A Dangerous Week

In Pittsburgh, Uncategorized on July 17, 2009 at 1:00 am

Vintage Grand Prix 019

It started this way: I was typing at my laptop, at the desk in my bedroom, and I heard a popping sound. Then my laptop’s screen dimmed, signaling a power shortage. I adjusted the power-cord, checked all the connectors. Sighing, I took the laptop downstairs and plugged it into the dining room socket. Before I could tap a single key, there was another popping sound, and then the air filled with a burning, chemical smell. The power-supply, that box in the middle of the cord, emitted a puff of smoke. Quickly I unplugged it and shut down my computer.

And so began my dangerous week: Awkward moments, surreal hazards. The very air trembled with discord.

As I took a short-cut through the Museum of Natural History, a kid walked up to me, his eyes bright with excitement. “You have to see the dinosaur exhibit!” he exclaimed.

I hesitated, thinking he was talking to somebody directly behind me. I’d been listening to the Cranberries on my iPod and had to remove the ear-buds to hear him.

“Oh, uh, okay,” I said.

“You have to.”

“I will.”

“No, but they’re amazing. The skeletons are huge.”

The kid’s face was layered with acne, and his dark hair had a bland cut. But his eyes looked pried open, caffeinated.

“I’ll check it out.”

“I didn’t even realize how glad I am that they’re dead!” he said, his voice cracking. “Because if they weren’t, we would be!”

“Okay,” I said, turning a corner and replacing my headphones. The kid called after me, but by then I was pushing through the glass door, into the sunlight of the outdoor court.

I pushed my bike down the sidewalk of Forbes Avenue, basking in the sunny morning. Squirrel Hill had just begun to stir: Men sat at cafe tables, teenagers murmured on the corner, women smoked cigarettes outside their stores, waiting for customers and a reason to go back inside.

Suddenly a man blustered out of the alleyway. He emerged so quickly that he lost his balance, and his abdomen bent forward, like a ballet-dancer stopping himself at the edge of a stage. Another man trampled the concrete behind him, and they danced around each other, a strange duet. The first man was young, thin, wearing a T-shirt and shorts. The second man was older, huskier, his expression serious and methodical. At first I thought they were rough-housing — just two friends being funny — but then the younger man shrieked, “GET OFF OF ME!”

A third man darted out of the alley and skipped on his feet, then pointed at the first man. “The police are on their way!” he squeaked. He wore glasses, and his voice was an effeminate tenor.

“I didn’t do anything!” the young man squealed, just as the older man tried to grab his arm; but the grab was clumsy, too fast, and their skins made smacking sounds.

“You tried to steal our van!” the bespectacled man said, his voice swollen with tension. “And the police are on their way!”

“GET OFF OF ME!” the first man screamed again, but then he stumbled over a metal grate and fell forward on the ground; his body thumped against the sidewalk as his treads scrambled for footing. The older man loomed above, eager to pin him but not sure how to proceed.

The young man lay only a few feet from my bicycle. I could take two strides and nudge him with my toe. We were that close.

Then the young man was up again, stumbling in a zigzag past the cafe tables. The older man sneaked up behind him, and with the stealth and speed of a wrestler, he grabbed the young man’s leg and flipped him upward; the man spun in the air, propelled by the older man’s grapples, and together they crashed to the ground, rolling over the edge of the curb, until the older man was mounted on the younger man, and everything paused.


Now the bespectacled man stood above them both, between two parked cars, pointing and screeching: “You tried to steal our van! We saw you!” He turned to passersby on the street, addressing them in a stage-voice: “He tried to steal our van!”

Within a minute, a squad car was pulling down the street, toward the odd trio. The bespectacled man skipped over to the car and leaned into the passenger-side window, explaining the situation to a grim-looking officer. By this point, I’d seen enough. I started pedaling away, discombobulated. Coasting down the street, I watched a bike-cop pedaling furiously in the opposite direction; then another squad car; then a paddy wagon.

At the bus stop, an older man with a swathe of graying hair and a pocket-protector on his shirt loudly calculated: “Five factorial seven, that makes nothing,” he said. “That comes out to nothing. Three and five, that makes nothing, too.”

I met with some curators Downtown, some friends who are putting together a kind of directory for art galleries. We met in one such gallery, a third-story loft with waxed floors and enormous windows. Much to my surprise, a large dog was pattering around; it came to sniff us as we stepped off the elevator.

We started talking about who was coming to the meeting; most contributors were indisposed, or sick, or pregnant. The meeting would probably be intimate, just three of us.

Then I felt a warm spray against my exposed toes. I looked down at my sandals and saw the dog, who was proudly looking up at us. Beneath him, a steady stream of urine splashed against the ground, forming a puddle; the floor was panelled and uneven, so the puddle bled and grew in several different directions. The dog kept pissing, shooting at the floor with manly fervency. After nearly a minute, the jet stopped, and the dog happily darted away, his paws slipping in the yellowish flood-plane.

The dog left behind his one toy — a plastic baby-doll, stripped and beheaded, lying in the reflective puddles on the cold, hard floor.

Although I was clearly on the phone, and in a hurry, an enormous man pointed to me on a corner of Liberty Avenue. “Nice hat, man!” he said, then extended a giatn paw. I slapped his hand and rock-locked, but his hands were greasy and tingled the skin of my palm. Just as I heard “Hello?” crackle in my receiver, the man said, “Gimme fifty cents.”

“Hello,” I said into the receiver. “I only have bus-fare,” I said to the man.

“GIMME fifty cents,” the man said again, rolling his eyes at me.

I’m on the phone, fucktard, I thought.

“Hello?” the phone said again.

“I, uh, I…”

The man leaned into me and stuttered: “UH, UH, UH, UH, UH!”

As I absorbed his mocking tone, I wondered how this man thought he was getting fifty cents out of me — interrupting my conversation, stopping me on the street, offering a transparent compliment before demanding (not asking) for money from a complete stranger. I continued down the street, feeling wind blast along the narrow Downtown streets.

The bus dropped me off at Highland Avenue, which left me with five or six blocks to walk. The evening was warm and comfortable, and the sun was just setting in the distance, casting a lazy orange light over the lawns. I crossed in front of the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

And then a hawk flew up from the grass. I caught the bird in the corner of my eye, but the hawk had clearly descened from the trees, raked the ground with its talons, and shot upward again — a swift pendulum of flight. But the bird ascended slowly, and as I watched it silhouette against the PCA’s bright brick wall, I realized that the hawk was carrying a chipmunk.

At first I thought the hawk would vanish behind the building, but instead it landed on the edge of the roof, where the chipmunk dangled helplessly, its tiny legs struggling to escape. By the time I drew my camera, the hawk spread its wings again — enormous, resplendent — and lifted off the roof, swooping down and across the lawn, toward the trees, where it disappeared in the shadows.

  1. Brilliantly beautiful and poetic post aboutrather odd and unpoetic events. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: