Driven by suds and nerves

The scene is a fluorescently lit laundromat in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. The camera pans left, across a stretch of washers whirring madly, and settles on a writer trying to relax awkwardly on a brown leather couch. He’s wearing a Salt Lake Bees hat, and, as an extremely obese man shuffles past with a metal cart full of shirts that look like towels, he contracts further into the couch and recrosses his legs at a more acute angle.

There are either five or six contractors buzzing about the place, each tinkering with plumbing or drywall or saws and wrenches, each sort of banging on a pipe or an electric line and appearing to do something productive. The din is terrible, the cacophony gut-wrenching. Now, as the camera flits from worker to worker before returning to the writer, the clouds squirm in front of the sun outside and cast a gloomier pallor along the row of washers and dryers. Abandon hope, all ye who enter, the altocumuli overhead seem to say.

The writer can’t take it. He’s attempting to pass the half-hour period of Warm Wash With Rinse by penning a lengthy indictment against this current decade, but the clatter is too much. It’s not that he blames the workers — they’re doing their job!, after all. But he’s starting to get The Fear, the atavistic hypertension described by the good Dr. Hunter S. Thompson as sinister waves of psychological energy.  He needs to escape, but the wash cycle isn’t going any faster.

Slowly, he rises from the couch and begins removing its cushions. They number three, and they are hefty and righteous. No one is watching him yet, but they will. A few will join, soon enough. The writer then moves a few folding chairs closer. He’s constructing some sort of structural frame, it seems. He’s placing the cushions across two folding chairs, forming a natural bridge of leather. A half-lidded man sitting a few tables away looks up; he’s intrigued. A woman wearing a green beret tilts her head and opens her mouth. She wants to know what’s happening over there, but her voice is sure to be drowned out by the drills buzzing in symphony.

With quick grace, the writer slips beneath the cushions and disappears from view. The room gasps, and one worker appears to pull a chainsaw out of his toolbelt. The camera shifts away toward the man with sleepy eyes and the woman with the beret. They rise in unison and walk over to the couch igloo.

(fade to black)

The year is 2019. In short order, as the great books describe it, a new society had developed in the Pod. The writer had spent the first few days establishing local regulations and arranging for a printing press to be shipped in. Communication was vital among the first inhabitants, and the written word was king. (By the end of the first day, more than 50 laundromat customers had arrived, some seeking refuge from the great din above and others seeking what they called “a new life.”)

It had become a peace-loving society, but minor skirmishes broke out over the use of liquid detergents, dryer sheets that “smelled like hay,” and power tools. The latter was most divisive, and the writer — the great maverick of time, some said! — found himself on the wrong end of near-rioting and highly negative op-eds in the local paper.

Indeed, the writer, who so enjoyed doses of silence and serenity, had in his folly begun constructing whole neighborhoods of tenement housing as the population rose. He needed to meet the demands of the people!, he said. “We need to build this world! We’ve no choice but to industrialize!” He took to the streets, amassing a cadre of workers in need of good pay, and he began to build. The noise — the reverberations of construction and imaginative world-building — inspired anger among the majority. They had left the old world for a mindful, easy future, and many insisted that they had simply “stumbled right back into the old ways.”

The writer established “silent zones” in various corners of the Pod, but it was not enough. As more people arrived, the demands for housing and schools and hospitals and airports and pubs only escalated. Soon, the entire world beneath the brown leather couch cushions had become a hive of progress and noise. Those who organized against the writer and his vision — the majority, still, somehow, who seemed to live and sleep under decommissioned freeway overpasses and who avoided the New Quadrant — they plotted at night. Forces were closing in, and the great weight of his once-simple dream began to grow heavier.

It was a Sunday, and skies were bright. A contingent of malcontents marched like ants down the main road, aiming for the writer’s quaint hut on the banks of the Iliadra River. Some held clichetic pitchforks, others gripped steel pipes. A few of the more brazen of the bunch lofted actual tridents in the air and opened their mouths to scream in silence. They surrounded the hut, all shaking their weapons and looking through dusty windows, trying to catch a glimpse of their target. The plan? Back at the Settlement, the homestead occupied by some 10,000 “Silent Ones,” the others were preparing a large fire. A great spit ran across the length of it, supported by oak trees planted long ago. They had resolved to cook the writer and dine on his flesh, not unlike the sun burning Icarus’ wings after a long and unfulfilled flight.

The self-appointed leader, a man of no more than 50, who had taken the name Godfighter, walked stiffly to the door and rapped quietly thrice. There was no answer. He tapped upon the chamber door again, though no avail was provided. He looked back at the horde. He pursed his lips and turned back to the door and punched through the wooden structure in one smooth blow.

Inside, however, there was no furniture. No fire on the logs. No dishes in the sink. No writer, no more. Surely, the crowd lamented, he had fled.

(fade to black)

The wash cycle was nearly done by now, the writer noticed. He neatly rearranged the couch cushions, returning them to their proper places as an employee looked upon his handiwork with a stern grimace.

Only the dull whir of washers and dryers rang through the building now. The workers, clad in dusty green uniforms, had congregated in the back corner of the building for lunch. One of them, a peculiar man named Pigpen, was eating a fine chutney with naan.

“I’ve got to thank all of you, my friends!” the writer stammered as he stumbled toward them. He seemed drunk, though he was not. Thrilled, more so, to be back home. “You have built a wonderful world here! I know how hard this life can be,” he said, idly dipping some of Pigpen’s naan in the chutney, his eyes wild and manic. “I know” — coughing out words between bites — “I know what they do to people like us. They were going to burn me alive and eat me!”

By now, the laundromat employees had called the police. Officers were en route, and Bill, the kindly manager, assured his staff that this would all be over soon.

…The camera pans across the weary customers, each thumbing a book or flipping through photographs on a phone. Indeed, the camera pulls back, and the only sound that’s heard through the cool spring air is the slowly rising wail of a police siren from just a few blocks away.


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