A Connecticut Yankee On The Jersey Turnpike
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – I was sent back to King Arthur's Court approximately 100 years ago by a certain Mr. Clemens, writing under a pseudonym. It was, all in all, an interesting experience. The place was foul-smelling and the people uncommonly--why put too fine a point on it?--stupid. I, by myself, was able to rule over the court with relative ease, if you recall, using little more than a box of matches and a simple almanac to gain incomparable leverage over their tiny British minds.

I was perfectly content, when the time came, to return to my home in Connecticut and resume my life as a resident of the late 19th century. And so I did, walking to most destinations, conducting my business at an even pace, maintaining friendships over distances with the help of the U.S. mail. I was, as much as a character in an acerbic satire can be, happy. Until this fellow Bing came along to disturb me once again, this time bringing me to your obnoxious day and age. I hear he doesn't write under his own name either.

And now I must report, with all due respect to your amazing culture, that I do not like it here, even compared with the days of old when knights were bold. True, things smell better now, but I have to tell you--your world is far more terrifying and bizarre than the Middle Ages ever were. You just don't see it, that's all.

If you could only look upon this world as I do, you would fall to the floor foaming at the mouth, my friends. For what a gigantic, noisy, and distorted place it is! How far removed from the prior 5,000 years of human history!

Beneath your feet, what is that? Not grass or dirt or even brick or cobblestone. Everywhere you walk there is concrete and macadam, and all about your heads and shoulders and reaching up into the sky rear enormous pyres of glass and steel. It's not so much the materials of which your cities are made that is so disconcerting. But consider the scale, my friends! Have you any concept what it does to one's soul, to cringe in the shadow of an object, teeming with other tiny beings, all dressed more or less the same? My blood ran cold when I first beheld one of these...skyscrapers?...and my spirit shriveled as I contemplated my relative size in your universe. I loved those escalators, though.

These considerations are themselves dwarfed by the advent of motorized transportation. Do you ever think what these automobiles have done not only to the way you travel but also to your concept of space and time? When first I got into one--it was something the size of a pachyderm, and was called an SUV--I nearly suffered a coronary. I was encased in unnatural substances, from the false leather under my seat to the chrome in the instrument panel. And then we began to move down the road, the land outside our vehicle racing by at incomprehensible speed. Traveling along at that velocity, I felt as if I had placed my fate in the hands of the gods assigned responsibility not for flesh-and-blood creatures but for machines.

Individual rocks and trees were as nothing. The people we passed by on the streets were as nothing. We were as in a dream, cut off from the sights and smells of the world moving along outside at an infinitely slower pace. And consider this: A trip that would have taken me a full day back in my Connecticut cost us less than an hour. Thus were time and space infinitely contracted. And how easy to take a trip now--not because you must, or because you should, but simply because you can. Not that I'm complaining. It's possible that I could get used to it.

And what do you think I make of your television and radio and gigantic movie screens with sound so deep and potent I become physically ill under their influence? A little box with people walking around inside it, accompanied by inhuman laughter? A portable metal cube with many voices emanating from it? I actually went to see one of your movies. Something called X-Men. There was a towering, naked woman in it whose skin kept changing texture and color! I didn't know whether to rush the screen for sexual release or hide beneath my seat!

No, you are simply not in your right minds, but you do not know it. I saw a man just a few moments ago walking down a street and talking volubly to himself. I had almost offered the poor fellow a bit of my rice cake when I realized that he wasn't hopelessly mad at all, he was simply speaking to an invisible counterpart on the other end of the little wire that was sticking into his head. You are unlike any race of humans that has ever gone before! And yet you do not see it.

Certain things do remain as they have been. There are still young people in love. Dogs still bark. Short men still run most large enterprises. There are still ragged people on the streets calling for alms. Sharp people in speculative businesses still cozen the gullible. In spite of your infatuation with electronic messages, there is still real mail, of course, although such mail as I have received during my visit here is strangely impersonal and mostly pertains to solicitation. Many letters were addressed to RESIDENT or OCCUPANT. Who is this person? If you see him, tell him I'm holding his correspondence for him.

The last straw for me occurred yesterday evening. I had gone to hear a group of musicians, with many metal studs and hoops piercing their appendages, emit deafening noise through electronic equipment. On the way home on what my companion referred to as the Jersey Turnpike, right outside a place called Elizabeth, I could maintain my mental poise no longer.

On my right, as far as the eye could see, nightmare spires, gleaming with 1,000 little lights, spat flame into the night. The smell was indescribable. A grotesque bridge made of black iron reared over the landscape, coming from nowhere, headed nowhere. And then, on my left, a great thunder split the world and an object of truly gigantic proportions floated down very slowly out of the sky! It was a dragon whose iridescent skin shone in the night, and although it clearly weighed a thousand thousand tons, it hung in the ether and did not fall straight down to the ground. How could this be? And how can you people take such a thing for granted?

And now, I'd like to go home. Except, you know, those Smashing Pumpkins are out of sight! I hear they'll be at Jones Beach next week!

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name. He can be reached at stanleybing@aol.com.