“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.” --------Jean-Paul Sartre (from L’Etre et le Néant, 1943)

I. Old Tremsy addresses an advanced group of young citizen acolytes. "Years ago, people used to cast ballots," said Tremsy. "They used to vote on things." The citizen acolytes, a mixed collection of dazed looking boys and girls, had all heard the story twice before---and always from Tremsy, as stated in the rules. His next utterance would be "They were all unhappy and worried. Voting presented them with too many choices, and most were not prepared to get involved enough to know what they were voting for." Old Tremsy was a prime superannuary, one of the very elder ones, who had actually been there at the start, one whom the Administration had kept around on artificial life support to remind people of how bad things had been before the advent of the Dynasty. Tremsy wanted to die, but he had an assigned job to do. People needed to know from an actual living human being, if one could still call Tremsy that, what life was really like before the Dynasty. So for all the required gatherings, and there were several each day, Tremsy told his story again and again. It was a simple little tale the way Tremsy told it, and it more than explained why things like group decisions, committees, participatory democracy and voting had once put such a psychological burden on everyone. "Every second person used a drug called Prozac in those days,"sighed Tremsy, the words falling out of his mouth mechanically with a dull metallic ring echoing from somewhere deep inside his false and jerry-rigged innards. "People were nervous and insecure. Then came Jeff

Bonner." The story would always start in the same place. Tremsy made sure of that. He was talking about an event that had happened way over two hundred years ago, but of course he was there or reasonably nearby. He never exactly said which. No one ever interrupted Tremsy. It was kind of a loose ordinance, but no one ever dared to anyway. So no one ever asked exactly where Tremsy himself was two hundred and thirty years ago when Jeff Bonner, age ten, arrived in the famous Miss Rintangle's famous fifth grade class at the famous Orion Elementary School in the equally famous Melvinhill, Indiana. One had to take some things on faith. There was not a single photograph anywhere to be found of Miss Rintangle, her fifth grade class or of Jeff Bonner; that is, until the latter was about 85 years old, and in charge of everything and was spreading the claws of the Dynasty over the entire North American Union. Likewise, Melvinhill, Indiana was on no map, either historical or contemporary, and surely at least one of the acolytes must have thereby doubted its existence. Jeff Bonner, Orion Elementary, Miss Rintangle, Melvinhill, Indiana---they may have all been fictional for all that anyone knew, but Tremsy and his ilk were all over the Union spreading the gospel of these immortal beings and hallowed places by droning their dull leaden tones into the ears of each succeeding generation of citizen acolytes. For full citizenship in the Union, it was requisite to sit through at least three of the narratives and then take a test afterwards. You didn't get a social passcard until you did that. Without a social passcard, you amounted to very little. With one, you were free and clear for life. So Jeff Bonner and his class of nameless, phantom children lived on and on for each succeeding era. If you wanted the benefits of partial life extension, you had to be a citizen, and if you wanted to become a citizen, you had to be schooled in Jeff Bonner lore among several other things. Tremsy coughed. Mechanically he blurted "I want to die!" He always punctuated his tale with that. He could not control it. It was a glitch in his

life extension system, a system which was starting to get as old as Tremsy himself. When it could no longer support his life, Tremsy might have the chance of actually dying. But there remained the possibility that the Administration would just replace it. They had perfected much better hardware since Tremsy’s time. And they still needed him and his firsthand story. Tremsy coughed again. He failed to burble out his signature flaw line and just went on with the story. For this group of citizen acolytes, it was the third and terminal telling. The test, reputed to be easy, would be next. Then something about falling backwards off a steep cliff into a totally invisible safety net--which on occasion was removed suddenly and not even there, in which case the citizen acolyte would be dashed headlong onto the rocks below, die, and others would understand that an slight error in standard deviation would always doom a certain number of happy and contented citizens to a sudden and unexpected death. But the details of that trial are not the subject matter of this story. II. The Jeff Bonner test. It was taken on an electronic device which had not even had a name when Tremsy was a young man. But it was still just an old-time Q and A thing about twenty or so questions long. The general idea of most of the questions would be leaked to the citizen acolytes in advance by one of the monitors. Things like: summarize the brown crayon story; explain why Miss Rintangle ceded total power to Jeff Bonner; why were the fifth graders happier in April than they had been in October? And, of course, why did Jeff Bonner go on and found the Dynasty, which now spanned the entirety of the North American landmass? The answer to the last question was "because he made so many people so happy and they asked him to." That was the cheat answer.

III. A disruption Incredible as it was, a bald kid with a red-tattooed skull who had a birth number something like 4007---pre-citizens all had only numbers until they earned full citizenship---rose from his seat and bowed to Tremsy. The boy’s forehead almost touched the ground. Tremsy coughed again, and the industrial redolence of motor oil filled the classroom. Did the life extension prosthetics in his body actually run on something as obsolete as motor oil? "I want to die," Tremsy sputtered unable to control himself. Then he politely acknowledged the interruption signal and asked 4000-whatever to speak. 4000 grinned from ear to ear and rolled his eyes around the room seeking approval. "If I had been there...." "Which you weren't," interjected Tremsy almost on cue. "If I had been there, I would have grabbed my crayons and run out of the room and no one would have ever seen me again." Then he weakly added "Ha...ha" because no one laughed at what he obviously considered a joke. He sat down, arms folded across his chest, waiting for the programmed response. Tremsy explained to him that the source of all human discontent was keeping one's things for oneself and not letting a higher power decide how many of any sort of thing one really needed. In the case of the crayons, what if there had been only two reds, or more than enough yellows? What if some of the crayons were broken but others were neatly sharpened? What if? What if? Tremsy was mentally designed to argue logically and not rebuke. 4000 went on to say that voting on stuff sounded like a neat idea. “Like everyone gets a say,” he said regaining some confidence. This made Tremsy cough violently and shout his "I want to die"

line three times in rapid succession. The oily odor emanating from his patchwork body became violently overpowering. Surely the Prime Superannuary was full of motor oil. A monitor burst in and led 4000 off somewhere. No one ever saw him in class again. No one ever saw him anywhere again. No one ever asked any more questions. IV. Jeff Bonner Although no photograph had ever remained of Jeff Bonner from the age of ten to 84, millions of likenesses were preserved from age 85 until his death at 112, where he willingly immolated himself and thus retrieved his final reward. His face always came across bumpy and amost lifeless. He was tired, he said. Unlike the superannuaries, mostly old class companions from his youth, he would not be forced to stay alive and malinger forever. A quiet death would be his recompense. The Dynasty was left in the hands of his successors. The North American union had already solidified itself with the dismissal of the last two national presidents—of Mexico and the United States—as well as the Canadian prime minister, and all decisions thenceforth came from Jeff and the Dynasty, and they were fair and equitable to all, just as Jeff Bonner had always been when he ran the show himself. No one voted on anything. The Dynasty decided everything, and society was relieved of mankind’s greatest burden: freewill. This, in 1999---240 years prior to Tremsy’s last class---had been the brainchild of Miss Rintangle, whose sole existing image, an etched cameo, was preserved in flowery icons all over the Union. It was, however, not a real photograph. The cameo portrayed a sweet lady with a charming glow in her benevolent eyes. This, they were told, was the Miss Rintangle who had, almost single-handedly created Jeff Bonner when a dispute had broken out in her class over the unequal distribution of crayons. She had given out a map coloring assignment, suitable for ten year olds, and everyone was to use crayons to highlight mountains, rivers and other topographical features. Trouble was not every child had enough crayons. Miss Rintangle was

enmeshed, or so they said, in a complicated emotional affair and didn’t have time to distribute or provide the crayons equitably. Or maybe she just didn’t want to. So she asked a newcomer, a one-armed boy named Jeff to do it. Jeff jumped up from his desk and swung his single arm around like a windsock and collected everyone’s crayons. He threw them into a basket in front of the room and then divided them up quickly with his long, spindly fingers. Then, without speaking, he gave each classmate the crayons they needed. A girl, whose name has now been famously preserved as Rachel, sat in the back and did not receive a brown crayon. Brown was needed to indicate mountain ranges according to Miss Rintangle. The teacher, though lovesick, had been precise about that. Jeff told her to use orange for her mountains, and Miss Rintangle suprisingly agreed. “Yes, your mountains can be orange,” she sighed looking at Jeff Bonner. She was undoubtedly thinking about her wayward boyfriend and things far removed from the color of mountains and was much relieved that Jeff had decided the issue so quickly. The children did not holler, scream or get into fights. They sat quietly and colored their blank maps. Jeff Bonner had solved the problem. As the story went, he colored no map himself but simply sat and watched for problems to erupt. V. Jeff goes on to solve all other issues. Venue of class field trip…no vote, no argument----decided by Jeff Bonner with minimal deliberation that it would be the geyser park. Halloween party costumes…no vote, no discussion, no dispute--- ordained almost at once by Jeff Bonner that everyone would come as a favorite Nintendo game character. How many chapters in the math book to cover before the next test? Jeff Bonner again. What to give as a class present to the retiring principal? A signet ring. --Jeff Bonner. How much each student should contribute for the Christmas snack party. $5. --

Jeff Bonner. Whether Miss Rintangle should skip the chapter on the Korean War in history. Yes. --Jeff Bonner. Before long Jeff Bonner made all the decisions…..just as he would for the rest of his life when governments, dignitaries and financial institutions would petition him for directions. From the tiny, unknown nucleus of Miss Rintangle’s class, he went on and became renown everywhere for his swift decision making. He acted with trenchant speed and, above all, with indisputable fairness. His think time on any dilemma or conflict became almost null. The rapidity of his decisions pleased everyone. No one even thought of arguing. Playground disputes? They had none. Jeff told them not to fight or call each other names. Why? Because one-armed Jeff said so. Later he resolved bellicosities of far greater scope, religious , political, legal and otherwise with the same firm and immediate directness, the reverberations of which thundered far and wide as the years piled on. So at the earliest onset of what was to become the new face of the American world, it was the now-famous Miss Rintangle who ceded total control of decision making to Jeff and got on with the business of teaching and finding a husband and making a baby. Little is known about her beyond this point in history. But it was the absolute perfection of her fifth grade class that mattered. Happy, conflict-free children with little or no need to make independent decisions of any sort. But there was a catch. VI. The catch For Jeff Bonner to be so widely obeyed at first, he needed to be elevated both physically and metaphysically above the other children. He was not a particularly strong or attractive boy, so he needed embellishment. One of Miss Rintangle’s last instructions made without the intervention of Jeff was that everyone should provide the boy with small gifts, nutritious snacks and other trinkets and toys each week. In later life, entire regions would shower him with wealth, as they most willingly ceded their free will to him. But in Miss Rintangle’s

class, Jeff was given a soft chair to sit on or roll around in, a free lunch each day, presents of all sorts each week and later small sums of money contributed by his grateful classmates, as well as their parents who appreciated the harmony that the lanky, one-armed boy had apparently provided. Thus, he moved both apart from and above the rest, did no schoolwork---an unwanted chore from which he had early on exempted himself---made no close friends and followed no school rules---not that he needed to because his normal comportment was exemplary even in the absence of administrative restraint. In short, Miss Rintangle’s class found that in evading the time honored principle of classroom democracy, much freedom, levity, and joy could be cultivated and ultimately achieved. 75 years later, when Jeff Bonner was virtually elevated to the status of a lofty but benevolent social potentate for his lightning decision making efforts, an entire continent had followed this example—which was simply to make him more special than the rest--- and for that small price they basked in the same blithe and gleeful absence of free will that had first crowned Miss Rintangle’s class so long ago. The burden of making choices was evaporating throughout the land. North American mankind was no longer the prisoner of its poor choices. Jeff Bonner saw to that. And with kindness and fair judgment too. This serendipitous solution to mankind’s oldest problems was not to be easily relinquished or abandoned, and the Dynasty--the children and grandchildren of Jeff Bonner---carried it forward and made the North American Union the envy of the world. The tortured and chaotic populations of many other lands sought their own version of Jeff Bonner, but in vain, as there was no Rachel needing a brown crayon, no Orion Elementary School where it all started, no Miss Rintangle. The phenomenon had been confined to patches of the New World and for many years before that only to rural Indiana, places which burgeoned into much happier places than they had once been.

As the Union consolidated, Jeff ordered his continent’s isolation from the rest of the world and a strong enough arsenal to protect his Union. Peace and harmony reigned as long as Jeff, and later the Dynasty, was there. The rest of the civilized world had long looked onto this with glowering envy. Thus after centuries of uncertainty and confusion and suffering, the calm nimbus of true peace had at last descended on a portion of the world. Its secret had been the voluntary elimination of all free will. VI. Conclusion: The death of Tremsy “Happiness,” sputtered Tremsy metallically, “can always be yours. Go to the Dynasty with every question and expect every answer. Expect your every need fulfilled for your service and tribute as citizens. It will always be thus.” The third repetition of the Jeff Bonner story was complete and the weary citizen-acolytes filed silently out of the room. Tremsy looked at his hand. The skin was brown and wrappingpaper thin. There seemed to be no blood coursing in the flattened web of arteries and veins at the base of his craggy fingers. He was ancient, artificially ancient. How he wanted to die, for he was so, so tired. Painless and placid death had been Jeff Bonner’s reward. But he, Tremsy, was only one working member of the now-thin ranks of superannuaries charged to train the upcoming generations. The Dynasty would probably refit him with new parts. There were so few of his type left now, so few who had been there from the start. He felt sorry for himself. His face folded as if expecting tears, but none came. His eyes were, in fact, dry things, like dessicated onion bulbs that someone had just come along and poked into his face. Long ago in a never-never land, he had enjoyed having a first name and friends who used it. That was in a real school, in a real place called Melvinhill, in a real state called Indiana. And he liked

to play with the other children during recess and never got into fights. But then one day he had come back from recess early, determined to have the best map, determined to make his map a tribute to the wishes of his pretty fifth grade teacher, perhaps determined to craft his map in total perfection that one can only dream of at ten years of age. Arriving in the classroom just before his peers, he had secreted a fine, sharpened brown crayon in his pocket. He then minutes later was issued another one by the little-known boy with one arm, but he didn’t bother to say to this boy that he already had a brown crayon on him. And so there was one brown crayon short, and Rachel needed one. In this way the sparkling and enviable history of the next 275 years of joy and prosperity began. He reached his decrepit, skinless fingers into the slick silk-like material of the new clothing that one now had to wear and fingered out a small object. It was the brown crayon. He had carried it all those years just as a reminder. As he stood alone gazing at it, a monitor came in and handed him a small capsule and a glass of juice. “Your reward,” said the monitor blankly. “Your request was approved this morning. Good luck, sir.” Tremsy swallowed the pill instantly and drank a small mouthful of juice to make sure it got past all the plastic and/or metallic stuff in his throat. He took one last look at the brown crayon, aged over 250 years. How had it lasted intact that long? The label still read Crayola. It was still pretty and sharp. It was still brown. With the last faint glimmer of his dying energy he crushed the crayon in his hand and, knees buckling, crumbled to the floor. He had served Jeff Bonner. He had served the Dynasty. The evil of free will had been forever bleached from the oncesoiled cloth of humanity. _________________________________________

Devon Pitlor, November 2008

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