The Paranoid's Guide

by Pat Harrison

(from Capsule Magazine 1997)

The 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 efficiently.

Keep in mind: this list is by no means limiting.  If you think tomorrow belongs to you, here're a few sobering thoughts.


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 book.

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.


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.


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.


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 set.

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 often.

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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