THE DEAD PEOPLE
Copyright 2000 by Nancy Valentine and Hugh Holub
BRENDA and DAVID SMITH with their two teenage children KATELYN and SEAN are in the family’s expensive SUV, driving through the woods on a dirt road, obviously lost. BRENDA is chiding DAVID about them going out on an “adventure” and getting lost because DAVID is refusing to use a map to figure out where they are. The kids are making wisecracks in the back seat like “we’re gonna die and be eaten by squirrels”.
Background music is Tom Paxton’s “Dad’s Not Lost”.
BRENDA points out that they’ve driven by the same gate six times now, and maybe they ought to drive into the property and ask the owner for directions. DAVID finally gives up his male macho “I know what I’m doing even if I really don’t” pretense, and they drive through the gate.
They come upon a yard filled with junk, and a cabin made out of scrounged stuff. GRANGER is standing on the porch watching them drive up. GRANGER is a wild haired, bearded hermit looking sort in a blue work shirt and blue jeans.
“Howdy folks,” GRANGER greets them as the SMITHS get out of their SUV. “What can I do to help ya?” he asks. “Come on inside,” he invites them.
The family very tenatively enters GRANGER’S cabin, and all sit on GRANGER’S obviously second-hand couch, looking extremely uncomfortable.
BRENDA tells GRANGER they are lost and need directions on how to get back to the main road and back to the city.
As GRANGER starts to give directions, BRENDA looks at the couch, jumps up in horror, and screams “This is our couch! What are you doing with OUR couch!”
GRANGER politely explains it was their couch, but they’d put it out on the curb in front of their house. “Thank you for the nice couch. I know you folks. You throw away a lot of really neat stuff. Thanks.”
BRENDA flees to the SUV dragging the family along. DAVID looks back and shrugs his shoulders at GRANGER. GRANGER gives DAVID a “V” for victory sign.
We then see BRENDA and DAVID at breakfast in their typical modern post-yuppy environment opening their notices from the Social Security Administration. Both are vanguard Baby Boomers, born in 1946. A rooster is heard crowing in the background.
They start discussing the reality that between them, they can expect $2,500 a month in SSI benefits when they turn 65. The problem is, they are on the verge of bankruptcy, making $10,000 a month trying to maintain their credit card dependent lifestyle. They have no retirement or pension or savings. They are both “self employed”. It is dawning on them that they are screwed.
They are, in fact, representative of about 40% of the Baby Boom generation.
Visions of them dressed in rags, pushing a shopping cart down the street and sleeping under bridges when they get older flash by. BRENDA says “God, we could end up like that awful man we met yesterday...what was his name?”
DAVID responds, “Granger or something.”
Panic sets in...BRENDA asks: “what are we going to do to survive?”
then suggests that maybe they are going to have to radically reduce their
lifestyle, and “live off the land”. The “land” in question is their suburban
neighborhood lot with a typical suburban home on it that is just like
everyone’s suburban home and neighborhood on the fringes of
DAVID is skeptical, but agrees to go along.
That night, they have their neighbors over for a barbeque and start discussing their “problem” and their idea...”living off the land”. Their neighbors, BETTY and JOHN JONES, who are actually in a similar situation, discount and laugh at BRENDA and DAVID. They make the point that the direction BRENDA and DAVID want to go is to a “hippy, fringe, environmental wacko, counter-cultural” sort of life...and obviously no right-thinking member of the upper middle class could possibly do this. This just firms up BRENDA and DAVID’s determination to figure out how to live well without essentially any money.
BRENDA and DAVID’s definition of “living well” and cheaply begins to be defined. Both agree eating a lot of processed food is both expensive and maybe risky.
Their first venture into “sustainability” is their garden.
Their problem is the last member of either family who actually lived on a farm and knew something about growing things died 100 years ago.
But this does not stop them as they know they can plant a bunch of seeds and live off their back yard.
DAVID continues to express the male dominant “I cannot admit I don’t know what I’m doing” mentality”, to BRENDA’S increasing annoyance.
DAVID shows up with a giant power tool that he has rented, to dig up the lawn. He does not, however, know how to start the monster piece of equipment. BRENDA is watching him struggle with the device, reading the instructions in the process. She finally comes over and pushes a button and the machine starts, and then takes off, eating a swath through their yard, and into their neighbor’s yard, chewing up law furniture in the process.
We then see BRENDA, at dawn, proudly showing DAVID and 8 foot tall plant she has picked from their garden. DAVID remarks that she has grown a Guiness Book of Records ragweed plant.
“How do we know what’s a weed and what’s the real stuff” BRENDA complains.
They look at a seed packet, and there is nothing that tells them what the corn plant is supposed to look like.
Their garden is a wilderness of weeds.
BRENDA is next seen “harvesting” corn. It is all rotten and bug infested. They obviously knew nothing about when produce is ripe for the harvest, nor about insect control.
BRENDA, however, will not use any pesticides in the garden, so we next see DAVID with a DirtDevil sucking bugs off her plants. DAVID calls the device their BugSucker. He takes his ShopVac and sucks all the ants out of the anthill by the garden.
The JONES neighbors pay repeated visits and joke about the ineptness of BRENDA and DAVID. The neighbors figure out that the one ear of edible corn that was grown has cost $500.
We cut to a “boiler room” scene, the MEGACREDIT COMPANY filled with busy people working at computers, talking on their head phones. We zoom into to a particularly obnoxious looking character, who jumps up and starts yelling “We’ve got a problem here. The Smith family just bought 200 pounds of brown rice at a health food store. Last week they bought chicken feed. These are our model American consumers, and we’re losing them. THIS HAS TO BE STOPPED! He screams to the room. “They are abandoning OUR economy!” Expressions of shock and horror throughout the room.
The next day BRENDA and DAVID, who are building an architecturally approved chicken house with red tiles on the roof, get an avalanche of new credit card offers and store coupons.
BRENDA throws them into her compost pile.
BRENDA and DAVID are then deluged with phone calls, and mail, trying to entice them back into the “mainstream” consumer economy.
They also continue humorously inept experiences with their sustainability project, to the continuing derision of their neighbors.
We return to the “boiler room”. The obnoxious character is screaming again: “The Smiths are paying off their credits cards and reducing their debt. We’ve got to stop this before it spreads!”.
We cut to a conference room in which a group of shadowy figures around the conference table are discussing the Smiths. The shadows suggest horns and tails. They are the minions of Satan.
One says: “We’ve tried to stop this nonsense of self-sufficiency by denying self-employed people deductions for their health insurance, we’ve made the income tax code unfair to the small businessman, and we’ve gotten most of the population, except those worthless poor people, totally addicted to debt. But the Smith’s are rebelling. They’re the mainstream. We’ve used them for years as our model case. This has to be stopped now.”
He then makes a motion to grant the Smith’s the “death penalty”. Everyone says ”aye”.
The next morning we see DAVID trying to make a phone call. His phone is dead. BRENDA is at the store trying to pay for some tools with her credit card. “Denied” screams the computer, and people start backing away from her in the line. She tries to write a check, “Denied!” again. The clerk hands her the check as though it was radioactive. BRENDA leaves the store sobbing.
Things get seriously worse for the SMITH’S. They simply have ceased to exist on the computer data system. Child Protective Services comes to pick up their children. “You’re dead and the children are orphans,” DAVID and BRENDA are told.
They check...and they are officially “dead”. Their children sneak away from the foster home and join their parents. There is no electricity or running water in the home.
The SMITHS are seen having a family meeting by kerosene lamp light in their livingroom. They are in total panic.
“I know we wanted to be sustainable,” DAVID whines, “but I never expected to have to collect rainwater from the roof to flush the toilet.”
We see the conference room, and the shadowy figures are reviewing the SMITH file. “Good,” says one, “they know of our power now. Do we give them a reprieve?”
Another asks, “Are they showing any sign of remorse and willingness to join our economy again?”
“No,” says another. “They are raising talapia in their swimming pool.”
“They stay dead.” is the final verdict.
We then see BRENDA and DAVID scrounging for used wood from a construction site, and they run into BILL, who is doing the same. “So, you’re dead people, too?” BILL asks.
BRENDA and DAVID are stunned. They thought they were the only “dead people” around.
BRENDA, DAVID and BILL share stories about their struggle of being dead people, and BILL invites the couple to BILL’s family home.
We then see a whole group of “dead” people loading up old telephone poles in trucks...the “mammoth hunt” of the modern dead people.
We then see another computer room...the US Census control room. A woman says “so we have 10 million dead people now. Do we count them or not?” From across the room we hear, “they don’t count yet.”