When we heard that Souled Out was providing the music at last month’s National Night Out activities at the gazebo, we decided right away to go. We were tired, and it was a fairly hot day, but Souled Out–a local covers band that emphasizes soul and funk tunes–always seemed to bring out a much more diverse crowd than what you usually get here in Front Royal. We took the van because we were going to do a few errands afterwards, and as soon as got out after parking on Jackson Street we could hear the sounds of Souled Out playing an Earth, Wind, & Fire tune, which was a good sign. And as we walked toward the gazebo, we immediately started running into people we knew, which was yet another good sign.
After chatting with them for a little bit, we started walking through the gazebo parking lot where numerous vendors and organizations had set up booths. That was when Souled Out took a break. Dance music was still being played on the sound system, but without Souled Out’s live music, the atmosphere somehow became a bit stuffier. As we walked past various booths and vendors, we came upon an exhibit in which we saw a car attached to some kind of mechanism. In front of it was a sign that said,
Julien looked at it, and was curious, so Heather, Maggie, and he waited there for the next demonstration of the roll over simulator to start. In the meantime, I saw that a crowd had gathered on the grassy area next to the gazebo where a much larger demonstration was taking place. As I moved closer, I heard the voice over the PA system introduce a police officer and a dog that was brought here from the Netherlands–a drug sniffing dog. Soon the police officer started to speak.
“This dog,” he said, “only takes commands that are spoke in Dutch.” Then he announced that he was going to show the drug sniffing dog in action, and in the photograph above you see the police SUV in which a pipe with marijuana residue had been placed. At the police officer’s spoken command (in Dutch) the dog began to sniff for drugs. In almost no time, the dog found it.
Now, while watching this demonstration, there were a lot of things I wanted to say. Things like, “You know marijuana’s now legal in a lot of places.” And, “How often do you make a drug arrest over there on High Street?” (the Front Royal gazebo is located on Main Street between Chester and High streets.) But, with it being National Night Out–and seeing that there were loads of law enforcement types out as well–I refrained from anything that might be considered heckling lest I be perceived as precisely the sort of person who needs to be kept an eye on. But then again, just by being a little different, I probably already am–at least by some people. So I just took some pictures, resisted even mumbling to myself, “What the fuck is this shit?” and walked back to where Heather, Maggie, and Julien were.
In a little while, someone set the roll over simulator to run again. The car on the simulator rose, then started to turn over and over. When the crash test dummy in the driver’s seat fell out of the car’s open window–and was then followed by a giant Elmo doll–Julien had seen enough. He was shaking, and Maggie too was upset. We got out of there right away, and decided to just completely leave the National Night Out activities. Yeah, Souled Out would start playing again at some point, but this other stuff just spoiled it for us.
We walked over to the coffee shop on High Street. We got some drinks and some snacks, then went to the back room, where we saw that a group of about twenty or so people had pulled some tables together and were having some kind of discussion. One person started talking about, “The evil that’s inside all of us, and which we need to find and get a grip on.” We looked over at them–they all looked so clean, and neatly dressed, with their heads tilted ever so slightly upwards whenever one of them spoke–and we knew right away that we had walked into a meeting of some of the local Paul Ryan/Rick Santorum followers.
We sat at our table with our drinks and snacks, talking, but not too loudly. We were, actually, being polite–but even then, people from the Ryan/Santorum crowd kept looking over at us as if we weren’t allowed to speak in what was now their room. When their meeting finally broke up, a number of them were standing right at the ramp going back to the front of the coffee shop. They didn’t budge an inch when Heather needed to get by with Julien, and one of them even looked down at Julien as if he were looking at some sort of vermin.
That’s when I wanted to say, “You know, me and my kids could be some of those illegal immigrants from Central America. You know, the ones who are carrying all sorts of diseases. Maybe even Ebola. So you’d better make way when we need to get by.”
But again, I practiced restraint. Which is how, despite what goes on in my head, I’ve survived in this town for what will be seven years this fall. And when we’d finished our drinks, we got in our van and drove over to the CVS where I was going to pick up a prescription for Maggie. When we got there, Heather stayed with Julien. She kept him entertained by showing him some pictures of our friend Silvana, with whom Julien got to spent some time at a poetry reading we did near DC the previous weekend.
Maggie and I went into the store, and when I asked at the counter for her prescription, the guy at the cash register said they didn’t have anything for her. He then suggested I talk to the pharmacist. I moved down the counter to see that the main pharmacist was there—a woman who came to Front Royal via a pharmacy school in China. Whenever one person or another at the pharmacy counter here says they have nothing for me, I check with her. As usual, she was the one who was able to find it in pharmacy’s computer.
It took just a few minutes, then Maggie and I walked back to the van. I opened the sliding rear door to see that Heather was still showing Julien the pictures of Silvana. Maggie climbed around Heather, and into the back seat of the van, as I opened the door on the driver’s side. Before I got in, I looked around, as I always do before I get ready to drive. It was dark now, and the yellow glow from the CVS store stood out against the deep blue of the sky.
It was a quick drive back home, but long enough for me to think of the stories I could tell about the times that silence and restraint were what kept me safe. But silence and restraint can only keep you safe for so long. The time always comes when you have to go ahead, open your mouth, and feel the words coming out of you like revelations of breath. And then you start to move.