Degrees Below Zero

Once upon a time the dissenters and the subversives would be put in stocks in the town square. They were put there as examples, as warnings to the rest. There, but for the grace of authority, sit you. They would be pelted with stones and clods of dirt and rotten vegetables by all the lucky souls who had temporarily escaped notice. You don’t need a dog to watch the sheep. Not when the sheep watch each other.

Today, the square pegs push shopping carts across crowded streets. They step out in front of our shining silver cars and harass us outside of The Gap. They ignore our helpful suggestions about getting gainful employment and staying away from our storefronts.

Afraid of pushing shopping carts, the rest of us push paper across desks, push each other around, push hope into the recesses of our minds. We sit in cubicles under fluorescent lights and gather around water coolers to talk about our unrealistic plans of making a great escape. We mutter prayers into our cell phones. Give us, this day, our daily bread: low-carb olive loaf from Urban Fare. Give us our designer grunge-wear and our chilled mochas, our Tom Cruise. Give us lots of shit in shiny wrappers. Let us work 24/7, and lead us not into temptation. Preserve for us the status quo; preserve us for the status quo; we have no change to spare.

At night we lie awake in our beds, worrying about the past, worrying about the future. Why do I feel so empty inside? Maybe I should spend more time with the kids. Can’t afford the time right now, though, things are so competitive. I know that Larry in Customer Service has his eye on my job. One false move, one enemy in the wrong place is all it takes. How many months before I’m out on the street. Can’t afford to take any chances, not in this economic climate. Jesus, don’t know why I’m so gloomy. Better think of something else. Future Shop is having a sale next week. Wonder if the third season of Friends is on DVD?

We put so many things out of our minds to get what we want. Would we sell our souls for a better life here on earth? It’s a ridiculous question. What kind of business man do think the devil is, to purchase something he already owns?

Out on the streets, the snow is falling. There are so many round pegs curled up in square doorways. There are so many degrees below zero. They wander around, souls in purgatory. They smoke crack in back alleys and hang around our underground parking lots. They think about murdering us in our sleep, stealing our children, or our laptops. They burn with despair, fiery warnings to the rest of us. There, but for the grace of the global economic system, go I.

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