Insurrection Resurrection Excerpts
(Setting: The Head Honcho’s secretary discovers why government-procured items cost so much.)
While Freeman charged off to recruit an Insurrection Czar, another crisis began when the Honcho’s personal secretary, Buxomus Blondus, announced that the government ran out of paper clips. Everyone ignored her, since the Honcho employed her solely for her impressive physical attributes. What she lacked in office skills was more than compensated for by magnificent breasts protruding from her chest like erotic missiles. Her firm, voluptuous ass wiggled below an impossibly narrow waist and above two impossibly long legs. The services she provided the Honcho were completely unrelated to office work. She didn’t know how to turn on the computer, make copies, or take dictation, but she was the Honcho’s sexual plaything. So, when she announced the paper clip shortage, no one noticed anything but her physique.
However, a homely secretary who was actually employed to do office work also noticed the paper clip shortage. In the past, this was easily remedied by a purchase requisition authorizing a buyer to procure more. Unfortunately, the Government Accounting Office had recently instituted severe purchasing controls to prevent fraud and abuse. The multi-volume Federal Acquisition Regulations were intended to safeguard against the reckless spending of federal funds.
The paper clip buyer took to heart the new regulations, which stipulated that a detailed specification was needed to avoid confusion about which paper clips were actually required. Should they be one or two inches long? Should they be blue, pink, or metallic? Should they be tin or copper? Should they be bare or plastic coated? The buyer dutifully notified the homely secretary that he couldn’t proceed with her requisition without a comprehensive spec.
Unfortunately, she didn’t know how to write detailed specifications, particularly for ordinary paper clips. Fortunately, a secretary who used to work in the Pentagon suggested consulting with military technocrats, who were adept at specifying intricate acquisitions such as nuclear weaponry and freeze dried beer.
The Pentagon technocrats were eager to develop the specifications for the government’s paper clips. The mere mention of the Head Honcho, who chaired the Senate Ways and Means Committee, was sufficient to get design engineers immediately reassigned from the MX Missile Project to the Paper Clip Project. The Pentagon wanted to impress him with their technical wizardry to guarantee a continued torrent of funds to develop weapons capable of deterring any enemies contemplating attacking America, if such exist.
To fund the effort, a special appropriation was hustled through Congress, who assumed that when the Pentagon needed money for a project of vital strategic importance, it meant national security was at stake, as opposed to job security of the technocrats in the military-industrial complex. The code name Paper Clip Project also misled Congress into believing that a substantial “black budget” effort was behind this innocuous moniker.
With the $500 million dollar appropriation, the Pentagon assembled a crack team of engineers, who left no design consideration unexamined. For example, the paper clips needed to be durable, to avoid the expense of continually replacing them. Therefore, the engineers specified the rare metal Unobtanium, which has extraordinary tensile strength and resistance to corrosion. Unfortunately, its melting point is one million degrees centigrade, so the smelting process requires nuclear fusion.
Standard paper clips are either one or two inches long. However, the ergonomic engineers at the Pentagon determined that a paper clip 1 3/4 inches long provided the optimum balance between paper gripping surface and ease of handling. In order to prevent electro-static discharge near sensitive electronics, they had to be coated with conductive paint. They had to be magnetized to adhere to metals, and have a PH factor of -3 to prevent skin inflammation. According to OSHA standards, they also had to be weightless, to prevent back strain and carpal tunnel syndrome. Fortunately, weightlessness could be achieved by using the Pentagon’s top-secret anti-gravity rays.
The paper clips had to be gray, to prevent eyestrain and to avoid discrimination lawsuits, since any other color would be construed by minority groups as a racial slur. They also had to be usable by physically challenged employees, so they were specified with miniature motors and rotors controlled by microcircuits that react to voice commands.
When the design effort was completed, the engineers applauded their accomplishment. In the grand tradition of the military industrial complex, another product had been developed that was going to cost 411 times its budget, be impossible to manufacture, and have a mean time between failures of 4.6 seconds. As colossal bundles of money fell into very deep pockets, the Pentagon delivered the paper clip specification to the secretaries in the Senatorial Office Building.
Now the procurement phase of the Paper Clip Project could begin. Three competitive bids had to be obtained from qualified manufacturers, with the contract awarded to the lowest bidder who met the specifications. However, the contract was actually awarded to the firm that enticed the purchasing agent with the best wine, prostitutes, and kickbacks. An unsuccessful bidder filed a lawsuit challenging the contract award, on the grounds that it was physically and morally impossible for paper clips to cost $3 billion per box, which was the winning bid. The lawsuit was thrown out because the secretary of the presiding judge had recently procured thumbtacks that cost even more. The judge concluded that this was the going price for government paper fasteners.
Despite being paid $3 billion per box, the winning bidder experienced staggering cost overruns because of the utterly unmanufacturable specification. Pre-production models kept failing the first article tests. The dust test, in which a paper clip was subjected to a desert sandstorm, was particularly troublesome. Sand kept gumming up the miniature motors and rotors, so it didn’t respond to voice commands. Worse still, the handicapped people giving the voice commands got their vocal cords gummed up by the ferocious sandstorms. The manufacturer went through 26 prototype paper clips and 11 handicapped people before passing this test.
The environmental stress tests were also difficult. Since paper clips might be used in Alaska or Saudi Arabia, they had to survive temperatures ranging from -40 degrees to 150 degrees. The paper clips themselves had no trouble operating in these thermal extremes. Unfortunately, the test operators weren’t quite as durable. The first tests resulted in 14 hypothermia victims and 17 heat stroke victims. This problem was corrected by using dummies from the Education Department as testers.
The final hurdle was the nuclear survivability test, in which a five-megaton warhead was dropped on a paper clip. Amazingly, the Unobtanium clip survived the explosion. However, technicians suspected the test was flawed, because no other product had ever survived. For a more controlled test, a human holding a paper clip was placed at a desk on the test range. Another warhead was detonated. The control group, which consisted of the human and the desk, was obliterated by the blast, while the Unobtanium paper clip was unscathed. After examining the results, the technicians agreed the paper clip had indeed survived a legitimate nuclear test.
The manufacturing process was sophisticated and expensive. The smelter for the raw Unobtanium was actually a nuclear fusion reactor, with a core temperature of 1 million degrees maintained by four million-volt lasers focused on a plasma concocted of quarks and mesons. The cost to train the production workers was astronomical, because the manufacturer was required by its UAW contract to train existing workers rather than hire nuclear experts to operate the smelter. Their learning curve led to many errors, including a meltdown during a pre-production run.
Mining the raw Unobtanium was even more difficult. Unobtanium is found in a single deposit deep within the earth’s mantle, directly below a habitat of the extremely endangered reticulated aardvark. So, the manufacturer had to do an expensive environmental impact study before drilling for the Unobtanium ore. They simulated the drilling process in a laboratory cage containing male and female reticulated aardvarks, while the Endangered Species Commission carefully monitored vital signs and reproductive activity. The only appreciable effect the drilling had on the animals was to stimulate fornication by creating a suggestive thought in the erotic lobe of the male’s brain. The ESC reluctantly approved full-scale mining, and then moved on to prosecute a beachcomber for leaving a footprint in a protected sand dune along Lake Michigan.
Despite these hardships, the manufacturer eventually produced the paper clips. After four train loads of regulatory paperwork, $16 billion dollars of cost overruns, and the deaths of 43 unwitting test administrators, the paper clips were delivered to the federal government. The secretaries were elated. They nominated Buxomus Blondus, who originally discovered the paper clip shortage, to present the first box to the Head Honcho. Brimming with pride, she slinked into the Honcho’s inner office and purred alluringly, “Honcho dear, I have something for you!”
“I’ve got a headache,” replied the Honcho.
(Setting: Freeman is shaken down for money by the office’s coffee account dues collector for various services he does not benefit from.)
Freeman unexpectedly reappeared in his Washington office, sporting bandages, crutches, and a case of clap. His return put an end to the rancorous tug-of-war over his office furniture that had been waged fiercely since he disappeared, and everyone assured him that any scandalous rumors he might hear about himself were totally untrue and of unknown origin. Generally, though, they ignored him, except for the Coffee Account Dues Collector. “Your account is two months in arrears”, said the coffee account enforcer, who wore a green visor and spoke in the same morbid voice as actuaries, tax collectors, and morticians.
“That’s impossible!” protested Freeman.
“I’ve never been wrong before.”
Freeman knew that this was true. “Still, there must be some mistake,” he persisted. “I didn’t drink any coffee during the last two months. I was gone! Look at my wounds!”
He admired Freeman’s traumatized body with an appreciative eye unique to debt collectors. “Hmmm. Did I do that?”
“No, I was struck by a missile in Vhaicam”, said Freeman.
“That’s most unfortunate. Was it friendly or enemy fire?”
“I’m told it doesn’t matter.”
“Yes, I suppose that’s true”, conceded the Coffee Account Dues Collector. “It also doesn’t matter whether you drank any coffee or not. You still owe the dues.”
“Why?” cried Freeman, his voice rising half an octave in frustration. “Paying for a service I didn’t use doesn’t make any sense.”
“I didn’t say it made sense. I said you still owe the dues. You’re on the wrong side of the looking glass if you expect things to make sense.”
Freeman indeed suspected he was in the wrong plane of existence, but there was little he could do about it, except make one last valiant effort to dodge the caffeine-dispensing cretin. “Paying for a service I didn’t use is unfair.”
“Demanding fairness is rather antisocial”, said the Coffee Account Dues Collector. “Our government would collapse if everyone thought like you.”
Freeman wondered if it was actually the Coffee Account Dues Collector that the Honcho saw during his inebriated encounters with the Mad Hatter. He pushed his ball and chain out of the way, opened a desk drawer, and extracted an envelope stuffed with money that had been given to him by an Italian golfing buddy of the Honcho for no apparent reason. “How much do I owe?”
“How much do you have?”
“Quit kidding around. You sound like an IRS auditor.”
The Collector didn’t look like he was kidding. “$150 will settle your account.”
Freeman shook his head in disbelief. “How can it be that expensive? Did the world’s coffee crop fail while I was in Vhaicam?”
“Of course not. The coffee only cost me $2.37”, said the Collector with annoying precision.
“Then what’s the rest of the money for?”
“Administrative overhead. And it’s a bargain compared to the overhead of the Octagon’s coffee klatch.”
Mention of the Octagon made Freeman despondent and eager to end the conversation. He handed a wad of bills to the morbid man in the green visor. “This should cover it. I’ll see you later.”
“Not so fast”, said the Collector, as he meticulously counted and rearranged the money.
“It’s all there!”
“Of course it is. But you haven’t paid your delinquent Office Birthday Cake dues yet.”
“I don’t participate in a Office Birthday Cake fund!”
“Of course you do. We all do. You have no choice, even if you don’t eat cake or have birthdays.”
Freeman stamped his feet and stumbled over his ball and chain. “That’s not fair!”
The Coffee Account Dues Collector sighed heavily. “We’ve been through this already. You don’t want to be labeled antisocial, do you?”
Freeman shook his head in quiet submission. He paid his delinquent birthday cake dues. And then he paid his delinquent funeral flowers dues. By the time he finished paying delinquent dues for services he never used or even knew existed, he was broke. But he endured the shakedown to avoid being labeled antisocial. That’s one thing that would never happen to him.
(Setting: Jefferson is on trial for treason against the country he founded. He refutes the charge with a stirring account of the American greatness he fostered).
“Objection!”, interrupted Jefferson. “I’m not in contempt of your court. I’m in contempt of you. I’m in contempt of anyone who purveys madness and irrationality. It gives root to mysticism, which grows like mental crabgrass to suffocate objective thought, paving the way for tyrants to seize the day. Irrationality breeds mysticism, and mysticism begets power. And then power nurtures both.”
The Mad Hatter suddenly slumped into a dead faint from an apoplectic seizure. Having dispensed with this irritation, Jefferson faced the Head Honcho squarely to begin his defense. “You call me a traitor? What system of morality have I betrayed? Whom have I offended? Whom have I oppressed or killed? What on earth am I a traitor to?”
Without waiting for a response, he continued. “This trial will show that the first object of my heart is America, in which I have invested my life, my fortune, and my eternal spirit. I fathered this nation. I risked my life to nurture it, and my soul has watched over it through the decades as it flourished and then began to whither. I have never betrayed my precious creation. I’ve walked every step of the way with every true American. I was always there to transfuse love of liberty into them during some of history’s darkest moments.
“I was there inside every American’s heart when Adolf Hitler and his Axis minions, who had conquered more land and people than Napoleon, Ghenghis Khan, and Julius Caesar, were sinking the planet into a totalitarian abyss. The world cowered in the shadow of a tyrant whose vision of life was silent printing presses, concentration camps, burning churches, and falling bombs. No bigger struggle was ever recorded than World War II, and no other nation than America could have conquered the pure evil of it.
“I wept the same frightened tears that mothers and wives wept on June 6th, 1944, when Eisenhower sent a half million courageous American men onto D-Day beaches code named Omaha, Utah, Sword, Gold, and Juno in history’s largest invasion. Humanity held its breath that day, knowing the enormous consequences of the roiling conflict on those sandy strips of French soil turned into churning valleys of death. The sole hope of the planet rested on the Americans.
“The American-led triumph of freedom over totalitarianism was foreshadowed decades earlier by shot-putter Martin Sheridan, who was the flag-bearer for the American contingent in the London Olympics. It was customary for foreigners to dip their flags in deference to the host country’s ruler. But, when Sheridan passed the King of England in the stadium, he held the American flag even higher and snarled, “This flag dips to no earthly king!” This same defiant ritual was repeated by the American contingent when Hitler hosted the Berlin Olympics. This proud American defiance would later be all that stood between the Europeans and concentration camps.
“I stood with the exhausted workers on the Detroit assembly lines, as history’s most productive peacetime economy was converted into the Arsenal of Democracy to rescue the free world during World War II. While the bloodiest battles were waged with mortal vigor in Europe and Asia, a subtle yet more telling battle was waged by the irrepressible might of American capitalism in our factories. Rosie the Riveter was as much a hero as General Patton. Every morning, she left her children at home, overcame the gripping fear in her heart for the unknown fate of her husband on a distant battlefield, and put her back into building the planes and tanks that would eventually destroy the Axis powers. Ford Motor’s Willow Run plant produced one B-24 Liberator every hour. While the dark thunderclouds of dictatorship threatened to extinguish the light of liberty across the planet, it was the lights burning late into the night in American factories that ultimately drove the satanic darkness of government run amok back into hell where it belongs.
“This wasn’t the only time America saved the world from its cancerous governments and isms. American troops tipped the balance in the World War I episode of the eternal conflict between liberty and totalitarianism. In one battle, the advancing Germans forced the French troops out of strategic Belleau Wood. The recently arrived U.S. 2nd Division was ordered to plug this dangerous gap. As the battle continued, a French colonel advised the Americans to retreat from another German thrust. Marine Colonel Wendell Neville replied with words that defined the unconquerable American spirit, ‘Retreat hell! We just got here!’ This brave stand earned them the nickname ‘Devil Dogs’ and turned the tide in a war that had been a stalemated bottomless pit of casualties.
“When Paris was later liberated by the Allies, American troops were showered with flowers and wild kisses by French citizens in a celebration held on the 4th of July. Aware of this irony, General Pershing, the head of the American Expeditionary Forces reviewing the parades on a balcony of the Crillon Hotel, declared, ‘Lafayette, we are here!’, in homage to the French general who helped America win its own independence 150 years earlier. As I stood with Pershing on that balcony, I wept tears of gratitude for every GI who ever fell into a grave to free the rest of us from mankind’s self-inflicted political monsters.
“I was there in Lake Placid when our hockey team defeated the Russian juggernaut in the most emotional athletic event ever witnessed. Though it was simply a contest of sport against our cold war nemesis, the struggle waged on the ice that day was a metaphor for decades of ideological confrontation between the two superpowers. Broadcaster Al Michaels screamed ‘Do you believe in miracles?’ at the end of the match, as America deliriously celebrated the stunning upset.
“During the next decade, Ronald Reagan stared down the Russian Bear by building up a military, strategic, and technological superiority. The resolve of America to maintain its inviolate capability to defend against the aggression of the Soviet Empire shattered the paper tiger facade of communism. Unable to match the fabulous power of capitalism to produce and innovate, and the power of individual liberty to inspire an unconquerable spirit, the USSR collapsed under the strain.
“When I stood at the Brandenburg Gate as the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain came tumbling down, I silently answered the prophetic question asked in Lake Placid a decade before. ‘Yes, I do believe in miracles’, I replied across the eternal continuum of time. I rejoiced as giddy East Germans and West Germans intermingled while dismantling the Wall, having suddenly escaped from the onerous shadow of humanity’s greatest monument to slavery. ‘Yes, I do believe in miracles’, I repeated tearfully, never more aware than in that emotional moment of the incredible miracles that the American vision of individual liberty had inspired since July 4th, 1776.
“I walked alongside Abraham Lincoln as he steered the nation through a gut-wrenching Civil War. He not only held the union together, he brought completeness to the vision of American liberty. Eradicating the scourge of slavery removed the glaring contradiction of our revolution and affirmed my initial draft of the Declaration of Independence. The Great Emancipator reminded us, with his immortal Gettysburg Address, that we all are created equal and that all men are free. As I stared with Lincoln out over the desolate Gettysburg battlefield, where passionate men had fallen in defense of that sacred covenant, I shook with tormented agony at the bloodshed needed to make evident the simplest truth of the human condition. All men indeed are born free, not only from each other, but from myths and governments.
“I stood shoulder to shoulder with Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller, Bill Gates, and all of the other titans of American enterprise and inventiveness who had the daring and ambition to lead mankind through the Industrial and Information revolutions. These giants bequeathed to future generations an unrivaled economic engine of contagious wealth creation that fostered a magnificent new phenomenon called the middle class.
“These giants stood on a foundation of individual liberty, private property, and free markets. In just two centuries, this country rocketed from a sparsely populated subsistence economy to nearly 300 million citizens drawn from all corners of the globe, enjoying an economic miracle dwarfing all other attempts at general prosperity. Not only did we dazzle the world with unprecedented material abundance, we demonstrated the sheer joy of living. American music, television, movies, and other creative expressions of our unfettered intellect wowed the world with a kaleidoscopic cultural display.
“By the mid-20th Century, our magnificent productivity and creativity sculpted a world that was essentially an American one. But unlike other empires, this American hegemony was not manifested by forced occupation of foreign territories. Instead, it was manifested by the sheer power of a vision whose time had come, by a determined people exemplifying the power of individual liberty and the potential of life freed from oppressive governments. We didn’t send soldiers as the pillaging vanguard of American domination. Rather, we sent abroad an example of human felicity derived from freedom, with Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America as our ideological beacons piercing the desolate skies of totalitarianism.
“In view of all this, I stand here with unequivocal pride at what my philosophical precepts engendered on those hot July days in the old Philadelphia State House back in 1776. America was no longer just an ideal etched on the Declaration of Independence, it was a magnificent reality that rendered the empires of Greece, Rome, and Britain small, profane, and spiritless by comparison.
“Then there was that magic moment in 1969 when Neil Armstrong, an American from Wapakoneta, stepped noiselessly onto the dusty soil of another celestial body, giving life to the most enduring fantasy of our species. We flew through the cosmos and etched our American autograph for all time across the heavens. I watched this epic drama unfold on live television, as another product of our incomparable technology settled on the Moon’s surface with only 20 seconds of fuel left, after a desperate, daring, and therefore consummately American search for a clear place to land.
“I’ll never forget the surge of pride and relief coursing through my arteries as Armstrong’s voice crackled across a quarter million miles of space, declaring to eternity, ‘Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.’ Yes, the American Eagle had landed. Then the hatch to the lunar module opened. Armstrong stepped down the ladder and fulfilled an impossible dream by planting his foot onto the moon. ‘One small step for man, one giant leap for Mankind’, were his timeless words, generously including everyone else in this American triumph.
“Armstrong planted the American flag into the Moon’s virgin soil, not as an act of conquest, but as a statement of supreme purpose and genius that fittingly reached across 200 years and 250,000 miles into the restless spirits of those who had the courage and the vision to father the American nation. My own spirit soared higher than those intrepid astronauts. Tears streamed down my cheeks and strangers around me hugged each other out of the sheer joy of being an American. For a special moment in time, we were starkly aware of the staggering greatness humans were capable of.
“I trembled at the awesomeness of a seemingly impossible Earthrise glowing blue-green against the dark silhouetted rim of the moon. It wasn’t just the awesomeness of our technology, our spirit, and our daring that moved me, it was the awesomeness of what this nation has meant to the world for two centuries. If America had never existed, what would the world be like today? My mind quickly abandons the despairing proposition
“A thousand years from now, people will look back on this achievement as the finest of our species. We matured from worshipping gods to being gods, from staring in wonder at lightning to creating our own magnificent lightning strike across the heavens. No longer bound by terrestrial limitations or by the ball and chain of our primitive mythologies, we achieved a fundamental spatial and spiritual liberation. The Egyptians created the Great Pyramids. The Chinese created the Great Wall. The Romans created their great networks of roads. But with this adventure to the moon, we Americans created something more enduring and magnificent than all the other world wonders combined.
“Since the moon exists in an airless void, Armstrong’s footprints will remain undisturbed for a long, long time. It would be unforgivable if evidence of American greatness on the moon outlasted evidence here on Earth. This impending irony conjures despondence out of joy. Our dream is now crumbling around us as we descend into the hellhole of government run amok. Our greatness is evaporating into ignominy. Bill Clinton is replacing Abraham Lincoln as the epitome of our national character.”
(Setting: Summoned by the Mad Hatter, Dorothy gives unwelcome advice to the drunken Head Honcho, shortly after the slaughter of protesters by the Juggernaut).
Tears welled in the Honcho’s eyes. “Isn’t there anything you can do for me?”
“No. However, I brought along an associate who is well versed in wizardry. Perhaps she can help you.” The Hatter waved his sinewy arm with a flourish to announce the presence of a heretofore-unseen companion. “I give you Dorothy”, he said grandly.
The Honcho was stunned that someone else was in the room. “Dorothy who?”
Just then, a creamy-skinned, sloe-eyed teenage girl stepped out of a shadow. She was wearing a blue checkered knee length jumper over a white blouse, with sky blue ribbons in her auburn pigtailed hair, sky blue anklets, and glittering ruby slippers. Hooked on her arm was a wicker picnic basket. This bizarre apparition dumbfounded him. He turned to the Hatter for an explanation, but the cretin had vanished.
The pigtailed apparition curtsied clumsily. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Honcho sir”, she spoke through pouty red lips. “I’m Dorothy Gale, and I’m from Kansas.”
The Honcho’s head dropped back into his hands as he waged mortal combat with his inebriated imagination.
Dorothy continued the conversation politely. “The Mad Hatter said you needed help. What troubles you? Cyclones? Wicked Witches? Straw men with no brains?”
The Honcho lifted his head slightly. “I’m troubled by millions of straw men who have no brains. I work with government bureaucrats.”
“My goodness!” exclaimed Dorothy. “Why, that sounds very scary indeed. I’ve been chased by wicked witches, nabbed by flying monkeys, sucked up by a twister, and had apples thrown at me by angry trees, but I’ve never had to deal with anything so frightening as millions of government bureaucrats! I can see now why the Mad Hatter thought you needed help.”
The Honcho chuckled at her naive eagerness to help. It seemed preposterous that a cherubic girl of so few years could have any wisdom to share with him. “I suppose you’re going to tell me the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz will fix everything.”
“Oh, of course not!” said Dorothy with endearing earnestness. “Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, taught me a much different lesson. If you’re willing, I’ll tell you my story. Perhaps you could learn from it what I did.”
The Honcho decided to humor the waif from Kansas, if only because her apparition was more charming than the Mad Hatter’s. “Tell me your tale, young lady”, he said grudgingly.
Dorothy sat on the couch and straightened her jumper. In a pubescent voice she said, “I was feeling very sorry for myself one day on Uncle Henry’s farm, so I wondered what life would be like somewhere else. I figured that there must be a place far, far away, where there wasn’t any trouble, where all my wishes and dreams would come true, a place beyond the moon and the stars, a truly magical and mystical place that you couldn’t get to by boat or by train. I was looking for fulfillment somewhere over the rainbow, because I was unwilling to deal with my life as it was.
“Fate granted my wish in a painful way. I got caught in a twister after talking with a con man in a traveling sideshow that pretended to know all, see all, and offer all. During the storm, a flying shutter struck me. When I came to, the cyclone had lifted our house and dropped it somewhere over the rainbow, just like I wanted, in a magical place called Oz.
“I met many mysterious people there. There were Good Witches, Bad Witches, Munchkins, and other strange creatures. Everyone in Munchkin City was very gracious to me for crushing the Wicked Witch of the East with my house, but I missed Auntie Em and Uncle Henry terribly and I didn’t know how to get back to Kansas. The Good Witch Glinda told me to follow the yellow brick road to the magnificent Emerald City, where the Great and Powerful Oz would grant all of my wishes. To protect me along the way, she gave me the dead witch’s ruby slippers, which had lots of powerful magic. So, once again I was off on a lark to find fulfillment in some faraway magical place, thinking my problems could only be solved by some mystical power.
“On the way to Oz, I met three very dear friends who also desperately wanted help from the mighty Wizard. The Scarecrow needed a brain, since he believed his head was stuffed with nothing but straw. The Tin Man needed a heart, since he believed his metallic chest couldn’t love. The Lion needed courage, since he believed he was a frightened coward inside a ferocious animal’s body. They lusted after the deified Wizard’s magical power too, so we set off together to get our wishes granted.
“After a hazardous journey, we arrived at the dazzling Emerald City. Unfortunately, when we asked to see the Wizard, we were told that no one ever sees him. This should have been our first clue that something was amiss with our faithful quest, but we persevered. When we finally saw the Wizard, he frightened us terribly. He refused to grant our wishes unless we did the dangerous deed of bringing back the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West.
“This seemed impossible. The mighty Wizard probably hoped the quest to get the broomstick would be the end of us, thereby preserving the aura of his omnipotence. But, amazingly, we found within ourselves the cleverness, courage, and love to overcome not only the Witch, but also our own fears.
“When we returned to the Emerald City with the Wicked Witch’s broomstick, we asked again for our wishes to be granted. The Wizard huffed and puffed, clearly perplexed by the success of our adventure. In the meantime, my dog Toto scurried over to a corner of the mighty cathedral where the Great and Powerful Oz presided. Toto pulled back a curtain to reveal a most amazing sight, which triggered an extraordinary epiphany.
“Because of Toto’s curiosity, we discovered that the Great and Powerful Oz was just a fearsome mechanical contraption manipulated by a clever con man. There was no omnipotent Wizard to grant our wishes. Our dreams of mystical magic and mythical wizardry were just self-delusions. The Emerald City was an empty monument to a charade that had duped the citizens of Oz ever since the con man had mysteriously arrived in a hot air balloon.
“But our quest wasn’t for naught. We discovered that we held the power to grant our wishes within ourselves. We didn’t need a distant, omnipotent wizard to make us whole. We didn’t need magic or spells or enchantment. We had more power and magic deep inside than existed in the entire mythical Emerald City. We just had to believe in it. Oh sure, the defrocked Wizard gave a diploma to the Scarecrow, but it was a mere parchment. The Scarecrow discovered his own intelligence by figuring out how to save me from the Wicked Witch. The Wizard gave the Lion a medal as proof of his courage, but it was a mere piece of iron. The Lion discovered his own bravery and heroism battling the guards at the Witch’s castle. The Wizard gave the Tin Man a testimonial verifying his love for his friends, but it was just a string of hollow words. The Tin Man discovered his own heart by caring deeply enough to risk his rusty hide to save me.
“As for me, I learned that my wish to be somewhere over the rainbow, and my quest to find the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz, were just mistaken diversions to find meaning outside of myself, when the real meaning I needed to discover was there within me all along.” Dorothy sighed wistfully, then hooked her arm through her wicker basket handle and stood up. “If you please, I must go now.”
“Wait!” shouted the Honcho loudly enough to startle her. “It’s not clear what your tale means. Where should I go from here?”
Dorothy turned to face the great and powerful Head Honcho. Her dark eyes radiated an intense passion that strangely belied her otherwise timid adolescence. “Forgive me for what I am about to say”, she said in a frail voice that paradoxically commanded attention. “Unlike my Auntie Em, who refused to tell Elvira Gulch exactly what she thought of her, I haven’t learned my manners yet. You should go to hell!”
The Honcho was rocked on his heels by this fragile young girl in pigtails, much like the belligerent Lion had been stunned when Dorothy slapped its snout. Normally, the Honcho would have responded to such impudence with a volcanic tirade, but he was numbed by alcohol and intoxicated by her tender innocence. “What….what do you mean?”
“My goodness!” exclaimed Dorothy. “Why, surely you must know what I mean. You work with lots of clever charlatans who pretend to be great and powerful wizards. Millions of people have been drawn to your version of the mythical Emerald City, attracted like flies to the beacon of your sideshow magic. You promise to grant their wishes and make their dreams come true, but all you can really do is lure them over the rainbow into an unfamiliar land where the only potential outcome for their quest is disappointment. You and your fellow wizards purposefully divert them from the real quest they should be embarked on, which is to find themselves within themselves. The best thing you can do for these people is to admit it’s all a big con. Tell them to discover their own intelligence, courage, and love by themselves. Dispel the myths. Defrock yourself and the other Professor Marvel clones. Give back the money you’ve swindled. Then you and the other conniving wizards in Washington who maintain illusions and amass fortunes should climb into hot air balloons and drift away forever.”
Suddenly, a scruffy dog wriggled out of Dorothy’s basket, jumped onto the floor, and scurried toward the Honcho with a loud yelp. Before his numbed brain could warn his legs, the dog sank its teeth into his ankle. The Honcho yelped. The dog yelped louder. The Honcho roared in pain. Finally, the dog released its bite and scampered off into the darkness.
“Toto! Toto, come back!” shouted Dorothy, chasing after her wayward pet. Her checkered dress billowed above her pumping knees as she evaporated into the darkness at the rear of the caboose. To the Honcho’s amazement, she seemed to run straight through the wall. Her voice, still calling out for Toto, slowly trailed off. But before fading to black, the illusion bid him an unfriendly adieu. “You’re a bad man, Mr. Honcho. A very bad man indeed!”
(Setting: Nobody in the government can figure out how to kill a mouse, until they cleverly decide to create an agency to protect it at all costs.)
They reached the cafeteria and stood in line to see which line to stand in. After filling their trays, the Honcho charged their food to his campaign account. As they sat down, he said, “I heard there was a big explosion in the National Archives. What happened?”
“They had a slight problem with a mouse. Crafty sonofabitch. Probably a communist. It routinely scared the secretaries. The janitors tried to catch it by setting a trap with a cracker on the trip wire. The mouse ate the cracker without setting off the trap. They put two traps out the next night, one with a cracker, the other with peanut butter.”
“Did they catch the mouse?”
“No”, replied Freeman. “The mouse not only ate the cracker, he covered it with peanut butter from the other trap without setting off either one! The janitors were humiliated. So, the very next night, they tied a cracker to the trip wire with twine.”
“Then did they catch the mouse?”
“No, but the mouse left a thank you note, which gave them a handwriting sample to go on. With their reputations in jeopardy, the janitors called in the heavy artillery.”
The Honcho chuckled. “They asked the Army Corp. of Engineers to blow the mouse to smithereens with a Howitzer?”
Freeman choked on his doughnut. “It’s rude to let someone tell a funny story when you’ve already heard the punch line.”
“I was joking.”
“Maybe you were, but the janitors weren’t. They wanted their mouse in the worst way, which is exactly how they went about it. The Army rolled a Howitzer up to the basement window of the Archives and fired a live shell. The subsequent explosion scattered paper and microfiche for blocks, covering the ground with four inches of Congressional Record fragments. The road crews mistook this confetti for snow and called in sick, so that they could plow the streets later on overtime.”
“I’m really pissed off”, growled the Honcho.
“You’re emotionally attached to the Congressional Record?”
“No. I’m glad it was shredded. It’s tedious enough legislating the drivel that it reports, much less reading about it afterward. I’m pissed because the Army Corp. of Engineers was supposed to be landscaping my private estate, rather than blowing up the Archives. So, did they finally get their mouse?”
“Negative”, replied Freeman. “When they searched the rubble, they found no trace of a mouse carcass. Turns out someone from the SPCA tipped the rodent off about the janitors’ plans. The feisty critter hid in the Smithsonian basement with his buddies, until the fire was snuffed out. Then he made a triumphal return.”
“So they never got him?”
“Actually, they did.”
“Did they go nuclear?”
“No. They used an even more devastating weapon. They turned our bureaucracy loose on it. They created a federal agency whose sole charter was to protect the life of this particular mouse at all costs. The agency had a ten million dollar budget, a staff of mouse protection experts, and the usual approval to violate the Constitution.”
“The plan was successful. The mouse died of unknown causes two days later.”
“What happened to the agency created to protect the mouse?”
“The same thing that happens to all government agencies that fail. They doubled its budget, broadened its mission, and gave lifetime appointments to its senior administrators, who blamed their previous failures on someone named ‘society'”.
(Setting: The Mad Hatter attempts to console and counsel the drunken Head Honcho after the slaughter of protesters by the Juggernaut).
The Head Honcho was also deeply troubled. He returned to his private cabin to lick his physical and psychological wounds. The stark reality of being shot at terrified him. He opened another bottle of Old Bushmills and eagerly drained it, hoping to quell the fluttering fear in his heart and the strange sense of isolation in his soul. The darkness of his curtained cabin matched the darkness of his conscience.
The alcohol coursing through his veins numbed his sensibilities so much that he thought he saw someone move inside the cabin, even though he thought he was alone. Another pull on the bottle dimmed his awareness further, but he saw movement again. Dread gripped his heart. Only the damnable Coffee Account Dues Collector would invade his sanctuary like this. “Go away!”, he commanded into the translucent darkness. “My coffee account is up to date.” He took another tug on his bottle, fully expecting the shadowy figure to depart peacefully.
Unfortunately, the shadowy figure moved closer. “Your coffee account is not my concern”, said a nasally voice in the darkness. “I’m a Hatter, not a brewer.”
The Honcho’s head fell into his hands. The last thing he needed was a visit by the Mad Hatter, who could dispense more tortured dialogue and nonsensical reasoning than even politicians. “Shit! I thought you were the Coffee Account Dues Collector.”
“A common error.” The Mad Hatter stepped out of the darkness and sat down. He was wearing a tall black top hat with a price tag still attached and a bow tie with red polka dots clasping a heavily starched white collar. A red waistcoat covered a red and white checkered shirt, which matched his red and white checkered pants. The pants were much too short, exposing pencil thin legs clad in tasteless yellow socks with red stripes. His stringy hair dangled shabbily out from under his hat. His much too prominent nose shadowed his grey, thin lips, which blended into his skin’s lusterless pallor. “How are you today?” he asked cheerfully.
“Just great”, said the Honcho sardonically.
“No you’re not”, contradicted the Mad Hatter. “You’re going to be beheaded.”
“It’s really none of your business. I’m quite certain of that.”
“How can it be none of my business? It’s my head!”
“Oh very well. I’ll tell you what for”, said the Hatter, who was actually quite anxious to tell the Head Honcho what for. “You see, none of us have forgiven you for killing the Dormouse.”
“I didn’t kill him! Bureaucratic inertia did. Besides, what’s so important about a lousy dormouse? I just ran over hundreds of people with a train.”
“Tell it to the judge”, said the Hatter. “Actually, you shouldn’t tell the judge about killing hundreds of people with a train. You might lose more than just your head.”
“Who’s the judge?”
“The Red Queen is always the judge.” The Hatter pulled two envelopes out of his waistcoat. “One is the summons for your trial. The other is an invitation to play croquet. You have to pick.” He dangled the envelopes tauntingly in front of the Honcho.
The Honcho grabbed the envelope in the Hatter’s left hand. He tore it open and anxiously read the contents. It was the summons for the trial.
“Don’t be too disappointed”, said the Mad Hatter. “The other one was a summons for the trial, too. I was just kidding about the croquet invitation.”
“You bastard!” growled the Honcho.
“No need to flatter me. I’ve already agreed to be your defense counsel.” The Hatter unleashed a smile reeking of licentious mischief.
“What do you know about the law?” asked the Honcho skeptically.
“Nothing at all.”
“Then how can you be my lawyer?”
“It doesn’t matter who your lawyer is, because I’m quite sure that you’re guilty.”
“How can I be guilty? I haven’t even been tried yet!” The Honcho felt the familiar surge of frustrated disorientation that invariably resulted from conversations with the Mad Hatter.
“Everyone tried by the Red Queen is automatically guilty. The trial is just for sentencing, which is also unnecessary, since the sentence is always a beheading, which brings us right back to the beginning of this conversation. You’ve just wasted a great deal of my time”, concluded the Hatter, as he pulled a watch from his waistcoat to check what day of the month it was.
“Of course I’m mad”, agreed the Mad Hatter. “I’m mad. You’re mad. We’re all mad.”
“How do you know that I’m mad?”
“How many other people have conversations with me?”
The Honcho moaned as his head fell back into his hands.
“What do you do for a living?” asked the Mad Hatter to lighten the conversation.
“I’m a U.S. Senator.”
“Very curious. Very curious indeed. What does this occupation involve?”
“People get up to speak and say nothing to an audience that doesn’t listen, and then everybody disagrees vehemently.”
“We call that a Caucus Race in Wonderland”, said the Mad Hatter. “The race contestants line up in random positions around a circular track and run madly with no apparent objective. After a while, everyone abruptly stops, whereupon they all argue about who won. It’s a mad spectacle. Our greatest fear is that the Red Queen might someday pattern Wonderland’s government after the Caucus Races. Wouldn’t that be a disaster!”
“It certainly would”, acknowledged the Senator, who intuitively understood the mechanics of a caucus race. “It would be even more disastrous if the Red Queen designated some of the caucus racers Democrats and the rest Republicans, who would then govern by running in circles, by constantly arguing over undefined objectives, and by endlessly debating which of them is likely to reach these undefined objectives fastest.”
“I’ve think you’ve got it! It’s unfortunate that you’re going to be beheaded, because you would have done quite nicely as a politician in Wonderland.”
“Where do I go from here?” asked the Honcho despondently.
“Where do you want to get?”
“I don’t care”, he sighed with alcohol-laden breath.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go”, replied the Hatter serenely. “What else can I do for you?”
“Can anything save me from a beheading?”
“Hmmmm.” The Hatter pensively rubbed his chin. “Why don’t you try this?” Out of a seemingly bottomless waistcoat pocket he pulled a glass bottle with a dangling label that said, “drink me”.
“What good will that do?” The Honcho suspected it was the infamous treacle that the Hatter never had but always offered.
“It will make you only ten inches tall by shutting you up like a telescope”.
“So then I won’t be beheaded?”
“I really couldn’t say”, conceded the Hatter. “But it might be more difficult for the executioner. Maybe he’d just lop off part of your shrunken head.”
The Honcho shivered and pushed the bottle away. “Isn’t there anything else?”
“Perhaps”, said the Hatter, pulling out of his bottomless waistcoat pocket a glass box containing a small cake with the words “eat me” written in icing. “Try this.”
“What good will that do?”
“It will make you ten feet tall by opening you up like a telescope.”
“So then I won’t be beheaded?”
“I really couldn’t say. But, the awful thud of your enlarged head plopping into the basket might disgust the Red Queen enough to abolish beheadings. After yours, of course.”
“Of course it’s nonsense”, agreed the Hatter. “Everything in Wonderland is nonsense, just like everything on your side of the looking glass.”