"You’ve Got to Speak Out Against the Madness" from Alice
by John Langdon
Soon the butler appeared from out of nowhere, or at least it seemed that way to Alice. He announced that breakfast would be served as soon as everyone placed his or her order.
“I’ll have the eggs ‘en provence’,” said Jacques.
The Mad Hatter caught Alice’s eye. “Did you notice he says, ‘on provence?’ That’s because he’s French.”
Alice looked at him with a puzzled expression. The March Hare seemed not to have noticed the Hatter’s observation, and said, “I’ll have the eggs Benedict, Arnold. And hop to it.”
The Mad Hatter said, “I’ll have mine over easy, my fellow peon.”
“Is that your ‘to be or not to be’ speech? It’s from Omelet, isn’t it?” the March Hare asked.
Alice began to correct the Hare, but the Hatter told her, “Don’t egg him on,” so she kept quiet, well aware that her companions were simply engaging in antics, “And I’m not anti- some antics,” she assured herself. When Arnold looked to her for her breakfast order, Alice — who had been eating cakes and chunks of mushroom, and therefore wasn’t feeling very hungry — just shook her head. At that, he asked if she might like a glass of water. “OK,” she acquiesced. But she quickly changed her mind: “Gimme… gimme cocoa, Bob.
“My name is Arnold,” said Arnold, and then announced that the cook had been tiptoeing around on eggshells all morning and was preparing trampled eggs for breakfast. Without waiting for further comment, he turned and headed off toward the kitchen.
After a few moments of silence, the March Hare asked Alice, “Just exactly how tall are you, little girl?”
Remembering that she that she had, in fact, been very, very little, and also awfully big, but forgetting which one she was at the moment, asked back, “Do you mean my height right now, or my ex-height?”
“What’s the difference?” asked the March Hare.
“That,” said Alice with great pride in her knowledge of arithmetic terminology, “depends on the minuet and the subterfuge.”
“Never mind,” replied the Hare, “if you don’t know then I’ll ask the Hatter. Hatter! How tall are you?”
The Hatter had just a moment ago removed his elegant top hat and replaced it with a baseball cap with an MH on the front. “What?” he asked.
“How tall are you?” the Hare repeated.
“Do you mean my top hat height or my cap height?” asked the Hatter. “What’s the point?”
“Size matters!” barked the Hare.
Alice was about to say, “That’s not what the Caterpillar said,” but just then Arnold arrived with the breakfast, and all discussion of height was instantly forgotten. “But more to the point,” the Hare grumbled, “that’s my hat you’re wearing. That’s what MH stands for, you know. ‘My Hat’.”
“Exactly,” the Hatter replied. “If it were your hat, it would say ‘YH.’”
“What hat?” asked Alice.
“Have it your way,” the Hare said to the Hatter, ignoring Alice’s question.
Meanwhile, Arnold had put a plate of trampled eggs at each of the places at the table whether someone was sitting there or not. The Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Dormouse bowed their heads, and so Alice did the same. Arnold then went around the table and collected all the plates he had just delivered. As soon as he had left, they all raised their heads and carried on just as though nothing had happened. The Dormouse, who had fallen asleep the moment he had bowed his head, awoke thirty seconds later and asked the March Hare, “How many eggs did you eat?”
“Ate two,” boasted the March Hare. “Brew Tea!”
Once again, the conversation faltered for a minute or two. The Hatter was the first to interrupt the sound of silence. “What day of the month is it?” he said, turning to Alice: he had taken his watch out of his pocket, and was looking at it uneasily, shaking it every now and then, and holding it to his ear.
Ignoring his question, the March Hare blurted out, “There’s no time for your watch and chain!”
Alice, in turn, ignored the Hare, thought for a moment, and then answered, “The second.”
“Agh! I’m off by two days.” sighed the Hatter. “I told you not to lubricate my watch with butter!” he added, looking angrily at the March Hare. “You should’ve used cream!”
“It was the best butter,” the March Hare meekly replied.
“I got that watch in Tel Aviv,” mourned the Hatter. “Butter is not good for the Israeli gears. I feel completely derailed.”
“It was the best butter,” the March Hare repeated.
“Well, butter might have worked, but some crumbs must have gotten in there as well,” the Hatter grumbled: “you shouldn’t have put it in with the bread-knife.”
“Our crumbs are all over the kitchen sink,” whimpered the March Hare. “That must be where they got on the knife.” He took the watch from the Mad Hatter and looked at it gloomily. Then he dipped it into his cup of tea, and looked at it again, but he could think of nothing better to say than his first remark, “It was the best butter, you know.”
“Don’t cry,” encouraged Alice.
“It’s my party,” replied the Hare, by way of an explanation.
Alice had been looking over his shoulder with some curiosity, and decided to change the subject. “What a funny watch!’ she remarked. “It tells the date and the month, but it doesn’t tell what time it is!’
The Mad Hatter brightened up a bit. “Best of all,” he said, “this watch tells the holidays, all throughout the year. Let me show you.” And here he paused and pointed directly at his watch. “First, of course, is New Ears Day, in honor of Van Wendt. Then we all lovingly sympathize our watches on Same Valid Times Day. Then in quick succession come the Today-old-Question spring holidays: Bomb Someday, and Feaster, Some Bad Tricks Day, and Best Offer.”
Alice interrupted him: “Wait. I’ve never heard of some of these holidays. To begin with, what’s ‘Today-old-Question’?”
The Mad Hatter patiently explained, “It refers to two of the great religions: Todayism and Tomorrowism. The Dozin’ People, like our friend the Dormouse, are mainly concerned about the present, while others, who practice Questianity, are more focused on the future. What else would you like to know?”
“The other holidays sound kind of familiar,” said Alice, “but what is ‘Feaster?’”
“In the spring,” the Hatter explained, “Questions are most consumed with the traditional Feaster Famine. First they have a famine, and then the Feaster bunny brings their eggs, just as Arnold brought ours.” He paused, looking around as if he were wondering if Arnold might be returning soon with more eggs. He then continued: “Getting back to my watch: In Baltimore, they celebrate the beginning of summer at the ball park with a day of silence: Mime Oriole Day. And you don’t want to miss In The Pen Dance Day — there’s simply nothing quite like a capitalist pig in a polka. Label Day marks the end of summer, and that means that soon there’ll be a concert with everyone from Rush to ShaNaNa—”
“That’s my favorite one sho far,” trumpeted the March Hare.
“If you like that one,” continued the Hatter. “here’s another one —it’s called Yum! Kippers! But oddly, no one eats anything — even herring — all day. It’s a very solemn occasion, but it’s over fast. Then, on Hilo Wahine, everyone on the big island dresses up in costumes. And every one and their monkey’s uncle loves Frank’s Gibbon Day. The year ends on a lighter note with Harmonica and Grimace.”
“Does your watch have the saints days?” asked Alice, who had suddenly developed an interest in Questianity.
“Well, of course! St. George’s day is celebrated in the spring. Oh, my Lord, it’s a quiet holiday. It can just drag on and on. Isn’t that a pity? And there’s St. John’s day. Oh, no one really loses their head, but people do play mind games. Just imagine! Then there’s St. Paul’s day — why, it seems like it was only yesterday! I’m be amazed at how long ago that actually was!”
“I could do with less Paul,” said the March Hare. “I always liked St. Peter best.”
“Always marching to a different drummer, aren’t you?” was the Hatter’s unfriendly retort. But then he added, “Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I knock it…”
Hoping to avert any more unpleasantness, Alice re-directed the conversation: “But the watch doesn’t tell the time!”
“Why should it?” muttered the Hatter, getting up from the table. “Does your watch tell you what year it is?”
“Of course not,” Alice replied. “Mine is just the opposite from his.”
“Well, your watch is clockwise and calendar foolish,” replied the Hare. “The Hatter’s is counter-clockwise.”
“Right!” said the Hatter, as he walked around the table. He looked as though he were wondering where he should stop.
Alice was dreadfully puzzled. The Hare’s remark seemed to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly said in English. “I don’t quite understand you,” she said, as politely as she could.
“Does anyone know what time it is, really?” asked the Hare.
“Twenty five!” suggested the Hatter, sitting cross-legged on the floor. “Or…or… six-two-four!”
“Chicken in the car, car won’t go,” replied the Hare.
“It’s only the beginning, I’m afraid, but time flies,” mused the Hatter.
“Time flies. You can’t. They’re too fast,” observed Alice.
“Time won’t let me,” explained the Hatter.
The March Hare chimed in: “A grouchy man once said, ‘time flies like an arrow.’”
“A narrow what?” asked Alice.
“Never mind.” Said the Hare.
The Hatter perked up again: “A narrow mind? What a waste.”
“A narrow waist is terrible thing to mind,” concluded the March Hare.
“That’s an old arrow’s myth,” objected the Hatter.
“Dream on,” was the Hare’s retort.
A few moments passed, as everyone seemed to ponder that last exchange. Alice suspected that there had been something of a communication breakdown. “I don’t want to miss a thing,” thought Alice, “but I feel like I’m missing a lot!”
The March Hare sipped his tea. Alice turned to him and asked, “What kind of tea are you drinking?”
The Hare replied, “It’s called ‘Diversa’ tea. It’s not my favorite, but it’s politically correct, you know.”
“Ah, yes. P.C. tea,” commented the Hatter. “Would you like to find out what that means to me?”
“Maybe just a little bit,” answered Alice, but the Hatter had nothing further to say. So Alice turned to the March Hare and asked, “Then what is your favorite tea?”
“Ooh, long time since anyone asked me that question,” replied the Hare. I’d hoppily run to the kitchen for some Earl Grey —”
The Hatter clasped his hands next to his cheek and pretended to flirt with the Hare: “Gee, darling, that’s what kind the Duchess likes!” He then pulled back and tried to look as ugly as the Duchess. He went on: “It matches her name, her looks and her personality.”
“— and,” continued the Hare, ignoring the Hatter’s interruption, “I’d walk for a chamomile. But the king of teas? I’d bang the gong for some green tea. I get it on a regular basis.
The Hatter, whose comment about the Duchess had been ignored, changed the subject: he was holding up the watch again, and staring at it. “When you face your watch,” he reflected, “you can watch your face!”
A few seconds of awkward silence followed. “For that, my wordy pal, I have a looking glass,” pointed out the March Hare, looking straight at Alice.
“I don’t,” said Alice. “I threw the looking glass over the mantle-piece.”
“A pity,” commiserated the Hatter. “If I had a looking glass, I could watch the watch’s face and the hands would go backwards.”
“If it had hands,” said the March Hare. “Which yours doesn’t.”
© 2005-2009 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas