“Correcting Unfair Neighborhood Tyranny” - A Not so Short Story but a good movie idea by JP
Jane sits with the lights off in the TV room, waiting for his car. She mutes the TV. A big-rig cruises down the hill only minutes from their house. She can hear the driver tapping the brakes to slow down, as if tapping them makes up for the fact that he’s driving too fast to begin with.
“They’re always in such a rush….drive like normal human beings for chrissake,” she says to herself.
The hill is pretty far away but Jane can hear every little squeak, horn honking, accelerating motorcycle and siren. Three blocks and a schoolyard separate them. And it isn’t one of those puny schoolyards. There are three soccer fields and three baseball fields, all combined. Two of the soccer fields are a bit smaller than normal size, with proportionately smaller white goal posts. Two of the baseball outfields share each other’s space, where the centerfielders from opposite games can have a discussion mid-inning, or run headfirst into the other tracking a fly ball. The schoolyard doesn’t distance her home from the hill; it offers sound a space to spread its wings and fly faster and further straight to her back door.
"It's amazing how things travel at night," she thinks to herself while biting her thumb.
She’s thought about this before, quite possibly a hundred times and probably in the same exact position. Life for her and her family has come down to nickel and dime-ing. It’s not what she thought it would be. Not how she'd pictured it, steadily getting worse rather than better. She's been working nights tutoring 8th graders in Sequential I math. Two of her clients are steady work on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 7pm. One little boy, his name is Thomas, has an obsession with rolling his eyes and blinking uncomfortably hard. He’s a nice little boy, and not a bit short of intelligent.
“It feels good,” he says in response to her admonishing stares.
When she asks to see the lessons the teacher had done that day, he has nothing but skateboard companies listed down the sides of his neon green marbleized notebook. He keeps his head down in embarrassment and writes two more names as she starts her lesson. His pen begins to draw a flame with a little face on it. She continues to speak as his lip buries under his top teeth, his eyes roll counterclockwise and his left shoulder jumps up then down slowly. “Spitfire” is scribbled next to the flame.
Her other client is a timid little girl with short dusty hair, thick dark red reading glasses and zero self confidence. She has a very large butt for a 7th grader, but Jane knows this isn't something that's the poor girl’s fault. Her mouth too was a fixation when concentrating. It curled around her pen before she'd suck the blue cap for whatever warm saliva still sat there seconds before. At least in this case, she did this when solving a problem, not drawing aimlessly in her notebook. This is a girl that wants to love her life but really has no shot until this stage passes. At least that’s what Jane believes considering the stories she hears about kids these days in middle school. Oral sex on school buses, tv shows about being 16 and pregnant, peer pressure to smoke weed and act dumber than they really are. Looking down at her again, Jane resolves to believe this isn't a stage that will ever pass. Life is just cruel, to some.
Jane used to be a 7th grade teacher, full-time. That went well for the first two years before her husband Dave came down with a massive headache and felt so sick that they needed to bring him to a hospital. When she arrived they asked her for her insurance before they could admit him. He after all was working in Wal-Mart part-time and was awarded no such benefits. Benefits were only for Full-Time employees. He had told Jane that he pleaded with his managers for extra days and volunteered for overtime shifts, but they would never grant them. They'd promised him a management position but upon consideration during his annual review, the notes read "he seems more interested in leaving early to be at his son's snoopy soccer games then here preparing for his future." He laid spread long and naked all-said but for a thin hospital smock, on a steel flat bed as a cat-scan and MRI hovered inches above his head. A “dominant growth” was found covering 28% of his Parietal Lobe. A “dominant growth” were the exact two horribly vague words the doctor used to describe the results before ushering them into another room so their son could be left to question what that exactly means.
"This tumor cannot successfully be removed. We can run chemotherapy and work to prolong your life however nothing is guaranteed except the fact that you have limited time. How you choose to spend that time and whether you would like it to be on a couch, completely zapped of all energy and watching your hair fall out, or out enjoying this world and what's truly left of it, is completely up to you. I personally, would get out, travel and enjoy as much as possible over these next few weeks because that could be the least amount of time you have left, but let's hope much more."
Jane remembers the pat on Dave’s shoulder that the doctor gave him before he left the room. That was all he could do for us after years of schooling, reading, studying and achieving; all he could give was a pat, Jane thought.
Dave lasted 27 days before he fell asleep and rolled out of a golf cart. His friend was laying up just before the green when he heard a bocce ball hit the lawn.
“It was such an eerie sound,” he described as the ambulance rushed a dead body to the hospital.
They continued to hold out shreds of hope like everyone does when someone young wasn't meant to die. Jane felt it wasn't fair to an 8-year old child to have a parent pass away. It was tough enough for her and she was 42, how would an 8 year old take it? She thought about when she was his age and what she would do.
“I’d kill myself,” she thought. “But that always seems to be my response, no matter how ridiculous it sounds.”
Dave was little Jake's idol. He'd taught him everything he knew besides the kids games he'd learned outside playing with friends. He was a good father and would have to remain one until Jane could think straight and come up with a way to tell him. The family would have to keep their mouths shut “or else”, she swore. They all agreed to stick to it since they had no say in the matter.
At night she would stay up and pretend he was coming home. She'd sit in the tv room with the volume down and just the light of the tv illuminating her face. She felt nothing but the rods and cones in her eyes adjusting to the brightness of each new commercial. The brightest was Cars.com. All the cars on the screen would disappear as the excited young actor would enter more criteria for their perfect car. In the end, the screen would be entirely white except for the car, and she’d squint just to keep her stare. Little Jake would fall asleep with his door wide open in hopes to be awakened by dad returning home late. Work had never extended past nightly bedtime before, but now it was constant. He hadn't seen his father for several months thanks to business trips, a vacation with his traveling buddies and a mandatory corporate retreat upstate for two months thanks to training. She kept saying he was hoping for a big promotion so he had to work extra hard and that she was sorry.
The school called. With all the absences Jane incurred during her husband's final weeks, she would no longer be eligible, nor considered for tenure. She’d begun tutoring immediately but she was unable to cover the medical and funeral costs associated with Dave's passing. Within the week, her insurance too ran out, and deductibles were exhausted beyond extension. Bills flowed in from Mid-Island hospital for the tests they'd run on Dave.
“Test after test, hour after hour and nothing but a dead frickin body” she’d muttered softly on the couch.
She couldn't understand how her husband had never taken out a life insurance policy for them. She hated him for it. Laughing up towards the ceiling she whispers.
"Wal-Mart can take a plan out on you, but you couldn’t…schmuck." Wal-mart had purchased a life insurance policy on her husband Dave, just as they do with all their employees of continued interest. They do it to protect themselves from the health of a worker and the financial loss the company might incur when replacing them. Wal-Mart made $82, 743.00 when Dave died. The fact that he died young and wasn't high risk, led to a big payoff. None of which is given to Jane or deserved by her in their mind.
There is no way to pay her bills as they keep piling higher. The first from the hospital was $42,795.00. The second came only days later, along with a flyer on bereavement. That bill was for $8,622.42. These two mountains, on top of her normal costs of living were impossible to navigate. Her phone, electric, basic cable, oil to heat her home, gas for her car, mortgage, taxes, clothes and food for Jake; it was all impossible. They had been coaxed into certain choices by those with great intentions but antiquated notions. Their parents always said:
"Buy a house, why waste your money on rent...build equity...houses never lose value."
Dave and Jane bought the first house they could find near Dave's family. It was the cheapest and the smallest in their neighborhood, but at least the school district had a good reputation. Dave was making around $22,000 a year, and Jane was up to about $37,000 in her second year. They bought their tiny ranch home for $331,000. They'd gotten a loan from the bank during a time when rates were pretty low, right around 5% and getting lower. They could put less money down now, choose a variable rate mortgage that inflates only if rates were to change, but that didn't seem likely with the fed lowering rates back to back each month. Plus, they could refinance their home shortly after buying it. If rates were only going to trend lower, they’ll payoff the balance with the capital earned in refinancing. The mortgage payments were only $2200 a month, and taxes $5000 a year. That's a $2500 nut to crack every 30 days, and not to mention, just shy of the even worse decision to have taken student loans out for college.
College was something else her parents had always told her was the most important thing she should do.
"Get that degree sweetie, and you'll be aces. You can't do nothing in this here world if you ain'ts got that piece of paper, I shush you not."
Dave's parents said the same thing. They'd grown up knowing their world to be full of shut doors and turned heads. What they never really figured was the average potential of their truly average kids. They were both mediocre students choosing expensive schools. They'd thought they'd make more than enough money to pay off their debt as they got into the real world. What's $120,000 when you're making over $100,000 a year anyway.
“You get wealthier as you get older, right Dad? You made more as you progressed in your career?" Jane would ask.
"Aww little blue eyes, of course you do….it wouldn’t be the American Dream if you didn’t.”
She’d smile and listen, comforted by what her parents said. Most people do look up to their parents, and Jane was the same. She knew damn well that if she needed wisdom and advice, who it was going to come from. Her father continued.
“As you near retirement, you're making the most you've ever made. That's how you're able to retire. You're constantly building something that could sustain you and your family until the end," finishing by waving his hand in circles, with reading glasses dangling from his fingertips.
Jane chose Boston University to get a teaching degree. Eight years of marriage, the same wages and all she could think about was the cost of a box of cereal and how it's doubled from when Jake was three. Opening the fridge, she stares at a loaf of bread, cold cuts, and some condiments that she’ll use to pack Jake’s lunch. She used to pack both Dave and Jake’s lunches but now half the pack practically spoils because they can’t come close to finishing it all. She’d rather let it spoil than answer the possible question at the food store as to why she's cutting back. Doris, the wrinkled sweet lady with the lipstick clawing its way through the cracks of her skin always knows her order. There’s an excitement that Doris has about memorizing Jane’s order. Jane’s not interested in ruining that for an old lady that may not remember much anymore, and already spends the majority of her time below the face of boar. Nonetheless, to bother telling the story of her husband's death for the millionth time is unbearable and downright unnecessary. Everyone dies at some point. Nothing great ever comes out of a conversation like that and she sure as hell wasn't looking for any sympathy from the woman who slices her meat.
She has little in her life that she looks forward too. Her parents are long gone and she's never been particularly close with her husband's. She has a brother that's still alive that she doesn't see too often since he lives a couple hours away and works weird hours for the highway construction union. Her friend Angela is her only rock left, besides for Little Jake. Angela calls her every other day to see how she is; to make sure her mind’s in the right place. It’s been months now since her husband passed. Too many nights sitting in the dark playing her life over in her mind, trying to pinpoint where she went wrong and how she’s to blame. The night was the toughest part of the day. She fell apart when the sun went down. Just as fast as the sun would descend, her thoughts would cyclically depress. The husband she chose, the speed at which it all went, what she realized she’d never done, and now, no doubt, would ever get to do. It all weighed terribly on her ability to function.
“Let’s go out and have a cocktail, dance a little bit…we haven’t done that in forever sweetie,” Angela says.
Amidst Jane’s slow response, Angela jumps in “come on, it’ll be good, we’re doing it. I’m coming to get you in a couple hours, start to get ready, k?”
“Fine…..let me call the sitter and see first if she’s available …this is so last minute ya know,” Jane sullies.
“So what! Get off your ass and live a little…you could be dead tomorrow too ya know?!”
“Thanks” says Jane.
“Oh stop, you know what I mean.”
Going out was something they'd do a lot before Dave died. They’d get all gussied up and flirt with whatever men came up and danced with them. It was innocent; it’s not like they were going home with them. Well, Angela could of course, but the men usually liked Jane. She was pretty, 5 foot 4, managed pumps like slippers and danced her tiny curves into any angle. She was the unattainable blonde with a sweet name. Any single guy looking for the best and seeking a challenge, she was it.
They pulled into “Stiletto’s & Stags” and Angela chose valet. She liked flirting with the guys who ran valet, and they knew her by first name. She'd been divorced almost 6 years and had fallen into “cougar” status. She knew it and she embraced it. Jane had thrown on a black skimpy dress that she'd had since her college formal. The last time she'd worn it she'd spilt Odesse Vodka all over the chest and spaghetti straps. Those same straps still snugly secured the sides of her collarbone, and it felt good to be the same size. She hadn't put much time into her hair, but the dress looked great.
"Sweetie, you look like you just crawled out of the Thriller video."
Angela handed her some makeup while they waited in the valet line. Angela’s a full-hipped girl, and by full, you’re obliged to stand for her when passing through a movie aisle. Her hair is dyed dark red to her milky Italian shoulders. The tips rest right at the crest of her scar that she’d gotten as a kid for immigrant polio immunizations. Jane loved Angela for telling it like it was, even if it hurt because no matter what, Angela never wanted to hurt anyone. She’d learned enough hate and disdain as a married woman herself. Her husband admitted to cheating on her after she’d just had their second daughter and left them with nothing but the dream of a family she’d thought they had. Men were pigs to her but she’d say “a woman’s got needs hunnie,” and laugh for everyone. They bellied up to the bar and Jane called the bartender over.
“Two Café Patron shots and I’ll have a French Martini to chase. Angie, what are you having?”
Angela responded, “umm, I’ll take a beer, Michelob Ultra, and those shots sound pretty good.”
Angela looked around at the prospects. Men in suits, men with rings, single men with style, taller men who just might be a good lay…..she’s long been over the crap-in-common requirement.
“I give you credit girl, you’ve got your head in the game and one thing in mind….I love it,” says Jane.
“Of course sweetie, I needed to come out just as bad as you.”
“You’re a hawk!”
“You know me hunnie, I sure ain’t focused on politics or religion. I could care less if he has some interesting job or if he’s got kids and is separated. You’ve got baggage? So does everybody baby…haha” she laughs and bobs her head in self-acknowledgement. “I ain’t marrying the friggin guy. That love, fate and timing crap is for high school. We’re not here for more than just our little life, you know that hunnie…..come on.”
Jane downed her shots while listening. Angela turned around to their drinks.
“Jeez, I guess I’ll play catch-up, cheers” Angela said loudly over the music.
Jane nodded without understanding and eyed a guy in a blue button down shirt with jeans the same exact color. Their eyes met and he came right over. Men moved faster than she’d remembered. She felt sexy. The alcohol had barely set in, but mentally, it had already revealed what she’d known for a long time; she’d been married too early. Not that she knew what time would’ve been the right time, but nonetheless, this new anticipation was arousing. Angela saw them locked on each other and took a lap. Halfway around the other side of the bar, near some cheesy stained glass window that said “Dons”, Angela found a nice looking black man. Black men loved Angela, and she had more than fond interest in their showering compliments. Peering across the bar, Jane sneaks her mouth below the ear of her wrangler.
“He kind of looks like the guy from the Allstate commercials,” she whispers laughingly without staring at Angela.
“That’s Allstate’s stand” the man growls into her dandelion hair.
They laughed together and her hand went naturally to his back. He eased her head onto the small pocket between his chest and shoulder, and the contact equaled surrender. She whispered into his musty jacket.
“Do you wanna go somewhere?”
Knowing no man has ever denied such a question she turned and yelled.
“Angie! We’re getting outta here…don’t worry, call you tomorrow!”
Knowing what’s best for her girlfriend, Angela yelled back.
“Ok hunnie, I won’t worry, call you tomorrow!”
Angela liked to repeat what people would say right back to them as if to confirm the statement in a deeper truth. Just like writing something down, it would help her remember it better.
Jane was monkey-armed around the tan man’s neck as they jostled out the door. They jumped into his Dodge Pick-Up and she smiled. This was a real man, she told herself. She’d never even thought about buying a truck, but she liked the masculinity of a man who drove it. The car gave her confidence. She felt it immediately as they zoomed off into the night listening to John Mellencamp. No worry about tomorrow or her life back home, she was alive again. Pulling up to a house with gray aluminum siding and tiny red shutters, she reveled in the quaintness but didn’t put the design next to his rugged style. He opens the car door for her and scoops her out.
“Let me get these paws under ya, don’t want you slipping and falling,” he says.
She’s reminded of her wedding night, being carried over the threshold and dumped on the bed in her wedding dress. She hadn’t even wanted to take it off as she bubbled with anticipation. Young, in-love, she remembered just ripping her stockings open and telling Dave to feel. Now, looking up at this hefting lumberjack, she couldn’t wait to get inside. They crept down the staircase at the side of the house. He opened the door with keys in one hand and her in the other. The apartment was nothing to write home about, but her anxiousness rebuilt as she laid on his bed while he took a piss with the door open. She thought it was sexy; a macho, confident gesture. He sounded strong too; could mean he’s well endowed. She positioned herself on the bed so he could see up her dress when he came out. He left the light on, walked over to her, grabbed both legs and pulled her to him. Being handled and teased, there’d been nothing comparable for years. Foreplay had seemed pointless when married…they’d both known what they liked and just wanted it done so they could collapse. His palms didn’t just touch her, they massaged everywhere they went. He’d grab her back just below the shoulder bone and she’d uncontrollably arch her chest. He knew what to do and she countered by pushing him onto his back. She wasted no time and pushed herself down. Staying there with her eyes closed, she exhaled before moving slowly within a square inch, like an eraser correcting a permanent mistake. She straightened her body upright and put her hands low in front of her. Her mouth open and lax, she shivered and then couldn’t move her body. She covered half his body with hers when she fell towards him. When he asked for confirmation, the voice she heard wasn’t Dave’s. Two seconds passed and she pounded her fists on the pillows beside his head.
“What?!” he exclaimed.
“Nothing, it’s my husband….I’m sorry.”
“Oh, umm, I didn’t know you were married, I didn’t see a ring,” he said.
Perturbed and losing her patience to manage the situation, she asked him to take her home. Instead of immediately responding, he puts his hands on her ass and pushed it down. She lifted up and instead, slid away.
“No, I really can’t, it’s too soon.”
Without any questions, he handed her the dress and underwear splayed out on the floor and he brought her back. They didn’t talk as he drove. The guy behind the wheel wasn’t this masculine cowboy she’d built him up to be, he was just another guy at a bar with a dick. She felt annoyed with herself. She couldn’t even be a woman anymore….Dave had ruined that too. She felt like she couldn’t enjoy anything without being reminded of him. The stoplight turned red at the bottom of the big hill as they made a right. A flash shot through the car like a spark and they both tried to understand what happened. It was the first time they’d acknowledged each other during the ride. Looking around, they saw nothing. No street lamps or cars in sight, no soul seen standing on the street corner, no way to confirm they’re not delirious. They drove on as she directed him to her house. He pulled up and she walked out, closed the door behind her and entered her house. She spoke not a word, for there wasn’t much to say. She hadn’t even known his name. When inside she quietly nudged the babysitter awake.
“Here Evrin, I hope that’s enough…there’s a bit extra in there since I’m late,” Jane says.
“Oh no problem Mrs D., thanks.” Evrin begins re-capping the night and she’s interrupted.
“You ready to go home, I’ll take you…Jake’ll be fine here for five minutes,” says Jane.
Evrin gathers her things while Jane looks down the dark hallway at her son’s open door.
“He’s still frickin waiting for his father to come home…”
“What’s that Mrs. D?”
“Nothing, let’s go before he wakes up.”
The two of them jump into Jane’s jalopy; a Ford Focus with 82,217 miles on it. The car barely turns over since it needs a new starter. She’d just put $2,200 into it 2 months ago for new struts and a bent axle she’d achieved in a Home Depot parking lot when catching her back left tire on a cement island separating the entrance and exit lanes. She didn’t tell little Jake that his years of gifted savings bonds were the only way she could afford it. He wouldn’t miss them or know any better after all, or so she tried to justify it. Evrin lived across the main highway that separated their neighborhoods. It’s a two minute drive that crosses over at the bottom of the hill. Jane’s patience was decomposing like a tissue in the rain and she just wanted to get back home and forget about this damn night. As she cruised around the bend that led them towards the light, it remained green and she decided to gun it. The light turned yellow just as she’d stepped down hard. There’s no way she’s sitting at a stoplight at 3am without a car in sight and her son back home alone. Cameras flash as she blows through a red.
“What the fuck is that?!” Jane vehemently asks the night.
Evrin rubs her eyes to get rid of the blue circles.
“I don’t know Mrs. D., my mother mentioned that the town was putting in these cameras now where they photograph you if you do something illegal. I think it’s only for driving” Evrin said.
“You’re kidding me?” says Jane.
“I never knew where or how they were doing it, but that had to be it, no? No one’s out there taking pictures and it sure ain’t lightning outside….it looks clear, well, pretty clear” says Evrin looking out the dark window.
“Un-believable….” Jane starts to fume.
“Yea..” Evrin chimes in and is again interrupted.
“What is this frickin place coming too, I tell ya…these people, these frickin greedy frickin people. They think they’re better than us in their blue frickin monkey suits with their badges and their shiny frickin boots. Why don’t they shove those useless frickin guns up their you-know-whats. And these frickin doctors in their blue frickin pajamas, walking around pretending they’re frickin saving people when they ain’t doing shit but charging people their life savings for something that aint doing nothing. These frickin men in their navy frickin blue suits, all ties up to here, and their mother-frickin insurance policies that people are supposed to pay for but never frickin know if they’re gonna use…they don’t mean nothing these people….all big frickin phonies, pretending to be better, believing they’re better. I tell ya, I’ve had enough of this place….I really mean it, just frickin enough.”
Evrin sits quietly and puts her hands together between her legs. Moments pass as Jane surveys the dark streets in fury. She looks over at Evrin and her intimidated little frame and realizes her rant could be better addressed or saved for someone older who understands; she apologizes.
The next morning Jane called Evrin’s mother to apologize again and explain herself. Evrin’s mother Lynn said she hadn’t mentioned anything about it so don’t worry.
“’Kids are rubber, you say things and it bounces right off them…” says Lynn.
“Oh good, thanks Lynn, you made me feel better about it,” says Jane.
“No problem dearie….but those tickets, my god, you know they’re upwards of some 300 bucks, right?!”
“What?!” yells Jane.
“Oh yea!! They said it in the paper. Gave us a forewarning as if to justify themselves in putting them up on street corners. To me, it’s a goddam rip-off and another way for the system to make money off people who ain’t got none,” says Lynn.
“Exactly!!! That’s exactly how I feel, are you kidding me, you think I can afford a $300 ticket right now? I could barely afford my groceries!” says Jane.
“Listen dearie, if it was us that was benefiting from it, I’d say hell yea, let’s do it, but this money goes to who knows what, and yet we’re paying taxes to put these things up? We’re paying taxes to screw ourselves with more tickets?!” yells Lynn.
“I just don’t get it, isn’t that what we pay cops for…isn’t that why these no-neck pea-brain gorillas get paid over a hundred grand a year…to give out tickets?? How many are getting fired because of these machines they’re putting up?” asks Jane.
“NONE!!” yells Lynn.
“Guaranteed, none!” Jane responds.
“I can’t take it” says Lynn.
“I cant even discuss it without getting upset, and I’m sorry you might’ve got one of these things coming to ya” says Lynn.
“Yea, me too,” says Jane.
“I probably would’ve never known about em if I wasn’t caught in the act I guess.”
“So what though sweetie, people break the law everyday and get away with it. You drove through a yellow light and it turned red on ya. You didn’t rob a bank for chrissake. I drive over the speed limit every single day of my life…you think I should get a ticket for driving 5 miles over the speed limit?” asks Lynn.
“Of course not,” says Jane.
“Of course not, but it’s still breaking the law” says Lynn.
“Of course not,” repeats Jane.
Every Wednesday after school Jake stays for a program called “Physical Sports.” Jane likes the idea considering it keeps the kids outside and active rather than home playing video games or on the computer. He expresses interest in Lacrosse and this is a program that teaches young kids the basics of each sport and gives them the opportunity to play it without needing to join an established team. Luckily they provide all the necessary equipment and all little Jake needs to pack is an extra set of shorts and a t-shirt. The only inconvenience is having to pick him up at 6pm since the busses don’t run that late. The phone rings; it’s Angela.
“Hey sweetie, how’d you make out last night? You have fun?” Angela asked.
“Ahh, I blew it as usual,” says Jane.
“What do you mean you blew it, how could you blow it, you guys looked like you were hot and heavy? At least I thought you were hot and heavy. Weren’t you?” asks Ange.
“Well yea, we were and everything was great until Dave blew it.” Says Jane.
“Oh, uh huh…Dave blew it…..” Angela loudly readjusts the phone to her ear. “Listen sweetie, Dave isn’t here anymore, he isn’t holding you back and I guess I need to be the good friend and remind you that he left you with nothing but some financial troubles and memories that keep you from moving forward. Now don’t get me wrong, this is all seemingly easy for me to say but I guess in time you’ll see what I mean. Did you have a good time? Was it good at least, or did you not even get to the good stuff?” Angela asked.
“Yea, we got to the good stuff, and yes, it was very good.” Jane replies.
“Ok, good, I’m glad. As long as you had fun” said Ange.
“Yes, I had fun.”
“Ok sweetie, well I’m off to run errands, just wanted to check in.”
“Yea I’m off to pick up Jake at the after school program,” says Jane.
“Sounds good, you go pick up Jake and I’ll catch up with you tomorrow,” says Angela.
Jake jumps into the car and he’s all wet and muddy. It’s been drizzling but the smile on his face keeps her from scolding him for not knocking his shoes together outside before hopping in.
“Today was awesome!” he beams.
Before Jane could ask why, he continued on.
“They asked me to play lacrosse goalie where they ripped shots at my head!”
“Oh really? And that’s fun?” asked Jane.
“It’s scary, but you’re wearing a helmet so it doesn’t hurt. It’s kind of like getting kicked in a shin guard, but with a ball. You barely feel it…”
“How nice. How did you do, you save any shots?”
“Totally! Everyone was saying I was the best they’d seen! I must’ve saved at least 40 shots, and for my first time, that’s not bad…..I don’t think.”
“Sounds great to me.”
“I’m thinking, maybe I can ask for a goalie stick for Christmas!”
“I don’t see why not,” says Jane.
Anything that wasn’t a bill or concern today, wasn’t enough of a priority to worry about.
“Maybe we’ve got a scholarship coming out of you for a lacrosse huh?!”
“Haha, yea maybe!” Jake laughed and smiled.
Driving down Jane’s favorite hill, she contemplates dinner.
“You’re in a great mood, and you’re putting me in an even better one, why don’t you pick what you want for dinner tonight and we’ll stop and get it.”
Jakes eyes light up and unconsciously he licks his lips. Jane’s noticing this endearing behavior and relishes the power she just put in a young boy as she imagines the options flying through his head. She peers at his eyes and attributes their innocent glistening and moistness to youth itself. She wishes she had that sparkle. Hers can’t possibly look that tender, they’re probably these dried up rippled pits from an eaten peach. She doesn’t want to compare hers but does in the rear view she pulled toward herself. “Nah, not the same hope, that’s for sure” she says to herself as she looks back at him. A little reflection in his eyes flicks to yellow, and she finds it curiously odd. Looking forward, he’s smiling because nothing’s out of the ordinary. He still revels in his options as her own smile drastically straightens to a stick. Her eyes magnify as an alarm has just gone off in her head and her body jams down onto the brakes with ten stiff toes. They’re sliding into a yellow light as Little Jake’s body shifts forward against the seatbelt and all of Jane’s muscles tighten. Screeching to a halt, the flash of light bursts through their tiny Ford.
“No fucking way!” she screams out in protest.
“They better see that we completely stopped god dammit,” she repeats to the windshield while looking up toward her progress beyond the light above.
Blinded still, the loud, obnoxious sound of hard-halting brakes still echoed in their ears just as it had a hundred other times in the night. Their car had stopped just beyond the sensor before getting pummeled by a massive tractor-trailer. The rig came from behind them never anticipating stopping so short while at a speed above 55mph. The roads were wet and like a rear bike wheel skidding out, the truck’s rig ran parallel to its cabin. The container fell forward upon impact with their car. It lifted up off its wheels, rolled onto its side and landed flat on their roof. The car was compacted; pancaked and pinned to the cement. In and out of consciousness, Jane had horrifying images of Jake beside her, disfigured and shaped into the area where his little legs would kick his cleats off after a game. This wasn’t real. It couldn’t be. She vomited on her gearshift and whacked her head on the metal roof that was now level with her steering wheel. She continued to smash her head back, screaming.
“Come on! Move you piece of shit!”
If she could just move a bit, she could get to Jake. Blood matted her golden scalp and began dripping down her neck. She began to panic and started breathing quick short breaths; anything her collapsed and contorted frame could gather. As she struggled and stopped slamming her tiny head into the roof she started to hyperventilate and soon passed out.
In the hospital, she awoke to Dave’s parents and her brother. It was a day later and she realized when she saw where she was what had happened. All three of them started crying before she could even ask. Her stomach dropped out of her and she threw her head back in a fit of tears. She winced at her action, not realizing. Pain pulsed through her head as she pounded the sheets at her sides over and over and over. Shifting hysterically toward the window she saw a tray with juice, cereal and yogurt. She took the plastic spoon and started jabbing it through the sheets into her stomach. When it didn’t hurt, she drove it towards her neck. The spoon bent and scraped jagged marks into her skin before her brother could restrain her.
Weeks had passed as she sat back on the same couch she’d contemplated so many worthless nights. She spoke to no one for weeks. Angela had temporarily moved into the house to make sure Jane ate, showered, and didn’t try anything irrational. Jane was sitting on the couch listening to the night as Angela read a magazine she’d peeked through four times already. Jane decided to speak.
“Why would I want to keep living?”
Angela looked up but didn’t respond.
“What do I honestly have to live for? To see another show? To travel to a new place? Buy some ridiculously expensive bag and make like I’m someone whose flashy and rich? Have sex with some stranger who I never will love? I can’t love,” she looks at Angela and continues. “I never will again, I promise you that. It’s selfish for me to even think of me, ever again. How could I sit here and believe this was all meant to be? That this absolute worst-case scenario in life happened to me for a reason. How can I sit and force myself to believe that? It’s an absolute lie. I don’t think they’re just sitting up there staring down at me saying “Oh Janie…stop being soooo serious, you should be happy to be alive.” Happy?! Fuck life, if this is it! I don’t need it. You think they’d wish a predicament like this on anyone? I sure as hell wouldn’t, and they’re me……I am them!” she points to the ceiling. “If I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, neither would they! There’s nothing to learn from this. Nothing to learn from this shitty fucking place. We are becoming less and less alive every day. Our lives are stripped, restricted and regulated for nothing other than more money, more money, more money. That’s it. I’ve had enough of it, and god dammit, I’m gonna do something about it.”
Jane stands up and heads to the coat rack and yanks a jacket off.
“That’s what I’m going to do.”
“What “something” are you going to do?” Angela asks. “Where’s my camera?” Jane asks while fidgeting with her zipper.
“Where are you going? Don’t you think you should at least calm down a bit before driving?” asks Angela.
“Thanks but I know how to drive” she says.
Finding her camera and a warm wool hat, Jane storms out the door without a word. Before jumping into Angela’s car, Jane stops at her garage and pulls an extension pole that Dave used to rely on for painting his parents’ two-story Tudor-style house. Jumping in the car, she takes off towards the hill but pulls off to a side street and turns the engine off. She pulled a pair of stockings out of her purse. She always had an extra pair just in case they’d rip when working. Since they were black it made it tougher to see as she stuck her head inside one of the legs. She pulled her wool hat over her head and looked completely inconspicuous. Grabbing the extension pole and camera, she walked around the corner using the pole as a cane, pretending to hobble a bit. Rounding the corner, a couple of cars were at the light waiting for it to turn. The pole with the camera is separate from the flash she notices. This pole held two cameras, a smaller one on top and a bigger one on bottom. She figures one must be zoomed in while the other is a broad panoramic shot of the victim. She looks in the distance far across the main road and sees the same setup for oncoming traffic. Two sneaky little cameras staring at the bumpers of cars, waiting to take advantage of what could have been a tough situation to manage for anyone. Each side has one filing cabinet of electrical wiring below it; must be the controls for the cameras. This doesn’t concern her, considering she knows the cost of cameras versus tin armoires. Walking forward to the metal post with the cameras she waits until the light changes and the cars take off. She sets her camera up on a guard rail across the street and puts it on video mode to record. She presses play and feels a rush of excitement and fury before whispering in a deepened, possessed voice.
“We don’t deserve this type of treatment, so someone’s gotta put a stop to it.”
Walking out into the street with her cane she looks both ways. The streets are still dark and there’s no headlights in sight. She takes her cane, twists the knob to loosen its core and swings it like a baseball bat. 15 extra feet of steel rod lunges forward and she becomes a real life Jedi. Flipping the rod around to swing with the slimmer side, she plans to drive as much force upon her target as she can possibly muster. The thicker the steel, the better. Again she checks the road as she stands now on the sidewalk five feet from the pole and she takes her first mighty swing. Awkward and off balance, she misses horribly. The pole comes down hard on the street pavement, reverberating through her hands like a shock wave. She lifts it back up again and just barely misses a power line. She realizes she has to be careful with electrical wires because she’s damn close to becoming a light show. Taking a deep breath and focusing on the first camera at the lowest point, only 10 feet or so off the ground, she whacks it daintily and dents the top metal casing and moves it out of position. She moves around the pole to swing perfectly at the lens like an overhand badminton shot. With two hands she whacks it over and over again until little pieces of glass come trickling down. She starts to breathe heavily and squint her eyes from trickling debris. She sees a car heading for her. Collecting herself, she lays the pole down in the gutter of the curb and starts strolling slowly along the pavement in any direction. The light turned as the car pulled up and it continued on. She ran back over to her pole, lifted it off the ground and started beating the crap out of the second camera until it barely resembled a splash guard on the back of a bicycle. Pieces of metal and plastic littered the sidewalk, but nothing that would be noticeable at night. She was amazed that the destruction was not loud or cumbersome. Thrilled that she had come up with such a rebellious idea that will help save her fellow neighbors thousands of dollars in unnecessary fees, she flashed back to the real reason this all made sense; this was the light that killed her son. If something like that could be avoided, if that fear did not exist and you had the control to manipulate your surroundings when necessary, for the better of all, than this was something she could not stop doing until the effects were felt and the people celebrate in their ability to revolt.
Walking back to her camera, she picks it up and whispers again in a deep, growly voice.
“Now that’s how it’s done.”
Getting back into her car, she drives to the other side of the main road and parks on a side street again. She pulls the same stunt but almost 3 minutes faster than the last time. After getting back in the car and driving away, she pulled off her hat and panty-hose mask and headed to a nearby grocery store. While walking the aisles, she found a woman whose cart was halfway full. The woman had her back to Jane, reading the label on a DelMonte can of tomato paste. The time was right to walk by. The woman’s purse was open and resting where little kids’ legs would dangle. Jane swiftly scampered past the cart, dug her hand in and pulled out a thick red wallet with fake leathery scales. Walking quickly, Jane didn’t look back. She figured the woman wouldn’t notice until she was unloading her cart and looking to pay. This would buy her some time to get to Kinkos and upload her video to youtube. Everything felt cerebral. The ideas came to her without thinking. She knew she had to protect her identity and avoid being caught because this wasn’t some one-shot-deal; this is going to be her life.
At one of the computer rentals in Kinkos, she slips the woman’s credit card into the computer and pulls up youtube.com. She doesn’t have an account so she sets up a fake yahoo email account first, approves it, and then proceeds with the youtube account. It asks her for a username and she types “CommunityOutlaw.” She uploads her video, and names it “Correcting Unfair Neighborhood Tyranny.” As she’s sitting there watching her minutes tick higher and the costs piling onto the woman’s credit card, she decides to look up all the local tv stations and their neighborhood watch columnists. She grabs a piece of paper from the printer and starts writing down names, emails and addresses. She buys a 50 pack of cd/dvd-writeable disks, padded envelopes, post-it notes and a marker from right there in the store. She starts to burn the video onto as many cd’s as she can and begins to make a huge mailer for all local stations. On each CD she writes “Correcting Unfair Neighborhood Tyranny – 1-9-2010” and includes a post-it note on top. “Watch this now, you’ll thank me later.” Leaving any identity off her work, no one could know who this superhero was. Once she was done, she left Kinkos and headed towards the post office. Tuning the knobs of an unknown car radio, she tries to place a soundtrack on the most perfect night. Angela’s speakers weren’t exactly crisp, but then again, Bob Dylan’s voice never resembled satin. Her ears heard what she needed as “Visions of Johanna” strummed lowly over the burgundy upholstered seats and grayed windshield. Kicking back, she started to smile for the first time since that night. A portion of her heart felt a stitch of redemption, but she knew there was a long road ahead. Peeling off her course she figures she can protect her cover a bit better by dropping her mailing somewhere a bit less local.
Twenty-seven minutes later, she pulls off the freeway at an exit she’d seen a million times. She glides into her old neighborhood. Gliding so slowly that Angela’s car slinks down the block, passing old friend’s houses like a burglar surveying a hit. Her memories of youth, friends, love, and mischief come flowing back. The Jelly Bean sign is dark and barely legible. That’s where Tom asked her to go steady and gave her some family ring to wear on a necklace. They were too young for class rings at that point but he must’v learned it from his older brothers. That was her first real relationship; three whole weeks. “Right there on that curb” she thought to herself. Next came the abandoned warehouse where they would sneak late at night with just a flashlight that they’d whack against their knee to illuminate. They’d play hide and go seek, tell scary stories, and anticipate the nerves before seven minutes in heaven. The boys would throw rocks at the small windows aligned across the top of the building, making sure that every single pane had a perforation. It reminded her of cellophane that covered the glue jar her father kept in his workshop. She would fiddle with the top, constantly unscrewing and re-capping the bottle to sniff the contact cement. She loved the smell and it made her dizzy. Each time she opened it, the piece of cellophane her dad had covered it with would have new tiny tears. When held up to the light, it was the same erratic designs of the cracked glass, kind of like a spider web.
“Don’t let any of those little holes lay over the top” her father would tell her.
“I know” she’d recover adamantly.
“They could let air in and it will harden.”
“I know, you’ve told me a thousand times,” Jane would counter.
That scary warehous gave them all a reason to get close to a boy, holding each other tight as the walls had eerie anti-Semitic spray paint messages and small tinder left behind from fires. “Costco” now blared bright and red over the space. The building was different and nothing remained that could be pointed out as original. The post office looked no different as she pulled up to it. Still a red brick building that looked like a Cape Cod home with an aluminum white panel covering the top third. She stuck the packages into the mailbox and let the drawer close. Re-opening it, she closed it once more before walking back to her car.
There’s no one on the road and it took her this long just to realize it. Remembering how good it felt to get a license when she was young, she’d loved driving her car and having no responsibilities. No curfew, no job, just school and friends. All the green lights just last longer at night and the dark sky is a sheet of mystical opportunity. She just has to pick her point on the map and stream towards it. Night could very well be her parallel universe to the world of dreams; a time when she can piece together conscious action with the forefront of life’s impossibility. Maybe it’s just her body in motion that’s provided such elation. As more memories flicker by, she wonders if having a direction and the action of forging forward, even if nowhere specific, is in fact life itself. The end goal has always changed for her no matter how she willed it to stay, so it couldn’t be the destination. For a second she’d wondered if she’d been missing night’s beauty all along. She debated and immediately changed her mind as the couch, her living room and her hours spent staring at the TV were always her worst. When the sun would go down she’d worry about Jake asking her again about daddy. Her heart dropped as she remembered she still hadn’t told Jake that his father was gone….and she feared having to come up with a way to break the news. The happiness then drained out her face like blood from a black eye. She slammed her foot to the floor and pushed the odometer to 80mph. She’d promised herself in that moment that she wouldn’t take her foot off the floor until God dared to give her a high-speed collision. A massacre so glorious that Angela’s car would flip and tumble for a mile with every inch of the metal separating itself from the frame before coming to a stop. She wanted it to be as terrible as you could imagine with fire-bursting from the gas tank and headfirst windshield projection; she wouldn’t even have time to stop smiling. She leaned forward into the wheel, unbuckling her seatbelt and gritting her teeth to the night. She started to scream and curse God.
“You don’t even exist you worthless piece of shit….and if you do, then fucking show me already…..show me by taking me, show me by performing the sheer atrocity I can inflict on another so that their family too can doubt your bullshit existence…I fucking dare…...”
A blinding flash bursts through the car as she’s screaming, and she is silent. Her face burst into shock and her crying flicked off like a light switch to immediate delirious laughter. She slammed on the brakes and pulled into a King Kullen parking lot. Whipping Angela’s squealing car over marked spaces and an empty lot, she slams the car prematurely into park and lurches forward.
“Are you out of your fucking mind?!” she screams up to the light.
She rips the back door open.
“Do you have any idea what you’re doing?!”
Pulling out her walking cane, she begins to unscrew the catch.
“Killing innocent people, like you have the right! You’re breaking up families and ruining lives!”
She whips the cane into it a saber and re-tightens her grip.
“Don’t you know that?! NO! How could you? You’re a goddam lifeless machine.”
She leans hard back to sling the rod and falls completely off balance by the weight of the rod. Recovering, she yells.
“You don’t know love! You don’t know a goddam thing!”
She steadies her gaze on the camera and notices it’s way too low for her ridiculous javelin.
She walks up to the camera and leans the pole against the camera to lower it to the right height. Backing up and widening her legs.
“Watcha gonna do now?” she yells to the pole.
She looks up and down the road and still, no one. She chokes up and cocks back, and huge vibrations ring through her hands as she connects. The camera shifts erratically off its perch and dangles on the side of the stand.
“Haha! What now?!” she screams to the pole before breaking into a celebratory spin dance.
In seconds she’s interrupted by headlights in the distance. Cool and confident she whacks the butt of the pole into the ground and the extension retracts into the pole in a millisecond. She walks calmly over to her car with her cane, tosses it in the backseat and enters without panic. The car drove right on by. As she put her hands on the steering wheel she’d thought she might’ve fractured her wrist from holding the bar so tight. She figured she’d better head home and come up with some new ideas on how to be a bit safer.
Angela was waiting in the living room for her like a post-curfew parent.
“I hope you know sweetie, it’s been over 5 hours since you disappeared. I don’t think you have any idea what it took to not call those cops you love so much.”
“Oh, well they would’ve loved to have found me” snickers Jane.
“You should’ve called me,” says Angela.
“You know I gave up cell phones…I don’t need…”
“Yes, I know, but at least a payphone…something…I thought you were dead for chrissake” says Ange.
“Well Im not.”
“Yea, I can see that. To be honest, you look oddly better.”
“Do I?!” Jane smiles.
Angela sees her guilty happiness and gets frantic.
“Oh my god, what’d you do? Did you kill a cop?! I saw you go in that friggin garage of yours, did you have a gun in there?”
Angela runs over to the tv to flip on the local news.
“Oh stop! No I didn’t kill a cop!”
“Well, what’d you do then…I sure as hell know there isn’t any midnight spa treatments around the block.”
“No there aren’t, but I did have a run in with one of those cameras.”
“What do you mean, you were on tv?” she asks still paying attention to the news.
“No, not those cameras, the traffic lights.”
“Oh those cameras….so, you mean you got me a ticket?” asks Angela.
“Well, maybe, I’m not sure exactly. If I did then I’ll work to pay it off, but it might not have registered.”
“What do you mean, how could it not? Those things have like videotape, or email or god knows what…but I sure know it got you, if you saw it flash.”
Well maybe, but it ain’t getting anyone else.”
Jane gives her smile again.
“I don’t get it, how can you be so sure?”
“I smashed it.”
“I smashed it with a pole.”
“You’re out of your mind.”
“You wouldn’t have?!”
“Well listen sweetie, maybe if what happened to you…..then yea, I probably would.”
“Wow”, Angela shakes her head. “How the hell did you do it?”
“I just brought a pole long enough to reach it and started beating the crap out of it.”
“Just like that?”
“Yup. The thing just dangled there.”
“Haha! Really? I actually like that” says Angela.
“Me too!” Jane agreed.
“In fact, I plan on doing it a lot more, but I think I hurt my hand.”
“Well I’m not surprised…your swinging some rod 4 times the size of you into a metal object that isn’t meant to move.”
“Yea, well it wasn’t exactly planned, but I have thought of how I’m going to do the next one tomorrow.”
“Hunnie, I don’t know if you should be running vigilante all over town by yourself.”
“Well this is my life now…this is what I want and it’s made me unbelievably happy. Plus, I’m not hurting anyone, and I’m helping people keep their money,” says Jane.
“I can keep watch if you’d like? I would rather know where you are than assume the worst every time you leave the house.”
“Well I already have a job for you, if you want it?” says Jane.
“Count me in sweetie, I’m all for helping my girl…and screw it….as I see it, we are helping people keep their money” Ange said.
At 10pm the following day, Jane is lining the back seat of Angela’s car with a drop cloth while Angela drives past the stoplight Jane accidentally visited the night prior.
“Are you ready yet?” Angela asks impatiently as she’s circled the light several times already. You only have one camera to hit.”
Jane responds, “I don’t want to ruin your car!”
Jane is wearing her signature black wool hat and panty hose over her face.
“Oh please” Angela comes back. “It already stinks to high heavens.”
“I’m sorry! You agreed to this!” Jane says.
“I know, and I’m fine with it, let’s just get going here….you know how many cameras we can find to hit in one night?”
“Fine, fine! I’m ready!” says Jane.
“Alright, hold your horses, we’re on the other side now, let me get back over there just when the light turns red so you have enough time before we make the right.”
As they pull up to the red light, Jane rolls down her window, pushes the front passenger seat down and as far forward as possible before leaning the nose of her sons massive SuperSoaker out the window. Angela turns to Jane and pushes the camera into video mode, hits record and asks “you good?”
“Yes, shush….let me concentrate,” says Jane as she’s pumping the gun to build pressure.
Angela keeps her foot on the brake, leans down low over the passenger seat and focuses on both the back of Jane’s tiny head and the stoplight camera. Peering out the window, Jane takes aim and let’s loose a stream that starts blotting the tan metal, the shiny silver pole and the sidewalk below. Angela keeps the camera steady and turns away to keep her eye out for any cars.
“Are you getting it?” she asks.
“Yes, just move up a bit so I can hit more of the lens,” says Jane.
As Angela creeps forward, the gun’s stream starts caking the front of the camera like caulk. Watching it slowly drip and bubble, Jane mumbles
“that looks amazing.”
Angela smiles “I told you hunnie, black oil-base paint, nothing like it, and nothing could see through it.”
They both laugh happily and the gun starts to lose its pressure, spraying spurts of mist.
“Good to go?”
“Now that’s how ya do it!” yells Jane.
The light turns green as the women zoom off into the night. They’ve brought 15 gallons of paint and a gallon of gasoline to rinse the gun’s container.
The girls found 12 more cameras that night. Dousing the sidewalk in black below each victim and by the fourth light Jane had just decided to jump out of the car and drench the whole system. Not once were they seen or even close to caught. When they woke up the next afternoon, Angela’s back passenger door had black speckled paint all down the outside, but nothing anyone would find particularly suspicious. Angela was cooking some breakfast for the both of them. The tv blared in the background, something about soaring unemployment rates as Angela chimed in.
“Damn right it’s soaring, ain’t no friggin jobs!”
Jane just sat relaxed, not commenting. Angela had been out of work too. She was laid off from the retail store she’d been a manager at for nearly 20 years. One day, the executives just sold the business off and that was it. Everyone was given two weeks severance and three months of additional health coverage. Jane yelled out.
“Holy shit!” Jane repeats.
“What is it?!”
“I’m on TV!”
The TV reporter begins narrating the story as the video of Jane beating up the camera that first night, is on tv.
TV Reporter: “It seems county residents, or one acting on their own behalf, is outraged at the vast number of cameras that seem to be multiplying at major traffic intersections. This person took matters into their own hands just two nights ago as you can see in the video behind me. Slamming what seems to be a stick used for pole vaulting into the cameras at Mooney Pond Rd and N. Ocean. This was sent to us by an anonymous source and we sent field reporter, Emma Singer out to the site to check it out, Emma? “Hey Jennifer, Scott…a chilly night out here, I’ve been watching cars speed through this light for the last 30 minutes as we survey the damage but only two cars set the camera flash off. One had pulled up a little too far into the pedestrian walkway while the light was red, and the other car was clearly not going to slam on its brakes only 25 feet from the light while doing over 55mph. That by the way is the speed limit on this road, and might I add this is while coming down what seems to be a massive hill. That woman will definitely get a ticket at any light with these types of monitoring systems, and tickets like these can vary by state, some as high as $350 in California. Now, I caution our viewers when I say “any other” light because there’s no way that citizen is going to be receiving a tiny little ticket in the mail because both cameras here have been obliterated by our masked friend. And that there is the question I pose to our viewers….what would you consider this person to be? A community watchmen of sorts that some might hold in high regard for finding a small way to get back at state and local governments, or is it a derelict, a town nuisance that deserves to be put in a juvenile hall for the hot tempered and possibly dangerous acts you see here on the video? That Jennifer, Scott and viewers back home, I will leave up to you to decide.
Scott chimes in: “I don’t know Emma, I’m on the fence with this one…I just got one of those tickets and I was completely unaware that it even existed. Did you know it existed Jennifer?”
Jennifer: “Well, I can’t say I knew right away but recently my daughter had gotten one and the girl barely has a job coming out of high school, so my husband and I got stuck paying for it. From what I hear, it doesn’t affect your insurance though and maybe it keeps people from blowing through red lights, but I often think that can’t be avoided if you panic or the weather’s bad….I don’t know…you just never know I guess,” Jennifer finishes with a smile.
“Well you can see our local pole attacker’s hissy fit on our website and post it to your twitter or facebook account. Or you can tell us what you think on our website, we always love our viewers’ feedback, and I think this one will raise a few good arguments. You’ll be able to find it under the heading “Correcting Unfair Neighborhood Tyranny.” We can’t take credit for such a title. That is exactly what the title of the video is being called on youtube as well.”
“Well good God hunnie, you’re a local celebrity,” giggles Ange.
“I can’t believe it,” says Jane.
“We didn’t even post last night’s yet,” says Ange.
“I know….but we have to load it onto a computer from a public area under someone else’s information.”
“So what, that’s fine. Why don’t you use that women’s purse?” asks Ange.
“I don’t want to use it more than once,” says Jane.
“Well didn’t she have a library card in there or a license? It’s not like you can’t go to her library and sign up for a card and rent a computer for a couple bucks.” says Angela.
“Hmmm, I guess that could work,” says Jane.
“Oh yea, Lizzy does it all the time. You know I can’t afford a computer for the girls” continues Ange.
Jane starts mumbling to herself.
“If there is a library card, there’s no way she’d cancel the friggin thing, and it’s not like I’m taking out any books with it.”
Sifting through the purse she finds it.
“Middle Country Public Library, Patricia Miller…….sorry Patricia.”
“It doesn’t even have a picture on it” says Angela.
Together they load the video onto Youtube under the same account that Jane used last. Surprisingly it wasn’t restricted or deleted.
“Janie, take a look at that!” Ange whispers loudly. 461,267 hits!”
“Where….where does it say that?!” asks Jane.
“Right there, under the title, by your username” Angela points.
“Oh my friggin God. That can’t be right” Jane continues.
“Oh it’s right hunnie, and that’s all from one night!” Ange exclaims.
Jane’s heart drops for a second. She’s noticeably silent.
“Are you getting nervous?” Ange asks.
Jane swallows without responding.
“Because if you’re getting all nervous I’ll slap some sense into you.”
Jane steadies her eyes on the screen.
“Let me remind you sweetie that those freakin cameras……..(she pauses and lowers her voice before her checking her neighbors in the library)…Little Jake would be here right now if it wasn’t for those goddam things, so you cut it out” says Ange.
“I’m cutting it out” says Jane.
“Good, now load that other video up and let’s get out of here.”
Jane looks around and no one’s paying attention to them. There must’ve been 10 computers there and with muted volume, the video played on the screen to no audience other than themselves. They laughed as a person wearing a stocking and a black winter hat was shooting a child’s plastic watergun at a lightpost and the lightpost was growing hair. The location then changed, showing what definitely could be described as a woman. The boots were so tiny, with black fur liner escaping the fluffy tops, the black sweat pants hugged too closely to a cute little ass, even the wool hat was worn too high on the forehead to be a man, but truly the most definitive factor was the way this person held the big plastic gun….it was so similar to that of a woman reaching high to water hanging plants. It was effeminate, endearing and uncoordinated. There was such an innocence to her fury and that it was impossible not to relate. This was something we all wished we could do, and as incapable of doing something like this, as this person looked, she was doing it anyway. They called the video “Correcting Unfair Neighborhood Tyranny – Again” and clicked “submit post.”
Jane’s brother worked for the highway maintenance and repair union upstate and although they barely talked, with all the recent events in Jane’s life, they’d become a bit closer. Well, we can say they were becoming close but really, he would check in with her, and she would never answer the phone. She reached out to him that day when Ange and her got back home from the library. He was so surprised and happy to hear from her that if any way in the world he could help, he would. Jane described to him that she wanted to build a coy pond in her backyard as a stress-relieving project. Instead of digging out the entire backyard foundation, she wanted some assistance in the name of explosives.
“Sure we’ve got plenty of that stuff lying around…half the time, we’re blowing mountains further back from the roads so we can expand a couple lanes,” he’d said.
“Oh, that sounds like fun,” Jane egged him on.
“Yea, it’s pretty cool for sure…so how much do you think you would need…I mean, you’ve gotta be pretty careful with this stuff ya know.”
“Yes, I know…can’t I extend the fuse as far as I want by adding more…what’s it called, like, wick or whatever it’s called?”
“Haha, umm yea, I know what you mean, and yes, you can extend it. Half the time we’re dropping it down 30 foot chutes that we burrow into the rock and we’re able to light the fuse from the top.”
“Well, what’s the best way for me to get it….I wouldn’t think you could mail it?”
“Nah, probably not the smartest thing to do, but you know what? I can shove off from work tomorrow early, since it’s Friday and drive it on down to ya…it’s only an hour or so.”
“Could you? That would be amazing, this way I can start on the pond this weekend.”
“Sure J, not a problem. How’s everything else going?”
“Hanging in there…Angela’s taking care of me, keeping me company.”
“Great, tell her I said hi and I’ll thank her for everything when I get there…should be around 6pm or so.”
“Not a problem, and will do…you’re the best!” says Jane.
“Ha! Please, I’ve barely been able to do anything….see you soon,” he said.
“So now we’re blowing things up?” asked Angela after listening to the conversation.
“Yes,” replied Jane without hesitation. “I don’t know if the paint is enough or if people are getting tickets. The only way I could know for sure is if I blow up those system control boxes that are attached to the poles or sitting on the sidewalk,” says Jane.
“Well, why don’t we just start killing the people setting the cameras up, and maybe even their families too?” jokes Angela.
“Oh stop, we’ll just lay the dynamite on top of the box, light it and drive away…easy as that,” says Jane.
“Easy as that?” says Ange. “Who the hell knows what kind of damage can be done with that. Correct me if I’m wrong here but didn’t I hear your brother say he blows away the sides of mountains for a living?”
“Yes, but that’s because the thing is buried in between two tiny inches of rock.” “I don’t care if it’s buried 200 feet from me, I still want nothing that powerful so damn close.”
“Let’s just try it….we don’t know what it will do unless we try.”
“Fine. As long as we’re far as hell away before you light that thing. I don’t need some friggin traffic light flying toward us as we’re driving away,” says Ange.
“It won’t,” says Jane.
Later that evening, unknown to the ladies, a late nite talk show host named Conan O’Brien picked on the viral video and made a parody of the newest scene. While playing the video on a screen behind him, he comes out in a white painter’s outfit with a Wagner household paint sprayer, and in front of him at the edge of the stage are clamoring paparazzi. As they begin to snap flash photos of him, he covers his eyes and at first gets annoyed, but as the flashes continue without mercy, his eyes and demeanor changes, he starts to snarl and attacks them by spraying water out of his Wagner paint sprayer. The crowd roared as he wore a shirt under his overalls that copied the acronym of the consistent title by which our assailant had been posting her videos. Since it’s a word that cannot be said or viewed on public television, the station blurred it out even though Conan had replaced the vowel with a discontented matronly silhouette. The monologue followed:
“If anyone sees, what I have to believe is a woman, running around their neighborhood with a bucket of paint and a stocking over her face, please……do me a favor, ask her how much she charges for a 2-bedroom…..(the crowd chimes). No really, ask her. I mean….this chick gets shit done! Imagine if women like this worked at the DMV? I’m telling ya…..no but really, if you do see her, give her a hug for me. Tell her thanks so much for bringing back the SuperSoaker……my neighbors called me cheap when I gave it to their kid for Hanukkah. I thought it was a great present…I later found out they weren’t Jewish…..and secondly, I want to thank this sweet Mother Theresa for giving us the best possible name for a crime fighter we could have never gotten away with....ahn ahhn (pointing to his shirt and raising his eyebrows in excitement). Everyone roared and started cheering the word over and over until the tv station had to just play a steady long bleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep over the dialogue before Conan could calm them down with his long gangly arms and his flawless one-liner “be cool my babies.” He then pointed back to his shirt again “ahn, ahn” raising his eyebrows again and getting a brand new roar out of the crowd before posing and flexing his scrawny frame.
The video’s popularity flew through high school laptops, smartphones, emails and eventually to yahoo news’ top articles, which offered an editorial write-up pinned next to the youtube video of Jane’s Rambo-style slaughter. The article mentioned no name or ID for the perpetrator but a disclaimer that the news station is in no way condoning or introducing the behavior of the law-breaker but rather revealing what is already accessible to the public as a discredited, irrational act by a citizen. Below the news story were thousands of comments by readers, almost split evenly by supporters and haters. Often the argument was about the name given to her rather than the ethics behind the act itself. Unbeknownst still to Angela or Jane, this video circulated the globe in a matter of 24 hours and has become the most watched clip ever, just above “Charlie Bit Me.”
Jane’s brother pulls into the driveway at 6:45 and pulls a wooden box from his trunk. Ambling up the walkway, Jane opens the door before he’s halfway there and they meet each other’s smiling glances. Her brother is ecstatic to see her so happy.
“Look at you! You look great!”
“Aww thanks…come in, how was the drive?”
“Oh not too bad, I know I’m a little late but that traffic is ridiculous as always.”
“Sorry about that.”
“Oh no, are you kidding? I’m glad I can help…it’s the first thing you’ve let me do for you in who knows how long.”
“Oh you do too much as it is, please….and thanks so much for bringing it….whatever it is,” says Jane nonchalantly.
“Oh, they’re called “Half-Sticks”. I didn’t want you blowing the foundation of your house off the map so these should do the trick. Half the power, but more than enough to blast a great hole by sectioning off the area in quadrants…you know what I mean by quadrants?”
“Oh, of course….I plan on having four holes in areas that I can just drop one into, then drag the fuse to my back door and light it from there.”
“Exactly….and if I were you, I’d just let the neighbors know you’ll be doing this for a short amount of time so they’re not alarmed.”
“Yup, will do.”
“Oh, and maybe put a plastic tarp over the back of the house so no rocks shatter windows.”
“Great idea!” exclaims Jane.
Saying hi to Angela and giving her a big hello hug, he breaks the following silence with an offer for dinner. The two are excited to get away from this conversation, the house and anything that could offer more revealing interpretations to Jane’s ideas.
At dinner her brother reminisces about the times they fought when they were younger and how different they are now compared to then. He brings up the time they were on a road trip with their parents; him and her in the backseat and their parents in the front. Somehow they had found a pack of matches to play with, and he had sat there and tried to light one match at least fifteen times. He’d stick the match between the folded back of the book and the flint stripe, pinching the two paper flaps together so tightly that when he pulled, he’d ripped the match head right off the stem. When he finally did get it, they watched the match burn together until it extinguished before their fragile eyes. He was three years younger than her. It was summertime and Jane was wearing tiny shorts that exposed her pale legs while sitting Indian style in the backseat. He’d pondered whether the match was still hot even after watching it burn completely out. He placed it on Jane’s translucent leg and she began to scream in pain. As he told this story again at the table, here and now, he began to cry. Apologizing for stealing the moment’s innocence, and destroying whatever trust she’d had in him; he will always regret doing it. He said over and over to her that he should’ve tested it on himself. If he was such a big shot, then why not his leg? He should have been protecting her, not hurting her, and yet, at that moment, sitting in the backseat with his best friend and guardian, his mind said to do it to her. As Angela tried to console him and Jane grabbed at every word to relegate his breakdown, he looked right through the both of them.
“There must be something in all of us that makes us do what we do…. and I’ve tried to find it, I’ve tried to reason with it, to understand what balance, what mixture of immaturity, youth, jealousy and love added up to that moment….and still now, and for the rest of my life, I’ll never really know. It is truly beyond my own comprehension, and yet I’m me.”
Jane wanted to get right down to business when Ange and her got home. She started twisting fuse extensions onto the explosives so they could be lit from afar. She tested a length of fuse about ten feet long and timed its disintegration from beginning to end; 6 seconds. She figured they would need at the least 15 seconds to drive away and not worry about flying debris. Angela agreed that should be fine especially if there were stores along the corner of a turn that could block the car as she made a right. The beauty about having a long extended fuse is that she could actually let Jane out and have her jump back into the car so she could pull up to the light without looking suspiciously far back from the traffic signal. They’d always waited until no one was around to see them anyway, but this was another way of justifying their safety to herself. Once the light turned green, she could light the fuse, and they would be off. They had no idea which light they would do since they really hadn’t driven around to seek out more. Little did they know, the whole country was taking part in this underground exercise. All other disgruntled families, young high schoolers and street artists were doing their part. Some were caught climbing the poles and putting little transparent stickers with the stencil of the middle finger directly over the lens. Any photo taken was a big flip of the bird to the authorities. Others climbed the poles and had a friend throw a rock up to them to start bashing the metal encased eye right into itself. People wouldn’t stand for another reason to pay a ticket, and more and more videos were put on youtube of kids wearing masks with handpainted t-shirts that said “We Love C.*.N.T.”, “God Bless C.*.N.T., I AM C.*.N.T.” The commonality of the exercise led the authorities to be on high alert; staking out possible spots, especially local to where the practice began. As Jane and Angela jumped in the car and started off to survey a great spot, they brought with them a car full of half-sticks of dynamite, two barbecue grill lighters, a video camera, pantyhose and black wool hats. Jane was amped up and directing Angela to Route 25. It wasn’t too far away but it was a main road for sure. In all, Jane had only really been doing this for about 5 days so it wasn’t odd for them to have not checked certain areas. They’d barely even canvassed 1/20th of the county. They passed several small strip malls, a Ruby Tuesday, Petco, Radio Shack, AutoZone and a Lucille Roberts before seeing a little yellow sign that said “Photo Enforced.” The up-turned square sign had its typical traffic light on it and a tiny sign below it. It’s the type of sign you only notice when you’re looking for it. Just like a person trying to park, they’re going to be forced to read the signs. Now all drivers must take their eyes off the road before every stoplight to see if they need to slam on the brakes or not. Angela drives by it.
“What do you think? This is a main road and it’s a bit early,” Angela said.
“I don’t see many cars though, a couple in the parking lot but those stores aren’t open so no one’s going in and out,” Jane said.
“You want me to circle around?”
“Yea, let’s see where you should let me out.”
They pull a U-turn and Jane decides about ten feet before the breaker box, she’ll jump out and start to unravel the fuse as she walks up to the box. The fuse was like a cord wrapped around a hair dryer.
“Why don’t you unravel those things before you get out?” Angela asked.
“Because they’re sitting back there all together in a box, I didn’t want them getting tangled…plus I don’t know how much I’m gonna need,” said Jane.
“Yes you do, you measured each fuse the same length. You aint got any other option. We have fifteen seconds from when you light it.”
“Yea, yea, stop bantering me, you’re getting me all nervous” says Jane.
Making her second U-turn, Angela pulls up to the curb and Jane gingerly jumps out unraveling the cord in a counterclockwise motion of her hand. She’s walking with her head down and her hat and pantyhose on. Angela begins filming with her passenger window down. She creeps beside Jane at the pace of her steps. Getting within feet of the box, Jane stops to unwrap the fragile string, like letting out a kite. She leans up to put the stick on the metal cabinet.
Jane looks up and over at Angela, and then to the parking lot. Two men are running towards her. Their hands drawn at their sides, they’re gaining in distance but hunching like scampering gorillas.
“Stop what you’re doing?!” Jane says nothing.
“I said put it down lady!”
“No thanks” Jane yells.
“It’s not worth it lady, just put it down.”
“You’re not worth it!” she yells.
The officer begins to talk loudly but is given no forum.
“People like you are the reason my kid’s dead so you can go fuck yourself,” Jane voices adamantly.
Angela continues filming.
“Lady, you keep this up….”
She interrupts and yells over them again.
“If someone’s responsible for your kid’s death, you wouldn’t do something about it?! This is your fucking laziness, your need for higher paychecks so you can sit on your fucking asses and have machines do the work for you.”
“Lady, if you don’t put that fucking thing down, we’re gonna put you down!” the aggravated officer yells.
Out of the silent breaths between them came a taunting, fearless cackle. Angela’s hand started to shake.
“Are you kidding?! Is that a threat you fat piece of shit?”
The officers stood prepared and quiet.
“I’ve never hurt anyone with what I’ve done, and the first thing you do is threaten my life? I pay your fucking salary. You hear me?”
The other officer responds.
“Yes, we hear you.”
Jane talks to her hands, “it’s amazing what people can do. It’s amazing what we can accomplish when there’s nothing to lose.”
She lights the fuse. The cops tuck lower in shock.
“God dammit lady!”
“This all needs to be done,” she looks up and yells. “And it will be…over, and over, and over.”
“Shut the fuck up lady!”
Angela yells “come on Janie, get in!”
Jane starts pacing towards the car.
“Stay where you are!” the officers scream.
She dismisses them and literally starts to skip back to the car, smiling and fearless. The fuse is halfway burnt down as the first shot rang out. Angela’s body jolted at the bang that sent her friend’s body flailing to the floor. She was still 10 feet from the car. The cops started screaming as if to cause a commotion that would subdue the extent of their action. Angela just stared in shock at Jane lying there. She couldn’t tell if she was hit in the head or the back, but Jane didn’t even move. Like she was there in an instant, and gone in the next. The cops yelled to Angela.
“Are you gonna listen now?!”
Angela didn’t hear a word.
“You’re an accomplice! If you move…”
A huge explosion brightens Angela’s face and her milky white skin. The control locker burst into flames as the outer shell flew 30 feet through the parking lot. It rolled to a stop as smoothly as a metal shoebox. Smoke billowed from the sidewalk as the cops lay flat looking up; shielding their eyes. Angela sat deaf as she looked forward at the road and back at Jane. She mouthed one last goodbye as she let her foot off the brake. The car moved forward as men’s voices yelled lowly in the background. She rolled up the window and drove over the sensor under the red light. No gunshots rang out, no flash burst through the car. She would feel no fear of ever being discovered. She knows exactly what she must do. She turns off the camera.