Center for Quandary Control

Officials multiply in number while the rest of us dwindle. You can see the signs even in the retail district, where shops that once sold ornamental ironwork, soft cheeses, and live cockatiels now specialize in leather portfolios, card holders, key organizers. At the stationery store they rush to keep up with orders for executive letterheads. More people issue commands than take them. Hardly anyone gives way to anyone else. My shoulders are bruised from failing to avoid other pedestrians who refuse to adjust their trajectories when approaching me from an opposite angle. Don’t you know who I am? Who do you think you are? New departments, bureaus and institutes appear each day, filled with people hired to think for those who lack the capacity for self direction. The Bureau of Expectations, the Office of Inevitabilities, the Center for Quandary Control. It’s a disease, and it’s a relief. It energizes the economy. It boosts society’s collective sense of competence. When I arrive home after a full day of negligible accomplishment and avoidance, my partner asks me to help her peel potatoes for dinner. But the skins are good for you, I say. She slams down her peeler, straightens her uniform, and answers, Really, and who made you the authority?

Fred Muratori’s poetry collections are The Possible and Despite Repeated Warnings. His poems and prose-poems have appeared in Verse, New American Writing, Sentence, LIT, Denver Quarterly, The Boston Review, and The Best American Poetry, among others. He is the Bibliographer for English-Language Literature, Theater and Film at the Cornell University Library.