The Optimist Police
by Sarina Dorie
Tony had done a good job faking optimism most of his life, but recently with the new surge in Optimist Force technology, he’d been caught twice. The first time at a restaurant, the second in a theater. As if the acting in the movie hadn’t been bad enough to ruin his date, the police trampling over theatergoers to get to him wasn’t exactly a romantic way to end the evening.
“Happy thoughts,” Tony muttered as he walked along the street of boutiques and specialty shops. “Happy thoughts, happy—don’t let them catch me. Happy—Oh, shit, did I turn off the oven?” He pushed a handful of his black hair away from his itching eyes, took a deep breath and sneezed. Damned allergies. Why did there have to be so many trees in this stupid city? He’d woken up to hay fever, he’d failed to deliver two pizza’s within the forty minute time limit while at work, and now he had to go to his thirtieth birthday party and see his annoying family. This was the shittiest day ever.
A siren sounded the next street over. Tony quickened his pace, hoping to lose himself in the crowd of Saturday shoppers on the street of trendy little shops. He could still get those cannoli shells from Pastaworks if he hurried.
A large man blocking the sidewalk in front of Tony exclaimed in a cloying voice, “What a beautiful day we’re having!”
Tony glanced up at the typical, overcast Oregon sky. A raindrop plopped on his nose. “Don’t say it,” he told himself. “Don’t look at them...think happy...singing in the rain...”
“Mommy, I stepped in dog poo!” said a little girl of about seven. She crinkled up her nose in disgust.
Tony smiled in spite of himself. At least children thought like normal people.
“Worse things do happen,” chirped the mother.
“Yeah, I’m lucky I didn’t slip in it. I’m lucky I didn’t get struck by lightning. I’m lucky I didn’t have to take a math test.”
They sounded like robots programmed for happiness. How did they do it? Even children made positive thinking sound simple.
Tony looked around. Police officers pushed through the crowd.
“Zippidy do da,” he said. He tried to whistle, but his mouth was dry and he was out of breath.
They were going to catch him again, and this time he’d probably be sent to work in a coal mine.
“Blip blip bleeeeeeeep,” the police scanners sounded as they approached.
Damn it, he had to stop doing it. Just keep his thoughts light and happy and their scanners wouldn’t pick up any readings from his “pessimist chip,” and they’d pass him by. If he was lucky.
“There he is!” shouted a police officer from up ahead. He pointed straight at Tony.
The other shoppers on the sidewalk shrank back as if he might infect them.
“It’s one of them!” a man said.
A woman yanked her son away. “Don’t let him come near my child.”
Tony would have rolled his eyes had the circumstances been different. But at the moment, he was more concerned about being caught . . . again. Tony raced through the parting sea of people toward the Super X-Mart down the street. Two police officers were closing in. Tony ran across a street, dodging oncoming traffic.
“Shit! I’m going to get myself killed,” Tony said as a car swerved out of the way.
Beeeep beeeeeeeeeeeeeep a nearby scanner sounded.
Tony ran in front of another car that slammed on the breaks.
“You’re lucky I didn’t hit you!” yelled the driver.
Tony ran into the giant grocery store, hoping to hide. He looked up. Oh shit, they had surveillance cameras. Tony snatched up a basket, slowed his pace and tried to breathe deeply and clear his mind, just like they’d taught him to in the required optimist classes he’d taken in school. He paced the diaper aisle where he could be alone for a moment.
Breathe in unicorns and flowers...breathe out yucky, bad thoughts...breathe in rainbows and
Armani suits...breathe out negativity... He sneezed. Damn those allergies.
Somewhere nearby a scanner approached. Blip blip beeeeep.
If only optimists hadn’t taken over the country after the war and required citizens to—No, he wasn’t going there. Happy, happy. Attracting positive energy. Like attracts like.
“I am the architect of my own freakish universe,” he said, plastering a smile on his face.
“Good for you, dear.”
He whirled around to find an elderly lady placing a package of Depends in her cart. A police officer walked by the aisle, staring into the monitor of his hand-held pessimist monitor.
Blip blip blip.
Bunnies and snowflakes. Chocolate and cigarettes imported illegally from New Los Angeles.
The police officer passed the aisle.
Tony casually rounded a corner, placing more distance between him and the officer. He picked up a box and stared intently at it, trying to look not guilty. Laxative and now in mint flavor. Too bad he hated mint.
He had to think of something happy fast. He wasn’t constipated. He didn’t need laxative. That was positive, right?
The police officer passed by, stopping briefly in front of a grumpy looking elderly man with five boxes of the laxative in his cart. How he didn’t set the radar off, Tony didn’t know. He probably was excluded from the optimist policy due to age.
While the police hunted him, there was only one place Tony could slip into oblivion and be free of all thought; the electronics section where he could watch television. It wasn’t far, just past the books. That was a positive thought, right? He could do this. He usually did okay, it was just that he’d had a crappy—no, he wouldn’t go there. He was doing a great job. He could be an optimist.
Tony strolled over to the TV’s. A presidential speech blared from the loudspeakers. It wasn’t the MTV he’d hoped for, but at least he liked the newly elected president. See, there was a positive thought.
“We’ve been plagued by one kind of terrorism or another for over a hundred years. It’s about time we stopped it,” came the president’s southern drawl. The elected president was cloned with the popular traits of previous presidents; George Washington’s face, George Bush’s voice and Ronald Reagan’s brain. Though with their luck, Ronny’s brain would be post Alzheimer’s.
An alarm went off in the store. Fuck, he’d just done it again. He had to think of something optimistic.
At least . . . at least the current president was better than...than...the Arnold Schwarzenegger, J. Edgar Hoover and a pit bull mix like the last one.
The siren stopped. Ok, mindless TV. He stared at President Wa-Bu-Gan’s lips.
“With today’s technology, we don’t need to rely on telephone tracking or the internet to find our terrorists. We can receive messages from the chips implanted in a suspect’s brains and monitor his thoughts. When words like ‘can’t,’ ‘won’t,’ ‘shouldn’t,’ ‘just my luck’ and other pessimistic phrases come up, it will alert the Optimist Force. This, ladies and gentlemen, is your tax dollars at work.”
A roar of applause erupted from the loudspeakers. Tony scratched his head. Hadn’t the president been talking about terrorists a moment ago? Terrorism was supposed to be a safe topic he could agree with.
Blip blip bleeeeeeeep.
Tony jumped, expecting to see an officer. No one was there.
Ring, ring, riiiiiiiiiing. Oh, it was his cell phone. What a relief. That was one optimistic thought right there.
Tony flipped the phone open. “Hello?”
The unmistakable Italian accent of his mother crackled over the cell phone. “Bambino, have you picked up mia cannoli shells yet?”
It grated on his nerves to hear her peasant dialect of Italian. The way she confused masculine and feminine was like the Ebonics of Romance languages. “Um, no, not yet, Ma. I, ah, had to make a detour.” He backed away from the TV’s to hear her. There was an advertisement for the newest Disney movie, Bambi’s Mother is Resurrected. It looked better than the last remake, Eeyore’s Happy Day.
“I hear music. You at a strip club?”
Tony ground his teeth. “No, I’m at the grocery store.” He backed farther away from the TV’s. “Now really isn’t a good time. Can I call you back when—”
“Your brother’s coming over for dinner and bringing the kids so we need at least three more boxes of cannolis.”
“How many cannolis are you making? That’s eighteen more.” Tony glanced over his shoulder. He might be able to make it to the parking lot exit and then slip down the street to Pastaworks. He shuffled toward the door.
“There’s never too many cannolis. I’ll pay you when you get here.”
“Ma, I don’t need you to—”
“Your brother makes more money than you, so he’ll—”
Tony dodged behind an aisle to avoid a police officer. “Ma, I can—”
“If you could only get a decent job that wasn’t at a pizzeria. Maybe you should pick up four more boxes instead of three. I have to make two different kinds. The batch with vanilla for Lucia’s family and the kind with almond for everyone else. Oh, and I need to make some without eggs for Maria. She’s always complaining about a—”
How could Tony not be a pessimist with a family like that? He didn’t know how his brothers and sisters did it. His parents only escaped persecution because they met the age cut-off for the Can’t-Teach-An-Old-Dog-New-Tricks Amendment. That, and they thought in Italian.
“—and I know your Uncle Guido is going to bring that bruta puzzolanda, scuvosa—”
Tony ignored the insult about his uncle’s girlfriend. He was doing incredibly well considering who he was talking to. Maybe it was because his mother was the one doing all the complaining. He could see how the Optimist Force got so popular with people like his mother tainting the country.
Tony peeked around the aisle. He didn’t see any officers. Slowly, he continued toward the exit.
“Spill on aisle three,” said a voice over the loudspeakers, masking what his mother said. It was kind of nice actually. Hmm, there was another positive thought.
“—de matsa vase. Pensa soltanto al sesso,” she ranted in Italian.
“Uh huh, Ma. That’s nice.” Wait, did she just say he was always thinking about sex?
“I shouldn’t even bother making cannolis. No matter what, they won’t taste like mia mama’s.”
Tony glanced over his shoulder. The coast was clear. He was going to make it. Then he stepped into a puddle of oil. Tony slipped, but caught the edge of a shelf and stopped himself from falling. He even managed to hold onto his cell phone. He pulled himself upright. He was lucky. See, that was a good thought.
“Che cosa è il punto? I don’t know why I try.”
“Ma, I gotta—” Tony slid forward into a police officer. “Excuse me, sorry about that. Good thing neither of us fell,” Tony said.
She smiled and nodded before staring back at her radar. Tony beamed. He wasn’t even a blip on her screen. He was doing great! And he could see the exit. He was almost there.
“You aren’t even listening to me, are you, Antonio?” came his mother’s voice from the phone.
“Uh huh. I really should—”
“This is what I get. I sacrifice the best years of my life and this is how you return mia amore. Il mio bambino è una poca merda. I should have called your brother to—”
Tony passed the registers. The door was just a few yards away now. “Ma! I am not a little shit.” Why did she always have to compare him to his brother? He wouldn’t be such a pessimist if he had a normal family. “And by the way, amore is masculine, not feminine. So it would be mio amore—”
Five officers leapt onto Tony and pinned him to the ground. Within seconds he was handcuffed and being led toward a police car.
“Coming through. Nothing to see, folks,” one of the officers said. “Just keeping this country safe from the invisible evils of pessimism.”
Hours later, Tony sat strapped to a chair in a windowless room. The wires taped to his chest sent feedback to screens men and women in lab coats surrounded. The only thing he could see from the chair was the large monitor that displayed spikes in his brainwaves indicating fluctuations of negativity.
An optimist technician whispered to a colleague, “Class C pessimist.”
Whatever that meant, it wasn’t good. As if being a third time offender wasn’t bad enough. Another spike showed up on the monitor.
“He has a ninety percent negativity rate for his thoughts,” a woman in a lab coat said, shaking her head. “You know what happens to offenders like him.”
A man in a black suit strode into the room. The optimist technicians retreated, fear in their rabbit-like eyes. The restraints on Tony’s arms seemed to tighten.
The agent stopped in front of Tony and shook his head. “It’s scum like you who jeopardize the optimist mission of peace, prosperity and goodwill. Conservative optimists are hoping to someday pass laws that will give us the power to execute criminals like you. Until that day, those bleeding heart liberals have alternative measures protecting your rights.”
Tony let out a nervous giggle. See, he still had some rights. Though from the way the man’s eyebrows came together and the deviousness of his smile, Tony couldn’t guess what those rights were. He’d heard of criminals being sent to Alaska to work in mines, oil refineries, or on chain gangs. He hated the cold.
“We’ve tried rehabilitation and shock therapy for some...but you don’t strike us as one a jury would elect for those programs.”
Wasn’t that sort of...a pessimistic statement? Maybe it didn’t count if the man was smiling.
The technicians removed the wires and monitors from the room. One of them unfastened the straps on his arms, though not the ones on his legs. Tony rubbed his wrists.
“You have a choice. You can try your luck in the court system...or we can deport you.”
Tony took in a sharp breath, imagining the worst; some place just as rainy and abysmal as Oregon—if there was such a place. After a long silence, Tony found the courage to ask. “Where will I go?”
“Our current relocation program is outside the country in the penal colony of California. You’ll be shipped to New Los Angeles. The weather isn’t the beautiful overcast we have here, and they don’t have the scenic forests of the Pacific Northwest, but we’re confident you’ll eventually adjust.”
Was this a joke? Everyone normal liked sunny weather. And there weren’t forests of pollinating allergens in New L.A..
“You won’t be allowed contact with your family. We don’t want you to influence the positive residents of this country...”
Again, was this supposed to be a bad thing? He’d never have to pick up cannoli shells or listen to broken Italian again. They were testing him.
“You will have to continue your current occupation unless you request to change occupations with their government...”
What? No digging up sewer lines or working on a chain gang?
The man snorted in disgust. “The people in New L.A. think of themselves as realists. They complain and cast their negative thoughts on others, worry about the future and create their bad luck with their pessimistic thoughts. They can wallow in their self-loathing as they sit drunk in bars that don’t have rules against smoking in buildings. They get what they deserve...”
Yes, golden beaches and gorgeous women in bikinis, sunny and warm weather, palm trees, gorgeous women in bikinis, lots of good Mexican restaurants, freedom of thought and...gorgeous women in bikinis. Tony sighed with longing, wishing he were there already.
The man watched him, eyes narrowing. Tony crossed his arms and pretended to look downtrodden.
An attendant walked into the room, carrying a portable pessimism detector. She whispered something to the agent.
Tony caught part of what she said. “—Our scanners indicate an unusual amount of optimism...possible candidate for shock therapy.”
The agent nodded. Tony didn’t want shock therapy. He wanted golden beaches and blonde women with little to no clothing. He wanted New L.A.. He tried to think of pessimistic things fast. He’d be stuck in Portland forever, have to put up with his family, be haunted by these constant social-political pressures, and never have the chance to drink good tequila. He’d be miserable for the rest of his life, dreaming of what he’d almost had. He tried harder. Even if he was shipped off to New LA, he would probably miss his family even if they were annoying. They’d probably relocate all the good-looking, bikini-clad women elsewhere right before he arrived.
Blip blip bleeeeeeeeep. The palm-sized machine sounded in alarm at his pessimist thoughts. The woman pressed a few buttons. “Oh, wait. I’m getting a reading. We must have been out of range. The technology is still fairly new. Sorry about that, sir.”
The man grunted. Tony sighed in relief. He just had to stay completely negative a little longer. How was he going to be able to do this when he could almost taste the margaritas and illegal cigarettes?
The man’s cell phone rang and he turned away from Tony, speaking with expressionless monotone. “Oh goody. If they just revoked the Can’t-Teach-An-Old-Dog-New-Tricks Amendment, I’ll be able to spend countless hours convicting more low-life pessimists.”
A chill slid down Tony’s spine. That was the law that kept people like his parents from being deported for their negative thoughts. What did that mean for people like him? Would he still be allowed to be deported?
The man snapped his phone closed and eyed Tony. “By the way, it takes about nineteen hours by bus to get to New L.A.. You’re going to be taking Greyhound. With your mother.”
Tony sank back into his chair and groaned.
The pessimism detector from the other room beeped louder than ever.