The wall-eyed, slack-jawed U.S. populace, beaten down into a state of near-catatonia by the relentlessly deadening banality of their joyless, insipid lives, dutifully trudged through the motions for yet another emotionally blank day Monday, sources reported.
Against all logic, the nation's citizenry, their insides withering away with each passing moment, somehow managed to continue filling out invoices, shopping for footwear, loading dishwashers, eating Whoppers, pressing buttons, watching reality-based TV programs, vacuuming floors, engaging in conversations about petty office politics, riding buses, sitting in traffic, mailing letters, and tending to the little rubber mats people wipe their feet on as they enter the lobby areas of vast, windowless industrial complexes. How they managed to do it, no one can say.
The populace's minor victory of continuing to participate in the meaningless charade that is their lives, sources said, was rendered all the more futile by the inescapable realization that they must do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and so on and so on unceasingly until the day they inevitably die.
"Hello, Tri-State Amalgamated Office Supply, a division of Global Tetrahedron International Unlimited, customer-service hotline, can you please hold?" said 37-year-old Sandy Lindemeyer of Garland, TX, barely summoning the strength to push the button activating her headset. The incident marked the 13,227th time she has uttered the pre-scripted greeting.
After hearing a heavy sigh on the other end of the line, followed by a barely audible reply of "Yes," Lindemeyer somehow found the will to press a second button, patching the person into a pre-recorded, continuous message loop telling the caller, Lindemeyer's 714th of the week, that his or her call was important to Tri-State Amalgamated Office Supply and would be answered by the next available customer-service representative.
Elsewhere, in the suburban wasteland of Schaumburg, IL, frigid housewife Ellen Campion, 42, her face an impenetrable mask of detachment, drove her 1991 Toyota Camry through a seemingly endless sprawl of strip malls and convenience stores, eventually arriving at the bloated expanse known as Woodfield Mall, where she purchased a pair of shoes.
"This morning, as my husband and I stared blankly at each other's faces over breakfast, I mentioned that I saw an ad in the paper for a sale on ladies' footwear at Marshall Field's. He asked if I was planning to go, and I told him I guessed maybe," Campion said. "So after he dragged himself to work and I gazed at the wall for a few hours, I went to the sale."
Looking down at her feet, Campion added, "They're nice shoes, I suppose."
"Today is Wednesday," said Waltham, MA, resident Gregory Pafko, 50, an actuary for a screen-door manufacturing company in nearby Plovis. "Wednesday is 'Hump Day.' If I can get through Hump Day, I'll have made it halfway through the week."
"Then again," Pafko added, "every day is Hump Day, really." Later, as he does every day, Pafko headed to the company bathroom and sat for 20 minutes with a loaded gun in his mouth. Once the shakes subsided, he removed the bullets from the gun and returned to his desk.
According to experts, as American society slides ever-downward into the swirling vortex of nothingness that saps our wills, numbs our hearts and freezes our very souls in an impenetrable layer of black, icy futility, the importance of going through the motions only grows.
"As James Joyce showed in his classic novel of modernity Ulysses, just making it through one day in this world constitutes a heroic achievement," Yale University English professor M. Clement Voorhees said. "God knows how unrewarding it is for us to endure each day's pointless, relentless barrage of non-events. I'm surprised we're able to do it at all. But continuing to go through the motions is crucial, because if everyone stopped faking, we'd..."
Voorhees then trailed off, remaining silent for several moments while rubbing his eyes. "I'm sorry," he said. "I forgot what I was going to say."
In a perfunctory attempt to acknowledge the nation's collective pyrrhic victory, President Clinton thanked and congratulated the populace Monday for continuing to participate in the meaningless fictions that comprise their daily existences.
"My fellow Americans," Clinton told a national television audience, "you have truly accomplished a great feat today. By continuing to get out of bed, wash yourselves, dress, work, shop, watch COPS, surf the Net with WebTV, and put food into your bodies at regular intervals to sustain your metabolic functions, you have shown the world just how willing-to-live the American people can pretend to be."
Following the broadcast, the president endured several minutes of smiling handshakes before excusing himself to the Oval Office restroom, where he splashed water on his face, leaned on the sink and stared unblinkingly into his weathered, exhausted reflection, wondering how he was going to face the next day.