Camouflage by Kate Adams


A free hour between meetings is reason enough to leave campus, to chase coffee and errands. The suburban streets have settled into the lull between lunch and the first lap in the long story of rush hour. On the raw edge of the new big box strip, there’s no one but me, slowing to make the turn, and a man standing at the corner, looking right through my windshield as I approach. He doesn’t have a windshield: he has a cardboard sign and my eyes graze it so quickly that if a detective later, investigating a crime, were to ask me, all I could offer would be guesses, the usual suspects: “homeless”? “please help”? “god bless”?

But there is no crime here, just a middle-aged woman slowing to turn, a short haired man wearing camouflage pants and a khaki
t-shirt and his dun-colored sign. And because we need to make stories as much as detectives need answers, mine begins spooling out behind my forehead: about a veteran, a tour in Iraq, maybe two, which is why he has lost his place here, because he was sent there. He is behind me now (rear-view, ephemera, red light), but I am still imagining him waking up this morning to pull on those pants purposefully, camouflage part of his presentation, soldiering and sacrifice the brand he gives to his product, which is the cardboard sign. He was holding it gut-high; he was standing on the side of the road, claiming the no-man’s land between the clean sidewalk and the dirt median, strawberry fields, horizon. Farm workers in the far distance bend to their small wheeled carts in the low rows of red fruit, dots near the highway.

The light changes and I go on, spooling, riffing: camouflage. IEDs. Don’t forget to buy stamps. On the evening news, this war’s signature wound is traumatic brain injury. First stamps, then Starbucks: SBUX on the NYSE. We Make Money the Old-Fashioned Way: We Earn It. Talk to Chuck: Charles Schwab. The best money-launderers endure, day after decade, punctuating the news bites with ads that fibrillate between high fustiness and low familiarity, pinstripes or plain folks.

To talk with him I would have had to pull off the road, roll down the far window, and invite his upper body into the cabin. To give him money I would have had to unfasten my seat belt, lift up my ass to fish out my wallet, and riffle. Instead I’m fingering my turn signal and negotiating my next move, perfectly upright and alert, my mind twittering in a clutter of news and arrogance and also perfectly useless questions. The policed can rarely afford the truth.

At the post office, the sun is benign, I leave my car comfortably paused between parallel painted lines, there’s very little wind, and inside I join the queue with my envelopes, before and behind my fellow executioners busy with our days stretching out toward our individual evenings, defining our territories by answering our cell phones and cleaning our guns and polishing our swords of casual inattention.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestShare on Google+Email this to someone

6 Responses to “Camouflage by Kate Adams”

  1. Verna Wilder says:

    Kate, I love how you make a story of a moment, draw me in, and I hold my breath as I read from one glorious line to another. Your writing has always stunned me this way as you draw me deeper and deeper. I am, once again, blown away.

  2. Niya says:

    The thickness and richness of your prose Kate…like a great cup of Peet’s coffee, like Annie Dillard on a rainy day…I just want more.

  3. Gloie says:

    This piece is beautifully written, thoughtful,
    an observation of daily life delivered from
    someone who has the eye and mind of
    a poet.

  4. Sandra Gail Abbott says:

    You had me at:

    “A free hour between meetings is reason enough to leave campus, to chase coffee and errands. The suburban streets have settled into the lull between lunch and the first lap in the long story of rush hour. ”

    And by: “he was standing on the side of the road, claiming the no-man’s land between the clean sidewalk and the dirt median, strawberry fields, horizon. Farm workers in the far distance bend to their small wheeled carts in the low rows of red fruit, dots near the highway. “…I wanted to slap you… it is so good.

    And then the entire last paragraph. Wow. This piece is so smart, so sensually well-written that I want to cry. You have revealed the delusions of our comforts so precisely and so very poignantly. Thank you, Kate Adams!

  5. Eliott says:

    very compelling. emotionally engaging and dispassionately obvservant at the same time, like the driver. The way you caught the driver’s stream of thought, straying from cogent comment {” . . .soldiering and sacrifice the brand he gives to his product, which is the cardboard sign.”) to the random non-sequiturs and interference from the radio, is very convincing.
    You have a gift for observation.

    I like “He is behind me now (rear-view, ephemera, red light)” —it’s wonderfully concise and accurate, and there’s a nice acidic little edge in “ephemera.”

  6. elizabethbradley says:

    So raw and real and current.

Leave a Reply →