What if delivery vans took your stuff away instead of dropping off packages?
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Consumerism, shared sacrifice and one-day shipping — sound familiar? It’s the backdrop of Ben Fountain’s new story, “Rules of Special Measures,” written for the new podcast “The Chronicles of Now,” which bills itself as “short fiction torn from today’s headlines.”
In Fountain’s world, the trucks and vans that we’re used to delivering our packages instead show up to take stuff away.
But he told “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio that the inspiration for the story is firmly rooted in the real world.
“I’m talking about small-time stuff in this story: lamps, electronics, gas grills. But if you think about where our society has gone the last 40 years, a lot has been taken away from us,” Fountain said.
“So we can get stuff; stuff has never been easier or cheaper to get — TVs, electronics, shoes, clothes — but the meaningful things, they have in large measure gone away from us.”
Fountain spoke with Brancaccio about the ways his fiction mimics our COVID-19 reality. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
David Brancaccio: So something you saw on the streets where you live creeped you out and got you thinking?
Ben Fountain: Yeah, creeped me out in a very mild sense. A few years ago, I started seeing these white delivery vans. And I’m perverse enough to distrust a lot of the conveniences of modern life, and one of those conveniences, obviously, is having things delivered to our doors. First it was three days, then two days, then one day and then next day or this day. And so I just started thinking, what if these vans started picking things up as opposed to delivering?
Brancaccio: In this world you created, heavy — but polite — dudes can just show up and kind of reverse-Amazon you.
“They had clipboards, reams of fine-print paperwork, and boy did they know their business. It was always quite specific, what they’d come for, always one particular thing, a lamp, the gas grill, electronics, cookware, and—this was the truly unnerving part—they knew exactly where it was.“
Brancaccio: There is a comment on digital privacy there. But it’s like the Earth is spinning in one direction and suddenly it starts spinning the other way on its axis. That’s kind of what we’re living in now with this pandemic, right?
Fountain: Yeah, not just the pandemic, but I think just life in the last 15 to 20 years goes faster and faster. And the things that affect our lives, the big decisions, seem farther and farther away from us and more and more remote. And so it leaves us with a feeling of not having meaningful agency over our own lives.
Brancaccio: The piece doesn’t explain what has happened to society, but it just sort of starts creeping in, that people can show up and start taking it all away.
Fountain: But if you think about it, I’m talking about small-time stuff in this story: lamps, electronics, gas grills. But if you think about where our society has gone the last 40 years, a lot has been taken away from us. Wages have basically been stagnant and homeownership is the lowest it’s been in 50 years.
So we can get stuff; stuff has never been easier or cheaper to get — TVs, electronics, shoes, clothes — but the meaningful things, they have in large measure gone away from us compared to where we were up until about the 1970s.
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