This latest literary endeavor by JLH is a judicious mixture of allegory and satire.
So What and the Seven Geeks
A Progressive Tale of the Future of Personkind
Once upon a time, there was an evil one-per-center who — like most celebrities — lived where it was almost never cold and often sunny. She believed (correctly, according to her cosmetic surgeon, her trainer and her dietitian) that she was the most beautiful celebrity in all the world. Among her many retainers was a pretty teenager who had been trained since childhood to be the perfect servant. She had faultless, alabaster skin, and, in some other time and climate, she might have been called Snow White, but in this semi-tropical paradise devoted to the care and service of VERY IMPORTANT PEOPLE, her name was So What.
On the evil one-per-center’s sitting room wall was a 120-inch HD screen controlled by a remote keyboard, on which she could Skype, live-stream PBS specials on the destruction of the planet by the Koch brothers, keep up with her hundreds of thousands of fans and “buddies” by chirping with them on CHIPPER, take and send selfies to a favored few, while sipping a vanilla mocha frappucino latté from Muchbucks, and following the news of the world on ET and John Stewart. She faithfully followed her attractivity ratings on FACESPACE and MODBOD, and at least once a day typed in the query,
Tablet, tablet, on the wall,
Who is the attractivest of them all?”
And awaited the standard reply: “You are, oh Babe!”
One day, however, the tablet hummed for a second, before saying, “Well, some people think it might be So What.”
The evil celebrity was so outraged that she checked who had expressed that opinion on FACESPACE and immediately “unbuddied” them.
Clearly, it was time to act. You don’t stay on top of the heap, if just anyone can walk up and stand beside you. So she summoned the head gardener of her vast “herbal” gardens , and ordered that the unfortunately attractive young person be taken to some empty lot in the surrounding urban jungle and killed, and the heart brought to her as proof.
Now the gardener — like everyone else — was very fond of the young servant, and knew he would not be able to carry out his orders. It should have been simple — kill a deer, harvest the heart and take it back to the evil celebrity, still dripping fresh blood. Well, since this was the city, he might have had to make do with a large dog or a strayed coyote. However, the gardener was a devoted member of PETA, and could not bring himself to do that. And he was not only not a speciesist, but also not a sexist or a racist and not even much of an ageist (although some of the very old tended to be pretty reactionary, even in this land of sunshine), so his options were limited. Fortunately, he knew of an establishment where he could procure a heart for a reasonable fee, no questions asked. (Well, almost none.)
So he betook himself to this establishment and gave the secret knock. As he had hoped, his old friend was on duty and answered the door.
When he explained his need, she said, “All of our hearts, like all of our harvested organs, are quite small, you know. If your boss wants the life of this teenager, she will expect to be given the correct heart. Any reasonably intelligent person will see that the heart is the wrong size.”
“Oh, please!” he smiled, “This is a celebrity. Her brain is smaller than any heart.”
The gardener told So What that she was being discharged, and was never to return or communicate with anyone at the evil celebrity’s residence. With no further explanation, he released So What into the trackless urban jungle, then took the heart back to the evil one-per-center, who was delighted to receive it, and immediately fed it to her cat. Afterward, some people would say that this made the cat an accessory-after-the-fact, but others countered that this was carrying anthropomorphism too far. PETA and NOW later co-sponsored an ad which argued that no human biological by-products should be wasted.
The evil one-per-center celebrated by allowing a Thai masseuse to walk barefoot on her back, and followed up with a steaming hot bat-guano bath and face mask.
The gardener had a quiet talk with the keeper of the celebrity’s data center, who was also very fond of So What, and they agreed that the tablet would no longer have any knowledge of anyone called So What, and if anyone should wish to investigate, they would say that the hard drive and DVDs had self-destructed, or been lost, or suffered flood damage, or…
Meanwhile, So What — on her own in the vastness of civilization for the first time — was helpless and clueless. Like anyone else in this situation, she turned for help to the first governmental entity she encountered. She wandered into the downtown office of the IRS, where she was received by a clerk, who noticed that she was well-dressed, attractive and intelligent, and must therefore owe taxes. However, the clerk could not find “So What” anywhere in the database (except as an internal comment on complaints received from certain organizations that they were being targeted by the IRS). So the clerk asked “Are you an undocumented alien?” So What — who felt quite alien in the trackless urban jungle, and had never before needed ID — said, “Yes,” and after that, everything went well. She received an instant refund for taxes she hadn’t paid, coupons with which she could purchase food — alternatively alcohol and tobacco — and an official ID that entitled her to work for governmental agencies and to drive any vehicle with up to 18 wheels.
She also departed the IRS office with a certificate entitling her to attend any university of her choice for less than in-state tuition.
It happened that the next thing she passed was the entry gate to HIC (Hope-In-Change) State University. She followed the signs to the registrar’s office and identified herself to an assistant registrar as an undocumented alien.
The registrar, blinking at So What’s perfect, alabaster skin, but realizing that an apparently Caucasian individual might unexpectedly — in the midst of a political campaign, for instance — discover some minority connections in her bloodline, asked: “Are you a person of color?”
“Sort of pink when I’m hot, I guess,” said So What.
The assistant registrar marked the ethnicity section of the form “not Hispanic.” Moving on to “gender,” she asked, “Sex?”
So What — who had been abused by both male and female members of the evil celebrity’s household, said, “Mixed” so the assistant registrar passed over the boxes for “Male” and “Female” and checked “Other.”
“Occupation?” was the next question, and So What replied, “Servant.” This word, redolent of class and inequality, was clearly unusable, so the assistant registrar consulted the university’s Glossary of Acceptable Words and Phrases (GAWP) and filled in “Domestic functionary”.
The assistant registrar then moved on to courses for first semester students. The university required students to be introduced to a full array of skills and disciplines that would sustain and guide them in later life. For So What, she suggested:
Biology 101 — The False Genetics of Modified Food;
Math 101 — Algorithmic Analysis of Climate Change;
Political Science 101 — The Micro-Aggressive Path to War;
Humanities 201 — Advanced Studies in 7th Century Arabic Feminist Literature;
Language 101 — The Language of Love.
Armed with a map of the campus and the Glossary of Acceptable Words and Phrases, So What followed the registrar’s directions to her dormitory. On the way to her second-floor room, she passed the six rest rooms for residents of this building: Men, Women, Bi-, Pan-, Multi- and Transsexuals. She was greeted in the hallway by a kindly, middle-aged faculty member, who offered to help her decide which one to patronize, and to demonstrate its uses. So What declined politely and continued to her room, which had not yet been marked for her occupancy, and was identified only by a card saying “Occupant.” Just below the card was scrawled the outraged comment: “Fascist!”
So What had very little to unpack or put away, so she logged on to her room’s computer and Oogled the electronic bookstore. The texts for her courses were, coincidentally, written by the instructors themselves. The biology course text was “Minions in your Bloodstream ,” the math text was, “One and One Equal Eleven,” the poli-sci text was “Between Iraq and a Hard Place,” the humanities text was “Fighting for the Freedom to be Unfree,” and the language text was “When Does Yes Mean No?”
She also accessed the university’s daily calendar, noticing that dinner would be served in the cafeteria on the edge of campus in half an hour, and that a lecture was scheduled later in the Great Hall of Soros. She decided to take an exploratory walk, then have dinner and possibly meet some fellow students, before going to the lecture.
She had barely begun her walk when she heard voices nearby and headed in their direction. A semi-circle of students confronted a single student standing in a niche created by the juncture of two buildings. On a wall above him was the sign: “Free Speech Area.” He was speaking, but it was difficult to hear, because the crowd was chanting: “Freedom of speech is no excuse! Freedom of speech is no excuse!”
So What asked a student on the outskirts of the crowd why there was a space called “Free Speech Area” and he replied: “Because the university believes in free speech, man, so it gives it a protected space.”
“And what is so important to him that he is speaking about it to people who disagree with him?”
“I don’t know. Something about the Constitution, that was written by a bunch of dead, white dudes, you know.”
“Why is that so bad?”
“Because our whole, like, culture is tied up in dead white dudes, and white dudes are still trying to run things, you know!”
“Pardon me for not understanding, but aren’t you a white dude?”
“Well, sure, but not by choice.”
So What walked on pensively. This was definitely different from the world she had become used to, where the topic of conversation — when there was any — was confined to what to wear, what to eat and whether ET was better than Insider. This seemed to be a more intellectually challenging atmosphere.
Continuing her walk before dinner, So What passed the Athletic Department building, with the logo over the entrance: “It’s How You Play the Game…” and a modernistic sculpture, described on a plaque as a futuristic, neo-baroque representation of Che Guevara playing soccer.
Among the many students entering the dining hall, So What walked a little behind a self-identified male and a self-identified female (a boy and a girl) who were walking together and talking softly. The girl playfully patted the boy’s posterior, and he protested, “Jeez, do you have to be so hetero-normative?” A young woman behind them heard this. Pointing to her recording smart phone, she leaned forward and told the boy: “That will be evidence in your hearing for sexual derogation.” “Oh f**k off!” the boy said and the young woman replied triumphantly: “That too!”
As So What entered the dining hall, she saw a long counter with servers behind it and dishes to choose from. Since the cuisine at the evil celebrity’s residence — even for the staff — included tasty meat, fish, pastries and beverages, the university food was a little confusing. Apparently the menu was set by some higher authority, and followed strict regulations. So What listened carefully to remarks in the serving line.
“Oh, God, no! It’s broccoli-burger night.”
“Hey, no worries. I have a bunch of ketchup packets from McDonald’s. A couple of those and you’ll never know the difference.”
The problem of the tofu custard pie was solved similarly, with packets of sweetener from a local coffeeteria.
“Close your eyes and pretend you’re eating sweet potato pie.”
So What avoided inner conflict by choosing a few raw fruits and vegetables, and headed for a small table near a window, where she could see and hear, but was not really a part of any group.
Fragments of conversation swirled by:
“Did you hear the Pope talk to the UN?…Yeah, well I didn’t either, but I read about it on MoveAlongNothingToSeeHere.org. He says that the environment is just like the rest of us. It has rights!”
“Yeah, and he welcomed all the new, un-documented people coming here. He can even speak their language!”
“Did you see the rush video for that new sorority? They were all cheerleaders, acting proto-girly! OMG, It was so disempowering!”
“Hey, Charlie. I thought I saw that really hot girl in our Progressive Ecology class smile at you?”
“Yeah, she winked at me too.”
“Oh, wow! What are you going to do?”
“Are you kidding? I’m in my fourth year. I graduate and go straight to work for my uncle’s hedge fund. All I need right now is a suspension for racial-sexual harassment.”
“Yeah, sorry, man.”
“No problem. There’s a lot of good porn on the web.”
“So who are you going to vote for in the primary?”
“Oh, Bernie. He’s such a cute, little, old guy — he reminds me of my French prof.”
“Yeah, and one of the ladies on The View thinks he’s hot!”
“Yes, and besides, he makes the economic stuff so easy to understand.”
Finishing her fruits and vegetables, So What considered that maybe it wasn’t so much a more intellectually challenging atmosphere, but rather a kind of foreign language.
When she arrived at the Great Hall of Soros, she sat in the back, from where she could see that the wall design was repetitive portraits of a very old man peering from various angles at the audience. There was a kind of pre-show. Head-shots of several people flickered sequentially and repeatedly on a large front screen. She had a vague idea who they were: some senators, some governors, a neurosurgeon, a CEO, a real estate tycoon — none very well-liked in her previous residence. After a short time, a buzz began in the audience which grew to a chant, and So What was surprised to hear, “Hate Hate! Hate!” lasting at least three minutes.
The speaker for the evening had a great many letters after his name: B.A., BS. M.A., Ph.D., O.B.E. He was wearing a suit which she knew from observing the visitors to the evil celebrity’s residence was very expensive. His topic was how capitalism had created the Irish potato famine, and he offered extensive figures, county by county — of how many people starved, how many emigrated. So What had had a very long day, so by the third set of figures, she was fast sleep.
When she woke, the audience was gone and a
janitor maintenance officer was sweeping down the aisles. With a start, she realized that a semi-circle of seven smiling, curious and ethnically and racially diverse faces was smiling down at her.
“Hi,” said one, pointing around the circle. “I’m Ping and this is Ling, and that’s Boris and Natasha, and there are Hacker and Gossip and Jornolist. We’re the Seven Geeks. We’re data miners, and we’ve been following your adventures on the Dark Web since you left the employment of the evil celebrity.”
“Dark Web?” So What murmured.
“That,” said Ping, “is the part of the internet most people never come into contact with. Some of it is straight-out criminal, some of it is porn and perversions and some of it is just people who want to stay out of sight of Big Brother.”
So What, who was not street-smart but also not unread, recognized the reference to 1984 and the likelihood this was a quite anti-establishmentarian group, but she found them friendly, and accepted an invitation to join them for a coffee, where she learned that most of them were here on expired student visas (except for one who was the emancipated child of well-to-do American parents). They had come together in a course on How To Impruv Yr Riting on FACESPACE, and discovered they shared a disdain for the system, a talent for manipulating the internet, and a useful streak of larceny. Earning money electronically became fun. They found they could sign a 20-year lease on a quaint cottage on the grounds of a nearby state park in old growth forest, which was also a perfect “cover” for a cash crop of high-grade cannabis.
For years now, they had been in the habit of attending one class per semester, just often enough to earn a B+. Since they paid full tuition, the university was not concerned at the length of their stay, the source of their payments, nor their failure to graduate. If useful athletes could stay on forever, making coaches happy and filling the seats in the basket-weaving courses, why could not other students fulfill their dreams in their own, unique ways?
And, furthermore, there was enough grief dealing with the regular students, who did not feel sufficiently appreciated.
This generation of students was unnerving a faculty and administration weaned on socialism, compassion, the
Brotherhood… personhood of Man… people, and the love of all creatures great and small — except, of course, white male human beings. And these students — even the white males (some of whom had matriculated under false pretenses as mixed-blood Ind… Native Americans, or very light-skinned exchange students from Jamaica, or even as identifying as female) — were extremely sensitive to a lack of supportive approval. An A was barely passable, and many faculty were loath to give less than an A+ for fear of precipitating a class-wide emotional meltdown.
The situation had become so dire that the university had created a select committee composed of members drawn from the counseling service and every branch of the social sciences, whose task it would be to critically examine the grading system and answer the question: Are Grades a Form of Discrimination?
A parallel administrative committee, with carefully selected faculty consultants, would consider the problem of what else about university life might possibly give students or their parents offense. There was a school of thought that maintained that Huxley’s Brave New World should be regarded not as a warning, but as a primer.
At So What’s coffee with the group of data miners, Ping — or perhaps it was Ling — suggested that she might stay with them, because they were in dire need of a cook and housekeeper, and she could benefit from a protective group of friends Since So What’s previous position had required a multitude of such skills, she was happy to accept. Besides, their house had three completely non-restrictive bathrooms.
She settled into a routine, which included going to class now and then. On her first day in the poli-sci class the professor began by calling the role alphabetically. When he came to So What, who was last, he stopped and seemed to read a note beside her name, then asked her how her last name was pronounced where she came from — “Wee-khee-at” or “Wuha-ko-aht”? So What said it was “just plain What” and he said, “Assimilation is good,” and winked at her.
The syllabus listed the subject for the day as “Bombing Serbia — A Cleansing Action,” but when the professor began lecturing (actually it was more like stream-of-consciousness), it was about “citizens in the shadows” — what So What had heard referred to in the evil celebrity’s house as “temporarily undocumented migrants” and shockingly, once, on a news station turned on by mistake, as “illegal aliens.” The professor spoke of a bias against the New Americans, and at each new example of such discrimination, he stared earnestly at So What, and said, “Don’t you agree, Ms. Whaaat?” So What just nodded assent, but she wondered what it was she was supposed to know.
On her way home from class, she was ambling along the main walkway through campus, when she spied a large group moving in her direction and she stepped to one side. It was a loud and diverse group of students and faculty, pushing people roughly out of their way, and some of them throwing books, stones and other hard objects at both people and buildings. As they moved, some of them chanted,
“What do we want?”
and others answered,
“When do we want it?”
So What asked one of the least angry-looking students what the group was, and she replied, “We are VIRAL (Violence Is Reason And Language), and we want to exercise our First Amendment right to vigorous self-expression without people attacking us.”
At just that moment, a reporter for the student newspaper attempted to ask one of the students a question, but he was stopped by an irate faculty member. He protested that he had a First Amendment right to report the news, but the faculty member retorted: “Your First Amendment right has no right to interfere with my First Amendment right,” and she beckoned to several very large male students, who moved threateningly forward.
“Who are they?” So What asked.
“Three of them are on the football team. The tall one is a basketball player. I know because I date him.”
“Oh,” said So What. “I’m So What. What’s your name?”
“I am Charlotte Simmons,” smiled the student, as she rejoined the group, which then moved on as aggressively as before.
The next week was So What’s week to attend the advanced humanities seminar in 7th century feminist Arabic literature. A student who had just transferred into the class and did not appear to grasp its spirit asked why women not only had to cover completely, but seemed to have to wear black, which, it was well-known, is far more likely to increase the discomfort of desert heat than white, which, apparently men could wear. The professor, who had already taken attendance and had also paused to read a note after So What’s name, stared at her and said: “Perhaps you would care to comment on appropriate gender roles, Ms. Weekoohut?”
Giving up on her name, and with no real knowledge of the subject, So What offhandedly said: “Well, maybe it’s not as black and white as that.”
This remark caused dead silence, followed by an indignant hiss: “BLACK-AND-WHITE — OMG — Don’t you know a TRIGGER PHRASE when you hear it? What kind of a looney-toon sits here and insults us like this?! Were you raised somewhere in Middle America? Go back to Idaho, where you can raise micro-inequities with your potatoes.”
The complaining student was not mollified when the professor tried to explain that So What was an undocumented extra-legal resident and therefore, by definition, could not be offensive.
“Don’t they even VET them properly?”
As it turned out, the very reporter who had been rebuffed a week before by VIRAL was a member of this class, so this “clash of cultures” became a page one story in the student newspaper — complete with a photo of So What and the title, Chiaroscuro in the Classroom. It shared the top of the page with an editorial by a visiting assistant lecturer of Tautology: Terrorism is meant to terrify, and since I am not afraid, there is no terrorism!
So What’s story was picked up online by LEAKYPETE and then by the local newspaper, The LaLa Times, to which the evil celebrity subscribed. When she read the story, the evil celebrity went immediately to her tablet and shouted:
“Tablet, Tablet, on the wall,
Don’t you know anything at all?”
And when the tablet expressed its bewilderment, she said:
“I am talking about that slutty teen named So What who tried to be as attractive as me!”
And the tablet replied:
“I am sorry, but my RAM has no trace of such a name or person.”
Convinced that her tablet had had a senior moment, the celebrity did two things. She summoned her gardener and fired him on the spot. (He emigrated to Colorado, where he became a successful marijuana farmer.) And she convened her team of crisis advisers to decide on a course of action.
The results of this meeting soon became apparent. One day, in the house of the seven geeks, Jornolist gave a strangled gasp, and everyone looked at him. He motioned them all to come to his screen, where they saw an entry on CHIPPERCHAT: “#SLUT” and a catalogue of crimes So What was accused of: favoring white males as sexual partners, discrimination against various minorities, anti-feminism, membership in a proto-Nazi cyber-espionage club, being a Christian, eating meat, failing to attend LGBTQRXT rallies, voting Republican and other horrifying breaches of civilized conduct as practiced in academe. The same thing appeared on FACESPACE, SOIREÉ and LEAKYPETE.
So What broke down and cried, but Hacker patted her on the back and said: “Never fear, the geeks are here.” Then she described her idea to the rest and they enthusiastically endorsed it.
One day later, by special messenger, the evil celebrity received a list of demands, accompanied by the mock-up of an entry ready for submission to the blog NSA (NotSnowdenAnymore), titled “#DECREPIT” and detailing the celebrity’s actual age, the continuing replacement of her hair with donations from her armpits, a description of the procedure that smoothed her neck by transplanting skin from her buttocks, and the re-forming of the buttocks with Botox, to say nothing of the several face-lifts and tummy tucks that are de rigueur for ageless celebrities. This entry was accompanied by a promise to publish if the demands were not met.
On the following day, a retraction and an abject apology appeared in all possible social and news outlets, lamenting a terrible mistake by a staff member, who was now apparently living at the South Pole.
The geeks, being geeks, of course, had no intention of keeping this news to themselves, so it all appeared in short order, and the evil celebrity found it necessary to enter a reputation rehabilitation camp for six months, where there were daily exercises in
|1)||Looking Humble But Sexy,|
|2)||Speaking With Conviction About What You Are Expected To Believe,|
|3)||Being Nice With Animals,|
|4)||Being Surprised At A Wardrobe Malfunction;
after which her life returned to its usual course.
So What and her seven friends celebrated the happy resolution of her problem by attending an end-of-the-semester guest concert by a local philharmonic society performing Beethoven’s Ninth.
This was the first concert that had been noticed by the recently inaugurated local chapter of CAIR (Causing Alarm Is Righteous) which marched around the periphery of the onlookers carrying placards such as:
Music Is Haram
Music is the Work of Shaitan
The Most Beautiful Sound I Ever Heard Is The Call of the Muezzin
Beethoven Was a Jew
You Can’t Hear Music Without A Head
and, following along at the very end, one rumpled upperclassman with a sign that said:
People Are Sleeping.
And So What, noticing that one, thought: “You got that right!”
Readers and lovers of happy endings will be pleased to know that everyone — evil, good and sublimely unaware alike — lived happily ever after, for the time being.