Alan Michael Parker

Report from the Committee on Town Happiness

We have been think­ing more about the air: we are unable to make the air behave, the air will not hold. Despite our ref­er­en­da; despite the can­cel­la­tion of the spe­cial elec­tion, pend­ing offi­cial word of the incur­sion of the edge; despite our offi­cial gear; despite our tal­is­mans; despite the shock­ing news we have yet to share; we have been unable to con­vert the air to any­thing. There’s so much air! We should be able to do some­thing. After an unprece­dent­ed five tied votes, we have giv­en the air a 3.

For once, we might be dis­il­lu­sioned. Possibly even dis­tract­ed, as L. Amowillis remind­ed us. Not that the word “fool” was tak­en per­son­al­ly, once the room was secure.

Really, until the air’s gone, one nev­er knows where it’s been or why. The air’s not like a per­son. The air appar­ent­ly has noth­ing to do with us—unless or until the air dis­ap­pears, for only then does the pri­or air seem real. “Breathless,” “pan­ic,” “choke”: only then do cer­tain words apply. But air that disappears—come now. We might as well try to make a field of pur­ple flow­ers out of air. Not that we are able.

Just look around the room: if a chair were made of air, we’d fall to the floor. If a glass were made of air, we would be thirsty. If a spoon were made of air, our sug­ar would miss our cof­fee.

Go ahead, reach up, try vis­it­ing the air. We have tried already to fill the sails of our lungs, push off and float. It’s a project for a sub-com­mit­tee on less of an urgent day—for peo­ple who can close their eyes to the sol­id ever-present. Still we vot­ed, 5–1 (S. Avumito no longer answer­ing the door, L. Vanis not back in time), to send anoth­er explor­er up in N. Femiz’s bal­loon. Hot air ris­ing into cool­er air, pilot­ed by the plucky R. Delicant. To push off and float. By proxy, with noth­ing to hold us in, so high, the edge rubbed away.

And then we vot­ed unan­i­mous­ly, 6–0, to emboss our seal upon the bot­tom of the bas­ket; all who gaze on high will see our full com­mit­ment to the air. The words in a cir­cle, because that makes sense: “The Committee on Town Happiness.”

 

What We Didn’t Anticipate

So many open win­dows, like mouths for us to feed. Building mate­ri­als used for oth­er means, the sheen of the macadam, the bright eyes of gals and fel­las link­ing arms, the sig­ni­fy­ing mot­ley worn by teens, the garbage fire this once not for fun. And who could for­get the names of those no longer here—M. Hughes, Q. Alvarez, the Wandlemans, Dr. Hans—but who could invoke them, too, on whose side should we list the miss­ing? The con­se­quences all have con­se­quences: when an order­ly doesn’t show, a patient lies strapped and moan­ing on a gur­ney, a tech­ni­cian has no one to X-ray, a radi­ol­o­gist has noth­ing to read, a sis­ter with no word fans a mag­a­zine. A nurse sent to fetch the patient from the Lavender wing calls down, emp­ty-hand­ed. Not that the DCS can answer. Inevitably, sure, all such tra­jec­to­ries may be tracked—to arrive right here with us, our respon­si­bil­i­ty, we the Committee on Town Happiness. Which we might have seen if some­one had just said so.

Had we received false data? Secretly, our lat­est num­bers were less enthu­si­as­tic: Morale, 2; Spunk, 2, etc. Even with judi­cious replace­ment of “lost funds.” Surprise, 2; Market Value, 1.

Love was not enough. Love and fear were not enough. Love and fear and antic­i­pa­tion were not enough. Given the time of day, the com­mit­ment to pri­or cus­tomers, the mood of the crowd, the objects thrown. Love and fear and antic­i­pa­tion and rea­son were not enough. Love and fear and antic­i­pa­tion and rea­son and benef­i­cence were not enough. Sharing alone was not enough. Happiness was not enough—though we remain enough, in our pri­vate feel­ing places, where it counts, spe­cial to those who know. Those who rec­og­nize each oth­er with just the tini­est of sig­nals.

 

The Party

Fun was Job One for all cos­tumed chil­dren under the age of ten. Who doesn’t love the kids all dressed like drag­on­flies, their bodices bejew­eled? There they ran, jig­gling their lit­tle wings. There and back, a hap­py, sea­son­al theme. That was the plan, the Town Square turned into a party—far from thoughts of N. Femiz, or any­thing that flies at night. With prizes spun from dreams, 50% off with the pur­chase of any full-price item. With an inflat­able tram­po­line, the grt-grt-grt-grt of the gen­er­a­tor, the mus­cu­lar cables snaking through the grass. We were told the machin­ery would be unob­tru­sive, and the noise was prob­a­bly okay. Not that any­one stopped to read the safe­ty cones, the legal lan­guage care­ful­ly penned on stick­ers near the base.

When a person’s  young, a circle’s much more fun to run. Counter-clock­wise! We could see the restraint with which the orga­niz­ers orga­nized the drag­on­fliers, how pas­sion had to yield to self-con­trol. These were junior par­ty plan­ners, in our stead, learn­ing to understand—like a mini, prac­tice Committee all their own. M. Akiwara should take note, chid­ed V. Gurozcki telling­ly, imi­tat­ing M. Akiwara dead-to-rights: See!

In case of acci­dent, throw a par­ty, sure—in the event of mis­per­cep­tions, have a bright and cheery moment. A Committee does what every­one expects and more.

It wasn’t a “stam­pede.” Just a lit­tle run­ning, encour­aged by the junior par­ty plan­ners who had made the small mis­take of con­gre­gat­ing in a cor­ner by them­selves, with no one in the mid­dle of all that hap­pi­ness, with so much hap­pi­ness it was bound to spill into the streets, who could blame the under-tens. Even the shop­keep­ers under­stood, their bills sub­mit­ted lat­er. Triplicate, fine print, indem­ni­ty claus­es, smiles—we helped the junior par­ty plan­ners learn what to learn, that a party’s fun for all.

 

Reading Through the Minutes

There was a kind of beau­ty, yes, the num­bers all agreed. In the aggre­gate, con­sid­er­ing the met­rics, deriv­a­tives beget­ting the­o­ries, the odd vote tabled for a lack of a quo­rum. When were we present enough to decide we had too few peo­ple present to decide? Once, in a gid­dy mood, M. Hughes appar­ent­ly brought forth a motion to open the wood­en shut­ters in the old Committee room, to greet the fil­i­bus­ter­ing moon. In those days, every par­ty was remark­able for “heavy appe­tiz­ers.” Someone must have had a con­cern, a cater­ing firm pri­vate­ly run by an aproned aunt who liked to work with pas­try dough. So many secret appointees, some­times in the same fam­i­ly.

At first, Dr. Hans appeared so innocent—until the third ques­tion in the series. Follow his train of thought and be derailed. Sure, he played the ethi­cist, abstained on prin­ci­ple when­ev­er med­ical issues arose. In ret­ro­spect, we know that affa­bil­i­ty makes for pow­er, cheer­i­ness becomes a man­date, an upset stom­ach can be timed.

Of course, the dear doc­tor nev­er sup­port­ed award­ing a 4 with­out a recess first, the stan­dard yum­mies bub­bling on the side table, the same old chaf­ing dish—a large man feign­ing appetites. Time for a quick smoke and a hasty gar­gle, gazes met in the Men’s Room mir­ror, deals indu­bitably struck with a nod while wash­ing hands. And then a friend­ly amend­ment not so friend­ly, a rid­er attached as a prophe­cy.

But noth­ing has come true, so say the min­utes, there will always be more min­utes, every vote may be out-vot­ed. History is what we must decide on next, read­ing through. Granted, he offered a cer­tain kind of vision, but what could have been the motives of the charm­ing­ly can­tan­ker­ous, the gruff cur­mud­geon, blus­ter­ing­ly sin­cere?

That Dr. Hans has left us to decide seems the most sus­pi­cious act of all.

 

Like-minded Individuals

Pursuant to the recent Cancellation Edict, which super­sedes the cod­i­cil to the Spirited Township Declaration, all like-mind­ed indi­vid­u­als shall be self-iden­ti­fied. Privatization of well-regard­ed feel­ings no longer shall apply. When in a “time of chal­lenge,” when hours pass like min­utes and min­utes pass like hours, gath­er­ings for­mer­ly con­sid­ered exces­sive shall be mon­i­tored by all like-mind­ed indi­vid­u­als. Neither in uni­form nor by virtue of col­or-coör­di­nat­ed hats and note­books. Be known for good­ness shared. Carry a cup of joy.

On Mondays, like-mind­ed indi­vid­u­als will be wel­come at the Pick ‘n Pull (for­mer­ly known as the Gravy Boat, until the inci­dent in ques­tion). A free sal­ad next time, with every reg­u­lar-sized slice of pie. All along the far wall, with access to the fire door, the scrap­ing of chairs shushed, be qui­et, please. On Wednesdays, like-mind­ed indi­vid­u­als will qual­i­fy for a free oil change at Tucker’s, so long as they are will­ing to wait. In the room next to the air re-fresh­en­ers, where the bot­tled water gur­gles upside down in the dis­penser. Perhaps it would be best not to men­tion the con­di­tion of the uphol­stery; there are reports that Tucker’s doing what he can.

Here is the plan: to spread hap­pi­ness. If an ordi­nary day is a hap­py day, a hap­py day becomes more spe­cial. “Infiltrate” is not a word we use. Even if we gath­er lat­er, under­neath the over­pass, the occa­sion­al illeg­i­ble graf­fi­to sprayed for show, to leave in twos and threes as a mark of pru­dence seems a rea­son­able inter­pre­ta­tion of the unwrit­ten rules; to keep all torch­es ready, and unlight­ed to the last. Note that no offi­cial appro­ba­tion shall be forth­com­ing from the Committee; note that “dis­avow­al” might be lan­guage deemed exces­sive. Still, like-mind­ed indi­vid­u­als will under­stand. They shall rec­og­nize the moment when action needs to super­sede self-con­trol. We encour­age gen­er­al­ly all such broad-based feel­ings of com­mu­ni­ty.

~

Alan Michael Parker is a nov­el­ist and poet, the author of eleven books includ­ing the recent­ly pub­lished nov­el, Whale
Man (WordFarm), and the forth­com­ing col­lec­tion of poems, Long Division (Tupelo, 2012); new work may be found in
Mid-American Review, Pleiades, Sub-Tropics, and else­where, and in the forth­com­ing edi­tions of the Pushcart Prize as
well as Best American Poetry, 2011. He teach­es at Davidson College, where he directs the pro­gram in cre­ative writ­ing, and in the Queens University low-res­i­den­cy M.F.A. pro­gram.