The Clean Up

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UNITED STATES—It’s just too difficult to know where to begin. I have NO IDEA how it all happened. All I know is that I better write it down now, before my kids get back from school.

So, what happened? What exactly happened? No one really wants to talk about it face to face, its way too heavy. Maybe we’re all hoping that what just happened is a horrible nightmare that will go away. Except that it’s all over the TV and Internet: the Story, the Commentary, the Opinions. Projections.  This has to be the biggest new story to date since Y2K?  I guess its worse. Way worse than that.

I feel as powerless as most others, by the looks on their faces.

Ok Ok. Where to start?  My friend, well I didn’t know her for a long period of time, we were just classmates in Pilates, who got along, shared some jokes and went for a few coffees after class. Her life was gilded compared to mine. I know, bad idea to compare one’s life to someone else’s.

She was Connecticut Wasp. The Family had been there since the Tea Party days. Wealthy, stable, basically she got the ‘set for life’ card.  She was beautiful inside and out. Fun, smart, witty. I really enjoyed her company.  Her fiancé was cool too. The perfect New York, young professional couple. Her gorgeous apartment. A short stroll from her fiancé’s design studio one block below Houston. Carly and Berks. She used to joke that they were the Crate & Barrel of downtown New York.  I’ll always remember the expressions on that sea of faces; family and friends, when she got arrested at their official engagement party at the Pierre.  How Berks pleaded and begged while the FBI had her handcuffed and dragged away.

It all began in this coffee shop…maybe. Actually my story has to start somewhere so that’s where this starts, the rest is way too big and fragile to even explore right now.  A huge can of worms must have opened the sky that day while we were giggling at overhearing someone say to their friend at the next table: “Its Karma, Karma’s a bitch.” We use to joke a lot about ‘What’s Trending’.  And that was a classic for us, the whole ‘Karma is making its rounds.’ And ‘Don’t worry, Karma will catch up to them.’ Even the Tip jar in the coffee shop was now a Karma Jar.  More propaganda, more power tripping, more grasping at something to calm the nerves, to comfort the transgressed.  It was fresh Opium for the Masses we’d say. We joked that this catch phrase must have originated in California and from all those trips to India and Tibet the soul seekers had been making back in our grandparents day!

Carly was 33 years-old, a successful Lawyer specializing in Internet and Trademark Law. She was set to get married to her Harvard educated boyfriend from their collage days.  He was also very successful, coming from a hip Brooklyn and Harlem mix of musicians and award winning writers. It was perfect.  And I was going to be a bridesmaid. We had become a lot closer while planning her wedding.  She had her circle of friends but she somehow drew me in, right by her side as we would always manage to find the jokes in any situation. It was our Thing. That is how I became to be a witness to this personal side of the events that unfolded.

Perhaps ‘unraveled’ is a better word to describe how the most powerful nation in the world on the brink of its shadowing and decline swiftly upped the anti in the Rules across this land and overseas.  I don’t have the words to dare describe the present mood of the nation if it wasn’t for being able to join the dots in my reality away from the information coming from News broadcasts and the speculation and opinions from the Internet. Every one is seriously scared.  Every one of us has stopped in our tracks and I for one feel like I’m treading on eggshells. It’s like we are ALL waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I’m getting ahead of myself let’s go back to the coffee shop where Carly and I would hang out after class. It was about seven months before the FBI swooped in. She said that she had had a new client and that there was something oddly familiar about her. Although she couldn’t figure it out. Even when the woman spoke, her tone and choice of random words rang through Carly’s head for days. This client had let out a shrill, stifled noise when startled by a mailman who accidentally ran into her as she was leaving Carly’s office. Carly said her hair on her own body just electrified. Then she immediately jumped into another story telling me that some new neighbors had moved in directly below her and had started to make her feel very uncomfortable. Here is some of our conversation:

“I swear to Gawd, Rachel these glitches happen on there own. Like beats inside my laptop they break out for 2-4 minutes at a time.” She’s laughing a different way now more nervous, less carefree.  I’ve already covered over the laptop camera with a Bandaid. Now a red light flashes on and off from an Ad on my FB page.  I click on it to make it stop then get sent to the FB ‘report a problem’ link page. What’s up with that? We pause and break into our usual routine of ‘Whassup with That?’ a Brendan Keenan tribute moment from SNL, 2010 reruns. We both laugh our normal selves. Carly continues: “Strange Ads appear that don’t seem relevant to my lifestyle at all; ads for long, thick ropes, all sorts of old fashioned gardening tools, like from the fifties, sixties. Clothing and household advertisments too. I swear to Gawd, I am not making this up.” She says in a Voice Over Ad voice.

I’m laughing hard now, mainly to get her to stop feeling so tweaked out by any of this, cracking a few jokes about her mom messing with her head all the way from Connecticut. And the randomness of all this, perhaps its time she and Berks went upstate for a weekend out of the city.

As the weeks go by, Carly’s obsession with the downstairs neighbors increases: “It makes no sense that that darling couple would move out like that. All of a sudden, not a word.  And why was a middle-aged, bed-ridden man moved in? The same week?  I don’t mean to sound rude or snobbish” I inject a little elbow nudging, which she brushes off.  “I’m serious, Rachel.  It doesn’t make any sense for that type of building of ‘moneyed young professionals’ she says in one of her TV presenter’s impersonations.  I don’t want to pry.  But there seems to be quite a lot of action down there, I suppose they’re tending to him 24 hours although, none of them look like professional nurses.  More like computer nurds with food stains, crumbs and dandruff. I can’t get anything out of the Concierge, he now just gives me a look that makes me feel bad for being nosy about a disabled person.”

The-Clean-Up-Photo-2She tells me of strange deliveries to her apartment happening over the weeks; the corner diner delivery guy who arrived with a cassette radio blaring out Thin Lizzy’s ‘S&M’ from the 70s. He kept standing there manically singing along to it as she tried to tell him he’d made a mistake with the order: She had to shout: “I DON’T EAT MEAT!!  I’M A VEGETARIAN! I DON’T EAT MEAT!” Then, like a Jim Carrey joker he suddenly stopped yelling and said “REALLY? You don’t eat meat, eh?”  And walked down the hall in a Jim Carrey swagger, with the volume turned down low. Carly told me she could’ve sworn she heard that same song being played from the apartment directly below her for about an hour after that weird delivery guy had left.

The kitchen knife set sent to the ‘wrong address’ from Amazon. It had an upstate New York delivery address. She’d ordered three French dessert books and got six books delivered on how to butcher carcasses. “The address turns out to be near the same small town close to New Paltz that Berks and I have been looking for property to buy after the wedding.”

One day after class I walk into the locker room and see Carly holding up her smart phone towards the basement window above her. I burst out laughing she puts her finger to her lips as she points to the recording app in use.  After several feet have walked by overhead she turns to me and says: “I brought another phone, I’m using this one to monitor and record and while pretending to write text I’m video taping my day and all the people in my daily life; the mailman, the concierge, the baristas, the guy at the newspaper stand. I see that Look, Rachel!  I’m fine, totally sane but something is really going on that is not. Sane, that is. Insane I mean.”

We both laugh our all time laugh. Then she looks at me with eyes so deep and intense that I stop to draw a breath and she rushes in to fill the pause: “Rachel, something happened yesterday that threw me off stride.  I called the phone company about my cable bill and you know when the automatic recording starts ‘Please be advised that this call is being monitored and recorded for quality control…’ well I was recording THEM. When they put me on hold I noticed that the sound waves increased like there’s a whole other conversation going on in the silence.  I put down the phone, called back and replied to the ‘please be advised’ recording that ‘I did NOT want to be monitored and recorded’.  My own recording devise went to a whole other level at that point, unrealistic ballistic.”

“And?” I suggested.

Right around at this point unbeknown to either of us, the story that’s gone viral says that the woman taking Carly’s call started to get nervous herself as her equipment signaled that she was being recorded by ‘the customer.’ The agent’s ‘All American Happy Tone’ of voice was audibly shook up.

“Well,” Carly said after some thought. “At that point I realized that that big wooden antique armchair Berks and I had brought from the Middletown estate sale, you know on our last trip upstate, just didn’t feel right. There was something about it that was totally wrong for the apartment. Its energy maybe, I don’t know. Anyway, it had to go. Berks said his nephew had seemed to have taken a real liking for it and I said; fine, It’s his, please give the chair to Tommy just get it out of here asap!”

That same day as we had this strange conversation in the basement locker room off Lexington and 53rd, that same day downtown, directly below Carly’s apartment the story goes that two men were sitting at their computers: They look as though they’ve been sitting in their exact same positions for days. The room is still with the stagnation of immobility and an odor of multiple days of cheap take-out, bitter coffee and fast food. One of the printers turns its self back on and spews out reams of paper onto another pile.

“When are you going to file that?”

One of the men gets up, moves stiffly across the room. Its late afternoon and he is just about to find something interesting to say.

He picks up the computer printout and starts to fold while scanning the pages: “You’re not going to believe this!”

“We’ve got one.” Was his partner’s droll reply.

“Urr? How did you guess?”

“Seriously? You said: ‘You’re not going to believe this’.”

“Ahh.”

“Well lets see…bring the sheets either side of that one and lets take a look if this is a Power Ball or a Scratch-off.”

“I can FEEL it! This, my friend is a Power Ball.”

“Calm yourself…first, I am not your buddy and second this is not a job that includes feelings or hunches.”

The two men in their mid to late twenties hunch over the hardcopy data, scrutinizing the graphs and codes.

“Yes!” They both spring up and punch the air like a couple of collage cheeseballs at their first live Superbowl touchdown. High fiving mid air.

One of these boys makes the call to their superior who bellows down the phone: “Is it tight? It has to be waterproof. This is the first case in history. We’re going to the Supreme Court with this. The President himself needs to know that we got this one in the bag. No mistakes like the last few times guys. You gotta keep on it.”

“Yes, Sir. This Karmic Clearance is IN the bag. Yes, Sir.”

They were talking about my friend, Carly.  I have none of my own words to describe the rest, here’s what the Broadcast and the Networks say in their tickertape: This is what the world read yesterday morning at 3:30 a.m. EST:

KARMIC RETRIBUTION. Case Number1. Supreme Court.

Carly Wodesburne, female, of New York City, New York age 33: Is the first person to stand trail and to be convicted of crimes committed in her previous life. Found guilty by state of the art DNA testing and evidence gathered by a new elite Department of the FBI (The CU) Wodesburne was previously living as Tom Stokes, male of Middletown, New York, who died  aged 42 in 1979.  Stokes died as an undetected serial killer who committed a spree of at least six known murders in the first degree; five young women and one male child in the 1970s.  Wodesburne has been sentenced to Life without Parole.

The picture of the triumphant police vehicles speeding off down 5th Avenue like in some Mad-Hatter parade with Carly sitting inside alone with unimaginable feelings, sitting there in her beautiful, delicately tailored and slightly shimmering Engagement Party gown will remain etched in my mind forever.

By Jane Gang