Alice in the Market


October 09, 1991|By KATHERYN G. McGILL

The center of the market was dominated by a large red, white and blue canopy. Still seeking the White Rabbit, Alice had left Tweedledum and Tweedledee far behind, up the hill, exhausted in fits of glee after their poem.

As she approached the market, she could make out hundreds of people milling around amidst muffled noises. A row of traffic cones stood in front of the canopy, on either side of a large gate. A guardsman, dressed in camouflage, paced back and forth. As Alice approached, he stepped forward.

''I say, Ms. Are you here to buy, trade or sell?''

''Buy, trade, or sell what?'' asked Alice.

''Why, wetlands, of course. This is the National Unified Decentral Wetlands Market to Achieve No Net Loss,'' replied the guardsman. ''NUDWMTANNL for short.''

Alice's eyes brightened, ''No net loss? Is the White Rabbit in there?''

The guardsman looked at Alice in astonishment. ''In there? The White Rabbit? Ha! Ha! Ha! Surely you jest. The White Rabbit is off fulfilling other commitments he's made. But his trusted lieutenants are here, faithfully meeting his goal. Why, the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter have just opened today's session.''

At the far side of the canopy, in front of the crowd, Alice could make out a long table on a raised platform. The Red Queen and the Mad Hatter were seated at the center with many empty chairs on either side. The Red Queen was dressed in a scarlet robe with a white scarf and a simple tiara.

The Mad Hatter had on a business suit with a white, button-down shirt and a conservative tie. On his head was a formal top hat that made him look very important. Behind the table, on a pedestal, was a huge balance with two large pans dangling on chains, one on each side. The turmoil among the crowd in front of the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter was growing intense, with much shouting and waving of arms.

''Oh, it could get vicious in there!'' said the guardsman, getting very nervous and starting to finger the 9mm Uzi assault rifle slung over his shoulder. ''They're starting to run out of pfennifungs!''

''Pfennifungs?'' exclaimed Alice, recalling the wadded paper Tweedledum and Tweedledee had given her. ''Why I've got some pfenn . . .'' Too late, she caught herself.

''You have pfennifungs?'' gasped the guardsman. He produced a bugle and sounded a military charge. The gate swung open, and the crowd parted to form an aisle down to the center of the table where the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter sat.

''Ah, finally. Alice, come bring your pfennifungs and join the market,'' called the Mad Hatter.

As Alice approached the table, she looked at the crowd around her. Some were in business suits, some in work clothes, some in hard hats. Many wore the apparel of ex-savings & loan officials. The crowd was now a mob, applauding vigorously and chanting, ''To market, to market to buy a wet ditch. Easy ride home again, without a hitch.''

''Alice, put your pfennifungs here on the table,'' commanded the Mad Hatter.`

''But, please,'' said Alice, stepping back from the table. ''Just what are pfennifungs and what do you need them for?''

The mob grew silent. A quiet murmur escaped several slick-looking business men who shook their heads and rolled their eyes in disbelief. The Red Queen turned to the Mad Hatter. ''Maybe we should try a more delicate approach,'' she whispered.

''Alice,'' said the Red Queen. ''Pfennifungs are the way we save this nation from the loss of wetlands that threatens us all. They are the way we save the fragile, little creatures who depend on wetlands. The mighty striped bass and diaphanous shrimp that live in our coastal waters. The beautiful egrets that grace the fringes of our wetlands across this land. The countless flocks of migrating birds that fly over our blessed continent and depend on wetlands for their lives.''

The crowd was hushed, reverential, as the Red Queen continued. ''Pfennifungs are the way we reduce pollution. They save our ground-water supplies and protect our coasts from storms. Pfennifungs are the currency to protect the heritage left to us by the founding fathers. They are the scrip that reduces uncertainty and eliminates risk to maintain a good capitalist system in America.''

The Red Queen was standing, her arms outstretched, her tone soft and spiritual. The Mad Hatter's eyed teared. Overcome with emotion, the Queen collapsed in her seat.

The Mad Hatter motioned Alice to come close. ''Alice.'' He spoke in a low, earnest voice. ''People, with their god-given creativity, make new wetlands and achieve no net loss. Good American people with their property rights, and without government interference, can develop and destroy old wetlands. But in that destruction is the seed of new birth. The restoration or creation of much more.

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