Saturday, July 24, 2004

Getting involved

When I woke up yesterday morning at 4:00, I switched on the TV to the channel that was showing a rerun of the 11:00 news from the night before and a constant weather radar sweep. The weather looked like it would stay clear for a few hours, but the meteorologist on the news mentioned something interesting: the air might smell of smoke, the smoke from the forest fires burning in Alaska. Two years ago, I had experienced this with smoke from fires in Canada, but Alaska was much farther off. I wondered if I would be able to smell it.

As I stepped out of the house with my dog, I realized two things: I could not smell the Alaskan smoke, and it was raining. Lightly, but still raining. Technically, the air around me might have been so hot and humid that the water in it was simply falling out, but in any event we were going to get wet. We soldiered on regardless.

I chose a new route today, straight across town along a ridge that didn't have much in the way of hills. We made good time and covered a lot of ground very quickly. Sometime soon I have to get a pedometer to measure out my steps. By the time we reached the turnaround point, a half-hour had passed. Right on schedule.

If I can smell a lot in cool, moist air, I can smell much more in hot moist air. Too much. The air was an assault on my sense of smell. No Alaskan smoke, but there were plenty of other odors: stale cigarette smoke from this house, a rotten orange from that one, the smell of daffodils several days past bloom - what that smell was doing there, I have no idea, since daffodils came into bloom three months ago, and have been dead for close to two months, so maybe this was just some other flower gradually spoiling. There were musty and mildewy odors too.

There was something else. After the turnaround, at about 5:40, the sky had brightened enough to see - at least to see the bats that were swooping down and circling my head. I've never encountered bats on a walk before, and I've certainly never before had them circle my head at a distance of five feet, as though I were bearing an insect escort. Maybe there was a bat nesting ground nearby. I don't know.

On the way back I decided to stop by the bakery to put in an order for cupcakes. The bakery is on the next street down from the street we had walked out on. It's become a favorite of people at work as I've been bringing in cakes and cupcakes and donuts for birthdays and whatnot. A few years ago it became a tradition that whenever somebody was leaving our department we would get a cake from my local bakery. As the rate of departures accelerated due to a situation I may describe someday, we realized that if we kept up this tradition we would surely die. So now we have a cake, or cupcakes, or donuts no more than once a month.

The bakery is located just across the street from our "new" municipal complex - built in 1976, I think. It boasts a large firehouse on one side of the street, and a long, low Municipal Building with a built-in Police Station. Quite impressive. Sometimes.

We walked along the firehouse side of the street. As we crossed over to the block where the bakery is located, I noticed a man and a woman come out of one of the houses just past the bakery and begin walking towards me.

They walked side by side, and appeared to be engaged in an animated conversation, which at 5:55 in the morning seemed a little inconsiderate toward their neighbors. They both wore jean shorts, and the man was shirtless and, I would soon notice, shoeless. At one point, while they were still over 100 feet from us, I saw the man swing his arm out as though to punch the woman in the mouth. She grabbed her mouth and bent over, slowing her pace. Laughing? Was this some private joke?

I was about 10 feet from the bakery door when I realized that the two people walking toward me were not having a friendly, animated conversation. They were fighting with each other as they walked.

The woman looked at me. She said, "Sir, would you please walk me to the police station?"

But...the thought. I did a quick situational assessment.

Both of them were in their late 20's or early 30's. Like most people, they were both smaller than me. The woman had a bedraggled look to her, while the man was stocky and well-muscled and carried an air of barely suppressed rage. He also carried a small, squarish object with a cord that I couldn't immediately identify, but which I didn't like the looks of. It looked heavy and had corners to it, and looked like it could do some damage if it were swung at the temples or the base of the skull. Rear speaker from a car stereo? Possibly. The object was in his left hand. As I faced them, he was on my right. My right hand was wrapped by Haley's leash. I am semiambidextrous, and can use my left hand almost as well as my right, but it would be difficult to maneuver with a dog anchored to my body. If it came to that.

The police station was 100 feet away from me. The object in the man's left hand posed a potentially serious threat to the woman. I wanted to order cupcakes and go home.

"Yes," I replied.

We turned and walked alongside them - the man on the left, on the street side, the woman in the middle, and me with my dog on the right. If the man attacked the woman I would be in a poor position to defend her. Oh, well.

As we walked the couple continued to bicker. I got the sense that they were arguing their cases before me. She had trashed his apartment, he said. She countered that he only damage she had made was the hole in the wall where he had smashed her skull. He complained that he had come home from work at 4:00 in the morning to find her, uninvited, at his place, having broken things, including the clock radio he was carrying. She reminded him that he still owed her that money. I simply didn't care. I just wanted to get them to the police station where, if they continued along the path they were heading down, they would both wind up being arrested within 5 minutes.

We crossed the street and walked to the alley behind the Municipal Building where the police station was located, and got a surprise.

They were closed. The lights were on, but the doors were locked. Their hours of operation were clearly marked on the door.

The scene became surreal as the three of us began banging on the doors and windows, trying to attract the attention of anyone within. To no avail. I briefly wondered if maybe the half-dozen police cars parked behind the station were alarmed, and if maybe we could attract someone's attention by setting one off. I quickly thought better of it, and resumed pounding.

After several minutes of this, the man announced that he had had enough and was heading back to his apartment - to trash the place so that he could blame it on her, the woman assured me. When we had arrived at the police station, the man had wisely thrown away the broken clock radio he was carrying into a large garbage can placed incongruously by the police station's main door. This was probably a good idea, because if he had walked into the police station carrying an air of barely suppressed rage and a potentially deadly weapon, he would probably have been immediately maced, cuffed, and thrown into a cell. Without the object, he posed marginally less of a threat than with it, so I felt some of the danger to the woman may have passed.

After he left, the woman and I (plus Haley) walked around the municipal building looking for signs of life, but didn't see anyone. I realized the best bet would be to call 911 and get patched through to the city dispatcher, who could arrange for a patrolling policeman in a squad car to meet up with the woman. Unfortunately, neither of us were carrying cell phones, and the closest pay phone was back the way we had come, half a block past the bakery.

Dammit, I needed to order my cupcakes. We walked to the bakery carefully, keeping an eye out for potential ambush. I stuck my head in the bakery and placed my order for 15 chocolate and 15 vanilla cupcakes to be picked up later in the morning.

I walked the woman to the pay phone and took my leave. I advised her to stay away from the apartment and stay away from him, and then Haley and I completed the last half-mile or so home.

So what happened next? I have no idea. When I went to pick up my cupcakes a little later there were no police cruisers or ambulances waiting outside of any houses near the bakery. I haven't heard about any assaults or murders in town today. But who knows?

Odds are they will not keep their distance from each other. They will probably have a violent confrontation in the near future. I just don't know.

I guess I'm not cut out for the big city, where "not getting involved" is a rule of life. And the rule of the rural regions is "What you do is your own business," at least according to the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Maybe I'm temperamentally suited to the neighborhood structure of the suburbs. Maybe I belong right where I am.

It's nearly 4:00 in the morning. I've been up for nearly 24 hours. I think it's time to go to bed.


Anonymous said...

Dah ha -- NOW we see the loopholes inherent in the system. This is JMF, posting anonymously - tee hee -- b/c I didn't feel like setting up my own blog. It is afterall 10PM and past my bedtime. AND I was insulted that it labeld the password I created as "incorrect"...sigh. Anyway...I'm not living up to my call sign by saying this but...No harry you are not cut out for the big city and not getting involved. Yes you are cut out for involvement, given your incapability of saying no to requests for help and equivalent incapability of withholding help unasked for. Glad you and Haley made it out unscathed! Hey, you bringing Haley with you this weekend? There could be more dogs at Bill's feet that we need pictures of.
Bill would be proud. I stayed awake to watch Kerry...somebody else is blathering now. Maybe they'll say something that will piss me off enough to make me post something that will live up to my call sign.

D.B. Echo said...

Hey, little girl! How are you? No, I don't think Haley will stop down for the weekend - next time I'm heading down for a quick afternoon visit I'll take her, but a whole weekend will be a bit much for her. And since that slacker Bill probably won't remember to take a canera, I'll make sure I pack one of my own. To get pictures of the dogs, at least!

Anonymous said...

Well now it appears I haven't heard this tory before. However would this story not been told to me?
Tis a mystery...I wonder if another monley will clear it up? :)

This story also makes me hungry for cupcakes and donuts. The enemy of all carb concious people, of which i am not.