A Head Banger’s Story

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“If I have a seizure, I need you to hold my head, so I don’t bang against anything. They last really long, about five minutes. So you’re gonna need to pull over.”

On that note, he climbed into the backseat of my Uber. It was 1 AM in Glendale.

He looked like Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein.   Hulking, shambling, half-drunk, big shoes… an Armenian Peter Boyle, with sad eyes peering from deep orbs.  I could feel the driver’s seat headrest bend backwards as he gripped it with his meaty hand and lowered himself in, directly behind me.

“It’s been four hours since my medication, so I should be okay.”

We got on the freeway. He shifted around in his seat continually. With every twitch, I couldn’t help but think…good grief, is it starting already? …was that it? Will his arms swing wildly, knocking me unconscious before I can pull to the shoulder?  Why me?  Why tonight? 

I had not been so wired into a passenger’s movements since I picked up a gang banger in K-Town who never removed his hoodie, refused to enter an address into the app and muttered vague commands: turn here, go left, go straight, now go back until we ended up in some godforsaken alley south of downtown, with no witnesses, the perfect location for relieving me of my wallet, iPhone and car keys,  but which turned out to be an underground gay sex club instead.

“I’m sorry about the itching, but my histamine levels are really high. Cause of my medication.  I’ve had twenty seizures in the past year.”

“How long have you had seizures?”

“Since I got injured at work.”

He went on to detail his many medications, none which he prized more than Lunesta.   It was the only one which really put him to sleep.  They cost three dollars a pill, which he couldn’t afford since he wasn’t working anymore, but he couldn’t sleep without it.  He had to give up other pleasures.

“Shit. Something’s wrong…”

My heart fluttered, but he was looking at his phone.

I longed for animated green dragonflies to swim through the windshield, like they do in the Lunesta commercial, and woo him to sleep with the batting of their wings .

“Something’s wrong. I’m hungry. There’s an In-and-Out Burger at the next exit.”

I got off the freeway. Something was wrong,   Two cars had just collided at Harvey Drive, in front of the In-and-Out. Both airbags had blown.  Bumper parts and colored glass littered the intersection, bright grit twinkled under the sodium lights. One of the bags had shot straight past the driver seat, covering the windows in white silk, as though the god of chaos had drawn a curtain against an unpleasant sight. The door cracked open and after a long moment, a woman crawled out, dazed.

The other car was an Uber.

What were the odds? How close did I get to receiving his rider, or he mine?  How many sliding door moments do I have on a given night?

Everyone was ambulatory, which was a relief.   911 was dialed, and we continued into the burger parking lot.

“I’ve seen a lot of dead bodies,” announced my passenger.

“Were you in the armed forces?”

“I worked in a mortuary for eleven years. I’ve performed 20,000 enbalmings.   I don’t do that anymore, though. A casket lid fell on my head.  That’s why I have seizures. That’s why I can’t work anymore.”

He decided he was going to walk the rest of the way home from In-and-Out.  We parted with blessings for one another.   I turned the app off for the night and drove home to Van Nuys.

There, but for a casket lid….

Life’s Better Real/Live For Now

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Two versions of Life at Hayvenhurst and Balboa, courtesy of PepsiCo.  Headless newlyweds in lemon and lime colored sneakers hawk ‘natural mist’ (from the Sierras!) made with 100% real sugar, if by real we mean made from genetically modified sugar beets.  In the background Beyoncé, a married woman in a go-go outfit, shimmies in service to high fructose corn syrup.  No one is holding the product they are pitching. Is this because people who drink these beverages can’t squeeze into short-shorts?  What does a headless marriage indicate, exactly? If based in ‘natural flavors’ squeezed from non-existent lemons and limes, will it stand the test of time? If not, will a little booty-grinding to 41 grams of corn syrup set matters aright?  It would at the least be a diet, of sorts, from the 100% Real  ‘Mist’ which clocks in at 62 grams of sugar per serving. Either way we are being told, indirectly, to eat our vegetables.

The object of all this persuasion is out of frame on the other side of the street: the steady stream of cars entering In-and-Out Burger, which once sold Pepsi, and now is under exclusive contract to Coca-Cola.  The beachhead has been established: our product line has nothing to do with fast food, or people who refuse to get out of their cars to eat.  You should be dancing. You should be getting married in whimsically colorful sneakers. Come join us!

Oh, it’s on. And you thought this was just another boring Valley intersection.