Makersvill wasn’t done yet. It was sort of a city, with a great arching bell tower nearly ready to toll the hour, and a City Hall whose roof had been completed but which lay squat upon its foundation, for the pillars had not yet been installed. City Hall resembled the sandwiches sold at the corner food truck: two pieces of bread with some condiments and leafy greens in between, but not enough slices of meaty tomatoes or cheesy slabs to hold a real space of flavor in between the bread. People paid half-price for the sandwiches and walked around hungry, or they bought two, and their stomachs would gurgle so that by 2:00 or 3:00 most managers gave up and let everyone go home from work. The traffic wasn’t too bad, except when the construction teams had shown up to work that day, and then the road would be ripped like an ocean’s flank, waves of broken concrete roiling up and stopping before they could spray the sky in chalky black dust. Just enough nuisance to block the cars midway home.
Makersvill was a community for creative critics. It was some government initiative: the old mayor wanted to streamline innovation in the old city, so he had a group of experts design a test to weed out the citizens whose mental power fell within the highest known caliber according to a set of standards established by an anonymous study he discovered on his desk one morning. The goal was to gather everyone who had a reasonably high potential to come up with useful advancements, and to put them all together so they could brew a collective stew of thoughts without being dragged to a slower tempo by such burdens as children, the mentally ill, and simple types who worked with animals or garbage and had no place in the innovative community. The town’s online archives devolve to an error screen after the date the people were selected and relocated, so I was unable to find written information about how the project worked out. This prompted me to go myself to Makersvill and see what inventions may be secreted in its alleyways, some ten or twenty years later.
My first greeting as I stepped off the train was a desperate yelp: “Look out!” My head jerked left to see who was speaking, and as I fell through a foot or two of empty space I realized it would have been more prudent to follow the disembodied advice and look down at the steps between the train and the platform – several were missing. The crowd that poured out of the train behind me parted and flowed on their way, clearly too used to such newcomer mistakes to be annoyed or to lend me a hand.
I stumbled to my feet and wandered over to the station to see if I could obtain a map to my hotel. There was, in fact, a floor-to-ceiling rack brimming with gold-lined maps, some as intricate as a handcrafted Bible, others embellished with sketches of the singular houses and carousels I might pass on my way through town. Nevertheless, it took me several minutes of browsing, unfolding, sighing, and refolding before I came upon one that extended so far northeast as to show my hotel and the small neighborhood around it. However, this one didn’t include the station I was currently at. All the same, I tipped the young lady behind the desk a few coins (which currency escapes me, they are always switching) and wandered out to guesswork my way to the inn that had agreed to provide a pillow for my head that night.
Overall, my experience in Makersvill followed the pattern of that first misstep off the train. The architecture is splendid, some to the extent of sheer terror: I had to turn back in the middle of crossing the wide Sentimento River because with no warning that could be detected from shore, the great Carthaginian bridge stubs off, a harsh white edge giving way to swirling gray water twenty feet below. I saw someone fall out the back of a taxi cab moments after clambering inside, because the backseat opened like a trapdoor straight into the empty trunk, which did not appear to have a hatch. The gentleman brushed the mud off his slacks as best he could, straightened his glasses, and walked on, in some direction contrary to where he had been headed in the taxi. No one else gave him a second glance.
The people, I must say, were at least as strange as the incomplete vehicles and bridges. Most individuals I spoke with simply glowed with intelligence, and a few even twinkled with intention, but few remembered to call me for the interviews I arranged. I wondered if it was the result of some engrained stigma against interacting with outsiders, but that hypothesis was proven faulty when I observed a married couple in a grocery store arguing over the right ingredients to make for dinner. The woman gripped the handle of the stroller in front of her tightly as she growled, “If you want Hamly to grow up strong, we’ll get that spiral pasta to soak up the sloppy Joe’s. If you want him to end up tall as a beanpole, then we’ll settle for angel hair. It’s your decision.”
The man cleared his throat noncommittally. “Why don’t we compromise? We’ll get the spiral pasta, but go vegetarian tonight.”
“In what way is that a compromise, George? How – ”
“Well, then neither of us has to worry about Hamly getting enough protein, and you won’t have to cook the troublesome meat in that old rusted oven. Everyone gets what they want.”
“I can see where you’re coming from,” the woman mused. “It would work even better if we scrapped the pasta idea altogether.”
“Well, then what will we eat for dinner?”
The woman blinked at her husband for a silent, wide-eyed moment. Then the two of them walked out of the store together without a single food item in their hands. As they turned the corner, I noticed the stroller the woman was navigating in front of her along the sidewalk was empty.
The conclusion I was beginning to piece together from the fragments of half-experiences I’d had so far in Makersvill was affirmed by my neighbor at the inn. A science fiction writer, he told me, he’d stepped out onto the courtyard for some fresh air and a chance to walk through the section of the rose garden that wasn’t overtaken with thorny brambles. I happened to be enjoying some lukewarm house coffee on the bench dedicated to “Hermann and Diane Mc-“, and welcomed him to sit by me (luckily we were both slender enough to fit on a bench only about half as long as it should have been, and equipped with only one hand-rest.) He said to me straightaway, “This is a town for people who can’t finish anything. A town of half-baked losers.”
Before I could muster a diplomatic reply, he tore a thick journal out of his coat pocket and began rifling through the pages. “We’re all creative people, with the potential to generate a big bang and the impetus to push the hydrogen and helium at least several lightyears out into the intellectual universe,” he said as if reading from the swiftly flipping leafs of scribbled paper. “It’s not really us, the loser. It’s our inner critic.”
“You know, that blank person in our frontal lobes that stops us right when we’re halfway or 75% towards a result, and says ‘You’re wasting your time, stop it with that stupid idea, you’ll never get rich and famous off it anyways. Go try something else. Go get a beer and let your project rot in the cellar, or in the garden, or in the back of a taxi cab.’ And we’re sensitive and intelligent, so we listen. That’s why nothing ever gets done here. Things get half-done or 36% done, and then the creator or some do-gooder rubberneck creative in the sidelines tells us to give up, and we do. It’s like we’re all cursed with some skyscraper disease that gets us leaning around floor fifteen, before we can ever brush the clouds.”
“That was very poetic,” I said finally. “You should write a book about this issue. Maybe the mayor would read it and let you guys reintegrate into society.”
He looked at me, eyes taking up about half his furry cheeks. “You don’t mean that,” he accused me. “If I showed you the draft I’m 1/3 of the way through, you’d say to scrap it, it’s too much trouble.”
“You have a draft? That’s excellent. I’d be happy to read it.” Suddenly social change was sparking before my eyes, and I couldn’t resist hopping on the train to become a catalyst. Maybe some historical journalist would inscribe my name into the future archives of what made Makersvill finally glow with greatness.
“You say that now, but wait till you read the first chapter. You’ll be bored to tears, you’ll throw the manuscript out the window, you’ll never make it to chapter two.”
“How can you know that before – ”
He’d already stood, and was loping back towards the hotel at such a clip that I knew I wasn’t invited to follow. I sighed and glanced at the fly taunting a coffee-drenched death on the edge of my styrofoam cup. What had I wanted to do, just a moment ago? What spark had filled me with volition and forwardness and strange silly movements in the brain? I couldn’t quite place it, but whatever it was, I was glad I was past it. How embarrassing it would be to waste my time trying to change something that clearly didn’t need anyone else’s two cents on the matter. I’d find something else to do with my life… that is, if I ever finish writing this article about the pointlessness of –
Image credits in order of appearance:
By Frits Thaulow – 8QH8NUgNp2LR0Q at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29839752
By Алексей1975 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16762743
By John from Southern Maryland, USA – Westchester Avenue station in the Bronx New York as seen from the NorthEast CorridorUploaded by Mackensen, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31045103
By Marian Venceslá Delgado (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
By Joseph Lange – , Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11184788