Monday, April 27, 2009


A couple of decades ago I lived in downtown Washington, DC, in a grand old apartment building on Connecticut Avenue. The Devonshire Towers was right near the National Zoo and at night during the summer months I could hear the lions roar. I owned a car but seldom drove it. Mostly, I walked. Two miles to work, half a mile to the grocery store, about the same distance to my favorite bars and restaurants. I took the bus or Metro in inclement weather. Cabs were affordable so I'd hail one if I was in a real hurry.

Since that time, I've noticed that I--and many of my friends--have given up most forms of physical exertion, including the mildest. In a completely unofficial survey, I've asked them: When was the last time you manually rolled up the window of a car? Opened a door at a store? Swept instead of vacuumed? Climbed stairs? When did you walk a mile, with a purpose other than seasonal tourism? Change the tires of your own car? And I've asked: Do you own an electric toothbrush or shaver, a mixer, an electric drill or screwdriver, a power mower? Do you blow leaves instead of raking them? Do you have a manual hedge clipper, a gas barbecue? Does your car have a manual or automatic transmission?

Almost every appliance available today is not so much designed to work better or longer as it is to reduce the amount of effort it takes to do a simple chore. The result, of course, is something that costs more, breaks, requires repairs or regular replacement. It is not something you can fix because you have neither the tools nor the knowledge to do so. So what it comes down to is this: we have become a nation of slugs.

Somehow, thanks to science, nutrition and the demise of predators and jobs that kill, we have come to live very much longer than our parents even as, physically, we do far less. And, in fact, I think most of us do nothing with those extra years. Nirvana may be a double-wide, a giant screen high-def TV and an open account with Domino's Pizza. But then again, who's to say that's wrong? Maybe the gods have a sense of humor and we are meant to take up as much space, time and energy as can possibly fit into one extended lifetime and to hell with everything--and everyone---else.

Oh, wait! Isn't that pretty close to the definition of capitalism?

OK, so now I'm going to get a lot of you-god-damned-socialist mail. Worth it, I guess. Here's installment 83 of Wasted Miracles.

So it was all about drugs. Colin whipped the old Porsche onto the Rte. 66 access, drifted into the left lane, took the Arlington exit. A get-rich-quick rip-off that had gone wrong and cost the lives of four people. No, five. Herbie was gone too. Small loss.
And Josie hadn’t remembered him. There’d been nothing in her eyes save exhaustion; the hour or so she and Colin had spent that one-and-only time long ago had been washed away. Colin wondered whether he should feel mildly insulted, decided his relief far overshadowed any bruise that Josie’s negligent memory might inflict to his pride. And, if he were truthful, he had to admit that the encounter had become vague in his mind as well, the commotion of the moment left little save a hazy recollection of blonde hair and pale skin. He wondered whether Catherine would ask, how he would respond. Maybe she’d laugh. Probably not.
It would be easy enough to track the ship’s whereabouts. Two phone calls, three at most. Various authorities kept track of such things, and any travel agent would be more than happy to supply a potential customer with information on the Royal Scottish Line.
Colin parked the Porsche, rode the elevator to his apartment, checked his voicemail. Two messages from Orin, one from Ed Kuminsky. “Colin? Ed. Joe was my sponsor, you remember? I talked to you a couple of days ago. I guess you must have heard by now, about Joe, I mean.” There was a silence, a long sigh. “Jesus, I can’t believe it. I don’t know what he was doing out there. It’s insane. Some people are saying he was into it, you know, that he was scoring but I know that’s not true. So, you know, if you hear anything like that...” The words trailed off, picked up again. “Anyway. I know you were his sponsor, he respected you a lot, he told me so. I don’t know why I’m telling you all this. Unloading, I guess. But I thought you should know. I guess what really gets me is that he could have been saved, you know? Whoever he was with, they just left him there to bleed to death. He coulda been saved. Bastards just ran away, left him to die in the street like some sort of animal. Jesus.” Pause, sharp intake of breath. “Well, look, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be telling you all this stuff, it’s part of the investigation. I needed someone to talk to, and you’re my grand-sponsor, even though we never met, and I was wondering, maybe we could get together sometime? Joe’d been wanting us to, he thought it might be good for me. Maybe he mentioned it? So if you’d like to, get together, that is, give me a call, OK? Jesus. Just fuckin’ left him out there in the night. Jesus. I’m sorry. I’m really out of control about this, makes me want to find the cocksuckers myself and watch them die real slow. Shit. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t burden you with this. Call me, OK? Here’s the number, in case you lost it.”

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