Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle that fits them all.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Autocrat of the Breakfast Table
Dan awoke to the sound of water falling heavily off the roof of the house. It was still dark out but Dan couldn't fall back to sleep. Friday was looking like it would be a very busy day so he got up and took a long, hot shower. Dan's head throbbed, a condition that was becoming a familiar part of his week in Dutch Wonderland. He made a pot of coffee and woke up Bill, who was snoring on the sofa, embers still glowing in the fireplace.
"What time is it, man." Bill asked, squinting his eyes open.
"I don't know. Early. You want to go to the farmer's market with me? Dan asked.
"Sure." Bill sighed, swinging his feet around and sitting up. He rubbed his eyes. "Did you make any coffee?" Dan didn't answer but instead thrust a mug into Bill's hand. Bill yawned deeply, stretched his arms and took a sip of coffee. After a few sips, he stood up and walked into the kitchen. “Alright, let’s go.”
Dan pulled the Minotaur out of the garage and pointed it toward the old shopping center on Lancaster Avenue. That was where they’d moved the farmer’s market. It was now in a fairly non-descript building on the eastern edge of the center. It had always opened at six and Dan saw from the lights and cars in the parking lot that they were already open for business.
The shopping center was a mere shadow of its former glory, if you could call it that. As late as Dan's teen years, this had been a thriving center of commerce with large stores like Sears, J.C. Penney and a grocery store. There were also many smaller chain stores and a quite a few local businesses. It had usually been at full occupancy. Today the biggest store was a regional pharmacy chain store. The old Sears building now housed a junk shop/thrift store like a Big Lots or Ross or Marshall's but was not even quite that grand. Many store fronts were empty and where once were prosperous businesses were now aerobics studios, karate schools, and a used book shop specializing in romance novels. In other words, not exactly high growth enterprises.
The Shillington Shopping Center, as well as the Shillington Farmer's Market were, ironically, not technically located in Shillington. It was in Cumru Township, which was the oldest organized land in the area. Gouglersville, Kenhorst, Shillington and Mohnton were all once part of Cumru and Spring Township was split off from Cumru in the mid-nineteenth century. Most of the new housing in the area as well as business growth is in Cumru Township. Many area residents think of the Cumru land adjacent to Shillington as part of the town anyway. That's why the name Shillington still appears on so many of the businesses and it's where the new post office for Shillington is located.
The Hardees was still there in between the shopping center and the farmer's market. It was one of only two fast food chains in Shillington. It used to be a garish red and white but now it looked like a Carl's Jr., complete with the yellow star logo, but Dan thought they were a west coast thing. The sign still said Hardee's so he guessed that they'd been 'acquired' by Carl's. Their food was horrible before and he felt pretty confident that, like almost all fast food, it was horrible today, too.
Dan parked the car and they entered the market through the double doors at the front end of the long, rectangular building. Inside it was a wide-open building that looked more like a warehouse. Tall empty ceilings made the space seem larger and gave the illusion of a small city. There were booths all around the perimeter and several square and rectangular series of booths that created street-like corridors running east/west and north/south. There were many familiar stands Dan could see immediately; local butchers, dairies, bakeries, florists, fruit and vegetable growers, and other traditional farmers. There were also some new ones. Toward the center of the market, for example, was a coffee and tea stand with lots of fancy beans and herbal teas. A familiar sight in California and big cities, but inconsistent with the traditional idea of a farmer's market. These coffee beans and teas were not farmed locally, after all. But in Dan's experience the modern version of a farmer's market included all manner of goods not made by farmers or produced locally. As long as it might appeal to the type of person who shopped at a farmer's market, then it was apparently okay. That was apparently true now in Pennsylvania as it was in other places.
Dan found the most important stand easily: The Good's potato chips in the blue. He had hoped they might still have cans available but the transition to cardboard boxes was complete. He bought a few boxes, some for the wake and some to ship home. He picked up some other items for the wake: pastries and meats and cheeses; pretzels and dip and vegetables.
Back in the car, Bill remembered they were getting low and beer and suggested they pick some up. Pennsylvania has some of the strangest liquor laws of any state, but the package stores, which sold only by the case, were already open. Bill's Beverages was on the other side of town so Dan aimed the Minotaur toward the beer store. They picked up four cases of different beers and two cases of A-Treat soda. Dan had yet to call many relatives or friends about the wake so he had no idea how much he'd need. Bill said he'd drink whatever was left and they shared a good laugh over it.
Bill also suggested that they pick up some liquor but Dan didn't think the state store would be open yet, but since it was close they drove to it in under a minute. It was closed and wouldn't open until nine. Bill gave a Dan a confused look when he saw the store was owned by the state. Dan answered the question in Bill's stare. "Weird, isn't it? The state is the pusher here. They're the only ones who can sell wine and spirits, the high alcohol stuff. Every year or so they talk about privatizing it, but it never happens. I imagine it's a pretty good source of revenue. It is, after all, a legal monopoly. They can charge whatever they want, or at least whatever they can get away with without arousing too much public outcry."
"I don't know how they square it with the PSAs about drunk driving. On one hand they're telling people to drink responsibly and not drive drunk and on the other hand they're the ones selling the hard alcohol. I really have mixed feelings about the whole thing. It seems so purely fascist. As it's generally understood, fascism is a merging of state and corporate interests so owning the business, as is the case here, would be as fascist and you can get. The state stores claim that buying in bulk allows them to get better prices for consumers but isn't that what competition is designed to do? Somebody's lying, I'm just not sure who?"
"They're all lying cocksuckers." Bill chimed in. "I tried to get all the people in marketing and advertising to kill themselves but I don't think I got any takers."
Dan laughed. "Yeah, I always suspected you were serious about that. It made it funnier if you were, I thought. Besides, I felt like the world would be better off without the propagandists. I refuse to even call it advertising or public relations. It's propaganda, pure and simple. To call it something else, is, in a way, propaganda. The only reason they changed the name was because of the negative connotations from the Nazis fairly successful use of propaganda in World War Two. But they learned it from us, especially Wilson's use of propaganda to get us in to, and then during, World War One."
"They're the ruiners of all things good." Bill continued. "They put a price tag on everything because in their little minds, everything and everybody is for sale."
"You'd be amazed how much worse it's gotten just in the ten years since you died." TV ads, which are probably the worst, continue to get faster and faster and there more of them meaning less content. Of course, that may not be such a bad thing since so many of the actual shows suck so badly. Every other show now is a so-called 'reality' show. These pieces of shit feature 'real people' and are no more real than the news is. And that's another thing that continues to get worse; the news is more and more pure entertainment every day. Most of the time, it's just propaganda, too."
"Then there's newspapers, the internet, billboards everywhere, sporting event sponsorships, renaming stadiums after products, celebrity worship magazines, telemarketers, mail-order solicitations, McDonald's in schools and hospitals, product placements in movies, spam e-mails, radio ads, print ads in commercial bathrooms, commercials before movies in the theatre, planes pulling banner ads at the beach, on hold ads when your on the phone, ads on the envelopes from credit card companies, aaaaaaaargh." Dan screamed. We're inundated. Everywhere you turn, and I do mean everywhere, someone is trying to sell you something."
"It used to be about filling needs and perhaps the wants that people had. Now it's become so sophisticated that the wants are created and then turned into needs. We're persuaded we must have that new pair of high-tech sneakers. Just try to find a plain pair of canvas sneakers. It's all but impossible. All fashion is that way, really. Wearing the new 'in' clothes each season has created one of the most useless, ephemeral wastes of money. And to look a certain way is fed by our overemphasis on appearance; style over substance. This illusion is so complete that nobody even thinks about it. That's the triumph of propaganda. It's so stupefying how easy it seems to work. Of course, from an early age we're taught obedience, which helps keep everybody passive and credulous. That, I believe, is one of the primary goals of public education."
"So how did you and I get through?" Bill asked.
"Well, it's not possible to fool everybody all the time. Even Honest Abe knew that. But they don't need one hundred percent. The truth is not hidden, it's just hard to find and even harder to believe for most people. There are plenty of people who know what's going on, including, of course, the practitioners. But they know more about human nature then they should. They know how to distract people, witness the banality of TV, blockbuster films, and organized sports along with the amount of time and seriousness afforded it. They know that a lie repeated often enough becomes true so we're lied to from a very early age. Just look at the textbooks used to teach history as an example. They also know that a few dissident voices, no matter how true, don't stand a chance against the entire corporate power structure and their mouthpiece the media. That anybody trusts our media is yet another victory for propaganda. It's hard to imagine a less trustworthy enterprise than mainstream news organizations. Yet every lie exposed is just an anomaly, we're told. We should more surprised every time they tell the truth. So every generation will have a small percentage of people largely unaffected by propaganda and an even smaller percentage of us who are successful in telling other people what they know."
"It's all a fraud. The whole thing. And nobody even realizes it. It's so pathetic how blissfully ignorant people are. They don't question anything. They accept lies so easily. Sometimes I want to scream and shout at them but the truth is they don't even want to know. They prefer being ignorant. That's one of the reasons propaganda works so well; because people are so conditioned to accept everything they're told."
"Give me your belt." Bill requested suddenly.
"What?" Dan looked at him quizzically.
"Your belt." Bill repeated. Dan undid the buckle and yanked off his belt in one practiced motion. He handed it to his ghostly passenger. Bill rolled down his window and dangled it out the car so that the end was just above a running stream of rainwater.
"What the hell are you doing with my belt?" Dan demanded.
"Ssh." Bill cautioned, then continued at a whisper. "There's a lizard in this puddle and I want to see if I can coax him up. Come on, little feller. That's it. Come on." Bill intoned.
After a few minutes, Dan saw a small greenish-brown lizard appear in the car door window and scamper into Bill's hand. "Hey, you did it. That's pretty cool."
Bill handed Dan back his belt and he put it on. "You want to get some breakfast?"
"Might as well." He said. "There's a diner up the street on the other side of the road. We can wait there and get something to eat. Good idea, Bill."
"I'm going to call him Gary." Bill said, as Dan started the car and headed for Dempsey's diner.