Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Al-Qaeda Box

Hmm. Today I had cause to rethink my urge to move out of the condo and into a house. I had such a fabulously entertaining day that I may want to stay here in the Eleanor Roosevelt building for the rest of my life.

Today was designated as “Basement Cleanout Day.” We had a lot of old air conditioners, some skis, old pipes, random stuff that didn’t seem to belong to anyone anymore and was cluttering up the place. But I had to go to work for a few hours and didn’t get back here until after 11 a.m. When I pulled up, piles of junk were already on the sidewalk out back and three of the other HOA board members were standing around looking into an odie-green box.

I got out of my car. Roja, a B-section resident, was sitting nearby. “Take a look at that,” she said with a note of gravity in her voice.

It appeared to be an army footlocker. There was a copy of the Koran on top of the items inside. “Cool. I’ve never seen one of these before,” I said and picked it up to leaf through it.
“Don’t touch it. We’re going to call the police,” said Octavia. That’s when I noticed the metal canisters that had “explosive” printed on them nestled into layers of rough green fabric in the box. Then Jasper pulled out a flag. “Does anybody know which country this is for?” he asked. I didn’t know but I thought it looked Middle Eastern, and so did everybody else.

Then I got distracted because Wyatt started telling me about some drama he’d initiated – he’d removed some bikes from the basement assuming they were junk, and he’d torn them apart because they were all chained together, and then when Dean and Demetri came down to help, they were very upset because those were their bicycles.

I started picking through the rest of what was stacked out on the sidewalk to see if there was anything striking, and Roja and Wyatt started to complain of hunger pangs. Then I wandered back over to the box, which Octavia had dubbed “The Al Qaida Box.” Jasper had disappeared. “Are we sure nobody in the building was in the Army or something?” I asked.
“Well,” said Octavia, “Ben Hendricks was in the Reserves.”
That’s when I noticed that a piece of masking tape stuck to the side of the box read “Hendricks,” and then when I pointed it out someone said Jasper had already gone up to call the cops.

So then Josephine got on her cell phone and called Hendricks to make sure this really was his box. He was sitting in the bleachers at an N.C. State graduation ceremony having to explain that no, there’s not any explosives in the canisters anymore.

I guess he brought the box back from his stint in Desert Storm.

A cop showed up a few minutes later. He wanted to evacuate the building, but Octavia told him she didn’t see why that was necessary because the box wasn’t in the building anymore. The cop was like, “You MOVED it?” Octavia said, “Well yes, it’s basement clean out day,” and he told us to clear the area and go wait in the front yard.

Once we settled in out front, Wyatt and Roja were really getting hungry. Two more cop cars joined the one parked in the turn lane in the street out front. Motorists slowed down to scrutinize the action. Jasper laid out face down, spread-eagle, and with his arms behind his back on the grass near the street to make it look like he's been cuffed.

My bag, money, and keys wereout back where the Al-Qaida box was, so even though Wyatt and Roja were starving we couldn’t order pizza. Demetri was stranded too – he didn’t have keys to get in his front door, but his back door, which was now off limits, was open. First I thought about sneaking around the other side of the building to go retrieve my stuff, but I found the vegetation there too thick. When I came back I saw Demetri discreetly exit the B-section doors and wave me over. The foyer door into the basement was unlocked, he said.

That door leads into the scariest, dirt-floor section of a basement that’s the creepiest this side of Silence of the Lambs. We climbed through a hole in the wall and out into the section near the laundry room, then sneaked out the door that leads to the back lot. We cut our eyes back and forth looking for cops. I grabbed my bag and we tried to tiptoe up the fire escape to his place, but our feet still rang on the metal steps.

I cut through Demetri’s place and went back out via the front stairs, feeling like I’d just made a journey worthy of Jeffy from the Family Circus comic strip. Roja used her cell phone to order pizza and another cop car joined the three already in the street.

Jasper told us that he’d had a hard time convincing the lady who answered the phone at 911 that we had what might be a real emergency. When he described to her the contents of the box, she asked, “What’s a Koran?”

After about 10-15 minutes, the cops declared the area safe and left, and we started dragging junk to the curb. The pizza arrived and we demolished it.

By that evening all of the hard feelings over the bikes had been resolved and we had a potluck dinner outside. Jasper clipped roses from a bush near the corner of the parking lot and arranged them beautifully in a clear vase, and he lit a candelabra. The setting sun outlined the dark northwestern clouds in gold and we drank wine. Josephine brought strawberries and powdered sugar for desert.

I asked Ned, who’s from Puerto Rico, if he dreams in English or Spanish. He said it depends on the context of the dream. Dean, who majored in Spanish in college but is a native English speaker, said he never dreams in Spanish.

“You mean when you dream of me you don’t dream in Spanish?” asked Ned.

I thought that was a pretty sassy question but then Dean said “No, when I dream of you there’s no talking at all,” and Demetri looked like he wasn’t comfortable with the turn the conversation had taken.

And almost all of the basement junk had been taken from the curb by passersby who wanted to give it a home.

1 comment:

flare said...

That's a mighty fine yarn you done spun there Verona.