News that the federal government had just given itself a $9 trillion credit limit left Hardyvillians feeling glum. We sat around the big round table at the Hog Trough Grill and Feed, grousing and moping.
"I tried to get my credit-card company to raise my limit to $9 trillion," Bob-the-Nerd sighed. "You can imagine the answer."
"Mine said they'd raise me $900 if I paid higher interest," Janelle offered, as she rounded the table with the usual pot of
industrial waste coffee. "You can imagine my answer."
We all stared down at the oil slicks in our cups and sighed.
"Doubt any senator or president's gonna pay that money back, neither," Carty growled. "Just enjoy the spendin' and leave the bills to you-know-who."
Then our gloom took an ominous turn. Instead of saying something in the true Hardyville spirit ("Sure am glad good old conservative Republicans are in charge. Just imagine if they'd elected one of those awful 'welfare and warfare' politicians." the next remark anybody made slithered up out of that old-fashioned human pit of envy.
"There's a big party goin' on out there," Bob whined. "And you know what? We're missin' out on all the fun."
Sad as it is to admit, there's a truth to what Bob said. Here we'd been sitting on our own humble little gold standard, still buying coffee for a tiny little chip of metal (or a metal-backed paper receipt from Barney's Bank). Owning homes that hadn't inflated since great-granny's day. Taking care of ourselves and each other without any fancy federal programs. Why, we hadn't even had a good war since Nat went off and fought at Anzio. We not only hadn't found any weapons of mass destruction; we hadn't even spent one dollar, let alone hundreds of billions of the things, looking for any.
Worst of all -- we've always had this embarrassing habit of spending no more than we make. And usually even (I cringe in shame to admit) spending less. It's dull, dull, dull, dull, dull. Face it. The Hardyville life has been as uptight as a Victorian matron in a whalebone-and-steel corset.
We sighed some more.
Now, prepare yourself. Because what happened next is ... well, it's scary. And you're not gonna want to believe it.
I'm pretty sure we would have recovered our spirits in a minute or two. Somebody would have cut through the gloom. "Heat up the tar," Carty would have said. Or "They say V for Vendetta is a good user's manual."
But instead somebody -- I'm just plain not going to reveal who -- made the fatal remark:
"Who cares if it's all just paper money and debt, as long as paper buys real goods? Who cares if nine trillion is on the backs of the taxpayers; if they're fool enough to pay it, why shouldn't we be savvy enough to grab a share? I tell ya for a fact: it's time Hardyville joined the big party and got itself a load of the loot."
I'm sure, I'm really honestly sure, somebody still would have changed the direction of the conversation. Somebody would have said, "Okay, pal. Then let's start by taking your money, since you think stealing's such a good idea." Or maybe would have taken said person out in the alley behind the Hog Trough and ... um, gently spoken to him about the error of his opinions.
But at that moment -- and this is what really did us in -- a member of the Hardyville Committee to Make Everybody Do What's Good for Them, Whether They Enjoy it or Not (THCTMEDWGFT,WTEION) walked straight into the Hog Trough.
With a golden glint in her eye.
She had overheard. And she knew that in this moment, this one moment, Hardyville was ripe for the plucking.
You know how embarrassed I am to admit we even have such a committee here in Hardyville. But we still do, even after all their members spent a weekend crowded into Hardyville's one jail cell with Deputy Emin Borgo, one broken toilet, no shower, and a distinct shortage of deodorant.
Face it, these people are always with us. Their sort have been in every society since the first proto-human noticed that one of his fellow proto-humans had more fur or bigger teeth than another proto-human and started "equalizing" matters with a club or a rock.
Wherever envy opens its whiny little beak, you can bet some do-gooder will be there to shove in the regurgitated worm of Other People's Money.
In all this history, these people haven't noticed that when individuals set out to peacefully improve their own lot and respect the right of others to do the same, good things often come of it. But when do-gooders set out to 'improve the lot of humanity,' (e.g. Tell Other People What They're Forbidden or Compelled To Do) well ...
• • •
The next time I tried to get into the Hog Trough, it had been taken over.
THCTMEDWGFT,WTEION was holding a meeting. Worse, membership had grown. Grown to a whole lot of people. There was Dora-the-Yalie (no surprise). And Deputy Borgo (grinning behind his mirrored glasses). And Marty Harbibi (who always did, come to think of it, seem to be wanting his opinions to be law). And Bob. Oh no, not Bob! But yes ... Bob.
And they were v*ting. And forming subcommittees. To write grant applications. And special legislation. Bob wanted "free" wireless Internet for all of Hardyville. And Dora wanted Hardyville's minorities to get special treatment (because somehow it was a problem, our habit of just treating them exactly like everybody else). And Marty demanded subsidies for raising sheep. Or maybe it was subsidies for not raising sheep, it was hard to tell. Probably both. And for not raising mangos or bananas, too, even though the only way to raise a mango or a banana in Hardyville would be to buy it at Pickle's Groce Mart and hold it over your head.
Deputy Borgo wanted his red-light camera back. And that just for starters. He had a whole stack of flyers and congressional letters and applications in front of him. Seems Hardy County policing was going to be "improved" by MP-5 machine guns for the new SWAT team that was going to be so much more dynamic than the old walk-up-to-the-porch-with-the-warrant way of reminding The Young Curmudgeon that his restitution for driving through Old Man Murphy's barbed-wire fence and into his stock tank was overdue. And of course we desperately needed pot-detecting night-vision equipment "free" from the Pentagon. And don't forget millions in Homeland Security
pork funds to protect our Vital Infrastructure against the Dire Threat of ... um, well, the Dire Threat from whatever damn fool might be interested in finishing the demolition of the attractions in Hardyville's One Unattractive Tourist Attraction.
Not only that, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture would buy us brand-new squad cars and all we'd have to do is ...
I dunno. Arrest illegal turnip growers. Or agree to shoot off-season sagebrush harvesters or something. I can't say because at that point, I passed out dead solid flat on the ground.
None of the do-gooders present bothered to revive me. You know how it is; when you're busy 'improving the human condition' you understandably can't be bothered with one inconvenient little individual. Unless that person's got money in her pockets that you can v*te to send some politician to grab, of course.
But eventually somebody must have dragged my sorry self out of there. Because next thing I knew, I woke up in my own bed. I felt woozy, so I decided to go off to Doc's to get some chemical stimulent.
When I walked into Doc's, I discovered that the shelves were all full of cosmetics and greeting cards and such. But where was the paregoric and the laudenum, the cocaine and the cannabis? Nowhere. Not only were they nowhere, but everything even remotely effective was behind the counter and the government said you couldn't even touch it without first
bribing the A.M.A. paying a doctor half a fortune. Damn! You couldn't even buy Sudafed -- Sudafed! -- without showing gummint ID and getting yourself in a police register.
I staggered out of Docs and headed for Grouchy's Guns & Liquor. Where there were only a few fancy shotguns -- and even those you could only buy with gummint ID and forms. The liquor side of the operation was busy. Looked as if Hardyvillians had started taking seriously to drink. But I couldn't get so much as a jug of wine because I had no gummint
permission slip ID.
Everywhere was something strange.
There was an IRS office where the Hell in a Handbasket Saloon used to be.
Miss Fitz and her Young Ladies were all crammed into the shiny new prison next to the shiny new Federal Plaza at the intersection of Freedom Way and Liberty Avenue.
The menu at the Hog Trough now listed a required number of low-fat items, a warning about eating undercooked eggs, and a prominent "no smoking within 25 feet of the building" notice. (But apparantly even the government hadn't managed to require the Hog Trough to serve actual food.)
Bewildered and looking for guidance, I ran down the street and collapsed onto a pew at the old Anarcho-Pagan Church. But I found them in the process of changing their name to the Faith-Based Non-Denominational Federally Funded Community Center, and they informed me that under their new federal guidelines, they were no longer helping anybody who didn't give a social security number. But if I filled out 34 forms in triplicate and waited six months, perhaps they could ...
I stumbled out again and finally got hold of myself enough to notice the Mean Streets of Hardyville. Since there were no more pot or uppers or downers or sidewaysers at Docs, sleazy guys were now offering hard, impure, who-knows-what drugs at inflated prices on street corners that had suddenly become dingy and trash-blown. The gangsters and Deputy Borgo were driving around shooting at each other, him in a black ninja outfit with his "free" Pentagon firepower, them with a wild assortment of "illegal" firepower.
I couldn't take it any more. I had to get out. I had to leave this horrible Hardyville behind me.
I staggered into Barney's Bank, figuring to take out all my gold and silver and run as far and fast as I could from the new "improved" Hardyville. But it was now the FDIC-approved Third National Federal Reserve Bank of Surveillance, where they told me I couldn't close my account because I didn't have a national ID card, but thanks anyway, they'd report me to FinCEN and the Department of Homeland Security for the "suspicious" activity of trying to take out my very own cash. And by the way, the SWAT team will soon be here to "detain" you as a traitor to the war on ...
And then, in panic, as I wondered how the heck I'd ever get out of there alive and free ... I looked over and next to the teller's window my desperate eyes caught sight of a calendar.
And I saw the date.
This article originally appeared on April 1, 2006.