Maisie sat in her office chair amidst the dead air clad only in her baggy worn briefs. A gift of the male counterpart of a long past relationship. It was still early with the weekday morning traffic starting to brew. What did eh care for the niceties of male and female anymore? She could feel the sweat under her arms and breast gathering ready to drip. Her short morning walk to the ATM next door had extended itself to a roundabout travel to the local Dunkin Donuts shop. The thought of another cup of coffee hadn’t seemed so appealing as a ham and cheese croissant that she had steadily been trying to talk herself into for the last three blocks. Though Summer was a month off the Sun’s direct heat was plainly evident on her pounding cranium. She strode forth at an unsteady pace from shadow to shadow of two-story bungalows tightly arranged. The former thick shock of cascading curls on her pate had been replaced over the years with a dry overly bleach blonde’d peroxide ridden scrub bare and unsubstantial to deflect the rays of the Summer Sun. The idea of her own flesh like a block of soft cheese absentmindedly left out from the refrigerator sitting there slowly deforming afflicted her mind. The tension between her constant hunger and a persistent middle age patent obesity taut as a bowstring. The approach of middle age had left her paunchy. Her flesh having turned sallow and overly weighty. The flaps of skin under her arms had long ago appeared now slung mere inches lower above the aggravating muffin top of her distorted abdomen. Too many years of alcoholic indulgence in excess? It seems so odd to her that as a female the fact of her nakedness seemed to elicit only two outcomes in this world. Sex or disgust.
The freedom to now sit alone and comfortable and undisturbed by any outside wayward glance providing a third option of just being unremarkable without comment. The small table fan behind her was finally beginning to work its magic. The slippery stickiness eventually deferring to a simple sensation of warm flesh rolled up upon itself. She leaned back further and let the chair squeaked under her weight in the long accustomed agony of relinquishing this intimate contact of same to continuous gusts of cool air. Thank God she was long past the point of hot flashes! She unconsciously raised her hand over the back of her neck to stroke the back of her neck. A nutty whiff of wood smell sweat caught in her nostrils from the intensity of her own scent. She had given up on the deodorant stick when Joyce, her last best friend had advised her that all those products contained aluminum. She felt she was already well on the way to losing the rest of her temporal memory as it was. She didn’t need to speed the process along for the sake of her bodily insecurities being preyed upon by strangers. She would just quickly hop in the shower and break out that old bar of fragrant soap before she got dressed again. Besides, who was she going to see her today anyhow? Not some old hang dick useless lover. That was for sure!
Ralph was getting a little older. Well? A lot older! Too old in fact for a world that saw him as a grandpa. The trouble being that he wasn’t ready to cooperate. He may have gray where once a darker color predominated. And on occasion walked in a slightly stiff arthritic manner on cold and windy days. But the mind and the set of thoughts that drifted in and out of it still was far from the stuff of errant or idle musings. Though he would not have ever attempted to pass himself off as remaining eternally fixed in his thirties or . . . God forbid, his twenties. It would seem a slight to be considered as someone who had rolled up his perspective on the living of life to retreat to greener pastures. In fact as far as he was concerned, it was a direct insult! He had served his time as a callow all knowing youth that in point of fact was very much uninformed as to the actual ways of the world once long ago. What was it that drove such insensitive notions that someone a decade of more older than you was patently to be considered a dope? For himself, Ralph had long ago learned his lesson that all those he encountered deserved at least an initial amount of respect. At least until they quickly proved by their actions that they were incapable of returning same. Then it was a cold shoulder and as much distance as possible. The underlying problem was that today in this present tense of so many self-empowered splinter groups that seemed to feed like lampreys upon the encouragement of a politically inspired deranged point of view that all people had been grievously marginalized by the evils of society that were supposedly engendered by a single group. His group!
The current target of the spark and spittle of the news barons was was formerly known as the Middle Class. Now branded consistently by journalistic epithet now ceaselessly harangued as, “The White Male Middle Class!” Could there be anything worse on earth he daily wondered at the latest crop of scandalous accusations that leached from the festering open wounds of all the major news sources. The gangrenous infection taken up by a myriad of websites posing as independent private opinion but routinely exposed as a fifth column of liberally funded NGO’s working in consort. The image of a pit of poisonous vipers would come too readily to mind. As if the label that had been so casually hung around his neck had placed him in some fifties B movie recounting the tale of a bilious Ali Baba type villain. Something that smarted of grand irony in terms of one of the foremost issues of the day heatedly debated. That being the unsupervised importation of Ali’s hostile relatives en masse to these distant shores. One couldn’t help but take an attitude as now one seemed to be under constant attack! He wished that all this nonsense would finally dissipate and go away. But each day, it seemed to get worse. The list self-appointed ‘US marshals‘ dealing out the immediacy of the instantaneous censure of verbal rough justice seemed to be growing exponentially! The fast and loose imagination of any person that figured themselves qualified by reason of different skin tones or dubious gender descriptions seemed to enjoy this pastime. Taking it to the heights of endless unrestrained hyperbole if given the slightest of opportunity. This made traveling in open society a challenge as it was always possible at any instant along the way to draw fire from unexpected directions. The worst sin among all this was of course his age!
It was very hard to keep a positive humanity when its progeny persisted in acting like rapacious animals going out of their way to push their weight around. The greatest irony of the situation was that where along the lines of the current stilted historical narrative one might have possibly expected such mischief from what had been the traditional underclasses of black and brown, the worst most aggressive participants were females sired from his own group! It was if some alien species had surreptitiously landed to enact a nefarious agenda of infecting the last couple of generations of young women with a vitriol one might have expected of an ill treated Rottweiler. The unchecked viciousness of one of these seemingly harmless femmes seemed triggered by the simple fact of his presence. The Hollywood factor of being cast as playing a simple extra embodying, ‘the bad guys’ was simply wearing thin. Where formerly he had tended to carrying on with routinely affording a standard degree of customary chivalry and politeness to all, his well was suddenly running dry. The drought of any reciprocal human kindness in kind was rapidly erasing any sympathies that had formerly been d’rigor in his daily existence. A spiritual meanness was just as quickly replacing that proverbial cup of human kindness that now was now too often being knocked out of his grip. His attitude had cooled to a level of indifference where in the past he might have unceremoniously offered assistance to any maiden in distress, he simply kept on walking. Though all this was evident to him in spite of the pang of emotions summoned by what was now an atmosphere of constant never ending routine slights, it seemed better to avoid any encounters at all. Out an out hostility of longstanding members of the local underclass was to be expected by an unspoken set of longstanding rules of engagement. But the repudiation of those that were taken from his own strata were judged by him to be completely unacceptable. Such was the poisonous nature of society let loose throughout the land.
The sunny afternoon had quickly raced past the morning with the short list of chores completed and a number of additional outside tasks to be fulfilled in the outside world. The last day of the week before the imminent holiday weekend was already proving to be one of rising chaos. It seemed that a perfect storm of mass hysteria was building and a rising frenzy of emotion to get everything done as quickly as possible was evidenced by a growing throng of motorists. Ralph had already run the gauntlet of snarled traffic at intersections before the incremental passage of slow freight trains aggravating same at railroad crossings. Common sense coming into play in finding side roads to avoid same and still reach the desired destinations. It seemed that the other drivers had abandoned all restraint around him. Some driving on median strips or persisting in clogging intersections further by blocking them so when the stop light would change they would not be blocked in turn by opposing traffic. A certain sense of the law of the jungle was taking over and the large strip mall shopping center that was the last stop on his list had only been reach by encouraging the driver in front of him to drive past a truck and empty boat trailer that had casually cruised in from of the entrance so as to vouchsafe its place with the change of the next light. He followed the car in front in making an exaggerated left turn that had him almost double backing a bit to gain the center’s entrance. His usual sense of caution in offering a slow and steady course with his vehicle seemed to be at odds with the vagaries of behavior of other drivers. One never knew if another vehicle might unexpectedly blow the intersection as breakneck pace so as to slip through. This time he was lucky as he only had one near encounter with a beat up gray Dodge Charger driven by a black women enforcing her privilege across the twisting maze of asphalt striped thoroughfares. He reached his destination with a minimum of automatic curses barely suppressed under his breath. It was get in, get your business done, and then get out.
The traffic just outside the parking lot had now swelled to a bumper to bumper monstrosity and the start of rush hour technically was still some two hours ahead! He carefully backed out of his parking space twisting his head stiffly upon the unsteady swivel of his neck. Four lanes plus of snarled traffic stretched before him coiled like a snake. What could be the hangup he wondered? Some half-completed road construction, its workers too much in a hurry to leave early and not shift their warning markers out of the way? His unconscious self steered the vehicle towards a perpendicular access road that promised a circuitous route that might offer less of a wait but take him way out of his way from home. Against his own intuition, he turned towards the exit into the embroiled lines of cars. The light changing and a miraculous space left vacant allowing him to access the center lane as he was customarily accustomed to doing so. He eased back in the seat of his sedan and waited patiently as the spacious cabin was being evacuated by the air conditioning of the rising Summer heat. Though he had given up drinking again some months back out of boredom he contemplated a nice meal out back by his own home in walking distance. This weekend would be spent alone in the confines of his apartment safely out of reach of all this sprawl.
Maisie was on her way to her girlfriend’s apartment down by the lake. The windows of her old Dodge Daytona being cranked wide open as the air conditioning unit had long since conked out. This late nineties nineties rattle trap was not her cup of tea being an old biker chick more accustomed to the back seat of Harley’s and ‘hoggs‘. All the great muscle cars of the sixties and seventies had gone the way of her former existence as a roadie. Gone along with her looks and the instantaneous attraction of virile young men that had once been her ticket through life. This old red bomber she was using to get around in was the state supervised gift of her second divorce. That unadvised second run around the block with an L.A. session man that had lost his currency and misplaced his own meal ticket with the reigning powers that be. Rap was long in residence and the once ‘hip’ sound of Michael McDonald had gone from gold to rust. That last gig having powered her indirectly through her hefty divorce settlement and grabbing most of his estate after he had committed suicide with pills and booze. As far a she was concerned, men were a losing proposition that simply by the powers of chance she had managed to have finally in some way lucked out in. The old geezers of today were either equally burned out old wrecks to caught up in their past now extinct generations or paternal privileged woman abusing skirt chasers that were preying on girls their daughter’s age. To her mind that classed them all in the category of dirty down low pedophiles.
The traffic jam she had suffered on the avenue was beginning to get on her nerves. The hair of the dog pick me up had kept her brain from rattling around in her skull from last night’s activities. A half a bottle of rye back on the dresser of her tiny studio hovel in Stone Park had eased her own angst to the point that she had passed out early. Joyce had taken off and was now back up in Lakeview at her own crib. The two had been watching reruns of Thelma and Louise till just after midnight. “Goddamn all those Brad Pitt assholes!” , the two of them had mutually chimed in the fervor of the required usual mock outrage at the part the little pencil dick had run off with the girls stash. Maisie knowing his real offense was being too young and handsome and indifferent to the captivating charms of their two matronly victims. It it were her, she would have just shot the little bastard on sight to begin with! Traffic wasn’t moving and her head was beginning to pound again. She felt like laying on the horn but that wasn’t allowed anymore even by her. The new generation of PC metro-sexuals had a way of quietly shifting one’s righteous outrage into consensus based guilt. Honk the horn just once and see how they would instantly ally against you like that old spooky movie, The Children of the Corn. The spooks from the adjacent ethnic bedroom community were even worse. Everything to them was a matter of their race being damaged at the slightest interference with their own attitude of committing customary petty outrages. They’d speed up in the lane next to yours then cut you off carelessly swinging over only to then jam on the brakes just in front and give you some lip. As far as she was concerned, the whole world had descended into a trash pit full of human garbage, black brown and white.
It had been a matter of five minutes and Ralph’s Lincoln sedan had traveled the equivalent of four car lengths after what had been a matter of three traffic light cycles. The air had helped but the crowd of other vehicles around him seemed an impossible phalanx to break out of. Not that he was in any particular hurry beyond trying to internally adjudicate his own blatant stupidity in contravening his own common sense by not taking the more circuitous route that the unconscious silent voice within had prompted him to. “Idiot!“, he thought to himself. He’d more than likely be caught in this hornet’s nest of humanity for another half an hour at least before he made it past another two intersections. He looked back and forth trying to see if some break might open up in another adjacent lane and was greeted by the hard indifference of other drivers on either side. One in particular almost to the point of dreadful like some old midway carnival banner advertising a famous circus freak. The name “Popeye!“, jumped into his head as the only thing that seemed to be missing from the expression of the old red car to the passenger side of his vehicle was a clay pipe. She seemed to be pressing on the bumper of the car just ahead of her while he was just going with the flow. To his chagrin he noticed that the small amount of space between his own front bumper and the car ahead was occasioning the shifting of the old bat’s front wheels. To his astonishment she was now trying to push over towards him in what seemed some childish slow motion game of chicken. A simultaneous sense of fear and outrage struck him and though he wasn’t moving it was obvious that Hell or high water, this dame was going to force her way into his lane even if she had to smash into his stationary car.
The old Lincoln Towncar was up to that point in pristine condition save for some damage to the front and back bumpers that had mysteriously occurred from the ministrations of parties unknown when he was parallel parked. Now it seemed that like some YouTube video of maritime disaster’s his Queen Mary was going to be irrationally sullied by some uninhibited wheelhouse drunk. He frantically looked to the left scanning the side mirror and the lane to his left. The animal impression of the lane suddenly opening up pasting itself over the instant of his consciousness. His hands turning the steering wheel in consort with the foot pressing gently upon the accelerator not waiting for his conscious awareness to catch up to weigh the possibilities of the thing. A strange sense of infinite limbo taking hold as all his senses were suddenly in abeyance at the sound of a long heavy scratching sound followed by a sharp bang by his head. It taking some eons outside the shock and terror of that sojourn to alert him that he had impacted another vehicle that had appeared out of nowhere on his left to play the role of iceberg to his Titanic. His angst congealed in the soundless expression, “Shit!“, as he realized that the side of his car had most likely been damaged. The side mirror now absent he still being unable to spy the presence of the mystery of who had suddenly congealed? By sudden impulse he slammed his car in park and grabbing at his pocket verified that he had a device to employ in documenting the horrible reality he would find. Up to this point he had a perfect driving record for twenty, thirty years or more! Now at his age forcefully retired into the ranks of the only occasionally working poor he was now going to suffer further unexpected setbacks in some new substantial way!
The situation outside the car was all to obvious. The attempt by the Lincoln to avoid the incremental progress of the red Dodge had been met by another vehicle’s hasty attempt to break out from the stall of the traffic impacted left turn lane. The damage to his own car visually extensive far beyond the displacement of a plastic covered steel corner of the sturdy Jeep’s front bumper. The driver being a post-adolescent white youth who stood bristling with an attitude of barely suppressed righteous anger before the old man and his digital camera impotently snapping away at the boy’s Jeep. “You hit my car.“, Ralph muttered in a momentary daze suggesting a delirium composed of both amazement and shock. The attempt to remain outside of an oncoming sense of creeping paralysis vying with a deep angst that one of the final keystones of his family inheritance had now been fatefully despoiled. Another timeless moment packed with multi-layered reminiscences appeared before him recounting how his now long deceased father had bought this vehicle from his younger sister at her insistence. How his father’s lifelong love of big luxury autos had embodied his persona as a self-made success in the field of advertising and sales. And how in the long distant past he along with his mother had been driven with great ceremony in similar iterations of this sort of sedan to enjoy family get together’s at local expensive restaurants. The final bell tolling upon his father’s failing efficacy being an incident of the impact of another careless impatient woman driver that had smashed into the driver’s side rear quarter panel of his vehicle merely two days after he had stated driving it. The insurance of the offending party repairing the damage but wounding the old man’s pride of ownership or what to him was a pristine ride. Two years later his father was a bittersweet memory of better times now irrevocably lost.
The driver of the red Dodge had now captured full control of the lane. Maize sallow complexion was now almost as flaming red as her auto. “That dumb old prick!“, she screamed at herself following it up with an automatic self-satisfied rejoinder. I hope the old bastard gets his license taken away. The nerve of the old geezer trying to accuse that poor young man of hitting his car! It was obvious that he had no business driving that gas guzzling monster to begin with! She found her voice automatically rising to ring out. “It was the old man!”, she screamed this time aloud. “He hit the Jeep and it’s his fault not the boy’s!” A long lost momentary feeling of warmth spread throughout her body. A sense of righteous empowerment flooded through her veins reinvigorating the frame that the usual hangover of many ‘night before’s’ had long since demolished. It was good to be in the right for a change she thought to herself. Good to see someone else suffer as she had for so long. Good to see it was some man that had probably fucked over a few like her in his checkered past. They all deserved some form of divine retribution. Especially those who seemed to recall faces from her own childhood. Her father for example! The one that would never let her stay out late with her boyfriend. And then would carp about it from the next day on when she would arrive after midnight. She had lost her first boyfriend that way. He had started up with her best friend whose father let her stay out until the cows came home. The two got married right out of High School and had a couple of kids. The heard sometime later that they had split up a few decades later. The bastard!
A woman’s voice rang in Ralph’s ears and then another. To him it seemed that a crowd was beginning to form. A lynch mob! The rows of cars behind the two vehicles were impatient. Two self-righteous voices rang out above the maul. “The old guy!” “It was the old guy’s fault, he’s to blame not the young kid!” A thirty something female had detrained just behind the Jeep and a woman was glaring at him with malevolent intent. The old biker chick that had caused the whole mess was half hanging out of her driver’s side window leering at him with a devilish expression of glee. “It’s him alright, he did it!“, she croned. He managed to recover himself somewhat in a single sigh. There was no way to defend the happenstance of his instinctual response to this crowd. He was the most likely scapegoat. A target not so much for the event or his spontaneous utterance so much as for his simple mere existence. An old white man in a big sedan from the time warp of a former era where all of those before him had been told by their televisions and digital devices that his group were the bad ones that had caused all the present day problems and ongoing strife. He was the one! Guilty as charged, caught in the vicinity with any and all crimes imagined or not. He found his lips moving automatically in a stately calm monotone addressing the young man and his most ardent supporter and volunteer witness. “Well what ever you feel we should, pull over to the next street and let’s exchange information so we can report the accident to the police.” The cars on either side were now like angry bees inching past looking for the change to sting. To his surprised his two unrepentant accusers simply stood there uncooperative and immobile. Their eyes fixed upon him like laser beings trying to effect his total destruction. Smarting no doubt from the temerity of his daring to give them suggestions. After a minute Ralph simply climbed into his car put on his right turn center and began the task of trying to reach the road ahead without being hit again.
Maisie felt proud of herself. She saw the old prick standing their with his dinky camera half raised in shock. Impotent and alone. An nagging impulse from within urging her to continue to drive past and quickly onward out of the vicinity. That is what the old guy deserved for not getting out of the way! The other cars around her seemed equally stirred up against him. She looked in her rear view mirror and saw a few of them whizzing by blocking his effort to get to the side of the road. The sound of his horn being pounded furiously not allowing him to make any headway. Let’s see him get out of this! Maybe the cops would come and take him to jail or stick him in a nursing home? The sooner the world was rid of his kind, the better. She leaned over and turned on the old cassette player and the tape began its revolution spouting out mid chorus, Pat Benatar’s, Harden My Heart. Maisie joining in with her alcohol ravaged throaty rasping tones, “I’m gonna harden my heart, i’m gonna swallow my tears . . . ” The traffic was finally breaking and Maisie tromping her foot hard on the pedal now laughing! The chorus of her former self now in some small way vindicated in spirit and in voice! A wide almost toothless grin stare back in the rear view mirror just above her. The rumble of the road challenged muffler of the old red Dodge was sounding out loudly. “I’m gonna turn and leave you he he he here!“