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I Took My Troubles Down to Madame Ruth

04/23/02 12:00AM By Philip Baruth

It is six-thirty in the morning, and I'm sitting outside at a little wrought-iron table on Church Street in Burlington. Church Street is a reassuring place at six-thirty in the morning. The street belongs to the pigeons and the garbage trucks, both pre-occupied with the same search for what got left behind late last night. Directly across from me is the Yankee Candle Company, and directly above Yankee Candle is a pink neon sign that says *Psychic Readings.*

The psychic is not in at six-thirty a.m. I'm waiting at this little table for her to open because I have a series of questions that make it tough for me to sleep - not impossible, but tough.

The psychic herself I imagine first of all as a woman. I don't know why exactly, except that maybe I'm less comfortable with the idea of men having access to the future. In my mind, she's this fiftyish woman with salt-and-pepper hair, Susan Sontag hair, and she commutes from Milton every morning. She doesn't have a gold tooth, but she does wear Featherweight bifocals from LensCrafters. She sees the future for about three or four hours, then she walks across the street and has a bagel sandwich and a hazelnut coffee, then she goes back to the shop and sees the future until five o'clock, at which time she commutes back to Milton, where more or less everyone sees the future and so no one's willing to pay for it.

This is all in my head, but it's comforting.

All of the questions I have to ask are about George W. Bush, every single one of them. And when the psychic finally opens that door across the street and takes me upstairs, I'm going to ask them all in the order they appeared in my mind last night:

Why, I'll ask this good, knowing woman from Milton, does George W. Bush place so much trust in people who are obviously all but drunk with power, people like Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz? Why are these people allowed to plan not just one war, but a whole series, a whole trilogy of wars? Even with a hot director and a great property like Back to the Future or The Lord of the Rings, shooting more than one picture at a time bespeaks more than a little arrogance. And when you're talking about wars, Madame, that arrogance verges on the criminal.

And why, Madame, why do I just sit in my car and take it when the radio tells me that it's not a question of if we march into Baghdad to overthrow Saddam Hussein, but when? It's not that I have any great affection for Saddam Hussein, but I am fairly attached to the idea that forcibly toppling governments you don't like went out with Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders.

Why is George W. Bush so single-mindedly obsessed with drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? Do the words "wildlife" and "refuge" mean something so altogether different for the two of us? There's something unseemly in this obsession, pardon me Madame, something unseemly in these very macho men eyeing this very virgin wilderness.

By that time, the psychic will stop me. Our time will be up, she'll close her shop and commute back to Milton. But not before she offers me a glimpse of 2004: it is a clean-shaven Al Gore and George W. Bush again, duking it out again, and the United States of America goes for┐ Bush. In a landslide.

Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont.
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