Thursday

(This one's pretty rough. Not like they haven't all been, but this one's even moreso. But I'm think I'm starting to get an actual handle on where it's going. So, shit, hopefull this'll be worth reading sometime soon)

Eight.

I wasn’t working the courier gig when Osama put the torch to Cleveland. Shit, I wasn’t working any gig. I was just twenty, two days past my birthday, still at Western, thinking that an English degree would be a nice thing to have. My folks had put the cash together to buy me a used Caprice Classic, one of the ones that looked like an upside-down bathtub. Old cop car, still had the spotlights mounted on the doors, the hole in the trunklid for the big whip antenna plugged with a sloppily welded disk of rusting steel.

That was a fun car, friends. Wide and mean and fast. A highway cruiser if there ever was. So many nights of flying down the Meritt, the big calibrated speedometer pegged and 115 mph, fat rubber thumping over expansion joints, boombox in the passenger footwell blasting out the Pixies and Black Flag. That’s what I did, back then, in the absence of friends or any real kind of social life, just drove and drove, late nights under a full moon, chasing my headlights. It’s nothing I can suggest as a replacement for, y’know, a life, but it was nice. The romance of fast travel, of fooling myself into thinking that the perfect girl was hitchhiking just a mile or two ahead, that I’d cross into New York and there’d be an adventure, there’d be a high speed chase, gunplay, chances for heroism. The stuff that’s unbearably appealing when you’re that young, when you’re looking for an excuse to take you far away from home. When you know that you’re destined for more than the simple like you’re living, but destiny’s taking its own sweet time reaching out to sweep you away.

Yeah, I was with that car when I got word about Cleveland. Pumping gas at a Mobil station in Greenwich, eleven o’clock, the first real cold of winter whistling past me as I leaned on the Caprice's back door and squeezed the pump handle. 11/9. Easy symmetry. Horribly fucking obvious. I’m sure the Feds were watching the date, like they were watching Christmas and the fourth of July and the midterm elections. Fat lot of good, right?

I don’t really remember if I heard it from a news report playing on the sound systems at the pumps, or if I got it from the cash register kid who came out and grabbed my shoulders and cried and wouldn’t let go of me, or if I tuned in the radio to 1010 WINS as I jammed back up the highway at 100+ mph. I got it somewhere, got explosion, got radiation, got thousands, tens of thousands dead, maybe more, got that what there was of the DHS was marshalling its forces, National Guard troops and state cops and regular army and every emergency crew in the Midwest converging on the scene as fast as they could, got that President Jr. was in the air and jamming for safety, got that the Secret Service was hustling every member and Congress they could find into bunkers, got that NYC, Boston, LA, Dallas, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, every state capital, every national monument, was in state of complete emergency lockdown. Got that a lot of the power grid had collapsed, that trains had stopped dead on their tracks, wherever they were. Got that every news agency on the planet had news vans heading towards the smoke and the screaming, got that the FAA had grounded every aircraft in American airspace and that F-16’s scrambled from every Air Force base in the country had shoot-to-kill orders for anything in the air that wasn’t a bird. Got that we’d gotten hit again, and that it was worse than we’d all been worrying it would be, that our borders were as secure as tissue paper. Got that my balls had crawled up into my stomach and that I couldn’t stop crying and that I couldn’t stop punching the steering wheel.

Got it. All of it.

Mom & Dad were in their pj’s when I got home, eyes pinned to CNN. Mom cried and hugged me, Dad cried and sunk his fingers into the arms of his easy chair. I made coffee and the three of us sat and watched the reporters doing their standups twenty miles from the new Ground Zero, split screens between the smoke and the studio and an empty podium that would, presumably, be soon occupied by some harried, suited Fed who would tell us what had happened and how it wasn’t the current administration’s fault.

No, we didn’t sleep, of course. I don’t know that too many people in North America did. Around sunrise chief DHS blockhead Tom Ridge got on the air and told us that Cleveland had seen the triggering of a dirty bomb, somewhere in the heart of downtown. Several hundred tons of conventional explosives, repurposed fertilizer mainly, interspersed with a fine sand of slightly enriched uranium. Slightly enriched meaning that the stuff wasn’t anything even approaching weapons-grade, so you couldn’t make it go the big firecracker, but enriched enough that it was currently spewing out hard gamma radiation. Gamma radiation, he explained, is made up of fast-moving particles that have enough velocity to tunnel into things. Things like human beings, mostly. They tunnel in and destroy cells, weaken bone, lodge in the cellular structure of anything organic. And they keep doing it for a long time. He wasn’t sure how long, it depended on how enriched the uranium was, but they were working on it. He’d let us know.

And the really rotten part wasn’t that the stuff was there, really. It was that the explosion had been designed, it seemed, to throw all that shit as high and as far as possible. They figured the spray pattern went out about two miles. But there were high winds in Northern Ohio, and the uranium sand was fine enough to be carried aloft for quite a distance. They had projections that showed the winds carrying all those hard gamma particles fifty, sixty, as much as a hundred miles south. They were evacuating Ohio all the way to Columbus, just to be on the safe side. Citizens were leaving their homes peacefully, heading out of the way of the cloud in an organized fashion. CNN threw up a helpful graphic over Ridge’s shoulder, showing a blobby red cloud spreading through the state. Then they switched to a live shot of a packed interstate, filled with Ohio state license plates getting nowhere fast. The crawl at the bottom of the screen estimated that better than a million people were getting The Fuck Out of Town. The National Guard, Tom said, was setting up mass refugee camps below Columbus. They had water and food and bedding for up to a hundred thousand people. I guess the rest of them would just have to check into a Motel Six or something.

School was cancelled the next day. Something of a new tradition there. National tragedy; lock the doors, tell everyone to stay home. We watched tv and made sandwiches. I ran out of cigarettes and didn’t bother going to the store for more. I didn’t want to talk to anyone I didn’t know. I didn’t want to have to think up responses to conversations I didn’t want to have. I didn’t want to have to really accept what was happening. I watched tv and heard them say Osama, Osama, Osama, jihad, Muslim Extremists. I showered and shaved and watched tv some more.

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