A Very Modest Proposal
A Letter to the Mayor

Illustration by Camden Benesh

To the honorable Ted Wheeler, respectable heir to Willamette Industries, upstanding Police Commissioner, Pontifex Maximus, & Mayor of Portland in His Second Remove,


Dear sir,

It seems that we have a blight on our hands. An affliction. An uncleanliness that we can’t simply sweep away—as preferable as it would be. This scourge that I’m referring to, one that you’re amply aware of, is the sin of sloth, as it were. Or, better known to the public as homlessness (or even the more outlandish “houselessness”). Yes, it’s true. Look out any window at any angle of this city of roses and you’ll find a stain upon the beautiful landscape of our home. Women selfishly sleeping on the bare concrete of the sidewalk; dishonest men dozing off on public transportation, thieving space that would otherwise be occupied by hard working and honorable citizens; displeasing tents loitering beneath proudly erected freeway overpasses; trash strewn carelessly to the wind rather than properly disposed of in designated landfills, hidden away from the public eye. This blight, this unseemly reality, bears no easy solution. Yet, I wish to make a very modest proposal to our city’s leadership that, perhaps, has not yet been discoursed for fear of reprisal. 

There is an unassuming island on the most Westward side of the State of Hawaii called Niihau. Unlike the larger islands of Maui and Kauai, it appears that this island offers little-to-no value to the greater United States. Whereas Maui, for instance, offers a tropical escape for the respectable and hard working citizens of our country, this small island offers none and only houses a small population of Natives only interested in their own livelihood (rather than the Greater United States) This, I propose, offers an opportunity. An opportunity that perhaps you and yours, given your family’s venerable and truly American history of respectable dominance, may be more familiar with than I. 

Yet, before I commence this letter, I feel the need for a quick deviation in order to elaborate on this issue. You see, while those few selfish enough to avoid being an honest part of society get to live in relative ease, those of us upholding the basic tenets of civility are yet always restless and entertainment is a much deserved pastime of the American family. Yet, as I’m sure you’re aware, there’s a distinct lack of quality entertainment outside the confines of football season. I know, good sir, that you’re wondering as to my final goal in this regard. For these two ordeals seemingly have little in common. But, I ask, what is more patriotic than the honest sweat of your brow and the right to a good program?

I digress. Here is what I propose in all of its modesty. The city will invest a reasonable sum (a sum that will surely return tenfold) to gather—with the help of the honorable police department and those vigilantes so willing—all vagrants, sloths, and nobodies. From here, the city will ship them to the island of Niihau where they will be met with a receiving group prepared to meet their basic needs (for we are decent men, after all, and not monsters). Once the city has been cleared of this blight, displaced to this unhusbanded isle, the next step shall commence. Video equipment, at the behest of our greatest artists, will be scattered about the island and placed in undisclosed locations. Food and water will be dispersed sparingly at key points. Finally, hunting equipment will be left for those willing to find it. When all this has been accomplished, the city’s staff will be evacuated from the island to return home to their grateful families. 

And I hear you, sir, and your thoughts of the island’s inhabitants being unhappy about, or perhaps even unwilling to accept, the arrival of such unsightly vagabonds. Yet, I believe that there will be little said of the matter from those back home (especially once they realize the benefits they’re to reap and the order to commence in the then-clean streets of our beautiful city). Those to be sent and those already present have more in common than they differ. That is, in their unwillingness to produce such fruits that add to the overall wellbeing of our great nation. 

I return to my explanations of entertainment. For we cannot simply move these creatures from our beautiful city to the tropics of a picturesque isle without some form of compensation for our labors. The second part of my proposal is as follows. Those to be sent (and those already there) will participate in a new form of entertainment to earn their way in our society—just as we (and perhaps you in particular) already have. Each week, laughing and chattering family’s will tune in around the dinner table to cheer on their favorite characters as they survive the cutthroat life on the island. Food and water will grow sparse. Healthcare, mental or physical, will be absent. A game of life or death will commence and, like the Romans of old, only the strong will survive. Perhaps, when the performance grows in popularity, as it surely will, further supplies will be scattered on the island to maintain the interest of our audience. And those who survive will earn their place and a trip back home where they can once more contribute to a healthy and productive Portland. 

I know, Mr. Wheeler, that you and yours will find this proposal in perfect alignment with your ideals as a great American man. I can only hope that this letter reaches you before it becomes too late and the blight of our city turns to a raging flood. And if all else fails, I have heard that we are in short supply of fresh sausage.

With all the respect a man can offer,

A Concerned Citizen

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