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.”

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