The road to hell, it has often been said, is paved with good intentions.
And our immigrant forefathers and foremothers in their old-countries were told that the streets of America, the great Land of Opportunity, were paved with gold.
Without passing any judgment on the correctness of either of these singular propositions, the reader is invited, as a thought experiment, to exchange the conclusion of each with the conclusion of the other. Such operation will yield two plausible alternate propositions: that the streets of America are the ones paved with good intentions, while it is the road to hell that is paved with gold.
This little tale, inspired by Aristophanes’ Frogs, makes no claim to furnishing any evidence regarding either the way to hell or the composition of America’s infrastructure. The reader should therefore have no expectation that this story will be of any use whatsoever in distinguishing between roads leading to the Infernal Region and those leading, for that matter, to Timbuktu. Likewise, the reader will search in vain within these pages for an accounting of the present state of America’s streets, roads, highways, byways, and bridges – and least of all, for any conclusions as to whether they were in fact built with the very noblest of good intentions, or merely with federal transportation funds.
The Author presumes that trustworthy guidebooks on those subjects are available, if the reader is interested in that sort of thing.
July 4, 2012.
* * *
In which we attend a Tea Party, and meet Ed the Electrician, a Patriot who vows to resurrect the Spirit of a Founding Father
It was nearly midnight at the emergency meeting of the Riverside Tea Partiers, a splinter group of the Riverside Tea Party for America (which was itself a splinter group of the original Riverside Tea Party), and the single item on the agenda, the group’s endorsement of the Republican candidate for President of the United States, was still being vigorously debated.
Rain lashed the windows of the rented conference room at the Red Roof Inn, as an unusually powerful summer storm made good progress in its efforts to back up the storm drains and triple the number of potholes in the roads the next day. Inside the conference room it was warm – hot even – as Mrs. Midge West, retired dental hygienist, stood at the podium giving a heartfelt homily on the twin Christian virtues of small government and large Social Security payments.
Ed Wurlitzerbachermann, electrician, ignored Mrs. West as he waited anxiously for his turn to speak at the podium. In a low whisper he rehearsed the short speech he intended to deliver, in which he planned to include a neat little joke about rewiring Washington. As he did so, his fingers slid under a navy blue tri-cornered hat to scratch at his sweaty bald scalp beneath.
He was a broad-shouldered, red-cheeked, stern-faced man, with large, probing eyes set below a solid brow, and a neatly trimmed goatee growing from his chin. Tonight he was wearing his Samuel Adams costume: short black trousers on top of knee-high white stockings, a brown button-down vest covering a ruffled white shirt, a pair of stiff leather shoes with a large silver buckle on each, and the aforementioned tri-cornered hat.
In truth, it is more accurate to say that this was his imitation Sam Adams costume. The Halloween store had sold it as the ‘Paul Revere,’ and it came with a cheap plastic oil lamp. But a few of Ed’s Tea Party friends insisted it made him look “just like the guy on the beer bottle” – apart from the long hair, of course. So he ditched the plastic lamp, embraced the Sam Adams look, and wore the costume proudly to all of his official Tea Party meetings, and some of the unofficial ones as well.
Mrs. West was now asking – rhetorically, perhaps – why a government so big couldn’t manage to accomplish small jobs, like the time she called her local Social Security office and they kept her on hold for “quite close to an hour.” Though undoubtedly sympathetic to her criticism, many members of the assembled Tea Partiers shifted impatiently in their seats.
“But what about the nominee?” yelled someone from near the back of the crooked rows of fold-up chairs. “Do you support him or not?”
“I want to support him, I really do,” replied Mrs. West, after some hesitation, and much frowning. “But I just don’t know if he’s the real deal, if he truly shares our values.”
“But isn’t anyone better than the dictator we’ve got in office now? Or would you rather just let him get re-elected?” The voice came from a man with a full beard, an even fuller stomach (which stretched his “Don’t Tread On Me” T-shirt to its full capacity), and a replica musket balanced on his knees.
Mrs. West stammered for a moment, recovering from the shock of being asked such an impertinent question.
“Well, the real question is,” she shouted into the microphone, “can our guy win? That’s what I want to know!”
Heads nodded in approval throughout the crowd, and Mrs. West stepped away from the podium, chin held high. She had neither answered the question nor stated a clear position on the topic at hand, but she was proud of her performance nonetheless. It was as thrilling as the time Channel 6 broadcast a piece about the Tea Party on the 11 o’clock news, and she could be clearly seen behind the reporter, waving a sign that read, “Don’t steal from my Medicare to support Socialized Medicine.” The gals at the salon had seemed a little miffed at all her crowing about it, but she graciously reminded them that in America, “sooner or later everyone gets their fifteen seconds of fame.”
Now it was finally Ed’s turn, and the electrician felt his heart beating wildly in anticipation of speaking in front of the group. He was normally a man of action, whose tools were wire cutters, not words. But something had compelled him on this stormy night to speak up.
A few raucous voices chanted “Ed the Electrician! Ed the Electrician!” as he stepped behind the podium, and he nodded solemnly in acknowledgement. The title, like his Sam Adams look, had also been conferred upon him by his Tea Party friends – although for purely utilitarian purposes, since no one could pronounce his last name.
“I’m Ed Wurlitzerbachermann,” he said, “and I sure as hell don’t want to see another four years of that fool in the White House!”
The crowd roared its applause, and Ed’s spirits were buoyed.
“His beliefs are un-American and socialist! It’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s not a bunch of hoopla, it’s for real. I say that every day, and I won’t shut up about it!”
Further applause emboldened Ed, and he banged his hand on the podium, but his eloquence already began to fade.
“That guy,” he said, “has done more damage to our country in the past four years than . . .” – he stumbled a little now, searching for the right comparison – “than the last three or four Presidents combined!”
The crowd applauded again, though somewhat less enthusiastically, and then went silent for what seemed an eternity as Ed slowly recalled the little speech he had rehearsed.
“You know,” he said at last, “I’m just an electrician, and I don’t know a lot about politics. But I think the answer is pretty simple. We’ve got to rewire Washington! The power lines need to be coming from the people!”
He was pleased to see that his little joke won him another solid round of applause.
“Yeah, yeah, Ed, we all get that,” called out the man with the musket, when the applause had died down. “But here I go asking it again: what about the nominee? Does he have your vote? Yes or no?”
Unfortunately, like the good Mrs. West, Ed wasn’t fully prepared to answer this difficult question. They were both in the midst of experiencing an unprecedented three-way internal conflict – between their usual party allegiances, their newfound Tea Party values, and their bitter disappointment with the Republican nominee. This had quite understandably resulted in the procrastination of a final judgment on the matter. In other words, they were undecided. Unlike Mrs. West, however, Ed had an admirable willingness to try to come up with an answer on the spot.
“Well it seems to me,” said Ed, “that the liberals are always complaining they’ve got to hold their nose and vote for the lesser of two evils.”
Disapproving chatter spread throughout the crowd. Was he actually about to suggest they do as the liberals do?
“But I say the hell with that! A vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil!”
The crowd cheered loudly, and Ed smiled with satisfaction.
“Sorry to be a bummer,” said the musket-bearing man over the applause – most impolitely, in Ed’s view – “but a vote for a third party candidate might as well be a vote for the Socialist!”
Several people voiced agreement with this, and Ed lost his nerve once again. Clutching desperately to regain his previous favor with the crowd, he blurted out the first thing that came to mind.
“No, no! I’m not saying we should back a third party. What we need to do is, you know – find a different candidate to run as a Republican, a better candidate!”
The Tea Partiers groaned en masse. Here they were, back at square one. Months of flirting with this candidate or that candidate during the primaries had exhausted their patience for trying someone new, and now it appeared they were stuck with the last man standing.
“Too late for that!” cried the musket man. “If he doesn’t get you all fired up, tough! If you don’t think he’s the great savior that’s gonna’ deliver America back to us, tough! He’s the best damn chance we’ve got.”
The crowd murmured its reluctant agreement with him.
Ed could see he was rapidly losing his audience, and he sensed the woman waiting behind him for a turn at the microphone inching closer.
“Yeah, but I’m not talking about just another Johnny come lately,” he said. “I’m talking an honest-to-God Real American. Like the Founding Fathers – right? If we could get someone like one of them to run, he’d be unbeatable!”
“I don’t think there’s too many Founding Fathers left,” said the musket man, laughing derisively, “other than the folks playing dress up, I guess!” He shook his head, snickered, and mumbled that it seemed about time for the next speaker.
But Ed Wurlitzerbachermann stood his ground. He had untangled wires that were twisted together for decades, rewired electrical systems more complex than a map of Los Angeles’ freeways, and charged customers an hourly rate slightly higher than the going rate of brain surgeons – all because he lived by the motto “Never Give Up.” And he applied this motto to those tasks he knew had absolutely no chance of succeeding just as much as he did to all other tasks, simply on principal.
Furthermore, the musket man had implicitly challenged his intelligence and political acumen, a rather offensive act in any age. Rather than admit defeat or at least cede the field, Ed did the natural thing: he dug in deeper. He could feel his next words flowing uncontrollably out of him, in a straight line from his gut to his mouth, like acid reflux.
“Well then I think maybe it’s time to bring back a real Founding Father!” he cried. “Because if anyone can clean up Washington, it’s a man like George Washington himself. That’s who we need to run! And I intend to find him – or someone just as good – if I have to go to hell and back to do it!”
A sudden angry rumble of thunder outside added to the prophetic quality of his declaration, confirming in his mind the righteousness of the mission he had just assigned himself. Ignoring the looks of disbelief on the faces of the crowd and the snide laughter of the musket man, Ed the Electrician slapped his hand triumphantly on the podium, saluted sharply off the tip of his tri-cornered hat (to no one in particular), and marched out of the meeting in a daze of glory.
* * *
And as for the review...
"I live in Scotland but take an interest in the US. `The Newts` is a very inventive satire on the US, its politics, its fears and its attempts to find its way. The book is enjoyable on several levels...you don`t need any [kind of] literary background to enjoy this and you don`t even need to be American."
To say the least, Matt's book is reaching readers worldwide in a way that not many books based on US politics has done before. That in itself should be impressive, not to mention the sheer quality of the writing should make you want to rush out and get your copy now. Like, RIGHT NOW. Remember, the internet never closes...