four old friends, omar khayyam, confucius, margaret fuller, and hannah arendt, got together for some wine and conversation.
omar khayyam poured the wine, and after the compliments on his excellent taste, the conversation started.
I undetstand, confucius began, that you, hannah, plan on attending the conference in vienna in may, on “whither the left?” i, personally, want nothing more to do with the so-called left.
oh, please, margaret fuller quickly interposed. let’s not talk politics.
i understand, omar khayyam said, that the new government in spain is talking tentatively about limiting the role of the church in the spanish schools. a hopeful sign, is it not?
good god, if i may use the expression, hannah arendt cried, let us stay off the subject of religion!
i heard, said omar, only heard, mind you , that the two new nominees for the academie francaise are scheming rascals who would roast their grandmothers on a spit to get their books published in america.
oh, let us stay off personalities and vulgar gossip, hannah arendt admonished omar.
i do not suppose, said confucius, that you want to hear the rumors about the cultural minister of the republic of b————, and the young women employed on his staff.
i most certainly do not, margaret fuller replied.
hear, hear, added hannah arendt.
having established the bounds of acceptable discourse, the four friends talked long into the night, and consumed no small quantity of omar’s wine.
sylvia stood at the window, wondering what had become of jeffrey.
a dog ran down the street, barking furously at every living creature it encountered, as well as a few inanimate objects.
a man holding his straw hat on to his head so that it would not blow away. chased after the dog.
the man reminded sylvia in a vague way of horatio, her deceased betrothed, who had perished heroically in the great battle of t——————, of which so much has been written and sung.
jeffrey may have his faults, such as perpetual tardiness, sylvia mused, but at least he is not an irredeemable brute like horatio.
the man chasing the dog down the street and holding his hat on his head was named peter petrovich muldoon. he was a plausible rascal who was determined to marry an heiress of more than adequate means.
the dog was known as hiram, or so he had been christened by peter petrovich, who had rescued him from the streets in a fit of black melancholy, when peter petrovich had been walking the streets of hamburg, waiting for a tap on the shoulder that would return him to his native land where he was wanted for sedition and conspiracy.
a dog, thought peter petrovich. the dossiers on me in the various information ministries of the continent - none of them would mention a dog! therefore he resolved to adopt hiram, and though he had some difficulty overcoming the dog’s innately suspicious nature, managed to do so.
how long ago it seemed! actually it was only six weeks ago, when he had stood on the dock at copenhagen under a blue sky beribboned with fleecy clouds and looked over the sparkling blue-gray waters and been waved through customs by the ruddy faced golden mustachioed customs officer, who had exclaimed, “what a fine looking beast! “on seeing hiram.
so now peter petrovich and hiram had for six weeks enjoyed the pure free air of britain, land without guile, where the “bobby” was your friend and wished you a cheery good morning, instead of an ill-nourished ruffian in a tightly-belted trenchcoat, bent on revenge against what remained of civilization.
so if hiram was feeling a bit out of sorts - from boredom perhaps? - and inclined to run a little bit amok, peter petrovich was not enraged but rather sympathetic, and chased him down the green country lane with something resembling a wistful smile.
just as peter petrovich and hiram disappeared around the bend in the road, julia walked into the parlor and interrupted sylvia’s revery.
“i seem to have lost my scissors,” julia anounced to sylvia, in the peremptory way she could never completely lose. “help me find them, if you please.”
is this all there is? thought sylvia, watching men chase dogs down the street while holding their hats on their head, and finding lost pairs of scissors?
but aloud she said, “certainly, julia, i am sure they are here somewhere. ”
when dr x returned from his relaxation period, he was stunned to find his humans gone.
he summoned nurse y, and asked her what had happened.
nurse y exclaimed that doctor z, who had long complained that dr x’s treatment of the humans was improper, had finally succeeded in bringing the board to his opinion. the humans had been taken away two days ago, preparatory to being released into their “natural habitat”.
but they do not have a natural habitat, dr x exclaimed. the laboratory, and the center, are the only habitats they have ever known!
i know you have discussed this many times with the board, nurse y reminded dr x. but there was nothing i could do. their papers were all in order.
of course, nurse, of course, i did not mean to fault you in any way. but dr z - there are no words to describe that two-timing rascal!
the humans have only been gone two days, doctor, and i took the occasion to give their quarters a thorough cleaning - in case you succeed in getting them back.
that was very good, nurse. i commend you for your farsightedness.
nurse y departed, leaving dr x alone with his thoughts.
dr x burned with righteous indignation. was his life’s work, all his hopes of fame and advancement and tthe approval of his fellows to vanish in an instant?
not that he had not had warning.
it had all begun on a cold winter day when dr x had been showing his laboratory and explaining his progress to dr z and a couple of other members of the interdisciplinary committee.
the interdisciplinary committee was a body charged with an easy oversight of individual researchers, basically to ensure that the researchers were actually doing something, anything, and not completely slacking off. their visits were regarded as routine, and most researchers looked forward to them as an opportunity to get a free lunch at the interdisciplinary committee’s expense.
so dr x had at first been mildly surprised, but not really annoyed, at dr z’s questions.
dr x had four humans under his care whom he had been studying for years. two males named genghis khan and johnny carson , and two females named jezebel and margaret thatcher. he had inherited genghis khan and jezebel from his mentor, dr b, and had raised johnny carson and margaret thatcher from the time of their births.
i do not think, dr z had begun, that these creatures are being provided with an environment suited to their needs and natures.
dr x was taken aback. they are being provided, he replied politely, with their proper environment, insofar as we can determine what that environment was. my predecessor, dr b, and myself have always followed the consensus as to what that is.
that is all very well, dr z replied in an acid tone, but your wonderful consensus has come under attack in recent years, as i would have expected you to know.
yes, dr x replied, dissenting voices have been raised, but dissenting voices are always being raised, in every discipline. i am confident i am still well within the boundaries of what is accepted in the discipline. dr x pointed to the humsns. look at them yourself, he asked with a confident smile, do they seem at all discontented?
the humans could be seen behind the large glass window of the laboratory. genghis khan was devouring an italian sub with fries, jezebel and margaret thatcher were watching masterpiece theater on a thirty inch t v, and johnny carson was taking a nap.
they are what they are, dr x continued, creatures who enjoy a curiously varied diet -
which does not come cheap. dr t, another one of the visiting committeepersons
dr x ignored the interruption. but who are easily pacified and and amused, with repetitious entertainment, he concluded.
but that is the problem, dr z insisted. they should not be pacified and amused, but allowed to assume their true natures as primates, as hunter gatherers in the forests, like their ancestors,
but this is all they have ever known, dr x, now becoming a bit annoyed, replied. and more to the point, all that their ancestors, for hundreds of generations, knew.
what many, not all, of their ancestors may have known for generations, dr z responded. but that was the problem - that was what caused their near extinction - that they had become so far removed from their true natures. but they are primates, sir, primates! and you are replicating the cause of their near extinction!
i think, dr t interrupted smoothly, that this is not the place for such a discussion. we see that dr x is running a tight and clean ship here, and that all the correct protocols are in place. that is all that need concern us here today. if dr z has objections to dr x’s basic approach, i am sure he is aware of the proper channels to pursue those objections. i believe it is time for lunch.
that was the first time dr x had been aware of dr z and his agenda. there had been annoyances since then, but dr x had never thought it would come to this.
so the humans were to be released into their “natural” forest habitat, to forage for themselves for the water they had been always provided with, and for food - grubs and roots and termites and whatnot - that they had never dreamed of - and maybe some berries that they would have no wheaties for the berries to be put on, and some bananas and mangoes that they would not know how to slice.
and in competition with gorillas and chimps and baboons who were stronger than they were, and old hands at the game.
and maybe bears and lions and tigers as well! and pythons!
his poor babies. he could imagine genghis and jezebel, who were not getting any younger, trying to climb a tree to get at a handful of poison berries, and falling and breaking their necks.
and poor margaret thatcher, how would she get through the day without her jelly donuts, and without perry mason and the real housewives of miami, and without her hot chocolate with opium before she went to sleep every night.
and johnny carson, with his endless yawns and naps, spending a day looking for a puddle or trickle of water. unfiltered water!
edward smith was an ordinary guy, with an ordinary (though not very secure) job in a minor department in a small city in a medium state in the greatest country in the world.
so he was surprised when he was chosen, out of all the people in the greatest country, and all the people on the planet, to be picked up by a galactic empire spacecraft and presented with a proposal of the galactic empire to be transmitted to the rest of the human race.
seated in the comfortable lounge of the spacecraft, sipping a can of mountain dew that the aliens had thoughtfully provided him with, edward scanned the printout of the proposal.
the proposal read as follows:
all earthlings, beginning with the inhabitants of the greatest country, will be relocated to a spot in the southern pacific ocean where they will be organized into work gangs which will construct a new city where all earthlings will subsequently reside.
when the new city has been completed, all earthlings will be permanently housed in it and will work as directed by the empire, mostly in factories manufacturing new weapons for the empire’s further conquests.
every earthling will be required to work twelve hours a day, and exercise one hour a day.
each human will be allotted three liters of water, one half gram of protein, and one and a half hours of sunshine a day.
each human will be allowed one hour a day - under the strictest supervision - to engage in so-called “cultural activities” , such “cultural activities” to be pre-approved by the empire.
edward finished reading the document and looked up.
“well?” the alien who seemed to be in charge asked him. “what do you think? do you think we will have a deal?”
“a deal?” edward asked. “how is it a deal? what do we get out of it? what is in it for us?”
reginald was a nasty child, and completely unafraid of servants, policemen, and other adults.
he was always asking them questions like, what do you do? and, are you useful in any way?
one day reginald and his twin brother rudolf (a gentle, docile, well trained child) were taken to the seashore by their nanny.
there was a boardwalk on the beach, which projected about three quarters of a mile out into the ocean. various booths were set up on it,, selling cold drinks and popcorn and such, and there were also booths with shooting galleries and other games of chance where prizes like teddy bears and brightly colored neckties could be won.
also taking up space on the boardwalk were some musicians, and artists selling their paintings, and their hand crafted jewelry and whatnot.
reginald’s attention was attracted by a very old man (very old to reginald) who had set up a piano at the farthest end of the boardwalk, a little apart from the other attractions.
rudolf and nanny went wherever reginald wanted to go, so they followed him to the end of the boardwalk where the old piano man was set up.
the piano man was playing what nanny recognized as “melancholy baby” or maybe it was “million dollar baby in a five and ten cent store.”
nanny thought this remote end of the boardwalk looked and felt a bit worn, and she wondered if the heavy piano might not crash through it, dumping all of them into the water. she placed a one dollar bill in the cracked porcelain cup on top of the piano, and the piano man nodded to her and said thank you.
reginald was more interested in the piano itself. he noticed that it had small wheels on it.
“are those wheels locked?’ he asked in his most aggressive manner.
“of course,” the piano man replied, with a friendly smile.
“how do you know that they will hold, and that the piano will not roll away into the water?”
“well, i just trust that it will not. it never has.”
“do you roll it away every night?’ reginald asked. “i do not suppose you just leave it here.” all reginald’s questions were delivered in the tone his mother might have used in interviewing a new maid or gardener.
“no, i have a truck that i take it away in,” the piano man answered, as he kept playing “melancholy baby’” , “and in answer to your next question, no, i do not load it on the truck myself, i have a friend who runs one of the ice cream stands and he helps me.”
“hm.” reginald changed his line of attack. “how many songs do you know? do you play the same ones over and over?”
“how many do i know? i know hundreds,. but i play about thirty, which have proven to be the ones folks seem to like.”
“that sounds boring,” reginald declared. “just doing the same thing over and over.”
“many people do the same things over and over,” the piano man replied with the same tolerant smile.
rudolf did not usually dare speak unless reginald gave him leave, but he piped up, “there was a fellow that we passed selling paintings, and they all seemed to of clowns, magicians, and gypsy violinists. that is only three things, and this gentleman plays thirty songs.”
“that is very well said, rudolf,” nanny declared.
“i still think it sounds boring,” said reginald.
“i have a brother,” the piano man said, “who works at sam and jack’s deli, which as you may know, is famous for its roast beef sandwiches. and my brother has one job, which is to slice the roast beef for the famous sandwiches. he has been doing it, five or six days a week, for twenty-eight years.”
reginald laughed out loud. “how dreadful. i would go quite mad.”
“but what would you like to do, young fellow?” the piano man, still smiling, asked. “that would give more spice and variety to your existence?”
“i should like to be a statesman,” reginald replied. “and start a new war somewhere, every year, at least. that is what i should like to do.”
“different people have different fates,” the piano man said. “they can only wait on the hand of time to reveal them.” and with that, he began playing al jolson’s “my buddy”, which was his favorite song.