Sunday, April 24, 2016

On a Lost Cell Phone




My wife’s mother has been ill. So Julie went to visit her and stayed overnight. In the morning, she called me to tell me about her visit. I said to her that, already this morning, I had been threatened by villains, chased through flooded streets, tortured, and, at last, threatened with an axe hanging on a rope like a pendulum. I didn’t tell her that I had experienced these adventures as a girl, a winsome, plucky police sergeant investigating the death of a fellow officer.

Here’s how this happened:

The lady cop was undercover, working a chop-shop in a remote borough. The boys on the floor were mostly Sikhs. Something went wrong and the cop was killed execution-style. Her body was found in the city dump on the tow-path next to the canal. All of the members of the Force were in mourning and a tribute was scheduled for murdered police officer at a park on the edge of the city. I wanted to attend that tribute and, also, knew that it was expected of me.

I left home not knowing the exact location of the tribute to the dead lady-cop. I had written down the address but didn’t have directions to the park. My plan was that I would use the maps application on my cell-phone to guide myself to the tribute once I reached that part of the city.

The memorial celebration was scheduled for mid-afternoon. I left my house in the morning. Rain had fallen over night and the sidewalks were marked with the pink calligraphy of earthworms dying in puddles. Over the range of skyscrapers, I saw greenish clouds assembling – more rain was on the way. The buds on the trees and shrubs didn’t seem optimistic, but rather sullen, involute, and malevolently alive.

A text message on my phone contained a clue about how the lady-cop had been killed. I decided to follow that clue. Perhaps, I could solve my colleague’s murder before the memorial tribute in the afternoon. I talked to several informants, meeting them at anonymous vacant lots or construction sites. A picture began to emerge: the cops in borough where the chop-shop was located were corrupt. They were earning protection-money off the enterprise. The police-officer had died as a result of collusion between the cops and the Sikh mob running the chop-shop.

HQ was protected by fortifications of desperate poverty. The bombed-out streets were hard to navigate because of cars stranded and without hubcaps or tires in the pot-holed intersections. People stood on street-corners and seemed to be signaling to invisible confederates. The sidewalks tilted down to the grubby gutters, hocking-out slime from the ruined houses. The cop-shop was behind a barricade of fire-bombed cars.

Needless to say, the local gendarmes weren’t too impressed with my inquiries. After I identified myself as a cop, the officer on duty led me into a back room for interrogation. My credentials were challenged and one of the policemen confiscated my cell-phone. A police officer wearing a suit came into the interrogation room. He had a fireman’s axe tied to a rope. The cop tied the rope to an overhead pipe and, then, let the axe swing toward me like a pendulum. This seemed an odd way to conduct an interrogation – perhaps, the idea was to corner me into making some kind of threat or aggressive response, an act that would earn me a beating and, maybe, even authorize the corrupt cops to silence me. But I simply side-stepped the swinging axe and kept mum.

Some kind of disturbance arose. I heard the rattle of automatic weapons being fired in the alleyway. The police bullying me, retreated from the room. Loud voices sounded and there was a concussive blast. The cops had left the door open and so I ventured into the hallway, then, found a door to the outside.

The picture was clear enough to me now. I had to get to the memorial celebration to tell my story to the investigators. It was raining now and the streets were flooded. The direction that I had to travel was blocked by a waterfall, a huge filthy torrent of water pouring down the short, steep street. There was nothing to do, but plunge into the water and wade across the street, the current threatening to flop me over in the flood. The streets became increasingly narrow and led uphill and I was breathing heavily. Suddenly, it occurred to me that the cops had taken my cell-phone and I didn’t know how to find my way to the tribute. I kept moving but felt that it was pointless. These abandoned, empty streets weren’t leading me anywhere in particular.

A couple of young cops from the precinct where I had been interrogated appeared. At first, I was afraid that they would drag me back to HQ but this fear was unjustified. They were on my side and wanted to join my crusade against the killers.

We happened upon the chop-shop. The Sikhs swarmed out of the shack, some of them holding welding torches like weapons. With my allies, we withdrew into a dank, rust-bucket of an old school bus. We thought that we could make a stand in the school bus. But we heard heavy feet thumping overhead and wiry, agile men swung into the school bus from its smashed side-windows. Outnumbered, we faced down the Sikhs. One of them had an axe tied to a long rope. The man slung the rope over a pipe above me and, then, pushed the axe in my direction – it swung at me like a pendulum, blade down. It wasn’t hard to evade the swinging axe, but I refrained from touching it – the idea, I thought, was to justify our massacre if I were to push the axe on the rope back in the direction of one of the Sikhs.

I imagined several stratagems that could extricate us from this perilous situation. A woman was among the Sikhs and I thought that, perhaps, she and I could bond. Since I was a woman myself, I thought we could share confidences. I asked her if she had known the dead woman. She said that they had been friends and I saw that her mascara was running with tears. She was planning to go to the memorial in the park that afternoon.

The Sikhs weren’t interested in fighting. They went back into the shack. The girl from the chop shop and I walked away from the stacks of crushed and mangled cars. I had left my car back at the police HQ and, so, we were on foot. Then, I realized that I was no longer carrying my cell-phone. A sudden feeling of futility overwhelmed me. All my personal data was on the phone and, without its maps, I would be helpless to find my way through the maze of streets. An enormous sense of loss paralyzed me. I sat down on the curb in despair. Now what? The girl looked at me quizzically. It was as if a part of my body had been amputated or, worse, as if the mainsprings of my will had been excised away. Now what? Now what, indeed?

I awoke. In this dream, I had been twice threatened with personal injury. I had scaled a waterfall against the current and navigated an urban wasteland. Bad guys by the dozens had mobbed me. But it was anxiety over a lost cell-phone that triggered my most intense feelings, a horrible sense of devastation and hopelessness.

Anxiety dreams are as old as the human soul. But, here, there is something new under the sun. That the loss of a cell-phone would be experienced as a calamity so intense and fearful as to be literally crippling is a new phenomenon, a new development in the human imagination. Cell-phones have become literally prosthetic – they are limbs and faculties, a sixth sense, with which we cannot exist. In my dream, I mourned the loss of my cell-phone the way that I would grieve the death of a close family member. The appalling aspect of this loss knocked me awake and, then, my feelings of sorrow and remorse and fear at the loss of my cell-phone shrouded me in despair for the better part of a rainy Sunday morning.

I don’t know what to make of this development, this strange mutation of the imagination. And, so, I will duly record it. Perhaps, someone else can make sense of it.

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