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Saturday, May 21, 2011

The End of Their World

It was a little after ten o'clock at night.

Two young cops walked together along the sidewalk towards their radio car after answering what turned out to be an unfounded call for help at the Colonial Park Apartments, a dubious quad of low-income, movin'-on-down housing in Harlem. Gunshots ripped through the quiet of the night. Everybody always says that gunshots sound like fireworks, but nobody sets off fireworks in Harlem on in mid-May. One of the bullets caught the black cop square in the back of his head, killing him instantly, felling him like a tree.

The white cop was shot thirteen times, his dead partner's revolver prised from its holster and used against him, shot after shot pumped into his writhing body. The assailants fled. Help was summoned. The white cop tried to crawl to safety, but, when you're bleeding out of thirteen holes in your body on the sidewalk in Harlem, how can you know where safety is? He died in the back seat of the patrol car that sped towards Harlem Hospital, cradled in the arms of another officer. He'd found safety at last.

Widows had to be notified, and children, far too young to understand what had happened to their fathers, were shuttled off to neighbors or relatives houses so that bodies could be identified, so that vapid, inconsequential words could be muttered into their ears by police commissioners and mayors, so that asinine questions could be brayed at them by reporters. Flashbulbs in the waiting room. Pandemonium in the E.R.

"Oh my God!" a nurse screamed as the bodies were wheeled in, "it can't be!"

But it was.

I think it's funny when leathery, old, possibly psychotic evangelists run around predicting that the end of the world is going to happen on May 21st, 2011. Actually, I think it's rather a bit more insulting than it is funny. I think it would be very interesting for Harold Camping, the lunatic who is behind all the billboards and all the palaver and all the rapture, to meet the families of Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini. To sit down with them and try to convince them that the end of the world is going to take place on May 21st, 2011. I think they would have some interesting things to say to him.

Because their world, or at least a huge part of it, ended on May 21st, 1971. They know what it feels like to have the floor fall from beneath their feet, to have the ceiling come crashing down. The end of the world? Please. They've been there, and beyond.

Today, I'm not thinking about whether or not my theatre tickets for tonight's performance will be redeemed if the Rapture comes, and I'm not going to be in some cinder-block basement at 6pm, EST, quivering with my wife under a wool blanket. I'm going to be thinking about two families who had to endure unimaginable sorrow on a May 21st, 40 years ago. To have to hear about how their husbands and their fathers were hunted down like wild animals, felled by shots from behind, never having a chance to return fire or even react. To have their lights darkened. To have their worlds end, so violently, so callously, so offensively.

The end of the world? Rapture?

Save it.

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