by Timothy Resau
In spite of the curfew, sniper fire, violence, and bloodshed, we went into the capital that night. No one was safe. The ambushing was constant; gunshots, it seemed, were being fired randomly. Everyone was a possible target. The limited radio and TV reports warned of certain danger. In short, chaos and anarchy prevailed. Law and order were not in place—not yet. Law and order had been removed or erased. Citizens were being asked to remain tuned to local media for updates. Unfortunately, those reports were not broadcasting what was actually happening. Generally, TV stations were offering earlier taped footage, which they were continuously re-playing, and as the footage ran, ill-informed talking heads—in fear for their lives—screamed inaccurate information to the viewers, offering it as fact. The radio reports were even less informative, and then, they were simply wedged between pointless commercials for items like cars, trucks, pharmaceuticals, and the best tasting beer. The only truthful announcement they made was their warning not to venture out unless fully armed, or “locked and loaded,” as they described it. The capital was in a state of emergency. It was being attacked. They also said: “The police force appears to be outnumbered. . . .”
This was the new normal for the nightly news.
I would have parked my motorcycle in my usual spot, but several cars were burning there—torched by the roaming rioters and vandals. I found what possibly could have been a safe area among some overgrown hedge rows. Carmen said: “You think it’s safe here?”
“No.” I said, and snickered: “Keep your helmet on.”
The streets were more crowded than we expected. There was really no telling who was who, or what was what. Everyone looked and dressed the same: black clothing and face masks. No one wanted to be identified. The capital was clearly out of control. Groups of people were either standing dazed in closeted groups, or milling here and there without direction. Everyone appeared amazed, or shocked—unbelieving. The frightened police were dressed in riot gear with weapons pointed at whatever moved—prepared to shoot to kill. It was more than obvious that they were completely outnumbered. As soon as they left their patrol vehicles, someone would quickly run up and throw a firebomb, and the vehicle quickly be engulfed in fire. It would then explode. This was happening everywhere along our route. Meanwhile, residential houses were burning, as well as many small retail businesses. To be sure, it appeared that the more current reports—”the updates”—were broadcasting more thrill-inspired events than accurate accounts. Were they hoping to play to a larger audience for higher ratings? Sell more booze, or off terrain vehicles?
Oddly enough, we did not feel threatened. In fact, the more we watched how the so-called brutal “crowd control” was being enforced, the more certain we felt sympathetic towards the protesters. It was funny that way. . . . We were armed, after all, and perhaps dangerous, too, but, we thought: Dangerous only if we were threatened. In fact, the more we saw, we found the events surrounding us, far more expected than abnormal.
As we walked down hellish streets, we heard constant automatic weapon fire, and single gun shots here and there. Strangely, that wasn’t so unusual in any major city, or where I had been in my life. What was remarkable was that it was happening in the capital. More unusual were the burning cars and buildings, as well as the looters, running into a burning building with nothing in their arms, then seeing them running out of the burning buildings with their arms loaded with TVs, booze, or whatever they could possibly carry. Freedom suddenly meant whatever could be gotten for free. . . .
It was interestingly noted by the media—without any proof—that what sparked the chaos were “. . . self-styled revolutionary anarchists, whose members appear to have no leader or, in fact, no known name . . . The organizers, from what has been gathered, appear to be opposed to capitalism and minority oppression . . . As soon as we learn more, we’ll bring it to you. Now a word from our sponsor, Natural Chemical Flow. . . .”
We continued down First Street, where many people were now running up and down, as if, not knowing what to do, or who to be. We noticed that several people, including police officers, were dead in the street; the wounded were either lying on the sidewalk or sitting on a curb. Oddly enough, a few retail establishments remained open and doing business. Bars, pizza joints, and mom and pop cut-rate liquor stores were making money hand over fist. I did notice in passing that the owners appeared to be heavily armed Latinos or Asians. White Americans had long ago abandoned this failing neighborhood, and the long hours that retail and food service enterprises demand. It appeared that such dangerous work belonged to the more inspired immigrants, or aliens, as if they were from outer space, not human creatures.
While, on the other hand, many citizens appeared indifferent, and they continued to feel marginalized, declaring they had no real financial gain, or economic opportunity; therefore, making any upward social mobility impossible. Their point, it seems, had been well-taken. . . .
We were also surprised to witness the heavily-armed and newly-formed Free-Arms Militia—a kick-ass national fringe organization—as well as the police—having such an impossible time regaining control over the anarchist. Additionally, due to the large bonfires, sniper fire, and overall chaos, crowd control was becoming simply impossible. Likewise, it was difficult for the capital’s fire department and ambulances to approach the many wounded without armed cover. I expected to see a military force, like the National Guard, at least, but no such help as yet appeared. Although media reports claimed that the military had joined local police in an all-out effort to suppress the opposition, which led us to wonder what channel they were tuned to. Of course, due to the city workers strike, several of the police officers refused to cross union picket lines, offering their continued solidarity with the strikers.
Glancing at Carmen, I could tell she was getting worried: “Are you okay?” I asked, as we walked along the burning streets, stepping over the fallen.
“I guess so. I’m not bleeding yet.”
As we turned a corner, a man with a bloody face, due to a large slash across his forehead, said to me: “You better get outta here! They just tried to scalp me. I think I just killed a man. My god, what’s happening?”
Before I could answer, or help, he quickly moved into the flames of a burning building. It was at this point, that I pulled out my gun. Suddenly, out of nowhere it seemed, a man came at us with a hatchet raised above his head, he was screaming; clearly deranged, without a second thought I lifted my weapon and shot him in the head. He fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes. “One of the enemy,” I said to Carmen, whose face and bike helmet were spattered with his blood, making me think of a face I’d once seen in a horror movie.
“Yeah,” she said: “Good shot, man.”
It was exciting. The whole mob scene was thrilling; so insane, and powerful. So now . . . so this minute. So . . . today. . . .
As I moved forward, Carmen grabbed me by the arm: “Shouldn’t we go?”
“Go? Go where? Let’s see what happens.”
“Well, Graham, you just killed a man, ya know?”
“So? It was exciting, really exciting. It’s just another Saturday night in the new capital. Let’s go get a beer.”
Chaos was interesting because no one was responsible, or so it seemed.
We entered a dive bar on a little side street, which was packed with drinkers and drunks. There were a lot of loud voices, pushing and shoving, just like any other Saturday night in the capital. The old Gill Scott-Heron anthem “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” was being played over the loudspeakers; Carmen thought that was remarkably interesting. We ordered a couple of rye shots and beers, we then wearily and bleary-eyed tuned our attention to the TV. The frantic reporter, who claimed to be on the scene, was explaining blame. He blamed the revolt on lack of drug control, and an inept administration. Of course, big business played a major fault in the matter, too, but this wasn’t mentioned. Big business was responsible for all the lay-offs, due to large plant closings, millions were unemployed. There was, however, the acknowledgement that U.S. jobs had been moved to foreign countries, causing additional worry and strife among the out of work. And with their jobs went their health insurance coverage, and /or retirement benefits for even more millions. What was a person to do? Where was a person to turn? What was government supposed to provide it citizens in a time like this? Needless, to say, the government was in shambles as well. National debt was rising; tax collection, due to deep tax cuts, was down. All government cost was rising faster than the government could borrow or print money to cover the increases. Even the military was being scaled back. Several contracts had been cancelled; many military efforts were being sub-let to military contractors. So, the issues were present. The people wanted to have a voice. No one listened. Certainly, their elected officials paid no attention to the crisis at hand—all they could do was double talk and bum money from the Super Rich and corporate America for re-election. Times quickly change. Now the cast-offs were revolting. History really does repeat itself, if one pays attention to history, which few do. We may inherit the past, but we can also intelligently design the future. Apparently, we became too bogged down with the so-called status quo.
After a few more shots and beers, we decided to leave the bar. Actually, Carmen was having too good of a time there, especially when she began showing off the anchor tattoos on her ass. A couple of the guys even started calling her “anchor ass.” Carmen always seemed to make friends wherever she went, even when she was in prison. . . .
The streets were now covered in thick waves of grey smoke, making it difficult to breath. Many of those still running the streets were wearing gas masks, or handkerchiefs, for protection. The air smelled of gasoline, oil, tear gas, and gun powder.
“You know,” I said to Carmen: “I think we need to buy fatigue jackets, ones with camouflage, like guys wear for hunting.”
“Why’s that? Want to fit in better?”
We entered an Army-Navy store off 18th Street and gazed disbelievingly. In spite of the action outside, or because of it, hordes of paranoid people were frantically milling around the store, buying blankets, boots, flashlights, knives, plastic rain gear, camping equipment; in short, everything they could carry; things they felt they needed in a time of emergency. It was like a weather event, a snowstorm, but with bullets. Being in a hurry, for what I couldn’t say, we cut in front of an old lady in line—she was only carrying a goddamn Butane lantern. Carmen decided against the camouflage jacket; instead, she bought a redneck bandanna to tie around her head, saying she’d rather carry her helmet in case she needed it for a weapon. She looked more like a ‘70s Punk Rocker than a motorcycle Madonna, now all she needed was an ice pick and the stage would have been set. After the purchase, I felt cool enough to kill. I wondered if this was really the true American way—guns and fun. However, the Asian store owner warned me about the “trouble” in the capital: — “Things are bad,” he said. “America have big problem. Go home. Be cool.”
“Don’t worry, be happy.” I said. “Look around, you’re making money. Anyway, it’s only life.”
The streets were still a buzz with citizens in continued conflict. More bonfires had been started; sirens wailed; shots rang out, and more buildings burned. “Interesting,” I said to Carmen, as we moved along, noticing a man with his extremely long hair on fire: “Where the fuck is he going, cocktail party? Business review meeting? The White House?” Of course, we just laughed.
A group of white guys, also wearing camouflage, and carrying automatic weapons and handguns, passed us on our left, laughing about having just . . . strung-up a cop. . . .
“Crazy bastards,” muttered Carmen, “Crazy.” The air was getting colder; so, for a moment, we warmed-up by a burning police vehicle.
“Looks like there’s a body inside,” I said.
“Is that a body, really?” Carmen asked.
A black guy came up to where we were standing, nodded to Carmen, saying, as if I weren’t even there: “So, this is what it’s comes to. Wow! Who would have imagined this? Like, it was bad before, know what I mean? But, now, you know, the authorities have less control, don’t they?“
“Forget about it,” Carmen answered. “Shit, I hear that the soldiers are deserting the army. It’s a rebellion, wake up, man! Pick a side. Join the party.”
“Yeah, so, where are they going, Chinafuckintown for brunch? Prison’s more like it, ask me.”
“Here, there, ya know, wherever the fight’s at, that’s where they’ll go. They’ll now be on the side of the revolution.”
“Don’t kid yourself, sister. The people here rioting are just angry. This’ll blow over. It’s just a storm, a dangerous, bloody storm.”
We started walking down the block, passed the police barricade—what was once a police barricade. It was now completely abandoned, and two wrecked cars stood in its place. Traffic was at a sand-still; horns blowing; drivers cursing; pushing; shoving, and even a knife fight. Obviously, traffic laws were not being strictly enforced. Nobody seemed to care. The cops were still overwhelmed, too busy trying to protect themselves, or the few remaining citizens who held government support jobs; and, as for those fools who were doing business, well, they were on their own. . . . A couple of national media vans were stuck in the snarled traffic; a nervous camera crew was filming a reporter in fuck-me heels and lots of pancake makeup, talking into a hand-held mike; she was hysterical. I approached the van and listened as she ranted about the lack of police protection, the destruction of public and private property. That the city had failed its people. . . . Carmen laughed, saying: “Like that’s something new. . . .”
Seemingly out of nowhere, a big guy approached me, carrying an automatic weapon: “Whataya need? he asked.
“I like the way you do business, I said. “Weapons. I need more weapons.”
“Need weapons, huh?”
“Yeah, more protection. Like maybe explosives.”
“Everybody need weapons-n-protection.”
“You asked,” I laughed, noting the way the flames danced off his shaved head.
“Yeah, it’s gotten serious, he said: “How much canya spend? Cash, Jack!”
I started walking away: “Hey,” he called. “You!”
I stopped, turned: “Don’t waste my time, dude. . . .”
“Kinda weapons y’all need?”
“Automatic with ammo, lots of ammo, now!. . . .”
“Everybody need that shit. It cost-n-hard to get. Plus, it’s dangerous too—“
“Whose side are you on, anyway?”
“Side? Side? Shit, I don’t take-a-side. Only way a real man get ahead in this here world is sellin dope, guns, or playin sports. I guess I’m on the side of dollas-n-cents. It all the same to me. Nothin’s gonna change my life. I’m either sellin shit, or I’m forgotten like the Indians, they’re the ones who should be angry, be fightin. . . .”
I looked at him. His face in the flame-light looked like it’d been bathed in oil, saying: “Man’s got to have a side—”
“No, he don’t. It’s about the money side, baby, it’s always about the dolla—“
Carmen pulled me by the sleeve of my coat, nodding her head for us to split. I pulled away, returning my gaze to the man: “I don’t think it needs to be that way,” I said, watching over his shoulder as the chaos reigned not far away: “We can change things. Join us. It’s a good cause—“
“There’s nothin in that for me,” he answered, beginning to walk away.
It was at that moment, and much to my surprise, Carmen lifted her gun and shot him in the back. We watched his body fall to the street like an empty suit of clothes. . . . Being somewhat surprised, I turned to Carmen asking: “Why? “
She shrugged her thin shoulders: “Man’s gotta take sides,” she said, casually stepping over the body and into the smoky street: “It’s gotta be about more than money.”
Timothy Resau’s Prose & Poetry have recently appeared in Origami Poetry Press: Z, a Mini Clapbook, Poetica Review, Abstract Magazine TV, Soul-Lit, Lothlorien Poetry, Superpresent, The Poet Anthology, The Decadent Review, among others, and is forthcoming in. Front Porch Review (photo), Alternate Route, Zin Daily, and Ephemeral Elegies. Find him at www.words-by-tim.com