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Down a rabbit hole with Iowa’s red queen

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Down a rabbit hole with Iowa’s red queen

Feb 27, 2024 | 9:00 am ET
By Dave Nagle
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Down a rabbit hole with Iowa’s red queen
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(Illustration with images via Canva)

A couple of weeks ago, the weather being exceptionally nice, I decided to take a walk and that stroll took me down to the river. I paused, enjoying the spring air in February, sat down under a tree for a brief rest, when to my surprise, a white rabbit ran by. I stood up and the animal, scared that I might be armed (which I wasn’t), jumped into a hole. The hole was unusually wide, and I stepped down into it only to discover that it widened even more and seemingly was without a bottom.

I fell, down, down, down not to a ring of fire but a field of daisies and very soft and fluffy soil. No sooner had I gotten back on my feet than the rabbit ran by and down a tree-lined path. Trying to follow the rabbit, now having run out of immediate sight, I walked by a tree, which contained a sign that said, “WELCOME TO IOWA, FREEDOM TO FLOURISH.”

Onward I went, and the second tree I passed had, sitting on a low branch, a smiling, Cheshire cat. The cat also held a sign in its paws that read “AEA.” I did not know what that meant but later to learn it stood for Area Education Agency.

But at that point, the hare reappeared and was running toward a lane lined with children, all very thin kids. Behind them stood their parents and at the end of the line was not another tree but a large tent. On the tables under the canvas covering were placed hundreds of treats, cherry and apple pies, cookies of all sorts, some even frosted; there was an ice cream machine making malts and sundaes by itself. I didn’t know what it stood for, but all the kids and their parents behind them were holding signs, very high, that read, “Thank You, Queen.”

Before I could ask why they were thanking the Queen, the rabbit ran by, this time carrying a large pocket watch, and he shortly, thereafter, disappeared into a crowd, the likes of which I had never seen. They were all standing in a garden, watching red and blue cards playing a game of croquet. The cards were the gates, the blue knights were the mallets, and the balls appeared to be tightly wrapped paper ballots.

Occasionally, a red knight would not move quickly enough to enable the Queen’s ball to pass through the hoop and the poor soul would be dragged off to the Queen’s cry, “Off with his head.” An election would be held and another, more compliant red card would replace them. Hopefully for their stake, the new card would be quicker to do the Queen’s bidding.

I was standing in the back, near a blue joker, and he leaned over and softly explained what was happening. “You see,” he explained, “the Queen can do no wrong. What the Queen says a word means is what it means, and nothing more. What the Queen sees is what we see whether it’s there or not; and what the Queen thinks, we think, period.

“Why,” he went on, “Just last week one of the cards was caught reading in the library. I won’t tell you what happened, but it was not pretty. The Queen will see to it that doesn’t happen again. She will make it very hard to get to libraries and they will close themselves.”

The joker that was talking to me was suddenly dragged away, but others, particularly the 8 of spades, explained what was happening. The reason the children weren’t being fed was because they had been fed all winter and if fed in the summer, they would get fat. The biggest problem in this wonderland was obesity. Feed poor children and they will be overweight before you can blink.

The signless Cheshire cat reappeared, to my surprise, and told me the AEA was abolished because a friend of the Queen explained that his company could do it better and the schools should be using their funds to pay him, and others like him.

Finally, I learned where the rabbit was running: He was going to the Capitol of the land because the Queen had decided that, since the governing body did what they were told, they were redundant.  The rabbit wanted to watch the Council dissolve itself at the Queen’s pleasure.

At that point I felt a chill, woke up to find myself asleep on the riverbank, it had gotten dark. I got up, zipped up my coat and went home. I retrieved the paper from the mailbox and sat down in my easy chair to read the news about the Iowa Legislature. I pinched myself real hard — I thought I was still dreaming by the river.

I apologize to Lewis Carroll for sharing this dream with you. But I must close as required: If you dress in red in Des Moines, I want to wish a very merry un-birthday to you, and you, and you.

This column was originally published by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.