I decided to post a sample story from my book, Secrets & Lies, on the blog today. I did that for two reasons. The first is that today is Valentine’s Day, and this story has do with the fallout from just such a day. And the other is that though I initially feared this story might not age well because of its elements of political satire, Congress seems to become more and more of a farce by the day, thereby making this story almost more, instead of less relatable.
The Rise and Fall of the Wally Johnson Act
House resolution 417, popularly known as the Wally Johnson Act, passed in a specially called late night joint session of congress.
Sponsoring senator, Rick Stanford, told the gathered masses that the best way to honor the young man whose death had touched so many, was to take steps to see that the tragic events of February 14th, would never-ever-ever, be repeated.
Due to the general silliness of the proposal, making it illegal to break someone’s heart, all elected officials present believed themselves to be the only ones who had voted for it, discovering afterwards that it had in fact passed unanimously. No one wanted to be seen as supportive of heartbreak, especially not the kind that drove 22-year-old Wally Johnson to throw himself from his 15th floor apartment window, landing on a sidewalk café table where a divorce support group was having its weekly meeting, a meeting which was being filmed for a feature story on a popular TV news Magazine program, and which captured every grisly detail of the tragedy on film.
Not in an election year anyhow.
A national furor erupted within hours when it was discovered almost no one in congress had read the bill. Some believed it to be a non-binding statement that United States of America stood against heartbreak. Some believed it to be TORT reform, bringing heartbreak under the umbrella definition of emotional damages one could sue for. And some believed it to be a form of criminal assault. However, whatever those who voted for it had believed it to be, they had all voted for it for the purposes of appearance, and as such, no one was willing to be the first to retract their support for it lest they would be accused of waffling, of being a flip-flopper, or even of having philandering or playboy sympathies.
Instead, they claimed that on review, it didn’t go far enough, and pushed for stricter regulations, a war on heartbreak .
Stanford himself said the bill was only the first phase of a bold new direction for the ountry, one free of misery and cruelty—both of which were harmful to the economy.
Broad new powers were awarded law enforcement officials to monitor all of the usual suspects and a special new federal prison nicknamed the honeymoon suite was constructed.
Within weeks, quarterback was the most dreaded position on high school football squads and church groups began protesting the opening of romantic comedy films as vile propaganda, nothing more than attempts to poison the minds of vulnerable children by the Hollywood elite.
No one was more vocal in their support than the Catholic Church, as the Wally Johnson act caused divorce rates to drop sharply. No matter how much they hated each other, couples were wary to risk the jail time.
It quickly became a dark age for daytime TV as tabloid talk show hosts were convicted of conspiracy and racketeering by the score. But conversely, it became a golden age for pop music, as record companies were now willing to sign more talented but less attractive acts. A memo to A&R reps, later acquired and published by the BBC, insisted on a minimum weight of 220 pounds for potential new artists to ensure they wouldn’t have to seek political asylum in France like so many boy bands had already been forced to do.
However, after a few months it became clear that the blue and red states of America were no in way united, that they were in fact cleanly split on the issue, with those who supported the heart’s irrational freedom in all it’s glory and horror labeled as home-wreckers and sociopaths, and those who believed in respecting other’s feelings slandered as brainwashed Orwellian minions. Public school teachers, already under fire for their incitement of childhood crushes, were now subject to rigorous review panels as to whether or not their lesson plans were biased on the issue of heartbreak. Shakespeare’s sonnets were dropped from curricula nationwide and the percentage of class-time devoted to math increased by thirty percent.
The national discussion expanded when several prominent social conservatives wrote op-ed pieces insisting that the bill was tantamount to special rights for perverts, as it exempted homosexuals, who weren’t actually capable of loving one another. Gay rights groups responded that they were every bit as capable of bitter, drawn-out, devastating separations as hetero couples, and cited statistics from a recent study in the Netherlands. A peaceful mass-breakup was scheduled in San Francisco, but turned violent after the governor sent in the National Guard.
Sandra Jackson, Wally’s mother, rejected the legislation perpetrated in her son’s name outright, and staged a sit-in, camping out on Rick Stanford’s lawn, vowing not to leave until America was once again “free to love em’ and leave em’.” Her crusade was not widely supported and an attempt was made on her life by an assassin later found to have late sixties flower child ties.
A coalition of out of work therapists and chocolate manufacturers marched on Washington, demanding compensation. Or revolution. Whichever came first. They brought mini-workout trampolines, branding themselves re-bounders. Rick Stanford laughed off their protest, calling them “buggy whip manufacturers,” in a televised interview, and insisting that profiting off the misery of others was fundamentally anti-American.
The talking heads on TV debated misery-profiteering point back and forth for days, the liberals insisting that capitalism was nothing more than creating the illusion of misery in conjunction with the belief that your product can abate it, and the conservatives insisting that life is inherently miserable and that capitalism is in fact the solution. The greens tried to say that both life and capitalism could be what you made of them, but no one listened to them. The dialogue had become a din, a rhetorical slush so thick, so garbled, that none of the viewers had understood a word of it, only the emotional charge it was infused with.
However, the zeitgeist all came to a stunned and silent halt when Rick Stanford was eventually caught having an affair with a male intern, for his wife, Mary, told the media that devastated as she may be, she was declining to press charges. All she wanted was to move on.
She was quickly drafted into running for her husband’s now-vacant senate seat—he had fled to Syria, as it lacked a formal extradition treaty with the US—and ran on a platform of pain equaling growth. Pop art posters and t-shirts featuring her image and the word pain were everywhere. Now armed with an icon, a totem, opposition to the new national climate grew swiftly, and Mary Stanford was elected in a landslide.
In her first act as an elected official, Mary sponsored a bill revoking the Wally Johnson act, which passed unanimously, allowing Americans to once again gaily wreck each other’s lives on a whim, looking back at the recent years as dark confusing interlude in which they let their compassion run wild, distorting reality and opening the door to tyranny, a door that was now thankfully closed.