Susan is mugged, out in the open, right in front of the Tackett’s Mill First
Union cash machine. Knocked down and kicked hard – someone trying to steal
her purse while America’s Under Attack, for God’s sake. She is getting cash
from the automatic teller, it's just starting to get dark, and she doesn't
give the slightest thought to the man standing behind her. There’s usually
someone standing behind you. This is a white neighborhood. The world has
changed forever. This isn't supposed to be happening.
As soon as she’s placed the cash in her wallet and
the wallet in her purse, the man is on top of her. He's a white guy, a
dirty-ass, bedraggled white guy with a few days worth of stubble and a Dale
Earnhart 'Intimidator' hat pulled down hard. He is wearing sunglasses. You
cannot see his eyes.
He growled. That was so weird, he growled.
There is nothing in her purse worth getting killed for, but Susan holds onto
the bag nonetheless, screaming at the top of her lungs. She can generate a
good amount of racket when she has a good reason. She grabs hold of
one of the mugger’s expensive running shoes and hangs on tight.
Prick has better shoes than me, she thinks. Susan
bites down hard onto his bare ankle and she tastes a little blood. It
is cool and crisp, and she goes in for another taste. It is her last
defensive action before he pulls loose and gives her a brutal punt in the
ribs accompanied by a harsh salutation – ‘Crazy Fuckin Bitch'. With one shoe
off, he runs down the street and up across the highway. She watches as he
fades into the distance.
Susan decides to remain right where she’s
lying, flat on the concrete. She wants for somebody to come along and
witness this thing that has happened to her. This is like so outrageous,
man, she wants to have a witness. Her heart is pounding. She clings to the
coolness of the ground for a while, breathing heavily and shedding a few
After a while she rises part way up, just to adjust
her skirt before lying back down. Nobody is driving up. Come on, it's been
ten minutes. Damn, why is there always another person in front of you at
these machines, but if you actually want someone to show up…
Oooh. Susan finally sits up because she has
become tired of laying on the concrete, and besides, she could really use a
cigarette. ‘Which I happen to have,' she thinks, 'because I didn't let that
fucker get my bag'.
She is wearing a new white Kashti sweater,
but now it has a big ugly scuff mark right across the front. She checks
herself for blood and there's none that she can see beyond her banged up
knees, although there’s surely a few spots on her back where she was scraped
while holding on to the her assailant’s shoe.
Well, she does have the cigarettes, but where
the hell is her lighter? That's the last straw, that's enough to make her
rise unsteadily to her feet and stagger over to the car. Susan opens
the door and sits halfway inside with her feet still on the pavement. She
pushes in the lighter and thinks about driving. Just considers it. She
lights her cigarette, takes a deep drag, and falls into a coughing jag.
Every cough makes her chest radiate with pain.
Okay, she thinks, I’m okay. I'm just five minutes
away from the hospital, I can drive it. Talk to a cop while I'm there. Jeez,
I've got to get a cell phone. As she pulls out of the lot, two cars are
Susan makes it to the Prince Williams emergency
room, spends an hour checking in, and falls asleep in the waiting room
before she has a chance to make a call. She keeps looking over at the bank
of pay phones, and there is always someone on the line.
Susan has a couple of bruised ribs - nothing
broken - but otherwise she’s all right, and the next day she has the
asshole’s shoe bronzed as a memento. The cop she talks to is most amused by
her ankle biting, and gives her a sincere 'atta girl'. That should make the
slimeball easier to find. They give her a tetanus shot before
releasing her, because you just don't know…
Stan receives a call from Susan Monday morning at five-thirty. Pick me up!
She's had a healthy dose of Percocet and she's not about to drive anywhere
under her own power. She sounds quite vibrant when Stan talks to her, giddy
even, and she won't tell him anything about what has happened to her except
that she's at the hospital and ready to leave. Stan says he’s been worried -
"you'd better be worried" she tells him - but Susan wants to wait until she
can tell her whole story without interruption.
"Bring Melinda along, Stan. She can drive my
car back home."
"Sure. Did you want me to take you back to
our place?" Why did he need to ask her that? He thinks for a minute.
What happened to Susan? He needs to wake up. "I can pick up some Coronas,"
he offers helpfully.
"No. I'm coming back to the house. You can
take care of me for a while. That's fair. That's imminently fair. Because
I've got a great story to tell you. And… And I'm starving. Do you know if
any place is open where we can get some breakfast, and like a good Bloody
Mary? Home fries and a nice Delmonico and coffee and Bloody Marys." At the
moment, this is as good a definition of paradise as any to Susan. There is a
long silence on the line.
"Okay, Stan. STAN! Do not go back to sleep!
Repeating! Do not go back to sleep! I want you to get up out of bed while
I'm still talking to you. Now! One two three. Up. Alright. Are you out of
"I'm getting there."
"Well stay awake and get your ass down here
pronto. I'm ready to leave. This place is full of sick people.”
Later in the day, Susan and Melinda are surfing the web, shopping for stun
guns. There are so many finely crafted models to choose from! And such
Stan is watching CNN at his desk. They have
just broadcast a Special Breaking News Report announcing that Tom Daschle's
office has received an Anthrax infested letter. Oh my God! Stan comes
bursting into the room where Susan and Melinda are evaluating some nice
tasers and demands that they come downstairs with him and watch the
"What's there to see?" asks Melinda. "You’ve
already told us what happened."
Melinda is highly annoyed with the way that
Stan has been ignoring Susan. More than annoyed really, since Susan has been
a virtual roommate as of late. But his behavior ever since they got home
from the hospital has taken the cake. If Melinda had known the whole story
she would have been flaming. Instead of showing concern, Stan had kept the
radio tuned to WTOP news on the ride home, and had only grudgingly responded
to Susan’s story.
"Come on guys, this is really big news.” Stan
is dancing about from foot to foot like he needs to pee. He feels more than
a little hurt about being rebuffed, although he should be getting used to it
“I’m telling you, you need to watch. There
are new Anthrax stories all over the airwaves. The stuff is showing up
everywhere. They were even showing a story a few minutes ago about a baby
with Anthrax. A baby. Picked it up at NBC studios. No shit."
He stands in the doorway for a long minute,
waiting for a sign on the frozen faces, before anxiously blurting “We should
It was true, in a figurative sense, that Anthrax was everywhere. Or at
least, it suddenly seemed to have the potential to be everywhere. Anthrax
was totally dominating the news. The terror at home, they were calling it.
The FBI was looking very closely at the possibility that Osama Bin
Laden himself is behind these monstrous attacks, gleefully licking the
envelopes as he lounges on a cool cave floor somewhere in Tora Bora.
Powder filled envelopes are showing up at a
number of locations. The vast majority turn out to be hoaxes, but given the
nature of the recipients, some folks are beginning to suspect that Osama may
not be the only bad fellow on the block who is sporting an unhealthy
No one really knows what the Taliban's
true feelings are about Planned Parenthood, but ninety of their offices have
received the powdery mail, along with a brief message that says "You
have been exposed to anthrax. We are going to kill all of you. From the Army
of God, Virginia Dare Chapter." Could be Osama in disguise, who knows.
"And what are you going to do to help save us, Stan?" asks Susan. She
is pissed, she is so pissed. Her eyes are a blazing green. “How are you
going to rescue us from this plague? Have you figured out your heroic role
yet? Huh? Good info about the Cipro, by the way. Maybe I’ll order us some
from Amazon. They’ve got a special offer, buy a months supply and they’ll
give you a coupon good for ten bucks off a gas mask.”
Oh, fuck Stan and his
hard-core-news-addiction and his inappropriate patriotism and his anxiety
and his cluelessness and his thoughtlessness. And let’s not forget his
obliviousness. Let him just sit there and watch his stupid TV.
But even though Susan is furious about all
things Stan, she still feels like a real bitch for talking this way to him.
She does not want to see herself behave this way. Stan is Stan is Stan, and
for her to feel that he is controlling her attitude would mean that she is
not in control of herself and maybe has never been in control. And
that is simply not true.
He can’t remain this way forever, can he? Or
has he always been this way, and recent events have caused her eyes to
Stan seems consumed in a way that she hasn't
seen for years, but it’s not the same sort of passion that she fondly
remembers. It’s as if he is being eaten away. And he also seems dumb dumb
dumb in a way that she's never seen before. The slack-faced way he
looks at her. Stan had spent the majority of his adult life writing about
how the media will fuck you up, brainwash you, turn you into an empty vessel
for whatever propagandist bullshit they wanted to pour down your throat. And
now! Goddamit! He should be smarter than this! Stan is turning into a
Even today. Especially today, coming back
from the hospital with her body aching like a sonuvabitch. She’s sporting an
ugly purple bruise nearly the size of Morocco. And she got no fancy Bloody
Mary and Delmonico this morning. We go straight home, and as soon as
we get here he turns on the fucking television. He makes me a Bloody
the way he likes them, too much Vodka and not enough spices. And for
breakfast he has a stupid Entenmanns pastry from the Safeway. And a stick of
Just sits there like he's hypnotized.
"Come on big guy,” she tries. “Give it a rest with
the news reports for a little while, okay. All these stories will still be
there later. Why don’t you help me and the little princess here pick out our
new stun guns. Melinda’s trying to find something inconspicuous. Hopefully
in a rust tone."
Stan left the room with a shrug of exasperation.
Melinda and Susan exchange looks and return to their shopping.
"Oh this is nice, Melinda. This is something
Susan and Melinda have just landed on a page
titled 'Personal Security Online Blowout'. This weeks featured item,
dominating most of the screen, is the new Professional/Executive Cell Phone
Stun Gun with built-in personal alarm. Less the viewer be confused, the
under-text blinked 'Stun Gun that looks like a cell phone!!'
"Now that is precious" says Melinda, leaning
forward for a better view. "It does look just like a real cell phone."
"Look at this disclaimer! Does not work as an
actual cellular phone! Can you imagine? Some idiot puts it up to their ear
"180,000 volts. That sounds like a lot of
"That's an outrageous amount of volts,
Melinda. ZAPP! ZAPP! ZAPP! Look out! She's got a cell phone!" Susan starts
to laugh riotously. Even though it hurts, it feels good to laugh.
"Unique design gives you a tactical
advantage! Yeah, right! A tactical advantage. 'Oh, excuse me
sir, do you mind if I make a quick call before you rape me? I'll just be
half a sec. Calling the police? Oh no, before you picked me up, I was
on my way to meet some friends of mine, and I thought I’d let them know that
it looks like I'm going to be a little late, okay? All right, I'll try my
best to make it quick'.”
And then ZAPP! ZAPP! ZAPP!, and the
motherfucker is off and running, yelling 'Yoww! Help! Help me somebody!
She's got a cell phone!'"
"Let's order them today! Okay, Susan, now, do
you want the navy blue one or the pearl silver one? We need to have
different colors so we don’t get them mixed up."
"You get the silver one, Melinda. It looks
"Oh yes. And it'll accessorize with
"Okay. We better read the fine print. 'Before
ordering a stun gun, please check to make sure that they are legal in your
state’. Isn't that nice? They said please. Okay, this is Virginia, so they
must be legal. Check!"
"So how'd it go with the shrink?" asks Susan. “I don’t know that I think it
was a good idea for you to see her in the first place.”
Stun guns ordered via priority mail, Melinda
and Susan have reconvened down in the kitchen. The place is in a bit of an
uproar, since Susan hasn’t been cleaning much lately.
Melinda had just begun seeing a psychiatrist
after weeks of deliberation. Doctor Shasta Barbie had been recommended to
her by Stan, and yesterday had been her second session.
Odd, thinks Susan, a doctor with Sunday
hours. Must be Jewish.
But now, Melinda's doctor was going on
vacation for three weeks. How dare she? That wasn't really very fair, your
doctor disappearing on you before you even had a chance to open up a little.
"It went pretty well," says Melinda, digging
out a cigarette from a half pack of Kool Milds. "I was glad see her. I think
Stan made a good recommendation."
Susan sits on the edge of her seat with
her arms crossed. "Well, if she could help Stan, she should be able to help
anybody. I think he could use her for a few dozen sessions, if you want my
"Doctor Barbie asked me about Stan today. And
about you." Melinda speaks softly, her eyes down, concentrating on the
overloaded ash tray. It is in the shape of a Les Paul guitar, a very special
piece that Stan had received long ago as a promo item with one of the
endless Aerosmith CDs from the eighties. Occasionally, he got something more
useful than a poster.
Susan says nothing. That seems like a prudent
strategy, since she is positive that she would prefer not to hear about any
conversation involving her and Stan. She gets up and pulls a six pack of
Corona from the refrigerator, an earlier gift from Stan’s trip to the
Good Lord, that boy is truly obsessed. He
hasn't even touched the beer. She opens two bottles and sets them on the
"No limes?" asks Melinda, a face of mock
"No limes. Did you tell Doctor Barbie about
your driving problems?"
"Yeah. I told her. Partially. I told her that
I was afraid to go to work some days." She smiles and takes an amber vial
from her purse, shaking it in Susan's direction. "Got some good tranqs from
"Oooh, Wha'd you get?"
Melinda has been having a little trouble driving as of late. It seems that
if she doesn't pay the strictest attention to what she is doing, she will
sometimes imagine that she is steering the car left into the oncoming
traffic. The image is so vivid that she instinctively jerks the wheel to the
right, sometimes running halfway off the road or coming close to clipping a
car on the side. This has happened a couple of times this week. During the
last incident, she had come so close to hitting a bicycle that the kid
riding it took a spill on the street while trying to get out of her way. She
had hit her breaks and was nearly rear-ended by a Toyota. All the drivers
were honking their horns and pointing at her as she slowly pulled off onto
the shoulder of the road. She could see their angry faces very clearly. Now,
there will be days when she remembers that this has been happening to her,
and she becomes paralyzed by the thought of driving, knowing that the next
time she pulls a similar stunt, something really serious could happen. This
is a rational fear.
"It's like a whole thing, Susan, a whole construct. I don’t think that I
can even start to explain it to you." Melinda takes a swig off the Corona
and fixes her eyes on Susan. “Don’t even ask me to explain.”
“That’s okay,” Susan says, relieved. “We don’t have to talk about it.”
"It's like, I have to concentrate on what I’m
doing all the time or everything can change around me." Melinda grimaced at
this, and it made her small face look like a Japanese beauty mask. She takes
another hearty swallow of her beer, snubs out her cigarette and lights
another. She has occasionally spoken to Susan about her obsessive-compulsive
actions, but nothing serious, and always in a joking manner, always keeping
Susan was her dear friend, but Melinda didn't
know how deep she wanted to delve into these murky waters with her.
Not too deep, she thinks. Susan is there for
my enjoyment, not for my problems. I've already talked enough about my
troubles with Stan. He's probably told her everything that I've said,
"I change on myself " she confesses.
"It's like…", Melinda hesitates, trying to think her way through this
tangle. "You know those little rituals that I've mentioned before? It's
like, they’re not so funny as I make them sound, really. The thoughts that
come into my head, they circulate around in there, and they don’t leave,
even though they may hide for a while. They're obsessive thoughts. They
don't really mean anything. Except they sometimes seem to.”
There. Good enough explanation. Melinda downs
the rest of her Corona, sits it down hard on the table and smiles
decisively. "It's no big deal. Ready for another beer?"
Susan has lit a doobie, and Melinda hits on
"Anyway, things have started to get so much
better for me."
"The doctor, she's that good?" Susan would
dearly love to move on to another topic, but Melinda is such a good friend.
She just doesn't know how deep she wanted to delve into these murky waters
"No, not really. Well, maybe. Who knows? I
mean, things were starting to get better for me before I ever saw her."
Melinda starts to giggle, listening to her own voice. The pot is kicking in.
She is beginning to sound ridiculous to herself, like a call-in loser on
talk radio. "Well, that driving thing, that is pretty sick, I guess…
but still, this is a better sort of situation that I’m in now, because it's
out in the open. It’s there. You understand what I’m saying?"
Susan replies honestly, low-key. "No, I don't
have a clue."
"Okay. Listen. This is kind of hard to
explain. In the past, everything I was afraid of was inside of me. There
were all these things happening to… uh… a different part of me. My
subconscious maybe. I wasn’t even aware of what I was going through, most of
the time. I just felt the aftershocks…”
“Sometimes I would catch glimpses.
That’s how I’d put it. I lost time. And I would be so anxious so often
without knowing what I was anxious about. But it’s changing now, everything
that scares me is moving to the outside, it's happening in the outside
world. And I know that it's all connected to this terrorism thing in some
way, everything that’s been happening over the past few weeks. It’s all
outside. I used to wake up from nightmares, shaking, but I couldn’t remember
what I’d dreamed. Do you know what I’ve been dreaming about lately?”
Susan takes a long hit and shakes her head.
“Puppies.” Melinda issues an embarrassed
laugh. “Isn’t that too stupid cute? I keep dreaming about puppies. God knows
“Maybe you should get yourself a dog,” says
Susan, standing up to get the Coronas.
“Maybe I should just borrow yours… Mmm, hurry
with that beer, I need refreshment... Anyway, what I’m saying is that
everything that’s occurring in the world has calmed me down, made me
stronger. It’s been the best thing in the world for me. Because I can deal
with what's in the real world.” There. Good poise on the reply. “Am I making
any sense at all to you?"
"A little bit. You're saying that the war has
changed your focus, away from yourself?"
"You know, I don’t ever really talk much about this
sort of thing with you, Susan. Psychological things. You're different than
me. You're clear. Nothing ever seems to bother you. I don't know how much
you can relate to me on this. And that’s okay. I talk to Stan… I used to
talk to Stan, anyway, and I think he could relate to a lot of what was going
on with me. He’s kind of been there.”
“But now, poor Stan. He does seem kind of
lost, doesn’t he? You know that. You’re spending a lot of time with me, even
though you don’t talk about why. We sit around together and talk about
everything except what’s going on in our lives. But anyway, Stan doesn't
hear me. He doesn’t hear you. It’s kind of like all of my sickness is
leaving me and reentering the world. And Stan is listening to the world."
"I don't know about that, Melinda.” Susan looks and
sounds defensive, and is surprised to feel such a strong need to protect her
guy. “Stan just gets a little obsessed with things, that’s all, and it makes
him hard to live with at times. It’s my fault. I need to be more supportive
than I have been lately. Plenty of other people are reacting the same way he
is. I don't think he's getting mental on us. He'll get over it. Before
"You think? Because I think that the television has
totally taken over his mind. He needs big help." Melinda makes the
international sign for radiating transmutational brain waves.
"I think, …I think I'm a little buzzed right
now. But. Since you brought it up, let me show you something. This is
from the desk of Stan Keaton." Susan starts to giggle, just a little, as she
goes through a stack of papers on the kitchen counter. By the time she
locates what she's looking for, it's turned into a steady chuckle of
"You are not going to believe this," Susan
says, handing over a couple sheets of typing paper. "You're probably right
about Stan. He may be going nuts. Check this... Okay, just skim over the
first few paragraphs… It's a review of the new De La Soul CD that he just
faxed off to Spin a couple days ago. Okay, get down to the part where it
says 'speaking of poetry'. About two thirds of the way down."
Melinda is scanning. There it is.
poetry, the most brilliant thing I've read lately is from the United States
Department of Propaganda. They have a flying radio station, a specially
outfitted EC-130, known as 'Commando Solo'. Great name, huh? Sounds like a
member of the Wu Tang Clan. So in between the block rockin' beats, Command
Solo is bombasting the caves with poetry. This is from one of my favorite
pieces, 'Attention Taliban'. Author unknown, at least to the public.
You are condemned.
Did you know that?
The instant the terrorists you support took over our planes,
you sentenced yourselves to death.
The Armed Forces of the United States are here to seek justice for our dead.
Highly trained soldiers are coming to shut down
Once and for all
Osama bin Laden's ring of
Taliban that supports them
and their actions.
Our forces are armed with state of the art military equipment.
What are you using,
obsolete and ineffective weaponry?
Our helicopters will rain fire down upon your camps
before you detect them on your radar.
Our bombs are so accurate
we can drop them
Jihad? Let's have a poetry slam!
Melinda starts shaking, it looks for a moment as though she's having an
attack, and then the 'hee hee hees' start coming out, and Susan is laughing
and then Melinda is laughing even harder - Can you believe it? Right out of
the blue! Right in the middle of the review - and before long they get so
loud that Stan walks in from the den to see what's going on.
"What's going on up here" he asks.
"Nothing sweetie" says Susan. "We just got a little
high. Why don't you finish off this roach for us? And here, have a nice cold
"Uh, okay, thanks. Hey, how you feeling now?
Still pretty sore?"
"No no, feeling good." Stan is already on his
way back to the television set as Susan is responding. “Feeling fine” she
says, after he’s gone.
Susan shrugs her shoulders. "Well, as you can
clearly see, I cannot communicate with the man any longer. He just gets his
feelings hurt if I say anything about it. You want to give it a try?
Seeing as how you two used to talk so much about your feelings and all."
"Uh uh. Not me. I think we should get Lex."
"You think? Lex?” Maybe… “Hmm, Lex. I think
Stan does kind of like Lex, even though he pretends that he doesn’t. That’s
his way, you know. Lex is respectable, so Stan can’t be too nice to
him. Lex comes off like the grown-up to Stan's kid.. You think Lex would do
"Lex will do anything that I ask him to do."
"Oh yeah? It's like that, is it?"
"No way! He's an old man." Melinda seems
genuinely offended by the inference. "But he does have an interesting
sensibility. Just look at his son - Lenny Bruce." The laughing
returns. "Lex might be able to show Stan the error of his ways. He's mellow.
Can't hurt to try."