"When a new source of taxation is found it never means, in practice, that an old source is abandoned. It merely means that the politicians have two ways of milking the taxpayer where they had only one before." ~ H.L. Mencken
Wrestling the Alligator
This is dedicated to all those whose lives have been ruined by the brutality of tyrants, tyrants who were and are aided by the cowardice, complacency, and callousness of the weak.
As each passenger boarded the cruise ship, not one of them had any idea what was in store for each of them later on down the road.
As far as they were concerned, they were leaving the cares of a hectic and harrowing world behind them in return for a few weeks of relaxation aboard this stout vessel that would take them to someplace resembling paradise. Even when the storm hit that night, and the vessel tossed and turned as the waves went lapping over the sides, no one suspected that anything could be amiss. It was just a storm, and it would pass. These were the thoughts the remaining passengers would remember as they paddled their lifeboats away from the sinking ship, hoping that the nearby island they had spotted would provide them with some safety.
Of the original group numbering 200, only 75 remained. What managed to make it into the lifeboats was an eclectic mix of young and old, men, women, and children, from seemingly every walk of life, religion and vocation. As soon as they hit the shoreline, they knew it was going to be a long stay, for the tiny island was uninhabited, and although it seemed to have everything they needed to survive indefinitely, they knew that the circumstances were such that they would be calling this place home for who knew how long.
The group, understanding the seriousness of their situation, immediately went to work in creating an existence for themselves. Food was collected, as well as wood for burning and building. Fresh water was located, and this tiny nation of people soon began to function just as thus, and although somewhat harrowed over the experience they had endured, somehow were managing to eke out their living.
Everything was fine, until one morning, the oldest of the group, Mrs. Gladstone, came running out of her hut screaming in panic. Her husband, Mr. Gladstone, was gone, and not only was it not like him to do such a disappearing act without telling anyone where he was going, (particularly the Mrs.) but as well, there was something that portended something truly horrible about the situation.
Leading into the hut was a set of terribly huge footprints that could only have come from an alligator.
A meeting was called that night by the men of the group to discuss what should be done. Everyone agreed that the situation was serious, what with a beast this huge on the loose. At about the time that the meeting had reached full pitch, one of the women came running into the meeting hut screaming her lungs out frantically. Her child was gone, and again, the same terrible tracks leading into the hut.
It went on like this for two more nights. After this, no one slept, and as a result, during the day when things needed getting done, no one had the energy that it required to do it. The alligator, knowing that his moves were expected, kept his distance as well, and after seven days of no meals, decided to make his grand entrance one evening.
'Do not be alarmed, my friends,' he said, as he strolled his 25 foot long, 2,000 pound body into the small village. 'I'm here to make a deal with you.'
He crawled slowly towards the center of the group, as his immense tail went swishing from side to side. He stopped and positioned himself in the middle of the group, so as to be seen by all persons and from every side.
'Allow me to introduce myself. My name is, well, never mind, you probably couldn't pronounce it anyway. Let's just say, you may call me Your Greatness.'
'He speaks rather well,' remarked one of the older women of the group to her sister.
'You see, this is my island. I have lived here almost 100 years, as can be deduced by my impressive size. I didn't invite you to come here, and you are therefore trespassers. Everything was going along just fine until your arrival. Now, there is nothing but noise and confusion.'
The group's mayor stepped forward, with his straw hat in hand, exuding that image of false-humility that politicians usually employ when they want to win someone over, and after attempting to introduce himself, was silenced by the Beast with a roar of hot breath that reeked of the rotting flesh lodged between his teeth.
'There will be silence, unless I address you,' was what was commanded by this giant serpent with legs. 'Now, as I was saying, you are here occupying my space, and disrupting my system. What then, am I to do with you?'
There was an air of nervousness that began to creep into the meeting like a thick fog. People glanced nervously at each other, sideways, since they didn't want to take their eyes too far away from the Beast. There was this anticipation of what was about to arrive, although no one would ever have imagined what was forthcoming.
'I am a businessman,' said the alligator, 'and I can be reasonable. Now, here is my proposal. Since you are here as uninvited interlopers, it is only fair that there is compensation. After all, you are occupying my island, drinking my water, burning my wood, and eating my food, should I not receive something in return? I do not ask for much.'
He was very convincing, and the mood began to brighten a little. People nodded their heads in agreement, now turning their faces towards one another in confidence that they were a little safer. And in this air of relaxed nervousness, the Beast made his demand.
'I have become rather fond of the taste of fresh meat again. You see, up until your arrival, there were only fruits and berries. Oh, an occasional monkey at times. Now, having re-awakened my palate to the delicacies of your species, I propose a tribute be paid to me, every week, for the duration of your stay. This will eliminate the need for my sneaking in and grabbing one of you in the middle of the night, and as well it will allow you the opportunity to decide which of your group is worth his weight and who is not, and therefore who needs to be eliminated. I will leave you to yourselves to discuss it for a few moments.'
The doctor thought to himself 'They wouldn't get rid of me. I'm too valuable to the group.' Dittos with the shoemaker, the carpenter, and the poet, and eventually everyone was convinced that he or she was safe. That is, everyone except the guy from New Mexico .
'This is about a goofy as a three dollar bill,' he said in his lazy south-western drawl. 'That overgrown lizard ain't never gonna be satisfied with what we give'im. We're better off just wrestling the Alligator right here, right now, and gettin' the whole thing over with.'
'Shut up, you fool, he might hear you,' said the Mayor, as he turned around and smiled nervously at the Beast. 'I don't know how you boys in New Mexico are accustomed to doing things, but the rest of us here understand what life is. It's one compromise after another. Sometimes you have to go along to get along.'
The New Mexican spoke up again--'Don't you remember the school yard bully, takin' your lunch money everyday? It was never enough, and even when you gave 'im your money, he would still push you around. This guy here is nothin' but a bully, and I say we take him.'
Each of the men, fat and out of shape after living the good life, did some quick calculations to himself, and decided that the fight was not worth the fight. They each looked at the Mayor, and with a slight shake of the head, indicated each one's refusal to fight.
The Mayor turned to the cowboy and said, 'You keep quiet from now on. You stir up any trouble, and we'll try you for treason and hang you.'
And wheeling on his heels towards the rest of the group he called out for a vote, and seeing that the yeas had it, walked over to the Beast, took hold of his lumpy, bumpy claw, and with a firm shake sealed the deal.
Everyone slept well that night, sure of the fact that each was safe.
The next morning, when everyone awoke from what was the first restful night of sleep in a long time, there was His Greatness, waiting in the town circle, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. He sat with his huge mouth opened, revealing the terrible instruments of his nature, and if someone didn't know better, they would think he was smiling. In fact, he was smiling, but he was also waiting.
'It's time for breakfast!' he called out, reminding everyone of the deal they had made with him the previous night. And as everyone stood there, a little dazed at the gravity that a moment such as this imposes on those who have just woken up, the mayor, exercising the authority that had been bestowed on him not long after their arrival on the island, declared that Mrs. Gladstone the widow was to be the first volunteer. 'After all,' he reasoned, 'she is alone with no one to take care of her, now that her husband is gone. Besides, if we allow her to live, she will spend the rest of her days alternating between crying over her husband who has just died and complaining about the things he did when he was alive.'
'All those in favor, say aye!'
And the ayes had it, and before she could utter a word of protest, the jaws of death were on her and she was on her way to breakfast.
It went on this way for many months, another vote, another 'volunteer,' about two per week, and although the Beast was content with the arrangements, there were problems.
With each individual lost, there was one less person to help out in the community. And as the numbers dwindled, the work days became longer and more difficult. People mumbled to themselves quietly, out of fear that if they mumbled too loudly, they might be next on the volunteer list. Finally, Sheldon, the accountant, came running into town with a pencil in one hand and a piece of paper in the other. He called the mayor out and explained it to him in the language that only an accountant can speak.
'We're going to run out,' he said. 'By my figures, we're going to run out of people to feed the Beast within a month. Then what'll we do?'
The mayor was in a serious pickle over this. After Mrs. Gladstone, he made it a policy of handing over mostly the children to the Beast, since they were the easiest to capture, and according to the alligator, tasted the sweetest. Besides, they were supposed to show respect for their elders, weren't they?
Now, he had done away with most of his seed for future payments. If there were no young who would later get married and have more young, then, as the accountant correctly observed, they would run out of people.
In the flurry of panic-stricken discussion, the mayor held his hands up under the pretense of establishing order. 'Don't worry, I know how to handle this. I'll reason with the allig, I mean with His Greatness, and he will understand our situation. He is, after all, a businessman, and knows how to strike a deal.'
When the alligator showed up the next day for his tribute, the mayor walked up to him, smiling and offering his hand. The mayor spoke quietly to the Beast, slowly walking alongside him with one arm over its shoulder, waving the other hand slightly as he explained the situation. And although no one could make out what the exact wording of the discussion that was taking place was, everyone nevertheless understood the Beast's position on it all, because while the mayor continued to speak, the alligator turned and with a monstrous lurching, grabbed the mayor in its mouth, and with one swift side-to-side motion, sapped him of his life and took him down.
'Now what'll we do?!!' asked everyone remaining. Of the original 75, there were only nine left. It was pretty easy to do the math. Not only did that mean that with every victim who was handed over, each person was one step closer to the alligator's mouth, but as well, soon there would be no infrastructure left on which to exist. In addition, most of the young were gone now, and almost all that remained were middle-aged members of the upper class who were fat and out of shape.
The youngest of the group, the cowboy, walked over to the nearest tree, found the straightest portion of it, broke it off in a five foot piece, and began rubbing the end of it against a rock, fashioning it into a weapon. The others looked at him in bewilderment, yet knowing full well what was on his mind. The others, understanding completely by now that it was their only option, repeated his actions, and began fashioning weapons for themselves.
'He was right,' said the doctor. 'We should have done it in the beginning, when there were more of us.' 'We could have beaten him. It would have been dangerous, but a lot less dangerous than what we are going to do now.'
And after fashioning their weapons, the nine, completely unprepared and untrained in what it means to do battle, slowly walked off towards where the Beast was known to dwell, knowing that they would probably die anyway, and that in all justice, they probably deserved it.
'Still, if you will not fight for your rights when you can easily win without bloodshed, if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not so costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance for survival. There may be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no chance of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.' ~ Sir Winston Churchill.