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I was anticipating the holiday season this week…how can one avoid it? It’s Halloween tomorrow and Thanksgiving is the day after that, or so it seems. Christmas is already stocked on the mall shelves for God sakes! There’s no time to waste, not a moment to hesitate.

And then I took a deep breath…and let my exhalation take me back, back to the treasured days of childhood when this season moved, not quickly, but too slowly, when daylight lasted forever and Halloween night seemed it would never begin. I remember all the time I spent waiting for that darkness, waiting for something exciting and creepy to appear, waiting for wonderment to descend.

As I sat at my desk Thursday night, I realized it’s the wonderment I miss most about the past, the anticipation of something unknown about to become known…

…and then a terrible noise surfaced in my consciousness. A whining sound, quickly escalating to a screeching, then a whining once more. Was I imagining it? Were the noises in my head only? Or were they in my house somewhere? Were they outside? What was going on?

I got up from my desk and walked through the hallway. Nothing there. I went into the backyard. The noise was very loud out here as if a helicopter were about to land on my roof…whining, screaming, shrieking…

Was it a neighbor’s noise? If so, what the hell were they doing, vacuuming the roof with some kind of industrial engine? I went back into my house, grabbed my camera and opened the front door…

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Jeez! The street was an eerie color red, and the night was filled with flashing lights and the screaming sound now forced me to cover my ears.

Were these cop lights flashing? Or an ambulance perhaps? Had there been an accident on my street? Was someone shot and dead in the middle of the road? What was going on?

Slowly I inched toward the curb.

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I peeked around the front of my garage, and then I saw it…a huge truck filled my street from curb to curb with orange pylons blocking off entry and exit in both directions. Cops?! Murder?! Terrorists?! Ebola!?

Yes, as childlike as that sounds, Ebola made sense to me. Sure, Ebola. Why not? Maybe there was some kind of quarantine beginning on my street.

Yeah, that sound I was hearing was probably a sanitation vacuum cleaning the street, and the heavy rush of water I could now hear must be some type of purging fluid to kill the virus. I shuddered. Did I dare go down there and chance infection? Was I brave enough…or dumb enough?

And in the moments of that indecision, my childlike self came to me again. I was eight or nine or ten years old once more caught in the middle of wonder, a wonder tinged with excitement and fear. Somthing unknown was in the air around me, right here in front of me. I could be part of it, no costume needed this time. I could take a step forward and make my world its own adventure.

Still I hesitated. Maybe it would be wiser to run back to the house and lock the door. But there would be no mother or father to hide behind. I was the grown-up now, wasn’t I? Yes, of course I was. I should march down the street, march up to that howling machine and find out what it was up to.

I took a few tentative steps off my driveway and peered into the flaming air of my street. Why was no one else out here but me? Had my neighbors come out earlier and been suctioned up by this awful, wailing machine? I should go back to the house I told myself again. No, I should go on.

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I went on.

The sucking, gurgling, shrieking screamed ever louder as I approached the truck, which was stickered with CAUTION SIGNS and RED and WHITE STRIPES surrounding the words DANGER – STAND BACK.

I thought I heard a man yell something and another man answer. Their voices came from the front of the truck. I stopped short. Waited. The whining began to soften just enough so that I dared cross over to a neighbor’s lawn and come around to the front of the truck.

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Then I saw them. Two men, dressed in plastic coveralls with boots and hoods and masks. One of them was manhandling a large, ribbed hose through the manhole, wrestling with it as a fluid spurted down the street in what looked to be a river of blood in the red of the flashing lights.

Ebola? I thought again. Or some other terrible thing lurking under the street. My damn street!

“What’s going on!” I yelled from my neighbor’s lawn.

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The draped man closest to me jerked around. He glared at me through his mask. Who was I to ask him anything his eyes seemed to say. I was afraid to take a picture of his face. Then the man with the hose looked over at me. He didn’t speak either.

Maybe they couldn’t hear me over the horrible whining. I yelled louder, “What are you doing!?”

The man closest to me pulled up his mask, “Nothing…cleaning the sewer…” he smiled a strained smile.

Bullshit, I thought, the sewer’s working, it’s not backed-up.

Then, as if reading the doubt in my face, he said, “Precautionary cleaning…”

“Precautionary?” Still bullshit, our lovely city of Los Angeles doesn’t do anything for anyone unless it’s long past needed. They don’t “precautionary” anything.

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The second man looked over at me and began quickly winding the hose out of the manhole, kicking at it with his boots as if it were some kind of slimy eel. He stepped to a wall of dials at the back of the truck and turned the vacuuming engine down low. The lights continued to flash. Their faces were red and yellow and orange. They seemed like ghouls on this night before Halloween.

I remained staring. They stared back. The hose finally came spurting out of the manhole. More blood down the street. Then together they muscled the manhole cover back in position.

I wanted to ask them something more, but I was unsure of myself, certain they’d interpret any more words from me as some kind of challenge. Or maybe I’d challenged them too much already for they seemed to be working frantically now to put the hose away, to collect the pylons, to get back in the truck, to get out of there.

“Hey…” I yelled with nothing in my mind only wanting to stall them from driving off so fast.

The driver glared at me. I lost my nerve and looked away. He rolled up his window and the truck drove off.

I watched them reach the top of our little street, saw them turn the corner. They were gone.

I stood there a long moment. Who were they really…and what were they doing here? Why were no other neighbors out to witness this? And what had I actually just witnessed?

You’re being silly I thought, it’s just Halloween coming on that’s running your imagination.

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Yet I could still feel the tingle in the air the truck had left behind. I could still see the street wet at my feet. And I could not help but wonder what was down there beneath the ground.

What was it they were seeking…and how long before it would seek me?

I knew then as I walked up to my front door that I was ready for holiday season ahead.

 

 

 

6 Responses to Still I Wonder…

  1. Excellent piece. So these guys can’t clean the sewer during the day?

  2. Isn’t it weird that when workmen appear out of nowhere on our streets – usually in the middle of the night – with their hazmat-like get-ups, and their boots and masks and bright lights, and we, the people who live there, ask, “Uh, what’s going on?”, we are made to feel like interlopers, illegitimately nosey about things that don’t concern us in the least? ‘Sup with that? You captured it perfectly, Frank.

  3. Mary says:

    Great story Frank – reminds me of an Aldous Huxley quote:
    “The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the Inner Child into old age”

    • Frank Z says:

      Yes, that’s the thrust of my post and I’ve come to believe it’s key to enjoying the “second” half or “third” or whatever we’re all in! Have a great season downunder…whatever the season is…spring, right?

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