It happened again. My feeling - not completely unlike that which Jay Chandrasekhar's character Barry experiences in the movie Beerfest. Cobwebs, disbelief, utter contempt?
It happened like this.
Yesterday was a sweltering day here in the suburbs of Orange County. Damn the sweat though because I was busy coordinating a deal for a typewriter I didn't really want or need. Is that a productive use of limited time? Damn be logic.
These people lived in Los Angeles. Inglewood. Near the cities Compton and Watts. That there should have been enough to stop anyone figuratively dead in their tracks, the real threat of being literally killed way too excessive for some forgotten typewriter.
Still my typelust defied danger. I spoke to these likely hoodlums - yes I provided my cell phone since they weren't too great with email communication. They seemed too nice on the phone but the street quality in their speech belied their soft spoken voices. You cannot escape the hood once it is a part of you. No doubt they were luring me into a trap - to get me there and then steal my wallet, my car, and end my life.
I worked out the deal and to my naive amazement they even seemed pleased with their $25 sale - unquestionably all profit since they probably robbed it along with the rest of some poor old lady's possessions. And this sum was probably just enough for them to score the crack that was the main culprit for Whitney Houston's demise.
Let's worry about my impending demise!
So what do I do? I employ the company of my younger brother, who is visiting for the week from New York. This is a good move, you must be thinking, my brother must be a lifelong practitioner of some lethal martial arts and not only that, he packs some serious heat, right? He's a computer programmer. Yes, in my desperation and growing concern, I somehow manage to involve my brother so that tonight's 10 o'clock news headline is
"Brothers murdered in LA while in pursuit of typewriter."
He doesn't care. He's loyal. While he was in high school, he once pushed back a 6'7 Shawn Kemp clone for dunking on me. Protective, perhaps to a fault. Gotta love and appreciate blood.
We then make arrangements to drop off my beautiful 7 month old at my parents' place so my mom can watch him. W is too young to be around gang members. And he has his whole life ahead of him. I kiss him on the forehead and the cheek and in my head, promise to make a safe return, though it felt somewhat hollow and empty because I've already made too many mistakes. Let's count them?
1 - Inglewood (nuff said)
2 - deal too good to be true: $25??? And they seemed downright giddy and impatient about it.
3 - meeting at their house. Oh, I didn't mention this yet? Yeah so instead of insisting on meeting in a well-lit, public place in an open area, I agree to go to their house
4 - backhouse - they said they might be in the backhouse and not the normal house. Do you know what happens at backhouses?
5 - I am driving my BMW: now that's just completely stupid and inviting bad things
6 - I don't have a gun
7 - I've brought my beloved younger brother and he doesn't have a gun
8 - it is a Tuesday midday: who isn't at work besides consultant new dads and visiting brothers from new york? Easy: gang members who rob and kill idiots
Which I clearly am.
But off we were there anyway, armed with nothing but GPS. The cars on the freeway change and after a while, we are suddenly surrounded by mostly nothing except cars that are probably registered as "totalled" and should be salvaged for metal: cars that could be small boats going at their top speed of 40mph, former cop cars with the fading paint job, beat-down rusted imports from the 80s albeit with nice rims, the occasional heavily-tinted buick, and requisite el caminos that I am sure are responsible for LA's smog issues.
As we near our destination and doom, I call and they say they're in the back house. Of course. They say to just walk in to the back but be careful of the dog. Of course.
The street is lined the cars we saw on the freeway. So this is where they park. Shit. All grass on the street is yellowed dead, dry and brittle as the bones from an animal carcass. Power lines swoop low on both sides like nooses; the wood beams are like the last scene of all those crucifixes in Spartacus. There are no children playing even though it's summer break. It's so quiet. Fuck!
We find a spot eerily convenient right in front of the house. Still no sounds. We don't speak either lest we wake the rest of the monsters. We survey the yard, our deathbed: full of forgotten junk. Doll heads and broken mirrors. A rusted tricycle and a plastic pool with bullet holes - there were children here once. A McDonald's bag: at least they eat fast food - that's one thing we have in common. As we go through the gate to the back, we see it.
It's not some rabies-inflicted, man-eating pit bull on the loose, but a tiny chihuahua on a leash.
And they aren't gang members, or at least not any more, but tax-paying hardworking Angelenos, and white-washed at that. "Gosh it sure is hot. I hope you found the place easy and hope you're having a swell day so far. Would you like some lemonade?"
I wanted to hug them but instead opted to profusely shake their hands in absolute joy.
We declined the refreshments, our bodies still in survival mode, recycling our sweat for its liquid. I pay the $25 happily even before they show us the machine: a burgundy/maroon Corona Speedline, Sterling model. We hardly look at it and relieved, picked up the typewriter case and left immediately. I missed my son. It's wonderful to be alive!