My sister told me her neighbor doesn’t have a belly button. I mentioned that’s how you know he is an alien. You should always check to make sure people have belly buttons. I don’t really advocate grabbing a fistfull of shirt tail and probing for pupik. You are pretty much guaranteed to destroy the likelihood of continued association with your non-consentual pooch-peek. This is something you have to do on the sly. Ideally, people will be dressed in form-fitting or transparent clothes that suggest navel. If their shirt is short and untucked you could ask them to get something from a high shelf. But most likely you will have to conspire to get them naked. I realize this is probably a difficult task for some relationships. There aren’t a lot of natural situations that invite your periodontist to go at your gums nude. You could try bursting in on them in the toilet and apologizing profusely. But people tend to stop thinking this is a true accident after your third stall.
The best way to find out is to spill a drink on them and help them clean themselves up. Really wiggle your fingers around until you hit paydirt. If they complain, tell them you are massaging the fabric to loosen the blackberry cordial from their fine frock. Now that you have established your family veterinarian is not an alien, you can go about your business. In the off-chance you find an extraterrestrial, don’t scream. Back away slowly and say something soothing like “Nice kitty”.
Now even though I don’t really go around touching tummies and rooting out the bug eyes like a 21st century Roddy Piper, I did spend a lot of time thinking about this and writing it all out. So I come just about as close to an actual weirdo as someone who does engage in close encounters. And I do enjoy reading a good book about other neurotics like myself. I love all the curmudgeons, pedants, obsessives, manics, kelptos, hypochondriacs, hoarders and terrifyingly religious. And Fredrick Backman’s books are full of heart-of-gold oddballs. If you liked A Man Called Ove you pretty much know what is in store for you next week when Britt-Marie Was Here hits the shelves. But instead of a grumpy old curmudgeon like Ove, you get the tightly wound little pedant Britt-Marie. Her secret weapon seems to be congratulating people on their bravery for sporting some unfortunate haircut. Fortunately for us, Backman makes his oddies self-aware. They seem to always know exactly how misery-inducing they are. Their rich internal lives and troubled pasts are what connect us to a story about finding purpose and true emotional growth. And true to Backman’s form, Britt-Marie is planted in a cast of other, less-obtrusive misfits who bring out the best in one another. Although I doubt any of them would ever get on board with my proposed navel-gazing shenanigans.