Thursday, April 10, 2008

Birds, plants, spring and all that crap

Went for a walk today in Maryland, hiked a trail that runs along the Potomac River and thought how strange it is that this lovely place is 15 minutes from Pennsylvania Avenue and 16th Street in Washington, DC, arguably the center of the Western World.

But wait! Is that still true? Is this city still relevant? Is anyone paying attention at all? The dollar is crashing, the war(s) go(es) on and one gets the impression that some members of the current administration are hiding in the basement of the White House, desperately plotting how to invade Iran before the election. And where, people are asking, is the Vice President? Indeed, Mr. Cheney has all but vanished from view, which is a lot more frightening than seeing him gun down friendly attorneys while hunting quail.

Ah well. Saw a woodpecker and some deer. The Virginia bluebells are coming out and just a few days ago on another walk, a fat skunk waddled not 10 yards from me with magnificent insolence. There are groundhogs here, and coyotes are now almost commonplace--I saw one last month sniffing a trashcan near a subway station.

OK. Here is the third installment of Wasted Miracles. Enjoy and tell your friends...

Herbie did die then. The first bullet had merely nicked an artery, but the second one cut clean as a scalpel. The young African was vaguely pleased--this was not one of those men who couldn’t die--but whatever satisfaction he derived from this realization was short-lived. Herbie was gone and the information they were supposed to get from him was gone too. This was very bad news, a major screw-up. And the van was a mess. Another screw-up.
Without a word, Comfort got back into the driver’s seat, started the van and pulled away. He drove only a few minutes until he found a spot near the dead end of Klingle Road where barriers had been put up by the city to keep the blacks and Latinos out of the richer Cathedral neighborhood. There was no traffic there and with a bit of luck Herbie’s body wouldn’t be found for awhile. They carried Herbie out, heaved him into a ditch, piled a few dead leaves on top of him and drove away.
But it really was a luckless night for the Africans, the sort to make superstitious men believe in myths and spirits.
Not five minutes later a U.S. Park Police officer stopped his cruiser almost exactly in the same spot. He did this did most nights he was on duty. It was quiet there, the traffic from adjacent residential roads made a low humming sound, and if you looked up, you could see stars. The officer looked forward to a Seven-Eleven Big Bite hot dog and cradled a large paper cup of coffee in his lap. When he reached for the dome light, the coffee spilled and scalded his thighs and crotch. He yelled, leaped out of the police car, tried to pull the fabric of his pants away from his legs, tripped, fell, rolled. And came face to pillow case with Herbie.

Chapter 2

After the meeting a bunch of the men lit cigarettes and stood around in the parking lot looking over someone's new Harley. It was bright yellow, all chrome and hard rubber parts and it gleamed under the lights. Colin wondered how much something like that must cost, fifteen, maybe twenty thousand, wondered whether he should bum a cigarette, decided he shouldn't. He hadn't smoked in a little over three years.
The bike's owner was a big, bearded man, sagging belly and arms like fence posts. Jeans with a studded leather belt, sleeveless denim jacket, bandanna stretched hard across his balding skull. Colin knew him, a lawyer specializing in trusts and wills, the unofficial leader of a bunch of Jewish white collar riders who had named themselves "Kikes on Bikes." They were a half-a-dozen or so, all in the program, all with Harleys and mutual funds, summer homes on the Eastern Shore and Beamer SUVs in the driveway.
Colin wished he had a cigarette, a mutual fund, both. He sat on the retaining wall adjoining the Serenity Club, dangled his feet, nodded at people who waved to him, shook a few hands. In twenty minutes there'd be another meeting. He could attend that, sit in the back of the room and listen to the litany of sins and uncertainties spilled by long- and short-term recovering drunks. Or he could get something to eat across the street at Emilio's, or—last option—go home and hit the weights. He'd done the weights once already that morning so his arms still ached a little but he had skipped the legs. The legs were a bore. He looked at his watch. Ten minutes until someone read the preamble and the "How It Works, from the Big Book." He knew there was a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in the back room, a gathering of Sex and Love Addicts on the second floor. Gamblers Anonymous were in the basement. It struck Colin that an awful lot of madness was gathered in one small building, that had there been a way to harness all that anger, frustration, resentments and pain, one could forge a formidable--if unreliable--weapon. In a few hours the club would shut down for the night and only the parking lot people would remain, desperate men and women who didn't want to go home or didn't have homes to go to. He stood, stretched, opted for the leg machine.
It was a short walk to his apartment, typical Virginia weather, clouds cantering across the sky. It had rained the night before and the air was clean, the light brighter than normal during rush hour when thousands retreated from their Washington offices to the vast suburbs of Maryland and Virginia.
In his apartment he took off his clothes, looked in the mirror. Head on he looked like a wedge of cheese balancing on two toothpicks, that's what his sponsor had said. All that work on back, shoulders, chest and arms, nothing on the legs, you end up a little bit top-heavy, misshapen. Which pleased him somehow.

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