Home Fiction Humor Essays Books

Public service with a smile

A Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie story by Greg Swann

In America you get food to eat
Won't have to run through the jungle and scuff up your feet
You'll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day
It's great to be an American

--Randy Newman, Sail Away

"Service will empower you as no mere selfish pursuit ever can."

The Judas Goat said that. And perhaps it's unfair of me to call him a judas goat, but it's not in my nature to play fair. He was a fat gray haired high-yellow black man who hid his fat by puffing up his chest to ungainly proportions. He wore a military tunic festooned with stripes and stars and ribbons and gewgaws, the talismans of a long and very political career. And it is a brutal irony of post-bellum American life that we will call a man who is seven-eighths white a black man, but we will never call a man who is one-eighth black a white man.

"Service will aim your aimlessness. Service will organize your disorganization. Service will fill your time as it fills your pockets. You'll be a volunteer, but you'll be a paid volunteer. And you won't have to decide whether or not to volunteer; we've decided for you."

He was speaking before a high school assembly way downtown. Not in the ghetto, precisely, but that doesn't matter much these days. The audience was all black and brown and the few white faces in the crowd belonged to the teachers and administrators, all of whom send their children to private schools even though the high school is not in the ghetto, not precisely.

"It's the perfect public-private partnership. The public--that's me--decides that you will volunteer, decides where you will volunteer, decides how you will volunteer, decides how you will be compensated. And you--you privates--will be my partners." He smiled and I was close enough to see the nature of his smile and it was a smile that could chill the blood of Mephisto himself.

"So we volunteers, except we ain't." A scrawny little Attempted Rap Star said that. "We volunteers, except we got no choice. And we volunteers, except we get paid. And we volunteers, except we can't stop when we had enough. It's like a job, except we can't pick it and we can't quit it."

"Exactly!" said the Judas Goat. "You're a very smart young fellow. You might be a crew boss in short order."

"A slave driver, more like it."

"Did you say slavery?! How dare you speak of slavery to me! This isn't slavery! We're doing this to the white children, too!"

"Say what? You got a job you can't quit, you a slave!" Some of the kids clapped, but quite a few of them jeered.

"Well, what of it?" the Judas Goat countered. "Do you think the slaves were worse off in the tobacco fields or the cotton fields? If you think about the gangbangers and the welfare mothers, wouldn't they be better off earning an honest living picking cotton?"

That lit the fuse. America is a sleeping giant, but sometimes it can arouse itself for an instant between snores. An angry grumble rumbled through the crowd.

The Judas Goat was prepared, of course. You don't get stripes and stars and ribbons and gewgaws and talismans for nothing. He said, "You might argue that simply working for a living is all the public service anyone needs to do. Think about a black doctor, for instance. In his working life, he might save a life a week, fifty lives a year. If we chop out two years of his career with a mandatory stint as a volunteer, that's a hundred dead black patients isn't it?"

More grumbling, somewhat subdued by the unfair demands of mathematics.

"But think of all the money that money-grubbing doctor is taking out of the ghetto! What's one life or a hundred lives compared to his gouging, money-grubbing ways?! He should be compelled to give something back to the community, the community he's sucking the lifeblood out of!"

Stomp, stomp, stomp! Clap, clap, clap! Americans of all colors can be counted upon to despise the people who keep them alive and to revere the people who kill them.

The Attempted Rap Star tugged at his chin and said, "What the hell you talkin' about? You talkin' about people dyin', man. You talkin' about killin' people so you can order us around like slaves!"

The Judas Goat rolled his eyes and smirked. He had the tunic and the trousers and the necktie and the talismans and the pose and the poise--and the microphone. The Attempted Rap Star had Ebonics and no allies.

"This is bullshit!" The Attempted Rap Star looked all around the auditorium. No allies.

"You need the needy," said the Judas Goat. "And the needy need you."

"And he got all the guns, so what the hell you gonna do...?"

The Judas Goat winced. He nodded to the sergeant-at-arms, who threaded his way through the crowd and provided a substantive support for the Attempted Rap Star's elbows.

"It's not slavery, it's service. It's not slavery, it's volunteering. It's not slavery, you'll be compensated. It's not slavery, it's only two years. It's not slavery, it's universal, everybody has to serve."

"It's not slavery," said the Attempted Rap Star in obvious pain, "because he say it ain't!"

The sergeant-at-arms was a beefy white boy, a chiseled crew-cut blonde haired weight-lifter, the pride of the master race. In a couple of seconds the Attempted Rap Star was suspended by his hands and feet like a calf at a rodeo--or a slaughterhouse.

"It's not slavery," the Judas Goat said in a sly parody of the Attempted Rap Star's Ebonics, "because I say it ain't." He smiled again and Mephisto's blood froze.

Postscript: Liberals and conservatives alike have been plotting for many years to institute two years of mandatory youth "service" in the United States. Bill Clinton and Colin Powell are the current judas goats of this foul movement, and the seemingly harmless programs they propose are simply trial balloons for full-blown national youth slavery. If you think slavery for black people was wrong--and god help you if you don't!--then logic demands that you agree that slavery for young people is equally wrong--no matter what the motive, no matter what the compensation. In America, we are all free to pursue our own destiny. If we surrender that freedom, we are doomed. If you care about this, do something. Send this story to your local paper with my compliments. Write to congress, speak to your clergyman, ask your neighbors to stand up for their children. More information about this issue can be found at


Permission is explicitly granted to repost/reprint/republish unmodified.

Home Fiction Humor Essays Books