Friday, July 29, 2005

Orange Alert Coming Down 

Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.”

Practically ever other entry in your journal contains a description of a hangover. The nouns and verbs clash in a cacophony of tenses, points of view and degrees of realism. Adjectives pour down the page and invented adverbs rise up and capture entire passages. The pages are stained with the residue of attempted remedies.

This morning you cannot even manage a description of the hangover. The light smashes through the window, sending tiny sharp shards through your retina. Your fingers stumble over the keyboard producing false-start sentences that crawl from left to right and refuse to follow one another in any intelligent pattern. So you reach into the side-pocket of your laptop case and pull out a worn copy of the penguin edition of Lucky Jim. Kinsley Amis wrote the best description of the hangover ever and that will suit you just fine today. You only wish it didn’t hurt so much when you laugh at the line about the secret police.

As the train pulls out of Penn Station your new Cingular Audiovox phone chimes the arrival of a text message. You thumb through the phone’s menu to open the messaging inbox. It’s a text from Dodgeball, a service that allows subscribers to send friends texts messages revealing which bar they are drinking in.

“Ok! We just sent a message to 25 of your friends in NYC letting them know you are at the Cellar,” the message reads.

It’s nine in the morning. Despite your enthusiasm for early drinking, you have never been in the Cellar that early. You’ve never been in any bar that early, not counting Saint Patrick’s Day, the day of the New York Marathon and a couple of very, very late nights. Why is Dodgeball lying to people?

The phone rings. The ring tone pokes long, dull needles through your skull. Why won’t the phone stop making such a damn racket? You answer it more to silence it than to hear whoever is on the other end. It’s AMK. She sounds concerned. She got your Dodgeball message. You mumble something about a Dodgeball glitch but then the train goes through a tunnel and the line goes dead. You don’t bother to call her back.

The phone rings again. Another concerned friend. This time you just hit the “reject” button and send the caller into voicemail. You’re going to have to explain this or you’ll never hear the end of it.

“That was last night. No idea why Dodgeball thinks I’m in the Cellar now,” you write. You address the text message to “nyc@dodgeball.com” and attach an exclamation point at the front to activate the feature that lets you broadcast a message rather than a location to your dodgeball clique. That should keep them quiet.

The phone chimes again. Andrew Krucoff is at the Magician. Is he mocking you? Or has Dodgeball decided to start placing him in bars on its own as well? Another text. David L. doesn’t believe you aren’t in a bar. He likes the idea so much he’s on his way to meet you. What has Dodgeball started.

Another text. It’s Janelle. “Dens broke Dodgeball last night.” So that’s it. The inventor of dodgeball checked into Dodgeball from the Magician one too many times and his invention rebelled. Later you will read his blog and discover that this was also the night he got his very first buy-back at the notoriously stingy watering-hole. You’ll become convinced that these two events are connected.

With Dodgeball gone haywire and each chime announcing a text message spiking your brain, you decide to shut the phone off altogether. You unfold the newspapers you bought. The type of the Wall Street Journal is a bit too dense for someone in your state, so you read the Times instead.

Paul Sperry of the Hoover Institution has a piece on the Op-Ed page decrying the decision not to single out young Muslim men for the searches of bags the police are carrying out in the New York City subway stations. The mayor has vowed their will be no profiling. The targets of the searches will be chosen at random. Anyone carrying a large bag or package into the subway might be subject to search.

You wonder for a moment how police can search people randomly. Humans don’t take actions at random very easily. We tend to act in accordance with our perceptions of our surroundings. To really make a search random the police would need some sort of randomizing algorithm that would trigger a search. Who wrote that software?

It’s hard to deny Sperry’s point: we should search young Muslim men because they are the ones carrying bombs. Not all of them, to be sure. But right now it seems that nobody else is carrying bombs into the mass transit systems of European systems. Searching old ladies and Irishmen is simply a distraction.

“Once an Islamist suicide bomber is sitting next to you on the train, your chances of escape are slim,” Sperry writes.

This doesn’t sound right to you. What you can do is move to another part of the train, a very far away part. This means you have to know how to recognize a suicide bomber. Sperry’s article does a good job of providing the relevant details. The bomber will be a young man. He’ll likely be freshly shaven and have a short haircut. He may be praying, which will look like he is whispering to himself. He may smell like rosewater.

Rosewater? You make a note to yourself to find out what rosewater is and then find out what it smells like.

It occurs to you that there are plenty of people on the train with large bags and there were no police and no searches as the passengers boarded. This is second largest train station in New York but you noticed no visible security. This is not reassuring.

You get up and begin to walk up the aisle of your car. No one fits Sperry’s description. You wonder whether you should check the car ahead of you and behind. How many cars do you need between you and a suicide bomber? You decide to walk back two cars to the cafe car. Some coffee would be helpful. All this vigilance is not agreeing with the hangover.