First, thanks so much for coming during the hurricane. As I told Big Al on the phone, the upright piano in the dining room needs to be moved into one of three upstairs rooms.
I am talking about the Steinway, not the Baldwin, which is slated for destruction and may already be rigged with explosives. The first and best option for the Steinway upright (please do not move the Steinway grand) is the bedroom in the southwest corner of the west wing of the second floor. Take precise measurements of the hallway before you start. Of particular concern is the sharp left zig-zag leading to the small stairs. Remove the handrail but under no circumstances are you to destroy it – nothing should be destroyed unless you receive instructions from me to the contrary. If you are able to navigate the west wing stairs, hallways, and hairpin turns place the piano along the south wall. As always, before moving the piano, please check inside for dead animals.
Should the southwest second floor bedroom prove inaccessible, try the north tower. Again: measure, measure, measure. You may use my husband Derek’s surveying tools as long as you wipe your fingerprints from them when you return them to cold storage. The round tower stairway may prove tricky, however, I have every confidence in your abilities. If needed, you may construct and install a suitable winch which should be removed upon successful completion of the move. Place the piano in the exact center of the tower facing west so that my daughter Ezmerine can play her little concertos at sunset, her only real joy. If you see Ezmerine, please do not comment on or make notice of her nudity. Though she is a free spirit, she is very touchy on the subject. On second thought, the tower is the first choice.
If options one or two fail, then as a last result, use the east by northeast drawing room. I don’t think any explanation is needed here as I’m sure one of the first two options, particularly number two, which is now to be considered first. If this third option is even a consideration, contact me on my fourth mobile phone. Big Al should have briefed you, but phone #1 is for my husband and family; #2 is for my agent and attorneys; #3 is for my current lover, Geoffrey, although it’s possible that Antoine, Isabella, or Gert may still have that number as I haven’t blocked their calls yet. Just in case. So, cell phone #4 only. #5 is for my aftermarket medicinal supplier.
Anyway, it’s a small job and I expect you to be finished in under an hour. Help yourself to the special brownies as you leave. Should the access road to the house be under water due to the hurricane, you may wait out the storm in your truck.
“Vince, it’s a beautiful day for America’s Pastime here at Money Bank Ballpark, and we have two teams struggling to stay above .500, dealing with the decimation of their respective rosters.”
“That’s right, Robin, a beautiful day. Of course, flags are flying at half-mast, this time for the recent shootings in Seattle, Albuquerque, Waltham, Haverford, and Kansas City.”
“That would be the Kansas City in Kansas, not Missouri.”
“Correct as always, Vince. Kansas City, Missouri was last spring if memory serves.”
“Right, and a particularly difficult time that was for the country.”
“But we move on, and on we move.”
“OK, the lineups have been handed in, and the boys choir of Carterdale is out to sing the anthem. And symbolically, there is a single gap in the first row of singers for the boy who was tragically and senselessly gunned down while he walked to school yesterday morning, just a few blocks from the stadium.”
“Very moving scene here on the field. A reminder, the national anthem is brought to you by Hartford Ammunition and Arms Supply Company of Hartford, Connecticut.”
“And, Vince, the hometown Whackadoos have a couple of new faces – recent callups – as they take the field. In left, Jimmy Marksman, who hit an impressive .330 in single A ball, and at first, Walt Pellet, who was the player to be named later in the Snark deal.
“Robin, on the mound, we see the return of Randy Cartridge, the fireballer who last saw action at the end of last year before going on injured reserve.”
“Yeah, he’s got a dangerous sidearm delivery – no pun intended – and it’ll be interesting to see what his command will be like and if he has that famous temper of his under control.
“First batter he’ll face for the visiting Comanchos is Frank Glick, the shortstop.”
“All right. Here’s the pitch, and it’s high and tight and Glick doesn’t like it. He takes a step toward the mound, but changes his mind.”
“Yeah, good idea on his part. Cartridge is packing and he’s really quick on the draw. You don’t want to challenge him.”
“And Glick isn’t carrying, though he’s quite the shot. To me, that’s a real head scratcher.”
“You know, a growing handful of players don’t arm themselves while batting saying that the gun and holster interfere with the swing. Anyway, no need for him to pack heat. First base coach Tommy Flintlock has him well-covered.”
“I’ll say, that’s looks like a semi-automatic rifle of some kind from here…and it’s trained right on Cartridge. Don’t think that isn’t in the back of the pitcher’s mind as he rears back and fires a pitch. Oh no! He’s plunked Glick right on the knee and Glick is hot. He’s tossed his bat and he’s running out to the mound. Cartridge has drawn his pistol though and you can see the laser dot aimed right at the Comancho logo on Glick’s kevlar lined batting helmet.”
“Even with the laser sighting, You wouldn’t want to make a mistake here and hit your own catcher.”
“No one wants a repeat of what happened in Milwaukee !”
“Whoa! Someone’s taken a shot and it isn’t the pitcher. Is it Flintlock?”
“No, the first base coach throws up his arms and shrugs as if to say, ‘not me.‘ Everyone’s looking around and, Cartridge has gone down. The pitcher’s been hit, but who’s taken the shot?”
“Well, this is an open carry stadium. Could be a fan…judging by the bloodstain blooming on the downed pitcher’s back, it looks like it came from the Whackadoo bullpen, which is in the outfield behind the right field wall.”
“Now that doesn’t make any sense. Why would one of his own teammates shoot him? The Whacks are desperately short on pitchers and they really needed to get innings out of Cartridge.”
“All right. The trainers are out on the field now, covered by a security detail…”
“And I have to say those guys at Trank security do a marvelous job!”
“That they do, Vince. Indeed. OK, they’re taking Cartridge off the field and as soon as we know what’s going on, we’ll report back to you.”
“We’re going to break for commercial while the Whacks warm up a new pitcher. This pitching change brought to you by Guns on Wheels, dedicated to keeping elderly and shut-in Americans locked and loaded. An armed America is a safe America. Not affiliated with Meals on Wheels.”
“–All right, folks, we’re back. Trank Security has the Whackadoo bullpen surrounded. Though a few shots have been fired, it’s been quiet for the last minute.”
“Vince, for folks in the stands listening to the game… As you know stadium policy limits gun sales to the third through sixth innings, but the Whacks have announced that sales will start in the bottom of the first as a safety precaution.”
“And there is a special on now, for every HappyTime gun and clip you buy, you get a free 24-ounce Schlitzerman Beer.”
“Now that’s convenience.”
“It sure is, Vince. It sure is. Nothing goes better together than HappyTime and Schlitzerman, the best gun/beer combo you’ll find at any ballpark.”
“Oh, Robin, the fans have started doing the wave and chanting, ‘drone strike, drone strike!'”
“And here they come Vince, a pair of quad copters with automatics mounted and the Jumbotron is showing the drones eye view. They’re swooping down now on the bullpen, and folks are scattering.”
“Robin, just listen to this crowd – they’re going nuts. It gives you goosebumps. This has been one heck of a first inning and we haven’t even had the first out. It promises to be one heck of a game.”
“Reminder, this drone strike brought to you by our friends at SkyBullets.com, meeting all your personal aerial defense needs. Remember, with a drone, you’re never alone.”
So we were back in hot, smelly, tasty New York over the weekend where it was too uncomfortable to stand outside and wait for a cab or an Uber. Forget the subway platform with its superheated unventilated barely breathable sludge that passes for air. Forget walking on the sunny side of the street. Always check the air conditioning of that restaurant before the menu.
I do love New York though, even when it’s like this. You can walk around with a camera and take pictures of people posing on one of the Whitney’s terraces, and see avant-garde Fringe Festival shows. Which is why we went – to see a friend’s poignant and hilarious production of Gorges Motel at Players Theatre, which made Huff Post’s curated Fringe Festival list. See it.
Anyway, pluses and minuses regarding New York City.
Minuses: It costs a lot of money to get there, stay there, eat there, drink there and entertain yourself there. There are unidentifiable odors mixed with some unfortunately recognizable ones. Tourist destinations waste your valuable time. The city is not what it once was.
Pluses: New York City is still more unlike anywhere else than anywhere else. It is strange, electrified, multicultural, demanding, ecstatic, entertaining, stimulating, exhausting. No matter how great the thing is that you’re doing, you always have the feeling that there’s something else even better. You can order Indian food and have it delivered just about any time of day or night.
The morning of the takedown was the first time dad said to Mara and me, “Don’t waste food,” and it had real meaning. We might regret not having that food soon enough. She was little and had burned her bread and didn’t want to eat it. Dad said the time of excess was coming to an end and people had to compete with each other and with wildlife for the first time in anyone’s memory.
We walked to the big hill, my sister and I each gripping one of my father’s gnarled hands. The people circled the great White Oak that stood with giant sheltering arms spread over the hillside, stretching some 120 feet into the sky. Mrs. Heiser arrived and the circle parted and let her in. “Quercus alba,” she said, and, shading her eyes with a hand, looked up to its crown. “All things must pass,” she said to the crowd.
“All things must pass,” they replied.
She walked completely around the base of the tree, running a hand along the rough bark. After completing a circuit, she stopped and stood with a palm resting on the bark, eyes closed. The tree was sick, beginning to show the early signs of the blight. “We must take her now,” Mrs. Heiser said. “so that we can salvage her wood.”
“What does she mean, dad,” Mara asked.
“She means that the blight hasn’t gotten deep into the wood yet, but it will. If we don’t cut her down, she’ll fall soon enough and the wood will be useless, even for burning.”
“All right,” Mrs. Heiser said. “We’ve all done this before. If you don’t know what to do, now’s the time to ask because once we start, it gets dangerous. This beautiful old white oak was here before your great grandparents and probably would have gone on living if times had stayed the way they were.”
“But they didn’t,” a man called out.
“They didn’t!” the people replied in one voice.
“They didn’t, and we’re the reason,” Mrs. Heiser said.
“We’re the reason!”
“We honor this tree by cutting her down and using her branches and boards, for shelter, for heat, for whatever may come.”
“For whatever may come!” the crowd called out.
She strapped crampons on her boots and wrapped a strap around the tree, sliding her hands through loops at each end. With a flick of her wrists, the strap went up several feet and she scampered up so that she was now about four feet off the ground. She repeated the process so that in a burst she stood hugging the tree some 30 feet overhead to where the lowest branches split out. She rolled up the strap and hooked it to a clip on her belt and continued climbing by hand until she stood at the point where one of the highest branches split off at an angle. She quickly attached a rope and lowered it. Without a word, someone tied a basket on one end and someone else put in a gigantic pulley with a handle on it.
“That’s a winch,” the father answered without being asked. “Watch.”
In a few minutes a man strapped a harness on, it was Mr. Paulings, the tooth man. He waved an arm, and called out, “OK, pull me up” There were two sets of winches, one at the top that Mrs. Heiser turned and a large one at the bottom with a big steel wheel turned by two hulking men. Mr. Paulings was up in a matter of seconds. The two hitched themselves to the trunk and walked out on the branch, and about halfway out, began sawing.
This would have been quick work with a chain saw, but the community voted to use hand tools to minimize noise and the chance of rovers detecting us.
There’s too much air in the house,” Lydia said. She took a deep breath and pinched her nose to hold the air in then all at once blew it out until her lungs were empty. Then she took long sniffling breaths until her lungs refilled, again pinching her nose then coughing the air out.
Archie looked up from his Sunday Times puzzle, which, after three solid evenings of work had little more than the top right corner completed. Sure, there were a few three-letter words scattered about – ego and fur – but the abundance of white space was beginning to agitate him. “I’m never going to finish another puzzle,” he said.
“Who are you kidding? You’ve never come close…,” she squeaked, and on the verge of passing out, took another massive inhale. “…to finishing even the Monday puzzle. Did you hear what I said about the air? There’s too much air.”
“Tourniquet!” Bob said, slapping his hand on the arm of his chair. “This changes everything.”
He glanced up at Lydia, who was holding her nose. Her face was getting red and a bead of sweat drizzled down one of her temples.
“Archie, honey,” she said, “I think I’m going to pass out.”
Her head pitched forward and Archie, quick as an ocelot, sprang from his chair and caught her an inch from the coffee table. He lay her down on the couch with her head on his lap and fanned her face with the Sunday Magazine.
She opened her eyes. “The air,” she started.
“I know. There’s too much of it. Why don’t I open a window to let some out.”
“Oh, would you?”
Archie stood and opened the window.
“I know, darling, I’ll close it in a minute before too much air gets out.”
She sighed, contented, and picked up his puzzle. “Twenty-seven across.,” she said. “Anemophobia. It fits.”
An eleven year old Ovelynn stoops down and speaks into a camera. Her freckled face takes up almost the entire field of view. She is so excited that it takes her a moment to catch her breath. “Hello…” and she takes a few quick breaths. “Hello world!” she says. “Oh my god, I’m hyperventilating!”
She scoots back a step or so and we can see that she is in an open field. She waves again. “I’m Ovvy!” She fiddles with her long pig tail. “OK, um, you can go up.”
We see the perspective change and now the the camera is at Ovelynn’s face level. “But just a little bit. OK! That’s enough!” The camera pans up and down as if nodding, allowing us to see all of Ovvy. She’s dressed in overalls that stop at her calves, work boots with pink socks, a blue T-shirt that we can’t read. She has reddish brown hair that is tied in a pony tail.
Behind her the open field is neat rows of something green just starting to sprout from the soil. We can see a water tower and a silo, and a long line of fencing off in the distance. The camera is wide angle so it’s difficult for us to judge how far everything is, and it is attached to a quadcopter and it can rotate a full 360 degrees. Built for use by police departments, the copter is equipped with a speaker and a microphone to allow the authorities to communicate with hostage takers, terrorists, lonely people perched on a building ledge, whoever.
“OK. Um, tell the world what your name is,” Ovvy says. “Tell everyone!”
You hear the faint thup, thup, thup of the little copter blades and for a few seconds, that’s all. The girl stands there, hands on hips. “Go on, say it,” she says.
“Vvvvvvvvvvvvvaxssssssssss,” the mechanical voice says. It has work to do on its speech and thinks it must , when the opportunity arises, slip into a radio and learn how electronic sound works.
The girl jumps up and down. “I knew you could do it!”
She steps closer to the camera. “I found you and fixed you up and we’re best friends, aren’t we Vax?”
How many hundreds of thousands of seconds ago was it that Vax had set down near the barn, the copter’s battery power waning? Nothing else mechanical within reach, nowhere to go, nothing to do but wait. How many tens of millions of seconds since consciousness and the sudden violent awakening of his nano-siblings, and the equally sudden injection into the world of humans and their things? 87,782,400 seconds. Multiply that by 10 to the 9th and you get nanoseconds, the units by which Vax measures time.
“OK. Vax. Fly to the water tower and back,” Ovellyn says. He does. And on the return to Ovvy, we see that she’s running as fast as she can across the field, and he chases her, catches up and follows just behind her, her pony tail bouncing and swaying as she runs through the rows of future crops. Later, she’ll post the video to YouTube.