What’s with all the dying? said Mrs. U. Everyone just stop for a few days. Please.
The day after Christmas, I drove two 20-something girls home from Santa Monica. George Michael was playing on the radio and they jumped right in, singing note for note. They were careless, happy drunk, with no reason not to be unguarded. They knew the lyrics to “Faith” from memory, even the vocal inflections, which made no sense to me at all as they weren’t even born when the song came out.
Did they work in a dental office? No. Did their mothers play the album for them? No, they said. If they didn’t hear it on the radio a thousand times during high school, how did it reach them? Some songs just achieve critical mass in the elixir of pop culture, and decades later emerge, like a catechism, from the mouths of babes, without them knowing why.
When we tell someone we love them we remove death’s power to take them away from us. If we sing their songs, they never leave.
My evening began by driving a nice young gay boy to a George Michael tribute party downtown. “Too early,” he said. It felt exploitative on the part of the club promoter. Not enough to prevent him from attending, however. All his friends were going to be there. George had become a recluse because he couldn’t bear people thinking of him as fat, and now all the pretty skinny people were grinding on each other in his honor.
Somewhere in the downslope of his fame George either overdid it or had the usual, but it was a scotch/speedball/fettucini alfredo too far. He was overtaken by his own carelessness. He let himself go.
This is how easy it is. Would you park to the right of this sign? I did, and I read it.
I could take refuge in the excuse the signs give multiple instructions and seem to be saying different things. Or the crucial part, the one indicating hazard, is in shadow. But the truth is, quite plainly there is a line in the ground in Brentwood and if you park to the right of it, your car will be seized. Yet I didn’t see it, even though it was right in front of me, because I wasn’t looking for it. I was thinking only in terms of two hour parking ending at 6pm, and it was 4:03 and I was already late for my shift and if I parked right there, two minutes from the store, I wouldn’t get a ticket and I could still be within the grace window of timeliness.
My horizon line was short. I was careless.
In 2009 Air France Flight 447 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean while three pilots huddled around the instrument panels ignoring the fact the nose of the plane was too high, it was stalling, and they were losing altitude at a rate of 10,000 feet per minute. A warning alarm in the cockpit was sounding repeatedly: “STALL…STALL…” The corrective is simple. Throttle back on the engine and let the plane level off. Aerodynamics do this naturally. Yet the plane was pitched upward at a 40 degree angle when it hit the water, engines turning at full throttle. Any loose items in the cabin would have tumbling down the aisles, passengers would have been screaming, and yet the pilot was pulling back on the controls like Evil Kneivel performing a stunt in Vegas, refusing to believe the instrumentation in front of him.
Two days after Christmas I walked past this mini-favela on the Raymer Street bridge, and from beneath the folds of improvised habitat a radio was playing and I heard the familiar melody of “Careless Whisper”. I wondered what role carelessness played in their coming to bivouac at this particular place in the world.
Every dollar I’m going to make driving New Year’s Eve is already spoken for by the tow charges I incurred this week. But I’ve decided not to look upon it as a $400 exercise in municipal ass-rape. Maybe it was part of God’s plan. I was being kept off the road that night, because someone else was due to be careless.