The Paranoid's Guide
by Pat Harrison
(from Capsule Magazine 1997)
future looks bright. Everything is going according to plan.
There's a certain something in the air, and it smells like victory.
You've been putting one foot in front of the other, and so far the ground
has always been there, warm, soft, and smooth.
But the best-laid plans of
mice and men sometimes go awry. Given, a recent viewing of Triumph
of the Will is paranoiding these musings, but don't grain-of-salt me for
that. If there's a second lesson of the Nazi experience (the first
is: never start a land war in Asia), it's that there are no guarantees
of victory. Not everyone is Bill Gates, and, in fact, Bill Gates
might be designing something right now that fills your cultural niche more
Keep in mind: this list is
by no means limiting. If you think tomorrow belongs to you, here're
a few sobering thoughts.
001: FOREIGN CONFLICT
Your small-business loan
just came through, you've scoped out the perfect high-traffic corner, and
that big distributor has decided to cut you a break on your first couple
of orders. Everything's coming up roses.
But don't turn on the news
-- there's trouble in the Far East. China has ordered an embargo
on North America, a few frightened neighbouring countries have complied
(including your suppliers) and there'll be no merchandise on your shelves.
Just when it looks like things are at their worst, the US Navy suffers
a staggering defeat at Wake Island, and the People's Army is storming up
Robson Street. MacArthur turns over in his grave, and you turn over
your store to the Commission of Mid-Size Street-Level Non-Food Outlets
Number 1765 (You are shot).
There is a flu epidemic at
SFU. Civic-minded, you trot to a local gymnasium where hundreds of
young people are lining up for vaccine. You note with some interest
that no names are being registered, nor do they stamp your inoculation
Unfortunately, you fall victim
in the next few months to dizzy spells, nausea and disorientation.
You report these symptoms to your doctor, she notes them, and eventually
everything clears up.
It is ten years before you
discover that there never really was a flu epidemic, or a vaccine.
The government was field-testing the effects of a new biological defense
system. They are very sorry, but only one in ten thousand will die,
and the data gained will save hundreds of lives.
The next day, the radio reports
another flu epidemic.
003: FREAK CULTURE
You are a shingle repairer.
One night, Jay Leno makes an incredibly funny shingle repairman joke, and
it is so popular that he drags it up again and again. Your friends
repeat the joke so often that it gets on your nerves.
Some shingle repairman writes
Jay Leno accusing him and the 'kykes' who run the show of fitting all manner
of evil descriptions. Leno goes on air joking that the writer, and
all shingle repairers, are anti-Semitic and bigoted. Other talk-show
hosts take up the gag, as do radio DJ's, sitcom writers, and eventually
a few politicians. Shingle repairers become a national joke.
Your friends stop telling
the shingle joke, but only when you're around.
004: OBSTRUCTIVE INTEREST
You have invented an advanced
milk substitute. It is richer in calcium, lower in fat, contains
no additives, lactose, or preservatives, tastes better, and increases lifespan
an average 1.2% per cup.
Enlisting the aid of a marketing
genius, you hit the streets with it. It's an overwhelming success.
Everyone is talking about it. Your face is on the cover of the Food
and Health Revue.
But since you called it a
'milk substitute,' the Hegemonic Dairy Producers of Earth argue that the
public may be fooled into thinking it is 100% pure, good, natural milk.
In a two-pronged attack, they convince the Canada Food Guide that you fall
under 'poultry,' and get a court-order forcing your product into a range
of mottled greys which test-market slightly below expired prune juice.
Your product wedges its way
in between Hemparella and powdered yogurt.
005: OBSCURE HABIT-FORMER
You make the mistake of buying
the most uncomfortable shoes you've ever worn. You discover this,
unfortunately, when you are already halfway to work late, and so you suffer
through the morning with them. Plan A is to exchange the shoes at
the end of the day, but a coworker gives you the brand of a good insole
which, he says, made his worst pair of shoes wearable.
At your lunch break, you
run to the drugstore and pick up a pair. The pharmacist hands them
to you from behind the counter, and they go straight onto your feet.
They work perfectly, and
by the end of the day you've changed your mind about returning the horrible
shoes. In fact, you wear them the rest of the week. But by
Friday, your feet hurt again, worse. The same friend tells you it's
because the medication has worn off the insoles, so you must buy a new
It never occurs to you to
go back to Plan A; your feet felt great yesterday. So you buy a crate
of the insoles and walk on air -- all day, every day. Your feet only
hurt when you take off the shoes. So you take them off less and less
Consider the October crisis,
CIA drug experiments, Ford Bronco owners, the odd colour of Margarine,
and the popularity of coffee...
It only takes one twist of
fate to invert the social order. If you think it takes several, then, okay...
it only takes several. But don't get too comfortable in that chair.
The music could start again any second...
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