Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews   entry Sept 2015   Allegro ma non troppo #20  (revised, original pub. date, Lion Magazine, 1990)

Do Not Read this Under Penalty of Law


With the 2000 loser-take-all US election debacle fast fading from the frayed dendrites of our short-term memory, I can once again hold my head high and look Neapolitans in the eye when they question America's commitment to participatory democracy. If they get too snide with me, I casually chime in with a tidbit that shall forever tinntinabulate in the belfry of human liberty.

The long night is over. Far be it from me to make light of the Magna Carta or 'Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness' or The Rights of Man or, indeed, even the crumbling of the Berlin Wall. Those are all truly momentous events in our age-old struggle to burst the shackles of tyranny. But compared to what is now going on in the US, they are but fire-flies circling the sun, for I have just read that in many states in the US, it is no longer illegal to tear the tags off of bedding items!

Some of you may not know what I'm talking about. Some of you are from societies that have never known aught else but the sunlit uplands of mattress deregulation. Some of you have never awakened in a cold sweat in the night sobbing, "God! Is it still there?! —and your loved one's "Hush, my Dearest, it's all right" was in vain and nothing helped until you rolled onto your stomach and reached down and around and found the tag and then and only then with it reassuringly clenched in your fingers could you drift back into fitful slumber to wait for the nightmares that always returned. Some of you have never spent fearful cold hours after lights-out in the escape tunnels beneath the Stalag, sewing fake tags onto Resistance mattresses to fool the Gestapo. Some of you have never felt the agonized suspense that grips an entire community when the latest tall stranger rides into town and starts nosing around. Is it him? Has he come at last? The Mattress Inspector?! And some of you imagine that you have known real oppression. Hah! I say, hah!

My friends, I am speaking of the tag that says…wait, what does it say? Hold on, I'll be right back. (Yes, I'm really going to do it…).

(Three minutes later). Uh-oh. It's gone. Now that I think about it, it was during one of my spells of intense anti-social activity years ago… right before I had to…uh… 'go away' for a while. (This may mean that my marriage has never legally been consummated. I hope the Vatican doesn't get wind of this.) Anyway, the tag said something like: "Under penalty of law do not remove this tag."

Although each new link in the chain of human liberty resounds proudly upon the anvil in the smithy of my soul, (we forge metaphors, too —30% off, all this week) freedom has its price, and it is not without a certain wistfulness, a poignancy, that I view the legalization of mattress tag tearing-offing. Look at it this way: another victimless crime has disappeared, and now there is one less chance to thrill at breaking the law without actually hurting another person. Who knows? Today, it's legal to tear off that hated tag, tomorrow maybe it's legal to jaywalk at three a.m. without a single human being or single car in sight (which I once got a ticket for, because out of sight there was a single copper on a single motorcycle). Then, in order to satisfy the phantom rogue, the Robin Hood within you, you really will have to start knocking over liquor stores. So, tear off the tag, yes, let freedom ring, yes, rejoice, yes, but shed a secret tear, too. After all, maybe it wasn't the only illegal thing you could do involving a mattress, but it did have the least potential to come back to haunt you if you ever decided to run for president.


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