The American roof is gold-plated, so it reflects the heat of the sun, which gets hotter every year, but the people who live just beneath it in the attic do not notice this. Their shiny roof provides good protection, they think. The attic people look out of the windows and see nothing but clear skies and rainbows. The floors are made of cool Italian marble, and the furnishings are the finest in the world. Only a few people live there, and they are content.
The floor beneath the attic appears to have solid beams, somewhat worn with time and a bit out of date, but the walls are more or less intact and capable of supporting the marble floors above. The ceiling is made of copper tiles, which are now green because no one has polished them in years. Still, they are copper, and this floor is close enough to the golden roof that the trials of the world seem very far away. The people who live there are more numerous than those in the attic, but the views out of their windows are sunny, even through the scratched glass. No one on this floor notices the signs of wear and tear in the furnishings.
The bottom floor of this house has fallen into disrepair. The walls are patched and flaking, the carpets have mildewed, and the once beautiful suburban decor is now dusty and rotten. It doesn’t help that the number of people living on the first floor exponentially outnumbers those on the second floor and the attic. The people who live there don’t like this, but they aren’t exactly sure just how many people live on each floor, so they think that, perhaps, it’s not really as bad as all that. And besides, maybe they will one day live on the second floor or even in the attic.
The second-floor people offered a little duct tape and wire to the first floor, but it didn’t really help much. The first-floor people look out their windows and see the weeds and garbage piling up around them. The second-floor and attic people throw their trash out the windows, and they don’t see where it lands, but the first-floor people do, and they wonder when the second-floor and attic people will offer to help clean it up. They never do.
The first-floor people busy themselves with patching the walls, carpets, and furniture with duct tape and wire that the attic people keep demanding payment for. It is increasingly impossible for the first floor to pay for these things and own them outright.
The first-floor people might be more discontent, but below them is a stone foundation with deep cracks that run throughout the entire structure. Beneath this is a basement floor, and so many people live in the basement that no one above ground really knows just how many there are. Maybe there are 100. Maybe 1,000. Maybe millions. No one is sure. But the basement itself is dark, bare, and hardly has any kind of comfort in it at all. The first-floor people throw food scraps down into the basement by way of a hole in the floor that no one has been able to repair. Everyone assumes that these scraps are enough for the basement people to get by on.
The first-floor people think they have it bad, but they know it’s not quite as bad as the basement people. No one is sure how people came to live in the basement, but rumors that float down from the attic and second floor is that the basement people are stupid, or lazy, or just really fucked up somehow. Some say that living below ground is a choice that they made. First-floor people secretly believe that they are superior to the basement people, and although very few first-floor people have ever gone higher than the first floor, many still hold firm to the belief that the second floor or attic might be theirs one day.
The second-floor people are also quite sure that they are superior to first-floor and basement people. They work to disguise the signs of decay by using gilded paint and faux marble and wood to make the second floor look elegant — at least, as long as one doesn’t look too closely. Everyone knows that the flaws are there, but they ignore it because to do otherwise is impolite.
The attic people carry on in wealth and comfort and never worry about the first-floor people. They don’t really believe that the basement people exist. They acknowledge the efforts of the second floor, upon which they perch Yertle-like to get their rarified view of the world. The attic people believe that the lower foundations of the house are solid and will hold them up high indefinitely.
The basement population, however, has been growing over the years. Some second-floor people became first-floor people, and far more first-floor people have become basement people than anyone realizes. The pressure on the basement, already high and stressing the foundation, has begun to widen the cracks in the foundation. More holes have appeared in the first floor that cannot be fixed. The supply of duct tape and wire has diminished, leaving the first-floor people to become inventive and use chewing gum and Silly Putty to fill the holes, except there isn’t enough of either of these.
The stress on the foundation has led to cracks in the walls on the first floor. There are so many cracks that it quickly became impossible to fix them all, and soon the cracks threatened to run up into the second-floor walls.
Some people on the second floor noticed the cracks and became alarmed. It occurred to some that their floor depended on the first floor, and if there were no first floor, they would tumble to the ground and have to live with everyone else. Some second-floor people tried to bring this to the attention of the attic people, but the attic people could see no cracks, and they still had their view of the horizon, so what could possibly go wrong?
Meanwhile, not very far away, another house with a basement, two floors, and an attic tumbled completely to the ground in similar fashion, and when everyone recovered from the shock, they couldn’t tell who had lived in the basement, or the first floor, or the second floor, or the attic. So they decided to try again, and they built a house with no basement, all on the first floor, where everyone could see the garden and care for it. The foundation was solid, and with everyone pitching in, it was comfortable and no one was hungry, and there was no decay or need for duct tape and wire.