The Lunchbox that Roared

Strange Bedfellows

(Continued from Monday and the Red-Tape Bomb Scare)

After NYPD tells us to cut and run, we climb out of the subway into clumpy overcast. The sun is doing its best to burn through, but it’s still a long cold lonely winter for the most part. Except that it’s hot. It’s nearly as hot on top as it was down below, and up here it threatens rain. I’m trying to imagine the Board meeting where they thought up weather like this.

R&D Weather Angel: OK, we have a new one we think you’ll be very happy with.
Jealous Angry God: That “rain of frogs” deal was pretty cool.
Department Heads: (nodding) Yeah, Tz’fardaya was a good one.
Jealous Angry God: I’m going to use it in a movie, I think.
R&D Weather Angel: Well, this new one, it has Yahweh written all over it.
Putti: Except not quite so dramatic.
R&D Weather Angel: Right, not so dramatic.
Jealous Angry God: How does it go?
R&D Weather Angel: We’re thinking it’s a hot scenario. So you see, it’s hot.
Putti: Really hot.
R&D Weather Angel: Really really hot. And sticky and sweaty.
Jealous Angry God: OK, sounds good so far.
R&D Weather Angel: And then it’s even hotter, and wetter. And then — here’s the good part — it almost rains, which would be totally wet, but it doesn’t, it just stays hot –
Putti: And then it gets even hotter!
Department Heads: Niiiiiiice.
Jealous Angry God: I’m liking it. I’m feeling it.
R&D Weather Angel: Now let me show you our plans for the subway.

Up top there’s a lot of standing around. All of the nearby buildings are evacuating, except for the gym, which is my gym as irony would have it. I haven’t been lately. I could have packed a change of clothes and done some cardio. The firemen don’t look happy in the Jealous Angry weather, togged as they are in layers of water-resistant canvas and rubber. The cops are a little more sanguine and mostly shrug a lot. And then there’s a little boom, not much of a thing at all really, but it freezes us all. We can just about see the 2001 dust cloud over again, smell the burning concrete, remember the grim tear-streaked cheeks.

There’s no call for any of it, of course. What we have is some sort of little bag on Montague Street near Court, and after the Bomb Squad x-rays it they decide to teach it a lesson, which they do with a high-tech pressurized watergun device, a sort of Super Soaker, I gather, for possible bombs. That’s what makes our boom, and shoots a little debris around.

Depending on which paper you read, the root of the problem is either a canvas bag containing a sewing kit and dish detergent — that’s the Daily News version — or it’s a lunchbox, which the police say had more than one sandwich in it — the latter from Newsday. If you read the Times this basically didn’t happen at all.

In apparent retaliation for the lunchbox, police nearly slaughter five brown tourists riding a bus, and mobilize to make sure that photographers only take pictures of puppies, kitties, and fish. Otherwise, the terrorists will win. Seriously: point your camera at anything with pipes or masonry and you’re risking a police incident. They’ll shoot someone soon enough.

It’s demoralizing to be in an anti-terrorist dragnet. Just after 9/11 we had an anthrax scare down here, in a building across the way. There was never any anthrax, of course, just panicked people who couldn’t let go and couldn’t hold on. Why would there be anthrax in a mailroom across the street? It doesn’t make sense. But when they set up chemical showers and guys in Hazmat suits start wading around right across from your office, it’s hard to keep your head straight. I was rattled. I was rattled for days.

This time it turns funny pretty fast, when I’m the one who has to tell the cop on the lower R station platforms that the action is over. He is suspicious. “Are you sure?” he insists. “They took the tape down? The red tape?” (Note to self — it looks like the yellow tape is for traffic control and the red tape is the serious business.) Yes, I tell him. They took it all down, they said I could come in here, the fire trucks are gone and the machinery was pulling out when I left.

He shakes his head. It’s hot three levels down on the empty R platform, and a few intrepid suits are trickling down now. He takes his radio off his belt, clicks it, shrugs. “You’d think they’d tell a guy,” he says.

About Linus

The man behind the curtain. But couldn't we get a nicer curtain?
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