By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The Hollywood Freeway strummed out of sight, over our right shoulders. We slogged a good two miles in our neoprenes. The sun set through the gloam. At first the night was a pleasant tangerine hue, then outhouse dark, but still no sight of the ground crew or the takeout point.
A mad shout from Winter and Natkin. We quickened our paces. Denis slipped on the shallow-water algae. A dozen burnished mallards, feeding silently like kings in the dark, rose off toward the Hollywood Freeway.
"Why didn't you answer my page?" Melanie demanded.
"The pager kept short-circuiting under my wet suit."
"You mean vibrating?"
"That's to tell you that you have a call!"
"Troglodytes!" moaned Mel.
The four of us humped the heavy canoe up the bank and dropped it beside a Cyclone fence. Threaded into the wire mesh were plastic flowers. Rick and I counted the bouquets: 20. Spray-painted on the cement below were the words: "Dead but not forgotin."
"Do you think someone drowned here?" asked Rick.
"Don't think so," sighed Melanie.
It would have been great to camp out in Griffith Park, but the gates were locked. Instead, we laid the campfire at the Taste of India, in Sherman Oaks. Zach, the entertainment lawyer, was invited, with his girlfriend, a theatrical producer's assistant, from Montreal, comely, I thought, in a French Canadian sort of way.
Said Zach, over chicken tikka: "So happens that I was rafting a river in Costa Rica this winter with an attorney from my office. My colleague falls overboard. We really are approaching a waterfall, about 8 feet high, doable, but not if you're not in the boat. Ha-ha. I reach out my hand. My colleague swims to grab it. I snatch it back. 'Ten billable hours,' I say. 'What are you, nuts?' Sound of waterfall getting real close. 'Okay!' he screams, 'Ten hours. Okay! Okay! Okay!' I smile: 'Ten was then, 15 is now.'"
We don't have lawyers like Zach, back on the Yellowstone. I wish we did.
Day 2 -- Mutiny
We were to begin the second day's float just offthe ninth hole of the Los Feliz Municipal Golf Course at a public restaurant name of EATS, where the slogan above the grill is "Where the Food Is Mediocre." But it's terrific, see. Outside was a gorgeous day, pale autumn, crisp light, Caravaggio comes to mind. Time, a little after dawn. Natkin was on his third cup of coffee, and he doesn't drink coffee. I was not happy. Winter, FOLAR's director, fingered her cell phone. Denis, my guide, excused himself to go to the parking lot and check the tie-downs on the canoe.
This was the problem: Coming from a land of blue skies and clear streams, I am understandably a little paranoid about carcinogens, pollution and waterborne disease. And Rick had gotten some notions into his head.
He proposed, for instance, that we all wear condoms to guard against the danger of schistosomiasis. The parasite could easily swim up our dicks, he insisted. Denis had tried to tell Rick that schistosomiasis was a disease of slow-moving African waters. "You're probably right, Dee-nis," Rick had sneered. "Illegal cadmium dumping has probably killed most of the parasites in the Los Angeles River. But you never know."
What was cadmium, anyway? Something they used in the making of flashlight batteries that you wouldn't want splashed in your eyes? I had to question how helpful Rick's presence really was to the continuing success of the expedition. This morning he had persuaded me to take an amoxicillin capsule. Rick had a big bottle of the stuff in his possession. He had wanted to be a doctor back at Yale, but had decided medicine paid poorly compared â to the dream-works. A doctorfilm consultant told Rick that if you dosed yourself with penicillin before a date whose past you couldn't be sure of, then you'd be that much closer to Wellville come Sunday morning. Rick thought the same principle might apply on the L.A. River.
Bottom line: I wanted something more than neoprene between me and the river. Without waders, I was goin' nowhere till Big 5 opened, and this was a Sunday. I estimated a 10:30 put-in.
"So, let's go golfing!" suggested Natkin, and I believe he would have.
Melanie proposed -- teeth grinding -- that we call FOLAR's consulting scientist, Jacqueline Lambrichts, for reassurance. Lambrichts came on a little sleepy. It was 8 a.m. She went into a long rap about how all the water that flows into the L.A. River is treated, since that's the law, and how nobody can put bad things into a good river because they must go through the permitting process first, and how . . .
But I kept thinking about the evening news, which I had watched with interest only two days before at FOLAR headquarters. FBI agents were busting a municipal dump in Lancaster because it seemed officials were being paid off to allow illegal dumping. I told Lambrichts: Bad people don't go through the permitting process. It doesn't pay to. I want to know what's in the water, legal or not.