Illustration by Mitch Handsone
London Calling on the tape deck in the
middle of another night, softly: nothing dramatic, nothing for you to worry
about. Just parked, as usual, at the end of Lombard Avenue, overlooking the
cliffs to the highway to the sea. Tilting back the seat, I settled in with
the blankets pulled up over my head like a dead man, following “Spanish Bombs”
into what I hoped would be upward of four hours’ sleep.
Back home the buses went up in flashes
The Irish tomb was drenched in blood
Spanish bombs shatter the hotels
My señorita’s rose was nipped in the bud
But the familiar sound of a four-door Ford came around the corner, and, lowering
the blankets, I spied familiar headlight-shadows rolling across the bottom
of the roof above. So instead of sleeping, I muttered “fuck,” turned off my
soothing lullaby and waited.
The cruiser pulled up close and killed the engine. And the shotgun window
came down, and a very loud whisper said, “Andy?”
I sat up and rolled down the window.
“Sorry, Andy,” said Chris. “I hate to wake you up, you know.”
“Thanks. I understand. I’d do the same thing. What’s up?”
“Oh, you know,” said Chris. “The same. Sure does smell good around here.”
Chris was a reasonable man. Upon first discovering me a few weeks back, he’d
given me a chance — one chance — to identify myself and justify my situation:
recently dropped out of grad school because I couldn’t afford it anymore;
got a job at an art gallery, full-time, 7 bucks an hour. Saving up for first
and last on an apartment. Staying with friends when they’d have me; trying
not to impose.
It turned out that Chris the security guard was also an artist — he showed
me photos of his paintings — and had also lived through an episode of carsleeping.
Three years ago he’d returned from the Army to a sick mother (heart disease)
who was broke from bills and whose bills he then paid until he too was broke,
at which time his mother died and Chris vacated the apartment to get the deposit
refund, to pay for funeral expenses. Then he was free.
In high school he’d wanted to be an artist, but didn’t dare tell his parents,
and took an undergraduate degree in political science from a city college.
His father insisted that he join the Army after college, and died the day
after he left. Now, with his mother also gone, Chris figured he’d drive out
to L.A., get some kind of job somewhere and paint.
“I like driving around and thinking,” Chris told me that first night, sharing
a joint in his cruiser. “And the only time you can do that in L.A. is in the
middle of the night.”
So he took the job cruising upper-class neighborhoods as a private security
guard. There were rules, of course, and responsibilities, but mostly Chris
just drove around.
And during the day, for the first few months, he slept in his car or in a
park in Mar Vista and changed clothes at a storage facility. Now, three years
later, he shared an apartment in Venice with his fiancée, who worked the graveyard
as a checker at an all-night market.
“Sure does smell good around here” meant
that Chris wanted me to give him some marijuana now, and then he’d go away.
See, the first night I parked here on the cliff, the first time Chris pulled
up in the security cruiser, I’d just smoked a joint in the car. When I cranked
the window down to answer Chris’ flashlight tapping, Chris had said, “Sure
does smell good around here.” I thought that this meant I was busted, that
he was about to call the real cops on me, but instead he said, “Any left?”
and we got high in his rent-a-cop car and swapped car-living stories.
As nice as Chris seemed, he was a capitalist at heart, and within the hour
we’d shaken hands over the terms of my rent: As long as I provided Chris with
pot, I could park in the neighborhood overnight. I didn’t smoke pot that often,
but now I had to buy enough to pay rent to Chris, which ended up costing about
10 bucks a week — well worth it for such a pleasant place to sleep.
“Here you go,” I said, again and again,
handing Chris yet another joint.
“Thanks, man,” said Chris. “Like I said — really sorry to wake you up. Sleep
And he was gone. And again it was mostly quiet, the waves against the sand
and the tires along the highway.
I recalled that first rude awakening, a few weeks back, from deep stoned
sleep to limbs flailing in the beam of the ersatz cop’s torch. The memory
resonated as a minor replication of the shock of birth: One moment you’re
just hanging out, floating upside down, sole tenant of the warm free amnion;
the next moment you’re shocked into cold, antiseptic fluorescence, drowning
in air because the fucking doctors cut the umbilical cord before you were
done using it. Instead of a nice, smooth, natural transition into using your
lungs, your first breath is one of sheer terror. All because the hospital
bills hourly, I guess.
For a while before this, I’d been staying at Amy’s, until Amy started doing
heroin again. That look came back in her eye, and her face muscles moved differently.
Amy and I were just friends, but if not for the heroin we probably would’ve
been more. I just couldn’t deal with being around heroin. I’ve never tried
it, in part because I expect that I’d like it. But I sure missed Amy. And
the hot showers.
At dawn, I stretched and shivered, started the engine, and turned the heater
on full blast and the Clash on medium. After a few minutes, I switched the
heater to defrost and tilted the seat up to driving position to watch the
hot, dry air carve two feathered ovals into the bottom of the windshield.
The hillsides ring with “Free the people”
Or can I hear the echo from the days of ’39?
With trenches full of poets, the ragged army
Fixing bayonets to fight the other line
The ovals grew and met and became one, and there was another rising sun straight
Illustration by Mitch Handsone