Racing The River

Hello Everybody,

Last Monday evening, I waited to cross Hollywood Boulevard, at a pedestrian crosswalk in Thai Town. It was well into rush hour, so stepping out onto the Boulevard of Broken Dreams at that time of night was like jumping into a fast river filled with logs. In theory – at these crosswalks, which are sprinkled across the boulevards of Los Angeles – all you have to do is start crossing the street, and the drivers who’ve noticed the neon yellow pedestiran crossing signs will already be on the lookout for you, and will be happy to stop – after all, it’s the law. However, that’s just a silly theory.

Hollywood and Hobart in Thai Town...where it happened.

Hollywood and Hobart in Thai Town…where it happened.

Generally, what happens is a growing anxiety develops in the pedestrian, casusing them to step out into the street with fearful hesitation. As a result, an oncoming driver can’t tell whether to drive on or stop, so they opt to coast into the intersection, finally stopping right at the feet of the shaking pedestrian. But some drivers speed up in the intersection, missing the pedestrian by inches. I hear the theme to Frogger everytime I use these crosswalks.

After a gap appeared in the traffic, I stepped onto the boulevard, flaying my hands not unlike bigfoot in that film footage from the 70s, so the oncoming drivers would have no problem seeing me. I made it through the two west bound lanes with no problem. However, in the first eastbound lane, a shiny silver BMW fastly approached. I stopped and didn’t move until I was certain it would stop. The Beamer started to slow and I walked on. But it didn’t stop until his bumper was right at my calf. The graybeard inside tapped his steering wheel, stared me down. I puffed my chest out like a gorilla, stared back, pointed to the crosswalk sign as passed him. As soon as I passed, he sped onward into the gathering darkness, toward the Important Place.

I’d made it only a few steps west along Hollywood Blvd when I heard a terrible sound. Instantly, a feeling of gritty dread fell over me. I spun around and in the glow of headlights, I saw a woman flying through the air. A black Ford Mustang screeched to a stop. The woman came to rest about 25 feet in front of the Mustang. A man across the street jumped off his bicycle and ran to woman. I ran into the street as I dialed 911. The dazed driver of the Mustang stepped out and met us where the woman lay.

“Shit, there was a truck in the other lane, man! In the other lane. I couldn’t see her…”

Another driver stopped his car, got out, directed the eastbound traffic. The cyclist had knelt down to the woman. Nervously, he’d reach out to her as she squirmed awkwardly, then he’d pull away, over and over. Finally, he nestled her head in his lap. The driver of the Mustang began directing the westbound traffic. The 911 dispatcher answered.

“A woman was hit by a car…the corner of Hollywood and Hobart…about thirty, maybe…yeah, she’s conscious…I don’t know, but she’s moving…DON’T LET HER MOVE…”

The dispatcher said for all on the scene to stay until the paramedics arrived. I hung up.

A lady ran up to the seen. “I’m a nurse. She was hit, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“They’re on their way?” She asked.

“Yeah.”

“There was a truck…right there!” shouted the driver of the Mustang to the nurse, as he waved cars by.

“Honey,” said the nurse as she knelt down to the woman. “Just lay still, the paramedics are on their way and will be here real soon, ok?”

The neon of East Hollywood.

The neon of East Hollywood.

The woman stared – her eyes wide – at the nurse. She lay at a disturbingly crooked angle, her arm was pinned behind her back. She’d been knocked out of her shoes and the contents of her purse lay about on the street. She appeared to have bitten off her lower lip, part her tongue hung out of her mouth. The right side of her face was rapidly reddening, and her teeth stuck out of her mouth at drastic angles. Every few moments she would try to look around, grimmacing as she did.

“Look at me, can you look at me?” the nurse continued. “You were hit by a car honey, but you’re ok. Can you tell me where it hurts the most?” The woman appeared to gain a quick moment of clarity, and she pointed to her waist, then to her face. Her eyes began to water and she began to start shaking. “I know, honey, it hurts, but you’re gonna be ok. Oh, here they come. Do you hear the paramedics?” The woman shook her head. “Just hang in there, dear, and don’t move around much, ok?”

Headlights shone from all directions. Horns were honking and drivers were yelling out their windows. The woman, the cyclist, the nurse, the two drivers, myself were surrounded by a force field shielding us from a storm of neon, headlights and brutal selfishness. The drivers’ disdain from being delayed by some annoying broken woman in the road bounced off this barrier like concussion blasts from artillary. After a driver would creep around the Mustang, they speed by, creating a mean flurry of engine exhaust and noise.

“Can’t you f$%king take it easy!” exclaimed the driver of the Mustang, his voice cracking. “Can’t you see the poor lady in the road?!”

But cars kept swerving by – horns, curses. As the siren of an ambulance grew louder, the woman slowly seemed to realize what had happened – oh, an accident, ooh, someone must have gotten hit, there’s the crowd, now where’s the poor…oh…OH – then she slowly descended into a soft whimper that I can still hear very clearly as I type.

“Honey,” the nurse said, she laid a hand on her arm very gently, “you’re gonna be ok? It’s all gonna be over real soon, and we’ll get you taken care of.”

The ambulance pulled right up to the scene. “A girl got hit?” said the paramedic, to no one in particular, after he got out of the ambulance. “Alright, we got it now, everyone disperse to the sidewalk, please.” He knelt down to the woman. “Hey there, had an accident, did’ya? Well don’t worry, we’re gonna take care of ya.”

The cyclist walked over to the woman who’d been holding his bicycle for him. He melted into her arms and she hugged him for several moments. The man directing the eastbound traffic got in his car and drove off, so did the nurse. The driver of the Mustang minced back and forth on the sidewalk. “There was a truck, man, right there, I couldn’t see her…”

Really...

Really…

The rest of the night, I would hear the crashing sound, over and over. Later, I lay in bed, seeing her broken face in the darkness. Her life will forever be seperated by this day. Tonight will be the fulcrum of her days. There was before, and after, that night on Hollywood Boulevard. Just before I fell asleep, a woman from Kaiser Permanante Hospital called me.

“We just need to ask you a few questions, since you made the 911 call. Did you actually see the accident happen?”

“No. When I heard the crash, I turned around and saw the girl flying through the air. Is she gonna be ok?”

“Well, she’s got a fractured pelvis and severe lacerations on her face. But she’s stable now, and knows what happened to her. It’s probably gonna several months of rehab, but she’ll recover. Her parents just arrived, so she’s not alone tonight. She’s resting now. Then it’ll begin tomorrow.”

All week, I saw the woman’s face – rapid swelling, broken teeth, the sudden realization and soft whimpering. The constant vision filled me with a very unsettling energy. I grew paranoid as traffic sped by me down the boulevards. Every car horn in Los Angeles was directed at me, every revving engine nearly gave me the DTs. I crossed intersections as if I were walking on coals. I’d stop in my tracks every time an Ambulance roared passed, it’s siren clawed it’s way into my ears, scratched at my brain. There’s another person who’s life will no longer be the same after today. Or worse, someone died. One second and nothing will ever be the same. But for everyone else around, that second’s just a fleeting moment of lunch hour, of an impatient delay at a red light, of a hurried ATM transaction. People are gettting busted and broken all over Hollywood…but they’re merely snags in the currents of the Great River Boulevards.

Later in the week, I came upon a murder of hipsters on Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street. One of them – standard beard, tight shirt stretched over pot belly jiggling over skinny jeans – held out his iPhone and jerked about like he was a fish on a hook.

“Arggghh,” the hipster exclaimed, “The wifi here’s horrible! Guys, we have to go.”

“Where?” asked another hipster.

“I don’t care, but the wifi is just killing me, I swear!”

Racing the river...

Racing the river…

The hipster turned and stepped out onto Vine, but quickly stepped back just before the traffic rushed by. A don’t walk sign flashed offensively across the street. He stared across Vine and a spell fell over the hipster. His eyes glazed over as he longed for the other side of the street, as if on its banks lay some kind of eternal wifi magicland, where he could forever ditch his mustachioed, ironic pals, and sail away to a world of infinite escape, down wikiwormholes and youtube jungles, where a tattoo artists was just waiting to ink the all-time high score for Candy Crush on his neck. The hipster quivered in anticipation of the walk light. But the spell lifted and the other side of Vine Street became what it always was, an oasis for a pride of bums, lazing about and panting softly under the shadetrees along the Bank of America. The hipster held up his hands, looked at his other hipster pals, huffed and puffed, then crossed Sunset Blvd instead. The other hipsters followed.

I followed too, the young woman’s face floating up and slightly to the right of my vision as I crossed Sunset. Just a few feet from us, people in their motorcanoes waited to flow further down Sunset River Boulevard, to race to somewhere they probably didn’t even want to go…or only thought they wanted to go. But after the light turned green, they hauled ass to get there anyway, to get their faster than they ever had. In fact, it seemed a very likely possibility that they’d even go faster than the river, itself, beaching themselves on a dry sandy bank somewhere deeper into Time. There, they will get out of their cars, sweating from the fever of an anonymous disatisfaction. They will stumble about on dry hard ground, will upstream with the expectation that more water is coming, so they can get back in their cars and go fast again.

20131016_192119

However…

But no water will come. The drivers will grow very annoyed, they will huff and puff like gorillas. But still, no water. Their annoyance will grow into anger and they will begin to demand water from the Invisible Forces. But no dice. The hot, dry river bottom will burn their tender feet, they will hop and dance in pain. Depserate, they will begin beg the Invisible Forces for water. Some will even take up praying again. More water, please God, more water. Finally, prostrating themselves on the burning sand, they will promise anything for more water. But no more water more will come. The river has run dry.

Be well…

Smoke And Mirrors

Hello Everybody,

Late Summer heat over Hollywood Boulevard.

Late Summer heat over Hollywood Boulevard.

Last Monday, I helped my friend, Jason, move his wife’s – Jennie, also an old friend of mine – Pilates equipment from her old space to another, larger space in the same building on Hollywood Boulevard.

“I only really need help with this huge wall mirror,” Jason said. “It’s too big for me to move it myself. That’s about it. We’ll move it, remount it, then I’ll buy you lunch.”

The mirror was six feet by three feet. The walls of the old office building were uneven and had been patched and painted several times over the decades. The original installers of the mirror had to build a custom mount for it – the mirror was not meant to come off the wall. By the time we got the mirror off the mount, it was past lunchtime. But we needed to keep working because Jennie needed the studio set up in the new space for the next morning. She’d sublet the space to another Pilates instructor to bring in some extra cash. Jennie was six months pregnant and would be on maternity before long.

“I just remember that it took them days to put get it on the wall the last time, guys…” Jennie said, shrugging her shoulders, holding a broom and dustpan.

Jason and I hustled the mirror out of the tiny room, through the narrow doorway, down the narrow hallway, through the other narrow doorway, and into the new space. The building smelled old. The inner doors in the office spaces were wooden and glass, with names stenciled on them like doors of offices in newsrooms or police offices in TV shows from the 1950’s.

Remounting the mirror proved to be a very difficult task. Like the previous space, the walls in the new space were uneven, covered with old patchwork. Further, it appeared that the space was once adjoined to the neighboring space. Several studs in the wall had been removed to make a passage-way in between the two rooms, and when it was closed up – sometime later – it was done so with only one stud, simply to fasten the drywall in place. The mirror weighed about 150 pounds. It needed to be mounted well, and…

“Sorry guys,” Jennie said, still holding the broom and dustpan. She was sweating, her faced was red, and she looked a bit stressed. “It has to go on that side of the room, because,” she pointed to various light fixtures and electrical outlets on the other wall, “I need this wall clear, see?”

Baby season is coming...

Baby season is coming…

After some debating, Jason and I were able to safely secure the mount to the wall. Then came the task of sliding the huge mirror onto the mount. To do so, we needed to keep the mirror level with the ground, level with the wall, then twist it here and there so we didn’t bind the mirror on the mount, possibly breaking it and causing a horrific bloodletting. We tried this several times, but each effort lead to the same result – the mirror jamming on the mount, with Jason and I stuck holding the heavy, awkward piece of glass, breathing into onto the mirror as if we were staring at our doppelgängers through fog. Jennie – broom, red-faced, tired, stressed – smiled, shook her shoulders. “Sorry guys.”

We’d needed another person to help. I called up my friend, The Great Warrior, who lived just down Hollywood Blvd. “Sure,” he said over the phone, “I already ate, so they don’t have to buy me any lunch. But if it takes more than a few hours, I may look at you in a mean, threatening way.”

It took the three of us several attempts at holding, leveling, sliding – all the while adjusting for the uneven wall. Sunlight burst through the western window of the space, rendering the air-conditioner useless. Dripping sweat, our hands sore, knees shaking, we cursed and grunted until we finally managed to slide the mirror all the way onto the mount. We shouted, gave each other high-fives and did other manly gestures of dominance over the inanimate object for a few moments. Then we stepped back to admire our work. There, the three of us gave a collective, quizzical sigh, tilted our heads to the right. A lead-heavy silence ensued. The mirror was uneven. Tired Jennie and the broom appeared again. The smile, shrug of the shoulders, then “Sorry guys, but…”

Lunch was now dinner. After eating at the taco joint on the first floor of the building – The Great Warrior scowling at me from across the table – we went back and tried again. Lifting, tweaking, grunting, sliding – sweaty hands, shaky legs, weird feelings in the lower abdominal region – all three of us looking through the fog toward ourselves in the alternate universe of the mirror. Alternative Jennie and the broom were beyond the fog, too. She stood in the background, biting her lip, unconsciously stroking her baby-belly with her free hand – tired, blushed, uncertain, excited. After we hung it again, we stepped back to get a better look at the mirror, Then Jason, The Great Warrior and myself turned to Jennie in unison. She smiled, shook head up and down, then said, “Yep.” The sun was long gone and the room was dark and cool. The Great Warrior scowled at me, then smiled, said, “see you around, man,” then left.

Ventura Boulevard

Ventura Boulevard

Late Wednesday afternoon, I had to run errands in Studio City. As I walked down Ventura, a man – khaki shorts, tennis shoes, high white socks, a yellow tee-shirt with palm trees printed on it – came up to me. I’d seen him approaching from several yards ahead. He’d walked up to everyone else in front of me, extending his hand as he’d done so. Most of the people jerked away from him, or ignored him. I debated which to do as he neared me, but I simply froze in my tracks, instead. The man came face to face with me, held out his hand. His eyes were crooked under his raised, black eyebrows – his forehead crinkled under his shock of gray hair. His mouth hung open, exposing his big white teeth.

“Hello,” he said. I didn’t remember extending my hand, but there it was it was, floating between us, and he grabbed it. His handshake was energetic, exaggerated. His eyes were already looking behind me – for the next person – as he said, “Now you have a great day, sir.”

I turned around and watched him kind of hop down the street. More people veered away from him, looked at him like he’s crazy. I’m sure I looked at him that way, too.

An hour later, I’d finished my errands and was walking home when I saw the handshaker again – still at it. It was around 7pm. There were more people on the street – more people repelled from him as if they were of opposite magnetic poles. I froze again, stuck my hand out again just before he came up to me again. He said, “Hello,” as he shook my hand wildly. “Now you have a great day, sir.” I saw absolutely no recognition in his expression that we’d already shook hands. Then he was gone as quick as he came – “Hello sir’s” and “Hello ma’am’s” fading softly into the evening.

Cars began to turn on their headlights as they sped to the next red light on Ventura Boulevard. Across the street at a hot-rod repair shop, a mechanic revved an engine loudly for a long time. The sound pushed through me and rattled the windows of the storefronts. After the mechanic killed the engine, The Valley seemed quieter – a wide chasm was between sound an action. I saw a silent bus approaching and decided to hop on.

Valley Sunset

Valley Sunset

I put two $1 bills into the money-taker next to the driver. It spat one of the dollars out. I tried several times to get the machine to take the dollar – straightening it, smoothing the corners each time – but I had no luck. I held up the bill in the light, and noticed it was a $1 bill from 1957.

“Hey, look at that.” I said as I handed the bill to the bus driver.

“Wow, man. 1957!” exclaimed the driver, taking the bill. “That’s sixty years ago!”

“Well, 56 years ago.”

“Well, yeah, 56,” he said, handing the bill back to me.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t have anymore change.”

“Ah, that’s alright, man, take a seat. Man, sixty years. Tha’s a long time ago.”

I sat in a seat and examined the $1 bill, closely. 1957, I thought. That crazy handshaker was probably just a little boy back then. I wonder what he thought he’d be in 2013. Famous astronaut? A cowboy? The building where Jennie has her studio probably smelled of new lead paint, in 1957. People bustled about those narrow hallways to make deadlines or quotas. Of course, the hallways weren’t so narrow to then, probably. I always heard people were shorter in the old days. How short were Jennie’s parents in 1957, back when they had no clue there was ever be a Jennie at all? Hmm…1957…back when the future was one big happy surprise.

I watched TV late into that night…hmm, TV, only 10 years old in 1957…I haven’t had a TV since 2005, but I was raised in front of one…no one really knew the power of TV in 1957…so TV is in my DNA and I am powerless when I am in its vicinity for an extended period of time. Of course, I watched nothing in particular…so much power…just surfed. Masons ruled the world on the Discovery Channel, DB Cooper got away on National Geographic, The History Channel just couldn’t let Hitler die, AMC made heroes out of meth makers and misogynist ad-men – one re-run after the next, ESPN aired an hour-long show about fantasy football, and rednecks and hillbilly’s from all parts of America either fished, repaired cars, hunted ducks, repossessed airplanes, searched for ghosts in attics or just got drunk and stupid. FoxNews scared half the Americans off to the Right, MSNBC scared the other half to the Left. Infomercials promised me prosperity for just $19.99, or some kind of cooking tool for the same price. Evangelist asked for money…jeez, TVs were grand pieces of furniture in 1957then sometime in the wee hours something extraordinary happened. All the TV shows became the same TV show, presenting the same message…now TVs come in all sizes and prices at Wal-Marts on the edges of town…over and over, hour after hour, relentlessly, the same message. What was the message? I don’t have to tell you…moths to a flame…you know what The Message is.

It’s in our DNA...

It’s in our DNA…

I turned the TV off and went to bed. Before I slipped into dreamland, I pondered over The Message, imagined what life may be like without it. I didn’t imagine anything too clear, but I did see more people extending their hand to the handshaker. None of them were scared of him, either. They were all happy to say, “Hello,” too.

Be well…