BABE IN THE WOODS: Interlude (one)

2004-2006; East Coast, United States of America

Damon Vargas would be the first to admit he could be something of an idiot. Unlike most politicians, he was unable to disassociate himself from his past record. Not that he was much of a politician, losing the only race he’d ever run, as an independent candidate – translation: no financial backing worth mentioning – for mayor of New York City back in 2005.

According to New York City Board of Election Records, he’d received less than 1% of the vote, relatively few of them cast by close friends or family.

Prior to his overly ambitious and short-lived political career, he’d been a writer of minor local note, self-publishing two books of “socially-conscious” poetry, a handful of first-person essays in small, little-read, left-leaning magazines and dozens of letters to the editor which the Daily News gleefully published under snarky captions like “Holding a Grudge,” “Invasion U.S.A.,” and “Unify This!”

He maintained a blog – an online journal, all the rage back then – that had become unexpectedly popular in late-2004, a couple of weeks after the election, after being included in a New York Times article, The Blogosphere Speaks: What Next for the Left?:

One New York City blogger, Damon Vargas, criticized Kerry for his call for unity: “Instead of rallying the troops and capitalizing on the momentum of an invigorated, if demoralized, left, he wants us to play the lamb to the lion and hope this time we don’t get mauled. Sorry. Not this time.”

He’d spent the bulk of the previous 18 months ranting about the election to anyone who would listen, criticizing the Democrats for turning their backs on the left yet again, pandering to the middle in a boneheaded and futile attempt to recreate Bill Clinton’s fabled run in 1992, and losing to the most incompetent, reviled President in American history as a result. The election had consumed him to the point that he’d been fired from his job for spending too much time on the internet following it. He’d broken up with his girlfriend of two years who’d refused to even register to vote, saying she wasn’t interested in “choosing between two millionaires.” He’d lost several friends – and many votes – to similarly apathetic-thinking, most of whom felt he’d become overly obnoxious, condescending and a tad fatalistic about the whole thing.

“Michael Moore without the money,” one said. “Or the sense of humor.”

He took it all in stride, though, having accepted that his increasingly militant stance had alienated many – including some who weren’t particularly apathetic, but terribly thin-skinned and, when push came to shove, content with the status quo – and would doom him to becoming a loner. Saul Alinsky, one of his inspirations, had predicted as much back in the early 70s, writing in Rules for Radicals: “The marriage record of organizers is with rare exception disastrous.”

Over the course of 2005, as America crept steadily to the right, he headed forcefully in the opposite direction, first as part of a local artists’ collective dedicated to creating political theatre, then to his ill-conceived three-month campaign for mayor, and finally his two-year cross country search for the meaning of life.

He’d intended for it to last two years, at least, but he never got further than Miami, where he’d met Diane Rodriguez six months into his search, in a hotel bar in South Beach where she worked as a cocktail waitress at night while putting herself through Florida International University during the day, majoring in Psychology with a minor in Latin American Studies. He had no idea who her father was, and she hadn’t yet inherited her 15% of his multi-million dollar estate, getting by on the full scholarship he’d provided and a modest monthly stipend that covered her basic needs.

He also had no idea that she was a writer and activist, too.

He was in the bar, a non-descript Irish tavern on the non-touristy west side of the Beach, for a November 3rd Club meeting, a decentralized, covert network of writers committed to “promoting liberty and social change” via their creative endeavors. A left-wing Star Chamber, of sorts, founded in the immediate aftermath of the 2004 election. He’d been one of the original members before his mayoral campaign had distracted him, and attempted to stay connected throughout his travels. It was his first ever meeting outside of New York, though, as the cultural divide had grown larger since the election, with cities like New York, Miami, Austin and San Francisco becoming blue oases in a sea of red.

He’d noticed her the minute he’d walked in, tall and slender with typically Latina curves, her hair cut short all around exposing a smooth neck with the tip of an elaborate tribal tattoo peeking up from her back. Her skin was an arousing shade of burnt sienna, and she spoke through full, moist lips with the slightest accent, native, but one that could obviously be turned off if the occasion called for it.

The only ring she wore, a sterling sliver iron cross, was on her right thumb.

Damon ordered his usual, a Fair Trade Guatemalan with a shot of Kahlua, and was surprised when, after bring the small group’s drinks, she sat down at the table and called the meeting to order.


Diane Rodriguez had lived something of a charmed life.

The details of her birth were murky at best, but her father had always been supportive, preferring to “do the right thing” and avoid any negative publicity that might arise from the revelation that he had an illegitimate daughter. She’d gone over the dates many times – her birthday, August 16, 1987; her mother’s, February 14, 1971; and her father’s, July 27, 1975 – trying to make sense of how a 13-year old boy could have fathered a child, but her mother would simply point out the fact that many Dominican baseball players had been proven to be at least two years older than their birth certificates claimed.

“We were both young, niña, but not that young,” she’d explain. “And his mother was very strict. She would have killed him if she found out. I did what I had to. Both times.”

Only three people knew the truth – her parents and her father’s lawyer, who’d handled all of the paperwork quietly and efficiently (“Routine stuff in sports these days, really,” he’d laughed cynically) setting up the scholarship, the modest trust fund and the monthly stipend. When she turned 21 and graduated college, she would gain full control of the $2 million fund to do with as she pleased.

She was 19 and in her third year at F.I.U. when she met Damon Vargas in the back room of Sully’s, the local tavern where she worked two nights a week and weekends. On Monday nights, she also ran a poetry reading out of the back room, home to a diverse crowd of politically-active writers and local activists. Three were there for the fateful November 3rd Club meeting that, unbeknownst to any of them, would be the first step in fulfilling her destiny to save the world.

Robert Bonoir, a regular at both the poetry readings and November 3rd Club meetings, was an activist in name only, more interested in the availability of naïve young women that flocked to political rallies and poetry readings than in getting his hands dirty. He talked a good game, pushing all the right buttons in his writing, but had achieved little of note outside of the insular poetry circuit. Despite their 15-year difference in age, he’d spent the past three years trying to bed Diane to no avail.

Linda Pollard, another regular and pseudo-activist, was best known as Robert’s long-suffering “fallback option.” In some ways, an even better writer than him, she willingly lived in his shadow, tolerating his many indiscretions as long as he didn’t shit where they ate.

As a result, Mary McArthur became known as “the steaming turd on the dining room table,” Linda’s one-time best friend, who claimed to be a lesbian in her writing but had been caught having sex with Robert in the bathroom at Sully’s during a reading.

This had all taken place a year earlier and Diane now viewed them as a necessary evil, influential writers on the local scene who, when properly managed, could help the November 3rd Club in promoting its agenda.


“So guys, before we get started on the agenda,” Diane began, “let me introduce Damon Vargas, one of the founding members of the Club, visiting from New York City.”

Damon arched an eyebrow in slight confusion.

“We still use email for some general communications,” she laughed. “Anthony wrote me last month, mentioned we might have a visitor coming through and I should keep an eye out. I recognized you when you came in. Your mayoral run made the news a couple of times down here.”

Damon rolled his eyes in mock embarrassment.

“Glad to have you in town, brother,” Roger said, leaning over the table to offer his hand. His shake was firm and strong; his eyes sought and maintained steady contact. Damon had the feeling that he could stab someone in the back with one hand while comforting them with the other.

Quick introductions were made and Diane pressed on with the meeting – a quick rundown of completed writing assignments, upcoming rallies and appearances, and a financial report. The Miami Beach chapter of the Club was a relative newcomer to the underground network, still early in its recruiting phase, with many questions about the wisdom of a 19-year old college student leading the effort. Anthony Black, the head of the founding New York chapter, had met her twice and given her his unconditional support, which was enough for Damon.

“How are you doing with cracking the Herald?” Damon asked.

“We’re getting close,” Linda offered. “Robert wrote a wonderful essay denouncing Trent Lott that they liked but turned down.”

“Trent Lott?” Damon asked. “The old Senator that said segregation was a good thing a few years back?”

”Yes.”

“Um, isn’t he dead?”

“It’s a really good piece,” Mary chimed in.

“But it’s dated. The guy’s dead.”

“But his way of thinking isn’t,” Robert said, the slightest disdain registering in his voice.

“Then update it. Use that crackpot Vernon Robinson, from North Carolina. Or your own Mel Martinez!”

“I guess…”

“How old is that essay anyway?”

“It’s from 2003,” Diane sighed.

Damon looked around the table and realized all eyes were upon him and only one pair was friendly.

“I’m going to use the bathroom,” he said, excusing himself and stepping away from the table.

When he returned, only Diane remained.

“Sorry about that,” he said. “I have a low tolerance for bullshit.”

“No need to apologize. I deal with it week in, week out. Unfortunately, they’re all I have right now and they know it.”

“I swear that’s been our team’s problem all along,” Damon shook his head. “We get the narcissists, they get the zombies.”


Eighteen months had passed since Babe Ruth’s prophetic visit to Diane’s father and, with no one having reported anything remotely similar over that time, he had started to believe he’d imagined the whole thing.

The same day Damon and Diane were meeting for the first time in South Beach, while running some errands on a rare in-season off-day, he came across a newspaper article that caught his attention. The front page of the Weekly World News, a supermarket tabloid best known for its annual exposés on Bigfoot, Bat Boy and the truth about Roswell, had an article entitled Babe Ruth: Zombie?, about a rash of mutilated animal carcasses turning up in Westchester County, the majority within a 10-mile radius of Hawthorne, NY. It quoted an 8-year old boy, Anthony DiBlanco, an alleged eyewitness, claiming “It was Babe Ruth! And he had the dog’s leg in his mouth.”

The front page story for the Washington Post was about the U.S. death toll in Iraq passing 5,000 soldiers, with a picture of the President, surrounded by five other politicians, all rich white males, as he signed a bill that would reinstitute the draft.

“We must spread this burden equally amongst Americans of all walks of life,” he was quoted as saying. “I do this with a heavy heart, with the knowledge that more of our sons and daughters will have to pay the ultimate sacrifice to preserve freedom and democracy here, and abroad.”

Diane’s father thought of her at that moment, grabbed a copy of the Weekly World News, and 15 minutes later was on the phone with his travel agent, making plans to fly down to Miami to see her. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt compelled to tell her about his visit from the Babe eighteen months earlier. Another call to the General Manager of the Washington Americans, his new team after being run out of New York the previous season, got him two days off to take care of a “personal matter.”

Six hours later, as Damon Vargas slept fitfully in a shared room in a small hostel on Washington Avenue, plagued by dreams of fire and brimstone, Diane and her father were having what she would come to call “the second most bizarre conversation ever,” as he filled her in on the story of the Babe. He left early the next morning, planting a fatherly kiss on her cheek and leaving behind a vague sense of unease, confirmed later that evening with a phone call from his lawyer to let her know that he’d taken his own life with a bullet to the head in the parking lot of the Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven, and that she was now a millionaire, two years early and four times over.

The Washington Post made no mention of her in its coverage of his death and she never heard from his lawyer again.


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One thought on “BABE IN THE WOODS: Interlude (one)

  1. Robert Bonoir?? i totally choked on my eggroll, Pal – that & the quote from the 8-year-old.

    i am so loving this read!
    xoxoxoxoxox,
    Souci

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