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Report From the Front (The First Battle of Snoose Boulevard)

Gwendolyn, the Gorgeous Bag Lady, has had a difficult summer. It’s not too much to expect that a person, who has never in her life harmed a soul who didn’t have it damned well coming to him, and who has never said a disparaging word about anyone, would be entitled to a little consideration. Who would have believed that, because some half-baked politician in Tinseltown, D.C. labeled her atypical, she alone would bear the blame for the street people situation, or that she would be subjected to the sort of invasive and humiliating investigation that was launched this spring in the name of a “Kinder and Gentler Nation”?

During the campaign last year, the president had promised to do something about the problem of homelessness. He knows full well that, since 1980, the population of unemployed, under-employed, poorly fed, and ill-housed men, women, and children has mushroomed. During the seventies and before, the number, consisting primarily of alcoholic, chronically bewildered, or otherwise unproductive human baggage, had remained relatively stable. But over the past decade, this societal burden has increased exponentially. The situation calls for drastic action; it has reached the point that decent folk hardly dare venture out on the city streets. They’re even showing up in the malls now. Shit-oh-dear! Gimme a break!

Furthermore, it has become increasingly apparent that, in addition to the aged and the prematurely aged, more and more children—with and without benefit of clergy—are living on the street. And the president, who hasn’t believed those old stories about storks or cabbages since his second attempt at Hygiene 101 in his senior year at Yale, knows those children are coming from someplace. In the minds of administration analysts, there could be only one explanation: Those bag ladies have been copulating!

We must interject here that, to the B-movie mindset, this represents a catastrophe overshadowed only by Zombies on Broadway. What if they all started voting, for Christ’s sake? It could be the end of civilization as we know it. Bells and flashing red lights were activated throughout the White House, the Hoover Building, and the underground complex at Cheyenne Mountain, and teams of official, if clandestine, ghostbusters sprang into action. This was a national emergency of a scope not seen since “a date which will live in infamy,” and no expense, no constitutional protection, would be spared.

To head the task force, the president appointed a man whose very name strikes fear into the hearts of alien entities, supernatural emanations, and commie-rat bogeymen—a man who, in the event of presidential incapacitation, is the best qualified to succeed to that most high office in all of Never-Never-Land, even if he doesn’t look as much like Robert Redford as he seems to believe—a man we shall call simply Lieutenant 12:15 A.M. Armed with a note from his mom and a presidentially -approved license to commit grievous bodily injury and contempt of Congress, our hero launched an attack on this insidious evil. An evil that threatens to pervert our national purpose and to provide statistical ammunition to the subversive elements of the fourth estate.

No search for the fabled elephants’ graveyard ever rivaled the attempt to locate and destroy the secret breeding ground of the bag ladies. We know very little of the strategy or the rationale of the strike force, but we can infer from ensuing events that it was grounded in the knowledge that most bag ladies are well beyond their fertile years, and very few enjoy even hailing proximity to desirability. So the initial phase was a search for the young and productive ones, who were undoubtedly responsible for the plague of runaway reproduction.

We sincerely regret anything we may have done to publicize Gwendolyn’s virility and thus lead the Improbable Missions Force to the quiet streets and alleys of the West Bank. And we swear on our mothers’ graves that, in spite of the alternating threats and attempted bribes, we did not cooperate in any way with the subsequent investigation.

For several days, Gwendolyn had suspected that she was being followed. Young men in dark suits, snap-brim hats, and sunglasses seemed to be lurking everywhere. She didn’t find this particularly alarming, however, as several of her colleagues had had similar experiences. One of her friends has survived thirty-seven attempts on her life by Bulgarian spice merchants this summer alone. Another suffers the indignity of periodic abduction by extra-Venusian biologists who hope to breed her to Elvis Presley, whom they are holding hostage in their unidentified flying lemon meringue pie spacecraft. Gwendolyn knew that it was only a matter of time until someone came looking for her.

At first, there was only one. She remarked how out of place he looked on Snoose Boulevard—recently bathed, clean socks and all. But later that day, he was joined by a second, who might well have been his twin. The next morning there were four of them.

In other parts of the country, the hot leads, which had been so earnestly pursued, led only to dead ends and disappointment. And agents began to congregate around the one confirmed sighting of a young and desirable bag lady. From the highest echelons, word came down that the nemesis of the free world, the queen bee of the bag ladies and mother of all the country’s street urchins, had been located in Minneapolis’ West Bank community. A full-scale assault was hastily organized, and all units were ordered into action. The alley behind Big Alice’s Fine Wines and Burgers was designated ground zero.

The agents received their assignment encrypted on rice paper, the better to swallow it once the message had been committed to memory:

1. They were to observe the subject without being seen.

2. They were to follow the subject to the secret breeding ground of the bag ladies and destroy it, together with any eggs or larvae or whatever it is that bag ladies lay.

3. If all else failed, they were to capture her alive for interrogation.

4. They were, under no circumstances, to initiate deadly force without first completing forms #157/2XS and #69-7/SOL in triplicate.

Back on Snoose Boulevard, things were beginning to get out of hand. To look over your shoulder and find that two or three young men in black suits, snap-brim hats, and sunglasses have been following you is one thing. But when the parade stretches out for half a block behind you and you know that, from each doorway you pass, another will step out and fall in line—well, it‘s god damned disconcerting. That’s what it is. Gwendolyn had better things to do. She patrolled the largest turf in the Twin Cities, and she couldn‘t be bothered with these silly hide-and-seek games.

The time had come to make a stand. She would choose the time and the place, and she had one extraordinary advantage. She had been working on a secret weapon, which she had developed and used with some success on Reverend Oral Do Goodly the previous spring. She would show those creeps what it means to trespass on the turf of Gwendolyn, the Gorgeous Bag Lady. They would never know what hit them.

On the morning of July 13th, she rose even earlier than usual, long before the first blush of dawn lit the eastern sky. Seeing no reason to disturb their slumber, she tip-toed around the agents who had been on stakeout since 10:00 o’clock the previous evening, and she disappeared down the alley into the darkness.

The sun was well up in the morning sky when the drowsy guards revived sufficiently to realize that their quarry was gone. Urgent phone calls were dispatched to mission headquarters, and soon the streets were crawling with smart young men in dark suits, snap-brim hats, and sunglasses, peering into doorways and culverts, combing the tall grass in vacant lots, and scurrying across the rooftops in ever-escalating desperation.

Obviously, they had underestimated the resources of the devious Gwendolyn, the Gorgeous Bag Lady. Through some cunning artifice, she had detected their presence and, almost certainly, had ascertained their intentions. The first and second directives had been obviated; the third, as tempered by the fourth, thus became their governing dictum. She must be captured alive at all costs. But first, they would have to find her.

As the day wore on with still no sign of their elusive quarry, the team leaders grew progressively apprehensive. If they were unable to locate her by nightfall, they would be forced to inform the Lieutenant back in Washington that she had escaped. And the Lieutenant would not be pleased. He would not take into account the fact that they were dealing with a fiendishly clever adversary. His report would state simply that they had failed. Their careers would be in the toilet.

The sun had already set, and they had given up all hope of finding her when Gwendolyn suddenly appeared in front of the Sanitary Cafe, pushing her shopping cart along the boulevard seemingly unaware of the anxiety her absence had engendered. The agents were at first skeptical, but then rationalization came to their rescue, and they realized that it had been inevitable. They were, after all, the cream of the intelligence community; how could it possibly have ended in any other way? Congratulations were cheerfully extended and deservedly received. The forces of justice had, in the end, carried the day.

But the holiday mood that prevailed as they fell in line behind Gwendolyn followed her down Snoose Boulevard, and turned into the alley behind Big Alice‘s, began to dissipate in the ambient gloom of the alley. Though it was still twilight on the street, shadows crowded close around them as they crept along the narrow confines of the windowless brick walls, amid the fetor and filth of overflowing garbage cans. Dressed as they were in black, and further handicapped by their obligatory sunglasses, they found it difficult even to make each other out in the dim light, and there was a real possibility that they would become separated in the gathering darkness. The order passed in whispers from man to man, “Everybody stick together. And hold hands.”

The clatter of Gwendolyn‘s shopping cart on the cobblestones receded down the long alley. But, gentle readers, do not attribute to trepidation the reluctance of those brave public servants in the foremost ranks to pursue her in the darkness. Blinded as they were, they were naturally hesitant to advance over the unfamiliar terrain. There were garbage cans to trip them up and a variety of nasty things to be stepped in. And if those in the rear seemed more anxious than they to forge ahead, it would be impolite to stand in their way. Once these more enthusiastic combatants had come to the fore, however, they realized that there were others behind them still more eager to advance. And so with much shuffling of feet and elbowing for position, the carefully planned assault deviated from its objective, and the Lieutenant‘s brave troops were left milling around in the gathering gloom and vulnerable to counter-attack.

Regular readers will recognize from previous adventures the low warble of the tumbling beer bottle in flight. But they will have the charity to acknowledge that, to someone unfamiliar with the sound, it could have signaled anything from an incoming mortar round to the troubled spirits of the undead. And, when that low warble is followed by the dull thud of contact with an unfortunately situated vital organ and a cry of extreme anguish, it is well calculated to create confusion among the most disciplined of troops.

They collided with each other in their efforts to retreat. Disoriented in the darkness, they had forgotten which way to run. They were all heavily armed, of course, but they had no visible target, and besides, no one had brought the necessary forms. And the beer bottles rained down upon them with biblical ferocity and unbelievable accuracy. They lost their footing in the muck and the gunk, and they tumbled over the garbage cans and their fallen companions. And the beer bottles continued to find their targets on a variety of exposed body parts.

We will not distress the reader with a detailed account of the carnage that was wrought. We take no delight in the letting of blood and do not relish the recounting of it. Eventually, Gwendolyn grew arm weary, and she exhausted her arsenal of beer bottles. And with a compassion rarely shown by conquerors, she allowed the vanquished forces of purity and virtue to retrieve their fallen comrades and withdraw to the neon sanctuary of the street.

But, though they escaped with their lives and received no permanent injuries, they derived no joy from the outcome of their escapade. They had failed most miserably. The queen mother of the street urchins remained at large, free to pursue her insidious adventures and to populate the free world with her misbegotten progeny. Worse yet, they would have to report their misfeasance to the Lieutenant, and the Lieutenant would have no sympathy for failure. They would all be assigned to desk jobs, away from all the action and far from the glamour of the Capitol.

Is there no justice in this world?

For her part, Gwendolyn derived some satisfaction from her victory. She had demonstrated, once again, the fate that befalls interlopers on her territory. And she had proved the efficacy of her secret weapon. She didn‘t mind that the name, Gwendolyn the Gorgeous Bag Lady, was reverently evoked in every conversation along the boulevard, or that young girls secretly determined to be just like her when they grew up. And best of all, she now had thirty-seven nearly new snap-brim hats and forty-three pairs of sunglasses, most of them hardly broken at all, in her shopping cart.

But Lieutenant 12:15 A.M. is not a person to be lightly dismissed. Though he had lost the Battle of Snoose Boulevard, he remained undaunted. He had learned a valuable lesson, which would guide his actions throughout the remainder of his career as a campaigner in the cause of truth and justice and the American way. If you want something done, you don’t send boys to do it right—if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing a man’s job if you want it done yourself—you have to do it well if it’s worth doing at all in the first place. Or something like that. You may count on it: the Lieutenant will return.

To be continued

Recommended2 Simily SnapsPublished in Adventure, All Stories, Classic Literature, Contemporary Fiction, Culture and Current Events, Fiction, Happy Read, Historical Fiction, Humor

Responses

  1. I am not a fan of politics, but I like a good laugh. The pleasure of reading this story is the multiple layers of American society woven together into this very entertaining tale. I think the average reader will ponder which real-life politician(s) you are speaking of. To my mind, it really doesn’t matter, they are all pretty much the same these days. I can say, I am very glad there are Gwendolyns within our culture. You did a very fine job with this story! Well done!