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.
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.
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.