It is the end of December. Snow is at the curbs and on the sidewalks. It is cold. Mike Zwilling is sweating. He has loaded eleven cardboard cartons filled with dishes, silverware, books, scarfs, mittens, two computers, chargers, notebooks, pens, shirts, pants, earmuffs, overcoats, his bicycle, and snowshoes, into a rented E-Z-load U-Haul rollup rear-door van, double-parked on Thirteenth street, just below the park. Prospect Park. Park Slope. Brooklyn.
Thirteenth is a narrow, one-way street heading west, straight downhill toward the harbor. Toward the Statue of Liberty. New Jersey. Mike, too, is determined to head west. That’s the plan.
“Mike?” Angela, his wife of thirty-five years, wrapped tightly in a wool coat, arms across her chest, asks. “What, you think they don’t have pots and pans in Wyoming? Believe me, they do. Maybe even Cuisinarts. You don’t have to pack everything you own. This isn’t a Wagon Train episode. They might even have water, buckwheat, and flannel shirts. Carhartt’s.”
The Mike Zwilling is the fourth person from his block to leave the Slope for Laramie. The thirty-fourth if you count along Thirteenth, from Prospect Park West down to the Gowanus Canal.
He had told her, back in the spring, well over a year ago. “Get ready, Angie, if we lose the house in the mid-terms in 2022, we’re selling. We’re moving. We’re going to Wyoming.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The world is changing, Angie. The country is falling apart. It’s time we stop complaining and do something. Someone has to do something. Guns. Climate. War. Abortion. Vaccines. The filibuster. Gerrymandering. Crypto. The Court. The country is splitting apart under us like we’re all standing spread-legged with one foot on either side of the San Andreas fault, looking around like we’re next on line at the bakery.”
“So? So that means we have to move?”
“So, we just have to stop talking about everything like it’s a Netflix mini-series. As if, ‘things are going to shit and so let’s just call it the new normal.’ We’ve got to take it seriously.”
“I am serious, but how does that have anything to do with Wyoming? Where’d you get that idea?
“I was talking to him. He figured it out. If we lose the House, that’s bad, but then we absolutely can’t lose the senate. If we do, it’s all over.”
“Wyoming is the key, Angie. It’s simple math. Listen, Ange, do you know which is the least populated and, coincidently, the most solidly red state in the nation?
“Let me guess… Wyoming.”
“Right. Wyoming!” And, Angie, do you know how many people live in Brooklyn? I’ll tell you. Two-point-five-seven-seven million.”
“And, let me guess, Wyoming has…?”
“Bingo. Wyoming has precisely five hundred seventy-eight thousand, eight hundred and three. Total. The whole entire state. And seventy percent voted for Trump. That’s four hundred and six thousand, seven hundred and fifty-two and he won the state. And, how many senators does Wyoming have? And how many does New York have?”
“Two. I get it, Mike, two. The same.”
“So, Melanson says, New York doesn’t need us to vote. Park Slope definitely doesn’t need us. And Massachusetts. California. Vermont, Illinois, or New Jersey. They’re all in good shape. And so, if we can just get eighty-seven thousand people to move from Brooklyn to Laramie, we can flip the state. Eighty-seven thousand and we flip the whole state and we’re up two senators and they’re down two. Angie, we can be the one flapping seagull whose wings divert the tornado, the leaf falling from a tree in the forest that troubles the distant star. We can do that. It makes the greatest sense.”
“No, Mike. It may make sense to you and Melanson, but not to me. It may make sense to someone who maybe wants to see what life in Wyoming is like. But that’s not me. I can’t do that. I can’t leave here. My work. Our friends. Our apartment. This is our home. Our city. We’re here and not in Laramie for a reason. A lot of good reasons.”
“You can, Angie. Please. Think about it. We rent the apartment for few years. You can work anywhere. Write. Do your translations. Whatever. Anywhere. Work is portable now.”
“You know that’s not true. I can’t do my work just anywhere. I need people. Vibrancy. Face-to-face with the soul of a live, changing, self-critical, city. The dogs and babies in the park. The baby bok choy in market. The steam on the windows of Essa Bagel. Real pizza. The commotion. The variety. Excess. Access. The thread of a song someone is humming in the bank. All of that. No. I can’t go. I won’t go. I can’t live any place else.”
“Come. Please. You can’t know what your one part will play. The change we might make for everyone, everywhere. Maybe even ourselves.”
That was Mike then. In early spring. 2021.
In mid-November they talked again. Prices were rising. Ukraine was lost. Congress had been lost too. Despite any of the hope that had survived the primaries.
People were indeed leaving. Inflation. Selling their homes to developers. Getting priced out of anything they might have afforded a year before. Gentrification, like flowers in a desert after a rain, was blooming in every neighborhood.
“We have work to do in Brooklyn,” she told Mike. “Brooklyn politics, all politics, always flows with the money. If you leave, the big money flows in, and we get washed away. They own the politics and make the policies. There’s real and honest work we need to do here. On our very own street. I’m staying. We need to organize right here,” she told him.
Mike is sweating and shivering. The boxes are in the truck. Limo drivers are squeezing by, giving him the finger, honking, trying to get by without scraping their cars against the U-Haul.
And there stands Mike. Keys in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.
“You two new riders of the purple sage head on west and write me when you get there,” she tells him.
She kisses him goodbye.
The engine clicks on.
“Wait, Mike, wait. One more thing. We don’t live here by accident. We didn’t choose to live in Wyoming or anywhere else.”
She climbs up on the running board of the van. Her shoes are soaked through. She grabs onto his arm and the wide mirror.
“This scheme of yours is totally dishonest. It’s false and illegitimate. A manipulation you’d be enraged at if someone did it to you. Just like what’s happening here to us. You’d be nothing more than rustlers there. And someone is going to get hurt. My god, all I can think of is Matthew Shepard. What do you think they’ll do when they get wind of what you’re up to? Let Melanson and his kid go if they want to. Get out.”
She tugs on his arm.
“Unload the truck. Please. I don’t want you to go. I can’t let you go.”