St. Paul once observed that in this life we see through a glass darkly, and since I ride the damned city buses every day I comprehend his meaning now.
Bus windows used to be glass and you could see out of them, sort of, even when they weren't washed.
But you know how modern technology works. Some yo-yo on the make and with $120 in the bank talks his way through three megamartini lunches to some chairman with an IQ of 104 and PRESTO, some bus company puts in plastic windows.
Word quickly spreads, that with plastic windows you never have to wash them, and two more bus companies buy them. Then in the fullness of time the Washington bus system does. By this time it is known you can't see out those windows because they cloud over. Through those windows the street sign tells you it is either Ellicott or Fairmuffin or Jones Street. They all look alike, viewed through plastic windows.
But of course you don't say you're putting in cheap plastic because you don't have to wash it. No, you say you've put it in because it's safer.
Well. Man and boy I have ridden city buses nigh on a century now, and I have yet to see a glass bus window broken, so obviously that is not the true reason for plastic windows.
You also will notice that the driver's window is still glass. Is that because the driver's safety is of less consequence than the safety of the passengers? Hardly. It's because the driver really has to be able to see the street. Passengers don't.
Passengers don't complain. We sit there like sheep, concentrating on not going astray or running amok, and we get off at our stop, give or take five blocks since we can't read the street signs. Nobody says a word about the insolence of designers, managers and similar cretins of American industry who (while utterly unable to solve transportation problems or even to keep people from preferring foreign-made vehicles) are yet quite capable of paying for windows you can't see out of.
My own solution is to get rid of the present system, especially including all executives, and start over with a clean slate and see-through windows.
The real crisis of this republic, alas, is that there are not enough humanoids in our population to keep civilization running. In the past, liberal governments in this capital, noticing how poorly things worked, thought the solution was to hire more people to help out. The Reagan government began to notice, however, that hiring more people had done relatively little good, and is now on a great kick to get rid of everybody except Frank Sinatra, who is Exhibit A in the Renaissance Man department.
That won't work, either. What we are really in for, as ordinary Americans, is the Italianization of America in this sense, that we will not expect anything to work.
Already this is the main cutting edge of American thought: you needn't expect it to work, and you had better work out your own ingenious solutions (as the Italians do) to get around the national ineptitude.
A woman I had not met before said to me the other day that when the revolution comes in this country, she reckons it will involve the Post Office Department.
"Why?" I inquired. "If you are saying everybody holds the postal service in total contempt you are right, of course, but why do you think anybody takes the Post Office seriously enough to make a revolution out of it?"
She said it is a symptom of the inability to govern.
I am afraid it is much worse than that. It is, instead, an example of the American inability to interest anybody in the job he is hired to do.
I got a letter from London written on the 14th in London and sent that afternoon by the British Data Post. I received it at my house in Washington the next morning.
I wrote back to London. My letter was returned to me 21 days later for insufficient postage. It took 21 days to inform me of that.
So the next letter to London I sent by Express Mail. I sent 20 typed pages and it cost $27, which seemed a lot. But I was told our Express Mail was our answer to the British Data Post, so I used it. My packet was mailed Monday night at the main Post Office, at which there is no place to park, needless to say. It was received in London on Friday at noon. From Monday to Friday for 27 bucks. But wait:
A few days later I got a phone call from the Post Office. They had overcharged me $8, they said. Sorry. All I have to do is go down to the Post Office with my receipt and they'll refund the money they overcharged me.
Why can't they send me the money? As far as that goes, why don't they have anybody but imbeciles down there who overcharge you 8 bucks to begin with?
Mercy me. They couldn't possibly send me the refund in the mail. For one thing it would probably never reach me and for another thing it would make sense, a thing the Post Office is sworn on the Bible never to commit.
There will never be a revolution involving the Post Office. A revolution will always involve a cause of true substance and usually involves real people, not figments.
Which brings us to capital punishment. I am against it. Except for one crime: the acceptance of bribes by judges or officials of government. For them I recommend firing squads. In the Roman Empire the death penalty was specifically suggested for judges who accept bribes. We do not hear of American judges' accepting bribes, and I hope this is because they are bribe-proof. On the other hand it may be because relatively little attention is paid to judges.
Firing squads would be equally appropriate for congressmen and vice presidents. I do not approve of hanging or decapitation or boiling in oil or drawing and quartering. My idea is not to humiliate the victim but merely to get rid of him. Or, I am happy to say, her. Firing squads are best.
And I mention it to illustrate an important point, that I do not think officials of Metro's bus system or of the Post Office should be executed. They do not fall into the category of high officials accepting bribes. So they must not be shot.
Unless, of course, they keep right on the way they're going.