October 11, 2002

The Beltway Sniper continued shooting people. Izzy follows through on his plan to hire a pretty woman to clean his father-in-law’s houseboat.

The sunset purpled a little farther into the west. We turned and walked slowly back to the Beeping Sleuty, still clenched together, but our brains were off on separate orbits. When we got back to the houseboat, we sat and embraced on the vinyl bench, and she slung her leg over mine and pressed her face into me. Our lips kissed, but I closed my eyes and thought of Elizabeth. Their tongues are pretty much the same, in the end, but their techniques and tastes are as different as snowflakes.

The happily-married guy’s fantasy.

This went on for a while, but one or the other of us eventually grew bored. Evelyn drew back and looked in my eyes again. I was tripping like nobody’s business. But I remembered what my father told that kid at the Magical Mystery Tour and was getting used to it.

“I need to get going,” she said.

“At some point, I need to go home,” I said, wondering how long it would take until I could possibly do that. It was nearly dark outside.

Evelyn stood up and straightened her dress. I wondered where she was off to as she staggered toward the door. I followed after her.

Evelyn fished in her purse and pulled out a cigarette. I wished that I had a lighter, but of course, I did not. She lit her smoke and we stood there quietly while she smoked. I was surprised that I enjoyed being downwind of her as much as I did, wondering why people complain about second-hand smoke.

Finally, she flicked the cigarette into the water.

I had to ask.

“This is a non-smoking vessel,” she said, as though she had been deputized her to enforce maritime law.

“Are you going to be alright?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said, and I was convinced that she actually was. I watched with great pleasure as she hopped from the Beeping Sleuty to the marina gangplank, waved happily to me and vamped toward the rest of her evening. We had never set a time or price for her to maid-up the houseboat. It hardly seemed important.

I pulled the other vintage beer from the refrigerator and a bag of stale potato chips and watched a baseball game involving the Anaheim Angels and the Minnesota Twins. The Twins were one of the Senators traitors that had abandoned RFK Stadium, so I rooted—for once in my life—for the Angels. Though I didn’t last to the end of the game, the Angels would homer twice on their way to victory.

October 9, 2002

Izzy digs himself in a little deeper at home by bringing up religion in a conversation with his wife. Also, he’s getting perilously close to hiring a college girl to clean the houseboat. When he goes out to get milk, the Beltway sniper strikes again.

Later that evening, there was an emergency that required me to go buy milk. I drove Elizabeth’s car, which needed gas, and while I was loading my credit card into the machine, a 1999 Ford Focus sped impatiently to the other side of the island of pumps. The driver, a woman, was smoking a cigarette. This looked familiar. She got out of her car, dropped the cigarette on the ground, and intentionally stepped over it, rather than grinding it out.

We traded meaningless smiles when our eyes crossed.

“You left your cigarette burning next to the gas pump,” I said, still smiling.

She looked at me questioningly, not getting my drift. Was I someone she knew?

“The cigarette. Shouldn’t we put it out?”

She shrugged and went on with the gas-pumping procedure. Whoever I was, I didn’t matter.

“I’ve got a bumper sticker for you, but it’s in my other car,” I said, making sure she heard me, without trying to bear down too hard. She was an accomplished ignorer, however.

When I got back in our car, there was a news alert on the radio. The sniper had gotten another victim, a man killed while pumping gas at a service station in Virginia. Later, they identified him as a white guy of about my age. Coulda been me.

When I got home, I realized I had forgotten to get the milk.

October 7, 2002

Izzy starts to get himself in trouble at the marina.

It was a warm day and the houseboat was musty. I threw open all the windows and began to attack the place with a spray bottle of all-purpose cleaner. At some point I noticed a young woman in cut-off jeans and tank top working on the cabin cruiser tethered next to our houseboat.

I went outside and took a seat in a deck chair. I was just watching her, barely trying to be discreet. This may have been the effect of the all-purpose cleaner fumes.

She had a Mediterranean look, I decided, about the same age as my daughter. I was having a pleasant, middle-aged guy’s daydream when she looked straight at me and smiled.

I waved.

She waved back, enthusiastically.

“I’m Izzy,” I called. “Who are you?”

“Evelyn,” she said. Apparently glad that I cared.

She had a tatoo on her shoulder, I noticed.

“Beneath the unclouded and mild azure sky, upon the fair face of the pleasant sea, waited by the joyous breezes, he floats on and on, till lost in infinite perspectives,” I said.

She seemed amused. “What’s that?” she asked.

“Moby Dick,” I said.

“Say again?”

“You know. The novel. Moby Dick.” I enunciated with an abundance of caution. “The white whale.”

Not sure this made a mark either.

“It’s just some old book I’ve read a bunch of times.”

She didn’t know what to make of this. I headed for firmer ground.

“Is that your boat?”

She laughed. “No. I just clean it.”

“Yeah, me too,” I said, gesturing about the houseboat.

Evelyn seemed ready to resume her boat cleaning, and I figured I couldn’t just sit around on the deck ogling her. I went back inside and plugged away at my tidying up of the in-laws’ mostly forgotten weekend getaway. I stopped only a few times to check up on Evelyn.

Later, he and Henry come across a guy smoking a cigarette in a 1990 Chevrolet Caprice, which makes a decent outdoor planter.

October 3, 2002

The Beltway Sniper attacks begin. Late in the day, Izzy and Henry follow an elderly woman driving a 1939 Plymouth.

On the morning commute, the world tilted further toward the bizarre. By the time I delivered Henry to school, a landscaper had been shot while mowing grass at a car dealership somewhere else in suburban Maryland.

I was downtown counting cars along a street that might someday get speed bumps when a motorist waiting in traffic told me there had been another killing, a taxi driver filling his gas tank. And before this news had been fully digested, a pedestrian asked me if I felt safe working outside.

“He shot another one, a woman sitting on a bench at a bus stop,” the pedestrian said. “She was reading a book.”

“Though of real knowledge there be little, yet of books there are a plenty,” I suggested.

It was creepy on the street, and I began looking for rifles in the back seats of the cars that swam by.

At the end of the day, I took refuge in the darkness of the theater at Henry’s school, checking on the show’s progress. They were rehearsing a scene in which Ishmael, on Queequeg’s home island, realizes that all westerners—missionaries, whalemen, merchants, himself—are destroying paradise. In the musical, Ishmael decides to go back to whaling. Idly, I wondered if there was some way I could move onto the houseboat.

On the way home, news of another sniper killing, a young woman shot while vacuuming her minivan at a gas station. The radio said the public schools were in lockdown. It was unsettling, to say the least.

Henry and I came upon a 1939 Plymouth coupe convertible. The driver—an elderly woman who could have started her driving career in that car—was lighting a cigarette with the window rolled down. She drove very, very slowly through the residential streets near where my son went to school. She and her car looked as though they had been sailing those streets together for decades, through the tail end of the Depression, the gas-starved war years, the buoyant can-do fifties, the getting-our-act-together sixties, the excellent dance moves of the seventies, the cashing-in of the eighties, the numbing glide into the nineties and now the little old lady from the Northwest quadrant and her rocking black Plymouth convertible were drifting along the leafy streets, oblivious to the snipers and the weapons of mass destruction and anthrax in the mail.