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Steven Sanders


Last Monday I nailed the mail slot shut. That way the mailman can't deliver the letters from my antagonists outlining their complaints. Those letters follow me like a pack of wolves...hungry, waiting for me to fall down. When my troubles began, I thought I could clear them up easily. Now I realize that my life story, all of it, even the not-so-nice parts, has been digitized and is being archived on magnetic tape. The keepers of those archives share bits of my existence with each other in order to piece together an electronic mosaic of my shortcomings. I lie awake now, thinking about the latest day of my biography that's just been encoded; the check and credit card numbers left behind like so many broken twigs and warm footprints. Sometimes I think I can hear the data banks chattering to each other, clicking their anodized tongues. At the touch of a button they come to life.

Last Wednesday I nailed the screen door shut so the mailman can't drop letters between the doors. When you close your eyes very tight, you can imagine the letters being composed on a shiny machine named Behemoth. Day in, day out. His only requirement is a steady paper supply. People are mistaken when they think undemanding gods are the best.

Yesterday I nailed the front gate shut so the mailman couldn't get near me with mail. In a dream, he walked by the house and tossed some in the yard like Johnny Appleseed. It took root there and grew like ivy right through the window. I woke up then.

This morning I nailed the windows shut and covered the front lawn with sheets of plastic so nothing could sprout. I use the back door now. Each time I leave I wedge the king of hearts between the door and jamb, and if he's on the ground when I come home I'll know something is waiting for me behind the door. There will be no place to hide.

On Sunday, for the first time, I thought seriously about money. It became clear in my mind that it is nothing more than numbers. Numbers are infinite. And so is money. I recalled reading about an artist who drew his own folding money - perfect copies - and went into stores and spent them, even after he told the clerks it was only art. They even gave him change. Once you've seen it you have to believe it's real.

On Tuesday I drew a twenty and went to the store. The man working there did not understand money magic or art, and he told me to never come back. I went to a different store and the help there was stupid too, so I tried to find the article about the artist in order to figure out where the smart people lived. I think everyone around here is afraid of numbers so the magic doesn't work. Imagination is the victim.

On Thursday I opened a checking account at the bank. It occurred to me that the numbers representing money you write on checks might work better than my own designs, and when I went to the store and bought stuff with a check for twenty, everybody was happy. Conformity brings smiles.

Yesterday I went to the bank with a deposit slip for three thousand. There were long lines of people inside, so I decided to use the cash machine in the vestibule. It didn't need or want an explanation of the number theory of money, so it gladly accepted my three thousand and asked if I'd like another transaction? The machines understand the magic of numbers. Philosophy is unnecessary.

On Saturday the mailman brought the first mistake from the bank. The machine in the vestibule must have been a rogue - the three thousand I had keyed in had vanished without a trace. I needn't have worried though, the folks who worked at the places where I bought my things continued to love me in spite of the temporary number shortage. I rewarded their belief in check magic by purchasing many nice things. Generosity is important.

On Monday I changed my Social Security number. I wasn't at all happy with its selection of numbers, and as an American I felt it was my God-given right to change them. While I was at it I reconfigured my driver's license and phone numbers. When Dad called I gave him my new phone number, and even though he didn't ask for them, my new driver's license and Social Security numbers as well. I asked him, as a veteran who had fought for our rights, if he was satisfied with all of his assigned numbers. He said he hadn't given it much thought, and reminded me to be sure and tell him if I changed my address. Mother would have to note it in her address book. When he dropped a hint about their upcoming fortieth wedding anniversary, I told him I was planning to give them a deposit slip for three thousand. It's the perfect gift.

Yesterday the man who owns the house came over. He cursed when his pants ripped on the nails in the front gate. He was mad about the rent check, and yelled at me. I understood then that the whole genus of cash machines is untrustworthy - all of my deposits for three thousand had disappeared - whereas my original thought had been that I had just encountered a bad seed. When I showed the landlord a deposit slip for six thousand he quieted down momentarily, only to flare up again when I mentioned the rogue machines. He threatened eviction when I gave him another check for the rent, so I decided on a radical plan to attach new and different house numbers above the front door in order to hide the house from him and his loud voice. It will be hard to find.

This afternoon I received my first message over the radio. Curious, I tested its aptitude by asking for my new address. It gave me the right one, and for extra credit mentioned my new phone number. Like the old saying goes; I wasn't so surprised that it could talk, but that it had something to say. It warned me, belatedly as it turned out, about the crafty cash machines, and it gave me some tips on how to circumvent their nastiness. The radio also filled me in on how someone had translated Matthew 19:23 into numbers and keyed that into one of the machines, who then shared the information with all of his friends. It's that verse about a rich man getting into Heaven, and now the self-righteous machines have made it their duty to save us from ourselves by refusing our deposits. The radio commiserated with me about the sad fact that there's nothing worse than a machine who's found religion. It recommended that I go to the drive-thru at the bank - those little pods would be glad to ferry my slips inside without making any value judgments. A ray of hope.

On Tuesday I discovered that I could already have won ten million. A postcard that had fallen beneath the dining room table informed me that I had a special number reserved in my name at prize headquarters. I called headquarters and told them I was completing a review of all of my numbers, changing many of them in the process. Could they see their way clear to alter my reserved prizewinner by a digit or two? They said they would take my request under advisement and asked me about magazines. Was I interested?

On Wednesday, after not receiving word from the nerve center of prizes, I called back to see how the advisement had gone. They casually mentioned that the nerve center was a busy place, and asked if I'd heard of their half-off-the-cover-price deal? I agreed that half-off was always a good thing, and that I'd be more than happy to take advantage of their spectacular offer. It was mine for the asking.

Yesterday, no bulletins from prize central. It dawned on me - my urgent request notwithstanding - that a meeting of the prize board of directors could not easily be arranged on such short notice. Gathering the movers and shakers who made up the board from the far-flung reaches of our beloved nation is no easy task. I toyed with the idea of having Uri Geller bend their silverware as a sign for them to return at once to the navel of the prize universe in order to cast their votes on my proposal. Did I dare?

This morning I again called prize control, America's choice for unbelievable price-slashing. A nice man asked if anyone had informed me of the fabulous three-for-the-price-of-two plan? Four easy payments and no credit check. I was touched by his solicitude for my reading needs, and agreed that easy payments are the best, sign me up! But first I reminded him about the little matter of my personal, reserved in my name only, no two are alike, unique to me alone, prizewinning number. He agreed that prize control wasn't happy unless I was happy, and that a new number was not only within my rights as a preferred-platinum customer, it was practically guaranteed a savvy, with-it reader such as myself. As a final token of my gratitude I signed on for the unheard-of lifetime offer. Exciting new worlds are available.

On Saturday my city councilperson came to the back door and invited me to raise issues. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to question her about the United Nations satellite spinning overhead, snapping pictures of my license plate number. Her amazement at this development turned to anger when I explained to her that the UN, despite its apologists' unconvincing protestations, was planning the enslavement of our great nation once it had determined all of our numbers. She was appalled by this provocative violation of the sanctity of the neighborhood, and agreed with me that it was no damn business of the UN what numbers we used. Sensing a kindred spirit, I urged her to recall our UN ambassador for urgent consultations. She nodded vigorously as she backed down the steps, absentmindedly handing me one of her campaign brochures. I then taped it over my license plate so the one-worlders at the UN could see just who they were up against. Courage is crucial.

On Monday the president spoke and promised every citizen a stack of thousand-dollar bills two-miles high. Not wishing to be a burden on the government, I immediately set to work drawing my own stack. Hoping to enlist the satellite's help in something pure, upstanding, and American, like the stacking of money, I sent it a message through the radio hinting at payment of deposit slips for three thousand. Acceptance was quick.

On Sunday the radio unplugged itself. Life is short.

On Friday, via the miracle of TV, I visited Disneyland. As I wandered from the Matterhorn to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson, a special, toll-free number appeared on the screen. Everything looked so perfect and clean, and Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket wanted me to call so I could receive my free information. Peter Pan and Tinkerbell gamboled through Never-Never Land, smiling and winking at me. Captain Hook reached out and lifted my telephone with his hook and dialed the no-obligation number. Help me, Mickey.

* * * * Help me, Mickey

Life is short

Acceptance was quick

Courage is crucial

Exciting new worlds are available

Did I dare?

It was mine for the asking

Was I interested?

A ray of hope

It will be hard to find

It's the perfect gift

Generosity is important

Philosophy is unnecessary

Conformity brings smiles

Imagination is the victim

Once you've seen it you have to believe it's real

There will be no place to hide

I woke up then

People are mistaken when they think undemanding gods are the best

At the touch of a button they come to life

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