work, that sort of thing?”
“We’ve often heard such words in our monitoring, but have never been able to find the corresponding Martian terms.”
“What about things like drug abuse, governmental apathy, excessive taxation and the $4 ham and cheese sandwich?”
“Sorry, but those terms fail to compute in our language. Could you explain them further?”
“Never mind, XL-7, it’s not important.”
“I see the Squa Tront is about to start, we can sit here.”
The gunals walked into the gate and in the next instant were thundering down the canal. It was just like a horse race at home.
At the top of the stretch Hiyo Silver was menacing the leader. I jumped up to cheer him home. XL-7 tugged at my arm.
“Please sit down,” he stated firmly. “While it is perfectly satisfactory to cheer for your selection, it is considered extremely bad manners to stand up. After all, others behind you are interested in seeing the outcome as well.”
“Oh,” I apologized. “Guess I just lost my head.”
Hiyo Silver finished second.
“Well,” XL-7 smiled, “better luck next time. Please be sure to deposit your losing ticket in one of the many depositories provided. We recycle everything, you know.”
It was then that I noticed the complete absence of litter. We walked by a container marked ‘Grltch’. I tossed my ticket into it. A smiling Martian next to it nodded to me. “Shrdlu,” he said.
“What did he say,” I asked XL-7.
“He was merely thanking you for keeping the grounds clean. Quite an ordinary gesture. He’s one of the cleanliness monitors we employ.”
“I hate to say this, XL-7, but there are some aspects of your racing here that would be considered, well, a little unusual on Earth.”
“Unusual? In what way?”
“Let’s just say that Earthlings area little more, uh, thoughtless about some things.”
“We only try to apply what you Earthlings call ‘mutual respect’ for one another. We merely expect the Martians who run the canals to treat us as individuals. In turn, we try and make their job as easy as possible. This is difficult on Earth?”
“Well, just a little.”
“Tell me, what did you think of your first gunal race?”
“We’re quite proud of our development of gunals. They’re strong, graceful and well-developed. Intellectually, we like to think they are superior to anything on Earth.”
I looked at XL-7 suspiciously, but was unable to decide if humans were included in that category.
He bought me another Martian Jewelup and advised me to bet number six in the next race. “A gunal for a canal,” he nodded sagely.
I went to a window to buy a ticket, which was when I noticed how orderly everyone in the lines was. No one was pushing or shoving. Nor, it dawned on me, did there seem to be any young Martians around. I got to the window.
“Spa fon?” the clerk smiled with a slight quiver of his antennae.
“Tell me, XL-7,” I asked, returning from the window. “Where are the children?”
“Y’know, the little ones.”
“Oh,” he laughed. “We have a special area for them on the backstretch. We find it keeps things more orderly in the betting areas. But they are well supervised, with gunals who are too old to race for riding, and various classes about the sport between races. It has proven to be excellent preparation for the day when they are old enough to bet.”
By the end of the day I had been Spa Fonned and Shrdlued several dozen times, had four Martian Jewelups and two qwertyuiops, and lost three dollars.
“Tell me,” XL-7 inquired. “Did you enjoy your day on Mars?”
“Very much,” I assured him.
“Do you think it would be possible for you to take me to an Earth track someday soon?”
“Someday, XL-7, someday. But not right away. There might be a few things you wouldn’t quite understand.”
“But I would certainly be willing to learn.”
“No, XL-7,” I smiled, “that is one thing I definitely don’t want you to do.”
“Well, I suppose it is time to return you to Earth. Before we leave, are there any questions you’d like to ask?”
“Just one,” I said.
“And what is that?” he asked.
“Do I really have to go?”