"Evil Ones"

Ground Zero” is an even more compelling sight at night than during the day. The rising smoke plumes are well defined by front, back, and side lighting. The twisted steel wreckage is more starkly defined.

Workers were washing the dust off the sidewalks as I walked by. The amount that accumulates every day is astonishing. And, to get to the sidewalks outside the security cordon, it must pass through the air.

Last night I saw the movie “Heist,” the opening of which supposedly takes place in New York. I knew in an instant that it was actually shot in Montreal, but even New Yorkers who’ve never been out of their own neighborhoods would have known immediately that it wasn’t really New York. The coffee shop was quiet, and the streets were empty.

There’s only one part of New York where the streets have usually been empty, and that’s the bottom of Manhattan. Until Battery Park City opened, almost no one lived below Chambers Street. Up to 6 pm, the streets would be packed; later at night — or, even more eerily, during the day on weekends — they’d be utterly barren.

The pioneer settlers of Battery Park City had to walk far to eat in a restaurant, go to a movie theater, or buy medicine in the early days. Now, with much of their neighborhood destroyed, they’re back to their old hardship status.

My New York sensory apparatus signaled something amiss when I emerged from the subway into the dark lower-Manhattan streets this evening. Many of the stores were closed or closing, and the few still open had only a handful of customers. On some logical level, I came up with the thought that there were too few people around. But that didn’t seem quite right.

Finally, it kicked in. There were too MANY people around. This was lower Manhattan, the financial district, the place where no one lives, and there were crowds of people on the streets even at night. Despite the dust, despite the smoke “Ground Zero” is compelling.

I looked around. Most of the people seemed to be out-of-towners. There were people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and costumes. A broad range of languages could be heard. No one looked evil.

George W. Bush often says we are going after “the Evil Ones” in our military campaign. I decided to search the Internet for “Evil Ones” to see what more I could find out.

If one searches for “Evil One” (without the “s” at the end), the first thing to pop up, as one might expect, relates to the Devil. But with the “s” the results are stranger.

The first hit seemed to have to do with a gang in Quebec. The second seemed to have to do with admissions at the University of Arizona (I don’t know why it came up; the phrase “evil ones” wasn’t in the text). Then came a bunch on binary arithmetic (“evil ones and zeroes”).

There was a prayer from the Koran for protection from the “evil ones,” whoever or whatever they may be. Some group calling itself the Evil Ones offered to answer questions about evil. There were references to games and to science fiction.

I admit that I didn’t check out all 16,100 hits that Google came up with, but by the time I gave up, I had yet to find any reference to anyone in Afghanistan. I DID, however, find an insightful piece by Jean Shepherd published in The Village Voice, a New York City newspaper, on November 14, 1956, 45 years ago.

Marshall McLuhan called Jean Shepherd, who died at age 78 in 1999, “the first radio novelist.” For 21 years, he broadcast late at night on New York’s WOR-AM, which, under the right conditions, could be heard from Canada to Florida and perhaps even in Chicago. For what seems at least 21 years, I listened to him tell his stories. He always worked without a script. And he always ended bang on time, as the closing music rose.

Shep’s Village Voice piece was called “Voice from within a cocoon.” He described how one’s philosophy of life can be influenced by newspaper comics, such as “Little Orphan Annie.” Here are some excerpts:

“Millions of Americans… are obviously living in the same pulp-paper dream world where Right always triumphs over Evil and Daddy Warbucks shows up invariably at the right perilous moment, just in time to have Punjab behead the Evil Ones. Punjab always does so without consulting such old-fashioned democratic relics as juries or judges or lawbooks, and seems to function independently of even laws of gravity.”

Is it just that simple?

“There are never embarrassing questions afterward, and no one seems to come around to inquire as to whether Punjab had an official or moral right to act as he did in this beheading business, even if the Evil Ones were sworn Little Orphan Annie enemies, and smugglers to boot.”

What does Evil look like?

“I’ve read my Dick Tracy long and hard and know that Evil LOOKS evil. He wears a funny hat or has a face that resembles a 45-r.p.m. record player and has a name to go along with it, perhaps Grooves, and I know he will get his in the end. This is infinitely comforting.”

Might real life be a little more complex?

“When [Americans] are asked what would happen to mankind if Daddy didn’t come through or if Punjab were to get himself beheaded by the Evil Ones, they either deny that this could possibly happen or they merely denounce you as a Prophet of Doom. An interesting view.”

And how does everything come out?

“Well, I’m sure the Evil Ones will see the error of their ways and finally admit that Annie is always right and will fall into line with us behind Daddy. But I can’t help having an occasional sneaking thought that they might not.”

TTFN, Mark

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