Sunday, October 30, 2005

Taxation Policy and Liquor

2. TAXATION POLICY AND LIQUOR
After the failure of my venture into the musical therapy business, I fell in with a bad crowd. It happened that I was walking along the Morgenspont Bridge, and tripped over a passing toad,* causing me to topple over the edge of into a group of young people passing around beer glasses. They greated me with hearty roars and slaps on the back and a beer glass. I suggested to them that we might have a more enjoyable time if we put beer into our beer glasses. They thought this an excellent suggestion, and greeted it with hearty roars and slaps on the back. Seeing that they were in no fit state to be sober, I reached up and caught a passing cask of ale; then filled up their empty glasses. They found this a capital idea of mine, and greeted it with hearty roars and slaps on the back.
I resolved to keep my suggestions and ideas to myself in the future.

After we had drunk several glasses of ale, their roars moderated to gentile and civil conversation. I have often found this to be the case: Dull Sobrietry is immeasurably improved by the addition of Polite Innebriation. (Indeed, one fellow of my acquaintance - a congenital idiot - after the addition of liquor became an expert in particle physics, and was preparing a thesis on just that subject. He travelled to Vienna to expound his thesis, but unfortunately was struck with a sudden bout of sobrietry, and has never since been able to recall his subject, despite the repeated application of alcohol.)
A chubby fellow to my right introduced himself as, simply, Ming. "I am," he said, "The Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia; but, in coming to office, I found the duties rather onerous. I therefore resolved to set off on a tour of the surrounding countries. I am now on my way to Transylvania, where I am to meet with their Foreign Minister and discuss various matters of importance."
Another fellow to his right owned that he, too, just happened to be, by inheritance if not by right, dictator of a small Asian country; but that he had elected instead to come to Zagreb for an education.
A third fellow to my left - a gray, thin man, finely dressed but with shifty eyes - said that he was not ruler or Prime Minister of any country but that - Stalin willing - he may one day have the good fortune to become one.

I confess I liked the company much, and I became rather tipsy. We drank, sang hearty songs until we could remember no more; then we sang funeral songs. When we ran out of funeral songs, we fell to reciting the names of our favourite goats-milk cheeses, in reverse alphabetical order. Then we became drunk, and fell to talking about taxation legislation. Never again.
At one point, I remember suggesting to a fellow opposite to me a novel idea for lawmaking - that it be made compulsory for lawmakers to introduce a new law each day, 'to keep their brains and thinking muscles in good order'. Unfortunately, that fellow turned out to be the Prime Legislator of the Newly-Found Republican Community of Zqlamania, and he thought it a splendid idea. I have since heard that this was the first item of legislation to be introduced to his parliament; the second was that he never be voted down from his position of Prime Legislator. Sometimes, I am truly ashamed of the consequences of my words.

Nevertheless, after chatting with Ming - whom I had grown quite attached to - we agreed to travel to Transylvania together where he was to meet the Foreign Minister. We therefore drank some more to seal the deal.

*The toad was none the worse for the encounter, and he and I are still in correspondence.

3. A STRANGE, NOT TO MENTION BAFFLING, AILMENT
I must here pause to inform my readers of a curious ailment from which I suffer, and which will play some significance in the narrative which is to unfold.
It goes like this. My birth day was in Nineteen Hundred and Seventy Seven; the present date is Two Thousand and Five. But I am not yet one-and-twenty years of age!
You may of course scoff, and reply that this is impossible; and yet, it is true. I have always prided myself on being an open and honest person, and I deal at all times in facts, however absurd those facts may be.

This curious ailment has afflicted the male members of my family for many, many years. It is - to use the medical terminology - known as 'Time Displacement Syndrome'. It has the curious effect of making us younger than our time, but older than our years. It has been the cause of much confusion, in that events that occur to our persons on a certain date do not make their effect felt until a long time after. In this way, my father and grandfather before him have witnessed the cause of their own death, and then lived on for many years to die after their time. This is horribly depressing for them, confusing for us, and frustrating for all the more honest dead people. And it was the cause of much heartache for my dear Aunt Gertrude, whose son, Ruprecht Gommelman became manic and committed suicide many times before remembering that he had drowned as a child, and thus had no need to take his own life.

This distressing family sickness - no, call it rather a curse - has nevertheless saved me from a terrible fate, as this tale will relate.

4.MANY AND VARIOUS MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION
My new friend Ming and I had settled that we were to travel to Transylvania. But how were we to get there? Transport in Zagreb was a problem, for cars were banned in Zagreb on Saturdays. Today was a Sunday, but nobody got around to making cars in the city until Monday, and even then, they weren't ready until Wednesday. On Thursday, cars were again banned, and only a few cars were allowed on Friday. This curious legal arrangement meant that normally, cars would only be seen in Zagreb on a month of Sundays (which only occurs every two years in that part of the world).
Neither of us had enough money for a plane, train, or camel ticket*, and therefore we decided to leave Zagreb on foot. After some discussion, we agreed to leave that afternoon, but being naturally idle, we forgot, and left in the morning instead.

It was a beautiful clear spring day, and it seemed that the whole of nature was out-of-doors. Butterflies, bees, birds, and helicopters buzzed merrily through the air. Ming and I passed by many groups of nature-lovers and helicopter-spotters clutching copies of 'What Mode of Air Transport is That?'.
A little further on, we walked by a mountainside and happened upon a group of youths enjoying the simple and innocent pastime of inciting avalanches. They did this by hollering up the mountainside until the mountainside came down to visit them, and had so far managed to incite several fair-sized boulders down. One eager young boy hoped to incite the whole mountainside to revolution, but had so far failed. We left this chap with several words of encouragement, telling him that one day, perhaps, he would find a small to medium-sized mountain state to incite, and strolled on.

Ming suggested to me that we stop to lunch under a nearby elm tree. Unfortunately, we found when we got there that it was not an elm tree at all, but a statue of the Mighty Chess Player Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Aljechin (a quite natural and easy mistake to make); and that, indeed, we had forgotten to pack any lunch. I therefore suggested to Ming that we eat our words, which we did, with great satisfaction.
We walked on a little way when we came to a fellow traveller walking in the opposite direction. We asked him whither he was travelling?
"To the city of Murbenstadt!" he replied.
As it so happened, that city happened to be just behind him. We pointed this out to him, in order to make his journey quicker.
"Oh - thankyou!" he replied. "But it doesn't matter which road I take. I expect I will reach it eventually!"
He then walked off in the same direction he had been taking before.
Some time later, we reached a second traveller - little more than a boy, this time.
"Where are you travelling to?" we inquired.
"To next year!" he replied, "For Father has told me that when I am ten, he shall give me an elephant as a gift!"
"But," we replied, "You will turn ten years old soon enough; although you may find it difficult to find next year."
"Oh, I can't wait that long!" shouted the lad, and bounded off. Reflecting on his quest and my own curious family ailment, I couldn't help but think that he had a point. I have since heard that, several years on, the poor lad is still searching for next year, and still but nine years of age. I hope he finds it one of these days.

The sun was becoming low in the sky, and Ming and I became worried that we would not find shelter. Still, we continued wandering on through meadows and fields until we came to a pale girl sitting alone upon a mossy tree stump, stroking an electric guitar. She waved as we approached.
"Greetings, fellow travellers!"
"But you are not travelling ..." Ming said, and I nodded in agreement.
"Oh, it may look that way," said the girl. "But I, too, am travelling: I am bound for Dresden, and I am just waiting for it to arrive here."
"It might take a little while for it to arrive," I mused.
"Oh, I expect it is not too far away," she replied.
Ming and I were too tired and polite to argue. The girl then waved her hand to two other tree stumps, and invited for us to join her. We therefore settled ourselves down. As luck would have it, however, my tree stump turned out to be a rose-bush, and Ming's turned out to be an angry alligator. So we swapped, and made ourselves comfortable.
The girl's name was Natalia; she was from Russia originally, although she forgot the name of the town she was born in - she was so forgetful, she even forgot the names of family, not to mention people that she had never met and was never likely to meet, though she tried very hard to remember as many as she could. And oh, how silly she was - she had forgotten to ask our names!
We told her our names, and a little about ourselves. She replied, that she would remember not to forget, if only she wouldn't forget to remember.
So the conversation continued in this genial vein for some time. Later in the night we became drowsy, and nodded off to sleep where we sat.

***

It was just before dawn when we were rudely awaken by a loud rumbling sound.

* Camels are quite popular around Zagreb at that time of the year. If you ever travel there, I highly recommend you take a copy of Doktor Polagius's book TRAVELS WITH A DROMEDARY THROUGH THE CROATIAN TERRITORIES

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