Before the Flash Crime

You’re the victim. 90 seconds before the attack.

A sparkling summer twilight on the shores of Lake Michigan. The city rhythm of serenity. As if you’re in a metropolitan front yard where everyone is welcome.

You’ve just locked your bike. Texted something trivial to a friend. Later you won’t even remember what it was. All you’ll remember is that there was no reply.

The thought drifts through your mind, there was no reply. . . . and a baseball is whipped at your face, from three feet away. A crackle splintered pain goes off in your head. Searing hot pain is your whole world now. You are slammed to the bloody scratched sidewalk. There is a sickly sweet smell of liquid iron as you take the kicks and the stomps and you float till it isn’t really you anymore and there is no real way to fight back, no idea how many people are engulfing you in this gauzy dream of scratched cement pain and your last thought is when you reached out to your friend, there was no reply.

A trembling question hovering faint in the raging waters of the pain, “Why was there no reply?”

You live through it. Scars, private wounds you don’t share with anyone. The irony that this happened yards from a hospital. The refrain floats in and out of a medicated garden that smells like alcohol that could disinfect the very world, “Why was there no reply?” You keep asking that same question till you’re not even sure what it means. Or why you’re asking it now?

While 4 blocks west, along Michigan Avenue, the premier shopping district of the big city, another assault is being planned. A gang of 15 is coordinating, via twitter, with military like precision, how they will swarm the racks of a high-end fashion retailer. Shadowing, distracting, shimmering through the confusion to walk out with thousands of dollars of goods.

And this is all while Ruth, a career retailer, a woman very good at what she does, checks her email behind the counter. Sales had been down. Lay-offs were in the wind. Probably not Ruth. Course quality customer service and loyalty didn’t matter anymore. Neither did revenue when you got right down to it. People hang on to jobs the same way they get jobs, through the people they know. What matters is who you know. So Ruth was emailing an old friend. Making sure to stay in touch. The first two emails had gone unanswered. She was watching the floor. The good retailers, the real pros, do that without thinking. It’s like breathing. When you love what you do the way some retailers love their work, then the store is almost an extension of your body. You’d never actually say that. And you’d make fun of anyone who did. But there is an unseen connection between people and their stores. It’s what drives them to come in early, to stay late, to clean, and to face the shelves, to protect.

Ruth was always protecting to some degree or another.

But her guard was just a little bit down that exact split second when she had the thought, “Why was there no reply?”

And that was the second the mob poured in and began the attack on her store.

When it was over, when the cops had left, when the adjusters, the corporate people had left to go do whatever corporate people do, Ruth checked one more time, and as she flicked the alarm and set the lights for the night she thought again, why was there no reply?

And as she walked out her door, cops were all over the neighborhood, looking for the next flash mob. The little brother of Smashing Pumpkins founder Billy Corgan would tomorrow be attacked by a small mob on his 4:30 train ride to work. Dispatches from the class war were being written. Commentators commentating. Easy answers abounded. All sprinkled with blame and 24 hour news cycle wisdom. Tensions of a society where the differences between the vulnerable and the wealthy keep stretching like a giant invisible life force had put one hand on either side of the Grand Canyon and began to pull.

Night came. The light beam grid of communication amped up and if you listened real hard you could hear it. In the uncountable conversations, virtual and real, it kept happening with greater frequency. Someone would not reply. It didn’t cause the flash mobs. No one thing ever caused anything. But it kept happening. This new rule that it was OK to not reply. And the rhythm of the world’s conversation sputtered. There was just too much to do. We were just too busy. The stranger simply didn’t matter anymore.

That was it. The stranger simply didn’t matter anymore. So there was no reply. And that bled into those who we do see as mattering. And with that thought came a distant glowing light and these words:

“One became great by expecting the possible, another by expecting the eternal; but he who expected the impossible became the greatest of all.”

Expecting the impossible. Like a new kind of rhythm to the way we communicate. Make it look like a jazz band. Set the tune in 9/8 time. Flying on some sort of magic carpet above the highways along which we speak with each other. Like some Blue Rondo dream.

Expecting the impossible. A rhythm of reply.

What if the impossible started singing? In a new, yet ancient, rhythm?

And then even to a stranger. We replied.

We expected the impossible reply.

What then?

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