In a few hours one fall morning, back when Greg was still a British Billionaire and shortly before he moved to the US to become an American one, he made additional billions betting against a well meaning European politician who was fighting – in the very best sense of the word – for a new world free of avarice and, perhaps, crabs. Here's the irony: Greg himself famously fights for the same world and supported this same politician in his idealistic endeavors. Read Greg's speeches and his many pronouncements to the press (on the occasions when he comes out of his shell) and you'll find them saturated with the most pleasing idealism – all the more pleasing for coming from such a realist. Look at the think tanks, academics, charities and, yes, politicians he supports and you will find that they are not only well meaning but also mean well. Still, when their idealism beached a “dead as a door nail” beluga whale outside Greg's beach front villa, well, he fed. For he is a crab.
It's called “currency speculation.” Gregor wasn't speculating when he projected the outcome of a bunch of political pugs (most of whom he knew personally) borrowing heavily to maintain their position in an international currency “peg” – which rhymes with beg. And so he fed.
It was after he became an American that he facilitated a speculative spike in the dollar price of oil (tripling the price in six months) followed by a run on the dollar and the world banking system, all of which got a little wildly out of control and all but collapsed the global economy (but, hey, it needed a little collapsing) – good thing Greg brought what he set in motion to heel before the entire world went to hell.
It should be mentioned, lest anyone underestimate the man inside the crab, that Greg is quite charming in person and known to have a sense of humor. His humor is fun but it cuts and clips and consumes – like knives and hatchets, when not used properly.
With its carpets the color of sand, both wet and dry, his office is a suitable habitat for just such a crab as he. Greg's desk is a large teak table. Perhaps it once formed the center of a pirate's mess. Weathered, it may have carried some pirate prince off a sinking ship and through the turbulent seas until he washed up on the Long Island shore (then built a beach front villa). The large computer monitor/TV sits to one side (he seldom uses it) and has a “coral reef” screen saver complete with the subtle sound of underwater waves and colorful fish swimming through the plasma. Occasionally a predator hidden in the sand pops up and eats a passing fish – but only virtually, of course.
She looks away from Greg and steps away as well. The vertical green blinds across the wide picture window – turned partially open now – could be made of harvested kelp, judging from the color and texture. She gazes through this Kelp blind forest and down to the Ocean surface. The Atlantic this day is not at all pacific, sending huge waves crashing onto the beach. The late morning sun is nowhere apparent as gray clouds roil a dark sky over the cold, thick waters – gray meeting gray right where the horizon is lost. Bursts of icy rain splatter on the glass right in front of her nose but the sting and the wet of it doesn't penetrate. The wind seems to make the entire building bow.
It's the sort of weather to send even a crab scampering for shelter. It results from the unusually early “election day blizzard” reaching the Atlantic and strengthening into a Northeaster (or “North Eater” as Greg pronounced it). The bundles of moisture it picks up over the ocean, it backhands onto the Northeast – as if the dump truck that hit 'em on the New Jersey Turnpike backed over them and dumped its load.
At the same time, far to the Southwest, hurricane Crystal – it would be called “the mutant storm” in a few days – made landfall in East Texas, spreading havoc along the coast and well inland. But who cares about that now? Greg cares. What he now reads makes him care. The six week old email she provided helps him look into Crystal and glimpse what will come.
She turns towards him. There are moments – and this moment is one of them – when Greg appears the crab. He is on his crab throne and leans forward with his elbows splayed on the desk, so he looks much wider than he is tall. His hair is mussed and knotted on the sides but flat on the top – the result of constantly running his hand through his gray locks with each thought and patting down on the thin top as he decides (almost as one stroke: think, decide). As a result, his head looks almost as wide as his wide neck.
His Stylish glasses have a lot of goggle in them and make his eyes appear panoramic, as if they could look forward and back and right and left all at the same time. But now they focus on the page in front of him – the color of blubber, it's held in both hands as if by claws. He uses his instincts as he devours – or rather reads – it. She's seen him devour before, but not quite like this day. It's that crack of a smile: as if he'd like an after-devouring mint and a bit of conversation. She moves a few steps from the window to take her place in the deeply comfortable chair facing his desk.3.
“So what's this Chattanooga choo-choo?” Greg wore that crack of a smile as he sat back and removed his glasses – the better to focus on the person before him.
“The sort of cute language that got him in trouble,” said Sandy, swaddled in her chair. Sandy went well with the carpet. In fact, they had ended up on it a few times, but only after rolling off the couch (this subject was permanently off topic). Greg was an old guy but in one respect he was quite youthful: he was the world's richest and most powerful man, a fact no one knew but everyone acknowledged.
Sandy got her name from her hair, which was the color of dry sand. Her skin was the color of damp sand but unnaturally smooth – as if the epidermis had been applied with an air brush and buffed to a nice sheen. You couldn't see yourself in the finish but darn it, you just might want to. Her eyes were the green of warm, tropical seas. Her thick lashes seemed a heavy weight on her lids, like those leather straps she sometimes wears on her wrist with pouches for little metal bars. She would do “the latte lift” when she wore those bracelets: one sip of coffee with her right hand, the next sip with her left. So let it be said: The thick mascara did not make her lids heavier, it made them stronger.
In short, Sandy was tall, agile, athletic, ambitious, attentive, attractive and an accountant. Greg had many uses for accountants. It occurred to Greg that he was surrounded by many peculiar people, most of them accountants, the rest lawyers and some, the really peculiar ones, both. In fact, come to think of it, Sandy was both.
Greg opened his claws and allowed the paper to settle on the table top. “The Him you refer to, he is your cousin.” he said. Sandy had come out from Manhattan to see Greg. He often made people travel to see him. That way the difference in hierarchy became a geographic reality (he claimed he was being more “hands off” and only hoped to "enjoy" his "retirement"). But this day the Helicopter was not in operation. All the snow and rain made Manhattan much more snarly than usual, so the fact she made it out to see him was a testament to the importance she attached to this particular email. North of the City the snow was constant. Boston was buried under three feet and acquiring another layer of white shellacking. The northern part of flyover country – the Midwest and such – you could pretty much ski over. But where Greg was, near the shore, the storm was now a spent bullet: just rain and drizzle turning to ice. Everything was coated in ice. Even the ice acquired coats of ice.
“Jimmy is my cousin-in-law, that's what he is. Or was. Ex-cousin in law. My cousin divorced him so he's not even that,” she said, as if he had sunk below the insects in her estimation. “Now he's just plain old Dr. Savannah,” she added, deciding to give him a promotion. Her lips puckered as if she sucked on something sour.
Jimmy Savannah sounded like a name out of a romance novel – not that Greg read romance novels (at least not often). The email from Dr. Jimmy to Miss Sandy (Doctor of Juris-juicy, or whatever her formal title was) had a familiar, teasing tone. The subject line said, The Perfect Winter. “Did you have an affair with him?”
“Hardly. Jimmy's not my type.”
Greg smiled. He knew her type – and her type's type. He admired how she kept things in perspective. Civilization's foundations may crumble but you still only want to be associated with a certain kind of lover. “I'm just trying to determine why he emailed you.”
“Too gloat. With absolutely no reason to gloat, or so I thought when I first read it back in August.”
“Obviously, you are much in his thoughts.”
And why wouldn't she be? “Many years ago – well, not that many – I made him watch a movie about global warming--”
“Him being your former lover.” He knew of only one reason Jim Savannah would watch that movie with her. The fact that Greg had bankrolled the film (and even made money on it, much to his amazement!) didn't change his opinion. The movie in question featured Hal Bore, a former Senator Greg had briefly wanted to make President.
“Ex Cousin-in-law, is what he was. Is. Not lover, mine?” she corrected.
“Was your cousin/his-wife present for the – presentation?”
“She was! Out-ta town...”
“So that night you seduced him, just out of curiosity.”She wondered whose curiosity he referenced, his own right now or hers back then? “Can I get on with the story? After watching the movie he looked into it – global warming – and came back saying that movie was 'an incredibly large and festering pile of hooey,' if I may use those words, full of what he called 'lies' fronted by 'a carnie barker grifter and political hack.' He called it an appeal to Con-Science -- using science as a front for a 45 trillion dollar con. He kept saying: Extreme Solutions Demand Extreme Problems. He thought he was making a point. So you see the type of person he is? Beyond reason. Cannot be reached by the most carefully prepared presentation." Sandy and Jim had talked about it over pizza. He drank beer and she drank cola because, in theory, she wasn't old enough for beer. He was quite funny, and intentionally so, when he spoke of it -- impending doom. And no, they had not had sex. She did not bother correcting Greg because he would only take it as confirmation and anyways, he wasn't off by that much. Still, she had a good time that night, even if Jimmy stayed upright -- stayed staid, as it were. "He said we are in an on-going ice age, one that's been around for twenty million years lah-dee-dah. The fourth, or fifth or 23rd, I forget, interglacial period with, on the numbers, glaciers due to start romping around the Northern US any day now. He told of cosmic rays causing sun reflecting low-cloud formation. Twelve of Fourteen triggers for a new ice age being present when you only need 11.8! He said, like, for 90 percent of the last gazillion years Cleveland Ohio has been under a mile or two of ice. He said: imagine being in Cleveland or Detroit with 8,000 feet of solid ice over your head? I said I couldn't imagine being in Cleveland under those circumstances or any other.”
“Or what you might wear.”
One end of her mouth bent down. “Thing is, he's quite smart: math wiz, computer wiz, that sort of thing. No half measures. He goes all in. A genius, I think, but not at all geeky or nerdy when you can get him off topic. Rather cute, in fact.”
Greg smiled. She did have an affair with him. She was a genius herself, but that still left considerable room for stupidity. “So to forget you – finally get you out of his mind after you'd destroyed his life and tossed him onto the dung heap – he began obsessing about climate change. He wanted to control the data streams in a way he could never control the woman of his dreams.”
“Never looked at it that way.” But she had. Why else would he run away? He would find some place with a lot of peace and quite where he could obsess about her. It was the logical explanation. “Jimmy got a job at a small Catholic college northwest of Montreal. He used the computer in the Economics Department--”
“Economics Department? I thought he was some sort of Climatologist.”
She was silent for a moment. “Actually, he coaches Lacrosse.”
Greg swirled round in his chair and looked out the window, through the gaps in the kelp colored blinds and out over the Ocean, toward whatever indistinct horizon might be out there, concealed in all the swirling gray. He smiled. “I bet it keeps Jimbo's butt tight.” He couldn't help it. He laughed as he twirled back around.
“I wouldn't know.” She kept it matter of fact. “I haven't seen him in many years. Well, not that many. One. Besides, he has other duties as well. Teaches a course in statistics and keeps the boiler running, too.” Of course Greg laughed some more. But she may as well give it to him straight. If he was at all interested in what she had to say, and she figured he would be, he'd check it out thoroughly so she better not conceal any inconvenient truths. One truth: Jimmy has been quite a disappointment to her – until about eight hours ago, when she got a peak at the quickly suppressed “seven day forecast,” and compared it to an email she got six weeks before.
“See, Jim figured when the glaciers come, they won't come slowly from the north, and grow toward the south, like most people assume. He figured they'd appear quite suddenly – geologically speaking but also in terms of a human lifetime. They would appear first north of the Ohio River and in the Great Lakes Region. The water's going to come from the South, carried north by storms, while the north provides the cold air.”
“The Chattanooga choo-choo.”
“Well, to hear him explain it, it should be named after Memphis. I mean, if you have to name it after a city. I called it The Memphis Moon-bat express.”
If there was a snob in the office, intellectual or otherwise, it was Sandy, not Greg. He took people as he found them and sized them up accordingly, focusing on what use they might be. But he was a man of several parts, and if you were not in his sights you likely encountered the pleasing ones. He was also a shrewd judge of people. Sandy had a former lover who turned into a crackpot with unfashionable ideas – a guy subject to ridicule who threw his future down the drain – and found it a bit embarrassing. Still, the fact she could assign herself as the cause for his downward spiral was, for her, a point scored. If she suddenly resurrected him, it would be another point scored. She's the score keeper.
Of course none of that mattered to Greg (though how Sandy came about her information did). Greg just wasn't that impressed by academic credentials. And this wasn't reverse snobbery. Every few years he took the time to teach a course at the London School of Economics – so that he could better fool the next generation of Central Bankers, on the evidence. But he saw, over the years, how Academia had morphed into a self-perpetuating bureaucracy that put its own interests first. Of course not everything they do is dog doo-doo, you just had to watch where you stepped.
A decade earlier a couple of Ivy league mathematicians had figured out a fool proof way to make money playing the markets. They had mathematical formulas to show how various prices moved in tandem: some went up when others went down. Big money men gave them a king's ransom – in fact, enough to ransom many kings – to play with. These fellows wore sweaters and carpet slippers to work and puffed on pipes with unlit tobacco in the bowls. And for a while they all had a serene, pleasing, and quite profitable time. It was as if Mr. Roger's Neighborhood had launched a hostile takeover of Wall Street.
Then they showed up in his office one day asking him to lend them several billion dollars. Greg politely turned down this “investment” opportunity. Within a matter of days the news emerged that these guys had lost 80 billion buckaroos. Funny, it seemed like a lot at the time.
Now, you would think their example would put an end to such arrangements but it did not. Their were plenty of brilliant folks – hedge fund operators, they're called – who thought they were smarter then these previous brilliant folks. To Greg, that made them the greater fools in the greater fool theory – but not quite as foolish as the folks who gave them the funds and followed their lead.
As for the latest fashion in Smart: It is true that Greg supported climate modeling with his own money, but he never put his faith in “models.” He “donates” money where his self-interests are. He did not believe for a moment that anyone could model the climate a hundred years in advance. The Soviet Union could not model its own rundown economy and get enough sausage and bread into the one store allowed in each neighborhood, and those were the smartest guys that a well educated population of 300 million could produce. But the same guys were good at creating a demand for rockets and tanks, where too much was apparently never enough. They were good, in other words, at fudging until everything was totally fudged up. Having come of age in that sort of environment, Greg was an expert at modeling the behavior of bureaucracies. He thrived in the space between the bureaucracies and the societies they mastered. Global Warming Theory would greatly expand his ecosystem, so promoting it was his idea of altruism.
He also knew that a million Pseudo Intellectuals sitting at keyboards would produce scenarios that will fit every conceivable occurrence. But Sandy was smart as a whip and nobody's fool, not even his. Jimmy's predictions from six weeks before fit the last seven days and that impressed her. The fact that they also fit the current “seven day” forecast impressed them both. A train of storms, headed north, just like he said. The natural question: If he's not just one of millions of monkeys pounding a keyboard, how'd he do it?
Greg picked up the email. “Your man is a prodigious prognosticator.”
“Jimmy admits that it's tough to predict an event that happens four or five times every million years, but if you approach the task with sufficient humility--” Sandy almost smiles, then thought that might not be a good idea. She cleared her throat a bit. “The thing is, after I saw him last year he left me an encrypted manuscript that explains it all. The encryption is so fiendishly complex that not even the Federal Government with all its resources could decipher it without the key. Or so he said. I figured it's a load of BS, of course, but took it just to keep him quiet.”
“You made love to Jimmy last year.”
“Is that a question?”
“You threw out this manuscript, this enciphered load of--”
“I still got it, somewhere.”
“There is a treasure map hidden in a sunken ship, to help us find this key, to decipher--”
“No map. He wants me to come see him. And ask nice. I feel it in my bones.” She had her own reasons to see Jimmy, some of which Greg could guess and others she hoped he didn't. “I am not the map. I am the legend. ”
“You are the key to the whole she-bang.” Greg smiled. He wasn't interested in a decade long lovers' spat. But if the World was about to take a turn toward a new destination, Greg wanted to be there when it arrived. Would deciphering this manuscript help? Would pretending it would help, help? Could giving Sandy what she wants ever be the right thing (for him) to do? Think, decide. “You do have plenty of stylish winter gear, don't you? According to this weather report,” Greg held up the email, “You will be needing it.”
Sandy knew not to put much stock in Greg's hints – he laid so many false crumb trails you'd think he shed croûtons wherever he went. But with the life of the nation turning into one long natural disaster – one compounded by the nature of her fellow creatures – she knew that in this hour of her nation's need she should take care of her needs. Of course she always felt that way, but her needs had suddenly changed.
Jimmy Savannah once told her that Irony slouches through human history, continuously born and never noticed. “It's like the dialectic of Marx and Hegel,” he told her, “except it runs in reverse.” At some point, he said, Irony might become a mere literary construct again but by that time we would no longer have literature: we will have dialed back past that. She liked to conclude he was off his rocker but she never could so conclude, or rather did – often and in cycles: conclude, deconclude.
She was on the brink of a great deconclusion. She had an example of Irony at work: her presenting Jimmy's memo on the end of the current interglacial period to one of the great proponents of Man Made Global Warming.
But as Greg himself would put it: you're unlikely to lose money betting on his insincerity. Of course he would never say it himself or be pleased with the person who did.
Nature shrugs. Homo sapiens complain.
It was the consensus of unscientific opinion that the Northern hemisphere had no summer that year. The planet experienced a cooling trend. Since it was caused by the Sun emitting less radiation (part of a normal solar cycle, but more normal than any on record), the reemergence of “cool” was treated as mere atmospherics – wearing jackets in July a new fashion trend that will soon pass. The Usual Experts said it was a mere slowing of an over all warming trend caused by modern, Promethean man (especially the Promethean building, selling, and driving the SUV). So it would be Ironic, of course, if after spending trillions of dollars and turning the economy upside-down to prevent global warming, it all got iced over.
But the winds and the currents often change, finding new ways to move heat and moisture around the planet or even rediscover old patterns. In the Southern U.S. the summer was cooler and wetter than normal, but hurricane season was almost nonexistent. Hurricanes get their energy from warm surface water and in the process of feeding draw up cooler water from the depths. The Gulf Stream, which moves warm surface waters from the tropics to the North Atlantic, had weakened considerably in the Northern Branch, petering out before reaching the British isles. In fact, the current now made a hard right off the coast of Spain and flowed back to the tropics along the West Coast of Africa, so the waters became even warmer, enabling the surface heat to build up later in the year. So hurricane season wasn't called off, it was back loaded.
Ice in the arctic – both on land and sea – had returned with a vengeance. Less fresh water ran into the seas adjacent Greenland and Canada, changing the balance of fresh water and salt water. The waters that feed The Labrador Current (the Gulf Stream's Cool Cousin) became a little colder, a little more salty and a little more dense. They submerged before reaching New England, so ironically as the current became colder the surface waters off Cape Cod became a bit warmer. But just like baseball is always a game of inches, nature is often a game of degrees.
That Spring in The Great Lakes Region the trees had kept their buds for an unusually long time – as if the alarm clock had gone off after a hard winters night and they were trying sleep in, despite all the racket and the bright light. Eventually, they pushed out some leaves and then acted like it was a bad idea. The lake ice on the “North Coast” hung around well past Easter. April lasted through the Fourth of July and October arrived before Labor Day. It was as if the top of the globe wore “a helmet of cold, dense air” (as one lesser commentator put it) which slowed the normal circulation of warm air up from the tropics. Soon people just called the weather phenom “the Helmet,” and soon, “Helmut” – as if it were a mischievous red faced drunk escaped from an Oktoberfest in Budapest. So the weatherman said, “Helmut has brought us clear skies and chilly temperatures for the fourth of July” or “Helmut has only brought a pause in the warming of the globe.” Others would add the expletives. Farmers demanded help, even more than usual. But they were not sure of getting it, not by a long shot.
Because problems a lot more severe than canceling the Fourth of July picnic developed. As a result of a prolonged drought and fuel build up in the forest of the Pacific Northwest, unstoppable forest fires (set off by dry thunderstorms) began to rage from northern California to British Columbia. Dry winds fanned the fires to a high heat and not just homes, but towns and cities, went up in whirlpools of flame. The amount of energy released was compared to a series of nuclear blasts – a long series. It was suggested that the Air Force could drop fuel-air explosives as a way of snuffing the fires. The current occupant of the White House had run against the use of fuel air explosives and for not tampering with nature. So using fuel air explosives to tamper with nature, regardless of it practical effects, required further study.
The fires were termed a “Once in one thousand year” event: Cold comfort to the hundreds of thousands made homeless. In the Midwest a haze from the fires spread across the sky, so Helmut now wore sunscreen.
It was a hard fire season in Southern California as well, but with a twist. Instead of fires they suffered constant rain, with hillsides turning to mud and flowing towards the Pacific Ocean. A 6.8 earthquake turned the rain soaked soil into pudding and spread structural collapse into areas not affected by the slides – with widespread loss of life and limb added to the toll on property and business.
The Federal Government, which lately spent feverishly to save everything from banks to baby boutiques in the face of a severe economic downturn, now faced demands that it finance the rebuilding of the West coast to the tune of two trillion dollars. A trillion was the new billion, so two of them didn't sound like all that much. The Politicians, anxious to keep their jobs in a tough economic environment, told the Treasury to reach down into its deep pockets – so deep they apparently reach to China – and come up with the money. By September promises were made, and checks that could not be allowed to bounce were written. New taxes – called anything but – were muted and quickly took effect. These joined a recent dizzying array of progressive taxes increased, loopholes closed, deductions canceled, fees increased, and expensive “licenses to pollute” required – all previously enacted by the same congress..
Given what was happening out in the Far West, folks having to cancel their swim dates because it was too cold hardly had reason to complain. And if they did, someone would tell them “Homeowners are being burned alive in Oregon trying to stand up to the flames.” Others might say that it is “the fire next time” since God promised Noah he would not again use water. Then someone would point to the mudslides in Southern California, where water was in the mix.
But what about the combination of fire, mud and ice? Before the fall had passed the people of the Northern Great plains and the Great Lakes – and most who live further south – would have reason to wonder.
Pitch ran a business called Great American Wreckage, Salvage and Restoration, located in Brood Eskers, a lake front working class town near Cleveland. It took its name from several eskers in the area – ridges of gravel and sand left by streams that flowed under, and out of, a stagnant glacier that brooded above them for thousands of years. They would erode the ice above and put down sediment below like an upside down stream. The geological features looked like embankments from a failed railroad speculation. Pitch's “yard” occupied a small abandon gravel pit that had gnawed at the confluence of two of these ancient streams.
It was the start of what Jimmy Savannah called “The Perfect Winter” in his email. On September 15 they had their first Lake Effect snowfall, which melted the next day. Similar snow falls, mixed with heavy rain, followed. They were having November in September, no surprise after October came in August.
October brought December, which would stick around for awhile. Weather events in the west would again impact their lives. Humid air off the Pacific brought the rain that quenched the fires of the Northwest. Then the warm moist air crossed the Rockies and traveled down the east side of the range where it mixed with cold air over the prairies of Canada. An “Alberta Clipper” developed that moved at great speed across the Northern US. This brought 6-8 inches of snow to the Great Lakes on Halloween and the first subzero wind chills on All Saints Day. So far, so not-so-good.
But that, apparently, was the appetizer for the coming snow banquet. Clippers, it seems, develop a pulse, and another returned in a few days that lured a low pressure system out of the Panhandle area of Texas. The two systems rendezvoused where the Mississippi meets the Ohio and brought what was called the “Election Day Blizzard” to the upper Midwest and Great Lakes region. The additional 18 inches of snow it dumped north of the Ohio River gave everyone a bad feeling about the coming winter – technically not due for another 8 weeks. Then the stormed backhanded them with another foot, more in New England. Three feet in about a week. They dug out.
Pitch's business tended to be feast or fast. He liked to feast frequently and fast fast. Right now the weather was preventing any feasting so he wanted to clear away the snow fast. Another blizzard – Spawned by Hurricane Crystal – was heading their way so he had to find new places to put the snow, even if he had to create his own glacier.
He had two of his workers, Pirate and Paul, with him. Paul was a third generation Lebanese Christian who had trained as a civil engineer but only briefly became one. Bearded and bedraggled, he had an aura of a person that some unknown tragedy befell.
Pirate was lanky and strong. His tragedies were known but largely forgotten – at least by him. His mother was a drug addict with a series of live-in boyfriends. He wore a patch over one eye, the result of some fight or beating he took. As a youth Pirate took to living, quite uninvited, in the wrecking yard. One day he stole a bit of salvage and took it around front and tried to sell it back to Pitch. To Pitch the choice was clear: he could either kill the kid or take him in. He took him in. That was a dozen years before.
Pirate was quite outgoing and would talk incessantly to the silent Paul – who mostly listened – and to Pitch, who mostly didn't.
Now Pirate was telling Paul about a dream he had. “It was a god awful dream. It took place in Chinatown. I don't know where this Chinatown was, may have been in China. This dream was crazy-confusing. This tall, lanky bearded Guy – who ain't Chinese at all – shows up and starts organizing stuff. And he's making this really awful dream really boring. I woke up and I thought, who was that guy?”
“Well?” asked Paul, like he was impatient for the answer.
“You know him. It was Carter Richard-son-son-son. I think he was The Third Son of The Third Son.”
“The guy with the six pack?” asked Paul.
“Six pack? You mean of beer. It was never the same six pack, Paul, and it wasn't a six pack for long.”
“Well, he used to drink them,” he said, by way of explanation.
“So I'm laying in bed thinking: what the hell is Carter doing in my awful dream making it really boring?”
“Organizing it?” Paul suggested.
“Right, but even more on topic the guy ain't been around for like a decade.”
“He moved to Syracuse.”
“So what's he doing in my dream?”
“No! Yes. I mean, what brought him to my mind in such a way that he could shoe-horn himself into my dream in that weaselly way of his?”
As Paul considered this he looked like he was doing a calculus problem in his head. In fact, he probably was doing a calculus problem in his head. He found it calming. “If yesterday you heard a song you both liked--”
“Get out of here! But not yet. No. It was you telling me about that lady.”
“Oh.” Some how he knew it was his fault.
“The one with the seven dogs that she got all at the same time. That they're all ten years old now and getting sickly.”
“Right. I did say that.” May as well 'fess-up.
“Well, Carter lived in her basement! Don't you see? Carter trades living in her basement for Syracuse, and she goes out and gets ten dogs!”
“Point is: how'd she arrive at that number?”
“Well, they was puppies when she got 'em.” Paul was never afraid to point out the obvious. “And suppose, just supposing, she got the puppies and then Carter said 'I ain't living with seven dogs' and then moved to Syracuse.”
“Ah! A different cosmetology. You rearrange the time line into a spit curl and invert the cause and effect relationship. But you forget one thing. Carter liked dogs. He'd have never gone to Syracuse if she got those dogs first. On cold winter nights they would've all slept together on a shag carpet, as happy as fleas. You're leaving out the human factor, Paul.”
Pitch thought this was a good time to interrupt. He didn't want Paul considering the human factor, at least with Pirate as his guide. But Paul had something else to say and went on and said it. “When you first said a lanky bearded guy showed up to straighten things out, I thought you would say it was Jesus Christ.” Pitch and Pirate both regarded Paul with a momentary look of wonder. Because neither Paul nor Pirate was religious.
“Come to mention it,” said Pirate, “he wasn't. Because Jesus is identified with wine, not beer. Of course, wine weren't his defining characteristic. But beer sure was Carter's. Wouldn't you say so, Boss?”
But Pitch didn't say. Instead he told Pirate to stack up wrecks to make a space where they could park all that snow they were expecting. Pirate had an uncanny ability to stack wrecks so they didn't tumble over like dominoes but could still be easily disentangled when needed. Paul was genius good at taking things apart and putting things back together again – even when Pirate stupidly mixed the parts up, he could put them together (Pirate had only done that once, but it was enough to earn him a rep). So Pitch had Paul take stuff apart. And later maybe even put some things back together.
And then Pitch left the men to their work. And he climbed to the top of the old Victorian mansion adjacent the wrecking yard where he lived. From the dormers he could look in one direction and see the choppy waters of Lake Erie. Iced that formed on the surface broke apart and was pushed to the Northeast by the wind. Then he walked to anther dormer, one looking to the south, and he saw the brooding clouds stacked up over the horizon, the color of ancient ice below but with the feathery white of the freshest snow above. In the cloud he saw a flash of lightening. Strange days indeed. Below he could see his “back yard” – the former gravel pit embraced by the arms of the two eskers that met there. It contained the metal bones and wire pickings, far less than in previous years, of the plant and equipment Pitch “recycled.” There was also junk trucks and cars, some stacked awaiting the crusher. The “side yard” contained outbuildings where much of the valued “finds” were kept. Pitched figured ten percent of most things contained 90 percent of the value. He did not include humans in these calculations for the true value of a human is in their spirit and only God could measure that. Pitch, however, felt free to make a quick estimate.
He turned his attention to the beds sealed in plastic. In the hay days of his business, when Great American engaged in the deconstruction of entire factories, Pitch would surge skilled workers in and out town, according to the needs of the project. His home became a boarding house where they would stay for days or weeks while Pitch kept them fed and sober and hard at work. Sometimes these men would disappear for months and then return for another stint. Some of these “working class guys” acquired small fortunes but their real status among their peers came from being good men to have around in tough situations.
Pitch decided to talk to his wife, Kim. With the approaching storm, they might be putting the beds back in use
Looking at Great American, most folks would say “What's so great about it?” There were a few who might ask, “what's so American?” Pitch was an Arab American but he'd pitched the Arab part long ago. True, it's tough to escape your past but sometimes you can out run it. In any case, he left the tribal hatreds of his parents homeland behind him when he joined the American Tribe (he was still trying to sort out the clannish animosities he found in Cleveland but really, who had that much time?). Pitch got his name because he was a natural born hurler who came to the game baseball too late in life to make it to the majors.
He has a Korean wife that he met 35 years before while serving in the US Army. At the time South Korea was undergoing a dicey transformation from military to civilian rule. She was proudly anti-American, and claimed that the US military was occupying her country. She assumed all Arabs hated the US and was quite upset to find one serving in the US Military. In fact much of his unit consisted of people who, in her conception, should be fighting against the US, rather than defending it. At first she thought they were going to grab a nuke or get assigned to Fort Knox to steal the gold horde. She had recently watched “Gold Finger” at a small Restaurant that showed videos. She would practice her English there, and meet Americans like Pitch. But after many attempts at communication she could detect no secret scheme. Pitch said he wanted learn Korean but she discourage him. She considered Korean a secret code for her people and who wanted the barbarians listening in, even if they are Arab barbarians calling themselves American barbarians? The GI's called her “Kim,” using her family name as her first name which, ironically enough, it was in Korean. Pitch married her and they moved to “Greater Cleveland” where they've lived for 30 years.
Despite being as stoic as any Korean and a great deal of native determination, she eventually tired of a life of continual and grating irritation that hating the nation you live in requires, and settled in to become one of the Great American's in “Great American.”
For Pitch, America was like Spumoni. If you're a guy who don't know much about Spumoni, you might think it a type of spaghetti. Then when you first encounter it, you might be disappointed, surprised, angered, delighted, confused, and embarrassed by what you find – all at once. How could you order up something that is a type ice cream and expect a bowl of spaghetti with special spu sauce (spu being the secret ingredient of spumoni)? This could cause you to just leave the meal in disgust. Or you might taste it and find it so delicious that you eat too much, get a sour stomach and ever after think “yuck,” whenever you hear about Spumoni. To appreciate Spumoni, you need to encounter it in the proper context and not consume too much at any one time. This might seem a surprisingly logical way to look at things, especially for an Arab, since (for most Americans, at least) the words “Arab” and “dispassionate logical analysis” don't immediately conjoin. But Pitch would point out that there are different flavors of Arabs. Arabs are like Spumoni, too, but in a different way than Americans. In fact, Pitch's “Law of Spumoni” has pretty near universal application, at least for Pitch.
The “Salvage” in Great American Salvage, Wreckage, and Restoration referred to the equipment in industries gone belly-up in the rust belt. When Pitch got out of the military the de-industrialization process was getting underway and Pitch's company would buy, remove and sell old plant and equipment. If it is true, as is sometimes said, that every disaster brings with it an opportunity, than Pitch's career could be offered as evidence: at a time when plants were closing – and many comforted themselves that the times were too bad to last – Pitch thought they were too good to keep going. Looking back on it, both outlooks were, perhaps, correct (but for different reasons, of course).
Wreckage? If you were willing create, he was willing to dispose. Restoration? Well, what's it worth? There was a time, in the hectic early 1980's, when it seemed Pitch's business might grow to match its grandiose name. But after a half dozen years he realized he didn't want to own a business he couldn't himself run, and he began to dial back on his ambitions. Still, he was what most people would call wealthy, though he didn't look it.
His wife went into banking and was quite adept at using the abacus and could add a column of numbers faster than someone using an adding machine. Instead of moving the beads for each calculation, she visualized their movement and only moved them when creating a new starting point. She used an abacus until computers became so embedded in the operation that it was no longer convenient. Soon she would have reason to take it out of storage.They had two Children: a son who was Lawyer in LA and a Daughter who was a MD in Georgia.
Pitch had a similar ability. He could look at a job and ask himself the questions: Who's got what I need and who needs what I got? And see how the project would unfold. This too was a talent that would soon be put to use in surprising ways.
The above is chapter one of the Novel Glaciation by H. D. Greene (which happens to be me). I have since changed the name to The Ironic Storm. I think.
Chapter Two: When Crystal Met Helmut