Notes from Dystopia: U.S. Dollar, Gold, Way of Life Backed by Bombs, Pills, Health Insurance Pillory, and Murder
I walked out into the night, howling inside. My bills were paid. I'd swept the floors in my apartment. My legs, thighs, arms were stretched. I was clean and good, had a cigarette I'd rolled burning in between my fingers. Pulling on the tobacco, I inhaled, feeling the smoke in my lungs and chest, exhaling through my nostrils.
The city, as far as I was concerned, was glowing. The street lights were amplified through transformers. Underneath the asphalt, subway trains trundled, rumbling along, eerily endeavored with a sense of doom and boredom. It wouldn't be too long.
"Beat it!" I shouted aloud.
"No one wants to be defeated!"
"Beat it! Just beat it!"
I was willing to sacrifice my sanity.
A cab came along. I raised my arm, throwing my cigarette to the ground. Unquestioningly, the cab came up to the curb, halted. I opened one of the back doors, climbing in, silent and energized.
Once I was settled in the backseat, I held my breath. One. Two. Three. Four. Fix. Six.
"Hey, kid!" the driver scattered my thoughts. "Where you goin'? I ain't got all night."
"City Hall," said I, nearly stammering. I held my hands in my lap, thinking about the future.
He hit the gas, heading north on Broad Street.
"I'm bad," I said, "you know it..."
We passed Washington Avenue, the lights aglow around the construction site where they'd been putting in a grocery store.
Staring out the window. Stars were flickering from millions of light years before the earth had even been conceived.
"You going out tonight?" The driver asked me. "You seem like you're in a good mood."
"I am," I responded, abruptly. "The stars are drooling in anticipation. The cat's outta the bag. They'll kick you, and beat you, and tell you it's fair. So just beat it."
"I hear you," he said, nodding. "I drive all day. 10, 12 hours. I go home to sleep for a few hours, then I'm right back working again. Sometimes I eat right in my cab. When it's raining, I'll eat corn on the cob right from the tinfoil. Hard life."
"Where you from?" I asked him.
"Yes. Civil war. Diamonds. Kids with machine guns. Nobody cares about us."
"I care," said I.
He looked at me in the rearview at a red light.
"You know," I began, "that the Saudis are funding Uber. Something like $1.5 billion."
He laughed, sincerely.
"And I think the Chinese are going to keep dumping U.S. debt."
"What about the Japanese?" he retorted. "Dey own the most."
"Yes," I nodded. "Most people don't know that."
"What 'bout South Korea? U.S. puppet, man. Equatorial Guinea -- they're in the pocket of Exxon. They're rolling in the dough, that government, man. They take millions for themselves and the people starve."
"Uh huh," I said. "Yes."
"That new Secretary of State. He's an oil executive. And the head of the EPA. These guys don't care about people. They're horrible. Like werewolves with thumbtacks for brains."
"Oh, I know. Why do you think I'm dancing every night, past midnight? I know all the right moves. I read the New Yorker. Got my Wall Street Journal. I drink 24 beers a week. Write poems, short stories. Smoke. Paint."
"Are you a writer?"
"I guess." I looked out the window.
"You want to be in love," he said, catching my gaze in the rearview.
He turned up the radio. It was Thriller, blasting loudly in the cab. The chorus was approaching.
We were getting closer to City Hall. Spruce. Locust. Walnut. Chestnut.
"There it is," said I.
"Yeah," he said.
"You working all night?"
"Yeah, man. I'm always working. Almost every night."
"This is for the coming revolution," I said.
"Ha!" he laughed. "Man, I see those stars every night. What revolution you talkin' about?"
"Don't you watch the news?"
"Man, I'm lucky to just have this here job. I don't have no time to watch the news. You know where I come from?"
"Thriller," I said.
He stopped the cab on the side of City Hall.
"You okay, man?" He was observing me, curious and almost afraid. I'd wanted to have that effect.
"This is where it's going to happen," I said, "this is where it's all going down."
"Whatever you say, kid."
I took my debit card out of my pocket. After pressing a button or two, tipping him 25%, I swiped my card. The light on the machine flashed green.
"Thank you," he said.
"I wouldn't go too far," I responded, "if I were you."
I got out of the cab, shutting the door behind me like it was the last thing I was going to do.
He shuttled off, slowly. Back into the night. I knew he didn't believe me, didn't care what I'd been saying to him. I was just another passenger. The city was just a place where people drove around, got drunk, found love, rotted away, they were shot in the city -- its inhabitants -- or they walked back from school to their homes on weekdays. The subways ran every day. The moon came every night. There were hotels, churches, day care centers, pizza shops, cell phone towers. I knew the sight, from Center City to West Philly -- where the clouds meandered, there was a canal down in the concrete beneath the bridge where the homeless slept or they walked down there just to hide from the rest of everybody. Every day, the sun would splatter across the Art Museum, and the tourists were out wandering around, speaking Greek, German, French, Italian, Chinese, Korean, Urdu, Farsi, Hebrew. I sucked in the cool night air and decided that I was going to do what I'd planned to do.
That was my plan.
To get naked. In front of everybody. At night. With a speaker wrapped around my shoulders.
I got to where the guards were bored, around the plaza. They saw me, smiled. Spat on the ground, mumbling into their handhelds.
It was fast. And my heart was thumping.
I tore off, near where the fountains shot out of the ground. I figured they'd be on at night, but they weren't. Still, I ran.
It wasn't long before there was screaming, hollering, and laughing.
"White boy goin' apeshit!" I heard. Across the street, near the entrance to the subway -- they sold pills there. If I could've done it, I would've had jars filled with pills, throwing them all over the place. I wouldn't have been afraid. I would've tossed them at City Hall. Into the street. At the cabs. I would've stopped traffic.
In the back of mind, I could hear my father's voice.
"Why don't those people get a life?"
I had nowhere to go, and nothing to lose. I was more dangerous than the president himself.
Or so I thought.
After about a minute, I was tackled to the ground. The cold stone stung like hell.
"Bastards!" I shouted. "This is for the revolution!"
I was billy-clubbed over the head, like a duck or a sheep or a dolphin or a tuna.
"You crazy son-of-a-bitch! There are kids around here!"
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see westward. The lights mocked me with their indifference.
"Hey!" I heard a voice. "Get off him!"
It was the cabbie's voice, I recognized it instantly.
"He ain't right in the head!"
The night draped over me, like a black cloud. I wanted peace in a violent world.
"You gonna put his pants back on?" somebody shouted.
Everybody laughed. Even the pigeons.