BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- The glamour of Gotham has pretty well worn off by the time Duke Ellington's fabled A train burrows its way from Manhattan to the Brooklyn-Queens border and lurches into a green-tiled depot at Grant Avenue that smells of urine and unfulfilment.
Kennedy Airport is a few blocks to the south, with brick duplexes, body shops and chicken shacks filling the middle distance. I grew up a couple of miles away and thought it a daring safari to ride my bike out here, circa 1965.
Around the corner from the subway station, outside a working-class mortuary named the Grace Funeral Chapels, I join a small clutch of reporters and camera operators who are waiting for mourners to emerge from a private rite within. An unfiltered autumn sun is beating, but still not brilliantly enough to light the unfathomable ravines of the human mind.
The ceremonial leave-taking that we have come to snoop on is styled the HomeGoing Services for Miriam Iris Carey, 34, the Brooklyn-born dental hygienist who was shot dead two weeks ago in her black Infiniti by an encirclement of Capitol Hill police on Constitution Avenue in Washington, with a baby girl in careful braids strapped into the back seat. (That Carey was unarmed and her trunk not stuffed with TNT was something that her killers had been well-trained to not assume.)
"She was an achiever who set her mind firmly on her goals," the handbill for the ceremony reads. "Miriam had the courage to commit to personal growth and development which is evidenced in her many accomplishments. She had a passion for cooking and loved life."
"Her greatest joy was spending time with her daughter Erica Francis, as well as family and friends," the flyer notes, but now here is the joyful, achieving mother dead and custody of the girl denied, at least temporarily, to any of the decedent's five sisters.
The funeral has not quite ended when a woman who gives her name as Gail Johnson blinks solo down the chapel steps and we gang-tackle her like canids.
"Just seeing the love between those sisters," Johnson says, and trails off.
"What do you think happened that day in D.C.?" I ask her.
"I have no idea," Gail Johnson replies. "Nobody does."
In Washington, it has been a productive season for tragedy and madness, if madness indeed -- or "post-partum psychosis," whether diagnosed or merely suspected, as one of Carey's kin reportedly blurted on the day of her death -- truly was what led Miriam Iris to motor to the very gates of the White House, into which, depending on whose report you trust, she either crashed, bashed, smashed, or accidentally, gently nudged her car.
From there, most accounts concur, she sped down Pennsylvania Avenue -- reversing the route of every Inaugural Parade from Thomas Jefferson to Barack Obama -- dodged and spun and skidded and backslid around and away from dozens of members of the Congressional cavalry, and reached her Calvary on a mild Thursday outside a Senate office building with tiny Erica unhurt behind her.
Seventeen days earlier, 12 workers at the Washington Navy Yard had been stalked and slaughtered by a certainly deranged man named Aaron Alexis, for how else can we define insanity than by the will and deed of depriving an innocent of this beautiful life?
("He looked kind of like, you know, bonkers, crazy, in a positive way, like funny, but, so I really can't believe this," said a woman whom Alexis had known in Thailand.)
Then, the day after Miriam Carey met her end, on the Mall below the Capitol, a 64-year-old man named James Constantino from the Garden State of New Jersey soaked himself with petrol, set himself aflame, thanked the citizens who quickly, bravely came to extinguish the fire, and then died of his burns. So we quickly moved to define this man as a lunatic, too, and waited for the next.
On the Brooklyn-Queens boundary, now, the HomeGoing of Miriam Iris Carey is ending and black-laced communicants are marching grimly to the parking lot and driving away in Escalades and wrecked old Maximas and one sweet new Porsche Carrera.
One of the ladies is carrying a little girl who is waving a single pink flower, and the cameramen panic to focus, but this is the daughter of one of Miriam's sisters and not the now-motherless, now-famous child of a terrible day on Capitol Hill.
A man named Geoffrey Davis, "a friend of the family," consents to make a statement. He tells us that he is the brother of a former city council member and an executive of a neighbourhood anti-violence campaign that seems unnecessary, since, as of the hour of Miriam Carey's funeral, there has not been a single homicide in the City of New York for a possible-record eight days.
"Such a wonderful person," Davis says of Miriam Iris Carey, and he uses the words "intelligent," "educated," and "professional."
"This outlook of her being not right mentally," the friend declares, "that's just not the case."
Allen Abel is a Brooklyn-born Canadian journalist based in Washington, D.C.