What exactly does the government do?
Depending on whether you ask a Democrat or a Republican, the answer is somewhere between, "It is a glorious rainbow of helpful individuals working together for the commonweal, hanging the moon and spritzing the sky with stars and teaching all of us how to love," and, "It's primary purpose is to impede the progress of small business and deter people from developing self-sufficiency of any kind, and it wants to murder your grandmother in her sleep."
Now, it seems, we have occasion to find out who's right.
The shutdown started last week, leaving us, until further notice, in a Hobbesian state of nature. I am crouched behind a door, clutching a long knife as I type. I hope I will not be the first from my district volunteered as tribute in the Hunger Games that will inevitably ensue once shock gives way and reality sets in. I keep hearing what sound like footsteps coming to begin the culling. I will not last long.
Still, in case I make it out, I'm keeping a diary of these hours. I look forward to telling my children and grandchildren the epic tale of Life During the Shutdown. I can picture them, clustered around my knees, ignoring me as they exchange messages on their photon-based head-chips.
"Oh, yes," I will say. "Let me tell you how it went."
Oct. 1, 12:01 a.m.: Why is Congress still talking? Don't lawmakers hear the torch-wielding mobs beginning to descend? Somehow, a fifth person is
reading remarks into the record.
12:02 a.m.: I glance at footage of the moon landing and notice that it all appears to have been recorded on a soundstage. How was this not noticeable
12:08 a.m.: The Leviathan climbs out of the deep, and I hear its ravening maw devour several nonessential personnel whole as they make their way
12:10 a.m.: Someone appears on TV and starts explaining with perfect clarity exactly what happened on the grassy knoll.
12:15 a.m.: Several Sinister Agents dedicated to Harassing Small-Business Owners and Stifling Innovation suddenly collapse, clutch their heads and
sobbing. They remain immobile until the government resumes normal operations.
12:30 a.m.: The president, Dick Cheney and other present and former senior officials begin to shed their human skins to reveal their reptilian forms.
12:37 a.m.: Congress is still giving speeches, even though John Boehner has turned into a pumpkin.
12:40 a.m.: The Mars Rover stops roving and temporarily becomes the Mars Stationary Object.
1:01 a.m.: After a long debate among S.H.I.E.L.D., the Pacific Rim-protecting Jaeger Program and Whoever Those Government Guys Are Who Seem to Deal With Superman A Lot on the subject of making cutbacks to nonessential personnel, Hawkeye gets furloughed.
1:10 a.m.: Party caucuses threaten to devolve into roving bands of vicious, self-interested predators, incapable of thinking more than one step ahead.
Frustrated President-Now-Part-Lizard Obama is heard muttering about how "that might be an
improvement if they do it in time for the debt-ceiling talks."
1:15 a.m.: In the absence of government, citizens rush to form fiefdoms under the protection of the strongest and most capable. The respective fiefs of
Chuck Norris and Jose Canseco swallow several states.
1:30 a.m.: The panda cam has been off for 30 minutes. Pandas forget how to breathe in the absence of viewers to remind them. They finally do what nature intended them to do decades ago: Go extinct.
7 a.m.: A mob of unruly citizens strolls into a national park and forcibly enjoys the rich array of indigenous wildlife, including several exhibitions about stick bugs. A furloughed park ranger looks on, quivering in terror.
9 a.m.: Bereft of public service announcements, teens turn to smoking and drugs with wild abandon.
12:15 p.m.: Aliens secretly being held in Area 51 go on a hunger strike.
5:01 p.m.: Unable to go to museums, a roving mob of Moderately Obnoxious Guys You Went On a Single Date With forms outside the National Portrait Gallery and decides to go to a wine tasting instead.
6 p.m.: State Department cutbacks leave the entire U.S. foreign policy in the hands of Dennis Rodman.
6:10 p.m.: An Internal Revenue Service guy whose job it is to sit with a worried expression, looking like he understands the tax code, goes home, smiles and puts his feet up.
6:13 p.m.: Someone unleashes the Kraken.
11:11 p.m.: Provisions of the Affordable Care Act went into effect at midnight, as planned, but its website is still not operational so nobody notices.
"Wait," the children will interrupt. "I thought it was just nonessential personnel."
"Oh, yes," I will say. "Anyway, all this was nothing compared to what happened when the debt ceiling rolled around."
Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post writes the ComPost blog at washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost.