Friday, June 24, 2011

WISHMEAL DREAMING: One Man's Vision for Ending Unemployment

Wishmeal dreams a way to end unemployment.

    "Wake up, Wishmeal! Hey! Wake up!" shouted Melba, turning on the light and shaking her husband's elbow.
    "Huh?" said Wishmeal. "Wha--?"
    "Wake up," repeated Melba. "You've had a dream."
    "A dream," said Wishmeal, blearily.
    "Yes, a dream," said Melba, reluctantly giving up the assault on her husband's limb. "You were laughing, Wishmeal. You know how I hate it when you laugh and you don't tell me why."
    "I know," he mumbled into his pillow.
    "Well, out with it," said Melba. "What were you dreaming?"
    "Let's see," said Wishmeal. A few seconds ticked by. "Oh, I remember. It was wonderful." He grinned senselessly, looking up at the ceiling from his pillow.
    "Don't grin, Wishmeal. Just tell me the dream."
    "I dreamed that people did everything."
    "That's disgusting," said Melba.
    "No, no," said Wishmeal, now awake. He sat up against his pillow. "I don't mean people did everything. I mean people did everything. I was living in the future, and except for inhuman stuff like treating sludge and de-ticking dogs, people did all the work, not machines."
In Wishmeal's dreams, Heidi replaces hold.
    "That's not the future, Wishmeal," said Melba. "That's the past. People did all the work in the past."
    "No, it was the future, I'm sure," said Wishmeal, frowning at their rose-filled wallpaper as he tried to retrace the dream. "There was a depression, and the unemployment rate was like 38%, and it was an election year, and so the politicians passed the Man-Over-Machine Law. They called it MOM, for short."
    "Mom?" said Melba, smirking.
    Wishmeal looked at her blankly and went on. "MOM said that any work that could be done by a human being had to be done by a human being. That was my dream. All the stuff that machines do now was turned over to people. It was—"
    "Bubbleheaded," said Melba.
    "—beautiful," said Wishmeal. "The best part was hold."
    "Yeah, hold," said Wishmeal. "In the dream I called this big company, like a mortgage company or a utility—something big and coldblooded like that. Its logo was an anaconda. Anyway, the person I wanted to talk to was on another line. But instead of putting me on hold, they put me on Heidi."
    "Heidi?" said Melba. "Heidi?"
    "Yeah, Heidi," said Wishmeal. "They connected me with this young woman named Heidi, and while I waited, we had this conversation about car racing. I claimed that any activity that requires gasoline can't be a true sport. Heidi agreed. We talked about it."
    "Heidi?" repeated Melba.
    "She had a voice just like my mother's," said Wishmeal, sighing. "Anyway, Heidi and I talked until the person I wanted was free. It turned out Heidi had been hired to replace hold when MOM passed. It was great."
    "Wishmeal," said Melba, rolling her eyes, "your mother's name is Heidi."
    "Oh, yeah," said Wishmeal vacantly. "I wonder what that means." He reached behind to plump his pillow.
In Wishmeal's dreams, caricaturists cover the bank exits.
    Melba sniffed. "Okay, Wishmeal," she said. "What else?"
    "Photographers," he said. "Photographers and cartoonists."
    "Of course," said Melba. "All right, Wishmeal, what were photographers and cartoonists doing in your dream?"
    "Taking my picture when I came out of the bank."
    Melba stared at him.
    "You know those automatic cameras that take everybody's picture when they're at the bank?" he went on. "Well, instead of them, the banks in my dream had real live photographers with digital cameras at each exit. If you hadn't committed a robbery, they'd email you your picture free. Some banks hired cartoonists instead of photographers, and they did caricatures. It was fun."
    "That doesn't make any sense," said Melba, cautiously. "Why would they do that, Wishmeal?"
    "Because MOM said so," replied Wishmeal, happily.
    Melba looked at him. "Okay, Wishmeal, that's enough. Go back to sleep," she said, turning off the light.
In Wishmeal's dreams, xylophones play in the vegetable aisle.

    A minute or so went by.
    Out of the dark, Wishmeal said, "That wasn't all."
    Melba sat up again, leaving the light off. "Go on," she said, drumming her fingers on the bedspread.
    "Stores didn't have recorded music."
    "Don't tell me," said Melba. "They had musicians."
    "Right!" said Wishmeal. "In the vegetable aisle of the grocery store, right next to the cantaloupes, there was a lady who played the xylophone."
    "Your mother plays the xylophone," said Melba.
    "I liked it," said Wishmeal. "I wonder what it means?"
    "It means. . . oh, never mind," said Melba. "What else?"

In Wishmeal's dreams, Bogart's hat lives in the living room.
    "Well," said Wishmeal, "instead of burglar alarms, each house had its own private detective. Mine sat in the corner and had a hat just like Humphrey Bogart's."
    "Your father sits in the corner and has a hat just like Humphrey Bogart's," said Melba.
    "I liked it," said Wishmeal. "And instead of smoke alarms, every house had its own fireman. And instead of thermostats, every house had a person who got paid to turn the heat up when he got cold and down when he got hot. And instead of washers and dryers, you just handed a little old lady in the wash room some quarters and she cleaned your laundry. And listen to this! Instead of Jacuzzis, they had—"
    "I don't want to hear it, Wishmeal," said Melba. "That's enough. Go to sleep. Now."
    "Oh," said Wishmeal. "Okay."
    He gathered his pillow under him and laid his head back down. Another minute went by.
    "Hey, Mel," said Wishmeal to his wife's back. "How about we unplug the clock radio, and in the morning you wake me, like maybe with a kiss."
    "Dream on, sonny," came the answer from the dark.

This column originally appeared in Memphis magazine in June, 1985.



  1. Brilliant, as usual, Ed! I especially want Mapquest and Google Maps (and, of course, even though I don't have one, the GPS voices) replaced with real people native to the area you're searching. You know, the ones who can give you the REAL directions, like, "Turn right at the house with the big stone Buddah on the lawn, " or, "Make sure you follow the speed limit here, because there's usually a cop hiding behind the bushes on the corner of 2nd and Elm!"

  2. That's a great suggestion about GPS, Mary. A local person sitting in your back seat to give you directions and driving advice! I think you have your own column going here.