| "Powerless" |
|Type of Appearance:||Direct POV|
|Nationality:||West Coast People's Democratic Republic|
|Date of Birth:||21st century(?)|
|Occupation:||Grocer, warehouse clerk|
|Children:|| Nikita (son)|
Charles Raymond "Charlie" Simpkins was a citizen of the West Coast People's Democratic Republic. He, his wife Lucille, and their children Nikita and Sally resided in a one-bedroom apartment in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, California.
Simpkins had lived his whole life as a citizen of the WCPDR, and by the age of 38, had developed a deep cynicism about the whole system. He'd even done a month on a labor gang after punching a man in the nose during a barroom brawl who turned out to be member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the WCPDR. Despite this cynicism, he was fairly content to go along with the system, even managing a state-owned grocery store.
However, one day, as a new political season got underway, Simpkins realized he'd reached the end of his rope. After greeting Manuel Gomez, who ran the shop next door, Simpkins entered his shop and found that the Party had sent him a poster proclaiming "Workers of the World, Unite!" Disgusted with being stuck with what he considered the "stalest chestnut on the tree", Simpkins had an epiphany: for all its proclamations of unity and equality, the WCPDR was not unified or equal, and he'd had enough. Realizing he'd likely get in trouble, Simpkins threw the poster in the trash, and opened for the day.
His customers didn't notice. Vissarion Gomez, Manuel's son, did notice. After Simpkins confirmed that he'd received a poster and just hadn't put it up, the incredulous Vissarion told Simpkins it was his funeral and left. At closing time, Manuel Gomez came over to see for himself. He, too, warned Simpkins that this was a bad idea, but Simpkins was resolute, so Gomez simply wished him luck.
When he arrived home and told Lucile what he'd done, she was far less sanguine about his decision. He convinced her he couldn't take it anymore, and managed to get her to forgot about it for the time being. For a few days, he got away with it, although Lucille warned him that the authorities would notice. In the end she was right.
Simpkins was finally confronted by Mary Ann Hannegan, who ran an apartment-rental office a few doors down from Simpkins' store. She was also the Party block chairman and an associate member of the West Valley Central Committee. While she attempted to convince Simpkins to put the sign up and rectify his mistake, Simpkins declined. When she began threatening his family, he asked her how she could stand working for the Party if she had to threaten people to get them to comply. She left without answering.
Four days later, he learned he was no longer running the fruit-and-vegetable shop, and that he'd been transferred to a warehouse in Studio City. While Lucille was unhappy, what Simpkins found most frustrating was the fact that it was twice as far by bus to Studio City from his apartment as it had been to the grocery. Once again, Lucille asked him if putting up the poster would have been easier. For a brief moment, Simpkins was worried that she would take their children and leave, preferring to divorce him for being politically unreliable. Instead, she made it clear she was staying.
That Monday, he went to work in the warehouse. The manager, Comrade Emmett Muldberg, immediately made it clear that he didn't like Simpkins. While Simpkins did his best to stay off of Muldberg's radar, after several days of moving various items around by hand, he asked Muldberg why the warehouse men didn't have dollies. Muldberg snapped that they didn't, and that was all. The next day, Simpkins took an old baby stroller to the warehouse, and proved to be an even more efficient worker.
However, Muldberg didn't see it that way. When the rest of the warehouse workers started bringing in their own homemade dollies (and improved their own efficiency), Muldberg summoned Simpkins to his office. While Simpkins assumed he'd be commended for his initiative, Muldberg instead took him to task for being disruptive and for making a mockery of the warehouse's work norms. He pronounced that all wheeled conveyances would be banned the next day. When Simpkins pointed out that the truck drivers who carried the items to the shops used dollies, Muldberg was unmoved; warehouse policy forbade wheeled conveyances.
By this point, the other employees had also grown used to their conveyances. One of Simpkins' co-workers, Dornel Banks, loudly challenged Comrade Muldberg when he posted the new policy. Another co-worker, a wiry man named Eddie, seemed more philosophical. The warehouse employees followed the directive.
When election day finally arrived, Muldberg made a point of reminding the employees that it was their duty to vote. One of Simpkins' co-workers, Dave expressed quiet disdain for the electoral process. When Simpkins arrived at his polling place, he studied his ballot for a time, and decided not to vote for the CPWCPDR candidates, but he also refused to vote for any Democrats, Republicans or Progressives who were permitted to run, since they were still part of the system. His decision made, he placed his blank ballot in the box. The CPWCPDR won handily in California.
The next day, Eddie presented Simpkins with a petition to Muldberg's superiors to use dollies on the floor. While Simpkins expressed doubt, he signed. The following Monday, Muldberg confronted the men about their petition, promising retribution. On Wednesday night, Simpkins learned that Nikita had been thrown out of the Falcons (the Party's youth organization) because his father was an "unreliable reactionary." When Lucille once again pointed out that putting up the poster would have been easier, Simpkins asked her how she could support a party that hurt the son to get at the father.
In response, Simpkins complained about Muldberg's inefficiency at the required monthly political meeting for his block. He concerns fell on deaf ears at the meeting. Moreover he was visited by Agent Rasmussen of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). While Simpkins once again expressed his frustration with Muldberg, Rassmussen called Simpkins an unreliable, and made it clear he wanted to send Simpkins to the prison camp at Manzanar. When Simpkins asked Rassmussen why he wasn't at Manzanar, Rassmussen explained his lieutenant thought Simpkins was powerless.
Simpkins still plugged along, and was punished in little ways. Muldberg was finally replaced by Comrade Horton Wilder, who was an even worse hard-liner. Simpkins' tobacco ration was cut. His daughter, Sally, turned twelve, but was not let into the Kittens, the girl group that paralleled the Falcons.
After days on reduced rations, he asked Eddie how to get black-market cigarettes. Eddie told him how to meet a dealer. Simpkins bought several packs, and even bought some for his wife. A couple of nights later, he joined Eddie, Dornel, and other co-workers at the local pub, the Valley Relic. At some point, he heard someone complain that they would have to move as a junior commissar wanted his apartment. Simpkins approached the strange man, and, after confirming to their respective satisfaction that they were not NBI men, they briefly and privately groused about their respective situations. Then the man invited Simpkins back to the Valley Relic the next day to talk to somebody else.
Despite getting grief from Lucille, Simpkins met the man named Jack and an older bald man named Ervin. Ervin explained how their particular form of opposition would have to work: rather than moving to change the system, they would have to build up "breathing room" within the system to allow ordinary citizens to go about their business. Further, he assured Simpkins that the "powerless" had more power than they thought. The state could take things away, but since the people had little to begin with, they had little to lose. Ervin recommended Simpkins ask questions in public, and to check the laws of the WCPDR.
Simpkins did exactly that. When the next block meeting came around, the block chairman announced that the West Valley Central Committee was going to tear down an apartment building and replace it with housing for Party members. No consideration had been given to the residents of the old building. When he was finally recognized by the block chairman, Simpkins asked if the Committee considered the applicable law, which prohibited the taking of private property for public use without just compensation. In short order, the people attending the meeting demanded the Committee follow the law. The block chairman blurted out that the Committee didn't have the money to compensate for the apartments. With the Committee trapped, Simpkins moved that the building be left standing and that the Party center be placed at another location. He was quickly seconded. When the block chairman agreed to pass the popular opposition to the Committee, the crowd carried Simpkins out on their shoulders. Lucille still quietly reminded him that there would be consequences.
Five days later, they learned that their applications for a car and televisions had "errors" in them, and that they were now several years further away from getting either item. While Lucille lamented the unfairness of the situation, Simpkins reminded her that they probably weren't going to get either a car or a TV, anyway, so they really hadn't lost anything. Lucille realized he was right.
A few evenings later, Simpkins met Ervin at the Valley Relic. Ervin had heard about what Simpkins did, and congratulated him. When Simpkins asked if the Party would every just wither away and die, Ervin admitted he didn't know when, but that it would happen. Simpkins ordered drinks for them both.
- ↑ Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction September/October, 2018, ebook.