Tuesday, March 21, 2006

President’s Day, Oh Joy

With a sudden inhale, fear and logistics converge, gripping me as I thrash my way out of bed, heart racing, darkness, fingers struggling, forever re-learning how to shut off the cell phone alarm clock function, as my eyes open, conjuring up the myth of another day and the only real reason to get up, street cleaning.
Naked, my feet barely on the floor, my entire world catches up, surging down through me, impeding my forward movement, as it settles in an ache of confusion and angst. My mind hits the preview button, super-speed; my lack of cash, my relationship, lost dreams, the costly engine repairs, rewriting the resume, dishes in the sink, how cold it is outside, why does my gut feel still feel the bulge of last nights feeding frenzy at the Chinese joint . . . all of it, everything that could, would and will, conspires against me––packing itself into one constipated urge of despair. I’m awake.
In the focusing of this dread, yesterday’s underwear doesn’t seem like much and it’s right there––I try slipping into them, but it turns into something less graceful, sort of a rubics cube of contortion and decision, but after that, the learning curve steepens, leaving my pants, shoes and so on, to go on, in a much easier fashion.
Endless training has prepared me for these moments of quick decision––glasses, wallet, cell phone, keys and I am out the door, double time, sunrise at my back.

All across the city flaccid civil servants still sleep soundly, pondering far-off dreams of retirement. Banks with your imaginary money jingling in their vaults keep their doors closed. Only a few are out, roaming in the sunrise, earning your tax dollars: the bus drivers, the police and on this morning, expected between the ever vague hours of eight and ten a.m., the street cleaners.
They come with a rumble and a hum, spraying, brushing, and vanishing around another corner, gone for another week, into the void, a quantum leap of physics, soon to reappear in another time zone––probably the one you will park in next.
But before them, the pariah, the leeches, the blood sucking, expletive inducing, parking control officers, putter up and down the blocks, three wheeled raiders, preying on the slow, the sleeping, the forgetful, the arrogant . . . the soon to be booted.
You can hear them coming. Little stubby Cushman’s sputtering neatly, like flies to shit, turning, stopping, scooting (did I forget, writing) on in bee-like fashion; their occupants dull, slumping, smoking, quota minding clerks of the city, aiming to please, to exercise their bloated sense of power and to take your verbal ravages with nothing more than a patronizing, “Sorry but I can’t do anything once the ticket is written,” which of course translates to fuck you sucker, I get all my tickets fixed.
I’m hustling but there’s always time for coffee. The donut shop girl smiles the smile that never changes or seems to acknowledge me, in spite of the fact that I tip her a quarter every morning, sometimes twice a day. I imagine my tips going for all the fuzzy pink, pastel trinkets decorating the dashboard of her spotless Honda.
“How are you today, I say, plunking that quarter in the jar before she’s said a word. Audible as it is, she must be used to the sound of change hitting the bottom. I’m afraid to give her anything less that a quarter for fear of scorn, even though she will make more than me today, just in tips.
“How are you today,” she repeats, in her square structured response and I have long given up hope of her ever replying with, “I’m fine,” or some other colloquialism of donut shop banter.
She knows her donuts though––tongs a the ready while
I, in turn, struggle to remember, “maple old-fashioned.”
She descends, comes up, an old-fashioned in her grip.
We both confirm its authenticity. I suppose she does know me, as we agree again, in unison, “large coffee.” I shoot her a ramble of dialogue that paralyzes her expression. She’s lost in my short babble, barely able to say thanks to my thanks as she surrenders my donut.
I turn for the door, taking that cautionary slurp of coffee––the one that’s supposed to create that safety zone, but instead always manages to spill and dribble and I just have to thank the gods that I am not dressed down in some Khaki formation, about to jump a bus with my crotch spotted in French roast.
I’m sipping, spewing expletives, vaguely aware that someone is near by. I spit out another burst, like
buck-shot, to let them know that I mean business. I’m pissed, I swear, and never mind the dribble.

My car is blocks away, in an almost unbroken line of parked cars, like a trail of Morse code that runs off over the horizon. I can just make it out as a black dash, but more importantly, no sign of the Cushman brigade, and no one racing grand prix style, across the road to get to their cars.
I relax my gait to account for the fact that it is a crisp blue day and a crisp blue president’s day at that and the irony that I should celebrate in a way, the fuck ups of past leaders and most certainly the fuck-up that presently leads us along. I’ll enjoy the day, if only to laugh at him and think that somewhere, that idiot is being congratulated.
But first, and far more important than any president, my very used 1987 guzzler awaits and I pray to all the gods possible that it starts up; that I did not leave the lights or the heater or anything else on; that my tires are not flat, no windows are broken and nothing is missing that I would not miss anyway and lastly I pray that no middle east gold is leaking from below.
Because the key lock is long broken, I open my door via the small window. Snake my hand in and down, nudging the lever, extracting my hand, always waiting, holding my breath for someone to call me on this––to question my ownership––especially if they should be spy enough to see that no key is required to start the engine.
I climb into the familiar smell of old car dust and worn seats, a menagerie of lonely gear: ski poles, tire tubes, bike helmets and tools for something to do with car repair.
I settle into the guzzlers world, checking the buttons, switches, nothing on. Relief. As I flip the wiper switch, I think of a space ship, long abandoned and floating in some far off galaxy.
The empty hulk gets boarded by a bunch of ragtag heroes in training and after so many, maybe hundreds of years in stale space, all systems down, someone flips a switch and the sleeping giant yawns, buzzes, screens light up and the ship awakens to cheers. I feel this way whenever I start my car.
The wipers, front and back push away a weeks worth of dirt, leaves and bird shit, softened to a sludge by the cold morning dew.
I contemplate turning on the engine but decide to sit in silence, waiting for the drone of terror.
Suddenly it occurs to me that this is a holiday of sorts and being presidents day, I think, damn, this should be the most important day in America. Certainly the street sweepers will be paying their respects by staying home, and then I remember who they are––not the street sweepers, but the rodents in the little chariots. They are probably at the bedside of every street sweeper in town, tugging them out of bed, urging them to climb out of bed and up into their lumbering steeds and follow them, ‘cause there’s tickets to write and we got ‘em off guard. Presidents day is just another, thankfully, vague holiday, not worthy of getting out of bed, except for this.


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