Once a cantipede was hired as the press secretary for a high-profile politician. The cantipede appeared well qualified for the job. To begin with, “cant” wasn’t exactly its middle name, but it was close enough. More important, though, was the cantipede’s remarkable flexibility. It possessed more than enough legs to move in whatever direction was called for when a shift in the thinking or intent of its boss needed to be explained to the public. If it had to shift this way or that, it obediently hastened to do so. And if it suddenly had to backtrack, back it would hustle as though it hadn’t taken a single step in any other direction. So suited was the cantipede to being this politician’s press secretary, in fact, that soon it was difficult to think of one without immediately thinking of the other as well. Then one day the cantipede began inexplicably tripping over its own feet. These mishaps weren’t much of a hindrance at first. And as long as they were minor, a false step or two could be covered up well enough by merely shifting from one leg to several others in a sort of improvised skipping in place, a move that might even be taken for having been part of the plan. If truth be told, however, it wasn’t part of the plan, and that fact caused the cantipede increasing concern. 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 another press secretary who could manage a more convincing display of fancy footwork 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 sacked. It looked to its strength: legs. It just needed more of them. Each time its boss changed direction, the cantipede dutifully sprouted a few new legs to help it follow suit step for step. Initially, 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 shifting thoughts from above, looking in the process a bit like Athena struggling to emerge from the head of a befuddled Zeus feet first. It goes without saying that adding legs on demand has its risks, and eventually these were bound to overtake the cantipede. Presented with its frantic efforts, reporters became ever less certain exactly what direction the hapless, put-upon press secretary was headed in, whether forward or backward, to the right or to the left. Some days, the poor cantipede appeared to be trying to move every which way at once in a flurry of contradictory thrashings about. At other times, it seemed merely to be running in circles while insisting it was always following the straight and narrow. Not surprisingly, there were moments during its breathtaking contortions when the cantipede was in obvious danger of falling flat on its face. More generally, it waged a ceaseless struggle just to keep its head clear of its multiplying legs as it peeped out from their thick blur with a look of desperation. There must be a better way of loyally presenting to the press and public a high-profile politician’s constant shifts in thinking, the cantipede often muttered to itself. One with less chance of getting struck so often in the mouth by its own flailing feet.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans