By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
In the eight years I’ve lived in Atwater Village, I’ve seen many things along the river: couches and chairs, and many shopping carts. It’s something of a neighborhood sport to send carts off the bridges and into the drink. Nose down, wheels in the air, they strain out rocks and vegetal clumps and eventually form small, trapezoidal islands. I’ve also come across all manner of abandoned clothing, plus sleeping bags, blankets, mattresses. I found a wallet emptied of money and ID, still stuffed with pictures of dark-eyed, round-cheeked children. Several times I’ve stumbled upon whole, oddly butchered chickens, courtesy of the local Santería worshippers. I recently gave wide berth to a dog-size black plastic sack oozing dark blood. Once, as I walked along the water’s edge, something caught my eye, and there, just underwater, on the slick algae-brown shelf, trembling in the current, was an entire offering: three oranges, two bright-green apples, two large potatoes, all on a shifting bed of white rice and red beans and bright metallic-wrapped candies — turquoise, lime green, copper, and strawberry pink.
North of the Hyperion bridge is the only pedestrian bridge across the Los Angeles River. Years ago, before my time, a young woman threw herself off of it. She left a â note saying she’d been lonely. I read about it in a poem by an Atwater resident.
Today, as we walked upstream, the dog sniffed tufts of bunch grass that broke through the concrete. A killdeer, pretending to be hurt, dragged her wing along the ground, successfully inciting the terrier to chase her. She flew off with a piercing, haunting cry, only to repeat the trick several more times. All right, enough already, I told her. We’re not going to eat your babies.
We were almost back to the Hyperion bridge when two other walkers, with a large German shepherd, called me over. “There’s a body there, just beyond that tree,” they said. “It could be somebody sleeping, but a bird walked on him, so he might be dead.”
A dead person was not exactly what I wanted to see on a Sunday morning, but I walked up to have a look. There, on a small island, was a big humpish thing: a shoulder, outstretched arm and grayish hand, all clearly visible. Years and years ago, I’d seen a body pulled from the river in Iowa City, bloated, bluish gray and naked. This body didn’t look naked, but there was a familiar swollen largeness to it. As I watched, a crow hopped close to it, then onto the shoulder. I had my cell phone. I punched in 911. It rang and rang. A taped message came on and told me that many people often report the same accident. I hoped so. I hoped authorities had already heard all about the body in the river, and I was just another pesky caller. After about two minutes, a dispatcher picked up. She connected me to a man in the Fire Department. I said, “I’m looking at what I think is a dead body. It could be a dummy, but I thought I should report it.” The man asked for cross streets — he’d never heard of the Hyperion bridge.
“Will you stick around, or are you going home?” he asked.
“Going home,” I said, happy for the option, relieved not to have to see more than I already had. He asked for my cell-phone number.
Nobody called to tell me anything — I didn’t really expect them to. Several times during the day I wondered what kind of life could end alone, awash in the Los Angeles River, with birds hopping on you.
Late that afternoon, on my way to the store, I saw a fire truck parked on Glendale Boulevard, just yards from the Hyperion bridge. Firemen were doing something with the hydrant. I pulled over and got out. “Hey,” I said to the fellows in uniform. “Did you find a body in the river today? I’m the person who called.”
“Naw,” said one young guy.
Another fireman came over. “You the one who called?”
Before I could answer, the first fireman told me what they had found: “It was a big stuffed bear.”
“The guys were gonna call you back — at 3 in the morning!” said the second fireman. He laughed.
“Some other people saw it too,” I said, defensive. “But I was the one with the cell phone.”
“It was a good call, actually,” the first fireman said. “It had the look of a drowned person. I looked and looked at it through my binoculars and I couldn’t tell. Finally, I sent a big guy down to get it.” He shook his head.
Thus, a lonely, anonymous urban death turned out to be a sodden heap of stuffed fake fur. This being Atwater, though, it could’ve gone either way.
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