Day of Change

Lawrence Holofcener

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One day

            Fourteen million breakfast tables were strangely quiet.  Instead of the usual pre-school, off-to-work, mutational hubbub, everyone watched the box, watched a family by a stream.

            They're not on vacation, the well-known lady reporter told them. This isn't a once-a-year camping trip, a weekend in the woods. The interesting thing about the Bennetts is that they gave up a beautiful home in Montclair, a top advertising executive position in New York, a six-figure income, private schools for his sons-in other words, the American Dream, for this.

            The box showed a long view of rolling hills. the familiar quilting of farmland, a dark patch of tall trees bisected by a wide rocky stream.  Then the recently cleared camping ground. 

            A teen-age boy was seen taking dishes to wash in the stream, and an older boy struggling with a wheel-barrow full of rocks heading towards a row of stakes.

            The reporter approached a tall slender man with graying hair and a surprisingly boyish face.  He was whittling a crudely made window frame.

            Why ever did you leave beautiful Upper Montclair, Mr. Bennett? she asked with a twinkling smirk.

            The man chuckled nervously and slowly set down his work, wondering how to answer her without seeming pompous—wondering too if viewers could see his fingers or lips quivering.

            “We didn't leave Upper Montclair, Mizz Jordan.  We left American society as it is today.”

            He was leading her as pre-arranged towards the pit fire and plank table. 

She oozed her thanks as he poured two mugs of steaming coffee, wishing a bolt of lightning would end this excruciating interview.

            Hi, David!   Hello, Jake!  she called.

          The boys, also as rehearsed, mumbled greetings and scooted off.

            The reporter explained that they were building the chimney with local stone.  She turned to Bennett who hoped she had forgotten his first words.  No such luck.

            And what do you think is wrong with American society-umm-as it is today?

Again the hint of facetiousness with the smile.

            “Nothing,” he replied, trying to control his voice. “I just thought that we, my boys and I, should start thinking about the earth, the water, the things—“

            And forget those who are starving and dying?

            “No, but so are the elk, the salmon, the dart fly!” 

            Whole countries suffering and you--

            “Not countries—people, the only unendangered species on earth.”

            You consider the dart fly more important than human life?

            About to retort to this intimidating woman Bennett took a deep breath and said softly, Not more but certainly not less.  The dart fly was here first, and it doesn't need cigarettes, guns, gas or toxic chemicals to survive.”

            Anne Jordan, her mouth open, gazed at the tall man, speechless.

            “Mizz Jordan, I'm not going to waste your time or your audience's complaining. Everybody's been doing that.   I even started a journal full of things

I felt had gone haywire.   And what someone might do with the power to change them.   Trying to get along with just what the land offers.  No taking from anybody, not neighbors, not the next town, the next county or country or oil company or electric—golly, I'm sorry.”

            No, no, go on, she urged, nodding.

            “One day, six months ago sitting in our air-conditioned den, the boys started kidding me about—about writing and talking and not doing anything about it.  Put up or shut up, they said.  And well . . . here we are.”

            They got up from the table to where they had laid out the foundation for their cabin.  It was being done the old way, he said, without cement, nails, or milled lumber.

            Because it's better the old way?  Stronger?

            He clucked nervously, glad she took the bait.  “Probably nowhere near as strong. certainly not as weatherproof or warm.  The plain truth is if we used nails

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