Having fallen asleep around 4 a.m., I was awakened at 7 by a call from my senior research associate, Ms. Pines, asking if I could pick up our friend Lugretta Bluegill from the airport and drive her north along the sea and up the gently winding roads to her home in Topanga Canyon. Ms. Pines offered no reason for the late notice, but I trust her.
At 8, I backed out of the garage to find Hector Schechner blocking the driveway, wearing sweatpants and an Impeach the Motherfucker T-shirt. I’d forgotten that we’d made plans for an early hike. So I explained the Lugretta Bluegill situation, downplaying the airport part and emphasizing the majestic drive up PCH and into Topanga. Schechner decided to come along for the ride, as it would take only a few hours, and afterward we could hike up to Eagle Rock, the one in Topanga.
As we inched through traffic, Schechner started to doze off. I feared I’d soon follow, so I popped in my special wake-up CD: the fourth movement (“Ode to Joy”) of Beethoven’s Ninth in one channel, Minutemen Post-Mersh Vol. 2 in the other. Nothing keeps you awake like confusion.
We located Ms. Bluegill curbside at LAX, holding up what appeared to be one end of a disagreeable cell-phone conversation. Schechner hopped out and nobly transferred his 6-foot-plus frame into the back seat, which is not intended for adults, so that our guest could ride shotgun. “Thanks,” said Bluegill, in the voice of a bashful 4-year-old. “I really appreciate this.” Then Bluegill switched back to the authority of her natural voice and returned to the unpleasant phone call.
Bluegill hung upa few minutes later and informed us, in the 4-year-old’s voice, that we would not be driving north along the sea and up the gently winding roads to her home in Topanga Canyon, but rather to the Department of Motor Vehicles on Washington Boulevard in Culver City. Her car, she then explained in the whistling quaver of an elderly Southern white woman, had been impounded from the airport parking lot because her registration had expired while she was out of town. She’d found that out last night, which is why she’d called Ms. Pines for a lift — a lift to the impound lot. Apparently Ms. Pines had misunderstood.
Schechner sighed. Bluegill, still in the Southern-white-woman voice, expounded on the formalities required of her — paying the original registration fee, plus a late fee and, now, a sizable impound fee.
Schechner muttered, “Ah, fucking hell.”
Bluegill switched to a chipper Wisconsin housewife voice. “But wait just one darn minute!” said she. She recalled that such things are best taken care of through the Automobile Club of Southern California. As Mrs. Wisconsin, she called information and wheedled out the address of the closest AAA office, just a few miles up the road.
At 9:20, we pulled into the AAA lot. Mrs. Wisconsin hopped out and headed inside to take care of business. Schechner and I got out of the car to stretch.
“How well do you know this Lugretta Bluegill?” asked Schechner.
“No one really knows her,” I replied. “She lives outside the natural world.”
“Huh,” said Schechner. “I wonder why I haven’t run into her before.”
We climbed back into the front seat, Schechner and I, cranked down the windows and loaded another custom mix: Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet on one channel and John Lurie’s soundtrack to Fishing With John on the other.
Twenty minutes later, Bluegill emerged as a dejected 4-year-old. “They don’t do it anymore,” she sniffled.
“Don’t do what?”
She sniffled more, shuffled her feet and looked at the ground. “Will you please take me to the DMV?”
Fine. Schechner again scrunched into the back, and we took off. Bluegill got back into Bluegill character to answer a call from her employer, an animated television show based in Marina del Rey. No work had been scheduled today, but now they needed Bluegill to come in at 11 to record a 30-second promotional spot. So she began rehearsing in the car.
At 10, we pulledinto the DMV parking lot on Washington. Bluegill ran inside; Schechner and I got out to stretch.
Half an hour later, a hunched-over Bluegill shuffled out. “Ba-a-ack to triple-A,” warbled the elderly Southern white woman. Something about a supervisor unreturned from a break, a form that only he could sign. So we returned to our driving positions, all of us cursing sotto voce, but just as we started to move, an enormous man in a golden silk suit burst through the front doors of the DMV and came barreling toward us, waving his arms.
It was the supervisor, back from break. Bluegill went back inside with him. Schechner and I put on the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers and sang “Dead Flowers” together.
When the song ended, Bluegill emerged again, all smiles. She really is quite beautiful, in an otherworldly way. Everything had been taken care of. All we had to do now was pick up her car. I figured.
“Can you just drop me off at work?” asked the 4-year-old. “Then I can get someone there to take me to the impound.”
We drove in silence to the production offices. I pulled up to the main entrance; Bluegill thanked me with several voices (“So much!” “A lot!” “Very much indeed!”) and disappeared inside. Schechner climbed into the front seat and slammed the door.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” said he.
I nodded and started to back up. One of the creators of the television show pulled up behind, blocking our escape with a sports car. Schechner shook his head, got out and lay down, belly up, on the asphalt.
“Hey, Schechner,” said the creator, recognizing the old comedian on the ground. “What are you doing here?”
“Hiking,” said Schechner.
The creator nodded, offered a quick hello to me and followed Bluegill’s path inside, leaving our exit blocked and locking the door behind him. So I shut off the engine, rolled down the windows, cranked up Stan Ridgway’s “Talkin’ Wall of Voodoo Blues Pt. 1,” got out and lay down a few yards from Schechner, belly up, to wait.