Day of Change

Lawrence Holofcener

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As before, but now with brio, Richard spent most of each day bouncing in and out of the dome worrying over details the builders might ignore—ceiling heights and closet space in the suites, comfortable seating in the dining areas, pictures in the hallways—meanwhile expressing astonishment as the commune began to physically materialized.  Don Walker, finished with his blasting, proved even more helpful with his (M.I.T. grounded) statistical analysis of stresses and weights on walls and ceilings.  His relationship with Anne had become, if not warm, at least cordial and respectful.

Deciding the number of suites festered for weeks with the engineering brass—even Anne.  While potentially having room for two hundred, even more with extending the pit, they had signed on for only a working prototype, a model commune.  Richard apologized for their misreading his initial ideas of a model, which he’d let slip early, never believing they could produce the real thing, but was both eloquent in his argument and adamant.  Why do it if not a fully operational village?  And the stickiest point of all, fully occupied long before the Continental Congress would convene in July. 

The major change was the pit itself, expanding thirty yards!  Richard was aghast until he heard the argument.  Easier to extend laterally, with just one floor down instead of two or three.  No need for energy-sapping elevators, just wide staircases.  The extra layer of topsoil we’ll be digging up we’ll store and replant later.  Also, instead of just in the hallways as planned, deck-lights bringing daylight into every suite—how ‘bout that, Mister Amwell!  Stairs, yes, okay, but can’t we have a small wheel-chair elevator, please? begged Richard.  

Richard feigned disappointment in conceding to the sensible changes.  It kept the crew in place, for there’d been cries of desertion, few from the working grunts, mostly the college-educated officers at the constant changes and starts and stops (SNAFU was the oft heard cry and not just the initials).  Further, his deadline was ridiculous; they’d need a year for his 150 suites. 

In fact, with a tripling of the construction crew, equipment and supplies constantly flowing into the site, along with encouraging visits by Clark May and others of his staff—and the clincher, a top French New York chef in charge of meals—the underground village was indeed completed by mid April and fully occupied by May 5th!  Suite size had been determined after trips to several large hotels plus a cruise ship.  The Engineers opted for a spartan state-room, Richard separate bed and living spaces, kitchenette, and bath with a tub.  The army argued against a living room, since entertaining and eating would be in the lounge and dining hall above.  Besides, food in the suites presented rodent and insect problems, and tubs were difficult with older people.  Agreed finally were one, two and three bedroom suites with no sitting room, kitchenette or tub. 

Oftentimes so exhausted was he, Richard ate with the troops and was even joined by Anne.  It gave her more time for her jobs and for them to see his sons, stronger, taller and fully committed to the project and the Prime Directive, and was its spokesmen to their friends in the military. 


The Prime Directive.  Anne said in her quiet, determined voice that it should not in any form be ‘thrown’ at the Congress attendees before their arrival.   She would wager a hundred bucks that if it were sent them at home, few would show up.  Richard quickly took the bet, thinking she was vacillating, insisting then pleading it be included in the invitations if only to give the prospective members of the 3rd Continental Congress time to read it, absorb the shock of it, then see its rationale—‘earth first,’ huh? 

They argued calmly for a while, then at volume, and then lost control erupting into insult, then blasting profanities.  On that impossible note Anne stuffed clothes and tooth brush into a sack and drove off in their dusty, rattling, old, old station wagon.  It was not until late the next day, well behind the seedy but tranquilly situated Fountain Motel just off Route 22 where Anne had escaped, that she was visited by a chastened, pleadingly apologetic lover. 

Interspersed with lengthy silences, seated on separate boulders beside a gurgling stream, a bargain was struck.  Not one article of the Prime Directive would be included with the invitations, but doled out individually with questions and answers and much explanatory discourse upon their arrival.  And then, only after the commune itself was visited by every participant in the Congress. 

Richard, in fact, went further to promise that if the first article was not unanimously accepted, they would proceed no further, close down the commune and—   

“Richard!  We cannot disappoint the initial inhabitants, two of whom will be us!  It’s a wonderful idea, perhaps premature for some people, but with it up and running and visitors from around the country and the press—and yes, around the world, don’t you see?”

“Yes, yes, you’re right, of course . . . sure.”  He had to admit his ideas were sometimes off the wall, far beyond the average, comfort-demanding American to take in at first glance. 

April 1st, the deadline for the return of invitations passed with only dribbles arriving.  Anne, deep sighs controlling her anger, had been dead on.  Even without the P.D., barely half of the twenty-six hundred stamped envelopes were returned, and barely a fourth of those accepting.  In many of the declines contained entreaties imploring them to come back to reason, give up this inhuman behavior.      

Ongoing were Richard’s battles with the crew, one with the chef over the use of electricity (solar powered!  So what!) over gas.  Each night he dragged to the cabin to work on fine-tuning his ‘Terra Carta,’ the first drafts many pages but which Anne, who couldn’t be bothered to edit it with all her other duties, kept slipping notes under his desk pad.   Shorter!  More concise!’  Mini-Declaration! 



One morning, Anne looked across the cabin, startled at the amount of profanity coming from Richard.   What’s this latest problem?  From the volume and the repeated f’s it was serious.  A cave-in?  Concrete walls crumbling?  She called him but he didn’t hear her over his tirade.  She got up, sighing at the interruption of dealing with her pile of correspondence and the massive bills for equipment—thank goodness their bank balance was fat from the prospective commune members’ investments.

At his shoulder—his eyes were shut as he railed at his own shortcomings and he opened his eyes.  “Oh!  Anne.”

“What is it?  What’s the matter?”

“I can’t—this thing, it’s too much for me—I can’t,, that’s  all, I’m just not . . . “  he was about to weep and she knelt and put her arms around him.  As she did so she looked down at the table. On it were scraps of paper with half-sentences, some with just words and she realized it was the introduction to the Terra Carta, after the Magna Carta, he was stumbling over.  What should she say to him?  How to get him to continue working on it, or, better still, ask him to drop it and return to it in a few days.  Or, perhaps to test his resolve, drop a bomb: tell him we didn’t need it. 

Seeing him grin, apologize for the outburst and sigh, she got up and said, “Richard, darling.  You don’t have to do this.  Drop it, yes, altogether.  We don’t need a—“

“Yes!  No, we don’t need it.  Matter of fact we--”

“Richard!  What are you saying?”  Now she was frightened.  The Terra Carta was brilliant—and his alone, perhaps the most important thing he would ever write.  Its intention was to engage the Congress, at the start, give them a lovely statement, a ‘Declaration,’ then galvanize them into accepting the draconian articles of the Prime Directive.

“You’re right, as always.  We don’t need flowery eighteenth century prose.  We need the direct language of today.  Everyone out there already thinks we’re crazy—you read the papers.  We’re a joke—so far.  This country has been lulled into a false sense of security and comfort.  We’ve never faced hardship like some of the third world countries, or the two world wars that devastated Europe! We don’t like change, especially if we have to give up our cars and houses and shopping malls and—we just have to say it and – and show them how wonderful it can be with the Amwell Commune and it will be wonderful.”

In response, Anne turned away and said aloud:  “In the infinity of the heavens, of the galaxies and star systems beyond number, sits a small sun star with its nine orbiting offspring.  One of these contains, and has for millennia sustained, myriad forms of life. It is called simply, Earth.   With certain knowledge, we Outsiders shall ensure that Planet Earth, for as long as its sun provides warmth and light, will continue to flourish, evolve, and change, naturally.  It is this simple principle that we, as guests, are entreated to honor, do not interfere with or disturb its life-giving rhythm.’  It’s the most beautiful thing you’ve written, darling.”

“Wow.  I didn’t know you’d memorized it.  But Terra Carta is a conceit, a play on words.  Okay, poetry is what I’m good at, but ‘earth first’ is simpler, stronger.  It’s original and easy to understand.  And if they don’t get it or they reject it, well, poetry won’t help.  We’re not having it and that’s that.  Sorry,” he said to her frown of disappointment.   She returned to her desk, sighing.  But when she sat down her lips curled sardonically.  He was right, of course.  The Magna Carta was British and a thousand years ago.  Hold on, it was French, after the Norman Conquest of England!  ‘Earth First’ is ours—American. 

One night just before sleep, Richard whispered.  “Anne, uh . . . will you, that is, would you consider—no, that’s not what I—I’m trying to say that I want you to—no, not that either, I just . . . .”  

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