The Universal Bread Line

On a wide plaza, I saw something strange. A myriad of bread lines snaked back toward the horizon and forward to wooden tables staffed by indifferent-looking functionaries. The lines sounded like bread lines: the silence of despair, punctuated by the piercing laughter of the deranged.

But there was bread on only one table. On the others, contents varied from heaps of dust to postage-sized newspapers. On one stood an array of tiny Plasticine figures, like woolly mammoths and humanoids. Among these figures was an anomaly: a modern woman wearing a coat made from unrecognizable fur.                                                                

Another table also held Plasticine objects, in two sets. The first included miniature whales, sea turtles, sea lions and sport fish. On every creature’s face was a look of agony, as in Munch’s “The Scream.” The second set comprised pyramids of plastic bottles, bags, tabs, lids and straws.  

Facing each table was a long waiting line. Approaching a staffer at one table, I doffed my cap, and asked, “What’s going on?  The bread line I understand, but…”

In a mocking voice, the woman replied, “Surely you jest! Everyone knows what these lines are for.” I shrugged. Gesturing with a shoulder toward one line, then another, she explained. “The one with the mini-newspapers is Death-of-Democracy. The two with the figurines are the Plasticine Plastic—toxic waste—and Plasticine Pleistocene –extinct species. Get it?”

“Not funny. What’s everyone waiting for?”  

“To sign the petitions, of course.” She gestured to the pile of papers on her table. Did you drop down from another galaxy?”   

“Actually, I have been away for a while, got lost on a virtual reality tour. I think I’m still lost. This is nothing like the place I call home.”   

She took a deep breath. “Everyone loves a good demonstration, right? A shift is just ending. Watch!”  

One by one, the few screamers desisted.  When the vast plaza was silent, every protestor turned heel and, still in their lines, trudged toward the horizon. Simultaneously, from over the horizon marched new lines. Depending upon which line they were on, each new group screamed a different slogan: “End global warming!” “Death to dictators!” And so on.

My guide seemed to sense that I was getting the idea. “You see,” she said, “everyone’s notified when to appear and the cause to which they’re assigned.”  

“Don’t they have a choice?”  

“Choice!” she scoffed. “Do you think any of us would not endorse any of these causes? You really have been away!”

“What about people who see things differently? Do they have demonstrations?”

“You bet!” she said. “Just beyond the horizon are tables with Plasticine fetuses, tiny copies of Mein Kampf, etc.” She sighed a tired sigh. “But I’m exhausted from answering all of your stupid questions!”  

About-facing, she pushed through the newcomers and slowly moved off. I sat down in her spot, only then realizing I had failed to notice what was on her table. But did it really matter?