Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Goose and The Gander

Authors Note: Please take 10 minutes to read this short story. It is premised on a near future scenario that is quite likely to occur if we allow our "leaders" to follow climate change scare mongers.

The Goose and The Gander

Robert Redford Goes Home To Roost

A Short Story by Craig Willms

Robert Redford, the fine Hollywood actor, was well pleased. Watching CNN on his 90” plasma TV in the living room of his expansive Utah ranch house he silently smirked as the redneck being interviewed went completely ballistic. It had finally happened, he mused, that colossal energy waster and air polluter that was NASCAR is banned out of existence.

NASCAR was just latest. Nothing was sacred in the fight against global climate change.

Over the years he had watched with glee as one by one they fell. First GM, Ford and Chrysler were taken down. Saddled with the dual mandates of fuel efficiency standards and workers pension rights Chrysler quietly went under while Ford and GM had essentially become resellers of tiny Asian automobiles. Next it was the energy industry. Big coal, gas and oil endured stringent (some would say excessive) environmental regulation and taxation. People everywhere dutifully packed into buses and trains suffering long, uncomfortable commutes before coming home to the specter of not having power or lights – again. The initial blackouts were met with more legislation requiring the public to turn down their thermostats and curtail the usage of power hungry appliances.

This is good, thought Redford, Americans had grown fat and lazy. It’s about time they learn the value of hard times and deprivation. He smiled at his housekeeper Conteza as she closed up the dishwasher and turned it on.

“Thanks, sweetie,” he said affectionately. “Don’t forget to turn off the lights in there before you leave – we all have to do our part.”

“Yes, Mr. Redford. Will there be anything else?”

“Yeah, on your way out poke your head in the pool room and make sure I turned off the hot tub.” With his eyes again riveted on the giant TV he shouted over his shoulder, “See you tomorrow. Oh, wait, I’m going to LA tomorrow… See you next week.”

“OK, have a nice trip, sir.” Conteza disappeared down the long hall on her way to the pool room.

The conversation reminded him that he needed to call his pilot. The jet would need to be fueled up for a very early flight and the tanker bringing jet fuel out to his private airstrip would be arriving at the crack of dawn.

He looked forward to this trip more than most. He had finally found funding for his next movie. It amazed him that it took so long. Who wouldn’t want to be involved with this magnificent project? A chance to produce a biography of a living legend didn’t come along everyday. “An Inconvenient Man” would surely net him a best director nomination. He smiled and let his mind wander until he realized there would be no gala event to celebrate his achievement. Large, energy wasting public gatherings had been abandoned by the entertainment industry. Still, any honor for his treatment of the Albert Gore Jr. story would be reward enough.

The show biz industry had changed so much as he approached his 85th birthday that he hardly recognized it. Spectacular opening night premieres were a thing of the past. They were so wasteful with all those spotlights, limousines, TV crews and paparazzi. Still, the real-time Internet events never had the same appeal. It really didn’t matter now; most of his friends he shared those moments with were either dead or had moved to France where the lights never went dark. He sighed… It was a sign of the times – movies were downloaded now – the age of the cineplex had come and gone. Oh how he missed it.

Snapping out of his nostalgic trance he remembered why he should be grateful instead of melancholy. The strip mall culture that had spawned those grotesque multiplex theatres in the suburbs had ended when gas prices finally turned suburbia into a ghost town. The enormous amount of energy used by all those consumer palaces of wretched excess made him sick. Not to mention the inefficiency of all those gas guzzling cars dragging lazy Americans around one at a time.

His phone rang jarring him back to the here and now. “Hello.”

“They did it again!” It was his ranch manager, Pedro Santiago. “Eleven more trees down over by Fonda Creek.”

“Damn it!” Redford cursed. “Jesus H. Christ? Why are they doing this, Pedro?”

“I suppose because they need the wood…”

“Oh, shut the hell up.” Redford said, more irritated with Pedro than the loss of the irreplaceable trees.

“Firewood, I guess. Fuel prices are so high…”

“Yeah, but what gives them the right to take my trees? This is private land.”

“Yes, sir. People who need to keep warm just don’t give a darn about private land.”

Redford half suspected Pedro was in on it but lacked any proof. “OK, get yourself a couple of guys. I want around the clock patrols. Catch the bastards in the act. Hold them at gun point if you have to until the sheriff gets out here.”

“Hard to find anyone with guns these days, sir – maybe some old hunting rifles that were spared confiscation under the Family Heirloom Protection Act…”

“Oh, for God’s sake Pedro, take a couple of mine if you have to! Just get them.”

He threw the phone across the room. He tried to imagine how anyone could cut down eleven giant trees in the middle of the night without anyone seeing anything. He remembered reading a story on the New York Times Online of how it had become a huge problem out east. Entire forests were disappearing in the Catskills and all up and down the Appalachians. There were times the entire east coast was buried under the pall of wood smoke. It was enough to choke a horse. What was this world coming to?

Still angry as he drifted off to sleep he finally let his thoughts return to the coming day when he would be in LA to start putting together his masterpiece.

The phone at his bedside erupted with a cacophony of bell tones wrestling him from the depths of REM sleep. Outside the nascent dawn set his impressive floor to ceiling windows aglow with a soft pink light. His eyes only saw red.

“What now!?” Redford shouted into the phone.

“Sir, it’s me John, John Malloy. We’ve got a problem.”

“Sorry, John…” Malloy was his personal pilot and long time friend. “What’s going on?”

“The tanker truck that was supposed to deliver the jet fuel was hijacked early this morning.”

“Hijacked? For goodness sake, who the hell would steal jet fuel?”

“It’s essentially kerosene. Heating oil.”

His thoughts raced back to the conversation he had with Pedro just a few hours ago. First his trees and now this, was it really that bad? “How does someone hide a tanker truck? Shouldn’t be that hard for the authorities to find, you’d think.”

John chuckled. “There a hundred barns between here and Provo big enough to hide it in. Five thousand gallons of kerosene will heat a lot of homes - I don’t think anyone is going to talk. The state police told my buddy at Great Lakes Express that this is third one this winter in Utah alone. The rigs eventually show up at truck stops empty but undamaged. I guess the state police are going to start escorting them.”

“So, now what? Can we get more fuel out here today?” Redford asked.

Again Malloy chuckled, “Not going to happen, my friend. We’d be lucky to see any by this time next week.”

“What the hell, John, I have to be in LA today!”

“Well, I guess we drive down to Provo and catch a commercial flight. Probably have to hop through Salt Lake or Vegas, no direct flights from Provo to anywhere.”

“Damn it, I’m screwed… How close are you? We need to get going.”

“I’ll be there soon - if the battery in this rolling death trap holds out.” John Malloy hated the electric Honda he drove. He pined for the days when he could mash his foot down and hear the roar of a hearty V8. These plastic wind-up toys they called cars these days were so depressing. “Get your things off the plane and meet me at the garage in about ten minutes.”

Speeding toward Provo on U.S.189 at ninety miles an hour the big BMW seemed to float over the long gray pavement. John Malloy knew that it was a patently stupid question asking Bob Redford if he wanted to take the Toyota E-Car or the 9-Series. He had never seen the man in the Toyota. But ask he did.

“You’re joking, right? I am not driving all the way down to Provo crammed into to that thing. These hills are full of 1200lb bull elks (the Toyota weighed 1300lbs soaking wet.) I want to get there in one piece.”

Malloy steered the luxury car through the twisting hills as Redford talked on the cell. The majestic and serene landscape that filled his eyes was continually offset by the bouts of cursing that filled his ears coming from the man in the seat next to him.

“What is going on with this God damn thing?” Redford pushed frantically on the key pad trying to reconnect with some industry hack in LA. “I can’t get a signal, nothing! We never used to have this problem. How the hell am I supposed to get anything done?”

“These cell towers go down all the time, Bob, you know that. These extended blackouts last longer than the battery back-up does. The closer we get to the city the less chance of that happening.”

John Malloy silently shook his head. Maybe it was age, maybe it was intentional. Did Bob Redford actually not get the connection between the “battle against global climate change” and all the inconveniences he seemed to be suffering from lately? In the rarefied air men of his stature inhaled it was inconceivable that he, Robert Redford – the Sundance Kid - should be constrained by the same daily hassles as the peasants that worshiped him. Malloy stole a sideways glance at his old friend as he battled with the cell phone. No one could be that clueless, could they?

When they finally arrived at the airport they parked the car in a nearly empty parking garage and made their way to the terminal. John had called ahead only to find out there were no flights out until 6:30PM. A dreadful four hour wait.

Along the way they were besieged by beggars looking for handouts. Many of them dressed very nicely, all seemingly out of place in provincial Utah.

“Tell me this is Provo, John, not Trenton New Jersey.” Redford said as he brushed off a beggar in a three piece suit. “Don’t these guys have anything better to do?”

“I guess the recession has hit way out here by now. Utah is not immune.”

“God damn conservatives, that what the problem is, you know.” Redford fumed. “Constantly calling for lower taxes, won’t let us help these people.”

“The Republicans have been out of power for years… Don’t see how you can keep blaming them. Yeah, they’re all slimy, but pretty impotent these days.”

Redford mumbled to himself but let it die. He turned his attention toward the task at hand. The small terminal was eerily quiet. Few of the little shops were even open, making their choices rather easy. It was the coffee shop or the bar. Redford steered them toward the bar. Malloy was happy with that – since he wasn’t piloting the plane today a little Southern Comfort was just the ticket. They each wheeled their luggage carts up to the bar and pulled up a chair.

“Geez, it’s cold in here…” Redford said to the bartender. “Chivas please, on the rocks.”

The bartender took his gloves off and shook his head “All out of Chivas.”

Malloy raised his eye brow “You must have Southern Comfort? A Southern seven?”


Irritated, Redford barked at the bartender. “Well, what do you have?”

“Got some Canadian Windsor and Olympia beer.”

“What is matter with this place?” Redford asked not really expecting or even wanting an answer. “This place looks like a ghost town. It’s freezing in here, and all you got back there is some pale whiskey and piss beer.”

“Sorry, sir.” The bartender said with mock sincerity. “The trucks only run once a month out of Salt Lake. Costs too much. By the time they get through Sandy, Lehi and Lindon there’s not much left for us. We take what we can get, so will you.”

Redford turned away. “Get me a Windsor, John. I’m done with this guy.”

Flying commercial was something Robert Redford rarely did anymore. He was utterly frightened to climb aboard the 30 year old Boeing 757. Thankfully the plane was almost empty. The tickets for a round trip jaunt to LA with a 4 hour lay-over in Las Vegas were $1500 a piece. There was a $50 fuel surcharge tacked on top of that. While a man used to paying a full time pilot and maintenance on his own Lear Jet would think nothing of a $1500 ticket, the average traveler was priced out of such an extravagance. It didn’t help that only two domestic airlines were still flying, and just barely at that. United American Southwest and Delta Northwest were the finalists in the merger wars of the last decade. There was talk in Washington of nationalizing the airlines since both companies continued to lose money and market share. Business had abandoned the airlines for the most part and relied more and more on Internet conferencing. It had its virtues but it had its limits too. Redford was all for nationalizing the airline industry. Once all the unnecessary duplicate flights were stopped millions of pounds of the greenhouse gas C02 would stop contributing to global climate change – and that’s what really mattered. He smiled inwardly until he thought about another 4 hour wait in Las Vegas. It would be tomorrow when he finally arrived in LA.

Once on the ground in Las Vegas John Malloy was busy trying to reschedule a limousine service to meet them at the airport in LA. Most celebrities didn’t use them anymore – too conspicuous in this era of energy awareness, but Redford couldn’t stand driving in LA.

“Bob, no luck.” Malloy said. “Had to rent an E-Car, a Hyundai.” Redford frowned but said nothing. Malloy could see his irritation escalate with each passing minute. If they didn’t get to LA soon old Bob was going to lose it. “There just aren’t that many limo services anymore, even in LA.. It’ll be OK, I’ll drive.”

“Whatever," Redford mumbled, "this trip is turning into a nightmare. Used to be a flight from Vegas to LA every 10 minutes… Fours hours… Ridiculous.” Flying commercial was indignity enough but suffering these infernal lay-overs was more than he could take. “John, let me make one thing clear… I do not want my jet fuel tanks to run dry ever again. Do you understand? I don’t care that the trucks only roll once a week. That will not be MY problem. It will be YOURS.” His face was beet red and his eyes had that wicked look of someone on the verge of a full blown psychotic episode. “This,” he swirled his index finger, “will not happen again.”

John Malloy accompanied his friend Bob Redford to the meeting with the assistant executive producer and the production manager. This was something he wouldn’t normally do as Redford’s personal pilot, but this time he insisted because he was genuinely worried about Redford’s current mental state.

In a cramped rented conference room the four men and two female staffers sat around the table ready to pencil in the production schedule for the new film “An Inconvenient Man”.

Redford perked up as the meeting got underway, as if the previous day had not occurred. “I can’t tell you how excited I am to get this schedule set up; I think we have a big hit on our hands. Shall we start with the location schedule first - since we are going to have to work around this unusually cold winter…”

His words were met with blank stares all around the table. Samuel Fraber, the production manager was first to speak. “Bob, I’m afraid there’s been some misunderstanding…” Fraber looked at Simon Goldberg the assistant producer for GreenEarth Entertainment’s An Inconvenient Man project. “Didn’t Mr. Redford get the memo?”

“I was sure he did, at least I thought he did.” A slightly confused Goldberg said.

“Memo,” Redford said warily, “what memo?”

Goldberg nodded to Fraber as he leaned closer to aging director and said. “There aren’t going to be any locations, Bob.”

“What? What is that supposed to mean?”

“An Inconvenient Man is going to be a CG movie.” Fraber said quietly.

Stunned, Redford was without words. Goldberg stepped in. “Sorry Bob, we thought you knew. Frankly, making a traditional movie is just too energy intensive. How would it look if this tribute to the savior of the planet consumed more raw energy than an average family of 4 will use in 10 lifetimes?”

“F%$& the average family!” Redford cursed. “A God damned CG movie – you’re f%$&ing kidding me!”

“Settle down Bob.” Goldberg said. “You know as well as I that if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem. Do you have any idea how much energy is needed to make one conventional movie? It’s phenomenal, mind boggling really.”

“But, but, this is an important film, damn it!” Redford stammered. “It has to be done right.”

“Of course it is, Bob.” Fraber said as if consoling an upset child. “We all know that. And we are going to do it right.”

“You expect me to attract actors to work entirely in front of a green screen?” Redford stopped as Goldberg and Fraber once again exchanged glances. “What now?”

“We’re not using actors, Bob. It will be state of the art CG actors with voice-overs.” Fraber said with the enthusiasm of a high school cheerleader.

Robert Redford looked sick. He hated CG with a passion. He grudgingly accepted it in place of dangerous, resource wasting stunts and explosions in past films, but he always drew the line at the actors. No damn CG actors in his films. Not ever!

“But, but…” In a moment of clarity he buckled. He knew they had him. Every other production house turned him down cold. People were tired of being reminded that their lives had been made miserable by the righteous act of saving the planet. The average person just wanted to be entertained. GreenEarth Entertainment was a godsend and if he wanted to get this film made he would have to let them dictate. The fight had left him, he was beaten. “Okay, we’ll make it work, whatever it takes. Which CG house are we going to use here in LA?”

Once again Goldberg and Fraber looked at each other and then over to one of the young women, the petite Asian with a wide, white smile. Goldberg said, “Bob, we are going to be working out of Shanghai for this one. Before you get too excited, hear me out. California has problems right now. Power is just too unreliable here. The better CG operations have already moved to China or Europe where the power stays up 99% of the time. We can’t have these massive computer systems going down hard in the middle of a huge compiling job. It’s ugly out there in Silicon Valley. For Christ’s sake it’s been nicknamed Silicon Death Valley. We just can’t risk it.” Goldberg paused, seeing no reaction from the legendary actor/director he simply said. “Have you been to China, Bob?”

Redford said nothing. He felt his dream slip away. An Inconvenient Man would be a joke, a cruel joke.

Goldberg turned to Fraber. “I understand you brought some preliminary sketches for the Al Gore character. Do you prefer the fat Al Gore or the skinny Al Gore?”

The End


Anonymous said...

This story reminds me of the first time I watched the movie "Demolition man." Ignoring that it was a bang-bang shoot'em up Stallone movie, the near future fiction of the San-Angeles metro-plex was jarring. I could see many of the societal constructs portrayed in that film going on all around me.

It was a left-wing utopian's wildest politically-correct fantasy up on the screen. It was so unsettling that not even a young Sandra Bullock prancing in front of my eyes in snug, form fitting, Lycra stretch pants could distract me from the horror of it all.

Nice work I will be thinking about your story all day while I pray that the power doesn't go out with an overnight low of -5 Fahrenheit. There are a few good sized trees I can see from my window maybe if I need heat... Now have a Joy-Joy day every one...