This little piece on all the all the “scandals” attributed to Hillary Clinton got me thinking: What if Aesop was alive today? Certainly, he’d have to be a bit more sophisticated and wily, since no one likes simple stories with obvious morals. Then again, we need them more than ever given how simple-minded the constant stream of very sophisticated “news” renders all of us. So I wrote this piece, which I hope you enjoy.
A long time ago there was a village called Gullibalogna. It nestled up against the rolling hills in a valley where nothing terribly bad ever happened and life was good. Everyone was happy and generally through highly of everyone else because there was no reason to think any other way.
Growing up in the town of Gullibalogna was easy, if terribly boring. A young man named Karl was sent out every day to tend the sheep out in the hills, and he was beside himself with the routine of every day. The sheep went up to the hills to graze and frolicked all day long while Karl napped and dreamed that something, really anything, might happen to relieve the tedium. The good life wasn’t so good for a young man with dreams, after all.
So one day, to relieve the tension, he thought he’d start something. “Wolf!” He cried, “There’s a wolf after the sheep!” With his hands cupped to his mouth he called to the town below at the top of his lungs throwing as much sense of desperation and terror into his words as he could. “Wolf!”
Before he could lower his hands the bells in Gullibalogna rang and everyone came running. Some carried guns, some carried pitchforks, some came running with nothing more than they had in their hands. The baker was still covered with flour and the butcher was covered with blood – they stopped their daily routines and came running as soon as the cry was heard. “Wolf!” was all they said, “Wolf!” Young Karl’s words echoed through the throng that ran up the hill as soon as they possibly could.
As they all arrived, Karl could hardly contain his excitement. Something happened in this stupid little town! And he could see that everyone else was as hopped up as he was, ready to hunt down and kill the wolf. As his blood ran hot and his eyes became big the excitement of the ruse carried him through.
“Where is the wolf, boy?”
“He ran … He ran over there,” Karl pointed off over the hills.
“Don’t you worry, we’ll get ‘im!” “There’s a wolf over the hills!”
”Did he get any sheep?”
Karl had to think for a minute before saying, “No, you were all so fast you ran him off!”
The townspeople searched high and low through the hills all day, but never found the wolf. Karl started to think it was funny, even better than he ever imagined. As the sun went down and it was time to bring the sheep back to town for the night everyone slowly meandered back and that was the end of the exciting day.
The very next day, everything started out in the same way, except for one thing. Karl was changed forever. His daily routine of boredom set in the moment he brought the sheep up the hill and he started plotting the excitement right away. This was a lot better than sleeping next to the stupid sheep, after all.
“Wolf!” He cried, “Wolf!” And again the bells rang and the people flocked and the far side of the hills was pointed at and everyone ran around all day long, getting absolutely no work done at all. But Karl had, if anything, more fun than ever.
The third day was the same, except something strange started to happen. Some of the people of Gullibalogna didn’t run up the hill as fast, but stood back and talked among themselves. They started to have a few doubts in the way that people in fairy tales should have doubts about things and everything was proceeding as it should.
But among these people was someone that Karl didn’t pay anywhere near enough attention to at first. Among the part of the town that hung back was the richest man in town, the Merchant, who was known for having a keen eye and knowing what was going on quicker than most people. As the hills were searched and most of the town ran around hunting the wolves, he pulled Karl aside.
“So, young man, you say you see this wolf all the time?”
“Um, yes sir.”
“Could you describe him for us?
”Sure, he was, ah, a wolf, you know, he, ah ….” Karl was cornered.
The Merchant got a twinkle in his eye and spoke softly to the young man. “That’s OK, Karl, you get your story together and really think about that wolf. Tell us all about it and we’ll get this going, OK?” “OK, sir.” Karl was not sure what was up when the Merchant pulled back and started shouting himself.
“Town meeting!” He called. “Everyone meet tonight in the Town Hall!”
Later that night, all the citizens who were up on the hill, and even those who were starting to doubt, came to a big meeting with neat rows of chairs set up with a podium in the front. As they filed into the town the Merchant stood in the corner up front, smiling broadly. Karl was at his side. Finally, he spoke to the young man. “Follow my lead, kid.” And the Merchant went to the podium and calmed the crowd.
“Good citizens of Gullibalogna! We have a problem, as you know. Karl here will tell you everything he knows about this wolf that threatens our sheep daily, every single day! But what matters more than anything is that this is a crisis. A terrible threat! Now, as you know, I pay far more in taxes than all of you because I have so much more land and buildings and people who work for me, so I feel responsible for what happens in this town. So let me explain to you. If you forgive my taxes for this month I will instead contribute guns and uniforms and call in the best wolf hunting experts from all over the lands to help us defeat this terrible threat. Now, Karl, you tell them just what we’re up against!”
He then shoved Karl up to the podium, and the young man paused. He had been dreading this moment all day. But in front of all those people his courage grew as he told the story of the great big wolf, grey and shaggy, with big snarling teeth dripping with drool that slunk low over the sheep with glowing red eyes.
It was the glowing red eyes that really sold it. The crowd gasped with fear all at once. “Glowing red eyes!”
The story became more and more elaborate as Karl told it for one simple reason: Karl was having far more fun than he ever had before. No one treated him like an insignificant kid – in fact, they hung on every word. And through it all, no one noticed the Merchant, now far off to the side, smiling broadly.
The next day, no one waited for Karl to cry out on the hills. The people of Gullibalogna, eagerly led by the Merchant, immediately started roving over the hills before noon. There were wolves to catch, after all! They were going to find that wolf and leave Karl at peace all day long.
Just to make sure that Karl stayed happy, the Merchant would send over to him anyone who questioned what was happening. Karl eagerly recounted the shaggy and drooling and glowing red eyes. Red eyes! Glowing! No one doubted how important the wolf hunt was because, after all, the Merchant was brave and civic minded enough to organize the hunt.
Each morning was the same, but no wolf was ever found. Whenever someone started grumbling a few doubts they were sent over to Karl to hear about the shaggy and the drooling and the glowing red eyes. Red eyes! It was something! But it started to wear a little thin.
Also, the baker wasn’t baking and the butcher wasn’t butchering. Gullibalogna was starting to run low on food.
The Merchant saw what was happening and realized it was time for another meeting. This time, he let Karl talk first about the shaggy and the drooling and the snarling (he had been leaving out the snarling, silly boy!) and ended with the glowing red eyes. And just at that moment the Merchant stepped up and told everyone his new plan.
“Good people of Gullibalogna, our efforts are not enough! We must work harder and search longer to find this wolf. He must be stopped! Look at what the wolf has done to our town, with no one making anything and all business coming to a halt! That’s what those red eyes have done to us, so we must re-double our efforts! And I propose that the town treasury be put to use paying for even better wolf catchers and even better weapons to use against the shaggy and the drooling and, dear boy, remind us again about the glowing red eyes!”
And so the town decided that without an economy based on baking and butchering or making anything useful at all it was best to spend what little they had with the Merchant, who gave out coins here and there to the people who hunted the wolves and sent emissaries far and wide across the lands to find the best wolf hunters and a few cases of wine from far away. Plus a few cigars. And a big boat, once they came back with a boat – for hunting the wolf on water, you know.
The town of Gullibalogna had transformed overnight to a new kind of town, a wolf hunting town. Every moment of every day was spent hunting the wolf and no one thought about baking or butchering or anything else boring and simple like that. It was an exciting time in Gullibalogna.
Though every once in a while someone questioned whether there was a wolf at all, they were quickly shouted down. “Are you saying there are no wolves out there over the hills?” And since everyone knew there had to be wolves out there somewhere the people who raised their doubts usually fell silent and said nothing. If they kept questioning whether there was any shaggy and drooling and glowing red eyes at all, eventually the Merchant would walk over to them and put his arm around the doubter like an all knowing father.
“You know,” he’d say in a quiet voice, “If we stopped hunting wolves tomorrow no one would have a job. Think about that for a moment.”
And so it went, day after day. Where once they were a happy town cheerfully minding their own business and doing useful things they instead spent their days marching over the hills and searching in fear and dread, wondering what was over the next hill. But they never dared stop searching for fear something terrible might happen.
And one day, when the town was out hunting far away, it happened. A band of actual wolves where were rather well groomed and quietly kept their saliva to themselves wandered through the empty town of Gullibalogna looking for something to eat. The dark brown eyes scanned the streets and shops and eventually found a few scraps of bread and a few pieces of meat left behind in the shops that they barged their way into. Eating everything up, they left quietly and left not a trace that they had ever been there.
When the townspeople returned after a day full of hunting and panic, running around everywhere the bravest wolf hunters in the land told them to run, they realized there was nothing to eat. They were starving after a long day, but not a scrap was to be found.
That night, as they slept the deep but restless sleep of exhaustion and hunger, they all came to a simple realization. And they understood.
The next day, no one went out to hunt wolves. The Baker started baking and the butcher started butchering. Karl went out on the hill alone, with only his sheep, and looked down towards the town that was suddenly as active and full of noise and fuss that he was used to seeing in the hills. He thought long and hard before he cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted as long and hard as he could.
“Wolf! There’s a wolf! Shaggy and drooling and great big glowing red …”
And just then, the Baker who was covered with flour and had just stuffed two dozen loaves of bread into the oven, came up the hill with his paddle in hand and gave Karl such a hard thwack! on the backside of his head that the little boy never spoke of the shaggy or the drool or even the glowing red eyes ever again.