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Day 163: Rumble in the Ramble

I’ll pick up where I passed out yesterday:

Late at night, in Central Park’s Ramble, a big, menacing guy had just grabbed what looked like a teenage girl in a mask and goggles and gloves….

I declared myself in what sounded to me a very shaky voice and ordered him to let her go, waving the taser. The guy cursed me loudly, waving his hands, till the back of my head exploded in bright flashes.

The little one had clubbed me with something. I turned around and without thinking punched him in the face. He was the first person I‘ve hit since high school, and he flew. The weapon in my hand must have added heft.

THERE’S A PLACE FOR US…..I turned around to see the big guy holding the girl. He pointed a handgun at me, demanded I drop the taser. I recognized her just as I let it go.

It was Anna, the LES DIY’s new coordinator. After hanging up on me, she had somehow shadowed me to the Ramble. How had she known I’d be there? Do the LES DIYers actually read my blog? (I thought you were all out-of-towners.)

The thug told me to empty my pockets. I slowly reached inside and managed to unleash some mace. Anna got sprayed, too. I should clarify that it was the classic CN tear gas originally sold as mace, not the pepper spray sold today under the Mace brand. The canister was a gift from an old-timer, and I wasn’t sure it would work.

The muggers choked and gasped enough for me to recover the taser and the big guy’s pistol. I was armed to the teeth. Now what?

The small one smacked me hard in the back with a rock, then leapt upon me. He turned out to be a vicious wrestler. The letter I won in 9th grade didn’t save my mask or goggles. The big guy still couldn’t see much, so he kind of helped me by kicking both of us. My best move came when my opponent’s lungs seized up, but then I became easier to kick. Soon I was pinned.

They pounded me with fists and shoes, aiming to cripple me, at least. I hoped Anna would steal away while they stomped me. Would the city pick up my corpse if these guys finished me off? Would feral cats eat me while Sneeky starved?

Then the air vanished. My face caught fire.

By the time I understood I’d been gassed, the thugs were on their knees, coughing and spitting and drooling and pleading for Anna to stop. I crawled down to the lake as she emptied the can at them. How could she even see them? I had just gassed her.

I washed my face in the filthy pond. I could smell the water. The chemical effects were waning fast. The canister was indeed obsolete.

I looked back to see Anna rinsing her face with bottled water and tissues. Even in the dim light, her cheekbones gleamed. Deliberate as ever, she had gathered the weapons while the thugs sniffled and moaned.

She tried to explain about the telephone call.

Castle Dangerous

I couldn’t listen. We needed to get away. Even the freshest tear gas isn’t supposed to work well on drunks or drug users. Every time I moved, pain erupted.

We staggered toward my bicycle, but took cover by the rocks as the men stormed after us, coughing and cursing like madmen. I was through fighting if I could help it.

Somehow they knew the bike was mine. We huddled while the tall one used a knife to wreck my Kevlar tires and my seat. Anna squeezed my hand (!) while he savored his rampage, using rocks to flatten links in the chain, bend the brakes, crush the gears. The little one spewed ropy phlegm as he watched. I couldn’t see blood.

We slipped away while the maniac stomped my rims, grunting in a vengeful dance. We hadn’t gone far when the clamor ceased. I heard a deep hacking in the woods. They were after us.

I handed Anna the taser. I had lost our way in the darkness. The thugs could hear us snapping twigs, stumbling over branches, so we opted to outrun them on a path. We ran till we reached some steep steps, then climbed up past the weather station.

Suddenly we reached Belvedere Castle. Had we found sanctuary in a fairytale?

Not that we were safe. Somewhere behind us, men were locked in rage. One of them probably had bird flu and nothing to lose. They’d gladly spend what remained of the darkness trying to kill us.

Instead of climbing onto the castle itself, where we could be trapped while they telephoned for reinforcements, I chose to hide in a stone cupola, a blockhouse set over a cliff to the castle’s side. We’d see anyone approaching, just as their eyes would be drawn to the battlements above. I could tase the men in the courtyard, gun them down if necessary. Their loaded semiautomatic was in the hand of a country boy who could fire it with confidence.

It was cold up there, so we whispered for hours without looking at one another, our eyes pinned to the entry path. It took a lot not to inspect her vaulting brows, so near.

Anna couldn’t wait to explain why she’d hung up on me and then pursued me to Central Park in the dead of night. It was far more than I’ve ever heard her say. Her voice was cool and husky from the tear gas.

The LES DIY’s view of the government resembles that of my more anxious readers. They think the city wants to shut them down, break up the group—possibly to please the Feds: The DHS and RAISE don’t want competition.

It’s ideologically enticing—downright fulfilling—to hear this from left-wingers. It strikes me as absurd, given that we’re in the midst of a flu pandemic. America needs all hands on deck to help fight the pandemic. Yet I must respect their convictions.

‘The Inevitable Collision'

Here’s Anna’s explanation: When I called her about illegally disposing of a corpse, she presumed her line was tapped and refused to discuss it—or even to let me dig my own legal grave by spelling out any hopes of doing it on my own. She hung up, bent on breaking curfew by running to my apartment to explain.

When she found I had already left, she trekked four miles further to explain her rudeness. Her reward was to find out that Ric was dead.

She cried softly for half an hour. I was afraid to comfort her. I began to wonder how the Iron Angel knew where I lived—let alone where I sought peace in a huge park. I can be so freaking dense.

As Anna recovered, she gasped an apology for having confused me for so long. She even confessed that she’d wanted to join me as I greeted the sun. She’d been reading my blog. From the start.

Will it surprise you to learn that Anna is my most devoted reader? Evelyn.

She’s been hounding and provoking and counseling and amusing and befriending me through a round and a half of bird flu. She sent me Robinson Crusoe, the Lenny Bruce ‘toon, diatribes against Ayn Rand, advice about how to handle Nina’s Relenza pregnancy, and Bruno to spring me from my house-trap.

Mindful of my zeal for self-sufficiency, Ric encouraged Anna to pursue me in her peculiar fashion. He wanted us to come together at the right moment—ordained by fate alone—in what she says he called the inevitable collision. Now we had met in the wake of his suicide. If there is an afterlife, Ric’s joking to his new companions about how cozy his friends are now that he’s bugged out.

While we hunched against a cold stone wall, staring into shadows. Anna apologized for what she called “enjoying [me] from a comfortable distance.” She explained that she’s been in a state of “hyperactive post-traumatic anxious depression (Google has nothing to say on this particular condition) that could be salved only by working—or playing computer games with my mind.

That tide of jargon led to the twin revelations that she was studying psychology until her studies were interrupted by pregnancy and that she harbors a bizarre sense of humor. Anna’s work at the LES DIY was a laudable response to her daughter’s death. I understand her ensuing reluctance to flirt with strange men. Her emails didn’t start as a game. She does cry a lot. Her efforts were never wasted: She got me to donate protective gear and post her manifesto.

She, too, feels that she neglected Ric in his last days. She was extremely busy with the LES DIY. She was kind enough not to mention that she took a lot of trouble to get me out of my apartment and over to his, after which I dropped the ball.

I felt Anna’s (Evelyn’s?) pain envelop mine as she pressed into my damaged spine. We were both stiff with cold by the time the birds welcomed the light and the wind shifted to bring up a warmer breeze.

With it came the sickly sweet odor of at least one human body in the gully below.

By then we felt sufficiently safe to look (in vain) for the backpack I’d left by the lake and to dispose of the gun in its waters. We trudged home slowly, reluctant to risk the subway without protective gear. We held hands with raw flesh as the last rays of summer poked through clouds. I didn’t care about bruises.

A Mobile Meeting of Minds

As we talked for miles, we discovered we both like Chicago. Though she’s from Oregon, Anna knew about the radical visions that long ago led engineers to reverse the course of the Chicago River and to erect the first skyscraper. It turns out she agrees with Ayn Rand that contemporary architects employ a mishmash of period styles to no sensible or esthetic effect. (Would you like some columns with your towering pizza?)

As we passed the site of Rand’s 1960s salons, I was verbally demolishing the new buildings in this city, where land itself has become the best store of long-term value. Buildings are just a temporary delivery system. Where architects once dreamed of constructing striking, memorable towers in Manhattan, they now design buildings that make money till they can be replaced with more lucrative structures.

Any hint of compelling beauty is erased in the planning stage. Owners who look forward to tearing down their new skyscraper in a few decades don’t want the public demanding that the building be preserved. Architects find it prudent not to suggest anything worth keeping in the skyline. Mediocrity pays better than Rand imagined in The Fountainhead.

As I was going on and on, Anna stunned me by pointing out that Rand left architecture off her list of the arts, designating it as a mere utilitarian practice. A flash of Evelyn! Is this woman going to google me into submission?

Once home, we wolfed down hot soup and crackers while we fed a ravenous—and curious—Sneeky. We soaped the gas off. She iced my spine. We rested well.

Before she went home, Anna made me confess that I had consciously invited Evelyn to the Ramble by posting that I wished I could share it with someone, hint hint. “You were looking for more than trouble,” she said coolly.

I feel as if my life has abruptly rebooted. Parts of me are aglow. Then I remember that my best friend’s corpse needs attention.

I’ve lost the Ramble. I can’t run into those thugs again. My bike is obliterated.

I should probably quarantine myself. That tough little creep has H5N1. So far I’m resisting temptations to inhale Relenza. Anna says she doesn’t need to lie low because she caught H5N1 in the first wave. That would be after her daughter died. She wears masks only to set an example.

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