The Committee on Town Happiness

By Alan Michael Parker

Dzanc Books
June 2014


Report from the Committee on Town Happiness

We have been thinking about the trees. The trees, we have decided, know what they’re doing. We have decided (6–3, with one abstention) that there will be trees in the Afterlife.

Our thinking about trees has led us to fence Maxwin’s Park and to prohibit all pedestrian traffic therein. As an elected policy-making body, we believe that the trees need a place of repose. As we all do.

Which led us to direct the Officer of Public Generosity to consider fencing each of the stores in town individually as discrete, self-contained structures. We wish to offer similar spiritual conditions to all things. To our money, which is after all our future. Solitary contemplation is best achieved alone, we have decided (5–4, with M. Hughes called away).

Which led us to pass the newly written Individual Non-Touching Statutes, as well as the new Accidental Physical Contact bylaw. We have added a codicil to the current Spirited Township Declaration—charmingly referred to by Dr. Hans as the “Table for One Edict”—and thus specified a three-step program for repeat offenders of the public solitude.

We henceforth believe. We henceforth feel. We have temporarily stopped speaking to one another (7–2, M. Hughes spoiling a ballot) in the name of model citizenry. We, the undersigned, the Committee on Town Happiness, in the spirit of Town Happiness.


The Scandal

She shouldn’t have done that. He too. But she shouldn’t have done that.

If we were to make a map of everything we’ve ever experienced, the map would be true. About each of us as personal individuals, all of the waystations along this great expedition to our shared happiness. With red dots for traumatic childhood moments, green dots for carefree days, blue triangles for extra-special times, purple circles for indoor pets, arrows for important birthdays, double arrows for the semi-surprising deaths of older family members, yellow squares for a first kiss, black squares for the first time we ran away, fuchsia oblongs for favorite teachers who had babies without telling anyone, periwinkle oblongs for favorite teachers who coached sports and drove ridiculously obvious sports cars, purple squares for a first kiss that was actually fun, mauve spiral thingies for each time we shouldn’t have rung the doorbell (very few!), octagons of all colors for each of the seasons, a two-toned letter “C” for every committee joined, and a little drawing of a lampshade as a humorous indicator of every memorable party. A crowded map, detailed as our lives; a map of what we feel when we sort through our feelings and arrive here happy. Our journey.

There was no place for their behavior. He shouldn’t have done that. She too. Their behavior was too rude to record in the minutes of the meeting—rumors told were sufficient to be understood as rumors that we knew. Behavior such as theirs would never warrant any color-coded symbol on the personal maps of anyone’s experiences. Yes, that bad.

The fact of the keys needed to be mentioned briefly so that it might be reread in the minutes. A set of keys found afterwards, one or two keys useful for driving, other keys probably for other purposes, keys that weren’t meant to be lost because keys aren’t meant to be lost. Keys that conveniently lacked any type of identifying flare. Not even a little luggage tag.

Were the keys snatched back when no one was looking? Except the person who took the keys: that person was looking. Grabbed from the dish in front of the Sergeant-at-Arms whilst we were on a bathroom break? “Whilst” was a word that always made V. Gurozcki snort.

Later, we had ideas. That Dr. Hans had gone and Mrs. Hans had stayed couldn’t be considered proof, not yet. Because the bathroom breaks were public, of course—the schedule posted on the back of the regulation laminated card push-pinned to the inside of the left-side railing—we had learned how to help everyone plan their futures. Anticipate, too. Keep our bodies in our thoughts as part of our thoughts while continuing to meet together—we always helped. Notwithstanding, we had never planned an upcoming bathroom break as a means to facilitate such scandalous behavior followed by more behavior. First the behavior, and now this. Everyone knew the schedule and the rules: anyone could have taken those keys.



We have been thinking about the fish, the Fishing Hole, the blaring of the air horn upon the opening of the season, the remaining general stores that catered to the fishing crowd (really, only one remained, Jelly’s Jar and Tackle), the posting of private property with hand-lettered signs, the use of alternative fishing paraphernalia, the distinctive tromping of the fishing folk in their waders upon the wooden floor, the patience of the retrievers, the waywardness of the current, the waning of the moon. The fog was in tatters. We have discussed our policies, we have deputized as needed; we have ascertained, even still. That the fish have brains has never been a question. That the fish are being eaten stands to reason.

We have decided not to decide. The question was called, the vote tallied. Then we voted not to count the vote. “Ours is a higher plane,” quoth F. Czerniwicz, who insisted that the minutes reflect the use of “quoth.” That F. Czerniwicz.

There was a newfound sense of something. It was new, this something, because we were feeling it now. Maybe the widespread appearance of the color “Hunter Orange” represented what we felt. Perhaps thinking about the fish had extended our feelings, or made them bigger than usual, our happiness as though warmed, or something like that. Dr. Hans would have known what to say.

When we voted not to count the vote, the representatives from the Organization for Fishing Interests (OFI) seemed pleased. Two notes were passed—both were destroyed, of course. The passing of notes is not allowed.

Something about the fish, how they swim, how they choose, they live so much in the water, how wet that must be, how frightful and sparkly. We would have shared our feelings about the fish, but everyone could tell that there was no need to do so, or to have anything like our feelings recorded in the minutes, not these feelings. Our feelings were in our expressions, what we shared upon our public faces, our happiness, we, the Committee on Town Happiness.


The Party

From a speaker atop the food wagon, a kind of music. Music in the air, like a coup d’état against the day. The Sewing Notions staff, the freelance groomers, the morning shift from the Koffee Klatch, the boys from the hardware store—every vendor with a permit, Maxwin’s Park re-opened for festivities. All despite the reticence of F. Czerniwicz, who had spoken longingly of simpler celebrations, the public good of over-sizing souvenirs, maybe a little petting zoo. We had listened thoughtfully. Nostalgia is a vision of the future, after all.

The children spun in the portable House of Fun, mesmerized by candy. A few adults as well. Mingling was duly noted; running through the crowd, such teens. “Great when they’re kittens,” M.Espinoza said, “but watch out when they’re cats!” In the future, we could see some division of the generations— but for now, the older folks were entitled to their slower pace, to harrumph in counterpoint, dig the occasional hole with the rubber tip of a cane, unsolicited as ever, cute from a distance.

Was the music “unduly spirited”? Perhaps. A party is a forestalling, and as the Personal Management Declaration implied, a civic acclamation. With carefully designed slits in the banners in case the winds picked up. There was movement to award the banners unanimously a 4.

We almost enjoyed ourselves, even when distinguished by our individual distractions. Publicly convivial, festooned, less-noticeably watchful, freely partaking of the goody bags. The music almost carried us, like a kind of weather might. Like fear.


The Marching Band

Petitioned by the Active Mothers in Support of the Marching Band (AMSMB), we considered previously undirected funds. Granted, the timing of the request seemed carefully timed, raising more than one eyebrow, our fiscal year concluding, earmarked monies marked for non-displaced expenditures and subsequently required to be spent. We saw there were expenses, naturally: the unfortunate state of the glockenspiel, for example, and the need for eighteen sets of snap-on straps. No one mentioned the excessively woolen caps. Was it all so serendipitous? Is serendipity to be believed? We wondered when the AMSMB was joined in an amicus motion by the Pre-Holidays Happiness Subcommittee (M. Barriston, W. Weiss). Of course, every petition has petitioners, every dollar its admirers.

If only. In the subsequent filing period, the “cooling off,” due diligence and discoveries. At the practice field, an empty trombone case, a bell. Two uniform shirts balled in the trash behind the former Sewing Notions store (now boarded up with cardboard, tightly X-ed with tape). Then there was the unfortunate bassoon that no amount of cleaning would unclog. And the note intercepted from the clarinetist—such antipathy between a first and second chair.

After four, we could still hear the muted, brassy airs from far away, drums quick as a frightened rabbit’s heart. Not that anyone would deny a child music. Who was that playing, considering the recent losses? The representatives of the AMSMB appeared perplexed. So we voted, 6–2, to wait. “Maybe they can march in place,” quipped F. Czerniwicz, not all that helpfully.