Sunday, September 21, 2008

Two Named Women Participating in Our Culture

The other day I went to a political rally in Elmire Park. I was unclear as to what it was for exactly, but I felt the need to engage with the democratic process. I was surprised to see Nancy and Andrea there. At first I thought they'd had the same impulse, but when they mounted the speakers' platform, I realized they were there in a more active capacity.

Andrea spoke first.

"My friends...Jesus, 'my friends,' how can I say that? Calling someone 'friend' is a big deal. There's like what, eight hundred of you here? Maybe a thousand. I know almost none of you, and the ones I do know aren't exactly friends of mine. They know why. Oh boy, do they ever know.

"I'll start over. My strangers: we live in a time of great upheaval. That means shit is fucked up. Way fucked up. It's all broken and scattered. It reminds me of the trash in our awful streets. That trash is evidence that something is going on, but you ever tried to put it together into a coherent picture? I have. I've spent whole afternoons dong it. What I'll do is pick up a bottle, a glass one, and some newspapers. Then I'll wrap the newspapers around the bottle, good and tight. When I've got that done, I look for the dirtiest part of the sidewalk. then I roll the bottle down that patch of sidewalk, pushing hard. I do this for about a block. It's a hard thing to do, because people will stare at me or call me crazy or try to mess with me. A lot of the time I end up getting into a fight and have to use the bottle as a weapon. Usually if that happens I have to get a new bottle and start over. I have to do this five, six, seven times some times. Often there's a hold up, because glass bottles are getting harder to find these days. But I keep it up, because this stuff is important.

"Anyway, when it works out right I get to roll that bottle all down the block. At the end I'm left with two types of evidence. I'm no egghead, but I know it's good to have more than one kind of evidence if you're investigating shit. The first type of evidence is the crap that's been pushed in front of the bottle. Usually this is what you'd call 'powder based,' because there's usually a nice sized heap of powder and bits by the end, all mixed together. Some of this stuff in the powder is pretty identifiable: grit, dust, ash, bits of dried tar from the road. But there's other stuff in there too, stuff that just confuses me. Like the purple stuff. You guys know about that?"

She paused, looking out at the crowd. She wiped one of her large arms across her forehead, joining the individual beads that had been sitting there into an even film. The pause went on, and Andrea started to look frustrated.

"Okay, I guess not. That wasn't a rhetorical type question by the way: I was really hoping that somebody here might know what this purple stuff is, because I think it's probably important. It's usually a good ten percent of the 'powder based' evidence, and it freaks me out that I can't identify it. It's this really dark shade of purple. The bits are usually no bigger than a match head, but sometimes they're as big as a pea. One time I found one that was the size of my thumbnail. I've got it here in my pocket, if anyone wants to have a look later. I thought maybe it was gum at first, but it's kinda more like stone, and it's got little holes in it.

"My point is, something's going on.

"The other type of evidence is all the liquids picked up by the newspaper. I know you're thinking 'Gross! Liquids!', and yeah, you're right. Pretty gross. There's always spit, there's always piss, there's always something sticky, and there's always something that smells really rank. And of course it all mixes together, into one thing, so I can't look at the individual liquids. But let me tell you something: that blend of liquids means something. Because the thing is, liquids evaporate, right? So even if these things are separated out on the sidewalk, they eventually get up in the air and blend together. I'm pretty sure that's how it works. Do you see what I'm saying? This is in the air we breathe. You can't tell me that's not bad. Or at least important. It's gotta be doing something.

"So, in summary: something's going on and I've got evidence. Uh, thanks."

Andrea left the platform to a smattering of applause. Later, I saw her talking to a couple of old black guys in matching pork pie hats. She had her hand out in front of her, so I assumed she was showing them the purple thing. One of the guys was nodding really slowly. The other was shaking his head. Andrea looked irritated.

After a few more speakers it was Nancy's turn.

"Hello," she said. "It may be of interest to you to know that not far from here, in this very park, when I was a child, I used to come and feed the ducks in the pond. Around the age of fourteen I stopped. I don't know why. Then I went away for a bit. Then I came back. When I came back I was a different person. I think now I might be the kind of person who feeds ducks as an adult."

Here she started rummaging in her handbag, eventually producing a surprisingly large bag of breadcrumbs.

"Today I intend to find out. Thank you."

No one applauded as she left the platform, but there was a murmur in the crowd that lasted a surprisingly long time.