In A Perfect World


So you live in a utopian future. You don’t have anything to be embarrassed by there. It’s a pretty sweet deal. Maybe it wasn’t you that was embarrassed. Maybe it was someone who reminded me of you. It would help if we could get some name tags or distinctive ribbons or something. Anyway, even in a utopia there’s no getting away from some civic responsibilities. At any moment something like one-eighth of our population is busy introducing the place to an outsider. Are you ready?

Maybe you’re wondering where they come from. The answer is, all over. Some of them are people from before the utopia who got themselves caught in cave-ins, or were put into stasis until medical science found a cure for painting bricks. Some of them are from alternate timelines, like one where Belgian visionary Paul Otlet and his electric telescopes failed to manifest the Mundaneum in Lakewood, New Jersey in 1934. Maybe they’re dreaming, as far as they can tell, and there’s no sense waking them up before you figure out which of us is real. Ooh, maybe they’re aliens, so we can be their aliens, and add this neat little mirror-image chic to things.

Really it doesn’t matter. Any visitor to utopia has some things they just have to know. And they have some expectations. Meet them, and they’ll be happy with the experience. They’ll need to be told they are in a utopia, straight off. Hide that and they’ll never be happy. And they’ll need a couple rounds of origin-shaming so they appreciate how their homes made serious dog’s breakfasts of things. That’s an easy sell because people find it charming to hear “dog’s breakfast” as a metaphor.

They’ll want to have a tour, once they’ve been electro-taught the universal language or just happened to know it anyway. You’ll want to take this on foot. It makes stuff seem bigger. I recommend taking them to one of those middling-size buildings made with that brick cladding that somehow looks like fake bricks even though they’re real bricks. Try to approach from the side that’s the least architectury. Then go into something about how it’s the administrative district’s largest facility for producing psychoneutral brick or self-motivated gelatin or fully interactive quadrophonic squirrels or whatever. To make a convincing presentation remember the important two elements:

  • A bunch of statistics delivered in obscure units. Try saying something like `modules over 20.38 centipoise per millikatal hectosievert’ or `response metrics as sensitive as 12.10 decatur-centidays’ until it sounds kind of normal-ish. `400,000 mease of herring each compline’. `0.2 adrianople-ceston-centiMcClintocks.’ Something like that.
  • A moving sidewalk. You can find some at most airports, many train stations, and the occasional shopping mall.

You’re going to get the occasional visitor who’s looking for social satire. By “social satire” people mean everyone talking about how their enemies were fools and their heroes visionaries. This is tricky to do before you know who their enemies and their heroes were. You can make some wild guesses and if they react with horror say that you were just testing to see if they were ready for the true order of things. You’ll want to practice that with friends before doing it live. Also bring some gift certificates for ice cream or something so you can act like you’re giving a special award for their figuring it out. Some weird flavor, something hard to like. They’re not coming all the way to utopia just to get fudge ripple. They’re looking for something with a bit of freaky to it. In fact, don’t just do this for ice cream. Every day try to find two or three little things to freak up a bit. It’s surprisingly fun once you get the hang of it and it makes their experience so much better. It’s kind of an important rule for life.

If you still can’t get a handle on them, try some patter about how gold and silver make the throw pillows of utopia all the more throw-pillow-ish. Your guests will make what they want out of this, and if they ask you to expand on it pull the old “what does that tell you about us?” routine. You’re not going to believe how well this works.

Sometimes you’re going to get the visitor who’s decided utopia is actually a dystopia. There’s no arguing them out of it. They’re going to figure they’re the only ones who see it, and they have a responsibility to destroy society, which is supposed to somehow help. So you’ll want to have contacts with some local theater group. They should have a bunch of costumes and a couple people who can do improv work as an underground movement. Set them up with something harmless like bubble wands. Tell your visitor these are futuristic pacification weapons so that nobody’ll get unnecessarily hurt while they’re busy destroying society.

Now you’ll need to set up a story where the organizing impulse for all society comes from, oh, whatever. That closed psychoneutral brick factory nobody’s got around to tearing down yet. Send them off to attack it and after all the foam has evaporated — well, you know joy? Not really. Not the kind of joy you’ll see after they figure they’ve gone and obliterated society. It’s pretty sweet, really. After you do go along with this you’re going to have to listen to them blathering a while about how they’ve opened everyone’s eyes and how society is really and truly going to work this time. And some of them can go on forever like this. But whoever said life in utopia was perfect?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose eleven points on word that if everybody was good we might just go to an amusement park for the Fourth of July. Skeptics protest that major holidays are the worst time to go to amusement parks because everybody goes to them then, but they were shut down by that time on the 4th of July that we went to Great Adventure and literally got to walk on to the front row of Kingda Ka, and when does that ever happen?

273

Advertisements

Finley Peter Dunne: A Book Review


It’s been ages since I featured anything by Finley Peter Dunne, whose columns, presented as the voice of Mister Dooley, fictional owner of an Irish pub in the South Side of Chicago. Dunne reached heights of influence and attention that most writers dream of. His blend of wit, satire, and folksiness achieves a timelessness that belies how much his stuff was written in response to what was news that week. Here, from the 1900 collection Mister Dooley’s Philosophy, is a review of the book describing an implausible character’s experiences in the Cuban War.


“Well sir,” said Mr. Dooley, “I jus’ got hold iv a book, Hinnissy, that suits me up to th’ handle, a gran’ book, th’ grandest iver seen. Ye know I’m not much throubled be lithrachoor, havin’ manny worries iv me own, but I’m not prejudiced again’ books. I am not. Whin a rale good book comes along I’m as quick as anny wan to say it isn’t so bad, an’ this here book is fine. I tell ye ’tis fine.”

“What is it?” Mr. Hennessy asked languidly.

“‘Tis ‘Th’ Biography iv a Hero be Wan who Knows.’ ‘Tis ‘Th’ Darin’ Exploits iv a Brave Man be an Actual Eye Witness.’ ‘Tis ‘Th’ Account iv th’ Desthruction iv Spanish Power in th’ Ant Hills,’ as it fell fr’m th’ lips iv Tiddy Rosenfelt an’ was took down be his own hands. Ye see ’twas this way, Hinnissy, as I r-read th’ book. Whin Tiddy was blowed up in th’ harbor iv Havana he instantly con-cluded they must be war. He debated th’ question long an’ earnestly an’ fin’lly passed a jint resolution declarin’ war. So far so good. But there was no wan to carry it on. What shud he do? I will lave th’ janial author tell th’ story in his own wurruds.

“‘Th’ sicrety iv war had offered me,’ he says, ‘th’ command of a rig’mint,’ he says, ‘but I cud not consint to remain in Tampa while perhaps less audacious heroes was at th’ front,’ he says. ‘Besides,’ he says, ‘I felt I was incompetent f’r to command a rig’mint raised be another,’ he says. ‘I detarmined to raise wan iv me own,’ he says. ‘I selected fr’m me acquaintances in th’ West,’ he says, ‘men that had thravelled with me acrost th’ desert an’ th’ storm-wreathed mountain,’ he says, ‘sharin’ me burdens an’ at times confrontin’ perils almost as gr-reat as anny that beset me path,’ he says. ‘Together we had faced th’ turrors iv th’ large but vilent West,’ he says, ‘an’ these brave men had seen me with me trusty rifle shootin’ down th’ buffalo, th’ elk, th’ moose, th’ grizzly bear, th’ mountain goat,’ he says, ‘th’ silver man, an’ other ferocious beasts iv thim parts,’ he says. ‘An’ they niver flinched,’ he says. ‘In a few days I had thim perfectly tamed,’ he says, ‘an’ ready to go annywhere I led,’ he says. ‘On th’ thransport goi’n to Cubia,’ he says, ‘I wud stand beside wan iv these r-rough men threatin’ him as a akel, which he was in ivrything but birth, education, rank an’ courage, an’ together we wud look up at th’ admirable stars iv that tolerable southern sky an’ quote th’ bible fr’m Walt Whitman,’ he says. ‘Honest, loyal, thrue-hearted la-ads, how kind I was to thim,’ he says.”

“‘We had no sooner landed in Cubia than it become nicessry f’r me to take command iv th’ ar-rmy which I did at wanst. A number of days was spint be me in reconnoitring, attinded on’y be me brave an’ fluent body guard, Richard Harding Davis. I discovered that th’ inimy was heavily inthrenched on th’ top iv San Juon hill immejiately in front iv me. At this time it become apparent that I was handicapped be th’ prisence iv th’ ar-rmy,’ he says. ‘Wan day whin I was about to charge a block house sturdily definded be an ar-rmy corps undher Gin’ral Tamale, th’ brave Castile that I aftherwards killed with a small ink-eraser that I always carry, I r-ran into th’ entire military force iv th’ United States lying on its stomach. ‘If ye won’t fight,’ says I, ‘let me go through, ‘I says. ‘Who ar-re ye?’ says they. ‘Colonel Rosenfelt,’ says I. ‘Oh, excuse me,’ says the gin’ral in command (if me mimry serves me thrue it was Miles) r-risin’ to his knees an’ salutin’. This showed me ‘twud be impossible f’r to carry th’ war to a successful con-clusion unless I was free, so I sint th’ ar-rmy home an’ attackted San Juon hill. Ar-rmed on’y with a small thirty-two which I used in th’ West to shoot th’ fleet prairie dog, I climbed that precipitous ascent in th’ face iv th’ most gallin’ fire I iver knew or heerd iv. But I had a few r-rounds iv gall mesilf an’ what cared I? I dashed madly on cheerin’ as I wint. Th’ Spanish throops was dhrawn up in a long line in th’ formation known among military men as a long line. I fired at th’ man nearest to me an’ I knew be th’ expression iv his face that th’ trusty bullet wint home. It passed through his frame, he fell, an’ wan little home in far-off Catalonia was made happy be th’ thought that their riprisintative had been kilt be th’ future governor iv New York. Th’ bullet sped on its mad flight an’ passed through th’ intire line fin’lly imbeddin’ itself in th’ abdomen iv th’ Ar-rch-bishop iv Santiago eight miles away. This ended th’ war.’

“‘They has been some discussion as to who was th’ first man to r-reach th’ summit iv San Juon hill. I will not attempt to dispute th’ merits iv th’ manny gallant sojers, statesmen, corryspondints an’ kinetoscope men who claim th’ distinction. They ar-re all brave men an’ if they wish to wear my laurels they may. I have so manny annyhow that it keeps me broke havin’ thim blocked an’ irned. But I will say f’r th’ binifit iv Posterity that I was th’ on’y man I see. An I had a tillyscope.'”

“I have thried, Hinnissy,” Mr. Dooley continued, “to give you a fair idee iv th’ contints iv this remarkable book, but what I’ve tol’ ye is on’y what Hogan calls an outline iv th’ principal pints. Ye’ll have to r-read th’ book ye’ersilf to get a thrue conciption. I haven’t time f’r to tell ye th’ wurruk Tiddy did in ar-rmin’ an’ equippin’ himself, how he fed himsilf, how he steadied himsilf in battle an’ encouraged himsilf with a few well-chosen wurruds whin th’ sky was darkest. Ye’ll have to take a squint into th’ book ye’ersilf to l’arn thim things.”

“I won’t do it,” said Mr. Hennessy. “I think Tiddy Rosenfelt is all r-right an’ if he wants to blow his hor-rn lave him do it.”

“Thrue f’r ye,” said Mr. Dooley, “an’ if his valliant deeds didn’t get into this book ‘twud be a long time befure they appeared in Shafter’s histhry iv th’ war. No man that bears a gredge again’ himsilf ‘ll iver be governor iv a state. An’ if Tiddy done it all he ought to say so an’ relieve th’ suspinse. But if I was him I’d call th’ book ‘Alone in Cubia.'”