(Inspiration Mars/Associated Press) Yeah, forget this.
Yeah, forget this. (Inspiration Mars/Associated Press)

What exactly does the government do?

Depending on whether you ask a Democrat or a Republican, the answer varies somewhere along a spectrum from “It is a glorious rainbow of helpful individuals working together for the common weal, hanging the moon and spritzing the sky with stars and teaching all of us how to love” or “Its 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.” Ask one of those people who sometimes corner you on buses and it turns out that “the government’s sole job is concealing the truth from us, as is succinctly explained in the Denver Airport mural.” The D.C. area seems to think that a shutdown would be tantamount to a tsunami, but that is exactly the sort of thing that people inside The Bubble would say.

Now, it seems, we have actual occasion to find out. Who’s right?

Yes, they really did it. They shut the government down. As everyone on Twitter quipped simultaneously, “Congress, you had ONE JOB. One job!”

But no. Mighty Casey has struck out. The government is shut down. The shutdown started at midnight, although Congress spent the hour before and after delivering variably convincing speeches about what a dreadful thing it was and refusing to take responsibility. All this fuss about shutting down, the American people groaned, when simply shutting up would have sufficed.

Yes, until further notice, we are back in a Hobbesian state of nature. I am typing this crouched behind a door, clutching a long knife. I hope I will not be the first from my district volunteered as tribute in the inevitable Hunger Games that will 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. When it comes to surviving in the wild, writers of brief opinion commentary are among the first to be culled, after the guy who whistles when he talks and it’s driving everyone a little nuts. I have no survival skills. I frequently eat moldy cheese, on the theory that the mold is just, in a sense, more cheese.

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 now, clustered around my knees, completely ignoring me as they exchange messages on their photon-based head-chips. But that will not stop me from talking.

“Oh yes,” I will say. “Let me tell you how it went.”

12:01: Why is Congress still talking? Don’t they hear the sound of the torch-wielding mobs beginning to descend? Somehow, a fifth person is reading remarks into the record.

12:02: I glance at footage of the moon landing and notice that it all appears to have been recorded on a sound stage. How was this not noticeable before?

12:03: The Leviathan climbs out of the deep, and I hear the sound of its ravening maw devouring several nonessential personnel whole as they make their way home.

12:04: Someone appears on TV and starts explaining with perfect clarity exactly what happened on the grassy knoll.

12:05: Several Sinister Agents entirely dedicated to Harassing Small Business Owners and Stifling Innovation suddenly freeze, clutch their heads and collapse, sobbing. They remain this way, immobile, until the government resumes normal operations.

12:06: The president, Dick Cheney and other senior officials of present and former administrations begin to shed their human skins to reveal their true Reptilian forms.

12:07: Congress is still giving speeches, even though John Boehner has turned into a pumpkin.

12:08: Mars Rover stops roving, temporarily becomes the Mars Stationary Object.

12:09: After a long debate among SHIELD, 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.

12:10: 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 something about how “that might actually be an improvement if they do it in time for the debt-ceiling talks.”

12:11: In absence of government, citizens rush to form fiefdoms under the protection of the strongest and most capable. Chuck Norris’s and Jose Canseco’s respective fiefs swallow several states.

12:12: Panda cam has been off for 12 minutes. Pandas forget how to breathe in absence of viewers to remind them and finally do what nature intended them to do decades ago: go extinct.

12:13: Mob of unruly citizens strolls into a national park and forcibly enjoys the rich array of indigenous wildlife, including several exhibits about stick bugs. A furloughed park ranger looks on, quivering in terror.

12:14: Bereft of public service announcements, teens turn to smoking and drugs with wild abandon.

12:15: Aliens being secretly held in Area-51 go on hunger strike.

12:16: Unable to go to museums, roving mob of Moderately Obnoxious Guys You Went On A Single Date With forms outside the Portrait Gallery and decides to go to a wine tasting instead.

12:17: With cutbacks at the State Department, entire U.S. foreign policy left in the hands of Dennis Rodman.

12:18: Internal Revenue Service guy whose job it is to sit there with a worried expression looking like he understands the tax code goes home, sighs heavily, smiles and puts his feet up.

12:19: Someone unleashes the Kraken.

12:20: Obamacare still goes into effect.

“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 writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.