And Now a Word
At first it
was only a siren off in the distance. It steadily grows louder and louder
until it seems to stop in front of my building. It sounds disturbing at
this late hour. I go to the window and look out. It did stop in front,
parked on the other side of the street. I look down and see a red fire
truck with its red and white lights flashing, reflecting off the
surrounding buildings. The siren is turned off and its wail gently becomes
silent. The lights keep flashing. I am on the second floor looking out a
huge window. My room is dark, and I hide in the shadows to watch the
I don’t see any fire. That’s good. This part of the neighborhood is made up of old
two-story wooden structures and I am always worried about a fire spreading
through the buildings. Not for myself, but for my books.
I saw a fire
last night a few blocks away. A garage with flames shooting out a side
window. The fire truck was already there with a firefighter hooking up the
hose to a hydrant. I circled once, out of curiosity, and then kept
driving. On my way home, I passed another fire truck rushing to the fire.
But as far
as I can see, there is no fire tonight. One firefighter is by the door to
the building talking to a man. The other firefighter goes around the fire
truck, opens a compartment on the side of the truck, and grabs some
equipment. Looks like medical equipment. The other firefighter comes back
to the truck to grab some more equipment. They seem to be moving at an
unhurried rate. Undo a strap that is holding a piece of equipment, shut
the compartment door. The strap is left hanging outside so the firefighter
re-opens the compartment door to place the strap inside. No one seems to
be rushing (and by that I mean running) so I assume that it is not a dire
The man in
the front entryway is motioning to a woman who is sitting in a nearby car.
I didn’t notice her or the car before, but they must have been there.
notice down the other end of the street a man who is wearing an auto
mechanic’s outfit, not overalls, but a blue shirt with a patch that is
either his name or the company’s name, and dark pants stained with grease.
He had stepped out of his doorway to see what is happening. He steps back
into his garage a few minutes later. I wonder if he sleeps there.
across the street is a two story building, with an apartment on the second
floor. The apartment has white venetian blinds on all the windows except
for one. That window has a confederate flag hanging in it.
There is an
empty storefront on the first floor. It was formally a pawn shop with a
bad reputation (don’t they all?). The second floor apartment had stood
vacant for a long time, with naked windows that exposed the bare rooms
painted industrial white. It was an apartment that wouldn’t rent for much.
The new tenant, or tenants, moved in recently and that is when the blinds
and confederate flag went up. I never knew who lived there. Occasionally
the blinds would be open and I could see people sitting in there and
talking. But for the most part they were closed like they are tonight.
minutes later an ambulance pulls up and the driver and sidekick get out
and grab equipment and go into the doorway and up the steps. From where I
am, I can only see people enter the door and disappear as they walk up the
steps. I cannot see any of the activity that is happening up in the
In the past,
I had often heard people on the sidewalk give a series of whistles hoping
that someone was inside to let them up. I really don’t know what went on
inside the second floor apartment. It could have either been a meth-manufacturing
lab; or a meeting of a recovering drug abuse prayer group. I don’t know
which. The whistles make me think that it was the first, but what do I
know? Hell, I’m not even sure which is worse.
I figure it
is a drug related situation, but all seems under control now. Drug related
activity is quite common in this neighborhood, from robberies to the
police raids, so this is not an out-of-the-ordinary scene. The ambulance
crew comes down and gets the gurney from the ambulance. They leave it
parked outside on the sidewalk by the door. I haven’t been staring out the
window this whole time. I go between being a voyeur to packing my stuff up
for an upcoming trip to the east coast on the dirty dog.
minutes have gone by from when the fire truck first arrived. I come back
to my perch and see that two cop cars have arrived. I stand slightly to
the side so the cops can’t see me peering down at them, and another cop
car shows up and then another. I don’t know why I don’t want the cops to
see me. Each officer walks through the front door and disappears from my
sight as he descends up the steps.
One of the
blinds is now open, showing one of the rooms. It is lit by a single bulb
in the ceiling, which casts eerie shadows on the white walls. Some of the
officers are looking around the room casually, but with intent. They pick
up an occasional object to examine. One of them picks up a prescription
bottle. Another finds a baggie that he looks into before placing back
down. I can see that the television is turned on. I try to make out what
show is on, see if it’s David Letterman, but can’t tell from this
distance. I see that the walls are still bare.
fighters come back down and start putting their equipment away. They get
into the fire truck, turn off their emergency lights, and drive away. The
paramedics take off a short while later, after replacing the empty gurney
back in the ambulance.
occasionally check back on the situation across the street. My mind has
already worked out the series of events that took place in the apartment.
Some guy overdosed and the paramedics arrived to revive him, and with the
evidence of the drug activity in plain sight, the police were called in.
Now the final phase of activity was being carried out. Gathering of
evidence for booking at our lovely downtown jail. Taking another peek, I
still see 4 or 5 cop cars and a white van in the street. The white van
wasn’t there before. ‘So that is how they will transport the prisoner’ I
thought. I continue to watch, waiting for the perpetrator to be brought
down in handcuffs.
A man opens
the back door of the white van. He is wearing civilian clothes. He reaches
in through the back door and drags out a gurney. The ambulance gurney had
a blanket and pillow. This gurney has no need for it. It is a plain metal
gurney, no creature comforts. There is a long black slim object on it. It
quickly dawns on me that it is a body bag. I suddenly became aware that I
hadn’t figured it out at all.
parks the metal gurney on the sidewalk by the door, at the same spot where
the previous gurney from the ambulance had been. The man removes the thin
black bag, folds it up, and carries it up the stairs. A little while later
a white body bag, or maybe just a bed sheet, is carried down the steps by
four police officers. They seem to struggle with the body that is in it,
and are trying not to bang it against the wall or the front door. They
place it on the gurney. I hear the cops huffing and puffing from where I
was. The body seems tall and heavy, and hung off the ends of the gurney.
I can’t say
it was ceremoniously or unceremoniously placed on the bare gurney. It was
done in a sparse, efficient manner. The gurney is wheeled to the back door
of the van and they push it against the opening. The gurney, with the
body, slide in with the wheels of the gurney folding underneath itself
against the edge of the van. I don’t know why they didn’t use the black
I see that
the television is still on in the apartment. No one turned if off the
whole time. The white van drives off.
continue to mill around the front door, talking a little more loudly, even
a few quiet laughs. After a few minutes, they get in their cars and drive
off. Some part of me wished that the paramedics had arrived in a timely
manner, and that the cops were there only to arrest the guy.
I think I
remember seeing a tall skinny guy going into the apartment in the past. He
had a white wispy beard, and was really tall. I’m trying desperately to
put a face on the body, though I don’t know why. I just think it’s
It is now a
few hours later. The street is quiet and peaceful with no hint of the
flashing lights, cops, or the white van that had been there earlier. I
look into the empty apartment across the street, venetian blinds still
open, and see that the television is still on. I wonder how long it would
be before someone would turn it off. I remember hearing the Jack Kerouac
was watching “The Galloping Gourmet” right before he died. I
retreat back into my room, reach towards the window, and draw my curtains