Malafrena (Ursula K. Le Guin)

One of the things we love about living in Old Greenbelt is the system of interconnected walkways. These pathways flow through the community between homes so that it is possible to walk from our house to the library, grocery, cafe, doctor and movie theater without crossing or walking alongside a road. Not only is it nice to avoid contact with motorized traffic, the pathway system gives us more interaction with our neighbors.

Neighbors like Jimmy (or whatever his name is), who has just dashed from the path into the house of his friend Prasad. I approach the chair he has left behind on the path. A poem is attached to the chair with duct tape. The poem reads:

You think they're kinda zany
They're really all insane-y
Our Bush, Our Rumsfeld, Our Cheney

Join us in a rush
To toss them on the tush
This Rumsfeld, this Cheney and this Bush

I roll my eyes at the boys' effort and turn as Prasad and Timmy exit the house bearing a low coffee table.

"Hoy! What is this?" I ask as they upend the table against the chair. Three month's worth of Compressed Living magazine slide to the ground. "This isn't a political blog, you know."

"Oh, hello Mr. Taleswapper," the little ringleader says. (It's starting to sound to me more and more like "Hello, Mr. Wilson.") Prasad simply nods as he returns to the porch to drag over a lawn chair.

"What have you been reading, now?" I ask.

"Well," says Tommy. "I picked up this book by Ursula K. Le Guin that I thought would be science fiction, but it wasn't."

"It wasn't?" I ask.

"Not at all," Prasad puts in after balancing a flower pot on the upside-down lawn chair. Johnny puts his back into pushing a large gas-grill toward the growing pile. Prasad continues, "It started off--"

"--like the first two-thirds of it--" interrupts Jeffrey.

"--quite a bit like a Lavransdatter set in the nineteenth century. Only without the plague."

"But with added suicides," puts in Jackie. "Then, though, it turns into a revolutionary saga, like Les Miserables."

"Only without the singing," I say with a smirk. Both lads pause in their labor to look at me, then at each other.

"Do you remember any singing in that book?" Prasad asks Jed, who makes a gesture that I'm sure means: He's just a crazy old guy; what does he know?

"It was quite thrilling," says Judd. "So, we thought we'd build our own barricade. Viva La Revolucion!" He triumphantly lifts the clay lawn gnome above his head. The barricade now blocks the pathway rather well.

"As I recall," I say carefully, "the point of Malafrena is that only the youth have energy to waste on revolution and that older, wiser folks know the futility of the phrase 'new world order.'"

"That's what we thought at first, too," admits Ted as he climbs the barricade, dragging the gnome along behind. "But then we realized that what she was really trying to say was that revolutions don't generally start with enough youth and energy."

"And we think we're young enough," says Prasad.

"Hey!" It's Prasad's father at the porch. He sounds pretty angry. He looks it, too. Todd's foot slips and he releases the gnome, which bounces down the barricade and through Prasad's hands to hit the sidewalk with a sickening crack.

I run like heck back up the hill and in through our gardenside door. The Brunette looks up from her painting.

"Did you enjoy your walk to the store?" she asks. I harrumph a bit and peek through the curtains out the window.

"Tell me again," I say, "why can't we drive everywhere like normal people?"

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