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.

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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…

We Will Be…

Hello Everybody,

The other night, I was sitting on the floor in the half-empty living room of the bungalow, reading a book next to a lamp. It was late. Luis and Andre had been packing all evening. I could hear Andre throwing things in boxes in his bedroom.

It’s about that time again...

It’s about that time again…

“You know,” said Andre, appearing in the doorway – beer in hand – not looking at anything in particular, “I was gonna live here forever.” He laughed. “I never thought I’d need to leave.”

Every so often, he’d come to me with something he’d found in his room.

“Oh wow, check this out!” he exclaimed, holding a little drawing book and a fresh beer. “It’s this book of drawings I did when I was a kid. I was probably seven or so. Parts of my life up to that point.”

I stood up, looked over his shoulder as he thumbed through the book with his beer hand. He kind of disappeared into each drawing, pausing just long enough to grasp the memory before turning the page.

“Look at this one, man!” The drawing was of his parents, brother and himself eating at a Japanese restaurant (spelled Janpenese with a crayola) in Chicago. “Get this,” said Andre, reading a caption at the bottom of the drawing, “‘Things I love in my life: my family, the Chicago Bears, and God.” He laughed, took a long drink the beer, slammed the book shut. “Man, I always wait ’til the last minute to pack,” he said, then went back to his room.

One crazy chapter after another...

One crazy chapter after another…

Luis didn’t wait until the last minute to pack. He’d been sending his belongings to his girlfriend and family members in Texas for the last several months. But both Andre and Luis had the same aura of hasty hesitance surrounding them as they packed. By seeing them pack together, I realized that packing’s packing, no matter how you do it. Both of them were heading to new places – Luis to work in New Orleans, then Houston; Andre was moving in with his girlfriend, Charity. Exciting things lay ahead for them both, but those things didn’t necessarily make the transition any smoother. They were still turning the last page of a chapter, which is always a tricky turn. You lick your fingers, but the page is still difficult to grasp. The anticipation of the ending of the chapter grows into frustration as you try to separate the pages, and when you finally do and turn the page, you speed through to the end. After reading the last sentence, you hang on it for a while. You read it over and over, trying to understand why, exactly, the chapter ends with that sentence. You put the book down, close your eyes, and look at the sentence in your head, searching for the meaning underneath the words…not wanting to face the possibility that there may not be any profound meaning in the sentence at all, that it’s simply the last sentence that needed to be written.

The next day, I was sitting in the kitchen eating a sandwich. Pictures of Luis and Andre, friends, newspaper clippings and cards still hung on the refrigerator. Pots still hung from the rack, but there were fewer things on the counter and table. I got up and walked around. In the hallway, the weird painting of Gandhi smiling and holding a ham-hock was gone. Throughout the apartment were boxes – or just empty space – where a couch, a chair, a lampstand used to be. The bungalow’s rooms were hollower. An echo rattled through the whole apartment. It was as if reality was disappearing, piece by piece. I imagined I would soon be standing in some kind of blank chamber. White walls, white floor, white ceiling. Nothing, just me in a pair of jeans holding a half-eaten sandwich.

People are turning chapters all over East Hollywood.

People are turning chapters all over East Hollywood.

When I saw my backpack by the front door, I suddenly realized something that I’d willingly put off realizing for a few weeks. I needed a new place to stay, soon. Then I imagined myself down the street, hanging out with the winos in the hobo jungle at the corner of Sunset Blvd and Serrano St. – boiling a shoe in a pot over a small fire, stirring it with a twig, my hand clothed in a glove with the fingers cut off. There was a tin can of something heating by the fire, for a side dish. I didn’t know what it was, the wrapper had been torn off. Some hobos down the way were engaging in spirited babbling, another was blowing sad on the harmonica. It was nighttime, and though we were in the heart of Jungle Hollyweird, we could all hear a far off lonely train whistle blowin’…

I finished the sandwich, put on a t-shirt and sent out a mass email stating I needed a place to stay for a week or so. I had three places to choose from within minutes, then more as the day progressed. I was spared from homelessness once more.

But homelessness was on my mind. Several times during the week, I met up with a man who was homeless, who I will call “M”. M is 49. For the last several years he’d been in and out of jail. He’d robbed, stolen, all of it. With two strike against him, he’d spend the rest of his life in prison if he got another felony.

Art imitating life in the Hobo Jungle.

Art imitating life in the Hobo Jungle.

“I go to a parking lot over there by Melrose at night,” he said. “It’s not so bad. There’re some strung out gang-bangers that go there, but they look at me and I just look at them. They don’t bother me. I just gotta hang in there until the 10th of next month and I get some housing and food stamps. Man, sometimes I think, how did…” the thought either left him or wasn’t worth completing, “…well, it’ll all be good, man. I’m just tired, you know.”

Luis’ and Andre’s next door neighbor, The Great Warrior, was tired too. He had a place to sleep, but he didn’t know for how long. He was unemployed and had about one month before he’d be broke. He was once again reshaping the resume and writing cover letters during the day…and repeatedly beating me at chess at night, while talking to me about it.

“I don’t know man,” he said. “I put a call out to all of my industry friends. If I’m lucky, I can get something through them. I’ll probably be the oldest PA (production assistant) in the city.”

Later, I rode with The Great Warrior to the farmers market in Silverlake, in his pick-up truck. We were carrying on a conversation of half-sentences with long spaces of silence in between. “It’s hard not to get down on myself,” said The Great Warrior, with potential to be the first to speak a fully structured, grammatically correct statement. But when steam started shooting out from under the hood of his truck, he finished with, “that doesn’t help.”

Early evening on Thursday, I was walking down Serrano St. It was still hot, but the heat seemed to be tired, lingering for posterity because it was still August. Summer was dying. It felt like I’d just arrived in LA. I have three whole months. That’s plenty of time to get it together, I thought as I steered the rental car down Sunset, back on June 1st. The evenings were cold then. They were hot in July. Now, they were cold again. The hot days and cold nights left me with a thick head, which made me not want to do a damn thing, lately, especially lick my fingers, grab the corner of the page and turn it.

Dying summer...

Dying summer…

As I neared Sunset Blvd, I ran into Edith and her son. Edith and family lived in the bungalow next to The Great Warrior. Back in July, Luis and I built a ramp for them, so the patriarch of the family, Miguel, could get in and out of the bungalow in his wheelchair. Earlier in the year, Miguel was injured on the job (you can read more about it in the Jamberoo: O’er The Ramparts We Are…). Miguel was undocumented, and though his Good Ol’ American Boss had no problem hiring him to work for her, she hadn’t much interest in him after he broke his back on the job. No insurance, no workers comp. He was, in short, screwed, and everyone in the family carried the same expression of bewildered fear on their faces.

“Gracias,” Edith said as we walked down the street together. “For the ramp. Thank you.” She thanked me every time I saw her.

“De nada.”

We walked awkwardly in silence for a few steps, before Edith asked, “You boys go, eh?”

“Si…moving.”

“Oh…we will miss.  Good boys.”

She turned to her son and spoke rapidly in Spanish. I heard enchiladas. When she finished her son turned to me.

“My mother would like to cook for you guys,” he said.

“My place,” said Edith. “Es Monday OK?”

“Monday’s fine…si! I will tell Luis and Andre.”

The three of us shook our heads and smiled for a while. Then Edith thanked me for the ramp again.

“De nada,” I said again. “Are you guys OK?”

Edith looked at me with nothing in her eyes but honesty. Then she finally smiled, said, “We will be OK.”

I told them I’d see them on Monday and walked ahead, fast. I didn’t need to be anywhere but I had to get away because I got angry and hurt and sad and even a little happy, dammit, because it was yet another time when I’d heard someone say they will be OK when they may very well not be OK. I was completely and utterly baffled once again by our species’ oversized brains. Or is it some defense mechanism set deep in the lizard part of our brain, to stay alive, this “I will be OK.” People die hopelessly, sometimes, don’t they? People get f@#ked and know they’re f@#ked and the people who f@#ked them give them the old “f@#k you” and they’re left to wander in the white blank space until their last breath, right?! Surely, that will happen to Miguel, Edith and their children, right?! There are people all over facing real despair! Not little dilemmas over whose couch to sleep on, but real hard streets where things may kill you if you fall asleep. But if you ask them they will smile and say “we will be OK.” We WILL? What is it that keeps us saying, “We WILL?”

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OK…

I went inside a donut shop and bought a donut and a Coca Cola. When I walked out on Sunset, the weather had changed for the evening. It was cool, just like that. To the west, down the boulevard, the sky was yellow-pink – the sun had moved behind the hills. The streetlights had a little more pop to them – brighter yellows, greens, reds, all down Sunset. I could see Edith and her son walking west, some distance ahead of me. They were talking, their hands moving, their steps not so heavy. They could’ve been any mother and son walking into that magnificent yellow-pink sky. I turned the corner and walked up Serrano. I was about to eat a donut and drink a coke. Edith and her son were alive. There was only Now and we were all, indeed, OK.

Be well…