Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Arrival of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Hello Friends,
I was in Capital City today renewing my resident visa at the Foreign Ministry. Just like Israel welcomes Jews from all over the world, the Confederacy of Dunces encourages Dunces worldwide to consider the Confederacy their home. Any Dunce may obtain a resident visa by mail or at the nearest Confederacy Embassy (and soon at select Piggly Wiggly’s worldwide). A photograph and short written essay is all that is required to prove your Dunceness.

Non resident property owners are required to pay property taxes yearly when they renew their visas. I could do this through the village post office but prefer to travel to Capital City and do it personally at the Foreign Ministry. I enjoy the train trip and a half day sight seeing. I especially enjoy spending time at the Dunce Museum, feature the great Dunce achievements worldwide.

The line at the Ministry was shorter than I expected on a Monday morning. In the time it took to listen to three songs on my Ipod I found myself face to face with a Ministry secretary. She had a pleasant smile and beady eyes framed by crooked glasses. One eye was focused on me. The other, clearly with a mind of its own, stared intently on the ceiling.

“How may I help you?” she asked while extending her hand to collect my paperwork.
“Resident visa renewal,” I answered.
“And are there property taxes to pay?” she inquired while thumbing through my papers.
“Yes, unfortunately,” I replied. She mumbled something under her breath, reached into a side basket and produced a flyer titled ‘The Privileges of Taxation. Your Dunce Taxes at Work’.
“Read,” she ordered.
“Does anyone want to pay taxes?” I questioned as I shoved the flyer into my backpack.
“Me,” she snorted back while adjusting her eyes to read the fine print on my paperwork.

She pulled her reading glasses down from the top of her head and started to add the numbers from my tax statement on her ancient Addison Adding Machine. After each set of numbers she pulled a large lever which turned a series of gears which did the computations.

“You ever thought about an electronic calculator?” I asked, wondering if such a cheeky remark would upset her. One must be careful when upsetting a low level government bureaucrat. Some have multiple personalities. You never know which one you’re dealing with. And if you get the wrong one and really make them mad, they could strike back. Once I was charged for the air above my Cloverdale apartment after complaining about what I considered a poor appraisal of its value.

“This office is open even during power failures, which come regularly during the holiday season. Every Dunce decorates for Christmas. It creates a large power drain on the grid,” she reluctantly explained.

“Understandable,” I lied.

Five minutes later I was dismissed with a receipt in hand and a “Thank you”. I left a bit shell shocked at the large check I wrote. "Paradise has it's price," I thought.

As I neared the building's exit I noticed a group of foreigners near the elevator. They were Japanese or Chinese or something like that. Out of curiosity I stopped to see where they were going. The guide spoke in an alien tongue. I didn’t understand but stood behind the group and nodded as if I did. The elevator opened, my curiosity motivated me to join them. The door closed. The doors reopened in sub basement 4.

I continued to follow them. They didn’t seem to mind. We walked down two hallways, made a right turn and headed for a large set of metal double doors guarded by a Capital Constable. He knocked on the door as we approached. The door opened. We entered. It was a brightly lit room with several ladies sitting at what appeared to be old telephone connection devices. The guide explained our surroundings in complete gibberish. I was left to my own devices.

A sign near a drinking fountain read “World Capital Hotlines”. I understood where I was. This room contained the telephone hotlines used by the Foreign Ministry to contact the world’s capitals in a time of crisis. I scratched my head hoping the Confederacy never had reason to use this room. I’m not sure the lines were capable of handling the digital age.

I inched my way toward one of the operators. She sat intently staring at her controls.
“Busy day?” I asked, hoping not to be too distracting.
“Never,” she replied.
“Ever have a busy day?”
“Let’s see. I think the last real busy day was last year at the start of the swine flu epidemic. Our pork exports were being turned back at several ports world wide. Came close to sinking the economy - but keep that under your hat. Not common knowledge.”

Her supervisor cleared his throat - a call for her to return to her monitoring. I backed away and continued walking backward until I was out the door and back into the hallway. I’d seen enough. It was time for a bit of fun. While talking to the operator I memorized the phone number prominently displayed on her rotary dial. I dialed the number at a pay phone near a Wimpy Burger around the corner from the Foreign Ministry.

“Foreign Ministry Hot Line,” that same woman answered. She sounded out of breath. I could tell my call excited her.
“This is the White House in Washington,” I continued. There was a thud. She’d dropped the receiver. A second later she was back on.
“Is this for the Foreign Minister?” she questioned.
“Yes, we have a message. Please inform your Minister that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be landing at the International Airport one hour earlier than scheduled. She should land at 1:20 P.M. local time.”
“Are you sure, we weren’t aware of any visit by the Secretary of State?” She was panicked. I heard screaming in the background.
“You’re kidding, right? What Dunce messed this one up? I suggest you get moving," I said in closing. I hung up.

I spent the next fifteen minute in the Wimpy Burger enjoying a double cheeseburger and triple chocolate shake. I walked back to the Foreign Ministry on my way to the Dunce Museum. I was overjoyed by what I saw. Building maintenance was in a rush hanging American Flags out of the windows. Others were rolling out a bright red carpet down the twenty steps leading to the Ministry’s main entrance. I walked up the stairs and toward the doors. A large sign announced the building’s closure for the impending arrival of the American Secretary of State.

I walked back down the steps feeling very proud of myself. My taxes were giving me a day's worth of pure enjoyment.

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