The Role of the Doldrums
by Ellis Parker Butler
With the passing of the 3654th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, on June 4th, 1935, the millennium began in the United States of America. Everything had now been prohibited. No man, woman or child was permitted to eat, drink, wear or do anything whatever without a prescription from a duly authorized physician, who had to have a permit.
In consequence of this the world was much better than it had ever been before, and the physicians made a lot of money. Even physicians who were no good at all made a lot of money. They made the most money of all. I remember Henry P. Butler, a horse doctor, who was so poor at his profession, that once when he came upon a cow he thought it was a horse, and was surprised that it had horns. He thought the horns were some sort of corn or bunion, that had grown on the head of the animal and he advised the owner to treat the horns with lunar caustic. The owner of the cow was so mad he kicked Dr. Butler across a brook, and was thereafter fined $100 for kicking without a physician's prescription, kicking having been prohibited by Amendment No. Two Thousand and Six.
But, as I was saying, this Dr. Butler lived in New Jersey, where mosquitos are very bad, and he had permission to write prescriptions allowing people to scratch their ankles. He charged five dollars for a prescription, and wrote so many one July that he got writer's cramp and was fined $1000 and had to spend August in jail, because he had had winter's cramp without getting a prescription permitting him to have it.
We knew the world was much better than it had ever been before, because everyone told us so, especially the secretaries (paid) of the various Societies for Prohibiting Everything, and the physicians. They told us the millennium had certainly arrived and that a state of heaven on earth now existed and that every human being was now perfect, because it was not possible that he could be otherwise when everything he ate and drank and wore and did was bossed by someone else, none of whose business it was.
It was a remarkable world we now found ourselves in. There was nothing left to prohibit but the physicians' prescriptions, and so the 3655th Amendment was passed, prohibiting physicians' prescriptions. Now everything was indeed prohibited. It was proposed to hold a great celebration in honor of this, but celebrations were prohibited, so none was held. Many wished to dance for joy, but dancing and joy were prohibited.
During the winter of 1935-1936 an enormous amount of work was done, and no time was wasted on frivolities, because all frivolities were prohibited. Every night millions of people stood on their lawns looking for the end of the world to arrive. They said it was all they cared a hang for now, and the sooner it came the better. They said it could not come too soon for them,
By the ninth of March, 1936, the suicides were well under way. A deep and hideous melancholy had settled upon America. A feeling that life without liberty was not worth living had grown to surprising proportions considering that the Declaration of Independence of 1776 had evidently meant that no man in America should have any personal liberty whatever if his neighbors objected. All over the nation thousands of sad-faced human beings, convinced at last that they were not made in God's image, with the ability to distinguish between right and wrong and the right to exert that right for themselves, but that they were mere blobs of pulp, began jumping into rivers, ponds and lakes to extinguish their useless existences.
In a panic the prohibitors had an amendment passed prohibiting rivers, ponds and lakes, but it did not seem very effective. They had another passed prohibiting suicide, but it did not work. Then they passed the law prohibiting melancholy, but it only made the people of the United States more melancholy. In the week beginning April 1st, 1936, nine hundred and eighty-five thousand Americans committed suicide, saying before they kicked off that they were glad they were going to be through.
I happened to be visiting with my cousin Orone McDooble, on Long Island, about then, and we were sitting on his porch discussing the future one evening.
"I wish, when I bought this property," Orone said with a sigh, "I hadn't bought it. I wish I had bought a place on the Sound -- a place with a porch that stuck out over the Sound. Then I would walk to the edge of the porch and climb over and sink."
I felt the same way, only worse.
"I've got a box of rat poison in the cellar," said Orone, "and I'd go down and eat it, only that's prohibited. I just want to die and be shut of life like it is now. For weeks and weeks I haven't seen a smile or a grin or a man who looked as if he hadn't just been told he'd have to be operated on tomorrow for tobacco heart."
He stopped and gloomed for awhile.
"I don't want to be the last poor geezer left on earth," he said. "I guess I'm through right now. Well, good bye, Ellis. I guess I'll go down and hunt up that rat poison."
"Hold on a second," I said, "and I'll go with you. I just want to shake my foot a little -- leg has gone to sleep -- and then I'll go along with you, and eat my share."
He sat still while I wiggled my foot and just then I heard a sound I had never expected to hear again. It was a man singing in a light and carolsome way, hitting a high note, and then a low note and, as he came opposite cousin Orone's porch he waved a hand and smiled at us -- actually smiled!
"Bon jour, Marie!" he called out playfully, and went on down the street.
Orone gave me one look and got off the porch and started after the stranger. I gave Orone one look and started after the stranger, too. Before we reached Main Street there were three hundred glum-faced individuals following the stranger at a respectful distance. Now and then he turned and waved a hand at us. It was amazing! It was unaccountable! This queer individual had some reason for thinking life was not a vale of tears.
He got on a car going toward New York and we followed him, and so did as many as could get on the car. The news of his coming had been telephoned to New York and when we arrived there the hundreds of thousands of glum-faced citizens who had been on their way to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge formed a procession of amazement and gloom behind him, but before we were half way down Fifth Avenue the stranger was stopped by the police.
"I'm sorry, me frind," said one who seemed to be in authority, since he wore a badge of the Prohibitory Enforcement Legion on his coat, "but the word of ye has been telegraphed t' Washington and I have me orders to convey ye thither instantaneously."
I had heard a rumor of what was going on at Washington. The United Prohibiting Societies of America had called a hasty meeting there to consider what new orders they should dictate to Congress. The awful fact that all America seemed about to commit gloomy suicide in spite of the fact that heaven had come on earth and the millennium had arrived had induced them to call this hasty conference to decide what could be done to bring back a little joy and end the suicide epidemic. News that a man had been found who could still sing and smile had been flashed to them over the wire and they had sent for him to learn his secret.
His secret was soon learned when he was questioned in secret session. In one of the most solemn conclaves ever held in the United States the heads of the nation decided to pass the 3659th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and it was passed unanimously when its gist and the necessity for it was telegraphed to the fifty State Legislatures.
By the 3659th Amendment every physician was compelled, under penalty of the heaviest possible fines, and long terms of imprisonment, to prescribe a reasonable and healthy quantity of wine or good, honest beer for every person afflicted with melancholy or gloom, poor digestion, or general grouch.
The effect was instantaneous, so to speak. The epidemic of suicide ceased. Cheerfulness, good nature and gentle joy returned. So great was the good result, in fact, that three thousand six hundred and fifty-five more amendments were passed, prohibiting forever the prohibition of everything that had been prohibited.
A few days later Orone and I met one of the leading American prohibitionists, an excellent man who lives a few doors from Orone. When we had seen him last he had been as melancholy as the worst of us. Now he was bright and cheerful again.
"I declare," said Orone to him. "I don't know what to make of you. I thought your heart would be broken by the repeal of all the laws you worked so hard to get passed. And here you are, with prohibition knocked sky high, and all your work undone, and you are happy!"
"Of course I am happy," said the man. "Why shouldn't I be? Things had got to such a state that there wasn't any excuse for me to meddle with your personal liberty. Now I can go right ahead as I love to go. I can start in all over again. My friend, you may not believe me, but I predict that in twenty years from now alcoholic drinks, tobacco, coffee, and tea will be absolutely prohibited in the United States."
"I should fret!" he said. "In twenty years I'll be dead."
This sobered his friend for a moment. But he cheered up.
"Listen, Orone," he said. "Listen, if there is any liberty of action you especially prize, just tell me, and I'll try to have it prohibited while you are still alive."
"Rats!" said Orone.
For a moment his friend seemed surprised. But he was willing to accommodate. He took out a little notebook and wrote "Prohibit rats."
I notice in this morning's paper that a Society for the Prohibition of Rodents has been formed. I expect we will have another millennium in a few years.