Liam Conway

Vive L’Amérique

I am here, watching on TV the President and Vice President of the United States of America run on a hamster wheel. When they’re done, they wipe their foreheads with the sweat-soaked towels on their necks and shoot a shaky thumbs up to the surveillance camera in the ceiling corner of the locked chamber. There are four top angles, four low angles, two angles at eye level, and six cameras in the bathroom.

My girlfriend at the time gave me the bizarre news: the military had taken American leaders into custody where they would be scrutinized on live television until they submitted to their demands. Nobody knew what these demands were, and the leaders of the coup weren’t quite sure either. My girlfriend was French, so was naturally pleased about our country’s visible dysfunction.

She explained to me that their main offense, which landed them in the chamber, was declaring over a third of America a “waste-zone.” After realizing poor suburbs weren’t enough to hold all of the nation’s trash, the Vice President proposed to the President that they should also fill up middle-class neighborhoods. At this point, Phoenix was a valley walled in by landfills, and the trash was still building up. So the President signed an executive order, and it wasn’t a week after that any and all soldiers that happened to be middle-class decided they didn’t want to live in squalor like most of suburban America. She said all this with a certain delight that I tried to ignore.

During the first week of audience obsession, I didn’t pay it much mind. The President and Vice President were degraded on a daily basis, forced to run on electric hamster wheels until they vomited the kibble their captors fed them. People found a disturbing pleasure in watching their struggles, their pillows wet with tears, how they attempted to cover themselves while showering. Even my girlfriend watched with morbid interest.

“Is it weird that I find it kind of funny?” she asked me two weeks in. “I say that because this would never happen in France. Vive l’Amérique,” she joked.

“That’s because the French hide their skeletons in the closet,” I said. “And yes, I do think it’s weird that you enjoy our defects and take pleasure in suffering.” She didn’t respond. She just got up and left to go to some Gallic meet.

At first, I took the high road, not giving into the whole charade. That was until they got used to their circumstances, and then I found myself sucked in like everyone else. As reluctant as ever, they stopped feeling shameful and started running on the wheel with greater vigor than before. The captors had to come up with new twisted ideas to get them to break a sweat. In response, the Vice President found it funny to repeat uplifting quotes after, for example, doing a headstand for twenty minutes while being electrocuted every two.

“Amazing things happen when you distance yourself from negativity!”

The President caught on pretty fast too. “Don’t ever change just to impress and please someone.” These comments pissed off the American viewers who had previously enjoyed the program. Why haven’t they broken yet, they cried.

As I became increasingly invested in the live program, my girlfriend lost all interest. “You know you’re weird for watching that.”

I waved her off and laughed in her face. “Why don’t you go back to France?”

“Don’t you want to come with me?” I didn’t even need to ask myself if that was worth responding to. Still, more and more trash was building up on our streets each day, and I couldn’t help but think France might be cleaner. But I knew people were suffering there too. We might have had our trash, but they had a water shortage.

It was better to focus on the TV than all the problems. The President and Vice President got into an argument once. I watched the whole thing on the edge of my seat, anxiety through the roof. The President had entertained the idea of yielding to the military’s demands, and the Vice President had to remind him of their resolve, why they were doing what they were doing. They wouldn’t reverse their policy.

“If we let them have this, what’s next?” The President conceded his point.

“They should just give up already,” my girlfriend said, makeup streaking down her cheeks.

“You only fail when you stop trying,” I told her. I didn’t like looking at her those days, seeing on her face clear disdain for our country. She left the room sniffling.

She approached me after my third month of languorous spectation. “I’ve been cheating on you,” she said in some weak attempt to pull me away from the screen. I saw right through her.

“Amazing things happen when you distance yourself from negativity!” She plopped down on the couch in a fit. I ran in place with the President, and he flashed me a smile.

“Can we please just get out of here? Let’s go outside,” she said. “There has to be more to life than this.”

I was getting tired, so I agreed. It felt weird, turning off the TV. Everything was moving again. Everything was uncertain. My girlfriend opened the door and a pile of cans fell onto our welcome mat. We started pushing through the trash, swimming in the heaps that were higher than our heads. She went faster than me, and I lost her in the mound. I climbed on top of the debris but kept falling down. It stunk. I called her name, but I didn’t hear a response. I turned around and couldn’t see the house anymore. The trash was crushing me, but all I could think about was how badly I wanted to go back inside, sit down, and see what the President was doing on TV.

LIAM CONWAY is a young writer who attends an arts high school in South Carolina. His work has appeared in the Leon Literary Review.

Read more by Liam Conway

Leon Literary Review