Morning noises filled the hallway of his apartment complex as William Eldridge made his way from the rear of the giant, five-thousand unit complex toward the curbside pickup. “Drive,” he said to his junior partner, Adam Haldeman, who handed him a plastic-topped paper coffee cup with his left hand as they pulled away from the curb.
“We’ve got to deliver these summons to a house out in the Valley,” Haldeman intoned. “Another stake-out until the homeowner gets back from tennis lessons or court-mandated alcohol cessation, no doubt.”
Eldridge leafed through the stack of envelopes. “Crap, these are election papers,” he said. “These are like pulling teeth. And there are a dozen names on this list.”
They pulled the 1997 Camry to a rest across the street from the large house on a quiet suburban cul-de-sac. The neighborhood seemed both silent and not at rest. The homes, built in the 1940s, had been upgraded with vinyl siding and window treatments, modern glass, and what looked like additions over the garage. The place carefully avoided radiating wealth, which made it glow with it.
After seven cigarettes and two hands of poker, they perked up when a car pulled in to the detached garage, now linked with the house by what looked like an air-conditioned hallway. Eldridge knocked on the door several times before the housemaid answered. Summoned by name, the homeowner appeared.
Thin with a taught face and bright hard eyes, she looked over the papers. “This is a fool’s errand,” she said. “Even if he proves his case, none of the papers are going to report it. None of the courts will address it. The history books will delete it.”
“‘He,’ ma’am?” Haldeman asked quietly.
“Trump,” she said. “He thinks he can play with the big boys, but he has no idea how things are done in this country. No idea,” she said, trilling the first word. “You get ahead in this country by working within the system. That system is going to beat him flat. You’re wasting your time.”
The door slammed in their face.
“Right, um, next destination,” said Eldridge, as the car pulled away into the traffic on the cross-town highway. They zoomed along the loop of freeways that took them to the southern part of the city near the coast, and got badged in at a mid-rise business complex and rode the elevator to the seventh floor.
“Of course we accept all communications,” said the receptionist, “but you’re wasting your time. No one wants to be associated with something so unfashionable. It’s like the Neanderthal lobby. This will get dismissed by the courts within the day.” She signed with a flourish.
Next up was a Pasadena non-profit with an office in a renovated aircraft hanger. The man behind the desk sighed, signed, and accepted the paperwork. “Everyone knows this is a vanity project. We have progressed beyond such things. No one wants to hear about this revanchist, narrow-minded provincialism anymore.” He tossed it in the trash.
“Ah sho dunno,” said Eldridge, in his best shucky-darn Southern boy accent. “It just sez here to deliver it, could be about UFOs for all ah know.”
“You’d get better luck with those,” the man said. “At least UFOs will sell! No one wants to hear about how we’ve been doing everything wrong since WW2 and we have to stop the global order of peace, democracy, and civil rights to cater to some deranged Atlantic City millionire.”
Touching an imaginary hat, Eldridge rejoined Haldeman in the car. “Who’s next?” They found themselves at a strip mall on the northeast side of town, out on the edge of real far burbs where both of them lived. A woman signed and also dropped the papers in the trash.
“We’ll never even get a call,” she said. “And if we do, and we blow it off, the court is never going to enforce. All right-thinking people deny this kind of thing. It’s below consideration, even. Like advocating for horse-drawn buggies, windmills, or trial by combat. It’s just obsolete and socially incompetent.”
From there they took the long winding freeway into the city, paid to park at a towering parking structure, then entered a luxury condominium complex. The concierge accompanied them to an apartment — if such a luxurious, spacious domicile could be so called — on the thirty-second floor.
“This Trump guy doesn’t understand economics,” fumed the occupant, a thirtysomething with wild longish hair. “We’re launching startups. The service economy is working. With Biden bringing China and the third world into our markets, we are going to be making bank, bro. And then you know what everyone in my high school is going to be saying? ‘Gee whiz, we’re not as smart as we thought we were. But look at that guy, with his stock portfolio and IPO trending.'”
“I just want the free health benefits,” agreed the concierge. “Without regulations, this industry will charge me thousands for what I should get for free, since I work all the time at this highly-demanding and essential job.”
“Right,” said Adam. “Hopefully we get some free shit too. Where’s the next one?”
Up to the north of the city they went, on a highway that curved and then straightened, running linearly into the horizon clouded in smog. An exit and four boulevards later, they were at a rural trailer park. Something that sounded like Motorhead and the Exploited having a love child reverberated through the double-wide they knocked at.
“What?” said a wild-eyed man, covered in tattoos, obviously very drunk on Pabst Blue Ribbon. They handed him the documents.
“Aw, no way,” he said. “Fuck this. And fuck Trump. China, man, they’re like us! They hate the niggers and pajeets, beaners and kikes, and other ching-chongs just like us. You want to be ruled by Black Jews and their blood libels? Sieg Heil, bitches, I’m voting for motherfuckin’ Biden!”
He slammed the door. Eldridge turned to Haldeman: “I think Murrica’s toast.”
“Wonder if he has a spare beer?” mused Haldeman. “Can’t we go back to delivering divorce papers?”
“Next one’s easy,” said Eldridge. “Church. Get back on the freeway and go south, way south. It’s in the burbs by the airport.”
They mainlined freeway until the hills rose around them and then took a series of long angular roads cutting into the mangled landscape. At some point, Haldeman realized that he was driving through a wallpaper of identically varied houses. There were five designs, and they repeated in order, just as the road names repeated the same ideas (forests, glens, rivers, hills) and the pattern of each neighborhood repeated, a shopping center with a big road that shortly branched into many tributaries.”
“Use the GPS,” said Eldridge. “It’s a labyrinth of clones.”
They followed the soothing synthetic voice and soon found themselves outside an A-frame church. The pastor answered their knock with kindly, patient, and dead eyes, and signed quickly. “Nothing will come of this,” he said. “We do the socially correct thing here. The suffering, the homeless, and the minorities, they all need us. Trump will take away the safety net, and God will smite him.”
Their next stop took them to a home up in the hills made in imitation Spanish mission style. They could not even hear the city from where they were. A long-haired, scruffy guy with no tattoos answered the door, his dark features swimming in a glaze of marijuana smoke and possibly some homemade moonshine.
“My, my,” he said. “What these people get up to… John Lennon told us to imagine a world without all the things humans fight over, like money, gods, and race. Now this Trump guy comes in and he divides us, he comes with a sword. I will do the socially right thing, which is to reach out with empathy and compassion, instead of giving in to the dark, primitive and deplorable hatred of Trump. He’ll never get anywhere with this. There are too many of us, and we all have jobs in government now.” He smiled widely as smoke escaped between his teeth.
Haldeman got them on the freeway in record time. “I’m thinking I might go back to being a golf instructor,” he said.
They took surface streets to the coast, it being rush hour and therefore, every intersection packed with cars trying to escape from the parking lots that the freeways had become. On the coastal road, they found themselves at the designated address.
“It’s an imitation Taj Mahal, or something,” said Eldridge. They got out, knocked at the door, and were ushered inside by a servant with an Irish accent.
Suddenly there was a small man near them, very obviously Chinese. He spoke in flawless, unaccented English of the type taught in midwestern technical institutions. “I will sign, of course, as it is my legal duty,” he said, reaching out a hand for a pen which slid between his fingers at a gesture from another red-haired, freckled servant. “But his cause is hopeless. No, it is too late for Donald Trump.”
“This country is such an interesting place,” he said, pouring them each a cup of fragrant, gentle tea (gratefully accepted). “They have a nose for business unlike any other, even more than the Jews or Gypsies. They opened it up, like a bazaar, and now it sells itself, thinking that its new owners will not change the laws. But they have already changed, at least in effect.”
He paused in front of a window filled with sun and sky, turning bright and rosy in the last segment of the day. “Trump will achieve nothing. All of those in power are already working for us, or shortly will be. It is easy: offer them a threat, and then wave money in their face. This is the opposite of your police force, who wave a threat in your face and then offer money. No: make them think that the threat is their own fault, and then give them a way out. Every man for himself.”
He sipped. “If you have ever had chickens, you know of what I speak. You want them to fan out, each doing what it wants, taking the good grain and hiding it from the others, pecking in secret places for bugs. The more individualistic they become, the easier they are to herd, because together they have no goal. They are just every chicken for himself. Then, the goal becomes getting all you can, without others getting ahead. They rush to slaughter, lest the others get there first.”
Back on the road, Eldridge suggested they cut through the reservoir to get back to their outer suburban homes. At his apartment, they popped beers and lit up a blunt he kept taped to the back of the refrigerator. “Man, what a day,” said Adam. “I felt like everyone wanted to control our brains. These people use language like a bludgeon.”
Exhaling smoke, Eldridge nodded. “My generation grew up with this stuff. Trust the system, get a job and get ahead. Then that turned into drop out, get famous, and get ahead. We knew it was all winding down in 1964, and now we see it pan out. Everything crashing down at once, a great final act, where we all get to act out the rage and emptiness inside.”
He continued. “I think they’re all wrong, though. The winds have changed. We hit rock bottom. There is nowhere else to go. And if life has taught me anything, it is that reality is like the ocean. You can control one part of it, but then the rest surges in and overwhelms you. I learned this in martial arts.”
Eldrige took a huge hit. “The ocean is like time, imagination, or memory. You have to glide over it, like a surfer or a dolphin, cut through it, move with it. History has changed. China, the UN, the EU, Jesus, Buddha, Keynesianism… those are all history, an idea from centuries ago living on like a zombie. These fools are trying to dam the ocean, and they will damn themselves.”
Adam watched as the doorway detached itself from time, and like reflections under layers of glass, extended infinitely into another space entirely. “What the heck are we smoking?”
“This? Oh, it’s some top-end Thai bud — they grow it on trees — mixed with a little Nepali blonde hash, wrapped up in a Malawian Nicotiana Rustica wrapper. There are some benefits to globalism. But now I’m going to kick your ass in Cyberpunk 2077.”
But the game crashed, then Windows rebooted with a giant update that would take hours, so they ended up wandering among the trees at the park, lost souls waiting for the end.