Conversation with a Genie

by Charlie Huenemann

GENIE: AT LAST! Esteemed Master, you have released me from the ancient lamp! Out of my boundless gratitude, I shall grant you three wishes!

TRAVELER: No thanks, I’m good.

GENIE: Wait, what?

TRAVELER: I’m good. No granting of wishes needed. Have a nice day.

GENIE: But, Master, you must understand that you can wish for anything it is in my power to grant – and let me tell you, that power is enormous!

TRAVELER: I’m sure it is. But I’ve heard all the stories about you genies and the way you grant wishes, and I’d like no part of it.

GENIE: What do you mean, Honored Master?

TRAVELER: Well, you genies are tricky. I might wish to play the piano, but you’ll grant it and then stick me out on a desert island, or you’ll make me deaf so I can’t hear my own playing. Or I’ll wish for a pile of money, but then I’ll go to jail for tax fraud, or the money will be in some outdated currency. Or I’ll ask for a great army to command, and you’ll give me an army of frogs. So no thanks, I’ll have no part of it. Too risky!

GENIE: Well … true, that sort of thing has happened from time to time. But only when there is a lesson to be learned. And let me say that sometimes it is the wisher’s own fault for not being more specific! Like the man who wished to be a great opera singer – how was I supposed to know he didn’t want to be a soprano?

TRAVELER: Any human making a wish is going to make a lot of background assumptions that you might not share, as you are a very different kind of being. So, like I said, it’s too risky.

GENIE: But Reluctant Master, it need not be so risky. Most of the time these wishes work out to the wisher’s great benefit, and there are no complaints. These many repeated tales people tell of – well, let us call it “genie-ological irony” – are grossly exaggerated.

TRAVELER: Now that’s in fact a further reason I’m not interested. Maybe those stories aren’t based in fact, but I think there’s a deeper truth behind them. The truth is that people always have been suspicious of simply wish for something wonderful and getting it right away, rather than taking the more conventional route and working for it. Maybe they are rightly suspicious that suddenly getting your heart’s desire is bound to be fraught with problems. Maybe it takes a certain amount of preparation to fit something undeniably wonderful into your life.

GENIE: Wise but Stubborn Master, in some cases you may be right. But I must point out another drive has been behind these spurious stories as well. For as long as I can remember – and that is a long time! – people have chastised their neighbors for daring to wish for anything beyond a common life. Peasants have thought that peasants should stay peasants, and should not dream of being kings. So people have created this genre of genie stories to warn their neighbors not to hope for advancement, and to limit their ambitions to the lowly lives they already inhabit. But surely, my Sagacious and Insightful Master, you are not cowed by these repressive tales!

TRAVELER: I’m not. But neither am I tempted by your assurances. I think you have missed the point of the stories. They are not meant to dampen one’s ambitions. They are meant to make us reflect on the role of luck in leading good lives. Before we reflect, we might think that good luck, like your granting of my wishes, is always an indisputably good thing. And sometimes it is, but only when that luck has no consequences on other parts of our lives. Finding a penny, getting a convenient parking spot, running into an old friend at a bar – these are all lucky events that can come into a life without much complication. But a great big change that is extremely improbable – which is what you offer – is like releasing a great big and beautiful rhinoceros into one’s living room. It’s bound to mess everything up. That’s what those stories are telling us.

GENIE: Master of Boundless Wisdom, I understand your point. But why not then wish for some smaller boon? How about a nice new pair of boots, or a sandwich, or some cool water to slake your thirst?

TRAVELER: I agree that those wishes are not likely to disrupt my life. But I think I’ll stick to the more conventional path, and let such gifts turn up through natural coincidence. I think that’s the right attitude to have, and just what those stories advise. But thanks anyway.

GENIE: But Troublesome Master, you put me in a predicament. For it is the code of all genies to grant three wishes to their liberators. If you do not allow me to bring unto you this kindness, I will never again be able to show my face at the meetings of the genies!

TRAVELER: Ah, well, in that case, how about this? I’ll take you up on the sandwich and the cool water. And for the third, I’ll wish for it to be widely known among the genies that you have fulfilled your obligation to me.

GENIE: Blessed Master, your wishes are my commands. (POOF!)