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Thursday
Feb022017

Manning the Ramparts

“It’s still out there,” he said. He wasn’t fully worked up, but she could tell he was headed that way. Not frothing, just the usual rolling boil. He was exhausting. Always had been.

She looked at him, now, as he stood tensed at their living room, peering through a parted curtain at the offending van parked out front. There were times lately where she noticed herself being a little disgusted by him. Now, in his agitation, was a such a time. He was only on his first goddamn cup of coffee, and he was already in a lather. Which was made worse, somehow, by the fact that he was still in the dingy long johns he slept in. They were all stretched out in the ass, making him look even more disheveled and pear-shaped than he already was.

She directed her gaze away from him, standing there all aggrieved and saggy-assed.

“Joel. Just leave it,” she said in the same kind of exasperated tone you’d use with a dog you caught drinking out the toilet for like the millionth time.

She turned back to her tablet and read the same goddamn line for the fourth goddamn time. Jesus. She just wanted to read the goddamn paper before she had to shower for work.

“Listen,” she said. “Could you grab me some more coffee?” He shambled over to her, eyes still fixed on the gap in the curtain where he’d been surveilling the van. He took her mug and headed to the kitchen, muttering.

“Idiot,” she said softly, at the screen of her tablet.

She didn’t even want more coffee. She was just redirecting him. The way you do with a toddler. He brought back her mug, trailing steam. He returned to the window. She read the same line again.

“Been out there for like thirteen days,” he said, in that voice he got when he was seething about something, but trying to sound like he was not seething. He also, she knew, tried to sound like he was estimating. “Like thirteen days,” he said. As though he didn’t know exactly how long that van had been parked out there, which she knew good and goddamn well he did. He always knew the particulars when he was on one of his tiny crusades. He believed that facts imbued his idiot causes with something like justice. In this, as with so much, he was entirely wrong.

She turned off her tablet. If she read this same line one more goddamn time, she was pretty sure she’d whip her coffee cup at him.

“I’m gonna shower,” she said. He gazed out at the van. He called it the Abduction Van. Cause it looked like the kind of van you’d see in an Amber Alert.

She turned the handle, held her hand under the faucet, waiting for the water to get hot. Was he technically correct? Sure. That skeevy-looking van should not be out there. Or the guy who owned the van should have gotten Illinois plates and a city sticker and all that shit. But he wasn’t gonna. He was gonna leave his beat-to-shit van right where it was, hulking on the goddamn curb like a dented primer gray pile of robot poop. And the handyman or whoever it was that owned the thing was probably not making a goddamn nickel now, in February, because everybody who might hire him was just hunkered in their houses waiting for a thaw to start refinishing their floors and shit.

And, yes, it sucked that this ugly space-and-a-half-taking van was out in front of our place; and yes, it is technically wrong that the dude has not gotten his Illinois tags and stuff; and yes, this unsightly Abduction Van represented an incremental increase in the hassles Joel encountered trying to park their car on the block – but guess what? Living in a city means dealing with all manner of inconvenience and indignity – it’s death by a thousand cuts. That’s what it IS. If you goddamn rail against every goddamn cut, you have no goddamn time for anything else.

But Joel was nothing if not compulsive – he pursued every inconsequential thing to the bitterest extreme. Because like every armchair revolutionary, the closer he got to being absolutely right about something, the more feverishly insufferable Joel became.

She couldn’t do this today. She had to get ready for work. Joel had time for this shit. He freelanced writing blog posts for a handful of search engine optimization companies – brainless, easy work she considered not merely beneath him, but beneath us all. As a species. Because his mind was effectively unoccupied, he could spend his days surveilling the offending van and its criminal owner.

The next day, after a crappy workday, followed by a tense dinner where Joel’s attentions remained divided, followed by passing out on the couch to Netflix and snorting awake in the dead of night to shuffle, teeth unbrushed, to bed, she awoke to find Joel skulking at the window with an even more crazed edge to him. He was just about dancing like he needed to pee. She said nothing and headed to the kitchen.

Joel had made no coffee. As she grabbed the filters, she made a mental note to use this fact in their next fight.

When she had a coffee, finally, she went out and sat in her chair and fire up her tablet to read the paper. Out the corner of her eye, she could see Joel bouncing on the balls of his slippered feet, head swiveling between the van outside and her in her chair. He was clearly bursting with a desire that she ask him what he was so keyed up about. She sipped her coffee, pointedly ignoring him.

Something happened outside. Something Joel had been waiting for. He flattened his nose against the cold window. She sipped her coffee. Joel, suddenly, was crestfallen. She suppressed a malicious laugh.

She rose to get ready for work. Joel followed her to the bathroom, and the bedroom, and the kitchen and the bedroom again, barely taking a breath in his incensed monologue about the note he had written to Van Guy, a note that Joel quoted liberally, using air quotes each time, a note that repeatedly featured the word “discourtesy” and told the heroic tale of how he snuck downstairs in the predawn to tuck it under the van’s wiper then hustled back upstairs for the big reveal. Then, in sputtering outrage, as she snagged her keys and made for the door, Joel told how Van Guy had plucked the note from under the wiper, balled it up unread, and deposited it on the curb.

As she left, the thought she might have seen a tear quivering on Joel’s lower lid.

“Idiot,” she said, as she made her way down the stairs.

Of course it escalated from there. Of course it did.

In the coming days, Joel called the city’s non-emergency number a bunch of times, anonymously, to narc on the shirking van. Then he let a bunch of air out of the van’s tires. His masterstroke, she thought, was when he scattered a bunch of birdseed and crumbled suet cakes on the van’s roof. Within hours, the criminal van was spattered and streaked with a Jackson Pollock’s worth of bird shit.

But ultimately, of course, Joel’s frenzy and fury led nowhere.

Because Joel, she could see clearly, now, was very much the idiot she’d been calling him for months. As his jihad gathered intensity, she soured on him completely – expressed as a line graph, Joel’s van fervor climbed in spiky ascent, while her Joel fondness plunged precipitously downward.

Joeal was an ineffectual turd and she had come to hate him.

Eight days after the bird shit caper, she kicked him out. Joel made like seven trips back and forth past the van as he loaded his shit into an Uber.

She watched out the window as the Uber pulled away.

“Idiot,” she said, really meaning it.

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