These are tough times. “But not end times,” as Jon Stewart put it.
Still, there’s something in the air. A bit of a rumble. Like an empty stomach, or heads churning to try and make sense of what seems like a polar shift afoot. Where’s all the money gone?
It certainly hasn’t gone to that lady over there. The lady who’s asleep -one hopes- underneath a bench on the feted Place de Brouckère in Brussels, exalted by Jacques Brel, adorned by the Hotel Metropole; the only 19th Century hotel still in operation, birthplace of the Black Russian cocktail, and backdrop to the famous 1911 ‘Conseil’ Solvay, the first global physics conference attended by such luminaries as Marie Curie, Ernst Rutherford, Max Planck, Henri Poincaré, and Hendrik Lorentz. Not to mention a certain Albert Einstein.
That lady over there has turned her back on lapsed glory -the part of her back that often goes by another name. A can of Gordon’s sits on top of the bench; the second floor, if you will, of the recumbent lady’s abode. Shocked passers-by cast a quick glance at the half-exposed derriere and, well, pass by. The bleakness of the skin, the motionlessness of this prone human form begs the question: Is she alive at all? Has anybody called anyone?
I decide to flag a police cruiser, and am happy to discover someone else has had the same idea. Accosted in French and Flemish at once, the officers pull over. To protect and to serve and, in this case, immediately don surgical gloves. The bright side: if you’re not at the doctor’s, and people put on latex gloves before even approaching you, the only way is up. One of the officers leans over a bit and starts talking to her, snapping his fingers above her head for added effect. The other patrolman thinks gently shoving her backside with his boots is the way forward.
Then there is movement. An arm rises up as to a charmer’s tune. Rather dizzily. She’s alive. Thank God. The finger-clicking policeman finally does her the courtesy of trying to nudge her coat to conceal the pallid flesh. The other policeman kicks the woman’s backside once more before finally reaching behind the bench and hauling her to an acceptable state of disrepair. Gloves are binned, and off they go. A job well done. These aren’t end times, but one wonders, how much further down is it?