McLaren and Barrows-Glenn glowered at each other across the Homeowner’s Association Meeting Hall. It seemed Barrows-Glenn had trumped his rival once again, achieving a lawn three shades greener than his. McLaren already began plotting his revenge, requesting an aeration four months early. See if the bastard saw that coming, he thought to himself.
“The meeting will come to order,” announced Felicia Tannerbottom, the president of the Association. She rifled through a series of pages before the podium, before the audience of thirty-or-so visibly aggravated members. This was not the usual time for the meeting. The meeting was always to be held the first Monday of the month at 6:45 PM precisely so as not to clash with Antiques Roadshow. The attendees shifted in their seats, not amused at all.
“Mrs. Shinyshoes, I’m not sure if you received the memo, and I’m sure it is just a clerical oversight, but the garbage cans are to be burnt sienna this year, not chocolate brown. I trust you will be able to rectify this situation before pick-up this Friday.” Mrs. Shinyshoes felt the uncomfortable flush of embarrassment come to her face, mortified that her containers did not meet specifications.
“Mr. Lucre,” Tannerbottom announced, “has announced he will be leaving the neighborhood. It seemed he preferred his faux-stained glass suncatcher to living in a harmonious, mutually-supportive atmosphere and all I can say to that is, good riddance.” The audience scowled with agreement, ruminating on the fascism of the, bah, “decorative arts.”
A thin, bald man stood up at the back of the crowd. “But I’m right here,” Mr. Lucre shouted.
“Take a hint,” Mr. Tweedjam shouted back, to the delight of the assembly. Lucre sat down, remaining silent for the rest of the proceedings.
“On to this evening’s business,” continued Tannerbottom. “We have a representative from the Quality Performance Corporation with us tonight and he wants to speak about a product I just know you’re going to love.”
McLaren thought to himself, we’ll see about that. Interlopers were always trouble, always. The pool man promised his water would have 95% clarity, at least 15 more than Barrows-Glenn’s pool. Of course he went for the treatment, and what fool wouldn’t? The next day, the same pool guy was over at Barrows-Glenn’s! Surely he wasn’t trying to sell an inferior service, that two-timer. No, McLaren knew little good came of strangers in this neighborhood.
The man who approached the microphone was dressed immaculately, his teeth were seven times whiter than Chicklets gum, he strolled with the confidence of a man who knew exactly how to keep his stuff from getting pinched, and his name was, “Chuck Butterby. I have the thing, the very thing you’ve all been looking for but never had the opportunity to say.”
He clicked a remote once and a plasma TV descended from the ceiling. He clicked the remote again and his powerpoint presentation commenced. Letters flew across the screen with “swish-swish” sound effects, and they all converged in the middle of the display with the audio equivalent of the gates of heaven opening up, the letters reading: I – C – B – M.
The audience gasped. Mrs. Bairnes-Waughes nearly fainted.
“Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Does this man, this handsome, confident man really expect me to buy missiles?” He winked at the crowd, and it was like the blink of a star a million light years away, a supernova announcing the death of a foreign object, brilliant in its terminal moment, all for your appreciation alone. “Names are like numbers, folks. If you massage ’em enough, they’ll say anything you want them to!”
The audience chuckled a bit. “Come on, you know what I mean; but if anyone out there works for the I.R.S., you didn’t get that from me!” The audience laughed a little more this time. Perhaps this Butterby was more like one of them than they thought. He gave another wink, this one heralding the collapse of an entire galaxy.
Barrows-Glenn was listening intently. He had one-upped McLaren by putting in seven Crepe Myrtle trees to his feeble, impotent three, and one more master stroke could put him over the top for good. If Butterby was offering that master stroke, he was ready to receive it.
“You good people are smart, intelligent, learned, intellectual salt of the earth. You watch the news and know I-C-B-M stands for Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. As such, a missile has the capacity to remove something unsightly off the map, something very unpleasant to you, and you can make it happen with only the touch of a button. You never need to see it if you choose not to see it. You never have to get your fingers dirty if you don’t want to touch it. It’s just like…” At that, he made a gesture with his hands like rabbits, coins and colored silk scarves would come flying out of them. “Zammo!”
A hush fell over the crowd. Butterby leaned into the microphone on the podium like he would in speaking into the ear of a lovely, susceptible woman. He softly, deeply said, “What if you could make that which distinguishes you from the less-smart, less-learned, common types of this earth just go away? Without a trace, not even a scent?”
What did he mean by that? Every nay-sayer saying nay in that room deigned to suspend their disbelief, they leaned closer, taking in his words, his breath, the very wavelengths that comprised sound itself. He was the palm, open wide to them, and they ate with no hesitation.
“I present to you, the I-C-B-M: The Interstellar Conveyance for Bowel Movements.” They all sat up again.
“Bowel movements?” a lone voice chirped from the back.
“With this attachment to your home, we…”
“Shoot our shit into space?” the voice replied again.
“Well, to put it bluntly, yes, that’s what it does, but it does so much more. The next time someone looks at you with derision and says, you’re just like me. You put your pants on one leg at a time, you brush your teeth and yes, you take a dump like everyone else, you can look them square in their mud-sucking, lowest-common-denominating eye and say, “Prove it.”
McLaren was incensed. “My God, you’re telling us to shoot our waste into outer space like that was a good thing! What kind of…! How could…? Who do you think…?” He paused a moment, looked across the room at Barrows-Glenn who, seemingly, had already written the check. “How does it work?”
Butterby clicked to the next presentation frame. It showed a house with a gleaming, chrome spike jutting from the backyard into the stratosphere, past the clouds, past the ozone layer, straight into the heart of the void itself. “Through a series of sophisticated switches, flanges and counter-pressure ducts, the vacuum of eternity comes rushing into one track of this tube, swoops down into this PVC backflow, grabs up your lesser birds of creation and swiftly sends them away up the other channel.”
McLaren still was horrified. “You’re really telling us that the solution to our problem is to pollute the solar system.”
“It’s not pollution, sir. Pollution is when the nasty stuff is in your way, in your face and breaking down in the hot sun before you. That’s pollution. This is not pollution, it’s the solution.”
“You’re trying to sell us a product that sends our crap out into the universe. You’re telling us to go forth and shit all over that which we haven’t yet screwed up. That’s what you’re saying.” McLaren started to feel something he hadn’t for decades, back when he flirted with stuffing a dollar into the Salvation Army kettle at Christmastime, 1989. It felt foreign, and yet it felt good. It felt right.
Butterby, sensing this fellow could shift the flow of his presentation, decided to come on down for a one-on-one with this renegade. “You, sir, have the blood of a young George Patton, you know that?”
McLaren tried not to break into a grin. He was a headstrong man, but he did like his flattery.
“Think about it, Mister…?”
“McLaren, Tommy McLaren.” He said it like James Bond would have said it.
“What’s out there… Really. Are we worried about what E.T. thinks of us because we’re sending waste into their backyard? If they were truly an advanced intelligence, they’d have contacted us by now, right? Surely at this stage, if they knew about us, they’d have sent something along to let us know they were there, no?”
“Come on. You know it and I know it. We’re it, you and I, and the people in this room. We’re it. There is nothing beyond us, because if there was, they’d want to know us, right?” Butterby had a way of saying, “Your head is on fire” but making it sound like, “You have the bluest eyes.”
“We could be so much better off if we just stop messing with the mythological implications of the space people. They don’t know us, our needs, if they were actually there. And if they are there and haven’t the social graces to try to talk to us in a civilized manner, then perhaps they deserve what comes their way.”
“I’m not comfortable with this,” McLaren insisted, trying not to be wooed by what he knew, deep in his heart which was supplied by a poor Guatemalan emigre who got caught up with the organ donor black market, that this was just plain wrong.
“I’m not here to pressure you into buying anything you don’t want. That’s bad business and I won’t ever tarnish my good name with a smear like that,” Butterby said.
Just then, Barrows-Glenn tapped Butterby on the shoulder with a check in his hand. “Look, Antiques Roadshow is starting in fifteen minutes. Are we doing this thing or not?”
Butterby looked at Barrows-Glenn, Barrows-Glenn at McLaren, McLaren at Butterby, and with a pained sigh of resignation said, “I’ll take two.”
That evening, except for one, every person who attended the meeting bought onto Butterby’s ICBM plan. In days, large trucks, cranes and hordes of workers would come to flood the neighborhood, kicking dirt into the pool, accidentally backing into the Crepe Myrtle trees, and taking a whiz behind the many quaint sheds when nature commanded so. That one who abstained was Mr. Lucre who decided this neighborhood was no longer for him. He was going to pack up his stained glass suncatchers and find a neighborhood where they might be welcome.
“You’re living a lie, you know,” Butterby said as Lucre was leaving.
“What do you mean?” Lucre asked.
“All this stuff about your individuality, and non-conformity and all of that. You really buy into that?” Butterby’s wink no longer looked like a star shining just for one; more like the glint of light off the guillotine as it drops on the neck, chastened only by the blood that eventually obscures the shine. “Look around you. They’re all blood cells. They’re all flowing in the same vein. You think you’re not, but you will go the way they go. They’ll make you; it’s just how it works.”
“And I can’t even try to go another way?”
“No. Blood cells that don’t flow are clots. You’ll be cut out, and it doesn’t matter where you decide to live. You’ll be cut out. Just wait and see.”
Lucre didn’t say anything, not goodbye or good evening, he just pulled on his coat, opened the door and left. In many ways he knew Butterby was right but, at the same time, he thought maybe he was right because people never bothered to try proving him wrong. Besides, he had no desire to live in a neighborhood full of ICBMs.