“To complete the transaction?” questioned the elderly gentleman. “I am paying cash for my groceries.”
“Oh,” replied the clerk, “You’re one of those people.”
The elderly gentleman just shrugged his shoulders. “I suppose so.” He simply smiled, having no idea what the cashier was talking about.
“Well, gramps, I still need your address.”
“My address? I just want to buy these groceries.”’
“Look, let me get this though your old, thick head: I can’t let you buy these groceries, for the sake of the Community, until you tell me your address.”
“The ‘community‘”? What’s the community have to do with it? I just want to buy some food.”
“The Community has to do with everything. Now tell me where you live, or get out of line, you useless geezer.”
“My foot’s gonna live up your...” The pugnacious elderly gentleman caught himself before enunciating something beneath his dignity. Just because the young snots these days felt they had some kind of duty to keep nothing hidden ---- even their innermost thoughts ---- was no reason he had to let it all hang out, at least not yet anyways.
“Getting feisty, are you? We’ll see if your still so eager to disrupt communal harmony once the Social Enforcement Committee gets here.”
“Good.“ the elderly gentleman retorted, “And while you’re at it, why don’t you call the cops.”
The food distribution clerk almost had to suppress a laugh. “’Cops’?” thought the clerk. He sort of remembered hearing his own grandfather mention the word a few times, but the clerk seldom paid much attention to someone that old.
What could he learn from people like that anyway? So many of them would prattle on about how things were in the time of Before. Some even seemed to prefer that period. But what did they know? Things were so much different now, and the Community could not afford to be beholden to such outdated perspectives.
The clerk turned to his communicator. He spoke into the device. “Social Enforcement Committee, please.” Cops indeed. What an unprogressive notion. No wonder Before was such a chaotic time. Imagine, waiting for a violation of Community standards to take place before intervening to correct the situation. Now in part thanks to the Concord of Universal Community, authorities were at least permitted to take whatever steps were necessary to maintain communal balance and harmony. The underprivileged no longer had to resort to what in the Before had been referred to as “theft”; instead now those granted the task of overseeing the well being of the Community could distribute what the Community deemed to be undue excess individual resources to those needing them the most. For if the Community viewed itself as a singular unit, what was the big deal about shuffling things around?
Sure, things still weren’t perfect and problems erupted from time to time, but fortunately the Social Enforcement Committee was there to smooth things over and to ensure that Community sensibilities were abided by. So in the mind of the geezer, the clerk thought, it might only be natural to equate the Social Enforcement Committee with the police. It was just pitiable that a mind could be so limited by Before as to fail to see the pivotal social function these enlightened public servants provided beyond mere law enforcement.
“Social Enforcement Committee. How might we assist the resident?”
The food distribution clerk spoke into the communicator. “Yes, would you send a social interaction specialist over to the Food Distribution Center?”
“Could you detail the nature of the social infraction?”
“Yes, there is some geezer here who won’t give me his address.”
“Sounds like he is a serious threat to community cohesion and conformity. We’ll send someone over right away.”
The clerk switched off the communicator. “Well, pops, you can tell me your address, just leave, or wait for the social interaction specialist to get here.”
“I’m not leaving until you let me buy these groceries.”
The two stared at one another. Neither was willing to concede what each considered a matter of utmost principle: the one the right to acquire the necessities of life unhindered by undue scrutiny; the other for the need for the smallest detail to be brought under the watchful eye of the Community.
Both, for the most part, stood still. The clerk watched as the elderly gentleman drew his hand to his chest only to let it fall once more by his side.
The minutes stretched on slowly, but the tension did not subside.
The elderly gentleman brought his hand to his chest once more, only to return it to his side. Before the clerk could ask what the deal was, he noticed a figure exuding authority step through the door of the food distribution center.
“My name is Catherine. I am with the Social Enforcement Committee. What seems to be the problem?”
The food distribution clerk proceeded to relay the incident. ‘This old codger here won’t tell me his address.”
The elderly gentleman spoke up. “Just a minute, you brat. I’m sick and tired of that mouth you’ve got. Didn’t anyone ever teach you to respect your elders?” He once again brought his hand to his chest.
The old man’s words caused the buzz-cut hair on the back of Catherine’s neck to stand on end. “Respect your elders? Indeed,” she thought. Such deference belonged only to the will of the Community arrived at through consensus of all residents in good standing with proper guidance from qualified overseers of course. The suspect before standing before her appeared to be so mired in the assumptions of Before he might be a greater threat to social cohesion than she had initially believed.
The social interaction specialist turned to the elderly gentleman and asked, “What is your name?”
“Are you with the police?”
“No, I am a social interaction specialist.”
“Your some kind of social worker then. I thought the kid called the cops. It’s none of your business what my name is. I haven’t done anything wrong. All I want to do is buy my groceries.”
“Sir, it’s not a matter of doing anything right or wrong. In fact, such outdated thinking might be part of the problem. Rather it’s more about what is more in the Community interest. As such, everything is my business. The Covenant of Universal Community stipulates that as components of the larger communal organism the parts perceiving themselves as individuals do not posses the privilege of concealing information considered of interest to the Community. Having been duly appointed to the Social Enforcement Committee of the Schauungtown Residents Association, it is your obligation to cooperate in all matters as I deem necessary.”
“Look here, lady, it sounds to me like you swallowed a dictionary but not said much of anything.” The elderly gentleman brought his hand to his chest once more.
“Do not compound the seriousness of the situation with gender bias. From what I have been able to determine thus far, you are already in significant need of perceptual reconfiguration.”
The food distribution clerk asked the social interaction specialist, “What do you think the deal is with him?”
Catherine answered. “Well, I cannot be absolutely certain, but from his comments, I say he probably inhabited the area before it was annexed into the Resident’s Association Network Of Communities. People belonging to a lower cultural index such as himself were allowed to stay where they already resided since most were already located in the Laborer Wards.”
“Then what’s he doing here?” the food distribution clerk asked as the elderly gentleman stood there with his hand to his chest as he was being talked about as if he wasn’t.
The Social Enforcement Specialist continued, “Since those of that cultural index already living in those areas were never designated a new residence by the Community Association, many of them did not receive a thorough orientation to the Covenant of Universal Community or the Schauungtown Codicils. Occasionally, some of them mistakenly assume they still posses the privilege of traveling to any settlement zone they desire without prior authorization.”
The elderly gentleman spoke up. “What do you mean ‘authorization’? There weren’t any roadblocks.”
“And there haven’t been for quite some time,” Catherine clarified, “The conscientious resident is expected to abide by their assigned cultural index and remain within their designated zone unless they have been granted permission by the Residential Association for a justifiable reason.”
The elderly gentleman snapped, “Well, I think grocery shopping qualifies as one of your ‘justifiable reasons‘.”
“Actually, it does not. Each resident is assigned to their respective zone of habitation based upon the value of their contribution to the welfare of the Community. Resource allocation specialists have calculated the proper nutritional guidelines for those living within the respective zones. There is no reason why you would have to leave your sector to procure sufficient provisions.”
“That’s what you think,” the elderly gentleman snorted. “I might not be able to spout off all your fangle-dangled regulations, but I know some of these items are cheaper here than over in my ‘sector’.”
The social interaction specialist once again interjected herself to justify the position of the Community Association. “That is because the Resource Allocation Subcommittee has determined those residing in your sector are not as deserving of the commodity in question.”
The elderly gentleman grew visibly agitated. “What do you mean ‘not as deserving’?” He once again brought his hand to his chest. “Who’s to decide what I do and do not deserve other than myself?”
“There is no need to further disparage the wisdom and insight of the Community. The resource allocation process is characterized by the utmost fairness. To be frank, those assigned to your residential zone have not given as much back to the Community or proven themselves responsible enough to enjoy these nutritional commodities in higher quantity. Those whose tasks include reflection upon the nature of the Community and its administration require a higher degree of luxury than those who do little more than maintain the Community’s physical ‘shell’. Those that oversee our mental and relational coherence do so much for us. The least we can do without complaint is to make sure those of an awareness higher than our own are able to toil in comfort.”
The food distribution clerk asked the elderly gentleman, “Don’t you realize that as part of the Community that what we do for one we are doing for All? So by fulfilling our obligation, we are really giving to ourselves.”
Catherine assured the food distribution clerk, “It would be my contention that our socially disruptive senectitudian does not frequent the Toleration Fellowship.”
“Toleration Fellowship?” the elderly gentleman asked. “I don’t go there. Went to church for a while though, but stopped going towards the end of the Before. Got to where I didn’t see the point in going anymore. The place wasn’t like it use to be. Truth be known, people running the place around the time I stopped going remind me quite a bit of you people. They were always yammering on about community but not giving much of a hoot about the individual.”
Catherine’s eyes glimmered with a sense of nostalgia. “It was at that time the awareness of the All began to emerge. People realized that truth and values do not derive from some source far off in the sky but rather from within ourselves, validated of course by the Community in which we live.”
The elderly gentleman had lived to long to be duped by such nonsense and that was probably the root cause of his nonconformity. “That bull doesn’t even make sense. If values arise from within us, as you say Missy, it doesn’t matter what your Community thinks about them. You can flower it up all you want with this and that about the power within and all this and that about the All, but when you come down to it, the only authority you Community types recognize is that of those running the Community. You’re not going to admit it, of course, but what you people want, as they might say in Before, is to worship the state as your god.”
Catherine had had enough. This old fool was not as out of touch as he seemed to be. Sure, he was inexcusably ignorant of many things a good resident of the Community ought to be familiar, but he possessed an insight that could not be permitted to spread and foment discord.
“As a duly appointed social interaction specialist, under the provisions of the Covenant of Universal Community as implemented by the Schauungtown Residential Charter, I hereby declare you to be an Individual.”
The elderly gentleman already knew that he was, but from the tone in the social interaction specialist’s voice he could tell she was stating something beyond the obvious.
“As such, you have been deemed no longer worthy of enjoying the privileges and protections of the Community. Having been sanctioned as such, all trusts held in your name under provisions of the Schauungtown Residential Charter shall revert back to the Community for resource reallocation.”
“You mean my property?” the elderly gentleman clutched at his chest once more.
Catherine couldn’t help but laugh. “Your property? It hasn’t been your property in years. If you had read the Residential Charter more carefully, you would have realized you are only allowed to occupy the unit in which you dwell at the discretion of the Community Association. You should have thought about that before you decided to forsake your obligation of civic loyalty.” Catherine pressed a button on her belt communicator.
The brow of the elderly gentleman furrowed as he contemplated the implications of the sentence just handed down against him. “But what about my wife? Please. She’s as old as I am. For her sake, don’t snatch everything we have. She’s a quiet lady. Not nearly as mouthy as I am.”
“That’s too bad. As your domestic partner, she is obligated to share in whatever disposition of your residential unit and its contents is decided upon by the Community. She should have been more selective with whom she entered into binding contracts with. Perhaps she should have put community well being above petty individualistic concerns such as love and personal happiness.” Catherine sneered at those concepts as if having never made their acquaintance and perhaps even doubting their very existence.
The eyes of the elderly gentleman pleaded with Catherine not to take away everything he had worked for his entire life and most importantly provided for his “wife” as those still enamored with the terminology of Before insisted upon calling their domestic partners.
A few more social interaction specialists pulled up in front of the food distribution center in their motorized vehicular transport. To the elderly gentleman, it looked a lot like a watered-downed paddy-wagon that had had its life sucked out of it after its conversion to electric power.
The burly social enforcement specialists turned to Catherine. “Is this the discontented resident to be individualized?”
“Yes,” Catherine responded. “He also has a domestic partner. We can take her into custody when we go to liquidate the contents of his residential unit for reallocation.”
The elderly gentleman looked around. The desire to bolt was overwhelming, but there was really no where to run to. The additional social interaction specialists stepped forward to block his path encase he did. Yet despite all the power and authority they had been imbued with by the Community, even they would not be able to block the elderly gentleman’s escape.
A terror he had never felt before welled up within the elderly gentleman’s soul, so intense that it crossed the threshold from thought to sensation instantaneously. Waves of the sharpest pain radiated out from his chest throughout what seemed like his entire body.
Despite his desire not to, he could not help doubling over in agony. All hopes of retaining any semblance of strength amidst such a trial had thereby been extinguished. The elderly gentleman’s brow furrowed in despair.
The social interaction specialists, charged with the mission of upholding the well being of the Community, obviously cared little for that of the individual members of the larger social organism as one of them elbowed the elderly gentleman in the back.
“Get moving,” one of them ordered as they forcibly began to drag him.
A look of delight came over Catherine’s face. She thought to herself, “You are getting exactly what you deserve, old fool, for defying the suggestions of the Community.”
But before the social interaction specialists could drag the elderly gentleman any further, his body grew incredibly stiff and fell to the floor of the Food Distribution Center. The feeling of overwhelming fear he had experienced just moments before had been replaced with a joy as powerful in its intensity and a contentment as satisfying as the terror had been unsettling.
It no longer matter what his address had been or about the struggle he had been forced to endure to stand up for the right to keep this information from those with no legitimate need to know it. For he now he had a new address that could never be taken away from him for a capricious reallocation or subject to the petty regulations of a Community that thought more highly of itself than it really ought. He also took comfort in knowing he would see his wife shortly.
Catherine couldn’t held let out a small laugh, feeling a bit satisfied the old coot had expired right there on the spot. Nothing quite like this final act of giving back to the Community where even the socially useless consumers of resources were forced to re-embrace their unity with the Cosmic Mother. Try as some might, in the end even they had to admit they were part of the All.
But as nearly as soon as the terror felt by the elderly gentleman had been changed into incomprehensible ecstasy, Catherine’s sense of victory quickly evaporated as a figure passed by the window of the Food Distribution Center. “What is he doing here?” Catherine questioned to herself as she noticed his flowing trench coat.
“The ’Bible Peddler’.” she thought. Apparently the old fool who would no longer be a drain on the Community wasn’t the only one that did not know his proper place
Copyright 2006 by Frederick Meekins
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