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The president has a rich dream life. It soaks through his skin like a rich soup and arranges the wrinkles in his "sober" business suit.
Someone threw another bottle. Ayn picked up a big piece of it and took a healthy bite.
The Great Wall of Mexico|
by John Sladek
|1. Washington Crossing the Yangtze
His predecessor had kept tape recorders running in every room, catching his "thoughts" as he paced. But then his predecessor, Rogers, had always been a flamboyant action-man leader, the first Secret Service agent to be elevated to the position he guarded with his profile. His career spanned a few headlines:
GBM SAVED FROM SHOOTING
HERO BODYGUARD TO RUN FOR SENATE
SEN. ROGERS WILL RUN
Before the assassin could confess, the police station at which he was held blew up, along with a fair piece of Mason City surrounding it. The FBI found the cause to be a gas leak of an unusual type. On succeeding to the office of Great Seal, our man promoted the investigating agent, K. Homer Bissell, to bureau chief.
Our man kept his thoughts on specially printed forms:
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There were also memoranda, agenda, briefs and résumés always stacked on top of the elegant polished* desk. The Great Seal liked to be well supplied with business at hand. It enabled him to expedite and finalize things with obvious efficiency at any time, ready to deal with work and get it out of the way before he relaxed, working hard to play even harder, making his guiding principle Throughput.
MEMO: From the President
I do not tolerate noisy press conferences. If possible, the next press conference should be arranged to maximize silence.
I, the State, further do not like science fiction cops. If it is really necessary for them to wear those helmets, plastic visors, tunics, gauntlets, and jump boots, will they please keep out of my sight.
"I can see how this is going to build up into something," Filcup warns. "Remember when he didn't like certain news analysts? My God, remember when he didn't like brown eggs?"
Karl Wax brought up the subject of uniforms at the Tuesday meeting of Special Advisers. His "birthday cake" suggestion was voted down ("We have to make a pleasing offering to the President, but this is ridiculous. Anyway, a naked guard is just the kind of thing that could backfire. We all know how He feels about nakedness."), and Dan Foyle gained the upper hand with "a uniform of evening clothes, slightly modified in some distinctive manneranyone who's seen Turhan Bey and Susanna Foster in The Climax will know what I mean. This has been a long and bloody warthough not pointless or without compensationsand He sorely needs a little formal relaxation."
Agenda for Wednesday
Commission stamps to commemorate Walt Disney, Louisa May Alcott, Ty Cobb; provisionally Billy Mitchell, Ralph Nader. Check figs on Indochina: Gen. H. claims 2,250 megatons reqd for reconditioning, Op. Orpheus. Check position on Tanzania vis-à-vis South African bloc. Could recredit our reputation in Brazil, renew Arab franchise.
Presentation of award from Mothers of American Insurrection (blue suit). Read speech of Q's for decontamination efforts, constitutional loopholes. Lunch with leading blacks. Press conference on Martha's blood clot. Important: P.M. conference with Bissell, psychologists, police reps on physical/mental reconciliation of disaffiliatees, dealing with radical element.
While Tichner and Groeb arrange his urgent memos, he runs over the morning mail résumé, made up as a composite letter:
Dear Mr. President:
While 47% of me would like to congratulate you on your courageous stand on the Chile question, 21% of me also wonders if you've lived up to our expectations regarding
and though 17% of me disagrees, a massive 36% thinks you handled the Moral Pollution bill wisely, and for the rest, I can't make up my mind.
Sincere good wishes,
Suggested Uniforms for White House Police
Brocade, knee breeks, and periwigs
Minutemen, "dressed for Sunday"
Henry Clay gaiters, panamas
Dickensian ragamuffins (struck off, replaced by "Leopard tuxes and light-up bow ties")
Texas A & M
Each Night I Die
Nice neat business
The GS follows no suggestions, however. For a time, while he reads a digested condensation of the life of FDR, the palace guards are persuaded to imitate that eminence. Bang seven-thirty every morning the guardroom doors slide back and out rolls a parade of large-jawed men in gleaming wheelchairs, champing their cigarette holders and assuring the president that he has nothing to fear but fear itself. And even that phase is preferable, they all agree, to his Peter Stuyvesant period.
After the mail, his condensed news digest:
Wednesday, February 12th
PRESIDENT SIGNS CONTROVERSIAL DUCK BILL
Conservation leaders praise forward-thinking leader. President disclaims, says only small step forward, but "little strokes fell great oaks."
President To Announce New Peace Plan
President's Wife Feared Ill
He was vaguely aware that the real press hardly ever mentioned him; these items had been gleaned from the Rood City Post, the Oslo (Nevada) Times and the Budget Junction O'erseer. He knew the press laughed at him for his sincerity, for his supposed vanity, for the way he conducted the war. They crucified him if he looked solemn, and when he smiled there were unkind remarks about his woodenness. The press! What did they know? Let them go on calling him an unsaleable commodity, a snap, an empty suit. They would one day look the ape!
Not a Gem
During morning coffee, he felt like a visit to the Reagan Room, but curbed it (PRESIDENT MASTERS OWN CONDITION). There was still the award ceremony (The confounded press! More pix with eyes closed, mouth open) and the luncheon with its precarious handshakes. And first of all there was Operation Orpheus and fat, freckled General Hare.
"We call it Orpheus, sir, because there's no turning back. We thought of calling it Operation Lot, but people might get it confused with Operation Sandlot, our talent-recruiting program, and with Operation Big Sandy. Operation Sodom was even worse. So we"
"Get to the point, Hare. Where do you get this figure of 2,250 megatons?"
The general set down his coffee cup carelessly, so that the cookie fell from its saucer perch. Disorder. Reagan Room. Operation. Or Free Us. The music of the nukebox means a dance with China. I'd like to get you. On a slow boat. China, angina, regina, vagina.
"Let's see now." General Hare jotted figures on the edge of a soggy paper napkin. "We have North Zone, South Zone, Countries Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog
Slow bull to china.
"That makes 1,939,424 square kilometers, and that comes out to only 749 megatons. Allowing a 300 percent margin for error, we get 2,250 megatons, say 150 warheads. We wouldn't hardly miss it."
"Haha! Oh, excuse me, General, I just thought of something. What kind ofhaboat would a slow boat to China be? Eh? Eh?"
"I don't exactly get you, sir. You mean?"
"It's a riddle, man! Just tell me the answer to that, and I may give you the green light on one of these operations."
"Mr. President! I"
"Give up? Give up?"
There was some argument about whether the general had actually given up before the president told him the answer. To placate him, it finally became necessary to okay Operation Big Sandy, both phases.
A Lexicon of Governmental Report Terms
alienatee: person not sympathetic to the government
bugs: demonstrators (hence swatting a swarm: riot control)
decontamination: shock therapy used in dealienation
maverick: businessman who defects to radical side
opinion analyst: police agent
rationalizing an increment: stopping a demonstration
reconciliation: interrogation with extreme force
rodeo: suspect roundup and intensive reconciliation
social therapist: interrogator
The president has a rich dream life. It soaks through his skin like a rich soup and arranges the wrinkles in his "sober" business suit. Examination of the seat of the president's business pants reveals inmost desires, claims psychologist. A relief map of Indochina, perhaps.
His dreams boil up in projects, plans, operations, advisory committee schemes. His dreaming eye is on the donut, says aide. Operation Big Sandy, for instance. It may seem crazy to wall off Mexico (phase one), but there you are. "It's so crazy," says General Hare, "it just might work. Or not."
The lunch with leading blacks goes even worse than he'd feared. The press conference is cancelled and he disappears for half an hour into the Reagan Room. Later, before he goes to meet concerned psychologists and policemen, he checks his chin for lines of sin.
Operation Big Sandy was born on the littered conference table of the Great Seal's team of "creative" advisers. Karl and Dan were cuffing and folding maps to rearrange the world. Filcup sought truth in the depths of black coffee.
"A door-to-door instant welfare program? Let me call it Streetheart."
"A national idea bank"
"Yes, but unemployment."
"Unemployment, sure, but Social Security deficits."
Filcup held up an atlas. "Think of the United States as a sheep or cow, marked into cuts of meat."
"The United Steaks?"
"Don't laugh, it's the body politic. About to be invaded by hostile germs, coming up the anus from Mexico"
"Now just hold on a minute!" Texas Dan Foyle demanded that Filcup apologize.
"What we need is antiseptic. Make the Rio Grande radioactive. Build a wall," he continued.
"A wall to write on!" Karl said. "A challenge for our painters."
"Sell off advertising space."
Dan cracked his knuckles with unrestrained excitement. "This could be great for the old folks. Give them something to look at, a new interest in life. You realize that there are over a hundred retirement ranches in that area, and that more than half our retired folks live within a hundred miles of Mexico."
Filcup seemed convulsed by a private joke. "Wait till I tell you the rest, Dan. There's something in this for the old folks, all right, in phase two. But for now, we'll not only sell space to advertisers, we'll build gas stations, highways, concessions. A view of the wall. A view over it. Visit the gun emplacements. Amazing plastic replicas of the Grand Canyon, the Great Wall of China, the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem! It'll take up the slack in Mexican tourism, giving our vacationers a new place to go. And of course it'll be a sop for unemployment."
"The Great Wall!" They toasted it in cold coffee.
· · · · ·
At Fort Nixon Retraining Center
Dr. Veck was explaining the routine to the new man, Lane. "I know youngsters like you are chock-full of theory, itching to try everything out," he said, clapping him on the shoulder. "Fort Nixon is just the place for it. The normal routine isn't too irksome because most of ours are politicals, as you know. Not much trouble except securitythey will try to escapebut I'm afraid they make dull cases."
He slid open a panel depicting the death of Actaeon (or some other deer) to show, through the back of a one-way glass, a dozen retrainees at work on handicrafts. "As you see, dull."
"Oh, I don't know. Who's the old-timer over in the corner? The one doing leather work."
"Old Hank? He's pretty well beyond treatment. I'll show you his record sometime. Looks as if he's making another bridle. He's made three already, one white, one red, and one black. This one seems to be beige. Of course he has no idea what he'll do with them. In fact, he told me he knows nothing at all about horses. Poor old Hank!"
Oblivious to their concern, Hank was kicking a water pipe under his bench, tapping out a message to his one friend.
"The government apparently has contingency plans to use some of our people for a work camp. Some construction project. I'd guess it's either another retirement ranch or else a dam on the Rio Grande. But of course they never tell us anything, We only have to deal with the extra security that will mean."
"Do you have many escapes?" asked Dr. Lane.
"We always catch them. And then we give them a taste of the random room. Little invention of my own. The occupant doesn't know what will happen to him, or whenall he knows is that it will be unpleasant. At perfectly random intervals he gets cold water, hot water, shock, strobe lights, whistles, drones, a shower of shit, whispers, heat, cold, and so on. Life in the ordinary ward seems pretty good to them after that. They're grateful for a secure, comfortable routine, and escape iswellremote."
"Ah, yes, I noticed your paper on it in Political Psychopath, though I didn't have a chance to read it yet. Sounds interesting."
Dr. Veck acknowledged this half compliment with half a smile. "Your praxis was at Mount Burris, was it not?" He found his hair hurt, and his breath had to be forced.
"Yes, but not with politicals. I worked mainly with the children of malcontents. Primary adjustments, corporation workshop. Tame stuff compared to political deviation, which has always been my first love. Are you all right, Doctor?"
"Ah, it's nothing. I experience these symptoms, shortness of breath and so on, whenever I leave my office for any length of time. What say we go up to my office now, and I'll show you some typical case histories."
Entering Veck's office, the two men were arrested by a throbbing desert sunset. Dr. Lane sighed. Breaking off in the middle of a discussion of pattern attrition, he murmured:
"Who captains haughty Nature in her flaming hair
Can ne'er rest slothy whilst some lesser groom"
"What was that?" Veck snapped the blinds shut and turned up the decent office light.
"Nothing, really. I wrote it for a class in Environmental Humanities."
"Good for you! We social engineers can use a smattering of culture around the place. Gives us new perspective on our problems. Like this one, for instance." He threw a dusty folder on the desk. "Mr. C. was a Communist, and he liked being a Communist. We tried damned near everything. Finally we learned that a fellow party member had seduced C.'s wife. We simply told him about this, allowed him to escape, and bingo!"
"By killing the seducer, C. proved that he thought of his wife as a piece of property. It was the first beachhead of capitalism in his commie brain. With our help he became vitally interested in other possessions, in getting and spending. His socialism fell away like an old scab. Today C. is a Baptist minister and a Rotarian."
"Or take this case, Mr. von J. Von J. was a malcontent, a hater of authority. Arrested for vandalism, jaywalking, nonpayment of taxes, contempt of court. Here we used aversive methods to great effect. The first step was to teach him self-discipline. We made him hold his urine twenty hours at a time, memorize chapters of Norman Vincent Peale, and so on. Now, I am given to understand, von J. is more than a model citizen; he does some work for the FBI.
"Mr. B. was an anarchist. We placed him in a controlled work situation. Among those who worked around him we removed everyone of competence and replaced them with indecisive idiots. They looked to B. for guidance; he became a straw boss, then a real boss. We rewarded his responsibility with more pay and privileges. He became a trusty.
"Naturally he escaped. On his return, B. learned that R., one of the idiot workers who had worshipped him, had, left on his own, committed suicide.
"In this way B. was brought to see that running away doesn't bring liberty, but slavery. He now realized that the truly free aren't rebels and anarchists, but those who have submitted their will to a Higher Authority. The way I put it to him in a little talk was: 'Democracy is like a spaceship. It may seem stuffy inside, but you can't just step out for a breath of outer space!'"
Dr. Lane saw his cue, and chuckled. "But how did you really arrange it? What actually happened to R.? A transfer?"
"Oh, dear me, no." Veck laughed. "We had to string him up in his room, for real. To make it look good. B. was nothing if not skeptical."
Remorse Code Message
O Hank! You have turnt your face to the wall again. Or anyway you've stopped acknowledging my messages. And you won't talk to the other retrainees. Sit there then in the common room, silent and obscure as Gun.** Trying perhaps to etch out a certain territory in the room by exposing it to the acid of your silence. One by one the others move away to far parts of the room where they can kibbitz at Ping-Pong or pretend to study the paper autumn leaves pinned to the bulletin board, wishing all a HAPPY COLUMBUS DAY. Perhaps you can empty the room itself, even the wing, or the whole of Fort Nixon, driving away all life and plastering over the crevices with thick hostile silence.
But you just couldn't have such an unconstructive notion. Not to say such an asocial, dangerous notion. Because whatever they say about there being no punishments here, extremely uncomfortable things can happen to the asocial. And your silence can hardly be construed as "making an honest effort" at retraining, can it?
Your obstinate silence. Suppose they feel it necessary to counter it? To bring in the Fort Nixon Silver Band to fill the void? And then certain select retrainees (the "doctors" staying out of it) might hold you to a chair while the Silver Band marches past, playing "Under the Double Eagle" and "Them Basses." Certain select retrainees, known somehow to one another, might hold you to a chair while the Silver Band sharpens up. They sharpen the edges of the bells of their trumpets and sousaphones. Then they extend your tongue and hold it while they saw it off with their shining instruments. Then they pin it to the bulletin board, among the autumn leaves.
Listen, Hank, you have friends in high places. One phone call and you can be out of here, long gone before they put you to work on the Great Project. Just admit that God is pretty first-rate and God's Own Country is, gosh, not so bad either, when you get right down under it. Or say anything, say howdy to your friends and neighbors, the other inmates. Otherwise I hear the Silver Band massing in the anteroom; I see a wet pink leaf upon the bulletin board, HAPPY COLUMBUTH DAY, end of Message.
Dr. Lane's Secret Journal (I)
the question of who he thinks he is trying to contact. Veck claims he was in prison before, tapped out morse code on the water pipes with other prisoners and just couldn't break the habit. Though no one here seems to listen to his tapping.
Yesterday, I tried immobilizing Hank with s.p. and restraints. As I predicted, he keeps messages going even then, by nearly inaudible tongue clicks.
A challenging case. Hank evidently was some kind of painter and sculptor at one time. Later he made a series of animated cartoons of which I saw only one example. It seemed particularly sadistic to me. The main story seemed to be a quarrel between dogs, cats, and mice. This version differed from others mainly in that it strove for realistic violence. Thus when an animal was struck by an enormous wooden mallet, he did not go dizzy with X X eyes and tweeting birds and a pulsating red lump. Instead he screamed, staggered, fell, gushed blood, vomited, lay quivering, and died, defecating. I believe the car toon was called "Suffering Cats." It was seditious.
A challenging case. Today we talked.
LANE: Good morning, Hank. Feeling okay today?
HANK: Try a synthesis of that.
LANE: I'd like to try
HANK: They're out of it. No good. (Indistinct murmur) Pricks! (Or "bricks")
LANE: I'd like you to look at these cards and tell me what the story is on each. What they remind you of.
HANK: Listen, I'm the pope around here. I'm the mural man and I'm the muracle man
LANE: What does this remind you of, Hank? (Overturned car)
HANK: It's a picture that's supposed to remind me of the next picture. It reminds me a little of a car accident. And a mural I once did, about fifteen hundred miles long. Incorporated a white line, nothing nicer.
LANE: Do you think doing murals is nice, Hank? Isn't it more fun building things up, painting, than tearing them down?
HANK: Why choose? They don't. It's all part of the same thing, the seduction of the construction. If you're looking for anarchist bombers, arrest God, eh? There's the destruction of the destruction for you!
Anyway, it's too late. You can't exactly make an omelette, can you? One of these days, "Up against the wall, robot!" and it's good-bye Mexico. Their symbol the cockroach, the meek little bastard that inherits the earth.
I gather he's talking about building walls, painting murals on them and then tearing them down. This doubtless symbolizes his whole life, a tension between creation (art) and destruction (anarchy). A long and wasted life! It's hard to believe, but Hank was born before the great Chesterton died.
A Harsh Physic (I)
The roomful of psychologists and police officials paid little attention when the president entered. Some were gossiping, and those who noticed his scurrying figure turned away with disgusted expressions: "That slick bastard
Let's talk about something else
It was different when they saw Bissell of the FBI coming straight from the door to the lectern. The admiration, envy, and affection they felt for the little guy could not be expressed in ordinary termsthough perhaps Freemasons had a word for the stirring beneath the apron.
Bissell gave his report on surveillance. On the whole, random search and arrest techniques had not proved productive of info on subverts. Intensive infiltration was being tried with more success, but it took time, men and money.
"We managed to infiltrate one group of anarchist bombers in the Southwest, for example, only by an indirect method. Our man on the inside is not actually known to uswe couldn't risk direct contact. Instead he passes information to the Bureau and receives orders from it through a neutral man. We call him a 'circuit-breaker,' because he can break contact in case of trouble.
"Our 'Listening Post' program has been very successful," he continued. "This means bugging public and private places where we hope dangerous subverts might meet. Originally we had planned to use computers to sort through the vast amount of tape we collected this way. The computers would search for key words like black, power, liberation, revolution, and government, and select these portions for further study.
"But we have recruited instead a large number of personnel to do this sorting job for us. These recruits are trustworthy, keen listeners, naturally suspicious and absolutely loyal. Best of all, they work for free."
The president raised his hand. "Just who are these dedicated personnel?"
"I was about to explain, sir, that they are elderly people living in retirement homes. As they have little to do, listening gives them pleasure. Many are retired military men, only too glad to still be of service to their country."
That concluded Bissell's report. Flanked by two of his enormous agents, the little man marched out of the room. The rest realized they had been holding their breaths. Now the place seemed empty, as though it had lost some great dynamic presencesome modern Wilhelm Reich.
At the Rocking R
Brad Dexter peered out of his water-cooled window at America Deserta. As always, hot and quiet. Fifty degrees out there, or so the ranch authorities said, and a laborious calculation told him that this was "a hundred and twenty-two real degrees, Irma! Think of that!"
He propped her up so she could see the shimmering desert. "You know, in the old days, they used to fry an egg on the sidewalk on a day like this. No, I guess they only pretended to fry it. I found out later it was a fake, in Unvarnished Truth magazine. I got the issue here someplace."
Much of the small room was taken up with towering stacks of magazines. The ranch authorities hadn't liked it, but Brad had insisted on not parting with a single issue of Unvarnished Truth. If a man couldn't live in comfort at a retirement ranch, just where in hell could he relax? Just tell Brad that, and he would ask no more.
It wasn't much of a ranch. No horses, cattle, barns, corrals, or pastures. In fact, it wasn't a ranch at all, except for being stuck out here in the blazing desert. The Rocking R Retirement Ranch consisted of thirteen great hexagonal towers called "bunkhouses," each named after some forgotten child star. Brad and Irma resided on the twentieth story of Donald O'Connor.***
"Now where is that article?" Brad leafed through tattered, yellowed issues containing the latest on the Kennedy assassinations, "I Killed Martin Bormann," "Her Hubby Was a Woman," "Eyeless Sight," "Birth Pills Can Kill!" and "How Oil Companies Murdered the Car That Runs on Water." "I know I had that danged thing someplace What are you looking at, honey?"
There wasn't much to see outside. Everything was so still it could have been a hologram. The electric fence that marked the future location of the Wall made a diagonal across this picture, starting in the lower right corner and disappearing over a dune at the upper left. Next to it an endless sausage curl of barbed wire followed the same contour. Somewhere beyond the dune lay the work camp where they were building the Wall. Once a week, Brad had been lucky enough to see a great silver airship carrying equipment and supplies to the camp, and now he hoped Irma had spotted another. It was funny about Irma. Even though her eyes never moved, Brad could always tell when she was intent on something.
Now he saw it, a tiny figure trudging along next to the barbed wire coil, coming this way. From here, Brad couldn't make out much except the gray uniform.
"Escapee from the work camp, Irma. And there goes the danged lunch bell. Well, to heck with thatthis is worth missing lunch for!" He took out his teeth for comfort.
The work camp prisoners were all political agitators, commies, anarchists, and others who had tried to overthrow the government by force. Brad had got to see some of them closer up when they came to do some work on the roof of Shirley Temple. They had built an enormous black box up theresomething to do with the security system for the Wall. Brad guessed it was radar. The prisoners had all looked well fed and contented, probably better off than a lot of people that had worked hard all their lives, like Brad.
"This should be good," he said, breaking wind with excitement. "That fool has been slogging along God knows how many miles in this heat, and all for nothing. They'll get him. Always do, or so they tell me. I figure they won't even bother looking for him until they've let him bake his brains a little. They know what they're doing, all right. There, what did I tell you?"
A helicopter cruiser had now come over the hill. It moved slowly along the barbed wire as though tacking the fugitive, though he was in plain sight. Looking back, he speeded up his walking movements, though his progress was still hopeless. Gradually the spray of dust raised by the rotors advanced, erasing his footprints.
As the cruiser closed in, the pedestrian threw himself down and tried to dig in like a crab. But the magic circle of blowing dust overtook and enclosed him. The helicopter paused, turning, poking its rear in the air, excited by the kill.
When it rose, the man was flopping in a net, a neat package hanging from the insect belly. Brad watched it out of sight.
"By Godfrey, Irma, wasn't that something? Our boys really know their stuff. It made me proud to be living here in the greatest country on earth. And to think that our boys are building our First Line of Defense right here where we can see it! God, it's grand, old girl!"
The second lunch bell rang, and Brad decided to eat after all. At least today he'd have something to tell Harry Boggs, instead of the other way around. Harry thought the world revolved around him and his Listening Post work. Gossip-gathering was all it really amounted to.
"Only, today I've got better gossip!" Brad slipped in his teeth and grimaced them into position, then off he went. Irma, being an inflatable, had of course no need to eat.
That week the residents of Donald O'Connor bunkhouse were treated to an official lecture on the Wall. Captain Mallery Middlemass turned out to be all they could have hoped, a well-burnished young man, glowing with health. They all savored the depth of his chest, the breadth of his shoulders, the rich timbre of his voice. So unlike the usual visitors, either down-at-heels entertainers like "The Amazing Lepantos" or else retired folk from other bunkhouses, people with frail lungs, uneven shoulders, and thin, dry hair. The captain's hair was shiny black as patent leather, and his eyes were dark-glowing garnets.
He explained that the Wall was a population barrier. While our own population was increasing at a reasonable rate, that of Mexico was completely out of control.
"For years the slow poisons have been seeping across the border: marijuana, pornography, VD, and cheap labor. They have seeped into America's nervous system, turning our kids into drug addicts, infecting their minds and bodies with filth and stealing away American jobs. Poverty and its handmaidens, crime and vice, are spreading across the nation like cancer. They have one source: Spanish America!"
He showed them the model and explained some of the Wall's special features. It would incorporate (on the Mexican side) sophisticated electronic detection equipment and weapons, capable of marking the sparrow's fall, and (on our side) part of a new highway network connecting retirement ranches with new Will Doody Funvilles.
Brad and Harry got in line to shake the captain's hand. Up close they could see that he was not so young, after all. The sagging patches of yellow skin around his eyes really were a case for Unvarnished Truth.
· · · · ·
3. The Bang Gang
A Harsh Physic (II)
After Bissell, a police training expert spoke on riot control. "The first step is knowing when and where a riot is going to start. We can often control this factor by 'priming the pump,' or staging a catalytic incident ourselves."
"Just a minute!" The Great Seal looked concerned. "Isn't that provocation? Is it legal?"
"It is, the way we do it, yes, sir. We just have one man dressed as a demonstrator 'attacked,' 'brutally beaten,' and 'arrested' in sight of the mob. All simulated, of course. My department has never been against using street theatre in this wayand it's legal.
"Once things are in motion, we have other choices: We can contain, control, or divert a riot. Sometimes we even 'de-control' it, or let it get out of hand. If a mob does enough damage, we usually find public opinion hardened against them.
"Our actual techniques are too numerous to describethe menu of gases alone is enormous. I might mention one experiment: giving tactical police a rage-inducing drug prior to their going on duty. A related experiment is hate-suggestion TV in the duty bus. On their way to the scene of action the boys are given a dose of King Mob at his ugliest. This has produced a nine percent increase in arrests, and a whopping seventeen percent increase in nonpolice casualties! It seems worth further investigation.
"A lot of riot work is the job of the evidence and public-relations squads. The evidence squad guarantees convictions for riot crimes: conspiracy to disorder, incitement to riot, and unlawful assembly. One way of doing this is to issue what we call 'black' publications. These are posters, leaflets, and newspapers made to look like real 'underground' items, but we've added to them certain incriminating articles. After all, the real intentions of these radicals are to bomb and shoot the ordinary, decent citizens into submission, and it's time we exposed them for what they are! Our evidence squad is headed by a man with considerable experience, the former editor of Unvarnished Truth magazine.
"The public-relations squad helps edit film and TV tape of riots, to help the public understand what we are doing. They remove portions that might be used to smear our tactical police forces. The national networks have all been very cooperative in this effort to close the 'communications gap' and keep the American public informed. It all adds up to a whale of a lot of work for us, but we like it that way. We believe that there's no such thing as a terrible riotjust bad publicity."
Up the Sleeves
"The question is, why is it legal to be a cop?" Chug asked. The crowd, gathered to watch him and Ayn performing, were caught off balance. "The cop is clearly employed by the criminal, to spread crime and disorder."
"Commie!" A bottle crashed at Chug's feet.
"Another vote for law and order," he remarked, and went right on. "Ever see a cop eat a banana?"
Ayn and Chug usually got a crowd by doing tricks. Ayn, in pink spangled tights and with her black hair flowing free, would swallow fire. Then Chug would take over. In immaculate evening dress, he'd stride about the cleared circle, producing fans of cards and lighted cigarettes from the air. Now that they had Ras to sell pamphlets down front, it became a smoother show. The crowds were bigger, but nastier.
Someone threw another bottle. Ayn picked up a big piece of it and took a healthy bite. The crowd was so quiet that all could hear her crunching glass. After a moment Chug resumed his speech, whipping them up to such wild enthusiasm that one or two reckless citizens bought nickel pamphlets from Ras.
"Why is our corporation government so worried about Mexico?" Chug asked. "Why are they willing to spend more money on building a wall against the Mexican poor than has been spent on the welfare of our own poor in fifty years? Could it be that mere humanity is becoming an embarrassment to our standard oil government?"
"Go back to Russia!"
"Russia is a state of mind. Why don't we all go back to a human state of mind? Why is it more illegal now to blow up an empty government office building, hurting no one, than to drop tons of bombs and burning gasoline on civilian farm families? Is it because the first is something the people do to a government, while the second --"
The next missile was a tire iron. It spun high against the lemon Jell-O sky and down, knocking off Chug's silk hat. Grinning desperately, he produced two bouquets of feather flowers. Under cover of this misdirection, Ayn escaped to get the car. She picked up Ras first, then circled the crowd to get Chug as the rocks and bottles started reaching for him. Ras opened the door and a brickbat clipped Chug in.
"The crowd wasn't angry," he said, mopping blood with a string of bright silk squares. "Someone started that. Someone in back."
"I know, I saw them," said Ras. "Lambs.**** Four of them. I noticed when they got out of their Cadillac, with coats over their arms to hide the tire irons and bats. I tried to warn you, but they were too quick."
"Well, it shows they care."
Ayn, Chug, and Ras
Although various people drifted in and out of the group centred on OK's Bookstore, Ayn and Chug were its constant twin nuclei. Formerly "The Amazing Lepantos," they had fallen into revolution as a new gimmick, an addition to their repertoire. What a show-stopper, to finish with government for good! But now the gimmick had ensleeved them. Ayn ran the bookstore, which specialized in the occult and so drew those hungering for utopia.
But instead of the indigestible stone of Marxist tracts, Ayn gave them the bread of poetry. OK Press produced pamphlets calling no one brother, exhorting none to rise up or join in, making no demand to stand up and be counted. The Garden of Regularity was a spirited defence of cannibalism on the grounds of its "natural laxative effects," while Think Again, Mr. Big Business! was a pornographic radio play. One unaccountably popular item was a movie scenario by "Phil Nolan" called The U S of A.
Chug was a spare-time anarchist, as he had been a spare-time Lepanto. His real job was mechanical designer for Will Doody Enterprises. It was Chug who choreographed the antics of the robot animals that made up each Doody Funville show.
Bison and beaver were programmed to dance and sing the stories of famous Americans, all of them Unforgettable Characters. A caribou related the musical story of the invention of the telephone by "Mr. Ring-a-ding-dingy Bell." Otters caroled of Abner Doubleday's game. The pleasanter parts of the legend of John D. Rockefeller were repeated by a shy, long-lashed brontosaurus.
In the Doody world it was always Saturday afternoon in a small Midwestern town of 1900. Science was represented by Tom Edison, poetry by Ed Guest, painting by Norm Rockwell and Grandma Moses, literature by Booth Tarkington and Horatio Alger, culture by the ice-cream parlor and politics by the barbershop. And all was interpreted by cuddly robots.
Currently Chug was arranging the linkages of a duck to enable it to duckspeak of Thomas Paine:
Yup, yup! He was a firebrand
And his brand of fire
Was more than old King George could stand.
The song omitted mention of how Paine had died: old, lonely. and so despised by the Americans whose freedom he'd labored for that they could not suffer him to sit in a stagecoach with decent folk. In spare moments at work, Chug drew sketches for impossibly elaborate singing bombs.
Ras became the third steadfast member of the group. He was an unemployed high-school teacher who apparently drifted to them and stuck. Running the press, minding the store, handing out pamphletsnothing was too much trouble for him. That's because he was, as everyone knew perfectly well, a police spy.
Ras found it hard to infiltrate them, not because they were secretive, but because they seemed to have no secrets at all. They were careless about publicity, and indeed, the group had never been given a name. Baffled by their openness, Ras kept digging. He never doubted for a moment that they had concealed a sinister purpose, like Chesterton's anarchists, under a cloak of jolly anarchy.
"Where do we keep the bombs?" he would ask.
"Up here," Ayn would say, tapping her head with solemn significance. "Truth be our dynamite."
"And Justice our permanganate," Chug would add. "And our blasting caps be Freedom, Honor, and"
"No, really. The real bombs."
They hated to disappoint him. "You'll know soon enough, Ras. It's just that we hate to tell you too soon, in case you fell into the hands of the police or anything."
Then Chug and Ayn would go off somewhere and laugh, while Ras went to report. It never occurred to them to "deal with" him in any way, or even to withdraw their friendship. He was, after all, a needed romantic figure, an Informer. Without him the group would have been dull indeed.
The Circuit Breaker
Ras was supposed to be giving old Mr. Eric von Jones tuition in mathematics. Shortly after each lesson, Mr. von Jones would take a piano lesson from an FBI agent. In this way Ras and the agent communicated without knowing each other's name or face.
"Have you completed the problems I assigned?"
Somehow asking Mr. von Jones the simplest question set off in him an elaborate cycle of clockwork twitches and tics: hand to mouth, roll of eye, lift of brow, and shrug of shoulder. The cycle took a full minute to complete.
here." The old man slid across the dining table a dozen sheets of carefully written equations. On the last page were Ras's orders.
"Fine. Now here's your corrected work from last time." Ras slid back to him a report on the OK's Bookstore group. "Now, shall we go over some trigonometric ratios?"
The twitches unwound once more. "Yes
I'd like that." Squaring his notebook with the corners of the table, he selected one of a dozen pencils all sharpened to the same length and headed the page "Notes."
"You don't need to really take notes," Ras whispered.
interested in ratios."
Ras looked at him: a corpse at attention. No doubt Mr. von Jones made the FBI man teach him scales too. That parsnip-colored face seemed to glow only at the prospect of some tiresome duty. Probably he would go on from one chore to another, carrying himself through routine motions for a few more years, until at last he was called to the great treadmill in the sky.
Dr. Lane's Secret Journal (II)
I can't understand how Hank knew they were going to build a wall along the border. One with a "white line
fifteen hundred miles long," which is a highway! It all seemed just babbling at the time, but now even the "good-bye Mexico" makes sense. I have also just learned that a Will Doody Funville is to be built somewhere in the area, against the wall. No doubt "Up against the wall, robot!" refers to Doody's robot animals!
This seems to be a genuine case of clairvoyance. There is just no other rational explanation!
Harry Boggs on Life
Harry gave an after-dinner lecture on the subject "Is There Life on Other Planets?" to a dozen other residents of Donald O'Connor bunkhouse. He concluded that there certainly was, and that it was of the utmost importance to get in contact with the Uranians.
"That's the real reason they're building this wall," he said. "With powerful telescopes, the Uranians will be able to see it."
Another important means of communication could be telepathy, he went on, but most of us had our telepathic equipment damaged by a lack of vital sea kelp in our diet. When he'd finished, four or five white heads in the audience nodded, as if in agreement. Brad Dexter's was among them; Harry bad seen bundles of Unvarnished Truth on a cart, bound for the incinerator. And draped over the top bundle, what looked like a deflated rubber dolly
No time for such thoughts now, of course. Time for Harry's important government work. Red-faced and breathless with vision, he hurried to his room and tuned in on Listening Post.
"Number 764882. Number 764882," said an announcer slowly, so he could copy it down. Two women's voices came on the air.
a slipped disk. But all in all, it wasn't bad."
"Haven't they got any forjias? No? Okay, bring me the roast sud. What did you say his name was?"
Harry was happier talking about his important government work than actually doing it, but he soldiered along. The FBI expected him to listen to an hour a day of this:
"Impinging upon my career. The great chain of buying, that's what it is. Impinging and impugning
Einstein and people like Einstein said that the world was flat
bargain jay or meep
Harry vowed that he would never again say anything dull or unimportant in a public place.
MEMO: From the desk of A. Lincoln
I generally find that a man slow to get a joke is slow to win a battle. That is why I like to see my generals piss-eyed with laughter at all times. General Ned Allison tells me he knows of three soldiers, who had been imbibing, and were sent to a certain address in Gettysburgbut I expect that this is just one of Ned's "leg-pullers." Hope you and Martha are well. I and the missus are tolerable.
Chug and Ayn had wanted to go, so much so that Ras suspected a secret meeting. Perhaps this "séance" was really the place where they received their orders from the Central Council of Anarchists. He'd volunteered to go with them, and they'd insisted he go in their place. There was his dilemma: Were they getting him out of the way while they went elsewhere, or were they trying to bluff him out of the séance?
He went, still vaguely expecting the Central Council, men in beards and dark glasses, calling themselves Breakfast, Coffee Break, Lunch, Tea, Dinner, Supper and Midnight Snack
The medium was an anemic old lady with knotty flesh hanging from her arms, Mrs. Ross. The others were Hank James (an old man with mad eyes), Dr. Lane (looked like a young optician), Mrs. Paris (a plump old lady with an asthmatic Pekingese and a hat of similar material), and Steiner, a young man with erupting skin.
As soon as the lights went out, Ras felt another presence, an enormous fat man who almost filled the room. In the deep blind blackness it was terrifying, for Ras dared not move for fear of touching the fat man.
The medium did not speak. After a moment, Ras said, "I thought it wasn't supposed to work with a skeptic in the room."
A deep, fat voice came back at once: "Don't be an ass. That's what these fraud mediums tell you, but don't listen to them. Actually it only works when there is at least one skeptic in the room."
"Who are you?"
"Some call me God, Allah, Jaweh, the All, the Other, the Great Imponderable, Bingo, Mammon, the Light, names like that. Call me what you like, but call me in time for dinner."
Ras shuddered at the use of that particular noun. "Are you the chief of the anarchists, then?"
"Why must there be a chief? Maybe we all walk shoulder to shoulder, shank to shank. No leaders."
"Not your kind. You need kings to kill, at least. And presidents and bishops and godsall targets for your bombs."
"Go on. I find it fascinating the way reactionaries assume all the bombs and guns are turned against them. Who raises the armies, builds the rockets, buys the bombs, draws the border and declares war, if not your kings and presidents?"
"I should warn you," Ras said through gritted teeth, "I am an agent of the FBI." The time for caution was past.
"That is obvious, and needs no warning. But you'd better warn me if you feel a change of heart coming on."
"No danger of that, my fat friend!"
"Ah! But if you say that, you are on the very brink of conversion to anarchy!"
"But you are the forces of anarchy. You are they who hate and fear the light, they who hate order because it is orderly, life because it is alive."
Suddenly it was all wrong. Ras felt as if he had betrayed himself, to himself. He was the anarchist, and this voice the spirit of Law and Order, of J. Edgar Hoover, of
"Damn you!" he shrieked. "Damn you, Chesterton!"
"Chesterton?" said the voice as the lights came up. "But my dear chap, Chesterton is simply other people."
Mrs. Ross opened her eyes and beamed. "My, how successful we have been!" she said. "Two strong emanations! I think I liked the one called Chesterton best, though the late FBI agent was nice too."
Dr. Lane's Secret Journal (III)
Dr. Veck has refused to accept my parapsychological explanation of Hank's predictions. He's refused to even discuss them. But I tried Hank out at a séance and also with ESP cards, with interesting results. At the séance I actually spoke with the spirit of Chesterton and heard him curse himself! This may not be Hank's influence, of course. Still, there are the ESP scores. His psychosis seems to have brought him near to some crack in the fabric of futurity so that his inner eye sees through! If Dr. Veck continues trying to suppress this discovery of national importance, I may have to unleash Hank's terrible power upon him.
Hank's terrible power is that he knows the futurewhich means the future is in some way here already! We need only ask him what to do, and receive the awful impress of his ESPing reply.
PS. I find my concentration on receiving ESP messages is much keener when I restrict my diet to brown foodsbrown eggs, bread, sugar, and riceand to iron-rich foods such as molasses. Perhaps the iron sets up induction currents. But I must retain control. Hysteresis is the path to hysteria.
"I haven't got any 'corrected problems' for you this time. In fact I feel like giving all this up. Why don't you just tell your piano teacher that I can't find out any more about their bombs. About anything. And I'm not sure I care."
see. Well, then, how about the lesson?"
"I've already learned some of it." To Ras's horror, the old man closed his eyes and began reciting from memory the tables of sines and cosines.
Maybe I am an anarchist. The anarchist. But is this law and order? Sitting here listening to a mad old man?
At 4° 15', Ras lurched from the table.
"I know, excuse me, I feel a little sick." He stumbled into the dark hallway and snatched at a doorknob at random.
"No, wait! Don't open that!"
Ras crashed into a closet full of glass gallon jugs. As he recoiled, one jug tipped and fell, splattering its contents. The smell of stale piss rose about him. "My God!"
"I'm sorry. I'm
very retentive, you see."
When Ras had slammed out of the house, Mr. von Jones shrugged, cleared his throat, curled his right foot around a table leg, lifted an eyebrow, coughed. A terrible scene. A terrible young man. Damage had been done and repairs were needed. Mr. von Jones counted to ten thousand, to the metronome.
Resist; A Plot Is Brought Home; The Tour
Ras cornered Chug in a café. "Listen, I have a" He meant "confession to make," but finished "plan." His voice shook, and his eyes reflected the peculiar disagreeable yellow of the Formica tables. "We'll blow up the White House and kill the president."
Keeping his face straight, Chug nodded. "Okay. I've got an idea for the bomb to do it with." On the yellow Formica he sketched his design for an enormous steam-driven duck that could sing "Taking a Chance on Love" while delivering an explosive egg.
Harry Boggs could hardly believe his good luck. But, by jingo, there was no doubt about it. This "Ras" and his pal "Chug" were plotting assassination. This was the real thing!
The piano teacher had brought along a piano tuner. "Listen, Mr. von Jones, we're making the raid today. We have to know the name of our contact man on the inside. I mean, is he still working for us? We haven't had a report for weeks."
The two men leaned over him. "Mr. von Jones? Are you all right?"
"Look at this, Don. Pupils are different sizes. This guy's had a stroke."
fine, really. And I know the young man you mean. But his name just
I didn't retain it."
The raid proceeded. The FBI succeeded in arresting all members of the gang except the one called "Ras," who they suspected was the ringleader. The rest were interrogated and packed off to Fort Nixon for retraining as good citizens.
Late that night, the president worked at his memoirs in the small office attached to his bedroom.
and all of the Negroes wanted to shake my hand!! Combined with the rest of the day's defeats, the pressures of responsibility for this heaviest office in the land, it was almost enough to shake my faith in my own destiny. But not quite.
I had much to be weary about. Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska were virtually a dustbowl. South Africa and its satellite nations were getting tough about Tanzania. The War still dragged on. The steel and rail strikes still dragged on. The citiesbetter not spoken of. Yet I had time in the midst of the storm to share a quiet joke with General Hare. I asked if he knew what kind of boat would be a slow boat to China? The answer was, a gravy boat!
The Great Seal enjoyed his joke all over again. It was the only one he'd ever made, unless you counted the Great Wall of Mexico.
The Reagan Room
"What I want to know," said one of the Roosevelts to another as they went off duty, "is what he does in the Reagan Room? I've seen trays of food go in there, and a doctor."
The other smiled the famous Roosevelt smile. "I thought you knew. He keeps a wounded soldier in there. Some say he just sits and chats with him, gives him encouragement. But others say it's very odd that he particularly asked for a soldier with a belly wound."
"Just a minute!" The first FDR scowled. "That's the president you're talking about, mister. Watch yourself!"
"Now calm down. Listen, even the president might do something he's not very proud of now and then, right? I mean, he's only phocine, for Christ's sake. Try to see this thing in the greater perspective of his brilliant career."
"Okay, okay. I just said watch it, that's all."
· · · · ·
4. The Cockroach
Dr. Lane's Secret Journal (IV)
Hank has tapped out his ESP message in no uncertain terms. I see that Dr. Veck is an obstacle to science. My task is clear, for Hank has sent me a picture of Dr. Veck lying in a pool of blood. It must be done. I am but the instrument of fate, or of G. K. Chesterton. Perhaps they are one and the same. O my restless, questioning soul, thirsting for truth!
Later. I did it. I killed Veck in the middle of his work on a very interesting paper on socialism and epilepsy. Hank took the news calmly, considering that he is now off drugs.
"We're all of us doomed anyway," he said.
"The Wall. The Wall was my idea in the first place."
"You influenced future ev"
"I influenced my nephew. A long time ago I told my nephew an idea of mine for a Great Wall of Mexico. It was to be a giant decorated sculpture. My nephew much later became a special 'creative' adviser to the president. Obviously he has put my idea into effect. Young Bill Filcup was always very enterprising."
"But the doom?"
"Well, you and I, and this hospital-prison, and a lot of other people and places, are the decoration."
I said I didn't understand. He laughed.
"We just haven't been applied yet," he said.
The meaning of all this escapes me. It may be clear one day. From my window I can see the Wall, and the magnificent sunset. I
Harry thought he smelled something burning.
The U S of A
A movie scenario by "Phil Nolan":
Scene I. A peak in Darien. Cortez stands gazing upon the Pacific, which, it is clear from the way his men exchange glances, he has just named. He is silent.
Scene II. Rapidly turning calendar pages: November 28, 29, Brumaire, 1666, Aries, November 30, 31, Ventose, 6379, 125, Thursday, 5427, New Moon.
Scene III. The Delaware River. Washington approaches, throws silver dollar across.
Scene IV. Old Glory flutters in breeze. Offscreen voices hum "God Save the King."
Scene V. Japanese diplomats walking out of League of Nations. Offscreen lugubrious voice: "The treacherous Japanese insisted they were a peace-loving people, and we believed them. Thenthe stab in the back that brought Mr. and Mrs. America to their senses. On December 7, 1941(cut to atomic bomb explosion)Pearl Harbor!"
Scene VI. Statue of Liberty, holding up a sword. Same voice: "At last, just as Britain has its Neptunia ruling the waves, just as France has its 'La belle dame sans merci,' now America has Mrs. Liberty, welcoming the storm-tossed aliens." (Karl Rossman passes.) "Welcome! Welcome to the melting pot!"
Scene VII. (Animation) Cauldron marked MELTING POT. Ladle pours in liquefied "masses." Cauldron slowly sags and melts.
A Special Message from the President
The president's black-and-white image appeared on the television screen surrounded by a black condolence border. He seemed almost too humble to have a clear image. Instead the fuzzy, bleached patches of his face, oddly patterned by liver spots and furrows, gave him the look of a soiled etching.
"My countrymen, it is a grave announcement that I must make to you this evening. What I am about to say is a block of sadness and grief in the neighborhood of my heart, as I am sure it will be in yours.
"Tonight several nuclear explosions occurred at different places along the population barrier between the United States and Mexico. These explosions, let me make this perfectly dear, were accidental. No one is to blame. No one could have avoided them. Certain technical failures in our security system set off a chain of eventsand Nature took its course.
"Still, there's no denying that many thousands, millions, rather, of people have been killed. Since these bombs were located on top of high-rise retirement ranches and on top of mental hospitals, they have killed many unfortunate persons, and that is to be regretted. It is also regrettable that a lethal zone has been created along our border."
The black border vanished. Jubilant music swelled behind his voice as our leader intoned: "On the positive side, very few of our troops in the area were injured. The army reports only a dozen casualties. Some of Will Doody's Funville projects have been destroyed, but I am going to ask Congress to compensate Mr. Doody for this terrible loss. As for the Wall itself, it has been badly burned and cratered in spots. Luckily it protects our border yet with a barrier of radiation. For the present, we are vigilant but safe. And for the future?"
Suddenly the air about the grey President was filled with tiny, bright-colored figures: animated elves, fairies, butterflies and bluebirds, tiny pink bats in spangled hose, flying chipmunks and dancing dragonflies. Smiling, he too burst into color. "The future is ours, my countrymen! We will rebuild our Wall taller and stronger and safer than ever, so secure that it will last a thousand years! Come! Help me make this country strong!" He extended an arm upon which doves and butterflies were alighting already. And as the chorus sang "
from sea to shining sea," twittering bluebirds modestly covered the scene with a Star-Spangled Curtain.
Ras turned up again in Red Square, conspicuous in a black cape and a tall silk hat. The cane in his hand was a sword cane, naturally, and the whiskers hooked over his ears on spectacle bows. A tourist gaped for a moment as Ras harangued a crowd of pigeons.
When he'd finished, he produced a round black bomb, lit it, and tossed it into the crowd. Its small pop was enough to attract the notice of two yawning policemen, who came over to examine the three dead pigeons.
As, still stifling yawns, they escorted him away, Ras shouted slogans into the faces of other tourists. Probably they knew no English, for they stared sullenly, all but one man, who sought an explanation in his guidebook.
* And bulletproof, another legacy of poor Rogers.
** War god of the Fon.
*** The other bunkhouses were Shirley Temple, Margaret O'Brien, Butch Jenkins, Baby Leroy, Bobby Driscoll, Jackie Cooper, Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Luana Patten, Mickey Rooney, Dean Stockwell, and Skippy Homeier.
**** Lambs: a vigilante group borrowing rhetoric and enthusiasm from late "silent patriot" S. Agnew: "They call us pigs, but we are really sacrificial lambs. We will not bandy epithets, but gladly give our lives to sweep this country clean of its plethora of pusillanimous liberals and their drug-pushing, parasitical radical associates."
© John Sladek 1977. The Great Wall of Mexico first appeared in Bad Moon Rising, 8 1973, Thomas M. Disch.