Once a cantipede was hired as the spokesperson for a leading political figure. The cantipede appeared well qualified for the job. To begin with, “cant” wasn’t exactly its middle name, but close to it. More important, though, was its innate flexibility. It possessed more than enough legs to move in whatever direction was called for when a shift in the politician’s thoughts or intentions needed conveying to the public. If it had to go right, it dutifully trotted to the right. If it suddenly had to move back in the opposite direction, back it would trot as though it hadn’t taken a single step the other way. So suited was the cantipede to being the politician’s spokesperson, in fact, that soon it was difficult to imagine one without immediately thinking of the other. Then one day the cantipede began inexplicably tripping over its own feet. These mishaps were barely noticeable at first. And as long as they were minor, a false step or two could be covered well enough by merely shifting from one leg to several others in a kind of improvised skip to the right or left, a move that might even be taken for part of the plan all along. Truth be told, however, it wasn’t part of the plan, and that fact caused the cantipede growing worry. If it proved unable to keep up with the pace at which it was being asked to change direction all the time, how long would it be before it was replaced by a cantipede who could manage a more convincing display of spokespersonship regardless of the dodging about required? The cantipede thought long and hard and came up with an offense it felt would be the best defense against being summarily given the sack. It looked to its strength, legs. It just needed more of them. Each time its boss changed direction, the cantipede just needed to sprout a few new legs to help it follow suit more quickly. In the beginning, this strategy worked well enough, although actually generating new legs to stand on was sometimes a challenge, especially when the signals the cantipede received weren’t easy to follow in themselves. But it did manage, after a fashion, to produce whatever legs were needed to match those shifting thoughts, looking in the process a bit like Athena struggling to emerge from the head of Zeus feet first. Adding legs on demand has its risks, of course, and eventually these were bound to overtake the cantipede. To look on its frantic efforts, one became ever less certain exactly what direction it was headed in, whether forward or backward, to the right or to the left. Sometimes, it appeared to be trying to move every which way at once in a flurry of contradictory thrashings. At other times, it seemed merely to be running in circles. Not surprisingly, there were moments during these astonishing acrobatics when the cantipede was in obvious danger of falling on its face. More generally, it waged an ongoing struggle just to keep its head clear of the peril of its multiplying legs as it peeped out from their thick blur with a look of dazed trepidation. There must be a better way of faithfully representing the politician’s positions, the cantipede often thought to itself. One with less chance of being struck so often in the mouth by its own flailing feet. Some way of staying in one place and merely appearing to move this way or that.
Copyright © 2003-2004 by Geoffrey Grosshans