Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Lorax and I

July 29, 2012

I just watched "The Lorax". The early scenes reminded me of this story I wrote a few years ago.


The vacuum man was late.

At first his absence didn’t worry anybody. Although a vacuum man had arrived promptly at 8 a.m. every Thursday morning for the last 20 years, people who noticed he was late merely thought, “Well, he’s always come, so he’ll be here any time.” And they didn’t worry.

At 10:00, people started commenting, “Hey, the vacuum man is late. Do you suppose anything’s wrong?”

At 12:00, people started to worry about how his absence might affect their lives.

Cynthia Estes, who was being married on Saturday, had planned her wedding down to the last detail. But if the vacuum man didn’t come, her perfect day would be ruined. The wedding might not even be able to take place.

Mrs. O’Hara, who had promised her children a swimming party on Saturday as a reward for making it through another school year, was less concerned on logistical grounds—after all, they could have a swimming party any time—than she was with disappointing her children, who were looking forward to the party as a way to blow off steam after another tough year of school.

The mothers of the other children, faced with the possibility of having to entertain them instead of sending them to the party, tried to resign themselves; but they hoped with all their might that the vacuum man would show up in time and spare them the ordeal of listening to their children complain all Saturday about how they wished they were swimming at the O’Haras’ instead of being stuck at home all day.

Human Resource Directors, although used to dealing with a variety of catastrophes, still shuddered at the thought that the vacuum man might not come in time. Every employee in the valley was guaranteed two Fridays off a month; if the vacuum man didn’t come on Thursday, the employees who were to be off this Friday might demand to get their day off after the vacuum man had come, which would put the whole schedule out of whack. You couldn’t blame them, but there was absolutely no way to accommodate them. One HR Director even went so far as to draft a “We’re all in this together” speech, accompanied by the offer of reduced schedules on the day after the vacuum man had come, to help make up for the lost Friday.

At 3:00, CEO’s started to get a little nervous as well. Suppose the vacuum were seriously broken? Would traffic be banned after a day or two? If employees couldn’t get to work, how would they maintain production? What would happen to the bottom line?

At 3:30, Cynthia Estes’s mother, her nerves already thin from the wedding preparations, snapped at her daughter, “I don’t know when he’s coming. Go lie down!”

At 5:00, the TV stations ran news stories asking, “Do we pay our vacuum men enough?” The human interest angle, they felt, would sugar-coat the main thrust of their broadcasts, which was to panic the population in the guise of disseminating news.

Cynthia Estes’s mother started calling her friends to see if anyone could spare a Valium.

People who watched the news broadcasts wrote letters to the newspaper, demanding that steps be taken so that the vacuum men would be assured of fair payment for performing this vital job.

Judd Delaney, this week’s vacuum man, was having a hard day himself. He had been working on the vacuum since 6 a.m. (What a day to have forgotten his cell phone!) At 8 a.m. he had started to swear, softly but steadily. By 3 p.m. he had a pounding headache and tension knots all through his shoulders and back. The only bright spot in his day was the 5:00 news broadcasts. Judd, who was amply paid, grinned at the pay question and thought that, after all, it didn’t hurt for people to actually think about the matter every now and then.

At 8:02 p.m. the Purevac 2300 started humming softly. Judd sighed with relief and maneuvered her into position over the valley. Now people could have their clean air on Friday and during the weekend. He’d have to work all night, but that was better than making thousands of people have their Friday off in the dirty air that was almost impossible to breathe.

At 8:12 p.m., the vacuum man finally arrived. And the people in the valley all breathed easier.

Anyone who lives in a valley will be able to relate to this story. The air gets stuck between the mountains and won't move, so the quality gets worse and worse until a lot of wind comes through and clears it. But I think that having a vacuum would be very helpful.

In the movie, the man who wants to keep the air unbreathable so that he can sell bottled air to the townspeople is named Aloysius O'Hare. Funnily enough I also wrote a story that had a character named Aloysius. What are the odds?

August 16, 2012

For the past few days, the Treasure Valley has been having its worst air quality in years—at one point the smoke from the wildfires was so thick that everything looked hazy, not just objects in the distance. I’d really love to have an air purifier for the whole valley.

August 17, 2015

Reality check: In the story, I wrote that the kids couldn't attend a pool party because of the bad air. A friend in Idaho just wrote that they can't go to the pool lately because the air quality is horrible. See? It's not just fiction!

December 1, 2015: Looks like a vacuum isn't such a crazy idea after all!

No comments: