THERE WAS NO FENCE AROUND THE MEADOWLAND. Brooks trickled between its willows, pines and Chinese elms, and all paths led to an open-beam pavilion atop a grassy knoll in the center. On a summer Saturday, at noon, balloons of all colors but silver and gold came rushing all at once down the pavilion hill to the east, to the nearby playground, crowded for the first time since the rains. Tethered to the balloons, children of all browns, pinks and ages attacked the sparkling, fire-engine-red swing sets, the banana-yellow monkey bars, the sturdy steel slides with their orange and green ladders, the blue puke-o-matic carousel, the artificial ponies rocking on springs. Children anchored their balloons to wrists, rocks or posts, or released them to the sunny sky. No rules were broken, made or followed: just play.
It went on all afternoon. Giggles and squeals, chases, scuffles, tackles and accords. No bruises, scrapes or cuts were painful enough for tears; no wounds were paraded as trophies.
Clouds gradually eclipsed the sun, and dusk fell, muffling the meadowland in soft grays. Owls, bats and fireflies appeared in the sky, and the children, exhausted at last, bandaged with soil and grass, climbed the steep, steep hill to the pavilion.
Inside, park-department counselors had laid a feast upon the picnic benches: sugar drinks of every flavor and color, peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, potato chips, bananas and oranges. As the children took their seats, the first drops of rain hit the roof.
"Do you have any apples?" a child at the far end of the pavilion asked a nearby counselor. The counselor looked around furtively, then, making certain that no one was listening, dropped down on one knee at the end of the bench and whispered to the child, "How many do you need?"
AT A FEBRUARY 24 DISTRACTION-CONFERENCE meticulously excerpted on all major news networks, Acting DEA Administrator John B. Brown III and Satan's Li'l Helper, John Ashcroft, announced the indictments of 55 dangerous citizens national distributors of drug paraphernalia on charges of trafficking in either illegal-drug paraphernalia or illegal drug-paraphernalia, depending on the Justice Department's needs.
The two nationwide investigations leading to the arrests were called Operation Headhunter and Operation Pipe Dreams. Aren't those the cutest little crime-fighting puns ever? Who would've thought the Justice Department could be so witty? You see, people who use drugs are sometimes called heads, so headhunter, you know . . . funny! And then, as if that wasn't enough, pipe dreams pipes are a kind of drug paraphernalia! Even more funny!
But wait there's more:
"Quite simply," Ashcroft explained shortly after the Justice Department's morning Bible study (really), "the illegal drug paraphernalia industry has invaded the homes of families across the country without their knowledge."
"People selling drug paraphernalia," added Brown, the DEA's acting administrator until Josef Mengele returns from retirement, "are in essence no different than drug dealers. They are as much a part of drug trafficking as silencers are a part of criminal homicide."
"Today's actions," John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, cooed at the cameras, "send a clear and unambiguous message to those who would poison our children: We will bring you to justice, and we will act decisively to protect our young people from the harms of illegal drugs."
WHEN I WAS A YOUNG PERSON DECISIVELY UNPROTECTED from the harms of the Justice Department, I decided to find out what all this marijuana fuss was about. The first pot I smoked was rolled in chlorine-bleached cigarette paper the kind still sold in virtually every convenience store in America. (You can buy lighters there, too.) The effect was pleasant, and the smoldering herb's aroma was appealing, but the burning paper tasted like . . . burning paper. At school, the stoner kids would craft simple pipes in wood shop and more intricate ones in metal shop; these were functional, they advised, but each added its own less-than-lovely flavor.
Then someone introduced me to a small, firm, ripe Red Delicious apple. The apple, this someone explained, was a superior piece of marijuana-smoking paraphernalia. Portable, inexpensive, and, best of all, edible:
OPERATION PIPEMUNCHER If you must, and you promise not to ruin everyone's life, select a firm apple preferably one with a pronounced indentation around the stem from your local over-the-counter fruit dealer. Pluck the stem and wipe away the petrochemical insecticide residue with the nearest towel or sleeve. If the resultant pit at the top of the core is deep and wide enough, and you've got a good eye for geometry (see next step), you can leave it as is. If not, use a small paring knife to deepen and/or enlarge it as necessary to serve as a bowl. Then (next step), using a chunky toothpick, an awl, a twig, a paring knife or a pen, stab or whittle through the side of the fruit until you intersect the bowl; preferably near the bowl's base. Now simply suck out the apple juice through the stab wound, pack a fresh bud (careful not too much) of the dreadful scourge the one which everyone's favorite god accidentally left growing wild on all continents but Antarctica into the top of the apple, add fire and air and enjoy.
ENJOY WHILE YOU CAN, BECAUSE EVEN THOUGH Our Leaders still haven't found Osama bin Laden or a way for all of us to afford basic health care, education, food, clothing and shelter, they have found, using only obscene quantities of state and federal tax dollars, 50 people selling apple surrogates on the Internet. According to the Department of Justice Web site, "Federal law provides for a maximum total sentence of three years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both, with respect to each [apple] set forth in the indictments."
But I beg your pardon. I hope I haven't interrupted your television show again. Sorry. Finish your beer, America, and go back to sleep in your chair. Your children are safe from pleasure. Your government is in control.