Wednesday, July 13, 2011
The Trunk of Prometheus
It was now July 13, 2035. The law was in effect. The end would come soon. He knew it. He could face it.
Dickson was a realist. In his nearly 70 years of life on earth, he always had prided himself on a hard-headed, objective, cool, analytical approach to that life.
He wasn’t a joiner. He found himself unable to wax enthusiastic over any politician, political movement, or whatever cause du jour fired up the students or the other faculty at Metro University. He did not sign petitions. He did not march or write angry missives. Whenever he heard that something, anything, was very popular with the students or faculty he made sure to avoid it.
Dickson kept to himself as much as he could. He taught his required two classes a week, and then fled the bright, shiny campus for his one bedroom apartment in the unfashionable, gritty, and crime-filled Eastern District, yellow Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flags hanging from almost every window and balcony. There, among the grubby working stiffs, he found relief and solace. They had no curiosity about him or what he did or did not do. They did not judge him. They did not prescribe for him. He could think, and he could read. Yes, read. That was his greatest vice. That and his penchant for contraband beef, contraband liquor, and contraband cigarettes--a penchant the denizens of the Eastern District shared with him.
The District was a tough place: a “no go” zone for the agents of the MEA (Meat Enforcement Administration) and the TEA (Tobacco Enforcement Administration). He, along with the rowdy inhabitants of the District, refused to comply with the “Anti-Carbon Social Contract” which required all citizens to give up unhealthful and bad environmental practices to benefit Gaia, and, incidentally, the mighty “Gore Euro Yuan Organic Food and Products Inc.,” which produced all the approved food in the country as well as 100% of its solar panels, and had just put on its governing board the nation’s President, the four Vice-Presidents (one from each major racial grouping), all 2,000 members of Congress, and the 760 members of the Supreme Court. Some District denizens were rumored to posses firearms and to engage only in heterosexual sex. Even Dickson assumed this was just anti-District slander.
He prided himself on swimming against the current. The Dean repeatedly had warned him about that. In his forty-plus years at Metro U, Dickson had been warned over and over that his failure to attend “To Love Humanity” courses, or to participate in the “Reject the Differences” rallies and seminars would raise the issue of his continued employment at Metro. In the end, however, he did not go, and, yet, was kept on. While he never made four-star Professor, he would never pass the scrutiny of the “Human Sensitivity Board,” he was willing to teach the basic intro courses that nobody else wanted to teach, and so the administrators turned a blind eye and deaf ear to his unfortunate views. As the years progressed, Dickson had become something of a joke, a punching bag, a punchline at faculty meetings. The other profs laughed at his insistence on keeping and reading books, and on his frantic efforts to get his bored students to do so. The other faculty would yawn loudly in his face, to the merriment of all, when he would try to tell them “how things used to be.” One four-star Prof told him, “Dickson, my crazy friend, the world is here and now. We don’t want to talk about stuff from ten, fifteen years ago. That’s ancient history. I don’t know who William James was. I don’t care about those Cervantes, Melville, Twain, Shakespeare, Beckett people you’re always yapping about. It’s all so pointless. Here and now, my friend, here and now. That’s what counts. That’s what exists. The rest is just shadows.”
Yesterday, he finally had retired. As a cruel joke, the faculty had given him the latest “Info Tablet.” It came loaded with Metro U library’s entire collection of seven volumes, totaling nearly 250 pages of “all the knowledge you need,” which formed the basis of Metro’s five-year doctoral program. Nobody, of course, was expected to read all seven volumes, and it seemed no one ever had, but Metro U, the top school in the country, insisted on maintaining the unheard of high standard of requiring PhD students to read one whole volume.
Dickson has thrown the Tablet into the recycle bin. He would stick with his books. At first, he had thought that he could now peacefully slip away to his apartment and stay there, surrounded by the smell of illegal beef, tobacco, and liquor. But, no, that was not to be. Congress had passed a new law two days before, with the Congressional leaders stating their by now standard line, “We will all know what’s in the law after we pass it.” In order to protect the rights of trees, and to appease the “Tree Lawyers Foundation,” all paper was now banned, both its production and possession were illegal. The Enviro Police were tasked with assigning PEAs (Paper Enforcement Agents). The Dean had warned Dickson, “I understand you still have lots of books. You have to give them up. An Info Tablet with the seven volumes of approved knowledge is all you need. Those books you have are a fire hazard, they smell, are illegal, and are a testimonial to man’s cruelty to trees.”
Dickson sat staring at the old open trunk, made of banned wood and banned leather, sitting in the middle of his small room. He passed his right hand over the books in the trunk. In his left hand he held the small plastic box with its red button that would deliver him. He heard the Enviro Police cars pull up; the gentle whirring of their battery powered engines wafted up to his window, along with the increasingly angry murmur of District neighbors responding to the cops’ rare and unwelcome presence. They were coming for him; he could hear their seaweed sandals scraping on the stairs, and the soft swish of their pure cotton kaftans.
Dickson closed the trunk lid. The apartment door was slowly opening. The Enviros were in! A couple of the cops, obviously newbies on their first raid, began to gag and retch from the unfamiliar smell of books, tobacco, and beef.
“Dickson, move aside! We are here for the contraband! Do not resist!”
Dickson looked up, clicked the switch in his hand and quoting Mary Shelly, shouted, “Unfeeling, heartless creator! You had endowed me with perceptions and passions, and then cast me abroad an object for the scorn and horror of mankind.”
So carefully made over the past four decades and reserved just for this day, made of banned gasoline, banned glass, and banned metal, the bomb tore through the apartment.
The sweet pungent banned smell of burning paper and roasting flesh spread over the Eastern District.