I want to wake up in the city that doesn’t sleep… 5:00AM. I lie there and listen to Frankie belt it, New York, New York.
These little town blues, I mumble, hitting the alarm. The whirling propeller slowly focuses into fan blades. Across the unwelcoming linoleum, my running shoes are hanging next to Mom and Pop, who smile at me from their frame. Hand-in-hand, they’re holding the prize for “Best Bacon Hors d’oeuvre” at the Bacon Takedown. Pops’ glory days in the bacon business. I notice their hands: young, alive. Pops went fast—not long after his heart attack. Mom took longer: first her kidneys, then her sight, then one Sunday walk at Battery Park I saw blood on her sock. Underneath, a giant sore. They did what they could but the infection had spread. The day after she went, I started running.
Shoes tied, I head down to the street where a crisp breeze moves my pulse. I can barely hear my steps as I run down these new sidewalks, some nanofiber-asphalt hybrid. The city rolled them out to promote their exercise requirement. Phenomenal. I see my group and fall in line. The sidewalk gives a bit underfoot, almost springs me forward as we run up 8th towards Central Park.
We cross at Columbus Circle. Carefully. These post-ban engines—all electric—can sneak up on you. You’d be surprised how many people protested the ban—they slept in their gas cars, burned trees, smashed electric cars with baseball bats. Some wack-o even shot at the mayor; he was a gas taxi driver with a mohawk and camo, a real Travis-type. The protests went on for a few weeks but in the end everyone came around.
We make our way to the southwest entrance of the park and stop at the fountain behind the bull. The line isn’t bad and the crisp water tingles as it goes down. They say the tingle’s some sort of vitamin. I can’t remember what it’s called, but they’ve been excited about it since the protests. I figure it’s for the best: since they started it, I sleep better and get more done at work. The tingle’s not so bad today, not like after the Yankees lost last week.
As I start back to the trail, my old buddy Charlie passes by. He’s got the look of a guy in the bottom of the ninth. There’s no talking, so I nod as I catch up. Then I get a whiff of his clothes and almost retch as a sweet, doughy smell clings to the back of my nose: doughnuts. He must make his own now since the ban. I picture him in his kitchen, windows drawn, dipping the sugared flour into bubbling grease, the fatty yellow stench seeping into the wallpaper like in those “Lifestyle” posters you see nowadays. He’s trying to kill himself with donuts? I slow down, letting Charlie get ahead of me. Catching the proctor’s eye, I lift my eyebrow and subtly flick my thumb towards Charlie. The proctor gives me a nod and, keeping Charlie in his sights, flips the red switch on his platform.
Two tones blare through the park: everyone south of the field grinds to a halt. There must be 2,000 of us out here. We wait as the Proctor walks towards Charlie, reaching for his holster. Charlie knows the drill and, quivering, holds out his hand. The Proctor pulls out his analyzer, pricks Charlie’s finger and sucks up a drop of blood. ‘Cholesterol 208. Blood Sugar 180. Detain for modification,’ the thing says. Without a word, the Proctor motions to a bench where the Device is mounted.
We glare at Charlie as he walks toward the bench. “Shame on you,” a woman snaps from behind. Two more loud tones and we go on jogging. Behind me, I hear the “zap zap zap” of the Device reprogramming Charlie’s brain. I think about his brother down in Florida who just died of a heart attack! Good thing I got to Charlie before he ended up the same way.
After lap three, we start back down Broadway. I look east through the skyscrapers and see the first hint of sunrise. 34th…Union Square…then 4th to 9th to 3rd. My legs burn as I turn down St. Mark’s, the home stretch. Then ahead I see smoke trickle through a third story window. Not fire smoke, more like stove smoke, from some schmuck who forgot something on the burner.
I run closer and a chill runs down my spine when I smell it: salty, meaty, perfect. Bacon. Not tofu bacon or turkey bacon or even that low-fat fake stuff. Real bacon, like Pops used to sell. After the ban, I’d sneak over to Aunt Fran’s in Jersey where she’d save a couple slices for my late-night BLT. My God it was good. But then they started random blood checks so, before I got caught, I turned myself in. Every day they’d put that thing—the Device—over my head and zap it: “We’re re-programming your neurons,” they’d say. And they sure did; I haven’t had a craving…until now. The smell; the taste. Jesus! My mouth waters and my hands tremble. I imagine the salty, crunchy flakes rolling over my tongue and right as I close my eyes, I remember Mom and Pops. “Enough!” I roar, frantically unzipping my pocket, fumbling for my cellphone to text in the crime: Fire at 3rd and St. Mark’s. Bacon fire.