The Fall of the American Empire

A knife sawing at my ear wakes me from a shivery huddle on the blow-up mattress in my parents’ second room. Screams. Or maybe machinery. Eventually I sort it out: screams and machinery.

A groggy sense of duty prods me to the balcony. That’s loud. That’s the definition of loud. Below the balcony a muffled human being is squiring a leaf-blower around the grounds. Beyond its penile thrust, a lawnmower saddens the brave November grass, denigrating its final achievement of the season by half an inch. Above me, on a balcony beyond Romeos, a white-haired gent in purple pyjamas is screaming, arms akimbo, with hands paddled upside down against his ears.

He sees me staring. “The Fall of the American Empire!” In case I’m stupid, he shouts again. “The Fall of the American Empire!”

I nod in vigorous agreement, having long considered leaf-blowers the Mene mene, tekel upharsin of our time. Then I copy him, except that I’m too stiff to position my hands upside down against my suffering ears. Never mind. I waggle the elbows, ailerons on the crash landing of civilization, and scream out the lower short vowels of the English language, whose peculiarities have contributed so much to the fall of our society.

“Uh————–uh!” Chest thumper.

“Aw————-aw!” Heart sound.

There! Got the bottom two building blocks of the English language properly positioned into the acquiescent damp air.

Estimating the location of the purple-pyjama king’s quarters in the other wing of this stifling palace of “mature lifestyles” that is slow-cooking its aging inhabitants with microwaves, TVs, and heated floors in every room, later in the day I pad upstairs to venture a knock. First guess, lucky. The king himself answers. I sense from the arrangement of chattels framing him in the doorway that there is no wife. Neither consort nor courtier to assist him, but without such help he has managed to change the silky pyjamas for a dark purple sweater and black dress pants.

I introduce myself as Princess Anarchy and ask to borrow a broom. Yes. A broom.

He is forming an unfavorable opinion of my sanity. I hasten to explain.

People in this “mature adults only” building need exercise. Leaves turning into slippery slime on the walks need to be moved to a spot where their demise might do some other beings good instead of incurring the ecological expenditure represented by the machines we both hate so much. So, if every tenant claimed a section of sidewalk to husband with a broom, we would strike a small but admirable blow for a saner, slimmer, cleaner society….

The King throws me a sad look. What makes me think he would possess anything so archaic as a broom?

A broom would make an excellent scepter, I want to mention. I think on the painting of the American farmer and his wife in front of their weathered palace, sceptered by their humble hand tools.

Brooming, I suggest, is great for the stomach and belly muscles.

He decides I’m not really crazy, just a hopeless romantic. He claims not one tenant in the building possesses a broom.

“They” wouldn’t keep making brooms if no one buys them, I reason. I bet him there will be brooms in the building. I bet him a mandarin orange that there is at least one more idealist in the building.

I’m wrong. I give a whole morning to the Brooms for Better Bellies project with little more than bruised knuckles to show for it. The single broom-owner I do find informs me, with more than a shade of suspicion clouding her eye, that she came here to escape gardening, thank you very much.

Disconsolate, I wander downstairs and outside, pondering our history. How did we move from mourning our expulsion from the Garden to shunning it? In a mere century or two?

I may keep my orange. Respectful of its six-thousand-mile journey, I peel it gently and carefully, curling the aromatic rinds into my pocket for later deposit under the nearest hydrangea. The hydrangeas have gone a little crazy this year, still raising blue balls of bloom like fireworks into the blank grey winter skies. They would probably appreciate a little exotic citrus mulch.

The noisy machines are still at it, manhandled by young males suitably garbed against the wet cold. They don’t give a second thought to the nutty old lady eating a tropical fruit while pottering about barefoot on tropical sandals.

“I have a suggestion,” I shout helpfully at the young man stuffing the lawn’s recent history into a huge, dark, plastic bag. I can feel the bushes wishing themselves a nice warm blanket of mulch, can sense their frustration: there’s what they need, in the young man’s hands, so near, and yet so far.

He smiles and waves a gloved hand at his own head. Earmuffs. Maybe earplugs under them, or one of those machines that floods the brain with yap-and-yammer music, or rap, or rock. For sure he’s not dancing with that leaf-blower in time to the Sound of Music or the Messiah. The noise is hellacious, probably literally deafening. I should move away.

King Purple stands on his balcony, protected from the rain. He shakes his head at me: they can’t hear me. And shakes it over me: every kingdom needs a Cassandra.

He will let me live. Perhaps even invite me to sit at his throne as the kingdom’s chief fool.

Tonight I’ll slip outside with a pair of scissors and collect those crazy hydrangeas to survive another day or two inside.

Blue flowers in November. Souvenirs of the dark night of our souls.

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