MONTREAL, Quebec — Jefferson Merleau holds the title of Chief Inspector in this Canadian city. His responsibility is to prowl the streets from dawn until dusk, checking the basic functionality of things.
Stoplights are a major concern of his. On his inspection route, he stops at all intersections for a minimum of three red-yellow-green cycles. The reason for this is to confirm that the colors arrive in the proper order and sustain for proper amounts of time. Similarly, Jefferson checks all moving parts of the city: revolving signs, fluttering flags, automatic gates, and the like.
This Saturday, Jefferson noted a disturbance in the synchrony of the lights. It was a small disturbance, though. So he recorded an audio snippet on his handheld device, “Disturbance on The corner of Mackay and Edwards,” and he continued with his usual inspection route.
During the afternoon, a woman crossing the main road transformed into a wigwam. Jefferson recognized immediately how problematic this event was. Traffic would stop. The congestion would propagate across the city. In minutes, the general functionality of things would be interrupted terribly.
Jefferson needed to act! However he was impaired by a piercing pain in his neck. He endured still, pushing forward, removing log and log again from the traffic-impeding wigwam, carrying these logs to a nearby sewer hole, and dumping them into the depths of the city. When the time came to put the sewer cap back in place, Jefferson lifted with all his might, but the pain in his neck multiplied tenfold and the sewer cap didn’t budge. Jefferson toppled onto his side.
With the silhouette of Mount Royal in the distance, he watched automobiles work to circumnavigate the hole in the ground. One lane of traffic could pass, but the opposing lane didn’t have enough room to make passage. The drivers crammed themselves in anyways — gluttonously! As a result, traffic jammed hard.
A teardrop beaded at the cusp of Jefferson’s eye, grew bigger and bigger until it was ripe to fall. Then it froze in place. To Jefferson this was a metaphor for his entire beloved city icing up as he laid paralyzed.
But God came in the form of a burly Eskimo woman who massaged the tightness out of Jefferson’s neck. When he was ready, she lifted him by the arm. They collaborated to put the sewer cap back in place. Fairly quickly, Montreal got flowing again, and all was good. Jefferson sat next to the Eskimo woman on a park bench. They enjoyed the sunset together. After some time, the woman asked Jefferson why he was in so much pain. Jefferson explained that his job was very stressful.
“When rush hour comes, my blood pressure shoots up.”
“That’s not good, Mr. Merleau. You shouldn’t let the stress get you.”
“I know… I know,” J. Merleau said. “But I can’t help it. Whenever the city hurts, I hurt. How could I possibly change what’s in my heart?”
“You’ve got to just do the best you can. If you know you’ve done your best, you can go home at night and sleep.”
“Yeah…” Jefferson sighed.
“Truly! You need to loosen up the contents of your arteries. Please take me seriously.”
A terrible broken cranking sound! Cars veering from the road! The sun falling below the horizon! The church clocks stop! The lights freeze on the color red! Suddenly the whole city screeches to a halt! Jefferson looks North. A man no taller than a trashcan is pressed up against a big circular revolving billboard. He has his arms wrapped around it. His feet are cemented in place. Now he’s bear-hugging the revolving totem with all his might. His strength stops it from turning. As a result, gears beneath the earth stop turning as well. These are connected to the city’s highly underground mechanical network. By jamming one ostensibly insignificant gear, the man grinds the whole city to a halt.
The Eskimo woman asks what happened. Jefferson explains.
The woman remarks matter-of-factly, “Jesus… Well, we’ve got to get that fucker!”
“What do you mean?” Jefferson asks, not being one to deal with non-mechanical persons directly.
“We’ve got to break him off. Toss him aside. Get things moving again.”
“Yes, of course,” Jefferson says, still with much uncertainty.
Fortunately for him (being passive), the Eskimo woman walks over to the man jamming up the city’s gears, who is holding on with all his might, grinning maniacally and blowing steam out his frozen red ears. The woman pulls her mallet from under her fur coat. One hit: no good. Two hits: no good. On her third swing, as the man mocks her, “you’ll never bust me loose; this is rubber cement, and you’re old! AHAHAHA”, she knocks his feet loose. The revolving billboard jars into motion, crow hops, and flings the man into the sunsetting horizon. The city jumps and gargles a few times. In just moments, everything is running smoothly again.
“How did you do it?” Jefferson asks.
“Just keep calm, kid,” The Eskimo lady says. “And hammer on!”
She smiles and reaches out her hand. Jefferson grabs on. She gives him a handshake strong enough to make him wince.
“Be strong!” she says, “but not so tight!” before she strutted toward the parties in the heart of the city.
The night is getting lively. Jefferson opts to observe one last red-yellow-green cycle before going out for some cocoa and ice cream to precede bed.