An Encounter in Pershing Square

I was sitting at one of the cheap plastic tables in Pershing Square when a woman who had already stowed more than a couple under her belt fell into the next chair. She took out a wineskin and two glasses, poured a glass for each of us, and asked me what I did for a living.

“I deindustrialize the planet.” I explained.

“Does that pay well?’

“The absence of a final product is its own reward. It’s a big job. We’ve got to clear all that away.” I waved at the Deloitte Building, a vast whimsical glass and steel burrito that provides space for tax services. “You’d be amazed at how much better everything is without human interference.” I continued.

“ I don’t think I would be amazed.”

“Just imagine all this, gone.” With an extravagant gesture, I abolished LA.

“Sounds like a big job.”

“Only one piece of the puzzle left.”


“I have to be recognized as the absolute ruler on the planet. That is the only way anything will get done. Of course, well, here I am.”

“Looks like you’ve got a ways to go.” She looked down at my sandals.

“Every one of the seven point eight billion have to be on board or I won’t budge.”

“That doesn’t leave you much wiggle room.”

“It’s strictly up to everybody to do this all together. That means someone must be in charge, really in charge. You don’t think you can ever get anything done in a democracy, do you? Congress? Are you kidding me? To tidy up the human mess and not destroy the planet further with senseless wars requires a tyrant, an absolute ruler, with a plan that works like clockwork. You’ve never going to make it trying to influence those clowns in Washington. Hell, the big problem will be getting rid of all these states, especially this one. Not only everything we have done must be undone, but everything we have thought must be unthought. Democracy? Totalitarianism? All just confetti. States are states. They take the form best suited to maintain control at the moment. You know the Athenians, democracies poster boys, generally agreed that their best government was under Pisistratus, the tyrant.”

She poured us each another glass of wine.

“To avoid war would require a detailed plan perfectly executed and involving the entire human population. Industrial agriculture feeds everybody. You can’t just abolish it. Tough ask, right? Plus, everything is hanging by a thread. You can’t deindustrialize too quickly or you will heat the planet further when aerosols wash out of the air. And just think about the level of mistrust. Are those military guys going to just stand down? All that’s going to be left at the end is human extinction. That’s already baked in. Think of the average politician wrapping his noodle around that one. But we have to get over our addiction to muddling through if we are to clean up in time to move a whole new batch of species in here within two hundred million years. Hell, we couldn’t get anything through Congress in that time.”


“Excuse me, there’s no ‘we’.”

“But you said ‘we’.”

“I was talking about life in general. ‘We,’ you know, ‘life’. In general? Yes, I’m on the side of life.”

“You’re not working for some Big Kahuna?”

“Not the way you think, no.”

“So, then, for us, after this, nothing, right? Oblivion.”

“What do you think you deserve! Your species is just about the worst ever.”

“That I can believe.”

“You better believe it. This, this mess, is completely unbelievable. Your mother should be ashamed of you.”

“She is.”

“If humans were on trial and all the other species were the jury how do you think you would fare?”

“The chicken might vote for us.”

“Fat chance. Maybe the dog.”

“You talk like you’re not part of it.”

“ I am, I am, of course I am.”

“What are we supposed to do, cry on one another’s shoulders until the lights go out? We’re down and out, man. Finished, done for. Kaput. Might as well party.”

“Wouldn’t it be good to leave gracefully, decently. When you leave a home where you were treated well you don’t want to leave it trashed. That’s merely borderline human decency.”

“Good luck finding somebody with borderline human decency.”

“Not you?”

“Me? Look kid, it’s too complicated. We can’t do anything.”

“Actually, I don’t know why there’s a problem. It would be the greatest thing the human race ever did. Clean-up time! Everybody. For once people would actually have some meaning in their lives. Our greatest talent, the ability to work together, might actually produce something worthwhile. Clean-up time! Is the life you are living now so great that you wouldn’t want to embark on this adventure?”

“As if anybody can even pretend to give a shit for something “worthwhile”. Pointless life is like a rotten tooth you are always sticking your tongue in. After awhile it becomes a pleasure. You pride yourself on having it. It’s fun. It’s the definition of fun.”

“We might all work together to do as little as possible. Except for clean-up, do the bare minimum. Isn’t that what we should have done, lived so as to do as little as possible? Tell stories, dance, cavort with the Gods. Pitched contests of laziness. Make art that slowly wears away. Every now and then go to war with spears and shields. Double cross one another, do dirty tricks, have weird sex. It’s all right to kill one another as long as you don’t trample the grass. We would pass through life without leaving so much as a footprint!”

The sun was low. It must have been time for evening prayer, for she turned her face towards Hollywood. A vagrant dream of blatant self-promotion lit her eyes, then faded out like a mass extinction.

“What makes you think you are the tyrant?”

“ Who else? You see anyone else coming down the pike? The man with the plan should lead. You’ve got to have someone who knows more than just which way the wind is blowing, someone who knows what he is doing. It must be somebody who can get everybody on board. It will be a tricky business. Habits have to be broken. It’s not as if I’m going to aggrandize myself. There’s no time left for that. You got a better plan? Be my guest and welcome to it. I’ll just go home and have my chef whip up a bowl of rice. If it’s me, whoever is left at the end can tear me to pieces.”

“So what’s the plan, man?”

“ Let’s just start with cleanup time.”

“Like that song. John Lennon, right?”

“Yeah, John Lennon.”


Michael Doliner studied with Hannah Arendt at the University of Chicago and has taught at Valparaiso University and Ithaca College. He can be reached at: