Bethlehem the bridegroom,
Babylon the bride.
Great Babylon was naked
Ah! She stood there trembling for me
And Bethlehem inflamed us both
– Leonard Cohen, “Last year’s man,”
I arrived late at The Paper, though it’s only a couple of stations away. I could have walked but it was too bloody damn cold. Too cold for the fog, too cold for me! The Metro had stopped between two stations. The Babylon Transit Authority made an announcement about unfavourable weather conditions (In the tunnels? Come on!) that made a temporary stop necessary. “Don’t worry. Everything is under control. DO NOT step out”. (Anyone stepping out will be prosecuted) “This will only take a few minutes” (Twenty).
When I got to my desk, I switched on my computer, and logged into the Bureau’s site. The National Weather Bureau, not the FBI. That’s what I do: check their forecast for the day, then write it up later on for the afternoon edition and The Paper’s Web forecast, so the good folks of Babylon know how many layers they’ll have to put on tomorrow. I see it as a Public Service, (a journalist’s conscience) and it pays the rent. Once I logged in, I looked at the Bureau’s forecast for today and couldn’t believe my eyes. I checked the date: “Today’s forecast”. Correct. All the usual stuff was there. But it couldn’t be: the Bureau’s forecast for today read: “Partly cloudy, temperatures in the lower thirties, no precipitations, no fog”. I looked at yesterday’s forecast, same stuff, different wording, I guess those guys get bored. Probably cut and paste and then randomly switch the same words around every day. It shouldn’t have snowed yesterday night, nor should there have been fog this morning or snow for that matter. Had the machines gone wrong, or the officer in charge at the Weather Bureau had just been sloppy? After all, it wouldn’t be the first time a weather forecast went wrong. And yet something about it bothered me.
“Hey Bwana Boy! Jambo! Jambo! Whatcha doing here at this Godforsaken hour?”
“Hi Mary-Sue.” I said. “Jambo Memsahib. Habari?” (Morning Ma’am. How are you?)
I didn’t need to turn around. That voice was unmistakable. Throaty, Rauque I guess the French would say. A very good raspy voice that would have fitted a sexy radio programme conductor. Mary-Sue is the Arts deputy Editor at The Paper. Which gives her free rein for partying and free tickets to major events for the leeches she counts as friends, including myself.
Mary-Sue is a tall woman, about six one, taller with high heels, which she claims her job makes mandatory. Tall and erect with “don’t bullshit me honey, I can do it better” eyes. Nice, very nice curves, long, very long legs, skin the color of dark, very dark honey. Not light honey. Very dark honey. Have you noticed in the movies, whenever there is a black couple, she always, almost always has lighter skin than he? The black man can be dark. He is supposed to be strong, right? The black woman has to be light. Casting directors´ racial bias? Mary-Sue’s hair is… what can I say? Curly? Frizzled? Straightened out? Black? Sometimes Blue? I’ve seen her with Rastas, braids. I’ve seen her blonde at times. I used to think this was another perfect example of women’s permanent insatisfaction with the way they look, when they look just fine. I eventually learned that, to Mary-Sue, hair is just a piece of apparel, an accessory. (Before the fact?)
Speaking of accessories, on that day, when I turned around I could see that she was dressed in a purple micro skirt (in that weather?), thigh-high black boots with at least five-inch stiletto heels, a very skimpy pink top, which I’m sure she labeled fuchsia and an ankle-long black overcoat. Today she was using ironed out straight hair with caramel highlights that framed a 34-teeth smile.
Bwana Boy was her standard joke with me ever since she’d learned my POB (Place Of Birth) from an indiscrete Personnel clerk. I once tried to explain to her over a beer that Bwana was just a Swahili word for Sir and that East Africa where Swahili is mainly spoken is about as far from South Africa as Mexico is from Babylon, but she just told me with a big tipsy smile: “Bwana Boy you are and I don’t really give a shit where Mozambique is. Aren’t you gonna get me another beer?” Another thing about Mary-Sue: she can hold her liquour: I’ve seen her drown a couple of visiting Brits at a local bar, and then walk out to the street to hail a cab without a stagger or a stutter. That morning, she did look a wee bit dizzy. Must have been the cold outside.
“Hi Pete. What are you doing here so early?” She said.
I explained I had some catching up to do and asked her: “And where are you coming from? At 6AM?”
“Just got back from one of the best parties lately,” she said. “Thrown by a new painter. Paints everything red. Models, decor, everything.”
“Sounds interesting. A red Labisse?”
“Sort of. He’s already asked me to pose. For red nudes! Shame he’s probably Gay. He’s quite cute!” Big smile!
“I’m sure Personnel would be delighted to see your red nudes on the Internet.”
“Screw Personnel. Listen, Bwana Boy, I need a little help from you.”
“Sure,” I said. “What about?”
“I am totally wiped out, haven’t slept in practically 3 days, and I need to cover the ‘Blue Coat’ tonight…”
“The Jazz joint on 3rd?”
“And Bloomberg. Exactly. Could you possibly go tonight and cover for me? I mean, if you have no other plans?”
“Nope. No other plans. Delighted. But you know I don’t know sh… about Jazz.”
“I know. I’ve heard you sing. You’re tone-deaf. But don’t worry. Just get the program, write down the names of those who actually play tonight and I’ll write the piece. I know all those guys by heart anyway! And that way I can go home now. Write my ten lines about the “painter in red”, and sleep for 24 hours in a row. Would you do that?”
“Sure. No problem. You’re covered.”
“Thanks Bwana Boy. You’re a doll. Ah! I got four tickets for a concert. Reggae. Ask Rory if he’s interested.”
She gave me a nice, slightly boozy kiss on the lips. I’ve long ago abandoned trying to understand Babylonian women. Most times, shaking their hand can be construed as sexual harassment, other times they almost French-kiss you. Then she turned around and left. Nice, long legs… Nice, short skirt too.
I spent most of the morning checking the NWB again and again. No fog. Wrote my forecast for tomorrow, trying not to use “ou’s” in lieu of “o’s”. The spelling corrector on the computer is always a great help. I checked the competition’s forecast for last night and this morning. No fog. Got a mail from the Editor chewing my head off. (His office is only 15 yards away). Complaining that since I had not deemed necessary to forecast fog, he’d spent two hours in his car trapped in grey shadows. I mailed him back a copy of the Bureau’s forecast and a selection of competitive pieces. I was pondering enriching my forecast article with such expressions as “the mere possibility of fog”, or “sheer shadows of fog” when Rory came to my desk.
Rory Logan is our Science Editor, and Systems Director. Has a couple of PhD’s in Math and Computer Science from MIT or some other small-town University. Rory’s American but he thinks he’s British. To his credit, he does a fairly good Shakespeare “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”, that kind of stuff. His father was an American Military Attaché who dragged him across the world, anywhere the Cold War took them, from Germany to Guinea, from Belgium to Ethiopia, where Rory finished High School at the French Lycée in Addis Abeba. He actually does mumble a decent French. Rory looks like a taller Friar Tuck in a business suit and stained tie: brown frizzled hair combed forward and thinning at the back, a reddish face, long nose, a beer belly. Give him a friar’s brown robe , put a rope belt around his middle, there he is: Friar Rory. Usually dates blonde bimbos half his age with an amazing strike rate. And I’m not sure they look to him as a “Father figure”. Also an amateur of Art. Gets along well with Mary-Sue.
“Morning Rory. How’s life treating you?”
“Splendid M’Boy,” Rory is 55 and has taken me under his wing. Calls me Lad or M’Boy. “Splendid. What you up to?”
I told him about my impossible fog and snow combination. Asked him if he’d finished the alternative mathematical forecasting model he’d been working on for the past months. Or was it years? He said:
“That? Oh. It’s done. Weeks ago. Didn’t I send it to you?”
“No. Rory, you didn’t.”
“Sorry about that, M’Boy”. (Friar-Tucking). “Actually the program is in the server. It’s much better than what those geeks at the Bureau use. That’s for morons. Here. Let me copy it to your machine.” He grabbed possession of my computer. Searched through the entire directory of The Paper, copied a file, grabbed an empty chair, sat, asked me where the raw, basic weather data was, ran a couple of simulations, and invited me to look at the new simulated result for today:
“There you are, M’Boy: forecast for today: No Fog. Geeks at the Bureau were right. So what you and I saw this morning did not happen.”
“What about tomorrow?”
“Hmmm. Running the program. Patience. There it is. No fog either. You can send your piece.” He spent the next hour teaching me how to handle his software. Quite simple really. I put in another two hours working out different scenarios, based on previous days, and turned out what were actually slightly better forecasts of reality than the Bureau’s. One nice thing about being the weather man: all other journalists write about the past. About what has happened. My colleagues and I are the only journalists to write about the future. Ah! And don’t forget: what would happen to 92% of all civilized conversation it weren’t for the weather? Silence engulfing the entire human race!
I went home to change for the Blue Coat. I live in what Babylonians call a brown house. Nice, not too high for Babylon. My flat is on the 3rd floor, complete with fire escape ladders on the façade. When I arrived, the building super was engaged in two simultaneous activities: cursing out loud and trying to wipe out some kind of tag or graffiti on the outside wall, left of the entrance door.
“Darn kids! Look what they’ve painted on the wall! I’ve already been at it for 10 minutes and it just don’t come awff!”
The tag was actually not bad. Some kind of fish, painted in black across the wall. Never seen one like that before. The kids probably cut it out in metal first to spray black paint on it. I muttered encouragements to the super, went upstairs to change and went out again to my assignment at the Blue Coat.
No-one ever sees the tagging on the wall.
To be continued…
Next on Foglines: Grey fog and Blues…
Text © BMO and Equinoxio
Babylon lyrics © Leonard Cohen