Published on MuzeCollective.com on May 28, 2014.
I want to wake up in the city that doesn’t sleep… 5:00AM. I lie there and listen to Frankie belt it, New York, New York.
These little town blues, I mumble, hitting the alarm. The blurry world comes into focus. I shuffle across the chilly floor and where my running shoes are waiting. Mom and Pop smile at me from their frame. They’re standing hand-in-hand, holding the prize for “Best Bacon Hors d’oeuvre” at the Bacon Takedown. Pops’ glory days in the bacon business. I notice their hands: young, before the needles and wristbands and bruises. Pops was gone the week after his heart attack. Mom took longer—first her sight then her kidneys. One Sunday on our downtown walk at Battery Park, I bent down to tie her shoe and saw blood on her sock; under her sock, a giant sore. They did what they could but the infection had already spread. I held her hand till it was cold. That’s the day I started running.
Shoes tied, I head down to the street where the crisp morning air always gets my pulse going. I can barely hear my steps on these new sidewalks, some nanofiber-asphalt hybrid. It’s more durable and less expensive than concrete, plus they say it’s good on the joints. The city rolled it out everywhere to promote the new exercise requirement. I see my running group and fall in line. The sidewalk gives a little underfoot, almost springs me forward me on as we run up 8th towards Central Park.
We cross at Columbus Circle. Carefully. Since gas engines were outlawed these silent electric cars can sneak up on you…you’d be surprised how many people protested that law—they slept in their gas cars, burned trees, slashed electric cars’ tires. Some wack-o even shot at the mayor; he was a gas taxi driver with a mohawk and camo, a real-Travis-type. The protests went on for a few weeks but in the end everyone came around.
We make our way to the southwest entrance of Central Park and stop at the fountain behind the bull. The line isn’t bad and the crisp water tingles as it goes down—that’s the vitamins and energy stuff. I can’t remember what it’s called, but they’ve been excited about it since the protests. I figure it’s for the best: since they started it, I sleep better and get more done at work. The tingle’s not so bad…except after the Yankees lose, then it can make your eyes tear up like a Diet Coke out of a can.
As I start back to the trail, my friend Charlie passes by. He’s got the look of a guy in the bottom of the ninth. There’s no talking, so I nod as I catch up. Then I get a whiff of his clothes and almost retch as the sweet, doughy smell clings to the back of my nose: doughnuts. Charlie and his doughnuts. He must make his own now since the ban. I picture him in his kitchen, windows drawn, dipping the sugared flour into bubbling grease, the fatty yellow stench seeping into the wallpaper like in those “Lifestyle” posters you see nowadays. I slow down, letting Charlie get ahead of me. Catching the Proctor’s eye, I lift my eyebrow and subtly flick my thumb towards Charlie. The proctor gives me a nod and, keeping Charlie in his sights, flips the red switch on his platform.
Two tones blare through the park: everyone south of the field stops. There must be 2,000 of us out here and we grind to a halt and wait as the Proctor walks towards Charlie, reaching for his holster. Charlie knows the drill and, quivering, holds out his hand. The Proctor pulls out his analyzer, pricks Charlie’s finger and sucks up a drop of blood. ‘Cholesterol 140. Blood Sugar 205. Detain for modification,’ the thing says. Without a word, the Proctor motions to a bench where the Device is mounted. We glare at Charlie as he walks toward the bench. “Shame on you,” a woman snaps from behind as we wait.
Two more loud tones and we go on jogging. Behind me, I hear the “tap tap tap” of the Device reprogramming Charlie’s brain. I think about his brother down in Florida who just died of a heart attack! I’m glad I got to Charlie before he ended up the same way.
After lap three, we start back down Broadway. I look east through the skyscrapers and see the first hint of sunrise. Shit. If I don’t pick it up, I’ll be late for work. I race ahead through Times Square where the buzzing screens are about to turn on. 34th…Union Square…then 4th to 9th to 3rd. I breeze past McDonalds where a picture of moist, juicy oats with plump, apple chunks tempts me.
My legs burn as I turn down St. Mark’s, the home stretch. Then ahead I see smoke trickle through this third story window. Not fire smoke, more like stove smoke, from some schmuck who forgot something on the burner. I run closer and a chill runs down my spine when I smell it: salty, meaty, perfect. Bacon. Not tofu bacon or turkey bacon or even that low-fat fake stuff. Real bacon, the stuff Pops used to sell. After the ban, I’d sneak over to Aunt Fran’s in Jersey where she’d save a couple slices for my late-night BLT. My God it was good. But then they started random blood checks so, before I got caught, I turned myself in. Every day they’d put that thing—the Device—over my head and zap it: “We’re re-programming your neurons,” they’d say. And they sure did; I haven’t had a craving…until now. The smell, the taste. Jesus! My mouth waters, my hands tremble. I close my eyes and roll the salty, crunchy flakes over my tongue…and right as I start to pity the waste of bacon I remember Mom and Pops. “Enough!” I shout, frantically unzipping my pocket, fumbling for my cellphone to text in the crime: Fire at 3rd and St. Mark’s. Bacon fire.