cold front

from the Archive

What is up I do not know, but everyone around here is high as a kite and has been for days. Things are crazy, which is the default in the neighborhood, but now they are the kind of crazy that makes people freak out and gets them life behind bars, not the normal kind of crazy that gets them called “Napoleon” and has them wash their hands facing north-northeast on Tuesdays.

The sidewalks are fairly quiet, except the drug market outside Carnegie, but the alleys have never seen such levels of activity (wouldn’t call it “life”). Quite a picture it makes, with the city gardeners watering the brightly flowered hanging baskets while in the background some grease-streaked Charles Manson lets off a fire extinguisher that he stole from a hotel so he can sell it to the pawn shop out front. Vast clouds of white powder tumble into the air past windmill-armed beggars spinning the haze into tornadoes while in the forground a couple of junkies jitterbug as their synapses snap and the sunlight refracts into a million rainbows as the pansies and petunias are carefully sprinkled and tended. Some wild-eyed guy comes tearing down the street the wrong way, skateboarding a shopping cart, while behind him the cart’s last illegal owner sprints madly; this is the Downtown EastSide version of an SUV, and not to be let go lightly. He is fitter, but much less desperate than the thief, who is skating for his life as well as his cart. If he makes it to the old Indy track he’s home free.

I begin to think I’m staggering from a secondhand high, but it’s just that every single pedestrian coming toward me lurches from left to right to left in unison. It’s like the Rockettes performing a matinee in Hell. I get that disoriented feeling you get in a train when you are sitting still and the train next to you begins to move. Are they moving, are they standing still? Am I?

And down by the train tracks I cannot figure out **what’s** going on. I hear the chinga-chunga of a train motoring along the track but, though I have a clear view over the ten lanes of track, I cannot see a single car move. Maybe I’m hearing my own wheels. I stop. It continues, chunga-chunga-chunga and the immobile boxcars look at me strangely. They have inscrutable markings, from OCEAN JINGO LIMITED and from Oaph the tagger. Mene, mene, tekel upharsin. I start skating again. The sound continues, pacing me; where the hell is it coming from? After awhile the slope evens out and I see that all along I have been paced by flats, an enormous string of them, so long that the engine is out of sight; at three feet in height, they were hiding below the angle of the slope. An entire train, hiding and following me and driving me crazy. No wonder the other trains looked at me funny.

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