Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ice-Cream Truck

Ice Cream Truck

William’s twin daughters rose early, with the sun.  They stood in their cribs babbling happily to one another.  Their cribs were side by side and the little girls in their pink pajamas stood upright, supporting themselves on the barred crib-railing and waving their tiny hands at the window where the sunlight was peeping through the leaves of the trees outside.  When William came into their bedroom, humid with the odor of dirty diapers, and saw the dappled light reaching across the windowsill, his twins saluted him with cries of delight.  “Da, da, da,” they said to him.

William thought he heard the children singing to him and knew that it was early morning, perhaps first light, and so he opened his eyes.  He was surprised to find himself in a shabby motel room, a grey mirror posted like a negligent sentinel across from his bed, curtains drawn across the window overlooking the parking lot.  The sound that had awakened him was not the voices of children but distant music, a calliope stranded somewhere near the motel, on one of the residential side-streets.  The calliope played “La Cucuracha’ and, then, “Home on the Range.”   William said to himself: “It’s a ice-cream truck, the Good Humor man, but why is he patroling the streets so early?”  The music continued for a couple minutes and, then, gradually faded.  That was the first time that William heard the ice-cream truck.
William was in the motel on account of the restraining order.  The Judge barred William from his home and any unsupervised contact with his wife and children.  Every other weekend, he was allowed to see his twin daughters at the Lutheran Church in a room where there was a bright red plastic bucket full of plastic toys and a picture of Jesus as the Good Shepherd on the wall.  A social worker sat at a desk in the Narthex.  The social worker was polite, but William knew that she despised him.  The little girls were learning to talk.  Their noses were always runny and one of them sucked her thumb and they babbled about their mama and the kitty and foods that they liked.  William said: “If your mother would allow me, I would take you out and we’d find that ice-cream truck and get some treats.”  “Can we get some treats, Da?” the more talkative of the twins asked.  “I’m not allowed to,” William said.  The less talkative child looked up at him sadly, gazing across her sloppy-wet knuckles (her thumb was in her mouth) and shook her head.  “I like ice cream,” the more talkative girl told him.

The divorce was finalized.  William’s ex-wife took the children and moved to another city, several hundred miles away. William remarried and had more children with his new wife.  As long as he was diligent in paying his child support, William’s ex-wife allowed him to see his daughters once a month.  But in the winter, travel was difficult and, when there were blizzards and ice-storms, William didn’t see the twin girls for months at a time.  As the girls grew older, they became increasingly remote and didn’t seem to like visiting William.  When they spent the weekend at his home, the twins were moody and silent and spent most of the time text-messaging their friends back home and they seemed resentful about sharing a bedroom with their stepsister.  Teenagers don’t like to spend time with their parents and, as they grew older, William didn’t see the girls very often.  He had no regrets.  He supported the twins, sending money to their mother exactly in accord with the requirements of his divorce decree.  The children that lived with him didn’t spend any time with their parents either – they were always with their friends – and so, William didn’t think it unnatural that he had little or no relationship with the twins.  “Perhaps, one day something will bring us closer together,” William thought, but he couldn’t really imagine what that would be.  The girls graduated from High School and went away to college and, according to the divorce papers, William had no further financial obligations to them or their mother.  He sent them money on their birthday.  They didn’t call him on his birthday and, at Christmas time, they were always busy with his ex-wife’s family.    

The town where William lived changed.  Dark-skinned people appeared and took jobs in the factories and food-processing plants.  The shops on main street displayed signs written in Spanish and there were Halal groceries on some of the corners.  One afternoon, when William was sitting on his porch, he heard calliope music far away.  The calliope played “La Cucuracha” again and again, an insistent sound like a bony hand rapping on his front door.  Sometimes, the music would falter and fade away, but, then, after a few minutes, he would hear the tune bubbling faintly on the wind that rustled the leaves of the trees.  William wondered where the ice-cream truck was located.  He couldn’t fix the direction from which music was originating.   The tinny notes seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere.

It was warm weather, fine and dry, and William slept with his window open.  In the twilight, he heard the ice-cream truck prowling some nearby street.  This time, the truck was playing “The Mexican Hat Dance” and a polka “Red Wing”: “the moon shines bright on pretty Red Wing.”  William dozed off. When he awoke again, it seemed very late and a half-moon was coasting through the stars above the treetops and, far away, William heard the tinkling notes of the ice-cream truck.  “Can you hear that?” William said to his wife.  She was snoring.  “That’s outrageous,” he said.  His wife groaned and rolled over.

The Mexican immigrants had taco trucks and William had seen them downtown, pulled up to the curb during festivals and on the Fourth of July.  In the newspaper, he sometimes read about stabbings and brawls that occurred in front of the taco trucks after the bars had closed.  He supposed that the ice-cream truck was also owned by Mexicans and that it rolled through the downtown streets late at night, offering frozen novelties to people staggering out of the taverns at closing time.  But the far-away music bothered him and, on some nights, he stayed awake, insomniac, waiting for the The Mexican Hat Dance and La Cucharacha and Red Wing to start their ceaseless round and, when it remained silent, he was almost disappointed since there was no object for his anger.

One afternoon, William heard the calliope’s tune beckoning across the roof tops and so he set off on foot, hustling along the sidewalk to search for the ice-cream truck.  The melody lingered for a moment, paused, and, then, began again this time from a different direction.  William changed course to follow the music.  He walked for eight or nine blocks with the ice-cream truck apparently hiding from him on parallel streets or concealed in alleyways.  It seemed curious to him that William never seemed to come any closer to the truck.  The music lingered a few blocks away but he wasn’t able to close that distance to come upon the vendor.

The next afternoon, the ice-cream truck was abroad once more, broadcasting its infuriating calliope notes to the bright, hot sky.  William went to his car and drove through the quiet, empty streets, windows rolled down listening for the music.  The truck must have sped away into another quadrant of the city because he wasn’t able to hear the music.  Then, the sound commenced again, this time from an unexpected direction, Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” rag, then, “Home on the Range” and, at last, the Mexican songs, the Hat Dance and the Cockroach.  William swung his car around, braked, and stuck his head out the window.  The music was very close, demanding, it seemed, and the high-pitched tones were shrill and piercing.  William sped in the direction of the calliope, rounding a corner at a stop sign without slowing, and, then, thought that he saw, six or seven blocks away, the white rump of the ice-cream truck vanishing as it turned away from him.  William accelerated.  The intersections were uncontrolled and he didn’t see a car marked with a pizza delivery sign on its roof approaching on his right.  There was a crash and William’s car spun around, smacking its left quarter panel into a utility pole.  Glass sprayed across the concrete and a squirrel in a nearby tree scolded the two vehicles that had collided.  Someone called the police and an ambulance arrived, but, fortunately, no one was hurt.

William woke the next morning so sore and stiff that he wondered whether he should have his wife drive him to Acute Care or the Emergency Room.  From another part of the town, the unseen ice-cream truck sounded its notes.  The air was heavy and the calliope music sounded ancient and remote, an aggravating nagging presence that seemed to remind William of something that he had forgotten.  Instead of going to see a doctor, William asked his wife to drive him to City Hall.  “I can’t stand that music,” William told his wife.  “What music?” she asked.  “The ice-cream truck, the ice-cream truck,” William told her.  “Have you ever seen an ice-cream truck?” William’s wife asked.  “That’s the thing,”William replied, “I can hear it.  But I’ve never seen it.”

He limped into the City Hall and went into an office where there were several women peering into computer screens in a brightly lit room.  The younger of the two women grimaced and left her desk to stand at the counter where William was waiting.  William asked the woman about the ice-cream truck.  “It must be a Good Humor truck,” William said.  “Doesn’t it require some sort of a license to roll around town disturbing everyone with that music?”  “Have you seen the truck?” the woman said.  “No,” William told her, “that’s the problem.”

The woman went back and spoke briefly with her colleague.  Then, she took a book from the shelf and stood over a xerox machine to make a photocopy.  She returned to the counter and handed the copy to William.  “This is a city ordinance,” the clerk told him.  “It prohibits street vendors and ice-cream trucks in particular from operating in this municipality.”  “Is that right?” William said.  “Yes,” the woman told him. “It’s a matter of public safety.  I remember when the City Council passed this ordinance.”  She paused and looked at something distant, perhaps, a pedestrian or a vehicle passing outside.  “The Council acted after that accident.”  “What accident?” William asked.  “One of those trucks was playing music to attract people, little kids, and there was a crash.  Two little girls were hit and killed when they darted across the street to buy ice cream treats.”  William said: “So it’s illegal.”  “It’s illegal,” the clerk told him.  “When were the girls hit by the truck?” William asked.  “They weren’t hit by the ice-cream truck,” the woman said.  “They were hit by a passing motorists when they darted out to flag down the ice cream vendor.”  “My god,” William said.  “It was awful,” the clerk told him.

The clerk called dispatch at law enforcement and asked that a squad car search the city streets for the illegal ice-cream truck.  A patrol car drove around town for a couple of hours but couldn’t find the ice-cream vendor.   No one else could remember seeing the truck or hearing the music from its calliope.

After that day, William didn’t hear the ice-cream truck except late at night or at dawn.  And, then, he supposed that it was possible that he was merely dreaming that music.      

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sir Mick Jagger presents "The Rolling Stones*"

Basilides of Alexandria preached this doctrine to the Persians: God is Not-Being since Being inevitably possesses impure components. Pure Not-Being is nameless, unspeakable, unthinkable. From this Not-Being, there proceed three “son-ships” or filiations, each of which perceives itself to be bereft and imperfect because separated from original nothingness. The first filiation is essence or idea, and no sooner separated from Not-Being, it takes wing and flies, at the speed of thought, back into Not-Being and is absorbed therein. The second filiation is comprised of pure, unmixed elements and, beholding the flight of essence into Not-Being imitates that flight itself, ascending upward to the Father on its wings. But the second filiation, being of grosser substance than the first, fails to achieve reunion with Not-Being and remains separate from the Father as a boundary between the Mundane and the Supra-Mundane. The third filiation, a compound of pure elements and gross matter, beholds the ascension to Not-Being initiated by the second filiation and, also, flies upward. But the third filiation’s wings are inadequate and, repelled by the boundary now instituted by the second filiation, falls downward into the Panspermia and, there, joins itself to Being, thus, creating the world in which we exist.

The heresiarch Simon learned his doctrine from Helena, an aging prostitute in Tyre. Helena told Simon that Wisdom or Sophia was a void content to linger in the presence of the All-Father, Not-Being. Catching glimpse of a ray of light emitted by atoms comprising the Panspermia, Sophia pursued that beam downward through 12 Aeons, mistakenly believe that she was pursuing an emanation of Not-Being. Each Aeon, animated by Sophia, is a reflection of the preceding and higher level, but afflicted with the defects that arise when an image is reproduced in a mirror. The lowest of the 12 Aeons is our world, the 12th iteration of a reflection of a reflection, and, except for the faint presence of Sophia, a scent like perfume almost infinitely diluted, a chaos of filth and confusion.

The world, it seems, is an emanation of a filiation or energy that is defectively reproduced until almost all traces of the original purity are lost. Our voices are the echoes of echoes.

This same concept exists in art history and archaeology. George Kubler theorized that most art objects result through activity that is the perpetuation of an original impulse of creativity. The history of art is the history of the transmission of a signal that becomes weaker, less vibrant, and more attenuated with each reproduction. Art involves “prime objects” and their replicas and the replicas of those replicas, a process repeated recursively until the replica degenerates into chaotic matter or is appropriated into the service of another and different “prime object.”

And so --

“No,” Sir Mick Jagger said, “the riot at Leroy in Minnesota or Iowa or wherever it, that riot was not similar in any way to what happened at Altamont Speedway.”

The aging rock star had agreed, reluctantly, to a press conference in the bowling alley installed in the basement of his 16th century chateau in the south of France. His lawyer, Norman, stood by his side. Everyone remarked at how healthy Sir Mick looked, how wiry and tanned and fit, like a man accustomed to playing 18 holes of golf a day without cart or caddy. Everyone said that Sir Mick was at ease and that the business model for the proliferation of “The Rolling Stones*” bands was a lucid one and that the famous man looked wonderfully like himself, like the images that were projected above the stage when he sang, exactly like the icon that he had become.

The subject of the Press Conference, hastily implemented, was a riot resulting in many injuries and much property damage at a place called Leroy, Minnesota. Since this riot involved a rock-and-roll band called “The Rolling Stones*” questions as to responsibility were raised and, thus, Sir Mick Jagger was called to account, although the famous entertainer’s charisma was such, that no sooner were accusations lodged against him than they were also refuted or forgotten.

Briefly, here is what happened:

The inhabitants of Leroy, Minnesota, a small town on the Iowa border, were surprised and excited to learn that “The Rolling Stones*” had agreed to perform at their Community Center. In light of later events, no one was willing to take responsibility for organizing this performance. In the inexplicable way that filiations emanate from their father, Not-Being, the show seemed to simply materialize.

For several weeks, rumors circulated that the famous British band intended to play a concert in Leroy. Some people said that Sir Keith Richards, a member of the Stones, had purchased more than 15,000 acres of prime farm land in Howard county, Iowa a few miles across the state border Sir Richards operated under a pseudonym, impersonating a Jewish financier from Chicago, and he was said to be a fierce and unrelenting landlord to his tenants. Apparently, he had come to inspect his holdings and brought his band with him and, thus, the opportunity for the gig in the small Minnesota village. But, other people, possibly better informed, rejected this account and said that it was now twenty-five years since the Stones had last played Minneapolis and that, on that occasion, long ago, Sir Mick Jagger had a brief encounter with a local girl who had traveled to the big city to see him perform. Sir Mick Jagger’s love-child with this local woman had just completed college at Mankato State University and was now teaching History and Social Studies at Southland High School and, as the story was told, she was on Prom committee and had used her influence to invite “The Rolling Stones” to play for ninety minutes at the school dance. Everyone who knew this woman said that her resemblance to the famous singer was remarkable, particularly in the shape of her lips, and in Leroy, twenty miles from the Southland High School, everyone knew a friend who had a friend whose child was excited almost beyond endurance about the upcoming prom and mystery band that was scheduled to make an appearance. And that “mystery band,” supposedly, had agreed to make a second appearance, on Sunday afternoon, in Leroy at the town’s community center.

In any event, fliers soon appeared advertising that “Sir Mick Jagger’s ‘Rolling Stones*’” would play a concert in Leroy, possibly a benefit for a local cancer victim, because the tickets cost $10.00, a sum thought to be a little “spendy” in rural Minnesota. These fliers by some obscure agency were transported far and wide. People said that they saw fliers posted in Hy-Vee grocery stores on their community activities’ bulletin boards throughout northern Iowa and southern Minnesota, as far west as Worthington and as far south as the suburbs of Des Moines. Someone noticed the flier stapled to more than a dozen telephone poles at the University of Minnesota. A couple of radio stations announced the concert, although expressing suitable skepticism as to whether the information read on-air was accurate.

Leroy’s Community Center, on most days, doubles as the town’s Senior Citizen center. At first, members of the Senior Citizen board of directors opposed the use of the community hall for the concert. But, then, someone quite reasonably pointed out that, after all, Sir Mick and Sir Keith and the rest of the Stones were themselves senior citizens, indeed, quite elderly and that, perhaps, the concert was well-suited for the Center. Doubt was expressed as to whether the meeting room was sufficiently large to accommodate crowds expected for the show. But, after some debate, Board members concluded that the “spendy” ticket price could be expected to reduce attendance and that the hall would probably suffice.

The Community Center is located in the former First National Bank, a Leroy institution that had failed during one of the more recent farm crises, a handsome granite building with a classical pediment and stubby, fat pillars flanking the main door. This structure is noteworthy because designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s students only a couple years after he parted company from the Master, and so, when the lending institution collapsed and went bankrupt, the City of Leroy bought the structure and remodeled it for use as a Community Center. In the basement of the building, there was a large meeting room that could accommodate up to 90 people and, indeed, had been used for wedding dances and receptions in the past. The “spendy” ticket price was expected to reduce attendance and so, generally, the hall was thought to be appropriate for the performance.

Leroy is a humble place, a farming town with houses gathered like fearful sheep around a half-dozen unassuming church steeples made from old brick that has been meticulously maintained and tuck-pointed. The town was once a rail hub, but the trains don’t stop there any more and, indeed, their right-of-ways have been converted to bike trails, threads of flat asphalt radiating from the village atop grassy embankments that cross the level, fertile farm fields. Corn and soybean are stored in four huge steel bins at the edge of downtown and, during bright days, the bright convex metal surfaces of those bins spray radiance in all directions. Decades worth of spilled grain is buried in crevasses and fissures in the concrete loading docks and mill-work around the bins and those corn kernels and soybean have decomposed so that there is a dense smell like old beer or corn-whiskey hovering around the grain bins and the truck scales and tin sheds in that neighborhood. People from the big cities riding their bikes in town always comment on the smell around the bins and it is heavy and intoxicating, soporific so that the homes and businesses gathered all around seem like the objects that you might behold in a dream, insubstantial and threatening to dissolve in the light reflected from the rotund and seamed curves of the metal granaries.

Mid-afternoon on the Sunday of the performance, volunteers with pick-up trucks drove from steeple to steeple, loading-up folding chairs from the fellowship halls in the churches. The chairs were taken to the Community Center, carried from the trucks, and set in rows in the basement hall. Two wooden platform risers, painted black and badly scuffed, had been loaned by the local elementary school and were shoved end-to-end in a corner of the basement room to make a low stage. The janitor and town-drunk was dispatched to a larger town nearby to buy a dozen fuses – there was some fear that the Rolling Stones’ power requirements might exceed the old Bank’s wiring capabilities and shut down the show. The fourth-graders at the school colored a banner that said: LEROY WELCOMES THE ROLLING STONES!!! – and each exclamation mark had a round, smiley face drawn in the circle beneath the vertical shaft.

The first party-buses appeared mid-afternoon. They were funky-looking vans, some of them brightly painted, and they cruised the quiet leafy streets of the village like gondolas paddling the Venetian lagoons. The people who came from the buses stood in the bright sunlight on the sidewalks, looking toward Main Street and the grain elevators beyond, blinking and baffled.

Larger buses came later and, then, hundreds of cars and, soon enough, the streets in the town were so clogged that the bigger vehicles couldn’t enter the village and had to disgorge their passengers on the outskirts. Cars lined the country roads around Leroy and people carrying folding lawn chairs and coolers hiked along the endless columns of parked vehicles toward the city in its clump of trees on the horizon. At the Bank, volunteers dragged the choir-platforms up from the basement meeting room and set them in front of the Coop gas station across the street from Community Center. They re-arranged the seventy or eighty folding chairs in a phalanx on the street in front of the splintery wooden stage and the city-cop unraveled yellow police-line tape from a big spindle and wrapped it around the seating. Someone posted signs written in magic-marker on the police-line tape: “VIP seating” the signs said. A couple of card tables were set up by the taped-off area and women were stationed there with small metal cash-boxes – they were supposed to sell the remaining seats in the VIP section and, since fifty or so advance tickets had been sold (notwithstanding the ten dollar admission fee), the women were supposed to limit access to the folding chairs to those with bona fide tickets.

The streets were crowded and people traipsed across lawns and backyards and frightened the dogs who howled at them, draining dry several Kool-Aid and lemonade stands set up by enterprising little girls. A couple of taco trucks crept through the crowd, selling styrofoam trays of taco al pastor, as well lengua, and tripe tacos. An ice-cream vendor parked his truck in an alleyway and played a tinny-sounding tune, “Mexican hat dance” over and over again to attract customers. The city-cop wouldn’t let the five or six beer trucks that arrived into town, but it didn’t matter –the trucks set up business on the outskirts, next to the abandoned motel, ineptly burnt for insurance money and the bowling alley, and pretty soon kegs appeared on Main Street. Some kids bought step-ladders from the local lumber yard and used them to climb onto the roofs of houses near the place on Main Street where Sir Mick Jagger’s “The Rolling Stones*” were scheduled to appear. The roofs were steeply slanted and the kids spread out beach blankets on the shingles and took off their shirts to sun themselves and so they reclined there, above the throng, white skin browning and reddening in the late afternoon glare. The show was supposed to start at 7:00 so as not to compromise Leroy’s noise ordinance which prohibited “loud or startling sounds” made after ten pm. A fist fight broke out at VIP section. A man with a bloody nose shouted: “you don’t mean ‘VIP.’ you don’t mean that at all – you mean ‘RSVP’, that’s what you idiots should have written.” Apparently, the man thought that he was incontrovertibly a VIP and one of the women charged with collecting admission fees said that she tended to agree with him.

Sir Mick Jagger’s “The Rolling Stones*” appeared in a rusty, battered-looking Suburban. They were studious-looking men in their thirties, with neatly trimmed beards and moustaches and wearing round, black sunglasses. “The Rolling Stones*” members carried North Face or Patagonia backpacks from which little round bottles of water were peeping out like pet chicks. Their sound man fought his way through the crowd to the soundboard. The mob was angry and it hissed and booed when the musicians stepped up onto the stage and someone threw a beer bottle. Then, a girl took off her shirt and a man lifted her up on his shoulders to display her to the crowd and she proclaimed that this sorry assembly of frail-looking bearded men in sunglasses was merely the warm-up band and that Mick Jagger and his lads were already in town, drinking beer in the basement of the Senior Citizen Center and that she had seen them and knew that they were ready to perform.

The crowd milled around in desultory manner and people sent emissaries to the beer trucks for more drinks. When the band began to play, the sound was ill-focused and diffuse and seem to run away, as if frightened, from the stage, losing itself in alley ways and back yards and vacant lots. The drums and bass were too loud and their amplified notes were flung across the city so that they resounded off the big round sides of the grain elevators and the echoes reflected from those convex steel shells were unpredictable, creating pockets of noise in the town where the drums sounded like machine-gun fire and the basses rumbled like a tornado rolling across the plains.

Before the fourth song, the lead singer spoke into his microphone. Under amplification, his voice popped and fizzled and he had to duck a beer bottle flung in his direction. “This is a number we call ‘Crossfire Hurricane’,” he said. He made a chopping motion with his guitar and the band started to play, but, at the same time, the crowd began to chant “ Satisfaction! Satisfaction! We can’t get no Satisfaction!” The roar from the audience was so great and extended so far back into the multitude gathered on the Leroy streets that the band leader was taken aback and he signaled to his musicians that they should pause.

“Did you really think that the Glitter Twins were going to play this town?” the guitarist cried into his microphone. “Are you naive or something? Look around and tell me -- what do you see?”

And, at his command, some of the people in the crowd did look around and they saw the small village with its shabby three and four-bedroom houses and their garages with peeling paint and the businesses on Main Street that had failed and were boarded-shut and the water tower like a tin shed or a concentration camp guard-tower posted overhead and the humble steeples that seemed almost ashamed to point at the sky which was huge and laden with clouds sculpted by the light of the setting sun and, far out in the country, clouds of dust were rising from the gravel roads were motorcycle gangs were hurtling to and fro through the cornfields.

“Would the real Rolling Stones ever play a place like this?” the guitar player shouted and, then, had to duck again because a flock of beer bottles shot toward his head and broke against the amplifiers. The band started to play once more and the crowd chanted “Satisfaction! Satisfaction!” and, then, someone discovered that the pumps at the Coop gas station were leaking a little fluid and that the ooze could be used to make Molotov cocktails. Flaming rags in beer bottles were flung through the air and the dry wooden platform-risers caught fire. “The Rolling Stones*” backed away from the mob, retreating behind a curtain of smoke. Several buildings were set on fire and a taco truck was knocked onto its side so that it also burned, although it was never established whether the vehicle was torched by the mob or simply took flame when its hot grease spilled as the truck was tilted. Smoke rose from the separate fires and the columns braided themselves together and rose as a black pillar over the village.

Sirens wailed over the two-lane black-top and squad cars skidded onto the scene, although for the first hour or two, the police were outnumbered, besieged in the bank building that they had seized as a command post. A humvee owned by the police force in a city forty miles distant appeared and the big, heavily armored truck knocked parked cars aside to part the crowd and open a path for fire engines. Ultimately six or seven fire trucks were maneuvered onto Main Street and they cast water in great arching streams over the mob and into the burning buildings which hissed and steamed like cauldrons. Then, fire-trucks aimed their water cannons at the crowd. Tear gas drifted through alleyways and chained dogs howled and voices roared through megaphones and, then, the fire-fighters blasted the mob with their hoses. In the intersecting radiance of the fire-truck headlights, jets of water shone like bright rays of light penetrating ancient and irremediable chaos. Bodies spun around and were hurled into the gutter and running men and women were tripped by the luminous blast, water pouring through the air like waterfalls and cascades turned on their sides and the people touched by that brilliant flood said that it was cold as a glacial stream, ice-water that shocked the heart and numbed the flesh.

“Do you think the confusion was warranted in any way?” a gentleman of the Press asked Sir Mick Jagger. “Not at all,” the famous band-leader said. He turned aside and beckoned to his lawyer. “Norman,” Sir Mick Jagger called, “Norman, can you explain this to them?” Norman stepped out of the shadows and bowed briefly in the direction of his boss and, then, he told the reporters that Sir Mick Jagger, with the permission and consent of the business corporation of which he was a principal, had agreed to license the use of the name “The Rolling Stones” to certain rock and roll bands that applied to him for this privilege. Bands seeking such a license were obligated to send a demo tape or CD to Sir Mick Jagger and, although he didn’t have time to listen to those demos (and, indeed, on legal advice, to avoid plagiarism litigation absolutely declined to listen), he deputized others in his organization to consider those submissions and, then, make recommendations to him as to which bands would be authorized to make use of the name “Sir Mick Jagger’s ‘The Rolling Stones*.” As a condition for being so licensed, the bands were required contractually to always present their title in that form, with the explanatory asterisk, and, further, were prohibited from playing actual covers of any of the songs written and previously copyrighted by Sir Mick Jagger and his partner, Sir Keith Richards – this restriction intended to avoid any dilution of the cachet associated with authentic songs by the actual “Rolling Stones.”

“There is no confusion whatsoever,” Norman, the lawyer said. He flipped on a Power-Point and displayed one of the fliers circulated in advance of the ill-fated show at Leroy, Minnesota. “Note,” Norman said. “The concert was advertised as featuring Sir Mick Jagger’s ‘the Rolling Stones*’ you see that the asterisk by the name is clearly displayed?” The reporters acknowledged that the asterisk was readily visible. At the foot of the concert flier, in smaller letters, this legend appeared: “* The musicians perfoming as Sir Mick Jagger presents ‘The Rolling Stones*’ are not associated in any way “The Rolling Stones,” a British rock-and-roll group.” Norman shrugged his shoulders and, then, said: “Anyone who can read will understand that the musicians appearing under this name have no legal relationship and, indeed, no connection to the real Rolling Stones.” Several of the reporters looked puzzled. Someone asked: “But what does the asterisk in the footnote refer to?” Norman seemed annoyed by the question. He shrugged his shoulders again and said: “Why do you want to over-complicate this matter?” “But if every time the name ‘the Rolling Stones*’ appears it is accompanied by an asterisk, won’t you have a bottomless progression of footnotes, each footnote referring to another footnote below recursively and ad infinitum.” “I don’t know why that should necessarily be so,” Norman answered. But he looked baffled himself and held up his hand, palm facing the reporters, to signify that he was taking no more questions.

In Minnesota, investigators asked about the identity of the original promoter of the Leroy show. Not surprisingly, no one took responsibility. When authorities tried to discover who had composed and printed the fliers advertising the concert, this also remained enigmatic. After the calamity, the band members of the group known as “Sir Mick Jagger’s ‘The Rolling Stones*’” went their separate ways and never played together again. If they know who sponsored their appearance in Leroy that summer evening, no one is speaking.


* The musicians performing as ‘Sir Mick Jagger presents The Rolling Stones*’ are not associated in any way with “The Rolling Stones,” a British rock-and-roll band.

Friday, May 9, 2014



Norman, Oklahoma boasts three freeway exits from Interstate 35. From the second exit, the big, divided highway traverses fifteen miles before it sheds lanes into ornate cloverleafs tied like bows around the belly of the suburbs south of Oklahoma City. Other freeways sluicing traffic east and west pass over or under the interstate’s roaring lanes and, above the beige ziggurat of the Mall, the city skyline marches across the horizon, six towers in a tight formation supervised by a seventh tall blue slab that overlooks them with vague, and abstract, disapproval. A great haze of bitterness clouds the landscape like smog and the oil rigs pace within their iron cages like trapped black panthers and the hot sun and the cold moon rise with regret over this landscape and set in sorrow.

“It’s the trail of tears,” Arthur proclaimed to his girlfriend.

She replied: “It’s just a landscape, it’s just a place. You cross it. You go out. You come home.”

Every two weeks, Arthur drove from his girlfriend’s apartment near the hospital in Norman into Oklahoma City to his ex-wife’s home, a residence that he had once owned with her. At that place, his daughters were waiting for him, usually standing stolidly on the driveway, wearing baseball caps and, on their shoulders, purple backpacks emblazoned with the face or figure of some cartoon character, a toy-like suitcase set between the two girls on the asphalt apron leading to what had once been his garage, his children clutching in their hands a picture or a toy to comfort them over the weekend.. During the first couple years, the girls brought little stuffed animals to cuddle in their unfamiliar beds at Arthur’s apartment. They brought their swim suits as well because Arthur’s apartment had a blue, warm pool between the parking lots. Later, the stuffed animals were left at home and the girls carried cell-phones encased in orange and pink plastic. On the weekends when his children visited, Arthur didn’t stay with his girlfriend, Georgia, but, rather, went to his apartment a couple miles away and, since he was really not living there except when he had custody of his daughters, the place was mostly empty, the refrigerator barren, and the furniture had a desolate, vacant aspect as if it were not real furniture but merely the idea of furniture. Arthur didn’t know his neighbors well at his apartment and, sometimes, when the girls swam in the pool, people reported them as trespassers to the manager of the complex.

When the weekend visitation was concluded, after supper on Sunday evening, Arthur loaded his daughters back in his old Jeep Cherokee, checking to make certain that all of their garments and gear was returned with them so as not incur his ex-wife’s wrath. If everything was properly accounted for, he put the Cherokee in gear, gliding through Norman’s suburbs and strip-malls, and, then, accelerating down the ramp onto Interstate 35 where an endless procession of trucks roared northward. Generally, a thunderstorm was threatening or there were tornado warnings on the radio and the horizon was lit with the tongues of lightning striking the prairie so that a dense gloom invested the landscape with sorrow and a kind of half-apocalyptic melancholy. It was the aura of the divorce and the failure of his relationship with his ex-wife and thought of her smug, carefully decent new husband as well as the distance that he felt from his daughters that oppressed him so that these aspects of his mood saturated the highway over which he traveled and made the truckers each and every one of them his enemy, contending with him for space on the crowded highway and filling him with irritation that, sometimes, edged over into rage. The billboards transmitted insulting messages to him and strong crosswinds born in thunderheads and tornados buffeted the car and Arthur, like most of us, wished that his life was something other than what it was.

Between Norman and Oklahoma City, featureless suburbs and zones of warehouses and office buildings set on empty land with small oval water features and little feathery fountains bowing before them had mostly sutured the two cities together. But there was still an unpopulated zone of about six miles, a place where the freeway ascended some grey, flinty hills and where the land was open to the turbulent winds rushing over the prairie. Traveling that section of the road, the horizons were exposed with all their lethal decorations of storm cloud and Arthur always had the sense that the Interstate was traversing a high and lonely ridge and that mountains were very close, looming overhead, although, of course, the nearest peaks were nearly eight-hundred miles away. On that strip of highway, all the motorists sped as if wishing to put the desolate zone between the two cities behind them and cops were hidden under overpasses and like lions or panthers culling a herd of gazelles, they pulled people aside so that there were always flashing red lights spinning along the side of the road. Midway between the two cities, there was the vestige of an Indian reservation, converted now to casino, Dreamcatchers, a windowless bunker with a spray of neon sprouting from its flat roof, some cheap, franchise motels at the exit, and, a little airstrip with a plump windsock and ruby lights in a row far out on the prairie.

Dreamcatchers stood in a somber valley where there was a river that flowed only in the wet season and, when his girls were smaller, he often had to stop there because one or the other of them had to use the toilet – “I told you to go before we left,” Arthur would say bitterly. And when the child or children came from the restroom, he would have to buy them soda pop and M & Ms, and, then, tell them not to mention those amenities to their mother who disapproved of treats of that kind.

Beyond the ridge overlooking the casino, the south suburbs of Oklahoma City stretched across the land and Arthur never saw those homes and the row of skyscrapers on the horizon without a twinge of regret, and anger, and a vague sense of disquiet: home again, home again, except it wasn’t his home any longer and there was nothing he could do about that. Arthur’s ex-wife was a German girl that he had met when he was stationed in Deutschland and she had blonde hair and an icy complexion and lips that were as thin as pencil marks drawn across her jaw and, when he looked at this daughters, he saw their mother in their features and couldn’t recognize anything of his own heritage, not a trace of his Cherokee (or was it, Comanche?) great grandmother, and he wondered what he ever could have seen in that woman and what had attracted him to her in the first place. His daughters pronounced certain words with a faint accent, something that they had acquired from their mother, and they made their s-sounds, sometimes, like z’s and, even, he thought, rolled their “r’s” against their tongue and, whenever they spoke in that way, he corrected their pronunciation and was brusque with them.

“You’re Americans,” Arthur said. “You should talk like Americans.”

“But mom is a German,” Heidi, Arthur’s oldest daughter, said.

“She’s an American now,” Arthur replied.

The divorce had made her American more surely and irrevocably than her Naturalization. Katarina, Arthur’s ex-wife, lived with her boyfriend, a car salesman and had two blonde daughters who took dance lessons and attended a Methodist Church and they lived in Oklahoma City a metropolis built on fortunes made from gas and oil and land speculation in the former Indian Territory, the land of the exile of the Five Civilized Tribes. What could be more American?


Georgia, Arthur’s girlfriend, was a RN employed at the University Hospital in Norman. She worked in the trauma department. Her hours were irregular and, sometimes, long. When she worked a double-shift, Georgia came home moody, exhausted, and irritable. A fight developed between them and Arthur ascribed the quarrel to the strain of her work. But, in fact, the row had been brewing for a long time.

A couple months earlier, one of Georgia’s college roommates invited her to attend her wedding in Bartlesville. The roommate asked Georgia to serve as one of her bridesmaids. Georgia told Arthur that she wanted him to go with her to the wedding. But Arthur had visitation scheduled with his daughters on the weekend for which the wedding was planned. He made several calls to his ex-wife and asked if she would be willing to substitute another weekend for the one on which the wedding was scheduled. But she was inflexible and would not agree to any change in the schedule. Although Katarina didn’t mention this, Arthur’s daughters accidentally alluded to the fact that their mother was planning to join her car salesman boyfriend in Las Vegas where he was attending a convention on that weekend. The girls must have been sworn to secrecy about this junket, because as soon as they mentioned it, both of them became embarrassed and, then, absurdly demanding, pleading with their father for this and that, as if to distract Arthur from the disclosure that they had inadvertently made.

Georgia said that it didn’t matter to her that he couldn’t attend the wedding. She joked that it would be good to be away from Arthur for a few days and teased him that she might renew a relationship with an old flame that she had known in college. Arthur took her at her word, but as time passed and the weekend of the wedding approached, Georgia seemed agitated and, the more she feigned indifference to his default, the more sullen and remote she became.

Then, there was the double-shift and Georgia came home from work late Thursday afternoon and said that she had seen a deer running along the median of the highway and, when it lunged onto the road, she had nearly speared the animal with the front of her car and her nerves were shot and the ER had been full of men and women who had attempted suicide and failed so that she had spent sixteen hours or more, pumping stomachs and helping to stitch slit wrists back together while the lazy-ass doctors shirked their responsibilities and played solitaire or read movie-reviews on the Internet.

“Everyone is trying to commit suicide this past couple days,” Georgia said.

“It must be the weather or something,” Arthur replied.

He brought her a beer from the refrigerator. Georgia was still wearing her nurse’s uniform and her hair was wrapped in a tightly disciplined bun and, of course, without make-up her face was fierce and angular.

Arthur said that he wanted to take her to the buffet at the Indian casino on the freeway to Oklahoma City. They had eaten at Dreamcatchers a few times before and Georgia had told him she liked the restaurant.

“I’m too tired to go out,” Georgia told him. “Can’t we order a pizza or something?”

“I want to do something nice for you before you have to go to that wedding,” Arthur said.

“If you wanted to do something nice for me, you’d go with me to Bartlesville.”

Arthur was drinking a beer himself. He said that he wished he could attend the wedding but that she knew that it was impossible.

“So you are agreeing to her schedule, Katarina’s schedule, but not mine,” Georgia said. She lit a cigarette.

“You don’t normally smoke,” Arthur said. “Only when you’re drinking.”

“I smoked in college,” Georgia said.

Arthur shrugged.

“I did lots of stuff in college I don’t do any more,” Georgia said.

Arthur suggested again that they drive up to the Casino for the buffet.

“I would have to put on my make-up and change clothes and I’m just beat,” Georgia said.

But, when she finished her beer, she went into the bedroom and changed her clothes. She didn’t apply any make-up to her face. Georgia had relaxed her hair, however, and it fell over her shoulders and she took Arthur’s hand and told him that she was just tired. “Everything will be okay,” she said. The words made her wince a little. “At least that’s what I’ve been telling all the suicide wannabes,” Georgia added.

On the interstate to the casino, red light from a highway patrol car scythed across the dim, colorless prairie. Georgia told Arthur that she had spent a couple hours attending on a police officer who had been badly beaten in a scuffle with a criminal suspect. The cop had emptied his service revolver into the suspect and so several detectives from internal affairs lounged around the emergency room, flirting with the nurses and waiting for the injured man to be declared sufficiently stable to give a statement.

“Did you flirt with the cops?” Arthur asked.

“I was too busy,” Georgia said.

The cop’s face was broken and his lips were swollen and bleeding where his teeth had split them. Georgia said that the man’s cheeks had been shattered bilaterally and that his eyeballs were in danger of dropping down into his sinuses. His nose was broken as well and he spoke in a whisper, unrecognizable as if speaking through a bloated, purplish mask.

The policeman told the detectives that he had stopped an old, rust-bucket of a pick-up truck. The truck was weaving in traffic and had made a wide right turn, veering into the oncoming lane and so the officer suspected the driver of being drunk. He put on his flashers and revved the siren and the truck veered to a stop along the side of the road. On the back of the truck, there were two bumper stickers: one of them said “HOKAY HEY!”; the other read: “This truck stops for all Pow-wows.”

The man in the truck was a giant Indian and he was very drunk, slurring his words and muttering obscenities under his breath. The Indian was wearing a white cowboy hat and some kind of leather vest painted with outlines of horses and arrows and lightning bolts. Beneath the vest, the was shirtless and his chest was bare and hairless, a great barrel scuffed with scars. The Indian said that he had just come from a religious gathering. The cop asked him what kind of religious gathering and the man said that he was a full-blooded Choctaw and that, as a citizen of a sovereign nation recognized by the Federal government, he wasn’t obliged to say anything more. The wounded cop paused and, then, continued his story. He said he began to argue with the Indian and, suddenly, the man clubbed him with his fist. The highway patrolman fell back on the shoulder of the road and, as the man came toward him, he fumbled with his gun, got it pointed at the Native American, and, then, fired his entire magazine into the suspect’s belly and chest.

“So what happened?” the detectives asked.

“I don’t know,” the injured police man said, “somehow I must have missed. All the rounds missed. He kicked me in the head until I passed out.”

A passing motorist had stopped and called 911. There was no sign of the pick-up truck or the Indian. “I didn’t have time to run the license plate,” the policeman said. “I recall those bumper stickers but I didn’t write down the license.”

“Are you sure you fired all your bullets at him?” the detective asked. “Yes,” the wounded cop said. “What was the range?” The injured policeman waved his hand: “Less than the distance between me and you,” he said. The detective was tape-recording his statement: “The witness indicates less than six feet,” he said into the machine.

“He was concussed,” Georgia said. “The man was clearly concussed and I don’t think I would put much credence into what he said.”

“Weird,” Arthur said. “That’s what the investigating cops said,” Georgia told him.

The buffet at the casino was crowded with old people and they sniffed suspiciously at the trays of gaudy-looking food and coughed and sneezed with loud, retching sounds. Some of the old people used walkers and pushed wheeled carts on which tanks of oxygen were mounted. The shrimp reclining on their beds of ice were huge and pink and claw-shaped but they had little taste and the lettuce in the salad bar seemed wilted. The machines in the casino whirred and jingled and made sounds like a fairground carousel and it was loud and difficult to talk. Arthur and Georgia had several cocktails and, mostly, confined their conversation to comments on the food -- not very good this evening, they agreed.

In the car, on the way back to Norman, Georgia began to cry. Her face was wet and her lips trembled.

“You always put them before me,” Georgia said.

“What do you mean?”

“Your kids and your ex-wife,” Georgia said.

“My ex-wife has nothing to do with it,” Arthur replied. “It’s a court order.”

“But you put them before me,” Georgia said again.

They argued.

Arthur said: “I think it is inhuman...inhuman cruelty for you to make me choose between my daughters and you.”

“But you have to choose. I think you have to choose,” Georgia told him.

“It’s inhuman, it’s inhuman cruelty,” he said.

She said that he should stop the car and let her out. They were a couple miles from her home on a road with a median that ran between big houses with high tanned fences separating them.

“I’m not going to leave you out here,” Arthur said.

She tried to open the door as the car was moving, but Arthur clicked the child-lock.

“This is false imprisonment,” Georgia cried.

“Calm down,” Arthur said. “Calm down. I don’t want you to hurt yourself.”

He let her out at her house and, then, drove back to his empty apartment. A couple hours later, the phone rang twice, but when he lifted the receiver, there was no one on the line.


The next day, Arthur sent Georgia several text-messages apologizing to her, but she didn’t respond. He knew that she was working a half-day before packing her garments and making the two-hour drive to Bartlesville. But it was impossible to reach her by telephone at the hospital; all phone calls went through the switchboard and were screened and, at best, the operator would agree to leave a message – personal calls were discouraged – and, it seemed, that the messages never reached Georgia when he left them with the receptionist. Arthur would have had to characterize the situation as “an emergency” to reach Georgia at work and he knew that this would only further infuriate her.

After work, Arthur drove to the city. It seemed that an oil rig or a natural gas pipeline had caught fire. A pillar of black smoke stood against the horizon. On the other side of the gloomy late afternoon, distant sirens were wailing. Arthur didn’t want to listen to the news. It was too depressing and so he slid a CD into his dashboard and listened to a reissue of an old Johnny Cash album. He recalled his father listening to that album and drinking whiskey and, sometimes, singing as he became drunk. The music reminded Arthur of his childhood and his eyes grew moist and tears blurred the landscape.

Arthur didn’t usually pull into his ex-wife’s driveway. He didn’t want to be perceived as trespassing on someone else’s property. He parked the Cherokee along the curb and looked at the house and it glared back at him with dull, dark and inexpressive windows, shrubs protecting the brick walls and the small hutch of the mailbox close-mouthed and incommunicative at the edge of the lawn next to his vehicle. The girls didn’t appear and Arthur thought that he would have to walk to the front door and, perhaps, knock or ring the doorbell – and who knew if the doorbell was in order and how would his fist knocking on the door be perceived? So, after a couple minutes, he honked the horn. Once, to begin with and, then, three times and the honking horn triggered a chorus of neighborhood dogs barking and howling. Arthur huddled behind the steering wheel and listened to the sirens wailing far away and the clamor of the dogs nearby and he wondered what Georgia was doing, where she was staying, who she had met at the wedding.

Heidi and Lisa came from the house, disheveled as if they hadn’t expected him.

“This is the right weekend, isn’t it?” Arthur asked

“We were watching TV and Lisa had her headphones on,” Heidi said. “So we didn’t hear you.”

“When did you mom leave?” Arthur asked.

“Early this morning, I guess,” Heidi said.

“We didn’t get to say goodbye,” Lisa added.

“She just left without saying goodbye?” Arthur asked.

“I guess,” Heidi said.

“And we’ve tried to text her all day,” Lisa said. “But she doesn’t answer.”

“That’s irresponsible,” Arthur said. “That’s totally irresponsible and unacceptable and –“

“It’s no big deal, Dad,” Heidi interrupted him. “She’s probably busy.”

“I suppose,” Arthur said.

They stopped at a pancake house on the commercial strip running beside the freeway. Heidi said that there was strange news broadcast on the TV.

“What is that?” Arthur asked.

“A plane is missing or several planes and like wars and stuff...” Heidi told him.

“It’s boring,” Lisa said.

“That sort of the thing is always happening,” Arthur told them.

On the way back to Norman, they passed Dreamcatchers and Lisa asked him about the neon and the huge parking lot crammed with RVs and big cars and the interchange off the freeway with the motels and restaurants and gas stations with twenty pumps. “What kind of place is that?” Lisa asked.

“It’s a bad place,” Arthur said.

A mile later, the road rose above the dry valley to a crest in the prairie and that height seem lonely and windswept. Far to the west, Arthur glimpsed some lights, perhaps, bonfires burning on an arid ridge where shelves of crumbling rock broke through the sod. Some horseman were riding in the wind and darkness.

“Look,” Heidi said. “Riders.”

“Cowboys,” Arthur said.

Lisa asked: “Daddy, why are they riding at night>”

“I don’t know,” Arthur said.

“It looks like they have feathers in their hats,” Heidi said.

Then, the lights of Norman spread before them, and, although they weren’t very high above the city, the intersections twinkled below and the wind moved among the trees, fluttering branches in front of the streetlights so that they seemed to flicker on and off. Arthur shut off the music in the car and they glided downward silently, it seemed, like a kite coming to rest in the parking lot of his apartment building.

The girls slept late the next morning and Arthur, who normally rose early, went outside to his car and tried to call Georgia on her cell-phone. But she didn’t answer. It would be a busy day for her, Arthur: Didn’t bridesmaids have all sorts of duties? He went to a grocery store and bought eggs so that he could make breakfast when his daughters woke up. He bought hamburger and noodles and spaghetti sauce for supper as well as some frozen garlic toast. His daughters liked spaghetti.

The day was warm with gentle breezes that freshened the countryside and smelled of green, growing things. The wild flowers growing in the ditches of the roads seemed particularly bright, as if their colors were emblematic of something extraordinary. Arthur thought that it was an ideal day for a wedding, full of auspicious signs and wonders. Three or four times, he called Georgia’s cell-phone but there was no answer. He sent her several text messages without a response. In the early afternoon, a bluish darkness appeared in the west and Arthur thought that it was bad weather approaching, but the thunderstorm, if that’s what it was, seemed curiously migratory, marching north and, then, south along the rim of the world and, then, disappearing. The cable-box didn’t seem to be working and the only things the girls could find on television were old cartoons and a black and white movie that they refused to watch. Arthur asked them if they had their swimming suits and both girls said yes and so he suggested that they go swimming in the pool between the buildings. He was tired and had not slept well and so Arthur thought that he would lounge at pool-side, stretched out on one of the reclining chairs and take a nap. The sun was bright overhead but its light had a curiously cool quality, as if some shadow had intervened and dimmed its rays and there was a puzzling slightly pink tinge to the fleecy clouds roaming the sky overhead.

The girls splashed in the water and Arthur dozed, his cell-phone resting on his chest. The vinyl cords stretched across the metal frame of the pool-chair smelled of sun-screen and tanning cream and Arthur supposed that the lotions were probably staining the back of his shirt and trousers and making greasy marks on his clothing. But the floral odor of the lotions half-hypnotized him and he sunk downward into the chair, his center of balance shifted improbably so that it seemed unlikely that he could rise from where he was reclining. The shadows shifted position and the girls were sometimes in the pool and sometimes drizzling water onto the cement and, when Arthur opened his eyes, and looked skyward, he saw the mild blue of the heavens crisscrossed with con-trails as if a half-dozen jets were playing tic-tac-toe at various altitudes above him.

Lisa was standing between Arthur’s toes, a towel wrapped around her belly and wearing a baseball cap. She looked puzzled. Arthur shook the sleep out of his eyes. “It looks like its snowing,” Lisa said. “What?” Arthur asked. “Snow,” Lisa said insistently. “You should come see,” she added.

Arthur couldn’t rise from the lounging chair and had to roll out of it, kneeling for a moment on the hard, cold concrete before he heaved himself upright. He had forgotten the cell-phone sitting over his heart and it clattered noisily to the cement. He snatched it up and looked to see if there had been any phone calls while he was napping. None.

“We went alongside the building,” Lisa said. “There was a little dog, like a poodle and he was lost or something and so we followed him and, then, we found the snow and the birds.” “The snow and the birds?” Arthur asked. “Come and see,” Lisa said.

They went to the gate in the fence enclosing the pool and, then, walked across the parking lot. A sullen-looking Hispanic man was washing his car and bright white suds puddled the pavement by his vehicle. No one else was stirring. They walked on the sidewalk along the side of the apartment building. The air smelled of hamburgers cooking on the grill and a few air conditioners hummed like bees in the windows overhead.

Heidi was standing in a field of white, scabby-looking snow on the west side of the building. The snow-field ran between two utility poles beneath the cables stretched overhead. In the glare of the setting sun, the wires above seemed swollen and lumpy, vibrating with strange clamor, a harsh metallic sound that clicked and whirred. A half-dozen scrawny crab-apple trees had been planted in a two rows on the border of the property under the utility wires. The trees had vanished. In their place were stout-looking dark bales trembling with an irregular wave-like motion.

“See the birds,” Heidi said. She gestured and the round bale closest to her emitted a cloud of birds that whirled upward and roosted on the telephone wires. As he approached, Arthur saw that the cables between the poles were lined with roosting birds, some of the birds apparently roosting on the shoulders and wings of fowl beneath them, stacked two or three deep so that the wires drooped with their weight. A haze of flaky white droppings drizzled down from overhead and bleached the grass. The crab-apples were crushed under the roosting birds, borne down so that the trees’ branches and, even, trunks were crouched against the ground, buried in the immense mass of wings and beaks and little anxious-looking scarlet eyes. There were so many birds that Arthur couldn’t pick out individuals and the entire mass of winged animals murmured at them and scolded with a loud, telegraphic sound: “keck - keck - keek – keee!”

“Are they seagulls?” Heidi asked. Lisa ventured near the closest crab-apple and stretched out her hand so that a wave of the birds rose, swirled around to the opposite side of the tree, and, then, roosted there. “I don’t know,” Arthur said. Heidi’s shoulders and hair were flecked with droppings. “Don’t stand under them,” Arthur said. Heidi’s eyes were open wide: “I’ve never seen so many birds.”

Several of the birds were snoozing on a windowsill a dozen feet above the ground on the apartment building. The birds were more than a foot tall each with a bulbous reddish-pink breast. Arthur saw that the birds had scarlet feet and claws and, when they flew, long comet-shaped tails fluttered behind them. The birds wings and tails winked at them with white eye-shaped spots.

“They are some kind of pigeon,” Arthur said. “Or a mourning dove.”

“There’s millions of them,” Lisa said.

“They’re dirty,” Arthur told them. “Their poop carries diseases.”

One of the branches in a crab-apple tree cracked loudly under its burden of pigeons and the birds were startled, spiraling upward like dense, black smoke. The tree that they abandoned was broken and its branches shattered, leaves all ripped away and the bark pecked white. Arthur watched the birds ascend and, then, he saw that a quarter of the heavens were tapestried with the immense flock, a cloud of iridescent wings thundering overhead and shadowing the earth, spinning vortices of pigeons swirling around the edges of the vast swarm that moved slowly with an immense elephantine dignity across the sky.

“What are they?” Heidi asked.

“Pigeons,” Arthur said. “I think they are some kind of pigeon.”

The other crab-apples suddenly gushed their birds upward and wings beat overhead and the birds scolded and cried out and their dung dropped like snow onto Arthur’s head and shoulders. He took his girls by hand and they ran around to the other side of the apartment. The girls dived into the pool and swam there, arching their bodies like lithe, slippery dolphins until they were clean. Arthur went indoors, stripped off his soiled clothes, and ran shower-water over his face and hair and shoulders. He sent a text message to Georgia: “I have seen the most wonderful flock of pigeons,” he wrote. She didn’t reply.


Arthur watched several DVDs with his daughters. After midnight, his phone pinged. There was a text- message from Georgia. It said: Call me in the morning.

He rose early and drove to the grocery store. The parking lot was frantic with cars coming and going and shopping carts had been abandoned at odd angles in the roadways so that motorists had to maneuver around them. Several carts lay on their side and a crowd of people stood around the front door. There was something menacing about the mob loitering in front of the store and, since Arthur couldn’t find a place to park, he decided to go to a doughnut place. He assumed that the grocery store was offering some kind of special and that, perhaps, there was a labor trouble with picketers blocking the front entrance.

Arthur bought some doughnuts and went home. After ten o’clock, he called Georgia. The connection was foggy and he couldn’t hear exactly what she was saying. Static and a low rumbling intervened between them, and, then, suddenly Arthur could hear nothing but his own distorted voice echoing back to him in a kind of feedback shriek. He sighed and told Georgia to call him back. A half-hour passed and there was no return call. Arthur dialed her cell-phone number, but the screen on his phone told him that the call had failed. He tried again with no luck.

The girls went swimming after lunch and, then, Arthur took them for a walk at the Nature Center on the edge of town. There was a marsh crossed by a boardwalk and their feet made a hollow drumming sound on the wooden planks. The woods and swamp were strangely quiet. After a while, Arthur and his daughters absorbed the stillness and began to speak in whispers. The little ponds in the swamp were still and reflected the sky where big fluffy clouds were rising up to make marble colonnades above them. Under the influence of the great silence abiding over the place, Arthur and his daughters entirely ceased to speak. When a frog jumped at the edge of a lagoon and the water splashed, the sound was so startling that they jumped as if touched with an electric shock. As they were hiking back to Arthur’s Jeep Cherokee, his phone rang. It was Georgia, but, again, the connection was so poor that her voice was indecipherable.

Back at his apartment, Arthur told Heidi to call her mother to see if she was back at home from Las Vegas. Heidi went into another room. After a couple minutes, she told Arthur that she couldn’t reach her mother. “Well, what are we going to do?” Arthur asker her. Heidi shrugged her shoulders: “She’ll be back tonight. We should go home now.”

The sun was setting when Arthur drove to the freeway to return his daughters to Oklahoma City. The broad concrete lanes were mostly empty and the familiar landscape whisked by swiftly, the wheels of the jeep humming on the road. Everything seemed in good order and the vehicle felt powerful and responsive under Arthur’s guidance: it was good to be driving and on the interstate again. They ascended out of Norman like a plane taking off and rode the hill to its height in the open prairie where the shopping malls and tracts of residential houses fell away behind them and they were in the clear and wide grasslands with the big sky darkening overhead and all lanes open and free.

Arthur’s mind wandered and he thought that he should take out his phone and, perhaps, try to give Georgia another call and, then, Heidi, seatbelted next to him, said: “Daddy, look out!” and Arthur ground down on his brake to stop the Cherokee before it crashed into a row of semi-trucks halted and motionless on the freeway ahead of him. The traffic jam was about a half-mile before the crest of the barren ridge above the big, treeless valley where the casino was located. A green sign next to the road told Arthur that it was two miles to the casino exit. The row of vehicles ahead didn’t seem to be moving at all and, ominously, there was no traffic at all across the median in the oncoming lanes. Beyond the motionless procession of vehicles packed on the highway, the countryside was empty and, to the west, the sun was staging a spectacle with some clouds, darting in and out and inflating them with roseate radiance as it set.

Ten minutes passed and, then, fifteen. Lisa said she had to go to bathroom. In the rearview mirror, Arthur saw more vehicles stacking up behind. Several of the SUVs stopped in the procession gathering to their rear were high-clearance vehicles and they gingerly pulled out of line, lurched through the median, and turned back south to return to Norman. Arthur couldn’t escape in that way. He was walled-in to his lane by a big semi-truck panting alongside him and the jam of cars behind.

After a half-hour, a state patrolman drove against the line of traffic, rolling along the shoulder with lights flashing. People waved and gestured at the cop to urge him to stop and tell them what was happening, but the patrolman passed by without pausing and, after a while, was lost in Arthur’s rear-view mirror. Some truckers had exited their vehicles and were smoking cigarettes in the median. Arthur got out and stretched. One of the men said that he had heard that there was an animal on the road. The trucker gestured to the crest of the hill a thousand yards ahead of them. The sun made the horizon brim over with red and orange color and, then, the air became purplish. In the gathering gloom, the brake lights of idling vehicles trembled like rubies on a great necklace.

An hour passed and the column of trucks and cars stalled on the highway did not move. Ahead of them, where the vehicles arrowed toward the hilltop, a tomato-colored radiance rose up from the valley and flickered on the clouds. Farther away, the lights of Oklahoma City smeared their amber-orange color on the belly of the sky.

Lisa couldn’t hold it anymore. She and Heidi left the car and foraged around in the ditch looking for a shrub behind which she could hide to urinate. When the girls returned to the car, Arthur said that nothing was moving and that they should walk forward, between the rows of motionless vehicles to see what was happening.

Some of the headlights had been turned on, splashing bright light on the back bumpers of the cars ahead, but other parts of the great line of cars and trucks were dark and silent. It seemed as if people had abandoned their vehicles and were strolling about in the media and along the ditch and, even, hiking down the center of the lanes of the oncoming freeway. Some people were coming and some going and, as Arthur approached the crest of the hill, most of the vehicles seemed to be empty, many of them with their engines still humming and radios playing to no one. Exhaust fumes made them dizzy and the air smelled of burning diesel and rubber.

On the ridge, crowds of people stood looking north toward Oklahoma City and they waved and gestured down the line of cars and trucks that descended into the valley like a ruinous and ancient wall. The casino was on fire and flares of flame writhed above the building where the neon had once sprouted like bouquets of flowers. The fire was large and made an orange thorny crown above the building and seemed to be out-of-control. But no one was really paying much attention to the fire. Instead, everyone looked beyond the blaze, to a great dark mass that surged through the valley, a moving torrent of shadow that blocked the freeway where the lanes began to climb the opposing hill and stretched from horizon to horizon. The ground shook and there was a continuous rumbling sound like an earthquake that would not end. Oncoming traffic was stopped beyond the burning casino and some of the headlights lanced the flood moving through the valley and, where it was stabbed by the glare of those lights, Arthur could see that the flood thundering through the valley was a herd of huge animals with shaggy brown fur.

“What is it?” Arthur asked.

“Buffalo,” someone said. “Thousands of them.”

The herd of bison had knocked some of the cars and trucks aside and the vehicles lay on their side angled across the highway. As the beasts passed the burning casino, Arthur thought that he could see their eyes flashing.

“Where did they come from?” Arthur asked.

“No one knows,” a trucker said. Another man shook his head. A voice in the darkness said: “They’ve come right up out of the ground.”

There seemed to be no end of the bison crossing the freeway. Dust foamed upward under their hooves and the earth trembled. On the crests of the nearby hills, Arthur thought he saw dusky warriors on small, sinewy horses. The horses pranced over the prairie and the lances of the horsemen gleamed in the fire-light from the burning casino.