One fine day, I decided that I, too, would build a wall. It would be the most beautiful wall, the best wall. It would keep all the scary stuff out. I would put the wall in my front yard. I didn’t like how my driveway was open to everyone. Way too many random drivers were using it as a turnaround spot. And more and more people were moving into my neighborhood. God only knows who all was coming in these days.

My fantasy was to make the wall out of gold and pink marble, like one of President Trump’s bathrooms. Unfortunately, I wasn’t rich–in fact, I could barely afford my retirement. So I would work with what I had. I started stacking old cans and beer bottles up to form the foundation of my wall. A few of my neighbors gave me strange looks, but they just didn’t understand what going after the American dream is all about.

My next door neighbor came over to chat with me. She was one of those do-gooders who have to stick their nose into everything. She said she loved my art project about recycling. Annoying old witch. Soon, I would no longer have to see her. Once my wall was tall enough, I would no longer have to see anyone. I wouldn’t have to see the kids running down the sidewalk, screaming “Hi!” at me. If I made it soundproof, I wouldn’t have to hear the crazy dog across the street barking its head off. Or the cars driving by with their rap music turned up way too loud.

Over the next couple months, I kept building away. I brought whatever junk I could find to my construction site, and taped and glued it together. But it still wasn’t enough to make a truly intimidating barrier. I even tapped into the emergency food and water supplies I was saving for the inevitable war against the government, so that I could add the emptied packaging to my wall. I took the old newspapers piling up in the guest bedroom and ground them up, using the paste to plug holes in my structure. I hesitated for a moment when it came to my books–but, really, it was a no brainer. Defending my property was far more important than reading.

I stood back and surveyed my work with pride. It was beautiful. But something was missing. Something big.

How could I have not thought of it earlier? All the idiots on TV hated the President. Watching it was a waste of time.

It was just as I was pondering how exactly I would make the television a part of my masterpiece that the mailman drove up.

“Hello!” he called out with a smile. I could barely see him from behind several feet of wall material.

“What’s all this?” he asked.

“It’s…a new security system.” I tapped my fingers nervously on a rusting can. “Gotta be careful. All kinds of people out there. I know it doesn’t look like much right now, but I’m working on building more layers.”

“Oh. How are you going to pick up your mail?”

Good question. I hadn’t thought that through. It seemed that his voice was tinged with a little sadness. We always used to talk whenever I was out in my yard. He was a real friendly guy. But we were living in the end times, and I couldn’t let myself worry about that.

“I’ll leave a crack for you to slip the mail into,” I ventured.

Once I had nailed the TV down, hacking the rest of my furniture to bits was the next logical step. I didn’t have any sentimental feelings as I methodically destroyed my home. The dining table–I never had any guests over for dinner. The chest with my childhood toys. The shelves, the chairs, the bed. I didn’t mind sleeping on the floor. It was best for me not to sleep too comfortably anyway.

My wall–my baby–kept growing. It was now far taller and thicker than I had ever envisioned, blocking out the neighboring houses and the late sunset skies. I even managed to make some DIY barbed wire to decorate the top.

One evening, as I sat in my gutted house sipping a glass of water which had been carefully filtered through my sock, I heard sirens approaching. I paused and listened. Yep, they had come to a stop in front of my place.

I went out to greet them. I liked cops, for the most part. It wasn’t their fault that they worked for a corrupt government. Of course, that didn’t mean I wouldn’t take a weapon out there with me.

I heard the cop’s voice coming through the makeshift mail slot.

“Good evening! We’re here because someone gave us a call about a structure which violates building and safety codes…”

That stupid woman again.

“You know how it is–we had to check it out. That’s quite a fence you got yourself there.”

“Did what I had to do. This neighborhood isn’t what it used to be. You understand what I mean, officer.”

“Hahahaha…sure do, but don’t say that too loud, or some of your neighbors will get even more offended. You armed?”

“Yeah.”

“Good. We need armed citizens like you. You keep an eye on things. Or an ear, I guess.” He chuckled. “Excuse me…there’s some punk in a hoodie walking around here. Gonna go take care of that.”

“Thank you for your service, officer.”

The sirens sped off again.

Even though the police had been so reasonable, the incident made me even more paranoid. All my suspicions were confirmed–I couldn’t trust my neighbors. They were out to get me.

Well, fuck them. I was a maker. Unlike them, I did not spend pathetic evenings staring at one screen or another. They might think I was ridiculous, and everything about me might get wiped away, but my wall would remain. A tribute to my ingenuity and hard work. A tribute to America.

*****

From the Gentry Village Times website, dated August 20, 2018:

Fire sadly claimed a fatality today, reminding us of the dangers of our unusually dry weather. The Gentry Fire Department responded to a call about a blaze consuming a local home, and found the body of a Mr. Alexander Jones at the site. The way his charred corpse was positioned indicated that he died while making a futile attempt to climb a giant wall of trash stacked up around his house. It is unclear why the wall was there, but neighbors say Mr. Jones was a hoarder and in need of a mental health intervention. Numerous complaints had been lodged with the community homeowner’s association.

One anonymous neighbor was quoted as saying: “Somebody should’ve probably told him that he was acting completely bleeping insane. Before the wall got out of control.”

“But we never expected the fire.”

The Professor winced when he got out of his flight capsule.  He had to keep reminding himself of how crucial his assignment was, that every little bit counted.  No matter how hopeless it seemed.

“Remember, you’re doing sacred work, Henrik,” he muttered under his breath.

A rag-tag crowd of natives was already beginning to gather, gawking at his ship. A few of them cheered and applauded, but most just stared, stone-faced.

Naomi bounded out to meet him.  She looked energetic as ever, no matter how much human misery she witnessed on a daily basis.

“Thank you for agreeing to come here, sir,” she said after hugging him. “This is a rough area.”

“Rough areas are my job,”  he replied, his Swedish accent making the word “job” softer. Not all of his colleagues at World United agreed that the charity missions to Merka were worthwhile. He couldn’t blame them.  Visiting a place like New York wasn’t too bad–it was quaint with all the red brick, and the traffic-clogged streets and old-fashioned subways, but one still felt connected to civilization.  Out here, though….

“What part of Virginia are we in again?”  he whispered to Naomi.

“Western Virginia, sir,”  she whispered back.

The Merkans continued to eye him with suspicion, but they also started quietly lining up, knowing that a World United flight meant food and aid packages for them.  It was a heart-wrenching sight: a long line of silent, ragged figures, pretending to be too proud to care about the hand-out they were waiting for.

But Naomi was beaming at him. “We’ve got something very special lined up for you today, sir.”

He gave her a weary smile.  She led him carefully down the steps from the landing pad, and then down a narrow, uneven sidewalk, manoeuvering him past a large pothole.  On the other side of the street was a row of the typical small shacks Merkans lived in, holes covered with blue tarp, walls stained by the smoke from the town factory.  He could sense the residents peering at him from their doorways, but they were blocked from approaching him by a mix of local police and World United security.

They stopped underneath a flashing blue sign which read Debbie’s Cafe.

“We wanted to treat you to the best Virginia has to offer,”  Naomi said, showing him to a table on the side patio of the cafe. A server immediately jogged up with a styrofoam tray of greasy fries.

He would never admit it to anyone back in Europe, but Henrik enjoyed some of these exotic Merkan foods quite a bit. They never did switch to the health service diet over here. Of course, they never did get a decent health service, either.

Naomi interrupted his fascination with the fries when she tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to a red-headed boy who had climbed a small podium and positioned himself behind a cheap portable keyboard.

After an announcement by a community center music teacher which Henrik didn’t pay attention to, the boy began to play.

It was a halting but graceful version of the old Cohen classic, Hallelujah. As the sounds melted away into the humid Merkan afternoon, Henrik was once again overcome with wonder. It was here, among these simple people in their slums, that he could find something akin to spiritual enlightenment.  He breathed it in.

The kid was talented.  He listened for a while with his eyes closed.  After the song stopped, the teacher and Naomi clapped with great enthusiasm.  Henrik walked up to congratulate the young musician, and the gaunt and nervous mother hovering behind him.

Henrik shook the boy’s hand. “Excellent job!  That was amazing!”  he said.  “Would you please give me your contact info?  I could get you a visa for anywhere in the Northern World Region.  You could study music at a real university.  What do you think, huh?”

The boy blushed and gazed at the ground.

His mother looked even more nervous. “I don’t know about that, mister,”  she said.  “I listen to the radio news and they’ve explained all about World United.  It might not be so good for him.”

He should’ve known. He had heard this so many times before. “Surely he won’t be able to get any real music training here, is he?”

“If we work hard and we save our money up, we might be able to get there,”  the woman said.  “At least here in Merka, we have the freedom to try.  My child isn’t going to be oppressed by a one world socialist government.”

“He wouldn’t have to live there forever,”  Henrik explained.  “And he would be free to make his own choices…”

“Yeah, if he chooses to be a gay snowflake,”  the woman shot back. “Look, his teacher wanted him to perform for you today, so I let him perform.  But I’m not letting you take him anywhere. We’re still the best country in the world.  I don’t care what anybody else says.”

The professor suspected that he was getting at least some of this hostility courtesy of his dark skin. The white Merkan natives always seemed to have an issue with that.

“That’s right.”  An older man standing nearby nodded vigorously.  Henrik couldn’t tell if he was a father or a grandfather. Most of his teeth were missing, his body bent from a lifetime of grueling labor.  “That’s right.  I thank God every day that I was lucky enough to be born in Merka.”

“Living in the rest of the world is not quite the nightmare you imagine it to be,”  Henrik said.  “We lead very normal lives.”

“Nope.  Nice try, but you can’t fool us,”  the woman said. “I listen to the Han Stannity show every day.  Good man.  He gives us all the information about what really goes on over there–how they tax you to death, how the only way you can get medical care is through the government…”

Her son stared at her, wide-eyed.

“We know the truth!”  the woman finished triumphantly.

Henrik bowed to her and her son.  “I suppose if you’ve found out the truth about us, there’s not much I can do to persuade you otherwise.  I wish you all the best for your future, young man.”  For a moment, his mask of politeness slipped.  “With all due respect, though, Han Stannity is a complete moron.”

He turned and slowly walked away.

“You can go fuck yourself!  You and your country!”  He could hear the woman screaming after him. “We will bomb the shit out of you!”

That would have been a scary threat, Henrik thought. A scary threat…about fifty years or so ago.

Naomi was waiting for him, her face drawn, her hands folded together.  “That was so disappointing, Henrik. I’ll have one of the event organizers speak to them.”

The professor waved his arms. “No, no, don’t.  It’s not necessary.”

He sat down and went back to sipping his beer. Now that the woman was done screaming, she and her family began making their way to the World United food and medicine distribution point.  There would also be doctors available there to give them free medical and dental exams.

He didn’t feel any anger as he watched these fiery warriors for liberty rushing to claim assistance from the institution they so hated.  He realized their fist shaking fury was a symptom of their total powerlessness.

He smiled at Naomi across the table.  “Please, don’t look so anxious, my dear.  I have never lost faith in the value of our mission.”

“It just breaks my heart that a man like you, who only wants to help others, gets treated like this.”

This would be the perfect time to hop on his return flight back to Stockholm.  In fact, it was way overdue.  He was done with this place.

“Naomi, this isn’t all about me helping them.  The truth is, these people help me.  They help me find gratitude–gratitude for what we’ve got in the rest of the world.”

And as she waved a tearful goodbye to him and he climbed back up to his flying ship, he added to himself:

“Where else could I go to feel this superior?”

 

I hear a lot about the real America. I’m told it’s a very particular kind of place. It’s the heartland with its God-fearing and armed Christians which is the real America. Not the perverted coasts. Not elitist New York or liberal Hollywood.

Problem is, I love the fake America. I’m an immigrant–I know, we’re not quite as fashionable as we used to be–and I definitely didn’t come here for the real America. If I wanted to be surrounded by farms and church-goers, I could’ve stayed in rural Eastern Europe. Those of us around the world who dream of America dream of a glamorous and exciting place. I dreamed of the land of skyscrapers and city skylines, of jazz and rap. I didn’t think of Americans as people who followed conservative tradition, I thought of them as people who outraged their elders by doing inappropriate dances, and doing them with inappropriate dance partners. My parents imitated Americans with jeans and hippie hair and rock’n’roll. When we lived behind the Iron Curtain and we fantasized about the States, we didn’t fantasize about being a televangelist (except maybe for their wealth).

Our patriotic pundits like to remind us that America is exceptional. I agree that it is. But if it looked like they wish it did, it wouldn’t be exceptional at all. There are already plenty of narrow-minded and theocratic places on this planet–there’s no need for more. There’s not nearly enough of the mixed-up and the crazy and the sinful. Those are the parts of America I love the most. And I hope that God or Goddess will continue to bless them for many years to come.