Saturday, December 18, 2010

George and the Conveyer Belt Quest: A Tale of the Good Life

This was written for the final paper in my Humanities class of my first semester at college, which I finished this week. It's allegorical. Sort of.

George woke to a ringing in his ears, soon forgotten as he looked about himself. He was lying on a hard patch of dirt, underneath a surprisingly large signpost marking the beginning of a road. No one was actually walking the road, though George could see shadowy figures shuffling across the barren field in all other directions. Beneath the little boy, the hard-packed ground muttered and quivered indistinctly, as if they were all perched on the stomach of a giant dragon with indigestion.
                George was still pondering this possibility, staring at the ground, when a voice broke through his thoughts: “It’s moving.”
                “Excuse me?” George said, looking up at the man who had appeared before him. The gentleman wore a suit and top hat, though there were enough holes in both that the term “wearing” was generous.
“The ground’s moving,” the man continued, “We’re always moving somewhere, you just don’t notice. The best thing to do is to keep walking. Care to join me?”
                “Sure, I guess.” Now that George thought about it, he realized that he was missing something, as if he needed something to occupy his time with. Simple walking wouldn’t really help, but maybe he could find whatever element he lacked. “Are you walking on that street?” George asked, pointing to the road unfurling from the signpost beside them. But the man in ragged clothes only scoffed.
                “That’s a kinda weird path,” he chuckled knowingly, “Look at that sign. ‘St St.’ What’s that even supposed to mean?”
                The sign did indeed say ‘St St.’ on it, which, mysterious as it was, didn’t quite seem like a reason to disregard the entire road. Still, George deferred to the intelligence of the man he had just met, who seemed worldly-wise enough. They set out to blaze their own path, heading west.
            “The name’s Sentered. Celf Sentered,” George’s traveling companion said with the air of a British secret agent, “I’ve heard tell of a place over here where all your dreams come true and you get anything you want: The Land of Moderation.”
            “Moderation? That sounds pretty good,” George said.
            “Indeed it does… every kind of indulgence imaginable, my friend. You can do anything you want there, and that’s the ticket to true happiness in life.”
The tundra was rocky, and the ground was dotted with thorns, but they managed the trek fine. Soon, other figures could be seen, all headed in roughly same direction; Moderation was a popular destination. As if to explain why, a sign rose out of the mist before them.  The words You can do anything in Moderation were proudly emblazoned upon it, affirming Celf’s recent claim.
Behind the sign, Moderation began with a large forest. Redwood- sized trunks were scattered throughout the scene like the pillars of an ancient civilization, and enormous pears lay in between. Scores of travelers stood around Moderation, indulging in the pears. Almost all of them were dressed like kings, complete with a kingly layer of fat.
            “Welcome!” One of them called out, waddling over. “Take a pear! There’s plenty for all!” Then the man looked around and qualified, “Well, maybe not all. But I’ve already got mine, so grab what you can for yourself.”
            “Nice to meet you,” George said. Celf had already buried his face in a nearby six-foot-tall pear, but burbled something through the pear juice that might have been a greeting.
            “Please, take a pear!” The man continued, “Everyone else is, so you know that you want to! Here in the Forest of Pear Pressure, we all go with the flow. My name’s Celf.”
            “Celf? But that’s his name.” George pointed out his pal, who was difficult to identify now that his back was turned.
            “Sure it is. We’re all Celf Sentered around here; that’s why we all get along. There was that chap Augustine who came for a pear or two, but he didn’t stick around. Now, come on, you might as well have a bite to eat.”
            George left both Celfs, wondering farther into the forest. It seemed like fun. Everyone had all they wanted, and there were even enough pears leftover to smash underfoot. George had been looking for a good life, and this looked like one. But as he walked, he realized something disturbing: hidden around the shadowy pear tree roots were even more people. These ones were even fatter, their rich clothes dank and their faces void of emotion. They were still shoveling pear flesh into their gaping mouths just as efficiently as the others, but with none of the enjoyment.
            This couldn’t be right, George realized. The Celfs weren’t happy; they were turning into empty shells. This was only the ‘right’ path spatially speaking.
            George made his way back, though he couldn’t find either of the men that he’d talked to before. Instead, he heard a new voice, barely audible, whispering, “Come…” from somewhere nearby. George followed, happening upon a train track that pointed back in the direction George had come to Moderation from. A small train stood on it and as George neared the train, its operator showed himself, no doubt the owner of the voice.
            “Hop on,” the wizened and blind old man called, “We depart ASAP.” George was happy to escape the debauched Moderation, and the operator applauded him as he boarded, saying, “It’s hard to get anywhere fast without a Train of Thought.” The train tooted and pulled away, working fine despite the operator’s lack of eyesight. “There’s always the Stream of Consciousness, but that’ll just take you right off the conveyer belt.”
            “The conveyer belt? What do you mean?” our intrepid hero asked.
            “Haven’t ya noticed the ground move?” the operator snorted with superiority, “It’s cause the world’s built on a giant conveyer belt. We’re always headed towards a nasty fall off the end,” –here he jabbed a thumb towards the south, which was to the side of the east-bound train—“unless we go somewhere else with our lives. That’s why I run a train track, helping to move folks around.”
            “Are you sure it helps?” George asked. There seemed to be something wrong with traveling sideways on a conveyer belt in order to keep from falling off, but not being mathematically-oriented, George wasn’t sure exactly what.
            “Oh, sure. It’s not what you do that’s important, just that you do something. Those losers over in Moderation only care about themselves, but I know better. You need to care about something else. You’ll see what I mean once we get to the station.”
            The operator’s train of thought pulled up at a new land, the home of the Faithful Elite. It was a fancy city, and was covered in shiny metallic red and silver walkways, which swept up and over buildings like a bucket of tinsel that had been dropped from the heavens.
            “We’re better than the rest of the world,” explained the operator, whose name was Devotion. “Most of them try to please themselves, and just get fat. There’s more to life than stuffing yourself like a mid-50s college phone-booth.”
Devo pointed out a gentleman below them who had decided to fold as many leaves as possible into tiny origami cranes. A vast pile almost engulfed the man. “That’s False Security down there,” Devo said, “Keepin’ busy. You don’t see him sitting and eating pears. Though technically, I don’t see him at all. And there’s False Hope, busy at his desk job, and False Faith, looking to his model car hobby.” Devo sighed happily. “We’re all too busy to feel empty and useless like the others. We’ve found the good life.”
            George couldn’t wait to think up a task for himself. Maybe he could inflate balloons or watch paint dry. This was definitely the solution to his problems. He followed blind Devotion.
            It was only after picking up his official paint-watching smock, generously provided by the Elite, that George was struck by an issue with the project. It was filling the unhappiness of self-gratitude with pointless activities. It seemed like that wasn’t really filling the void at all, just ignoring it. This epiphany came moments before the ground began to shudder under George even more violently than usual. Ahead, to the south, a glowing red light broached the horizon, growing until George could see the actual edge of the conveyer belt.
            Heading to the east side of the world hadn’t helped at all. George was still going to be swept down just like those in the forested west. Despair gripped him now, as the outskirts of the Elite city began to snap and pop, city tinsel disappearing forever into the chasm beyond the belt. Tiny screams of the devote growing-grass-watchers of the east mingled with the even fainter cries of the fatties of the west.
            “We’re all unfulfilled,” George shouted over the others, “What must I do to be saved?”
            At that moment, he heard one more voice. This one was separate from the rest. It was calm and unwavering, and it was familiar, too. “Come, George.”
            George had heard that call before, he now remembered. It had always been there, overlooked amidst the other travelers George had found, and it had been the faint memory of it that had led George away from the pear forest, and that had pointed out Devo’s various logical contradictions. “Come, George.”
            George followed the call, running north after it. The world collapsed behind him, the mortal earth under his feet churning away from the call. At first the reddish heat of a distinctly bad life practically singed his soles (shoe and otherwise), but eventually it disappeared as he drew away from the conveyer belt edge.
            Other lands and places drifted in and out of the smog George passed through. Some looked enticing even now; a carnival and a candyland caught his eye. But they were all presenting various activities or pleasures that George now knew were useless and even deadly. They all led to a bad life, and George needed something more.
            The call was coming from a lone road in the center of a barren field. In point of fact, it was the same one in which George had begun his trek. A man stood in the mysterious St St., cloaked in a white so bright George couldn’t quite make it out. Its light, however, brightened the rest of the world well enough that the previously ubiquitous fog was swept away, and George could tell how grimy it really was. It paled in comparison with the man who now stood, calling “Come.”
            George’s first step onto the solid rock of Saint Street gave him a new understanding that his old world of secular morality was too shaky to show. The man in white was the missing element, and now George knew he had finally found the good way, the good truth, and the good life.

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