Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sanity Restored?

Since I moved entirely across the country, from our nations #2 worst traffic to its #1, I have primarily missed my friends.  My attitude towards friendship is one I hope to explore in a future blog someday; for now let it suffice to say that personal relationships are the thing I most value in life.  So, yes, I’ve missed seeing those people every day to whom I’d grown close.  And that’s it.  Really, nothing else about living on the East Coast was worth crying over.  Oh, perhaps I spent a few moments here and there bemoaning the radical difference in Chinese food (you order chow mein here and they bring you lo mein, for Christ’s sake!).  But that’s hardly a serious worry.  Basically, if everyone I had left behind just had the good sense to move out to California like I did, there would not be a single reason for me to ever regret no longer living in Washington DC.

Well, until yesterday.

For the first time in three and a half years, I actually thought about not living in DC any more and went “bummer.”  The reason?  Why, Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity, of course.

I was listening to NPR on my way home just Friday night, and I heard this curious comment, from Timothy Noah, who is apparently a “senior writer” at Slate:

I have had the growing suspicion that the participants in this rally don’t entirely think of it as a comedy show, anyway. I think that they are mistaking this participation in this rally, they are mistaking for some sort of political statement. That confusion troubles me.

Now, normally I like Slate, but I have to say that Mr. Noah’s confusion troubles me.  The idea that someone might make a political statement that is neither Democratic nor Republican, neither Conservative nor Liberal, neither right nor left, is obviously so inconceivable to Mr. Noah that he can’t even consider it.  No, any attempt to “restore sanity” to our political process is obviously a “comedy show,” of course.  And he sure hopes everyone who goes there knows that they’re just supposed to laugh at the silly men on stage and then go home and get serious about voting.  ‘Cause if those people thought they were making some sort of “political statement” ... well, that would just be sad.  Imagine that! a political statement about reasonableness and compromise!  What a joke!

Now, at this point I have self-identified as a Liberal, because I have not only admitted to watching “The Daily Show” but also to listening to NPR.  Geez, how much more liberal could I get?  Well, obviously I could be watching MSNBC or listening to Air America, but somehow that distinction is lost on most people who lean even slightly to the right.  So I fear I will have to let you know that, if you already think I’m a Liberal at this point, there’s not much point in reading further (not that you should be reading at all, of course: see title of blog).  If you know that people who listen to NPR and Jon Stewart are Liberals, then you already know everything about reasonableness and compromise that you’re going to learn in this lifetime.  So save yourself a giant waste of time and move along.

So the question for those of us who remain is, am I a Liberal?  A famous Winston Churchill misquote (though based on actual quotes from some French dudes) is: “Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains.”  There is something to be said for that line of thought, I suppose.  In American society at least (and I suspect in most Western countries), the older you get, the more you have to deal with monetary reality, and the less you have to deal with sociological pronouncements from academics.  With that sort of climate shift, is it any wonder that you might start caring more about the amount of money that the government removes from your pocket than the disadvantaged members of our society who eventually receive it?  You perhaps have a family now, and you require money to keep them safe and happy, and more money to send your children to school (maybe a private school, and certainly college), and then what about retirement?  You want to take my money and give it to “poor” people?  By God, if you keep on dipping into my wallet like this, I’ll be poor!

So I’m not saying I don’t understand it.  I’m just saying I don’t buy into it.  I know that there are people in our very own “richest country in the world” who are starving to death, and it isn’t because they’re lazy, because they’ve been coddled for too long on our cushy welfare system, or because of some defect of character.  Those who believe this—even very quietly, to themselves—remind me of Ebeneezer Scrooge ... not the fellow from the countless theatrical adaptations, but the fellow from Dickens’ own pen:  Are there no prisons?  And the Union workhouses?  Are they still in operation?  The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?  Ah, but Scrooge, many can’t go there, and many would rather die.  Well, if they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.

This seems to follow, not only very logically, but inevitably, from the proposition that I’m taxed too much.  I’m sorry, but as long as there are people in the streets of my city starving to death, I’m not being taxed too much.  And we can argue that the government’s vast inefficiency is swallowing the money instead of it getting to the people who need it, and we can argue about whether the homeless poeple you see on the streets are actually starving or whether, no, they’re quite well off: they can make more beggging than many people do in an honest day’s work, and blah de blah de blah.  That’s just fiddly bits.  The basic question is whether you believe that you, as someone who is most likely middle-class, as someone who most likely has never had to wonder where your next meal might come from, bear any financial responsibility whatsoever for those less fortunate than you, or whether you believe in saying “fuck ’em.”  You can dress it up and call it capitalism and wax eloquent about it being the foundation of our system, but, in the end, it really is that simple.  At least to me.

So, yeah, I reckon I’m a Liberal, and an old Liberal at that.  I suppose that makes me brainless.  Of course, if you followed that link about Churchill’s misquote above, you perhaps read this: “Surely Churchill can’t have used the words attributed to him. He’d been a Conservative at 15 and a Liberal at 35!”  So at least I’m in good company.  (Not that I was a Conservative at 15, or any other age.  But you know what I mean.)

Now, I’m not entirely a Liberal, of course.  Hardly anyone ever is entirely this or that.  For instance, I’m in favor of the death penalty, and I’m opposed to gun control (for the most part).  But, sure, I’m mostly a Liberal, and I don’t really have any problem with admitting that.  So, as a Liberal, the Conservative is my arch-nemesis, right?

But that’s just silly.  Let’s take my friend Alain.  Now, Alain might say that he’s more of a Libertarian, but, then, I might say that too, and that hardly demonstrates the great political divide between us.  So let’s just stick with the classic right/left thing.  Do I think that Alain is a moron?  No, of course not.  Do I even think that he is a heartless bastard?  I emphatically know that he is not: honestly, he wouldn’t be a friend of mine if he was.  He’s just someone who has a different perspective than I do.  And you may recall that I even pointed out that I understood his perspective.

On the other hand, Alain is one of those people who knows that I’m a Liberal based on my Tv and radio choices.  And that I really don’t understand.  Alain tried to explain to me once why he thought Jon Stewart was a Liberal, even though he makes fun of everyone.  “When he makes fun of Liberals, he makes fun of what they say.  When he makes fun of Conservatives, he makes fun of what they believe.”  Now, for the life of me, I can’t see this on the show.  Obama is someone I supported very strongly for president, but he hasn’t always lived up to my expectations, and Stewart has always been there to point those things out as well, often quite unflatteringly.  He has roasted Nancy Pelosi just as mercilessly as Karl Rove, and lampooned MSNBC every bit as much as Fox.  This past week, he interviewed Obama directly.  When Obama tried to weasel his way out of a question Stewart had to put to him, Stewart came right back and asked the question again.  Did he fail to push as hard as perhaps some Conservatives would have liked?  No doubt.  But he’s played that same softball with many Conservatives as well: the man’s just a polite interviewer.

So I watch Jon Stewart because he’s an equal opportunity critic.  Because he’s sane and reasonable in his interviews, even when talking to people who are decidedly not (check out his Rod Blagojevich interview for a prime example).  Because he calls people out for saying the opposite of what they said yesterday and denying they ever said it, and then runs the tape to prove their hypocrisy.  And he does that to everybody.

So when the man says “let’s hold a rally to restore sanity to political discourse,” I do think that’s a political statement, not a comedy show.  (Colbert is a whole ‘nother can of worms.)  And I think it’s a statement worth making.  And that’s why I ever so briefly wished I still lived in DC yesterday.  So that I could join the throngs of people making the bold statement: I disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.

Maybe I’ll get a T-shirt.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Chapter 7


Johnny wanted to answer her, but the mist—if it could still be called that—was thick over his mouth.  It was more like the consistency of jelly now, or vaseline: gooey on his bare skin, and cold and damp through his worn jeans.  It covered his eyes as well; looking at Larissa now was like staring through curved glass that had some sort of greasy film on it.  But sight and touch were still dulled slightly, as were his other three senses (or seven, if Larissa was right, which she generally was).  This strange new, otherworldly sense had peaked, and it was receding now, but there was still enough of it left to make his normal senses seem diminshed.  He tried to hold on to it, knew that he needed to do one last thing, and knew that he didn’t know what it was.  Maybe he could sense the answer, the same way he had known what to do with the mist ...

He stepped back.  Not with his body, exactly; more like with his being.  And as he stepped back, the mist, or gel, or whatever it was—still retaining the rough human shape it had acquired from being spread over his body—was ejected forward, and now there were two figures in the box.  Johnny shook his head, feeling woozy, and stumbled backward.  The cardboard box was now a bit crowded with two of them standing in it, and Johnny tripped over the side behind him and half stepped, half fell out of the box.  Catching himself with one hand, and now keenly feeling the cold air on his bare skin, he looked up at the figure still in the box.  It was completely clothed (unlike himself), and even had gloves.  A wide-brimmed hat kept the face and neck in shadow.  It seemed to be a man, but it was difficult to tell, as the clothing seemed lumpy in odd places.  There were two tiny glints that must have been light reflecting off eyes—the bare light bulb was very close above the figure’s head, so that almost made sense, although there was no reason the brim of the hat, large as it was, should keep the face pooled in that much shadow.  When it spoke, the voice was raspy, like ripping paper.

“What day is it?” it asked.

Johnny just stared.  Larissa spoke cautiously, unsure who or what she was addressing.  “It’s Tuesday.”

“What day of the month?” it asked, more sharply.

Johnny shook his head and looked at Larissa again.

“September the 10th,” said Larissa.

The figure flexed its workman’s gloves.  “I’m early,” it rasped.  It stepped out of the box and turned to look at Johnny.  “Thank you,” it said.  “For bringing me through.”  Johnny tried to extricate himself from the box with little success.  He looked up at the strange, misshapen figure.  Its shirt was cornflower blue.  Its pants were denim coveralls.  Its shoes were crinkled black boots turned down at the tops.  Johnny stared at it in fascination.  The figure turned to glance briefly at Larissa, then strode down the alley.  When it reached the sidewalk, it turned left and was lost from view.

section break

Johnny was still on the ground, with one bare foot in the cardboard box and one arm behind him holding himself up off the ground.  “That was ...”  Johnny trailed off.  There was no reasonable way to complete this sentence.  Larissa stood, staring at the end of the alleyway with her lips just barely parted, as if frozen in the act of one of her diatribes.  For several seconds, no one moved.

Larissa closed her mouth and turned back to Johnny.  Weirdly, her eyes held no surprise, or fear, or even curiosity.  She just studied Johnny, as she always did, but he began to feel uncomfortable.  “Um, yeah,” he floundered.  “Maybe I should ...”  Abruptly a shiver coursed through his body.

“You’re cold,” Larissa pointed out.

Johnny wasn’t sure that was the ultimate source of the shiver, but Larissa wasn’t wrong either.  Late summer it might be, but it was night, and there was a September breeze kicking.  He disentangled himself from the box and began to put his socks and shoes back on.

Suddenly the ambient light dimmed a bit.  Johnny looked up, confused.  Larissa turned back to the mouth of the alley, which was now pitch dark for some reason.  There was a huge snort from that direction, half cranky old steam engine and half large hoofed herbivore.  Johnny froze, his laces pulled tight.  From the corner of his eye he saw Larissa’s head twitch.  But his focus was on the darkness that had swallowed their only exit back to the real world, the world where matronly whiskey-swilling old ladies might know more about you than was strictly logical and white-clad street preachers might grab your head and make freaky pronouncements and your whole unchanging life might seem more like a weird dream, but the real world nonetheless, where you did not cover yourself in mist and spit out bizarre otherworldly travelers.  That world now seemed very far away indeed.

Suddenly there were twin beams of red light in the darkness, and a heavy, sharp metallic click.  The red lights grew brighter, swinging back and forth, and the metallic click was repeated.  Whatever it was, it was advancing.

And then, the sound, coming from far away.  At first, it seemed like a police siren, a very familiar, comfortable sound, but then it fell when it should have risen, or perhaps rose when it should have fallen, and the real and the unreal abruptly diverged.  This was not the howl of a responding black-and-white, oh no.  This was the howl of an honest-to-god wolf, a huge beast with a deep barrel chest, and the sound carried the mournful wail of a deep winter wind embedded inside it, so that Johnny knew this was a white wolf, a great white wolf with ice-blue eyes, standing on a hillside overlooking his domain while the snowflakes eddied and swirled all around him ...

The red lights swung around and disappeared, and there was a profusion of clicks and another great snort.  The lonely, wintry howl was repeated, perhaps a bit closer this time, and there was a squeal from the end of the alley, a whine of clear frustration that was again partly mechanical and partly organic, with just a hint of heavy grunt at the end, and suddenly they could see the street again.  A couple walked past the end of the alley, holding hands.  They unconsciously huddled closer together when passing the opening on their right, as non-street-people usually did.  It was such a slice of ordinary human life that Johnny almost became convinced that he had just suffered an elaborate hallucination.  He turned to Larissa in confusion, his hands still holding his laces taut.

Larissa spoke rapidly but very cripsly.  “I think,” she said, “it is time to leave now.”

Johnny snatched at his remaining clothes on the ground.  “Fuckin’ A and hell yeah to that, sister.”

They fled.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Buying a house sucks

It's a nice house, it really is. I'd give you a link, but the thing about buying a house is that they they take it down off all the sites trying to sell it, and then you can't see the pictures any more. But trust me, it's a very nice house. Of course, after the pleasure of finding a house you really want to buy, then there's the horror of having to deal with the mountain of paperwork that accompanies a half-million-dollar transaction. And, apparently, if you actually read all that paperwork and ask intelligent questions about it, this brands you as some sort of freak. I know my real estate agent and his "transaction coordinator" (whatever the fuck that is) and my loan officer already hate me. And I look forward to meeting many new people involved in the process who will all hate me too.

Also we're still looking for our lost cat, and our new kitty has a respiratory infection, and it looks like our scaly child may have been snakenapped, and it appears that I have some bizarre disease now, of which the ultimate consequence is that I'm typing with roughly nine fingers. So if you're wondering why I'm not posting anything here, now you know. Not that you cared, I'm sure. But I thought I'd tell you anyway.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Chapter 6 (concluded)

Continuing down 18th, he felt mildly guilty about his lie to the guitarist, but he certainly hadn’t been about to admit that he’d been drinking to dull the feeling of something invisible pulling at his guts.  And apparently it had worked: he had felt nothing like it all morning.  He glanced covertly at Larissa to see if she was studying him, but she was just walking and watching life on the street.  He decided to do the same.

And so down the busy avenue, a liesurely stroll in the warming late morning air.  When the lunch rush came out, they stopped to work the crowds and pick up a bit of coin.  Then they got some burgers at a fast food joint and continued wandering down the road.

By this point, they had left Adams Morgan and drifted into Dupont Circle.  When they hit New Hampshire, they turned right and soon arrived at the eponymous traffic circle.  It wasn’t really big enough to be called a park, but there were trees, and a few street people: Parking Jimmy, snoozing on a bench, Saint Thomas, who was one of the few street people who was well and truly crazy, muttering to himself as always, and the new face everyone had been talking about at court two nights ago, whose name Johnny had misplaced.  He turned to Larissa for help.  “Drew,” she murmured.  Johnny introduced himself.  Drew was white, older, still a bit skittish.  “Anything you need,” Johnny said to the new guy.  “Either of us would be happy to help out.”  Drew thanked them nervously, then moved on.  Johnny and Larissa relaxed on the bench with Jimmy for a bit—he cracked an eye at them, but didn’t really wake up—then decided to move on themselves.

They headed down Massachusetts, which would eventually take them to the construction site where the new Convention Center was almost finished.  Security around the site was pretty tight, but it was occasionally possible to sneak inside for a night, and, if this breeze kept up, they might appreciate being out of it.  But somewhere in the midst of evening rush hour Johnny suddenly felt it again.

He stopped abruptly on the sidewalk.  People jostled him, some muttering unfriendly remarks.  Larissa pulled him out of the flow of foot traffic.  Leaning against a building, he looked down the street.  It was a bit to the right of the new Convention Center, which he could just make out the top of from here.  Probably a bit south of Mount Vernon Place, then ...

He glanced over at Larissa.  She was studying him again.  “I think we need to go back to Chinatown,” he said softly.  She simply nodded.

section break

They spent the next several hours following the occasional tugs that Johnny felt.  By the time dusk fell, they had crisscrossed Chinatown’s six or so square blocks perhaps a dozen times.  They got as far east as St. Mary’s, as far south as the Verizon Center, back west to the Convention Center (the current one, not the new one they were building), back north to Mount Vernon Square.  The feeling was always just out of reach, and maddeningly intermittent.  Any thought of dinner was forgotten.  Occasionally, people they knew called out greetings; they ignored them.  They tried alleys, roads, parks, anywhere they could get to without risking unwanted attention.  Each time they came up empty.

“What time is it?” Johnny asked finally.

Larissa again gazed skyward.  “About 9:30,” she pronounced.  It had been dark for a while now, but of course the city lights were still bright.  The night air was slightly nippy.  At the moment they were walking south on 5th, just crossing I Street.

“I dunno,” Johnny said, frustration oozing out of his pores.  “I can’t seem to ...”  He stopped.  Larissa stopped as well.

To describe it as a “tug” was no longer sufficient.  This was as if he had been transformed into iron and placed near a giant magnet.  His teeth seemed to be vibrating.  He felt like his heels were being pulled along the sidewalk.  He found he was unconsciously leaning backwards to balance himself.  Glancing at Larissa, he found her staring at him with widened eyes.

“I gotcha now, you bastard,” he muttered triumphantly.

He began walking, faster and faster.  Just before they reached H Street an alley appeared on their right, and the pulling sensation abruptly vanished.  Johnny turned to Larissa.  “I think,” he said breathlessly, “that we’re finally here.”

The First Gate

Johnny and Larissa turned the corner and went down the filthy dead-end alleyway.  Several restaurants had back doors or side doors that let out on the alley and lots of food trash went out to sit, calling to the rats and the cats and the bluebottle flies.  The smell was nauseating, but in a mercurial way, constantly shifting:  one thread out of the melange—say, spaghetti—might predominate for a split second, giving that strong marinara scent that might almost be enticing, and then immediately it would get swallowed up in a soup of egg foo yung, refried beans, Korean barbecue, and sour milk, nearly making you retch.

Larissa’s nose wrinkled, and her hand rose to cover it.  Johnny seemed oblivious to the olfactory assault; his eyes were fixed on a lone light bulb burning at the end of the alley, over the last door on the right.  Slowly he picked his way towards it.  Larissa followed.

When he reached the light he could see what had drawn him there.  There was a single wisp of mist, curling around the light as if caressing it.  It floated slowly, unusual at first only in its solitude, but Johnny just stared, unmoving, as the minutes ticked by.  And, as the time elapsed, they could see that it was completely abnormal mist, because it would slowly float to the edge of the illumination provided by the bulb, then it would turn around and float in the other direction.  And when it reached the opposite edge of the light, it would turn again and start back.  Except, of course, that mist didn’t turn around.  That was ... preposterous.

After a few circuits back and forth, Johnny reached out to touch the mist as it went by.  He heard a gasp and a truncated plosive over his shoulder; Larissa’s concern for Johnny was obviously at war with her sense of detachment.  But he wasn’t worried.  He knew the mist wasn’t there to hurt him.  Actually, the mist wasn’t there for him at all ... he was there for it, in some way.

As his hand passed through, the mist swirled around it, seeming to cling to the short hairs on the back of his hand.  As Johnny slowly pulled his hand back, the mist seemed to want to follow it, briefly, then it pulled away from him, almost as if with great effort, and went back to its original spot.  The feel was not particularly unusual—cool and moist, as you would expect mist to be—and yet there was something that Johnny felt beyond feeling, something that he was aware of on a level that he didn’t even know he possessed, as if the whole concept of five senses was a lie and he actually had seven, or eleven, or nineteen.

“It is,” agreed Larissa, talking fast now.  “You have nine, not including your sense of time and the homeostatic interoceptive senses ... visual, auditory, vestibular, olfactory, gustatory, somatic, thermoceptive, kinesthetic, and nocioceptive.  The concept of five senses was advanced by Aristotle, who of course also believed that there were only four elements, or five if you include aether, and nobody believes that drivel any more, but for some reason the five senses thing just ...”  She trailed off into silence and Johnny returned his attention to the mist.  Curiously, since he had touched it, it was just hanging in the air, not pacing back and forth as it had been before.  He stepped forward and looked at it, put his hand out but didn’t actually touch it this time, just held it close, mere millimeters away, and opened up a door in his mind and reached out.

Then Larissa was shaking his shoulder, with some determination, and he looked lazily back at her, curious but not worried, and she was talking again, in that college-professor way she had that was so weirdly incongruous in a girl of her whatever-age-she-was, and he couldn’t really make out the words she was saying because his hearing was turned down because this other sense, this new sense, was cranked way up, and he was cocking his head to one side now, in what Larissa, judging from her expression, found to be a very un-Johnny-like way, and he spoke, or at least his mouth opened and words came out: “I have to put the mist in the box.”

Larissa looked down.  There was a large cardboard box, open, empty, and clean, which in itself was bizarre beyond belief in this food-strewn alley.  She looked back at the mist.  She looked back at Johnny.  She enunciated very carefully.  “That’s just silly.”

Johnny smiled, a big dopey smile, and he nodded.  “Yup,” he agreed happily.  “Very silly.”  Then he began to push and scoop and swirl the mist over to the box.  And because it clung to his skin ever so briefly after his hand passed through it, he actually made some small progress, pulling the mist gradually over to the box.  Once he reached the cardboard, he took off his coat.  Larissa pointed out that it was getting cold.  Ignoring her, he took off his outer shirt, and then his tee-shirt.  His nipples puckered in the night air, but he couldn’t actually feel it.  He kicked off his boots and then pulled off his socks.  He actually had his hands in the waistband of his trousers when he remembered Larissa.  He looked back at her.  Her eyes were big and round.  He felt he ought to blush at this point, but somehow that didn’t matter.  “That’s probably close enough,” he said softly, still smiling.  And then he stepped into the box.

He pulled the mist to him, then squatted down on his haunches.  Immediately he felt a strong urge to urinate, but he suppressed it.  He began to spread the mist over his body—that was really the only way to describe it—and it felt moist and sort of squishy and vaguely ... organic ... and both comforting and a little bit gross at the same time.  Mostly it felt right.  And although it hadn’t seemed like there was very much of it—just one little wisp of mist, after all—for some reason he was able to keep spreading it, and spreading it, until every inch of him seemed to be covered.  Once he was finished, he looked down, concentrating on a spot on the bottom of the cardboard box between his feet, and his eyes began to burn, as if he had something stuck in his eye, only it was both eyes, and instead of blurring his vision, he could see everything much more clearly now.  Everything was both brighter and darker and the world made so much more sense ...

When his head cleared, he was standing again, and the mist was thick and unmoving on his skin and his pants.  His feet were together, arms stretched out to either side, as if he were portraying a crucifiction victim.  Larissa was staring at him, open-mouthed, her eyes still large.  “You’re wearing someone,” she said.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chapter 6 (begun)

The Morning

Johnny sat bolt upright and stared wildly around him.  For many long seconds he had no clue where he was or what might be around him.  He flailed about with his hands until he hit something soft; still unsure, he poked it.

Something grabbed his wrist.  He gave a muffled shriek and tried to pull back, but it held him firmly.  Suddenly there was a spark and a flame, and he was looking into Larissa’s eyes.

He gradually got his breathing back under control.  Larissa let go of his wrist and held her dented Zippo aloft, looking around for the source of his fear.  If it even had been fear ... “I think,” he started hesitantly, his voice rough, “I think I must’ve had a bad dream.”  She stared at him.  He shrugged.  She sighed.

Having satisfied herself that there were no immediate threats, she put the lighter away and squatted on her haunches with her back to the alley wall.  Gradually, Johnny’s eyes adjusted to the dim light; it was pretty black in the back of this particular alley, but it was never completely dark in the city.  Johnny could see the dumpster that protected them from prying eyes and the slight autumn breeze.  He could make out some light in the alley beyond it.  And there was a glow in most of the night sky, although they were under an overhang.  He tried to remember how they had come to be here.  Last night was somewhat blurry, but he thought he remembered going out ...

“We’re in Adams Morgan,” Larissa supplied helpfully.

Johnny thought that might sound familiar.  He tried talking again.  “Why?”

“We went out drinking with Jet and Grinch.”

He stared at her blankly for a bit.  “We don’t drink,” he finally contributed.

“Apparently,” Larissa noted, “one of us does.”

Johnny pondered this.  “Let me guess: is it me?”  Larissa nodded.  “I thought so.  Maybe I should go barf now.”

“That could be helpful, if you have any undigested alcohol.  But I doubt that, given how long ago we went to sleep.”

Actually, Johnny didn’t really feel nauseous.  Just ... fuzzy.  “How much did I drink?”

“I would say about 6 fluid ounces of Irish Mist and roughly 18 ounces of Milwaukee’s Best.”

Johnny raised his eyebrows.  “Really?”  He almost felt impressed with himself.  “That sounds like a lot.”  Larissa didn’t respond.  “How did I get liquor?” he asked.

Larissa shrugged.  “Grinch bought it.  He and Jet were drinking it.  You asked if you could have some.  Jet said he didn’t think it was a good idea, but Grinch gave you some anyway.  You drank it.”

That did indeed sound remarkably simple.  “And the beer?”  Larissa just looked at him.  “Same deal, I guess.  Yeah, that would make sense.”

“You’ve been drunk before.”

Johnny decided to take this as a question.  “Once.  I raided the liquor cabinet when my parents were out of town.  I was ... I dunno, ten, eleven?  It was right after ...”  He paused uncomfortably.  This was dangerously close to talking about family.  “Anyway, after that, I just never thought alcohol was that great.  Just something else that makes you sick.  That’s why I haven’t had any since I got here.”  Since he came to live on the streets, he meant.

Larissa didn’t comment.

“I don’t actually feel drunk now, though.  I guess I must’ve been, last night, since I don’t really remember much, but now ... I feel okay.  Just a little disoriented when I woke up.”  He stood up, stretching his cramped muscles.  “Do we need to stay here, or ...?”

Larissa stood as well.  “It’s about 5:30.  The sun’ll be up in an hour and fifteen minutes or so.”  She looked back at him expectantly.

“So I guess we’ll move along then,” Johnny said.  “Where to?”  Larissa just waited.  “Yeah.  Let’s just ... we’ll walk.”

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The alley opened onto Columbia Road.  Traffic was already starting to pick up in the pre-dawn gloom, and many breakfast places were open.  Johnny wasn’t particularly hungry, but he bought a bottle of water for each of them at one of the shops and then they ambled down to Columbia and 18th, the heart of Adams Morgan.  Light was beginning to seep into the sky, and foot traffic was picking up as well.  They ran into Filbey, one of their fellow street urchins, who was planted on a corner of the busy intersection with Dotty.  They exchanged greetings, but it would be considered rude to horn in on his time, so they didn’t linger.  They moved on down 18th, looking for nothing in particular.  Ducking into the network of alleys between 18th and Columbia, they ran into a knot of street folk and spent some time exchanging pleasantries.  They had just missed Whiskey Sally, apparently, but Randall and Sanchez and Marge and several others were still wandering about.  There was a brisk trade going on—cigarettes for clothing for food for liquor—but they didn’t need anything in particular and had nothing in particular to offer.  By the time they emerged back onto 18th Street, morning rush hour was winding down.

Strolling down 18th, Johnny happened to glance to his right and noticed a tiny record shop below street level.  The sign was roughly chest high: Back in the Groove.  Johnny stopped abruptly.  “Hey, isn’t that where the Grinch works?”  Larissa didn’t correct him, so he assumed he must be right.  “What time is it?” he asked.

Larissa looked up at the sky.  “Almost 10,” she decided.  Johnny went down the short flight of stairs to the front door of the store and looked in.  The pink mohawk was unmistakable.  He tried the door, but it was still locked.  He rapped softly on the door and the Grinch turned around and caught sight of him.  He pointed at his wrist; there was no watch there, but Johnny got the message.  He shrugged and spread his hands.  Grinch looked skyward in an exaggerated “why me?” expression, then pointed to the wall to Johnny’s right.  Johnny glanced over and saw a narrow dead-end alley.  He nodded, then turned around and went back up the stairs.  Larissa was waiting.

“Just take a sec,” he told her, then walked over to the alley.  About halfway down, a small door opened and Grinch stepped out and lit up a cigarette.

He puffed briefly then looked over at the two kids.  “Johnny Hellebore,” he half-smiled.  “And his ever-present sidekick.”  Larissa arched an eyebrow at him, but he just chuckled.  “What’s up?”

Johnny was normally a bit intimidated by the Grinch, who was a good two or three inches taller (not even considering the hair) and possibly a hundred pounds heavier, none of which was fat.  But this was the man he’d gotten drunk with last night, right?  “Hey man.  I was just wondering ... I don’t have a real clear memory of last night.”

Grinch gave a rare toothy grin.  “I bet you do not, my friend.  I didn’t think you could actually hold your liquor, but I reluctantly admit: I was wrong.  You were packing it away, street rat.”

Johnny decided to take that as an affectionate nickname.  “Yeah, so she tells me.”  He indicated Larissa with his head.  “I just wanted to make sure I didn’t say anything embarrassing or anything like that.  You know?”

Grinch focused on Larissa briefly, then went back to his cigarette.  “She tells you, eh?  Does ‘she’ actually have a name, as it happens?  It’s not really Alice, is it?”  He waited for a reply to this, but he didn’t seem surprised when he didn’t get one.  “Embarrassing?  Nope, you were solid, small fry.  You were, in fact, rather happy, as I recall.  You kept saying, ‘See? Now I can’t feel it.’”  Another puff.  “Whatever that meant.”  He looked appraisingly at Johnny.

Johnny hoped his face didn’t look as shocked as he felt.  “Hunh.  Welp, no idea what the hell I was talking about there.  As long as I didn’t try to take my clothes off or throw up on anyone, I guess I’m good to go.”

Grinch stubbed out his cigarette on the brick wall.  “Nope, nothing that might have gotten you arrested, jacked, or beat down.”  He stuck out a hand.  “In fact, we’ll have to do it again sometime, eh?”

Johnny was a bit taken aback, but he shook the large hand that was offered.  “Thanks.  I ... yeah, definitely, next time I’m in the neighborhood.”

The Grinch’s grip was firm, but the man didn’t try to crush his hand.  “Take ‘er easy.  I gotta get back to work.  Almost time to open up the shop.”  Johnny nodded, and the pink mohawk disappeared back into the little door.

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