the city: park of sorrows

Dolores Park, a late morning in early spring. The grass is lush and wet. Flowers bloom in tailored beds fringing the park. A weekday. There are few people, under the expanse of a windswept sky. The air is hot and cool by turns, humid, charged with a coming storm. A gang of dogs mills around a distant group of disheveled people, mostly young, who gesture animatedly, but can’t be heard. One small dog barks ceaselessly. Slowly a car creeps up through the park from the ceremonial way leading to the guano-stained statue of Miguel Hidalgo, turns onto the broad concrete walking path, and inches its way past the knot of people. It is difficult to say where it can be coming from, since the ceremonial way does not connect to the street, or going, since the walking path does not lead back to the street either.

Through all this, at intervals, over the soft breeze, an angry shouting can be heard, a voice that sounds as if it is resisting confinement. It seems ventriloqual: as if at first coming from the building housing the toilets, then from inside a dumpster. No one connected to the voice is in view.

One man in jogging clothes and a knit cap walks the perimeter of the soccer field, head down, not looking to right or left, turning exactly at the corners as if following an invisible line. On one side of the empty field there are two inexplicable metal cargo containers, painted green, bolted into a long concrete slab, and behind them a row of five equally inexplicable ornamental palms, exactly the same height. What’s in the cargo containers, more palms?

Circling the park, following the voice. A couple stands near one corner. She is wearing a long black skirt and boots. He is in jeans. They push each other back and forth in slow motion, with ritualized movements. He chants, singsonging: now we are doooing maaartial aaaarts. They don’t look around at any of the passersby. The disturbing, periodic shouts continue.

Heading toward the next corner: down the hill, another couple sits in conversation at a picnic table. Suddenly there is an enormous rending sound just behind them. Just after one more tremendous bellow from the invisible shouter, a large branch breaks off from the tallest cypress in a grove, and crashes twenty feet to the ground. There has been no wind; there is no one in or near the tree. The shouts resume, and for a moment seem—again falsely, it turns out—as if they could be coming from up in the tree. A few people, a man with a baby in his arms among them, move languidly toward the tree and stand staring idly at the fallen branch, the size of a large truck.  They do not speak with or look at one another. The couple at the picnic table, only a few yards away, have not moved or looked around, nor has there been a break in their conversation. Two well-groomed men walking three Pekinese, which look like bleached blond fright wigs with tiny feet, have been standing on the path on the hill above the tree. One of the two is on a phone. Perhaps he is calling for help? —no, he is saying, “well, we don’t have to deal with it now, but the residuals…” The other man holds a plastic bag under the anus of one of the dogs as it squats to shit.

In a grove of palms at the corner of 20th and Dolores, in a pile of ragged blankets, the shouter is at last discovered, twisting and writhing on the ground. He gives one last babbling cry, then is reduced to muttering. Perhaps he hadn’t realized what he was capable of.

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