Home, sweet alternative

Opinions speak louder than facts. I have therefore conducted an opinion poll in the great journalistic tradition which permits a reporter to decorate his information with other people's ignorance, knowledge, imagination, insight, prejudice, and wisdom.

My first interview was with Dr. D. N. A. Helix, a biologist and genetic engineer. What, I asked him, are the alternatives to conventional housing?

He sniffed graciously, "The question is irrelevant. What the world needs is not alternative housing but alternative people. If we designed smaller human beings -- say three inches high -- there would be no problem in housing them."

"Would the people likem being only three inches high?"

"Another irrelevant question. Think what they could do for the ecology! Their automobiles, for instance, would be toy-sized, with a consequent dramatic drop in oil-consumption and air-pollution." His face lit up. "And if we continued the miniaturization a little further, our minihumans could do without cars altogether: they would be light enough to fly!"

I asked what kind of wings the tiny folk would have.

"Butterfly-type, for greater visibility."

It was a solemn moment. Seizing Dr. Helix's hand, I shook it warmly. "Congratulations! You have just invented faeries!"

The scientist's pastel countenance bloomed richly.

Next I consulted a political hopeful, Charisma Jones, who was being groomed for the presidential election campaign of the year 2020. What, I asked her, are the alternatives to conventional housing?

She answered admiringly, "How right, how very right, you are!"

"I don't think you understand -- "

"I couldn't agree more. As my record will show -- "

"Would you mind answering my question?"

"Not at all. I am always ready to -- "

"Then what arem the alternatives to conventional housing?"

"I am," she said. Charisma's dignity and confidence moved me deeply. She continued, "I am on the side of all right-thinking voters!"

"And which side is that, Ms. Jones?"

"Yourm side!" She smiled a small enchantment, reached up, patted me on the back, shook my hand, and mingled smoothly with the other grade school children, hand-shaking and back-patting as she went.

She will go far.

Humpersack Safari, the famous explorer was more specific. "Alternative housing? Well, some distant tribes live in grass huts, others in glass-fronted caverns set in artificial cliffs. A few dwell in houseboats, tree houses, or packing cases. Termites reside in apartment blocks made of earth and leaves; tree-ants cohabit in ghettos made of leaves only. Then there are tents, trailers, file cabinets -- "

"file cabinets?m For housing?m "

"Certainly. During my epic journey to the headwaters of the Gobbledygook, I found bureaucrats who had lived for generations among file cabinets; they had become so well adapted to their environment that they subsisted entirely on carbon copies, and even their shadows were made by rubber stamps. Every morning they would take up duty in the In-tray; and every evening they filed themselves away."

"But human beings can't live like that!"

"Are you sure? I was talking, however, about silverfish."

Leda Reiter manufactures even-handed editorials for a distinguished newspaper. "Although there may -- or may not -- be a need for alternatives to conventional housing," she observed, "we must remember that there are always at least four sides to every question. Much can be, and has been, said pro, con, wellmaybe, and dontknow; and only a simplistic misreading of the evidence would produce a situation in which no ambiguity could rear its lovely head. Nevertheless (or, possibly, Furthermore) we must wait and see which, if any, course of action or inaction.. . ." Her stately impartialities rolled on and on.

Bravissimo Gentli, the illustrator, has drawn dwellings shaped like igloos, birds' nest, rabbit burrows, diving bells, and spiderwebs. He has also drawn conventional houses -- but upside down, for use by dieters who lose so much weight that they tend to float upward. Lastly he has designed a house shaped precisely like an egg. What kind of chicken, I wondered, could lay such a thing?

"I haven't designed the chicken yet," said Bravissimo gently. "But I have solved a riddle that has vexed mankind for centuries: the egg came first!"m

We present this information proudly: all other housing is merely an alternative to the egg.

And it all needs an escape-hatch.

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