I open the fire door in the hall, grab the handrail
into the darkness, two and three steps at a time, down seven flights
of stairs, hyperventilating.
the ground and swing open the service entrance and squint in the
late afternoon light, then run down the street -- which is full
of police cars, fire trucks, sirens -- to the grocery stores on
closed! Security guards are out front, workers are nailing boards
to the window frames, in case of looters. The only place open is
the deli that delivered my sandwich for lunch so I wouldn't have
to move from my desk chair and risk sounding winded on the phone
with the producer. But the deli's surrounded now by a screaming
mob. There's no way in. Until I see a guy walk out, who looks
me -- husbandy, fatherish -- only he got there first, and he's rolling
home a hand truck stacked with cases of bottled water.
a moment of energizing, psychotic terror later, I'm inside the store,
on the other side of the mob, bending over to catch my breath while
my eyes adjust to the darkness, with a dim memory of irate strangers
having just screamed at me, "What are you doing, asshole!?"
as I peeled them out of my way.
an empty cardboard box on the conveyor belt to the basement -- frozen
mid-conveyance at the moment my phone died -- so I sweep it to the
floor and start filling it with Evian Sport Spouts, cans of non-organic,
ultra-high-sodium Progresso chicken soup, utterly nutritionally
barren Sun Chips, headache-inducingly high-fructose Clif Bars: all
the stuff we never get to eat! Susan's going to hate this -- Barbara
even more. But if they'd rather starve to death than live on over-salted,
too-sweet emergency manna, that's their business. And once the box
is overflowing, I slide it across the linoleum to the cashier, and
hand her the goods one at a time, which she adds up by hand and
stacks in another box on the counter. Until she gets to $159.65
and I throw in a chocolate Baci ball to round things off to $160.00
and say, "That's enough," and I buy my Survival Kit.
I try to lift, then just stare at, while the cashier stares at me
and the mob stares at us.
the cashier says, "Too heavy," and she calls over two
little guys who are ordinarily outside selling flowers.
over and they slide the box from the counter onto my back, like
a pallet on a flatbed, then lead me by the elbows through the mob
to the sidewalk.
I start walking, then stumbling, and then collapsing onto the hood
of a parked car, soaked in sweat, and hyperventilating. I need so
badly to rest. But there's no time: I can feel the hyenas out there,
with their briefcases, coming home from work, and when they get
to the deli and see that it's empty, they're going to come looking
for me and my box.
I slide it down to the sidewalk, and start rotating -- carefully,
so I won't break the cardboard -- but quickly, to get home before
the hyenas. When in front of me I see a pair of combat boots and
two white dog paws, and attached to them army fatigues and a pit
bull, and above it all the face of a man, wearing a matching studded
dog collar, who says, "You look like you could use some help."
what I'd say to make someone think I was a Good Samaritan
in a terrorist emergency
before I looted him.
looks harder than it is," I say. "Thanks anyway."
he says. "Let me help you," and his pit bull starts growling.
I say. "If that's what you want." And we each lift one
end and start walking sideways down the sidewalk, facing each other,
while the pit bull sniffs me and I tell the guy about the women
and children at home whose lives depend on me, to humanize myself,
like the New York Post recommended in the "Are You Prepared
to Be Kidnapped?" sidebar they've been publishing periodically
since the abductions started in Iraq.
get to the service entrance of my building, and I say, "This
is great, really. I can take it from here."
come this far," says the guy, "let's keep going."
his dog starts growling.
the guy screams at him, "Demo!"
simply confirms what I've been feeling for a block: that I should
run for my life. But I'll die anyway without my box, as will everyone
in my apartment.
we start walking again, Demo panting behind us, through the service
entrance and up a flight of stairs to my office door.
we lower the box and Demo starts growling and I back away to the
wall and wince in preparation to be maimed.
the guy says, "I know, Demo," tenderly, "let's get
you some water."
is just thirsty? Not bloodthirsty? How could I be so wrong about
a dog? About a guy? About what's happening right in front of me?
at the Sport Spouts popping up between the Sun Chips and the Clif
bars, and at Demo's pink tongue vibrating in the heat, and back
at the Sport Spouts
and I take one out and hand it over.
says the guy. "You sure you wanna do that?" I've been
telling him for a block that my bunker is empty. He knows what this
means to me.
I say. Which is a lie. It's 90 degrees outside. Al-Qaeda just attacked
again. There are five women and children upstairs in an apartment
with no water or electricity. That Sport Spout could mean the difference
between one of us living and dying of thirst. But for the first
time since my phone died and my career stalled, I'm in control.
night, I lead Susan, Barbara and the kids up the stairs to the roof,
holding candles, where we have organic rennetless Gouda and wild
smoked salmon -- served, as any man worth his gourmet sea salt will
tell you they should be, at room temperature -- while looking at
Mars, the god of war, in a close orbit making it more visible than
it's been in a generation.
next morning, when I open my eyes, I see the ceiling fan circling
above me. Evidently Mars was on our side.
that afternoon, I've returned to my office, where I'm gnawing on
a Clif bar, trying to concentrate on my work. Down on the sidewalk,
I see Barbara leading the kids to the park to play "What would
a raccoon do?"
back down and call the producer in LA and finally get to tell her
my story about my marriage. After a few minutes of my finest, not-so-dairy-free
pitch, the producer tells me I'm going to be on national radio.
Which would be great news if I wasn't staring out the window considering
that what I care most about was almost taken from me, starting with
what I like to call my career. Which, for an awful, terrifying moment,
mattered more to me than my own flesh and blood.
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