March 18, 2009 12:00

FALSE SPRING: An abstraction in three acts

It’s not hard to fool the Bradford pear trees. It’s just a couple days after a freak March Carolina snowstorm and already they’re giving up their creamy purple flowers, their pheremonal funk. Even the weatherman knows this won’t last, this three-day burst of premature sunshine balm, but it’s hard not to buy into it when you’re walking down South Elm Street in a couple thin layers, the warm air easing deep wintertime tension in your knuckles and toes. You’ve been to the library and procured a book — Irvine Welsh’s latest, Crime, about cops and pedophiles, which he spells “paedophile” or refers to as “nonces.” You tuck it under your arm and head north a few blocks to Center City Park. An open chair in the shade by the lawn, a surreptitiously lit cigarette, the sun blasting off tinted-glass towers creating wavy reflections of the cityscape.

You read for a while as a young mother hosts a picnic for her two small children. No more than 10 yards away, a stringy brunette with glasses has the same idea. It’s hot. You take off your jacket. You glance around, and then you take off your shoes.

Socks too. The balmy breeze blows between your toes.

***

Let me get this straight: American International Group is like the biggest insurance company in the world. Too big to fail, the pinstripes are saying. So big that people who should know about such things seem reluctant to even confront the possibility of AIG going under. Mayhem, they say. Crisis in consumer confidence. Dominoes.

So fine, we give them $85 billion in the fall. That’s a lot of clams. In fact, it’s enough to pay off my entire debt load with more than $84.999 million to spare. My debt —mortgage and student loans, mostly, with a bit of credit card usury on top — is ineligible for bailout. Not that I ever expected or asked for one. Then over the last few months,

AIG has accepted another $85 billion or so in taxpayer money — about four times the annual budget of the state of North Carolina, bringing the total to $170 billion, which… okay, fine. Too big to fail. Mayhem in the streets. I’m suitably fearful.

And now we see that $165 million, which is about $50 million more than the annual budget of the city of High Point, goes over to AIG executives for their performance in 2008, and to ensure that the company can retain their services in 2009. Keep in mind these are the same executives who brought AIG stock from $55.30 a share in January 2008 to $1.57 a share in 2009. Today it’s trading for 50 cents. Imagine what the bonuses would look like if they had a good year.

Was this the plan all along: for multi-billion dollar corporations and the millionaires who run them to make one last raid on regular people’s money? Hope dissipates.

***

He’s totally going to lose it. He’s going to lose it in a big way, and when he does the cats will scurry through that small door into the garage and the kids will run for cover — the smart kids anyway. Any dumb enough to stick around for the tirade will likely just resume their requests for juice, for snacks, for hot meals and clean clothes, or perhaps to report some wrongdoing on the part of another sibling.

That would be a mistake.

She’s been gone since Friday, and on Sunday night, just hours before her return, things are starting to unravel.

The weekend began with a round of early bedtimes as punishment for infractions past and present. Then came a Saturday morning rage brought on by the wanton destruction of cherished toys and a steadfast refusal to accept responsibility or clean up the mess. Then today, Sunday morning, as pancakes griddled on the stove, came an insinuation that a child in the house was starving. He stopped making pancakes and downloaded a few pictures of actual starving children to show the little punk what hungry really looks like. The little bastard just stared at them, indifferent, wanting to know how soon he could eat.

The children, he fears, are lost… gone feral while he logged hours on a project, worked story angles at night. All the while he’s rolling the laundry, collecting the garbage, rinsing plates for the dishwasher until the dishwasher goes bad and he lugs tools from the garage, pulls it apart, puts it back together.

And they’re jumping on the beds, loading toilets with wads of tissue, knocking over folded piles of clothes, wasting food, complaining about the weather and ratting each other out for the smallest of infractions.

He’s approaching his threshold, though he has no idea what he’ll do when he reaches it. The sky grows dusky and the rain lets up. He’s filled them with heavy food, meat and potatoes, lots of it, and they eat without savoring, without any consideration of the meal, where it’s from or how it came to be cooked on plates in front of them. But the meat slows them down, relegates them to their rooms where they watch out the windows.

He folds one last load of laundry, racks one more round of dishes, wonders what they’ll bring to school for lunch tomorrow. And he sees the flash of headlights against the windowpane.

“Mommy!” they scream. They rush the front door and swarm their mother, knock her suitcase from her hand. Their affection is too powerful to be contained.

He watches this from the kitchen doorway. He’s smiling before he realizes it. My little angels, he thinks to himself. It makes him warm.

Also in Crashing the gate

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