Ross M. Miller
Posted August 5, 2004
In the thick of rush hour, when neither a cab
nor the “T” would be particularly pleasant, I figured that the
two-mile walk to the hotel might be a pleasant diversion. It had taken
all my psychic resources to behave in the manner expected of me over the
previous four hours back at Roland’s fortress. After walking down the
hill and battling across Beacon Street, I let myself relax. The game may
have moved to Florida, but at least I was moving with it.
Next to the gate into Boston Common were several
inscriptions. The top quote was by none other than John Winthrop. Dated
1630 (long before Noah Webster made the scene), it said: “for wee must
Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all
people are uppon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in
this worke wee have undertaken, wee shall be made a story and a byword
through the world.” Yes, failure sucks.
The Common itself came as a revelation. I thought to
myself, “Ahhhhh. So, this is what reality looks like. It had been so
long that I forgot it existed.” Although there were others in business
attire on the paths that crisscrossed the Common, many of the people
were just there and going nowhere other than out. The Common was alive
with joggers, dogs, Frisbees, readers, lovers, musicians, and
jugglers—I was thrilled to be a part of it. This was the world where
everything invented in Alaska, every stock bought and sold by Lowell,
and every deal made by GFF would eventually play itself out. And, as
much as we tried not to shelter ourselves from it, we were a part of it,
too. Not even the most talented tribe of Alaskans could dream of
creating anything to match this.
I wanted to go up to the people I passed and say,
“This is reality. Isn’t it great? Enjoy it.” But then I realized
that what I saw as real was—in its own way—just a different kind of
artificial. Although we were united by our shared humanity, it was
unwise to approach anyone with anything but the most straightforward
question: What time is it? How do I get to the State House? (What
exactly is the “Sacred Cod” and why does it need to be saved?) And
even then, you couldn’t be sure of getting the correct answer. Only
the vulnerable few, such as madmen and tourists, would be willing to
engage in a real conversation with me. It was as if the autumnal chill
had penetrated every heart and soul.
The more that I thought about things, the less happy I
was with how they were turning out. Whatever their quirks, it was far
nicer being with Tara, Randy, and Zero than with the high-muck-a-mucks
at GFF, our absentee caretakers. And there was the moral ambiguity. If I
were to believe Kenneth Paine, then everyone at Lowell was a good guy
and Joe Conway was the bad guy. But if Joe, who served as little more
than a black pawn in GFF’s chess game, intended to do Lowell any harm,
he did an excellent job of hiding it.
On the far side of the Common, I returned to the land
of total artifice. Vendors surrounded the Park Street “T” entrance
and the fragrance of fried dough filled the air. I was handed a free
sample of chewing gum by one of several student-types dressed in
matching magenta T-shirts. They reminded me of a time in what seemed
like the distant past when vendors would hand out cigarettes with or
without the benefit of Ted William’s endorsement.
I crossed Park Street, looked back, but saw no one
following me. Then it struck me that I too might be but a pawn. But I
had the free will to do the unexpected, didn’t I? For example, I could
hop on the Green Line and surprise an old friend in Waban. But why
bother? And regardless of whether my actions were controllable,
predestined, or merely random, I had to wonder whether anything my team
of four did from here on out would matter.
My path to the hotel took me through Downtown
Crossing, home to Boston’s big department stores and the shops that
sprouted up around them. In order to demonstrate to myself that I was
still in control of my life, I walked a block out of the way and visited
a chain bookstore. I wandered around for several minutes only to leave
when I realized that nothing in the store—books, customers,
nothing—was registering on me. I said goodbye to the guard as I left
and he acted like no one could pierce his veil of invisibility. I walked
quickly through the lonely financial zone by the sea.
After crossing the bridge to the hotel, I began to
notice things that I had missed earlier in my preoccupation. Joe
Moakley’s courthouse had its own series of inscriptions pursuant to
the law carved in stone along the front of it. The most notable of these
was by the junior Oliver Wendell Holmes, who is quoted as saying, “The
law is the witness and external deposit of our moral life. Its history
is the history of the moral development of the race.” In other words:
If it’s legal, don’t worry about it.
I walked across the street to get a closer look at a
small brick building that stood as an island in a sea of parking lots.
As I approached it, I saw a cross on top and a sign that read, “Chapel
of Our Lady of Good Voyage.” I don’t know why, but I walked up its
concrete stairs and pulled the handle on one of three identical red
doors. It was the middle door and it opened.
I entered the chapel cautiously. It was dark,
illuminated only by a few small exit lights and whatever light could
find its way in through the stained-glass windows. It felt like I might
be trespassing, but I knew that if anyone challenged me that I was good
at explaining myself, especially dressed the way that I was. I looked
around and saw that the religious artwork had an unquestionably nautical
Vegas is known for its profusion of kitschy chapels
and for a time when I lived in Pasadena I would pass the Chapel of Roses
on my walk into school, but this chapel was the real deal. On one of the
windows, an angel held a scroll that read, “In memory of those who
died at sea.” Lowell and its fellow denizens of the Boston’s
financial community seem unworthy descendents of the corporations that
insured those vessels and their contents.
I sat in a pew at the rear of the chapel and meditated
for a few minutes. I felt insignificant, yet I was oddly content to be a
part of a larger enterprise—Alaska, GFF, the universe. Prayer was
pointless. I was under no illusion that I was in charge and had no idea
I left the chapel the same way I entered it and headed
toward the hotel. When I got there, I battled the conventioneers to my
suite and found everyone hard at work.
“Find anything new?” I asked.
“Nada,” Zero replied. “And it’s not that we
haven’t tried. Everything we did last night has been checked and
rechecked. Despite Tara’s best efforts, it may be a while before
universities offer courses in astrofinance.”
Tara added, “I concur. We’ve crunched the numbers
every way possible and Planet X or the black hole or who knows what
still eludes us. For me, it’s a familiar story.”
“My meeting was a total waste of time,” I said as
reassuringly as I could, “but Roland’s happy with us and I have two
tickets to tonight’s Celtics game to prove it. Anyone interested?”
Everyone was too polite to speak up. Finally, Tara
said, “I saw them plenty of times back in the old Boston Garden. You
guys are free to go if you want.”
“I’m out, too,” I said. “As Randy must have
told you, I’m leaving early tomorrow for a day trip to Florida. I’m
not forcing anyone to go and I can always call you in the unlikely event
that I need you. And you can both use a break.”
“If you put it that way,” Randy said.
“It’s in GFF’s luxury box and they probably have
some kind of buffet,” I added.
“What the heck,” said Zero.
I gave Zero the tickets. He looked them over and said,
“We should head out soon.”
Tara kept working while Zero and Randy went off to
their rooms. I took the opportunity to download my e-mail and check my
itinerary. My flight down was direct to Fort Myers, where a car would
get me to Sanibel for an eleven o’clock meeting with “MK.” My
return trip connects through Atlanta and gets me back to the hive before
the ten o’clock meeting. I am flying first class on each leg and have
a special toll-free number to call if I am delayed anywhere along the
route. My Friday morning flight to Boston is aboard a tiny commuter
When I was done sorting through my other messages, I
walked over to the sofa, sat next to Tara, and said, “I guess that
leaves you, me, and an indecipherable mass of data.”
Copyright 2004 by Ross M. Miller. Permission
granted to forward by electronic means and to excerpt or broadcast 250
words or less provided a citation is made to RiggedOnline.com.