Sunday, May 10, 2009


A couple of weeks back I was with a friend and we commented that we seldom, if ever, got the second look anymore. The second look, should it need to be defined, is exactly that: the look given after the first passing glance; the look--more often than not from the opposite sex--that seeks more information.

This is a subtle change in a man's--and a woman's--life for it implies that we have moved from the arena where gender matters to the one where it does not. We have become largely faceless, and people begin to call us "sir" and "ma'am." The attractiveness and sexual energy we relied upon to make contact with our opposites is just about gone.

When does this happen? And do we cause it by somehow giving up our claim to life or does it simply occur in spite of our best efforts?

Some days ago I heard a not-at-all-pleasant woman in her mid-60s bemoan the fact that she lacks a boyfriend and I wondered if the sourness of her disposition chased men away, or was it the lack of men that caused her unhappiness? Or had she simply become invisible, another divorced white-haired matron with a Barbara Bush hairdo, back problems and a collection of Trader Joe shopping bags?

I see old men in felts hats wearing their pants halfway up their chests and find it impossible to believe they ever got a first look, never mind a second one. But they must have, otherwise many of us would not be here. Often they're walking alone, widowers or divorcees perhaps, carrying their solitude like heavy knapsacks. There is one man I have seen nearly every day for a year, and though I made some resolute efforts to speak with him on more than one occasion, his loneliness is so physically intense that words, I fear, don't get through. He stands in front of the Post Office hours on end, smoking one cigarette after another. He politely opens the door for women as if this small act might render him visible again, but he ignores men, looks through us as if we are not there. I often wonder if he's waiting for a letter, for some word that will allow him to relink his life to those of others.

Here's installment 85 of Wasted Miracles.

She had a key to the travel office. The manager had given it to her so she could come in early or stay late and work the computers, learn the trade.
It was quiet there, the glow of the monitor a splash of dim light in the dark room. Mollie booked a flight to Nassau, first class, what the hell. No passport needed to go to Nassau, they were so happy to get tourists. When the computer asked her if she wanted a round-trip, she hesitated a moment, tabbed over to the “yes” box, punched “enter,” cleared the screen. She checked the printer to make sure the ream of perforated tickets was in place, hit another key. The printer hummed, zipped back and forth. A moment later a second machine came to life and printed her itinerary in triplicates.
She found an American Airline ticket folder, the kind with the little slash on the inside for the boarding pass, folded the paperwork and carefully inserted it. She blew a kiss at the screen before turning the computer off.
Mamadou Dioh sat in his darkened apartment sipping a large Wild Turkey. It was his third and he was stone sober. The liquor was no longer sweet on the tongue and he could feel it churning acids in his stomach. Another death, another victim.
He took out his wallet and unfolded the small piece of paper he had found on the Zulu’s body, looked at the elegant cursive script, read the words, replaced the note between two credit cards.
The girl was alive, that was something. Better than Amelie. Whatever he felt about the death of Colin’s policeman friend was at best mixed. What Mamadou had told Colin was true: people who enforced the law woke up each morning with the dim notion that this day might be their last. Or if they didn’t, they should. The policeman had been fat, poorly dressed, hardly in keeping with the image necessary to uphold the law. He was a racist, that was obvious from his conversation in the car, from his gleefully quoting the article from that morning’s newspaper. His gun probably had neither been cleaned nor fired in ages. He’d been taken by surprise; those were the breaks, as Americans said.
And Colin? Colin had been totally unprepared, weaponless by choice. A stupid choice, no matter the philosophy. One did not enter the den of the lion naked. One took precautions. All in all, Colin should have been thankful not to have been the one left behind. Mamadou sipped his drink, drained it, poured another, smaller one. If he himself had committed an error, it was by involving others in his affairs, by not having the necessary wherewithal to handle the Zulu alone, as he’d sworn he would.
Allies, Mamadou thought. More often than not ill-chosen, rarely up to the task.
And now, of course, there was this quandary. It amused Mamadou slightly that things never quite worked out as one might hope. Killing the Zulu was supposed to be the end of it. He had anticipated relief, elation, some sort of catharsis, instead he was now faced with yet another moral choice, this one involving a great deal of money. Very strange.
Mamadou Dioh took his glass to the kitchen, emptied the remaining amber liquid into the sink. He felt a bit lightheaded, troubled by the conversation with Marsh, and not at all vindicated by the events of the past few days.

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