Once upon a time there was a small city, an ordinary small city, full of people, ordinary everyday people.
One morning the people of the city woke up to find dirty socks all over. They were in the trees in the park, they were along the sides of the streets in front of the banks and real estate offices and department stores and even the school. There were dirty socks on the steps of one church and draped over the tombstones in the cemetery at another. They were under the overpass and over the underpass. Some flew from car antennas like flags while others lay on the well-manicured lawns of the city’s wealthier citizens and on the front steps of the modest homes further out, looking from a distance as if someone had planted a haphazard carpet of flowers everywhere across the manicured grass. Granted, they were colorful socks, all the colors of the rainbow, plus argyle, patterned and even some that looked as if the rainbow had been put together with a Mixmaster. But they all had had things in common: they were dirty, they were everywhere and they didn’t belong where they were.
The people of the city had different thoughts about what to do. The Mayor held a press conference promising to call the City Council into session immediately to study the problem and formulate an appropriate response, hopefully without raising taxes in the process. At the morning prayer services the minister and the priest prayed for deliverance from the potential health hazard the socks could pose as well as for the safety and well-being of those who would have to clean up the mess.
Teachers kept the children inside for fear of air-borne pollutants causing asthma attacks. The Senior Citizen’s lunch brigade issued face masks for their delivery people and the hospital emergency room geared up for a full-fledged epidemic. The drugstore sold out of antibiotic hand cleaner within minutes. Arguments broke out as to whether someone ought to go pick up just socks of one color or one pattern but leave the rest for someone else. The police called out the forensics team to investigate, take samples and rush back to the lab to perform their arcane rites over possible bits of epithelial cells or stray cat hairs. All in all, it was a gigantic mess and nobody seemed to know quite what to do.
Meanwhile the socks stayed. People from the golf club looked at them, looked at their own preferred style of socks and decided it wasn’t their problem because the ones lying around weren’t their socks. They wandered off to the 19th hole to drink, as the other 18 holes were covered in multicolored socks. The mothers in the SUVs taking their children to piano lessons, soccer practice, dance class or karate tried to dodge the socks in the street and warned the children not to touch the socks on their way to and from their various venues. The service workers’ union looked at the situation and found a clause in their contracts that precluded their participation in an activity not specifically enumerated as “their job” like fire, rescue, transportation or refuse pickup of items not placed inside the specified containers or community-approved plastic bags.
People on the street had their own reactions. Some passed by, looking anywhere but where a sock might be and pretending that there really wasn’t anything wrong at all. Some trod a careful path through the socks, being careful not to step on any or come in contact with them at all. Some looked out their windows at home and decided they really didn’t need that milk from the store and even those who had unbreakable appointments they’d waited months to get thought that perhaps the sore tooth or the routine examination could wait another day or two.
Many of the office personnel at the various offices called in sick or claimed they couldn’t get out of their driveways due to the piles of socks the city’s snowplow had tried to use to clear paths for busses and truckloads of emergency equipment and supplies to use. After all, they thought, those socks didn’t belong to them, they weren’t responsible for the socks being there so it was up to someone to find out whose socks they were and compel them to clean up the mess. And so the socks remained.
Finally, somebody noticed something odd. Someone was walking down the street, bending over and not only touching but picking up socks and putting them in a brown paper sack. Not just once but repeatedly, picking up one sock at a time. Then someone saw a little kid pulling a red wagon, also bending over and picking up socks, one at a time, and putting them in the wagon. Neither of them were separating the socks according to color or style. Knee socks, ankle socks, novelty socks, plain, fancy, basic white and wildly colored, they were all the same and all went into the bag or the wagon.
Sighs of relief went up all over town. Everybody returned to their more or less normal busynesses. Almost everybody, that is, all but the person with the sack and the child with the wagon, both of whom, had anybody taken time to notice, weren’t wearing any socks at all — or even any shoes.