Minutes from the Conference


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To begin with, everyone was angry at the ampersand: it’s one stroke of the pen, some pointed out, one key on the typewriter, & yet is as much trouble to say or write as, for example, “euchrotic,” a word so obscure it doesn’t even exist. In a compromise that made everyone equally unhappy, we agreed to strike the name of the symbol from the language. The symbol itself can still be used, however, & that’s a relief.

We then renewed our ongoing debate about where we are, a matter in which we all share a lively interest. Some say this place is Heaven, others Hell; a third faction claims that the censors got here first & we have found ourselves in Heck.

We are reasonably certain that this place is not Earth. Here improbable things happen all the time — da Vinci goes cartwheeling about as if locked into one of his own drawings, Rapunzel trades her tresses for a watch fob, Lot disguises himself as a pepper shaker & meets clandestinely with his wife. Here no one seems to die, despite the fact that we are all on the Malthus Diet (formerly known as Spanish Supper), where nobody eats. Here the most unlikely squabblers squabble: Kruschev, Chaplin, Cinderella & Mother Hubbard argue over what should be done with a shoe; Richard III, who finally got his horse, soon changed his mind & wanted his kingdom back, but had to drop his asking price to a principality, then a city, then a hamlet, at which Hamlet himself took great offense, asserting that the word is a verb & not a noun — to hamlet, hamletting, hamletted, he keeps chanting, all of which mean, Hamlet believes, to do as he did — & that, in turn, enrages old Oedipus, who says he staked out a preexisting claim on similar territory, & tells anyone who’ll listen about his plan to open a theme park called the Oedipus Complex, where one will be able to murder one’s father & sleep with one’s mother. Here, too, fictional characters are often seen walking around with the subjects of famous paintings (who usually become fictional characters themselves). Mona Lisa, for example, is among us. She doesn’t often wear that famous expression, simultaneously smiling & suppressing a
smile, except when Huckleberry Finn has her ear. Usually he has it between his teeth. He’s grown up a bit since you last saw him.

No, this place is not Earth, but we have no way of knowing where it is relative to other places. We are, after all, here & only here. Ants cannot describe the position of an anthill in the universe; you can get a real answer only if you ask them about the inner workings of an anthill.

A motion was made & seconded that works of art, even short stories, be allowed to have several titles instead of only one. Block, that obstinate Austrian, blocked the motion on the grounds that human beings are themselves works of art whose titles are their names, and that multiple names would make for unwieldy nametags and telephone directories. The gist of his fulminations was that whether one was named after a characteristic trait — as in Block’s case — or whether one’s name became a word only after one defined it by example, one must stick to it. Damn it! Block exploded in his gusty conclusion, Verbs & Nouns! We roundly praised Block, then proposed a resolution to expel him from the conference. The resolution was passed by voice vote, though those in favor shouted while those opposed were helpless to amplify their silence. In any case, we abandoned the resolution when we discovered that the man blocking the door against Block’s expulsion was none other than Block himself. We are a nonviolent bunch.

Since Block can’t help himself — it is, after all, in his nature to block — our attention returned to the original motion about multiple titles, which was then passed with little debate. Hence:



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