Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Anti-Olympics

I am referring, of course, to the national conventions, which NBC has been pushing as a follow up to the China Follies. I suppose there may be some justifications to that, but not many. There are bound to be lies, misrepresentations, empty promises, and many, many leaps of faith. I am sure there will be sports analogies (he's making an end run, scoring, hitting it out of the ball park, testing the waters yadda yadda.) There will be outrage at all of the above. People will raise their arms in large Vs for victory, and their indexes and middle fingers in smaller Vs as well. Lots of smug and satisfied smiles (think Chinese leaders watching the diving competitions). Protesters will need permits before voicing their opinions and police will be advised to not display their strength too publicly. People will cheer and wave flags. They will wear funny hats and Bozo noses. What this has to do with choosing a leader is still a mystery; I suppose it shows an indomitable Reaganesque sense of humor, but I'm not sure.

In the end, the expected will come true, and two nominees will indeed be nominated. Once this is achieved, each, with his sidekick and entourage, will criss-cross the nation to tell us why he is more respectable, honest, forthright, qualified, experienced, responsible and a better friend to you than is the other guy. To prove this, each will spend untold millions of dollars on television and radio ads essentially calling the other person a dishonest son-of-a-bitch who shouldn't be allowed to run a garbage dump, he's no inept. Really, he couldn't find his ass with both hands.

Their wives and children will be trotted out to state opinions carefully scripted for spontaneity. Their respective pets will get little sidebars in Time and Newsweek.

Invariably someone will say something he shouldn't and this will dominate the news until something else is said--or not said.

Both candidates at one time or another will wear hardhats to prove their solidarity with the working folks. Both will pose in front of silos with smiling farmers. At least one will drive a John Deere tractor down the main street of a Midwestern town and have breakfast at the local diner with the mayor and police chief.

Here are subjects guaranteed to come up:

The Economy. But not in any detail that you or I can grasp. Nothing that will help pay a mortgage or an overdue credit card bill.

Crime. They are both against it.

Immigration. They stand united in acknowledging that this is a thorny problem.

Education. Folks need to be educated, they really do.

Iraq, Afghanistan and other troubled spots. If all these people would simply embrace democracy, the world would be a better place.

Other countries. Some are our friends, others are not. The former are good, the latter bad.

Drugs. They're really very, very bad.

Is this a great country or what?

Here's installment 41 of Wasted Miracles.

In the cab Catherine held her breath. Her body was convinced that something terrible would happen if she exhaled so she didn’t for as long as possible, then she did with small quiet gasps, a little at a time. The cabdriver glanced at her through the rearview mirror. He didn’t want a fare getting sick in his back seat, stuff like that happened with regularity and it was disgusting, cleaning up afterwards. But the fare seemed OK, pale and maybe a bit shaky but definitely under control.
Catherine gave her home address, saw the driver nod his head, leaned back. She wondered whether she’d over-reacted, decided she hadn’t, tried to persuade herself that Colin must have made a mistake. He must have.
She had few illusions about Josie and sex, the remaining ones had disappeared when her daughter had blithely announced that she was pregnant. But Catherine had always thought that the men were boys, that Josie’s sexual experimentations had been just that, hapless fumblings quickly consummated in the dark, more to see what it was like than anything else. She had kept count of Josie’s boyfriends, had thought two, maybe three had been serious, had led to sex, but Colin? Her Colin?
Wrong. The man was not ‘her’ anything. At very most, he was fucking her. No. She was fucking him. The notion made her vastly uncomfortable. What an ugly word, she thought. And then she had an image of Colin’s overlarge torso pressed hard against her daughter’s pale breasts. She made a gagging sound and the cabdriver turned to shoot her a worried look.
She pushed the picture from her mind, made a conscious effort to focus on something else. The cabby was driving fast and shifting from lane to lane. He was a swarthy man with a bull neck and from the back she could see overlarge hands spanning the steering wheel. The image of Colin and Josie pulled at her. She rubbed her eyes, tried a smile, asked, “Where are you from?”
The man answered, “Georgia.” He had a strange accent, the r’s weren’t right and she wondered what town in Georgia until she realized he meant Georgia in Eastern Europe. She explored what she knew about the former Soviet country and it gave her five seconds of freedom before Colin and Josie resurfaced, clearer now, she could almost picture the muscles defined in Colin’s back. She balled her fist, hit her knee hard, cursed. She had struck him with that very same fist and he hadn’t reacted though she’d put everything in the blow.
The cabby jammed on his brakes, punched his horn, yelled something incomprehensible. She was thrown against the rear of the front seat, bounced back, saw her purse hit the car’s floor, open, saw the contents strew themselves across the entire width of the car. She scrambled to pick them up, grabbed the lipstick before it could roll under the seat and cut the top of her index finger on something sharp. The pain made her sit up. It was a small cut, a slice just above the fingernail. A drop of blood was forming there. She stuck the finger in her mouth and, very quietly so the driver wouldn’t notice, started crying.
By eleven that night Colin had done everything he could think of in the apartment short of painting it. He’d laundered, folded, cleaned, scrubbed, washed, the place was as neat as it could get without major renovations. He’d pushed and pulled at the weights too, but the weariness in his arms and legs had failed to make him feel better. In retrospect he thought he’d handled the situation badly, it was foolish and shortsighted to have said anything at all to Catherine. Orin had been wrong this time, quoting the Ninth Step to him with that air of smug righteousness Colin detested: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
“See,” Orin had said. “It’s right there. You know this stuff by heart. You shouldn’t even have to ask me.”
Stupid to think it wouldn’t harm her, stupid to believe the burden of guilt would go away, confession was not always good for the soul. Colin shook his head, thought, so many years of sobriety and I’m still an asshole, I still can’t trust my judgment.
When the phone rang he grabbed it thinking it was Catherine but it wasn’t. He heard the voice of Mamadou Dioh. “Are you free Mr. Marsh? I have the night off. It’s one of the perquisites of being the boss. Can we meet? I think I may know some things that might be of assistance.”

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Rogue

It is my unfortunate duty to report a renegade European.

I am referring, of course, to the somewhat less-than-honorable Jacques Rogue, whoops, sorry, that's Rogge, known affectionately to many Olympic fans as Monsieur Jackass.

Rogge, let me hasten to say, is not French. He is Belgian, which is forgivable. Were he French, I might have to do harm to myself. He is the President of the International Olympic Committee, and to the best of my knowledge, the only worthwhile thing he has done in the past few years is ban baseball from future Games.

Jacques Rogge is a count, a yachtsman aristocrat and a non-practicing surgeon. He recently took Usain Bolt to task for celebrating too heartily after breaking a world record. Now admittedly, the Bahamian overdid it. The new record-holder made it known that he was, indeed, number one, and had little respect for numbers two or three. But that was pretty much the same with members of the US beach volleyball women's team who screamed, hugged and rolled around in the sand following their Gold Metal victory, and Rogge had little to say about that.

He regrets China's invasion of Tibet but has been more than willing to overlook China's appalling human rights policies. Indeed, Rogge did not think that should have anything to do with China's hosting of the games. He apparently has no opinions on the jailing of dissidents who wanted to protest their homes having been razzed to make way for the Bird's Nest stadium. In 2004 in Athens, he had nothing to say when an Iranian member of the judo team refused to fight an Isareli competitor. And when the Chinese surreptitiously tried to censor Internet activities when the Games began, Rogge was found to have colluded with them, much to the surprise of journalists--who had been promised open Internet access--and the IOC itself, which apparently was not privy to his actions.

All this to say he is the wrong man for the job. Yes, to give him credit, he probably has made the Games a bigger spectacle than they have been since the days of Hitler. But advertising, promotion, cute little mascots and money are not what the Olympics are about. Ideally, what we are seeking is a series of contests between the best of the best in the world. Such competitions will never be perfect--there will always be scandals of one sort or another. Which is where the President of the IOC should step in, not as an apologist for governments or individuals, but as a spokesperson for the Games. That, in and of itself, is a large and demanding job, and Monsieur Jackass is not up to it.

Here's installment 40 of Wasted Miracles.
In the morning Colin remembered the black man’s deep voice, recalled that it was rounded about the edges, as if Mamadou had been drinking. That gave him pause. What if the man was himself a drinker or doper? He worried about that for a moment, decided to let it slide, it was unlikely, beyond his control.
He called Catherine who answered on the first ring.
“No news?”
Catherine sounded tired. “Nothing. Not a word, I’m worried sick, Colin. Lars decided he wasn’t going to worry so I’m doing it for both of us.”
“I think I have some good news. I found the limo driver. He said he’d help. That’s a step in the right direction, anyway.”
“Did he know anything, have any ideas? Maybe he...”
Colin cut her off. “I don’t know, Catherine. I saw him yesterday and he called me last night. I can’t tell you anything yet, save that he’s an ex-cop from Africa...”
“Africa?” Catherine laughed but it was empty. “Jesus. That’s all we need, some corrupt Third World cop. I’ve been to Africa. Thanks but no thanks.”
“Actually, I think he’s in the States because he wasn’t corrupt. He wasn’t willing to play the game back in Senegal where he lived, so his career ended. And he came here.”
Catherine sounded resigned. “Sounds like a far reach, Colin. What do you expect from him?”
“Got to start somewhere.”
Catherine’s voice was instantly chastened. “Jeez, Colin. I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s got into me. Nerves, I guess. Or Lars’ attitude. I don’t mean to sound so negative. You know I’m grateful.”
“It’s tough, Catherine. Try to keep it together. Going to a meeting later?”
“No. Yes. I mean, I need one, but I’m afraid to get too far from the phone. In case she calls.”
Colin understood. “Put it on call forwarding, have it switch to my number and come over. It’s not good just sitting at home.” He glanced at his watch. “On second thought, meet me at the club. There’s a meeting in an hour and a half. We’ll get something to eat afterwards, and I’ll tell you about my encounter with Mr. Dioh, the limo guy. We’ll try to work something out, a plan of some sort.”
Colin hung up. He didn’t expect much from Catherine, but left home alone she’d become a loose canon. And he needed a meeting too. The encounter with Mamadou Dioh had been a humbling experience he should talk about quickly, before it ate at him and became a resentment, then an obsession. He rubbed his wrist, remembered the sharp pain as the black man had twisted his arm effortlessly and rendered him helpless. The hours Colin had spent pushing and pulling great weights hadn’t helped one bit. He wondered once again if the Senegalese might be a practicing boozer. There’d be a certain irony to that, he thought. Colin glanced at his watch again. Time to do some basic research.
He turned on his computer, hooked up to Digital Ink, the Washington Post online service.
He entered his signup name and password, then headed for the Post’s archives. He punched in a couple of commands, typed in “Mamadou Dioh”, pressed the ‘Enter’ key. He waited, watched the screen as the central computer at the Post digested his request, sorted through the millions of references on file. There were only two entries under the Senegalese’s name. He hit another key and the printer came to life.
The meeting was small, Colin counted 14 people, eight men and six women. Catherine was late, came during the reading after the door had closed. Colin pointed to the empty chair next to him and she slid in, sat, smiled at the others in apology. She whispered, “There was a call just as I was leaving. I thought it might be Josie. It wasn’t. It was Lars, asking what I making for dinner tonight. I really lost it, with him, I mean. Yelled at him. He hung up.”
The speaker introduced himself, spoke for five minutes and threw the meeting open. Colin listened to the litanies, tried hard to remember Orin G’s admonitions, failed. He passed as the sharing went around the room, unwilling at the last minute to divulge the origins of his unease, unable to identify them for himself. Then, glancing at Catherine, he remembered the gist of the conversation with his sponsor. He muttered, “Oh shit.” The man seated on his other side looked at him briefly, raised an eyebrow.
Catherine raised her hand, identified herself and went into details about Lars behavior but Colin noticed she didn’t mention Josie. When the meeting ended, he took her by the arm and said, “Listen, I’ve got to talk to you about something. About me. And about Josie.”
Catherine canted her head, a quizzical look. They walked through the parking lot to her car Catherine said, “So talk...”
Colin nodded. “I don’t know how to go about this. You’re really going to get pissed. So first I’m going to apologize and say I had no way of knowing, because I’d never met her, you know? She said her name was Jane, and of course I had no idea how old she was, she looked like maybe mid-20s...”
Catherine wore a half-smile. “Colin, what are you trying to say. I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about.”
Colin focused his gaze on something far away, avoided Catherine’s face.
“What happened is, I recognized her from the picture you found, the one taken in Baltimore. It was a while back, during a low period. And I wasn’t very rational, I wasn’t thinking, I just wanted somebody to be close to, just for the night, a body thing. It just happened.”
“What happened, Colin?”
“I slept with Josie.”
Catherine’s eyes became very round and seemed to bug out a little, her jaw dropped. It was just like in the cartoons when Bugs did something outlandish to Elmer Fudd, and it stayed there. Her mouth was open, Colin could see the inside of her lower lip, her tongue, her even teeth, the tiny veins in the whites of her eyes, the eyebrows shaped like horizontal parentheses.
Catherine quaked once from head to toe. “You what??”
“I didn’t know, Catherine, couldn’t have known...”
“You slept with my daughter? With my Josie?”
Colin tried to move her into the car, guided her elbow. She stiffened, resisted, angrily batted his hand away.
“You’re joking.” She looked at him, drew her face close to his, tried to see past his eyes. “No. You’re not. My God. You’re serious.” She squinched her eyes shut like a kid making a desperate wish. “No, you can’t be.”
She moved away as if repulsed, her arm came in a long fast arc and she struck him on the right side of the head with her closed fist. He saw it coming, didn’t move, didn’t avoid it. She drew back her other hand, struck him again, closed her eyes. Her body seemed to go soft, lose its strength. She whimpered, turned from him, first walked then ran away. Colin started to go after her but she stopped, spun around. “Don’t come near me. Don’t fucking come anywhere near me.”
People in the parking lot were watching, Colin saw heads come together, heard vague whispers. Catherine strode to the curb with great deliberation, waved a hand in the air. A Yellow cab veered in from the far left lane and she got in amid a chorus of horns, closed the door softly. Colin watched the cab pull away.
“She all right?” It was one of the women who’d been at the meeting. “Something wrong?”
Colin shook his head. “No. It’s OK. Just a misunderstanding. She just had to get home. She’s fine.”
He looked down the street but the taxi was gone. He smiled without conviction at the woman. “Just a misunderstanding. Really.” He thought of adding another disclaimer, was struck by the foolishness of that, smiled uneasily and walked away.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Five-finger Discounts

When I was much younger and still prone to drug and alcohol excesses, I used to steal stuff. It was sport, not necessity, and I stopped when I got caught. I had been eyeing a pair of Ray Bans at the local sports store and decided to try the old sunglasses-on-top-of-the-head ploy--you know, wear them around as if they're yours, and walk out of the store. But I got nabbed by a lady cashier who threatened to have me deported and that was that.

Even now, I occasionally fantasize stealing, imagining exactly how I would get this or that item out of the store without paying for it. Its mildly entertaining if I have too much time on my hands.

I bring this up because I saw a woman stealing today. I was at one of those giant hangar stores that carry everything from bicycles to bacon when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a well-dressed white woman in her forties stuff a large Brie cheese into her handbag. She was neither furtive nor hurried. She picked it up, read the label, put it in her purse. There were people around but I'm pretty sure I was the only one who noticed. I followed at a distance and saw her take another large piece of cheese, a pack of smoked turkey slices, a tin of ham and a box of Belgian chocolates. Everything went into her large red leather purse. If she noticed me noticing her, she chose to ignore it. Eventually, she pushed her shopping cart into a check out line, paid her money and left.

Not once was I tempted to call security. Obviously, she had a ham and cheese jones. Maybe her husband---she wore a wedding band--was in dairy product rehab. Maybe she had a large family to feed. Maybe she wanted to surprise a lover.

I estimated that she spent about a hundred, stole about fifty. I assume she got a thrill from it, felt perhaps that she was getting even with something or someone. I somehow doubt that she really needed the stuff.

According to statistics, retail theft is up, with the incidence food theft rising daily. No surprise there as the cost of daily living spirals out of control. Gasoline theft is at an all time high as well, and in my neighborhood, many stations have instituted pay-before-you-pump starting at dark. I have not researched cheese theft per se and so can't tell you whether that's up too.

I imagine it's kind of tough for stores. How far can you go protecting your merchandise without alienating the customers? Where do you draw the line? Will you really prosecute Gammie for stealing batteries? (Yes, that's from Seinfeld.)
A friend who used to work security at Safeway told me about a family that would enter the store in the early morning, cause a diversion by knocking over a stack soup cans or fruit, then stuff their respective pockets during the commotion. Soon, they were well-known throughout the area and one morning all five of them were arrested---Mom, Dad, three children between the ages of twelve and seventeen. While Dad and the kids went for basic staples--hamburger meat, Polish sausage, Eggos and such, Mom specialized in high price items. When the police searched her, they found $400 of fois gras and filet mignon.

Here's installment 39 of Wasted Miracles.

Mamadou rose from the chair heavily. His head swam, he knew he was well on his way to being very drunk. He’d never liked inebriated people, was conscious of the muddy feeling in his arms and legs. He glanced at the clock on the kitchen range. Past two in the morning. He found the slip of paper with Marsh’s number, dialed. When Marsh answered, Mamadou said, “I’ll try to help you, Mr. Marsh. Come by tomorrow, around three. But there are no guarantees. There never are.” He hung up before the man could respond. He staggered to bed, didn’t bother with the sheets or blanket. He drifted off to uneasy sleep with the words ‘unfinished business’ circling in his head.

Chapter 11

Captain Roderick Stuart was not an unwordly man. He had wandered the planet as chief of a ship no single human could ever dream of owning, and he had seen firsthand the frailties and strength of the race. He knew men were weak, knew their lust had no bounds and knew, if for this very reason alone, that prostitutes would be drawn to the Isadora as, well, bees to honey.
In his heart of hearts, Captain Stuart knew such people were necessary to the functionings of a well-ordered society. He believed, though he never would dream of admitting it to anyone, that virtually all relationships had a basis in some form of prostitution. It was, after all, the oldest profession, and for a good reason.
He was therefore not in the least shocked to hear that two such creatures were plying their trade on his ship. What he resented was that they had been caught, which showed a certain lack of intelligence, and their captor had been one of the ship’s venerated clients. The Worthingtons of Ontario were on the A-list. They booked at least one cruise a year, sometimes two. They always stayed in first class and, though hugely wealthy, seemed largely content to play shuffleboard in the morning, bridge in the afternoon, and canasta at night. Mr. Worthington drank a bit too much on occasion, but this was forgivable, considering his spouse. Mrs. Worthington had a tendency to be a bit short with the crew (she had once called a steward a ‘dunderhead’) and her no salt, no fat, low carbohydrate and high fiber diet was a constant challenge to the chef.
Jennifer Jamieson and Clare Drake. Cabin 5-18. The captain checked his watch. In a half-an-hour’s time, diner would be served. The two would probably be in their cabin, getting ready. He drafted a quick note on the Isadora’s letterhead paper, sealed it in an envelope. He asked one of the men to deliver it immediately to cabin 5-18.
The two young women were attractive. Massively so. Captain Roderick Stuart was surprised that he had not noticed them before. Certainly, they stood out. One blonde, one brunette. They could have been twins but were not. Captain Steward estimated their age at between 22 and 25. They were poised, and very angry.
The blonde one, Jennifer, was speaking for them both. “Fuck you.”
The brunette nodded her head.
Their language left a bit to be desired.
The brunette said, “We’ll sue.”
The captain smiled. “Then you’ll do so from shore. We shall ask you to leave at the next port.”
“You can’t--”
“Yes, I most assuredly can. This is my ship. I can do almost anything here. Putting you ashore will be a minor inconvenience, believe me.”
Both women wore petulant, offended looks. The brunette broke first. “Oh shit,” she said.
The blonde smiled. “Can’t we work something out?”
The captain stood silent for a long moment. It was important that the two women think his decision was the product of much deliberation. It wasn’t. The handbook distributed to all ship officers by the Isadora’s mother company stated that dumping clients--any clients--was to be a last resort.
“Perhaps we can,” said the captain.
In fact, the problem was easily solved. The captain knew how quickly gossip traveled among both the crew and the passengers. He had no intention of fostering a cause celebre. Clare Drake and Jennifer Jamieson would therefore be allowed to enjoy almost all the pleasures the ship had to offer. They would not, however, practice their profession. If they did, they would spend the remainder of the cruise in the brig and be delivered to the local police at the next port of call.
The blonde shrugged her beautiful shoulders. “OK.”
The brunette mimicked her.
Captain Roderick Stuart bowed very slightly at the waist to show there were no hard feelings

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fourteen Reasons To Love the Olympics

OK, so what do we have so far.

Well, first and foremost, my head is still on my shoulders. I may be tempting fate by even mentioning it, but Mr. Machete has not yet made an appearance.

Second, I have been--quite in spite of myself--watching the Olympics. Here is what has struck me so far.

1) I find it hilarious that the Chinese had to lip sync a five-year-old because the original singer was not cute enough.

2) I think Phelps is a freak of nature, albeit a nice one.

3) I find it amazing that the words 'repressive,' 'coercive,' 'manipulative,' 'tanks,' 'students,' and 'murderous' have not been used once by the talking heads, even as the women's marathon ran through Tianamen Square. Instead, we were told the giant portrait of Chairman Mao--that not long ago overlooked massive demonstrations and equally massive reprisals--is changed annually so as to display different background colors.

4) All the children who marched during the opening ceremonies and were said to represent China's hundreds of minorities were actually Han child actors wearing regional costumes. The Han rule the country and make up 98% of the population. Imagine this happening in the US: all Black, Latino, Native American and Asian minorities would be represented by Caucasian children wearing make-up and sent over by Central Casting.

5) Members of the American cycling team wore surgical mask to protect themselves from the Beijing pollution and were told by their handlers to apologize to the Chinese government for such a breach of etiquette. Where I live in Northern Virginia, Asians wearing surgical masks on smog-laden days is a common sight.

6) President Bush refused to pat a member of the US women's beach volleyball team on the ass. Laura was watching.

7) One of NBC's commentators refused to eat a scorpion snack. I did once, in Thailand. It tasted like pork rinds.

8) Trampoline is an Olympic sport.

9) So is synchronized diving. "It's the gayest sport I've ever seen," said an admiring gay friend who thought the pair of Russian competitors was simply the best.

10) Dara Torres. I'm in love...

11) The Olympics are sponsored by McDonalds. This is the equivalent of Planned Parenthood being sponsored by the Catholic church.

12) US hurdler Lolo Jones.

13) Members of the Brazilian women's beach volleyball team have Bra embroidered on their bras.

14) Tanya Harding is pitching for the Australian women's softball team.

Here's installment 38 of Wasted Miracles.

Finding Amelie’s young man had been the hard part, killing him had been remarkably easy if largely unsatisfying. Mamadou had killed three people when he was a cop in Dakar, and each time back then he’d felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and remorse. Never mind that in all three instances his own life had been on the line and that he still bore the scars inflicted by a huge drunkard with a machete. The killings had left him shaking and horrified, as if they’d been the work of a separate, darker self. It was inconceivable to him that he’d had and used the powers that could end a life, inconceivable that divine retribution hadn’t struck him down on the spot. But it hadn’t, his existence had continued unchanged save that he was decorated for the first and third killings and that younger policemen grew to be in awe of him.
Ridding the world of the young man who’d encouraged Amelie’s destruction, on the other hand, was a public service. He remembered feeling greater pain when, as a boy, he’d used a home-made sling to down a pigeon. The mass of gray and white feathers that still fluttered as he gathered the fallen bird in his hands had seemed so small, so weightless and unthreatening that he’d run to the church and babbled his confession to the local priest. The cleric seemed to have understood, reprimanded and calmed the boy and ordered him to sweep the church for a month as penance. Mamadou gladly did so.
Running the murderer to ground had proved tricky until Mamadou realized it would be far easier to let the boy find him than vice versa. During his years with the Dakar police, Mamadou had quickly grasped a universal truism: money talks. He put out the word on the street, virtually shouted it. A large reward, very large, for the whereabouts of the young man. He was purposefully indiscreet, had an artist friend create a handbill bearing the boy’s likeness, posted it on every telephone pole. In less than twenty-four hours the entire ward knew the man from Senegal had cash to burn.
Then the elderly black gentleman who called himself a friend of Aunt Mim’s showed up one morning, impeccably dressed in an old-fashioned three-piece suit only slightly faded at the elbows. Mamadou had no idea who Aunt Mim was and the old man, sitting primly with his knees tightly together had explained. “In your country, Monsieur Dioh, the lady in question might be called a grande dame, a person who because of her influence and knowledge has earned the deep respect of her community. At any rate,” the old man stood, tugged at his sleeves so the cuffs of his shirt showed just so, “she would like to help you. Are you amenable? If you are, I believe you’ll soon encounter the man you’re seeking.”
The next day Mamadou sent Moustapha, Micheline, Macodou and Fatimatou to New York to stay with distant cousins. They’d always wanted to go there, had never had the opportunity. He filled the apartment’s refrigerator with food, mostly fruits and vegetables. He went to Hechinger’s and returned with several gallons of paint, brushes, rollers, spackling compound and sandpaper. Then he took the Orange Line metro to a shopping mall in Virginia, found a sporting supply store and purchased two shotguns, a Remington 870 and a Mossberg 500. He bought seven-shot mag extensions for both, barrel shrouds, front and rear assault grips and folding stocks, five boxes of shells. He returned home, disassembled the weapons, put them back together with the custom parts.
The old man had not lied. The boy came three days later accompanied by two friends, gangly youths with loud voices and backward baseball caps. They shouted at him through the door, challenged him to come out. He didn’t. A day earlier, Mamadou had put up a makeshift barricade of end tables, sofas and mattresses. The boy and his friends broke down the door. Mamadou saw at a glance that they were not well armed. He had expected better weapons but the three had gone for size rather than effectiveness. The boy had a massive Magnum that dwarfed his hands and wrists, the others each held a Walter 9mm at a jaunty angle. Mamadou let the boy have the first shot--which went far wide and blasted a hole in the living room wall--then downed the three of them with two blasts each from the Mossberg and Remington. He was reloading when he saw a fourth man, face black, round, impassive. The man vanished before Mamadou could react.
The police came, marveled at the damage, shook their heads but Mamadou could see there was a measure of admiration in their eyes. He knew cops, they were the same everywhere. When he told them he himself had been a policeman, they nodded in understanding. A detective confiscated his weapons. He followed the detective to the station, returned two hours later without having been charged. It was clearly a case of self-defense, and the three boys in the morgue were known to the police as minor but dangerous dealers who might or might not have been responsible for earlier violent crimes.
Mamadou spent the next day and better part of the night repairing the damage to the apartment. He used up all the spackling compound but was left with a gallon of Hechinger paint. The elderly gentleman came to help him and together they worked silently through most of the afternoon. The shoot-out made the back page of the next day’s paper. He never told the police about the fourth man.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Off With His Head Update

Am I spending too much time on this machete thing? Well, lets face it, I'm a pretty quiet type of guy and nothing like this has ever happened to me. The very idea that I can generate this kind of passion in anyone is novel. Course, I could think of other people I'd rather be passionate with. In the meantime, a young Australian demi-mondaine has volunteered to lend me a pistol. "Oi," she said, "that pisser's loikely to be hayden' be'ind a bush..."

But here's the good part: Estranged Husband is in the slammer for violating the protective order. In Virginia, protective orders are signed by a county judge who is likely to take it unkindly to see his decision violated before the ink is dry. No bail. EH is in the pokey until he goes to trial for violating the first order.

The thing is that in Virginia, and particularly in Loudoun and Fairfax counties, violating probation is like crossing the river Styx. There is an army of cops, prosecutors, judges, case workers, counsellors, probation officers and other vigilant folks whose sole reason for living is to see that i's are dotted and t's crossed.

Consider the case of a friend of mine, a lovely and smart woman who can't stop drinking. She got a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) four years ago. She spent the night in jail, pleaded guilty, was fined and did some 50 hours of community service. A few months after this, the police find her sitting in her parked car listening to music and obviously drunk. The car is not running but the keys are in the ignition. Violation two. Three weeks in jail.

Eighteen months later, she is found sleeping on federal property near the CIA. She is not in her car, but the officers who arrest her surmise that since the car is also on Fed property, the woman was drunk when she drove it there. Three strikes, etc. License suspended, 70 days in jail.

Her sentence finished, the woman manages to string together a few alcohol-free months. But one night, depressed, she drinks and uses a key to break into the house of her former boyfriend who is out of town. BF returns, calls cops, who take her away. BF does not press charges, but since this is a violation of her probation, Young Woman ends up in a 90-day rehab.

Will it end there? Only if Young Woman exactly follows the directions of her PO. But her PO has a caseload of some 70 offenders and cannot really manage each case, so without a car or a license, living in the burbs, it's almost impossible for her to go to AA meetings and counseling. She is expected to find a place to live and a job, but she cannot drive. She's in Hell.

Here is installment 37 of Wasted Miracles.

So I should help you because you suspect I know people who traffic in drugs, and since the young woman was, is, a recovering drug addict, perhaps it’ll assuage my conscience.” Mamadou Dioh shook his head. “That’s quite un-American, Mr. Marsh, declaring a man guilty, basing it on assumptions and hearsay. Are you sure you’re not French? You seem to abide by the Napoleonic code.”
“In America, Mr. Dioh, we say that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...”
Colin’s wrist still hurt. Whatever anger he’d felt had been replaced by grudging admiration. He had told the Senegalese most of the story and the black man had listened impassively, asking questions now and again. When Colin was through talking, Mamadou had refilled both their mugs.
Now he smiled slightly. “Please. Spare me the Reaganisms. Or Bushisms. I am neither a duck nor a drug dealer. I’m a simple immigrant, I make my money quite legally, pay all my taxes and licensing fees.”
He stood, walked Colin to the door. “Let me think about

all this, Mr. Marsh. I’ll call you tomorrow. We’ll talk


Chapter 10

That evening the job with the minister and his party went as Mamadou expected, with one slight hitch. The girls wanted to be paid in advance; the minister balked and as the argument between the two parties grew more heated, the scent of the minister’s cologne in the closed confines of the limo almost overwhelmed Mamadou.
The girls, it seemed, had been stiffed a few weeks earlier by a party of Nigerians and the minister’s protest that he was not from that disreputable country had fallen on deaf ears. To the women, an African was an African. They wanted their money now or no partying, period. Mamadou finally interceded, something he did not really want to do, avoided doing whenever he could. But the evening was well on its way to a disastrous ending, no party for the minister, no tip for the driver and the likelihood of losing customers in the future.
So Mamadou said, “Your Excellency, you should not allow such a successful day to end this way. And arguing with ladies of the evening is far below your dignity and that of the office you hold. May I suggest that you pay three-quarters of the agreed upon fee now and the remainder later? This will give your escorts an incentive to be particularly inventive and attentive to your wishes.”
The minister thought about it for a moment, conferred with two of his minions and grudgingly accepted the deal. Later in the evening, when he and his countrymen were very drunk and happy, he quite forgot the argument and suggested Mamadou come to his country and work in the Ministry of Finance. Then he gave Mamadou a hundred dollars. Later, as Mamadou dropped his passengers off so they could continue their evening in more private surroundings, one of the girls had shoved a fifty in his hand and said, “We’re gonna fleece these assholes...” Which they undoubtedly had done.
It was three in the morning by the time Mamadou got home. His apartment near the Washington Marina overlooked the Potomac and for a few long moments he focused on the moon’s reflection playing on the water. The streets were empty and the only sound that reached him was the clinking of halyards against masts. He took off his shoes, jacket and shirt, went to the kitchen and poured himself a liberal amount of Wild Turkey over a few ice cubes, returned to the living room and collapsed in his favorite chair.
He didn’t like his apartment, had thought he would when he rented it and on that assumption, furnished it carefully with a mixture of inexpensive modern furniture and art from his homeland. But that had failed to make the place a home, so for a while he tried peopling it, inviting friends to stay a week or a month, but that had grown wearisome. Friends and acquaintances were not family, and family was what he missed. But the family was gone, dispersed in a most American fashion throughout the continent.
Moustapha, brother number two, was a chef in New Orleans. Macodou owned a flower shop in San Diego. Fatimatou, his middle sister, had married a wealthy entrepreneur from the Ivory Coast and lived in splendor in Montreal. Micheline, the eldest, taught French to privileged girls in a private school in Connecticut. And Amelie was... dead.
Mamadou swallowed the last of the Wild Turkey, wiped his lips with the back of his hand, went to the kitchen and fixed a second, larger drink.
He had managed to avoid thinking about Amelie for a few days, though that wasn’t precisely true. He always thought of her, she occupied a permanent hollow in his mind. Her death had been the greatest catastrophe in his life, the most mind-numbing tragedy of them all. Still, to this day, he could not comprehend how such a thing had happened, how he could have allowed it to happen because she had been his responsibility and he had failed her, had let her be first subverted, then ravaged, then destroyed. Sometimes he dreamed he’d actually been the one who had snuffed out her life.
Now there was an opportunity to atone--that was the right term, he remembered learning the word and the concept as a child from the Christian nuns who had set up a makeshift school in his district. Atonement had seemed absurd at first until he realized it was quite close to vengeance, almost the same thing in a more positive way.
Mamadou could feel the alcohol slipping through his body, loosening his thoughts.
The boy who’d come to see Amelie that night had brought flowers. Mamadou remembered that distinctly because the colors and shapes of the blossoms reminded him of the gardens back home. Amelie’s friend was an outwardly pleasant young man, soft-spoken, somewhat glib but that was typical of youth. He dressed strangely, overly large clothes, gaudy jewelry, sunglasses indoors. Mamadou was careful not to be too inquisitive, there’d been a row with Amelie just a week before when she accused him of scaring her friends away with his intrusive questions and forbidding looks.
So he’d hidden his misgivings, watched the baby of the family, the child entrusted to him, flounce away in a too-tight dress with a young man Mamadou did not entirely trust, though he couldn’t tell why. Mamadou had waited until their return, which had displeased Amelie hugely. The young man hadn’t seemed very happy either.
Three days later Amelie had been out when he came home from work, and this was unusual. Amelie was the family’s cook, supper was normally ready to be served by the time Mamadou returned. His brothers didn’t know where she was, remembered only that the same young man had appeared at their door--flowerless this time--and whisked her away hurriedly. Moustapha cooked the meal that evening and commented slyly that, had he been the eldest, he would not have allowed Amelie to go out wearing the minimal wardrobe she’d had on.
When Amelie came back that night she was drunk and disheveled. Mamadou was tired, exhausted from an extra shift at the restaurant where he washed dishes. He’d lost his patience, slapped her--he had never done that before, the blow had shocked him more than hurt her--and forced her fully dressed--what there was of a dress, for Moustapha had been right, it had been scanty at best--into the shower. She had screamed, wept, cursed using words Mamadou had only heard on the streets. She was sullen the next day and the day after that and though Mamadou tried to apologize to her, he knew his anger had perhaps permanently wounded something very dear and precious. In the two-bedroom apartment already crowded by the five of them, resentment became a sixth being that occupied far too much space.
And then Amelie was gone. No explanation, no note, no telephone call. Mamadou contacted the police, who said they couldn’t be involved until a missing person report was filed or a crime committed. The hospitals had not admitted anyone fitting her description. Her friends, the few Mamadou had met, provided no help. Mamadou took to driving the streets at night but that proved fruitless as well.
Ten days later she returned accompanied by the same young man who drew a gun from his waistband and aimed it at the family, telling them not to move. Amelie’s eyes were vacant. She went and retrieved her clothes and shoes from the bedroom closet, taking as well some items belonging to her sisters. Then she demanded that the brothers give her their watches, chains, rings. The brothers did so, speechless and astounded more than frightened. The young man with the gun nodded, pocketed the jewelry. He followed Amelie out, slammed the door as he left.
Moustapha’s legs buckled, he sat down hard on the floor muttering in Wolof and French. Macodou crossed himself. Mamadou rushed to the window just in time to see the young man’s car vanish around a corner.
Three days after that Amelie came home for the last time. Mamadou found her in the dingy lobby of the building where they all lived, and she was very close to dead. Her breathing was shallow, the pupils of her eyes like great black holes. She died on the way to the hospital where an uninterested white intern told Mamadou she’d overdosed on a lethal combination of cocaine and heroine, something called a speedball. She’d injected the mixture directly into the veins in her arm and it had killed her. The intern said that was happening a lot recently, there’d been three other cases just like Amelie, it had something to do with a new supply of high octane junk recently brought into the neighborhoods. He said he was sorry and hurried away to a more survivable emergency. Mamadou went home to explain the inconceivable to his brothers.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Arrogity and stupidance

Did I mention a while back that a madman yearns to decapitate me with a machete? Very Third-Worldish. He thinks I slept with his wife. I didn't. The fact is that said Wife, a beautiful and smart young teacher, had enough of the man's drunkenness, anger, and violence. Also, she thought he should stop smoking dope and get a job.

Situations like that have a tendency to either escalate or spiral out of control. They separated and he became more abusive. She got a protective order which he immediately violated. Since this occurred in Fairfax County, one of the richest areas in the country and blessed with a no-shit-taken police force, Estranged Husband, now living at his mom's house, was picked up and jailed. Mom bailed him out. (About a year earlier, EH had come to my home when I was out of town, tried to break the windows of my car and, failing in his efforts, pissed on my door. More recently, there was an episode in a church parking lot where EH, cursing in what I later realized was high school French, tried to goad me into a fight.)

As EH's behavior took a turn for the worse, Wife retained an attorney who suggested getting a two-year protective order. Children would be exchanged in a police parking lot for purposes of visitation, but other than this, there would be no communications, surprise appearances, or contact of any kind between Wife and EH. The order was granted by a Fairfax County judge, and just before both Wife and EH went their separate ways, EH slipped Wife's father (who was in attendance) a card, asking that he give it to Wife. Bingo. A violation of the court order right there in the courthouse. Buuuusted. The we-take-this-stuff-seriously police force go back to EH Mom's house and arrest him again.

This, of course, is good news for all concerned except for EH and EH Mom who will have to dip into the retirement account a second time for bail. Also, EH Mom is out of town so there is a strong possibility EH will cool his angry ass in jail for the entire weekend.

So here are two new words worth adding to the vocabulary: arrogity and stupidance. Use them

Here is installment 36 of Wasted Miracles.

In the beginning, it would be all good manners, social graces and exaggerated politeness. The minister would take his glasses off. The party would hit a club or two,
after-hours places, drink more, dance, get much friendlier with the ladies who would of course respond in kind. In the end it would be a free-for-all. The minister and his friends would complain about having to wear condoms, offer blandishments and bribes. The girls would refuse. The Africans would be adamant at first, vocal and loud in their protest but in the end they would comply and spend a night long remembered and certainly often retold.
None of this would happen in the limo, however. That was the rule even the most illiterate visitor from whatever godforsaken nation knew. Discreet touching, that was all the owner of Africorps allowed in his vehicles. Mamadou Dioh, a strict and moral man, had spent years cultivating two divergent clienteles. One was the African diplomatic corps in Washington. He knew all the attaches, all the secretaries, the entire level of lesser embassy employees who made reservations, set up appointments, were hired to see that things ran smoothly. All these people knew his rules.
The other clientele was largely drug dealers.
The offices of Africorps were shabby, Mamadou recognized this and didn’t much care. The company’s business was done over the phone or increasingly, by fax. No need for a fancy storefront, in this Northeast neighborhood vandals would smash it nightly for the sheer thrill of it.
The limos were housed in a converted garage. There was a small sitting room to the side with one desk, a phone with three lines, the fax machine, a stained and rarely used coffee-maker, a ratty leather chair Mamadou had found at an Abby Rents auction of discarded furniture. No windows, no water cooler, a restroom the drivers avoided except in the direst emergencies. At night, a moonlighting city cop provided security. The man didn’t have to do much save make sure the two Dobermans he had trained and now handled were properly fed. There hadn’t been a break-in since a year earlier when two young men, recently arrived from Missouri and unaware of the place’s canine threat, had jimmied open the front door and, in the deep gloom, heard the growling of monsters from hell followed by the kachunka sound of a shotgun being loaded. That had proven to be enough for the visitors. The cop later told Mamadou he wished the boys had come in, it would have added a bit of excitement, but no such luck.
Mamadou clicked the remote, waited for the overhead door to rise, eased his limo in. He would vacuum and wash it before the night’s assignment, spray the insides with Nu Car, polish the chrome, make sure oil, transmission fluid and water were topped off. He was getting out of the car when he noticed the man sitting in the chair usually reserved for the guard. He seemed to be a large man who filled the chair, his shoulders somehow overflowing it. And he was white. That, more than anything, piqued Mamadou’s interest.
He nodded at the man, said, “I’ll be with you in a moment,” reached under the seat of the limo where he kept the pistol. It was an inexpensive weapon he’d bought on the street a year before when a serial killer was roaming Washington streets and murdering cabdrivers. With his back to the man, Mamadou slipped the gun into his waistband, pulled his jacket to cover it.
Now the man was standing. He was shorter than Mamadou expected, he’d somehow looked more imposing sitting. Mamadou asked, “What can I do for you?”
The man reached into a pocket and Mamadou’s heart skipped. He moved his hand, wrapped his fingers around the gun’s butt, had it halfway out when he saw the stranger raise both hands. “Please, Mr. Dioh. I’m not armed.”
Mamadou loosened his grip. “Sorry. Nature of the trade.” He motioned for the man to relax. “I am at a disadvantage here. You obviously know who I am, while I have no idea as to who you are, or how you got in here.”
“Colin Marsh, Mr. Dioh, and one of your drivers let me in. I told him it was important that I speak to you personally.”
Mamadou nodded, turned back to the limo. “You have my undivided attention. Well, not quite undivided. I have to get this car ready. What can I do for you?”
Marsh handed him a photo. Mamadou glanced at it, handed it back. “Handsome couple.”
Mamadou sprayed the inside of the vehicle with NuCar, did it carefully, took his time. Then he wiped the dashboard with a cloth, ran it around the steering wheel.
“Are you a policeman, Mr. Marsh?”
The man shook his head ‘no.’
“I didn’t think so. I was a policeman in my country of origin, and policemen all over the world have a tendency to recognize each other. You don’t look like a private detective either. Which leads me to believe you’re an acquaintance of one of the people in the photo. Am I right?”
He didn’t wait for an answer. “And I seriously doubt your acquaintance is with the man portrayed. Call it a hunch, as you say in America. So it must be the young woman.” He paused long enough to flick the rag, fold it into a neat square. “I have excellent powers of deduction, which is why I was an excellent, if unappreciated, law enforcement officer in my native country. How did you get my name?”
“A friend. A policeman.”
Mamadou nodded. “I see. That should not have been particularly difficult, I expect. A phone call or two, at best. Or a computer. They seem to do so much with computers nowadays.”
Marsh said, “The young woman in the photo. She’s missing.”
Mamadou Dioh thought that over for a moment. “And why should that interest me? Young women vanish all the time, Mr. Marsh. It’s a very hostile world out there, as I’m sure you know. Perhaps she ran away with the young man. How do you say, eloped?”
Marsh shook his head. “No. Something’s happened to her.”
“Well, that is unfortunate.” Mamadou unfolded the rag, wiped the limo’s radio antenna, squatted, rubbed away at a smudge on one of the wheelcover. “But I still don’t see how I can help you, Mr. Marsh. I certainly am not responsible for her actions.” The smudge was resistant. Mamadou spit on the cloth, applied more pressure.
Something in the calm West African voice seemed to anger the man. He drew two steps closer until he was standing over Mamadou. The Senegalese looked up at him calmly. “You’re standing in my light.”
Mamadou saw Colin Marsh’s fists clench. They were large, backed by overly developed forearms and biceps.
Mamadou’s arm sliced in a blur, connected with an ankle. Marsh yelled, fell to the floor. In one fluid motion the African grabbed a wrist, twisted it.
“I really do not like it when people move in a threatening manner, Mr. Marsh. Not one bit. It is impolite and it scares me. We are not well enough acquainted for me to permit you such familiarities.” He rose to his feet slowly, keeping the pressure on. Marsh tried to dance away, couldn’t.
“Now. Mr. Marsh, it’s obvious that you’re immensely strong, and this is a very silly situation for two grown men to be in. And given time, I’m sure you would overpower me. But you would get seriously hurt before you did so.” He walked Marsh back to the chair. “When I was a policeman in Dakar, I was called upon to move immensely strong men from one cell to another. It’s not difficult at all if you know how.” He squeezed Marsh’s wrist. Marsh grunted, stood on tip-toes to relieve the pressure.
Mamadou Dioh said, “I’ll strike a bargain. No more threatening moves and we’ll try to resolve whatever is troubling you as civilized men should. Please sit down. May I rely on your word?”
Marsh nodded. “I wasn’t going to attack you.”
“Good. Then I apologize, Mr. Marsh. But you looked quite fearsome for a moment, and the best defense is a good offense. Isn’t that the saying?”
Mamadou eased the pressure on Marsh’s wrist allowed the large man to sit. March looked up. “Aikido?”
Mamadou nodded, seemed pleased. “A West African version. Less stylish than the Oriental schools, but perhaps more effective.”
Marsh rubbed his wrist, rolled his shoulder.
“But you see?” Mamadou Dioh smiled. “Now we’re talking like well-bred people. Isn’t this much better?” He turned his back, entered the small office. “Coffee, Mr. Marsh? Instant is all I have, I’m afraid.” He returned in a moment bearing two stained mugs.