The Comitans, huddled together like penguins in the Arctic cold, waved posters at passing cars, cheering heartily when one honked in approval. “Guns not Butter,” one sign read. Another, “When Liberals Lead, Freedom Bleeds.” And, predictably, “I’m John Galt.” I nearly ran headlong into them.
Goddammit, I thought. Why now?
The Comitans were a menacing omen. Others existed, of course, like the rain. New York was in the midst of a record, nonstop deluge. Some claimed it was global warming, but most climate models predicted the East Coast would see less rainfall, not more. It had something to do with shifting currents in the Atlantic. Convection, I believe.
Then there was the economic crisis. Nobody could have seen it coming, right? A speculative bubble, evident only after the fact. That’s finance. Good years, bad years—the price of prosperity, supposedly. Not really. It was perfectly predictable. The signs were clear.
However, the Comitans were altogether different. After all, you could adjust to the lousy weather, but did it even matter if you went to work? Sunny weather only drove home the cruelty of cubicle captivity. As for the Wall Street-induced economic crisis, sure, it was ruinous, but mostly for those at a comfortable remove. For the wealthy, it was just momentary turbulence in the first-class cabin, a mere hiccup. The rich never paid for their misdeeds; the poor always did, even if blameless.
The Comitans were genuinely frightening and completely impossible to ignore. No sooner had you forgotten about the noisy irritants than a new crop arrived, spewing hate like crazed soccer hooligans and accosting you as you left the grocery store.
At first, I doubted they would ever converge on the city. It was a reasonable expectation given that, initially, they mostly stuck to their southern strongholds, holding rallies in places like Biloxi, Mississippi, and Decatur, Georgia. But then they began to spread, like a toxic contagion.
Although they kept getting closer, it still seemed unlikely they would actually breach the city limits. New York—cosmopolitan, progressive, diverse—personified the evil they detested. Why come at all?
But they did. It was a modern-day sacking of Rome. Thousands converged on Manhattan on chartered buses that discharged them into Midtown, from where they strategically fanned out across the city, heckling and jeering and picking fights like rabid dogs along the way.
I first spotted them in my neighborhood a few weeks ago. After that, my encounters were mostly from a distance, though each time less so. I should have expected the inevitable. After nearly colliding with a dozen or so of the rabble-rousers after turning the corner of Fifty-Second Street, I did what any New Yorker would do when crossing paths with the deranged and possibly dangerous: I stared ahead blankly. Streetwise. That’s what Gotham’s concrete canyons required.
In my peripheral vision, I caught sight of a seemingly disembodied hand from the huddled mass, finger pointing at me accusingly, and a swarm of sneering faces. Over the music playing on my earbuds, a “fuck you” registered, along with some other choice insults. I did not linger. The rain was getting heavy, and I was late for work.
“Looks like you’ve seen better days, Liv,” Jay said as I staggered into the office, soaked to the bone. On a positive note, I was relieved to have survived my first direct contact with the Comitans unscathed.
“Every day is better than Monday,” I sulked.
Jay was the earnest receptionist. Just out of college, he was full of enthusiasm, ambition, and drive. I resisted expressing my cynicism about the corporate grind. Why let on the oasis was a mirage? He would catch on eventually.
“Have a good weekend?” he asked.
“Yeah, you know, the usual.” I mimicked injecting myself with a hypodermic needle. Sometimes I couldn’t help myself.
I leaned my wet umbrella against the far corner wall of the reception area and walked through two glass doors. Passing a bank of small cubicles, I slowly made my way to my own space situated at the end of the office. After hanging up my wet jacket, I booted my computer. Its groan and flicker immediately began sapping life from me—the price, it seemed, of earning one’s keep.