BABE IN THE WOODS: Interlude (two)

2007-2009; United States of America

The United States’ second Civil War finally broke out in 2007, after three years of boiling following the controversial 2004 Presidential election.

Strangled by a two-party political system that over the years had, for all intents and purposes, merged into one, unable to convincingly differentiate themselves on the major issues like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nuclear proliferation, health care or corporate control of the media, political campaigns had come to depend on so-called cultural and moral issues to rally their supporters. Gay marriage, abortion, reality television and pop singer Janet Jackson’s left breast became the issues of the day.

Unlike the first Civil War, there was little blood spilled, though.

Except for the most radical on either end of the spectrum, the average American was simply too lazy to actually pick up a gun and shoot their brother or sister. At least not for socio-political reasons.

For a perceived slight, yes. But for freedom and basic civil rights, not so much.

No, this Civil War took place quietly but rapidly, an exaggerated version of suburban flight, and its reverse, as cultural conservatives abandoned the cities and the more liberal-minded made the reverse commute. As a result, many urban centers spread out beyond their already sprawling borders, engulfing many bedroom communities and smaller cities in their wake. Non-profit organizations focused on relocating were founded by the dozen, and web sites like Craigslist and Friendster were flooded by people on the move.

On the other side, new cities sprung up across the country, especially throughout Middle America, most anchored by Wal-Marts and Starbucks and Bank of Americas. Home schooling was all the rage and public libraries and hospitals were privatized, sold off to Barnes and Noble and Aetna, respectively.

By the end of 2007, the population of the United States had shifted so dramatically, Congress was forced into recess for six months while redistricting took place to figure out who represented what. When all was said done, the northeast, from Maryland to Pennsylvania to Maine, the lower half of Florida and the entire west coast were given to the Democrats, while everything else was brought under Republican control.

Open elections were suspended indefinitely and martial law was enforced.

In both territories, pockets of resistance existed, some larger than others, and it wasn’t until the terrorist attack on the state of Maryland, highlighted by the detonation of a dirty bomb in downtown Baltimore by Christian fundamentalists that it became clear the moral divide had become a gangrenous wound too large to ignore.

In February of 2009, the President signed off on the Population Redistribution Act, declaring an official end to the bitter Civil War and mandating the relocation of 65 million minorities, non-Christians, white liberals and registered homosexuals – those that hadn’t already deserted to Canada or Old Europe after the 2004 election, at least – to what the Republicans would come to refer to as Gomorrah, giving them the right to self-rule as long as they continued to pay their taxes and allowed a limited military presence outside of key cities. Islam and Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned and their followers deported.

The new country within a country couldn’t agree on a name for itself, self-deprecatingly accepting Gomorrah, and elected two leaders to represent them, Howard Dean, an outspoken moderate Democrat that had miraculously rallied a populist resurgence on the internet by making it easier to donate money to his ultimately unsuccessful campaign, and Janeane Garofalo, a former comedienne and actress who apparently knew the ins and outs of the political game.

Their fledgling government was sponsored by discount retailer Target and the banking giant Washington Mutual, while health care was “temporarily” outsourced to an organization in India specializing in Eastern medicine. Public schools were sponsored by the Ronald McDonald House, while Starbucks, prepared for the split, had quietly spun off a small portion of its business in 2006, naming it Clinton Café and selling half of its locations to the “ambitious new upstart” in key cities.

They were once again content, living amongst their own kind (for the most part), freed from the guilt of feeling ever so slightly superior to their more conservative-minded former countrymen, and relishing their hard-won freedom to enjoy a latté in the middle of the afternoon.

Damon Vargas had returned to New York, accompanied by a newly degreed Diane Rodriguez in the summer of 2007. They shared a loft apartment, platonically, on the fully gentrified Lower East Side that Diane had found on Craigslist, lying to Damon about the cost in order to hide the truth about her parentage and inheritance, not out of distrust as much as shame. Truly radical liberals didn’t look kindly on those with too much money and she was worried that her modest wealth would somehow invalidate her efforts in The November 3rd Club.

They’d each found regular work as contributing writers for a couple of local periodicals with relatively moderate voices – Damon with the Daily News, and Diane with New York Magazine – pushing the Club’s agenda with feature articles on influential and controversial artists and writers, thanks to their Club connections.

Diane also successfully pushed for increased coverage of liberal-affiliated events like poetry readings featuring Club-affiliated poets like Victor Infante, Rich Villar and Dawn Saylor, and singer-songwriter concerts for like-minded artists such as Heather Shayne Blakeslee and Liberty Sou, who she’d first meet while covering a show at the Bowery Poetry Club in late 2008, where Liberty worked as a bartender. They’d started dating the following year, casually at first, but after six months, exclusively.

Damon wasn’t much for long-term relationships but was supportive of the relationship as he figured Liberty, more than most artists, had proven herself committed to the cause above and beyond what most others would consider reasonable or tolerable. His twice-weekly column for the News focused on human interest stories that invariably highlighted the effects of administration policies on regular New Yorkers. He’d won acclaim for a series of interviews with Afghanistan and Iraq veterans who’d returned home maimed and unacknowledged, living in underfunded veterans hospitals that the President had been pushing to close for years, despite the new battlefronts in Venezuela and Mexico, and the increasing likelihood of war in Greenland.

After the Population Redistribution Act was signed in 2009, he turned his poison pen towards the new leaders of “Gomorrah,” insisting that someone needed to hold their feet to the fire lest they give in to the status quo. He was debating another run for Mayor when he mysteriously disappeared without a trace a year later, his hybrid Jeep found abandoned deep in the woods of Van Cortlandt Park.

Detective Eric Pearson was the first officer on the scene, responding to an anonymous tip. His partner, Jacob Harrison had called in sick that morning.

Anthony DiBlanco celebrated his 11th birthday on the same day the President signed the Population Redistribution Act, a Saturday, three days after his actual day of birth. The party was supposed to a big one as his parents had gone all out, inviting all of the kids in the neighborhood having no idea where their son actually stood on the food chain. They’d hired a clown and a face painter, and had a huge, 20-person ball pit set up in the backyard.

Only two kids showed up: Marvin Baker, his Dungeons & Dragons partner, and an orphan, who lived next door with his foster parents; and little Lorraine Murphy, the shy, scrawny redhead from across the street, the only girl who’d speak to him on a regular basis.

Herman Ruth quit his late night grave-digging job at the Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven in the summer of 2007 without giving notice. His occasional partner, Jonathan Baker – a single father and down on his luck recovering alcoholic best known for hitting the game-winning home run for Mt. Pleasant High School’s only championship baseball team, back in 1996 – had quit unexpectedly, too.

Or so it was assumed, as he’d disappeared a few days after Ruth didn’t show up for his third consecutive shift.

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