In Which There Are No Good Answers

This post is entirely unfettered by a narrative arc.  I wish you the best of luck making sense of it. I can’t.

I walked home from lunch around noon today, and there was smoke billowing out of a storm drain at one of downtown’s busiest intersections.  A woman in a uniform was making a phone call about all the smoke, and unaccountably standing on top of the drain.  A red-shirted downtown ambassador across the street was unhelpfully taking a picture with his cell phone. By the time I’d crossed the street and made it four or five storefronts down, the scene was a full-on fire, flames spouting up from the storm drain beneath a high-rise.  That didn’t look good.  There were sirens, though, so I figured the uniformed woman had already called in the troops.  I got out of the way.  I thought, huh, that’s an odd thing to see, downtown. Wonder what is burning beneath the city? But it never even made the news.

Running errands this afternoon, I did a lap around the North Hills Target, where they have Christmas aisles set up.  Christmas.  October 4th.  I was all, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO it is the downfall of American culture.  Street fires? Interesting.  Christmas in October? Ranting and raving and cell phone photos in outrage.

I spent the rest of the lovely fall afternoon having pizza with a friend at Lily’s, running innocuous errands, making a birthday cake for the dawg. (I can feel the judgment.  I am immune to it.  I believe in celebrating everything worth celebrating.) When everything came out of the oven, we went for a walk, and that’s about when the wheels came off.

We got about three blocks from home, and we were at the parking lot near the godawful wedding-cake looking NC State Bar building. My degree in architecture doesn’t qualify me for much, post global recession, but I feel fully qualified to call out egregiously inappropriate and anachronistic buildings. I was harshly judging the building when I realized there was a man next to me, collapsed in a small heap, face down on the little strip of grass next to one of the busiest streets in Raleigh.  I’m not foolish enough at this point in my life to think that there’s a whole lot I can do to intervene in a situation of this magnitude other than call for help, but I’m also not jaded enough to be able to walk past another human being face-down on the ground. So I stopped, and asked if he needed help, but he couldn’t answer, or wouldn’t, and I was about to try a third time when things got chaotic.

Dawg, who sounds ferocious from outside the house if the mailman is on the porch, is apparently a giant cream puff, was unglued by my proximity to the strange man on the ground, and responded by wrenching himself free of his collar and taking off at breakneck speed.  At rush hour. Towards Edenton Street.

He’s probably not crazy enough to run out into the street. I don’t think.  But I don’t know that for sure, as he is a 70-pound force of nature with the impulses of a puppy, and as he ran off down Edenton Street dancing on the little strip off grass between the sidewalk and the rush hour traffic, I thought, this is how it ends, and had a moment where I thought, this! This is why you don’t take on creatures who aren’t going to be around forever, and fall in love with them and make them birthday cakes and let them sleep on your bed and make them part of your family, because you just can’t control everything, and you just never know.

I’m actually pretty rock solid in a crisis, though, and then I fall apart afterwards, which is what I’m doing now.  Fletch loves nothing more than playing Keep Away, and it was clear from all of the tail wagging that he just wanted to play and was giddy with all of the freedom.  I knew if I ran after him he was likely to run out into Edenton Street, just for fun, so I pretended I was playing, too, and ran the other direction into the giant parking lot.  He followed me, and ran in giant circles around me for a few minutes, racing towards me and then away again, and he is slippery like an eel, but he didn’t get farther than the edge of the parking lot.  A man with a dog stood on the sidewalk asking helpful questions, like, are you trying to catch him? Which was not helpful, although in retrospect maybe he was trying to be my last line of defense between Dawg and traffic. By this time face-down man was also calling out to me, it sounded like he was cheerful and making a joke about the frantic puppy making crazy laps around the parking lot, but I couldn’t hear him and he never got off the ground. Eventually Fletch found something on the ground that looked like food, and as he was eating whatever questionable parking lot substance he discovered, I was able to get the collar back on while answering other helpful questions from parking lot passers-by. Yes, he’s a big one.  Yes, he has a lot of energy.  Yes, he is very playful, and I walked him briskly away from the scene.  And I was shaking. When I looked back, helpful bystander with the dog was next to the man on the ground, and he was making a phone call, so I left.

I walked all the way home thinking about the fall of the Roman Empire, for no reason at all, except that the streets are on fire and Target has lost track of the seasons and I can’t control my dog and there are people lying face-down on the sidewalk.  Oh, and our government has actually shut down because of a political standoff, so although thus far nobody I personally know has been affected, it’s when systems start shutting down that we end up with people seriously in need, people who fall through the cracks. People lying face down on the sidewalk a block from our Governor’s Mansion. I’m not even bothering to watch the news; I know what they’re saying.  There’s a lot of anger and blame and posturing, and there are at-risk people all over the place who are going to be desperate if they don’t straighten things out pretty quickly. There are at-risk people out there who are already desperate. Just up the street.

I got Dawg home, and I drove back down the street, and the man was gone.

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