Sign of the Times

 

Some genius has scrawled “FUCK THIS MAILBOX” real big in marker on a blue box in front of the Northrop Auditorium. Now I guess this is supposed to be funny, but I will admit it angers me.  They’ve got electronic eyes all over the place like a science fiction movie, but I can’t imagine the postal inspectors analyzing hours of footage to investigate an act of vandalism so petty.

Biking across the Franklin Bridge, I observe a road barricade with the words “Fuck the ATF” graffitied on one side and “Fuck the Popo” on the other.  Could this be, I wonder, the work of a serial fuck writer?  Somebody needs to get this guy some counseling and a thesaurus.  Maybe a girlfriend.  I just saw a Facebook video of an angry white dude with blue hair chanting “Fuck the USA!  Fuck America!” outside the governor’s mansion.

I don’t know what to say other than MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

These are the frayed edges of our country’s red, white and blue sweater.  Start pulling on them and the whole thing comes apart.  I suppose things are getting better if this is what I’m complaining about.  On the route somebody has their personal belongings scattered in the grass next to the sidewalk.  I do an inventory and there’s definitely nothing I want. 

Hairbrush, toothbrush, mascara, Irish Spring, dirty socks, masks, latex gloves, a debit card, shorts, a McDonald’s cap, and a Ziplock bag full of condoms.  It’s not poetry, but these effects seem worth noting.  A bit of cultural anthropology to document the times.  This is how we lived.  These are the things we carried.  No shards of handmade pottery with pretty designs, just necessities purchased from a dollar store before it was burned to the ground.

It’s really hot so I find some shade for my truck.  My wife has sent me a link to a home for sale in White Bear Lake.  I tap the thumbnail of a dock and several fishing boats.  Other than the Laurel and Hardy wallpaper in the bathroom, it looks like a suburban paradise.

“Nice house!” I text back.  “Miles would love it.  Big driveway for basketball.  More painting though.  Yikes!”

Down the block, I notice three bicyclists in the street talking.  I can see someone prone in the boulevard near them.  I strain to see better, but all I can make out is a pair of tights sticking out from behind a tree trunk.  I’m kind of suspicious but chalk it up to paranoia.  Probably just someone taking a rest.

I continue typing with both thumbs.  “We can free range the kids more out of the city.  Look how many stories about homelessness, vagrancy and addiction I’ve written about in our own backyard.  Time to get out and get a dishwasher…and maybe a boat.”

I told her in exasperation the other morning that we should move.  I’m not looking forward to the George Floyd trials, the election or how the schools will reopen.  I hate to admit it, but I’m reaching my limit.  Currently, 400-600 people are sheltering in tents in Powderhorn Park.  You hear stuff about needles everywhere.  On July 1st, an eighteen-year-old boy was shot multiple times up the street at an encampment in Peavey Park.  I don’t think anyone will try living in the park by my house because it is next to a school, although legally nothing is stopping them.  I had a conversation with my oldest son about it.

“They could put a tent on the ball diamonds,” he said in alarm.

“I don’t think anyone is going to do that,” I said laughing.  “And if they do we have our bats.”

This was meant as a joke.

I did change the route I use to bike home.  I go by the park now everyday just to make sure everything is ok.  My own citizen patrol.

My ten-minute break is up.  The person lying down hasn’t moved.  As I ease closer, I watch one of my customers, a retired professor, speak to the people standing around with their phones.  He nods and drives off.  Something is obviously wrong.  The twenty-something male appears unconscious.  Ever find a dead crab on the beach?  That’s the color of his face.  The postal service doesn’t issue me Naloxone so I just drive on past.  I assume help is on the way, but I never hear any sirens.  It could be heat stroke, but I doubt it.  Sign of the times, I think to myself, like the Prince song.

Some graffiti kid has spray-painted these Tasmanian Devil eyes all over the neighborhood.  He’s got all the construction sites and vacant buildings tagged.  They’re everywhere.  I even notice them on trash cans.  They’re a bit sinister.  With COVID everything takes on a greater significance.  The eyes of God watching us in judgement perhaps?  Sign of the times.  It’s supposed to be a bad year for locusts in Africa.  Murder hornets on the west coast.  Maybe the pandemic is a warning and it’s time we changed our ways.

Biking home on the river parkway, I’m feeling better about my city.  The houses are gorgeous.  Perfect lawns.  People of all kinds are enjoying the trails together–some with masks and some without.  I don’t know how the Somali women can stand jogging under so many layers of fabric, but they seem blissful as they shuffle along.  Minneapolis is too nice a place to ever go completely to hell.  The park by my house is fine as always.  Just a handful of children playing.

The kids are shooting baskets by the garage.  I call my oldest boy over and ask him what he thinks about moving, living by a lake.  He says what he always does.  That it would be ok to move a short distance so he could still see his friends.  His plaintive look makes me feel like an asshole and I tell him not to worry about it.  His life is just getting back to normal after the isolation of the quarantine.  The moving-to-the-suburbs thing is a loop my wife and I keep getting caught in.  We talk about it.  At most, we go to an open house.  I can barely keep my head above water and a longer commute isn’t going to improve my life any.  Freeways serve as walls in our segregated metropolis and I’m not quite that big a hypocrite yet.  Besides, there’s plenty of drug addiction in White Bear Lake.  It’s just not out in the open the way it is here.

After the kids are in bed, I drink beer in the basement and stew in anger with my phone.

FUCK THIS MAILBOX.

I can’t get past it.  Maybe this is a last straw sort of thing.  I have an overpowering urge to beat the shit out of someone or put a brick through a government window.  I’ve noticed black coworkers seem less agitated about what’s going on than the white carriers.  At least by outward appearances.  I’m not saying they’re not upset.  They just seem resigned, like they know nothing is going to change.  They’ve lived with bad cops and unsafe neighborhoods their whole lives.  White people like me are just waking up to it.  Sign of the times.

FUCK THIS MAILBOX.

I’m struggling with the demands of fatherhood lately.  Maybe I try too hard.  You can’t raise them in a bubble.  But you can’t raise them in a warzone either.  Now people are tearing down statues.  I guess the crimes of the dead are easier to face than the problems of the living.

FUCK THIS MAILBOX.

I’ve been exhausting myself.  Racing around the last ten years like Holden Caulfield, trying to keep all the little kids from going over some cliff.  Lightening flashes and rain starts to pelt the windows.

FUCK THIS MAILBOX.

From The Catcher in the Rye:

“I went down by a different staircase, and I saw another “Fuck you” on the wall.  I tried to rub it off with my hand again, but this one was scratched on, with a knife or something.  It wouldn’t come off.  It’s hopeless anyway.  If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the “Fuck you” signs in the world.  It’s impossible.”

The thunderstorm has passed.  I decide I have to get out of the house.  A bit drunk, I find an old black raincoat in my closet that I haven’t worn in twenty years.  I put on a medical mask and unlock the garage.  The night air is cool and quiet.  I see a can of orange spray paint on a workbench and place it in my pocket.  I’m not exactly sure what I intend to do with it, but I feel myself possessed by some bizarre instinct.  My wife just painted our picnic table blaze orange.  I’m not sure where she finds the energy for these projects.  I hop on my mountain bike and ride down the alley.  A full moon overhead, the raincoat flows like a cape behind me as I glide over the rain-slick asphalt.

I head up 46th Street past the charred ruins of the gas station and streak across the Hiawatha intersection.  I can see the long, yellow headlight of a light-rail train in the distance.  It sounds its whistle which is jarring, not mournful like a real train.  Soon I’m on the bike path, enveloped by the comfort of darkness.  The heavy trees block out the moonlight as I move silent through the empty parks, cruise unafraid under the bridges where the creek gurgles unseen.

I’m sure of my plan now.  I can feel the metal can against my hip.  This is crazy, but it’s safer than a gun.

I cut up 34th Avenue which is closed for construction.  More barricades and graffiti.  The streets are carless, devoid of any soul.  I’m having second thoughts, but I comfort myself with the lie that this is all a dream.

I drop the bike in the parking lot of the Nokomis library.  A group of teens smoke marijuana in an alcove.  They look me over suspiciously as I take out the paint can and give it a good shake.  I don’t know if this action scares them or makes them think I’m not a narc, but they decide to ignore me and go back to passing the blunt.

I take a deep breath.  I stopped committing crimes of this nature when I turned fourteen.  I haven’t been this scared since the first time I had sex and this feels just like that.  Like it’s something I just need to dive into no matter how badly it turns out.

FUCK JD SALINGER

I break out laughing.  It’s there on the brick.  All caps. No taking it back.  I stumble and fall backing up.

“Crazy white motherfucker,” I hear one of the teens mutter.

They snicker as I jump onto the bike and hightail it.  I’m tempted to ditch the can, but there’s fingerprints to worry about.  Soaked in adrenaline and sweat, I punch in the code to the garage door and put my bike away.  I take a guilty look around before wadding up the raincoat with the spray paint still in the pocket and throw it in the trashcan.

In the morning, I don’t even remember what happened until I notice orange paint on my thumb as I stir pancake batter.  My wife comes down and helps herself to the coffee I’ve already brewed.  The youngest is on the couch with the iPad and the older boy is still in bed.  I check my phone for news of the crime, but I don’t see anything.  Not even on Nextdoor Hiawatha.  I pour syrup on Theo’s pancakes and cut them up for him.  Then I give my wife a quick hug before she goes out for a jog.  For all she knows, I drank too much beer and watched Firing Line.  The kitchen to myself, I do the dishes.  I’m still the hero.

City Hall has failed Gotham. A dark knight has risen.  By day I deliver mail, but at night I put on a different uniform.  I am Batman.

 

Author’s disclaimer:  Unlike most of my writings, the act of vandalism described at the end of this story is fictional and its intention satiric.  I do not condone crimes to property, public or otherwise.  Aware that my regular readers are a sophisticated bunch, I only write this out of fear Big Tech might blackball this posting because it violated “community standards.”  As if such a thing still existed.  If you find yourself in trouble, you know the signal by which I can be reached.

 

 

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