Upsetting
Saturday, August 31, 2002
 
Sleepwalking to paradise.
 
Thursday, August 29, 2002
 
I don’t feel very American today.
I don’t feel like going to church, acting out violently or watching Must See TV.
I don’t feel like putting a decal of a urinating cartoon character on my vehicle. For that matter, I don’t feel like tailgating anyone on the freeway or giving them the finger.
I don’t even want to tell everyone what I think.

I don’t give a shit about one-name millionaires like Britney, Nelly and Christina. I don’t even give a shit about celebrities with the weird initialized names like J. Lo, P. Diddy and George W.

I don’t feel like voting. Or being taken advantage of by multinational corporations.

I want to kiss a woman on the mouth.
I want to hear music.
I want to be friends.
 
Wednesday, August 28, 2002
 
Dear all employees:

Please be reminded that Company computers, technology and communications systems (the “Systems”) are the property of ______ and are intended to be used for job-related purposes only. For further information, please refer to Section 1009 of your Employee Handbook: Electronic Mail, Voice Mail and Telephonic Communications.

The Systems may be monitored for possible misuse. All Systems users are hereby advised that they have no reason to expect that communications initiated or received by them via the Systems are private.

This reminder of the Company’s policy in place with respect to use of Company Systems is distributed periodically. Should you have any questions, at any time, please do not hesitate to contact me at extension ____.

Thank you for your continuing cooperation.
 
Monday, August 26, 2002
 
The men who describe the action in basketball games played by 20-year-olds ride in limousines, but Tricia Altagracias borrowed a neighbor’s knock-off Morey Boogie Board and walked to the bus stop near El Cajon Boulevard and 60th Street. The 15-year-old had seen a commercial on TV for a new movie with girls who surf. That she hadn’t seen the movie was not important; seeing the girls, including a Latina, searing the blue surf like the boys compelled her to give it a shot.
The bus was supposed to be at her stop at 9:10 a.m. that bright summer day. At 9:15, it had not arrived, and as Tricia looked east for the transit bus she saw a dark-blue compact car with a surfboard on top.
The driver slowed to the curb and rolled down the passenger window.

She knew it probably was not the right thing to do, but Tricia accepted the man’s offer of a ride to La Jolla. Her parents would’ve killed her, and she even panicked at the thought of them seeing her get into the car. Her friends would’ve admonished her, Mijia, what the fuck were you thinking?
But the guy had blond hair, and how bad could a guy with a surfboard be? The only thing was he seemed a little old to be a surfer. Or, at least older than how old she thought surfers were.

They went down past the college and toward Interstate 8, but at the bottom of the hill, the car did not merge onto the westbound freeway. Tricia’s ears started ringing, and out of the corners of her eyes she checked to see if her beating heart was visible beneath her T-shirt.
It was, and she blinked down the tears forced themselves into her eyes.

She wasn’t going to give in easily. She didn’t want to become a one-name celebrity like all those other children.

As the car quickly passed over the freeway and began its ascent into the hills of Del Cerro, Tricia thought about what to say to the man. She didn’t want to force his hand, and she remembered that you never want to panic someone in his situation. There was no telling how he would be set off.

The windshield was clean, but her mind was cloudy with tears and a million ideas.
My God.

Her gritted teeth rattled as the car bounced into the gas station on College Boulevard.
“Don’t worry, you don’t have to give me anything for gas,” the man said as he slid from his seat and headed to pay.

Had she been mistaken? Was it really true that child kidnappings were down, that it was the media’s fault everyone was on edge?
Tricia didn’t give herself time to answer.
The man was in line inside the gas station, and the Boogie Board was in the back seat.
Tricia was out of the car, walking back around it. Out of the man’s sightline, she thought she could tell Mrs. Lopez a lie about what happened to the Boogie Board.

Around the back of the gas station, She ran. Across another street, into oncoming traffic and toward the mini-mall at the bottom of the hill.

Later, after Tricia caught two buses home and was working on her story for Mrs. Lopez, the man in the car saw the Lopez phone number Magic Markered into the Boogie Board and called to say he found it at a bus stop.

 
Thursday, August 22, 2002
 
Sometimes drinking beer when it’s hot out is a drag because you get all faded and sleepy, and you’re insta-buzzed. Other times, though, there is nothing quite like an ice-cold beer on a scorching day, and that was the case when Caroline and I drank a six-pack of Bud on the back porch of her Kensington cottage yesterday.
The temperature was like 760 degrees, I swear.
She’d called me at work and suggested we cut out early and get together. We did, and by 2:30 p.m. we were in shorts and bare feet on the bricks in her backyard. That Lou Donaldson record with “Tennessee Waltz” was on her record player, and we talked about the baseball strike, the likelihood of terrorists striking San Diego and how stock options work.
By 5:30, there was no beer left, and we were at that drinking crossroads. Call it quits, and I ride my bike home. Stick with it, have fun, and maybe later regret any number of things.
But it was still hot at 5:30 p.m., so we decided to go get more beer. Caroline said if I walked down to the liquor store, she would see what she could scrape up in the kitchen.

Down on Adams Avenue, across the street from the library, I saw the guy from the cover of The Dragons album teetering outside the liquor store. He might have been even more besotted than he was on the cover of the record. Swollen head, splotched and parched skin, moist lips, he spoke of a lifelong – and losing – battle with the bottle. The transparent wisps of hair on his head only called attention to the liver spots.
But the guy’s clearly not a bum, a jakey whiffing on 24-oz. cans of Lite. He buys his own, like any self-respecting drinker.

Clem’s is one of those cool slick liquor stores where the beef jerky is of the highest order and the shop itself smells oaky and monied. The kinda place built when drinking wasn’t so stigmatized by self-righteous squares, guys who wear belts with shorts. I think it’s actually called Clem’s Bottle House, to give you reading of just how worthy the shop is.

As I walked to the counter with the sixer, the owner, his son and one of those guys that just hangs out all day at the local store were abuzz with Lotto fever. Sunlight knifed through the doorway and windows, backlighting the dust motes that sparkled above the counter. For liquor store owners, they were exceptionally friendly.

Outside, I stopped to read the headline in the newspaper box. Something about the Westerfield case. When I turned away, shielded the sun with my left hand and started back to Caroline’s, my path was blocked by the drunky. He reached and put his left hand on my shoulder. It was a heavy hand. He had that antiseptic, Listeriney smell old drunkies get.
His eyes were so vacuous, I’m not sure you could say he was looking at me. His mouth didn’t move when he spoke. It was just an O.

“Son,” he grunted. We stood about eye to eye. I waited.
His chest heaved a bit as he searched for the rest.
“Son,” he said again, nodding a bit, his hand still on my shoulder.
Respectfully, I arced my eyebrows to let him no there was no hurry. I suspected wisdoms of the ages to pour forth. I tried to place myself in his mind, plumb his watery memory.
He started to shake his head, and I might’ve heard a muffled chuckle from him.
He looked down at the ground, and when he pulled back up he was smiling. His eyes were different, too. There was an unmistakable gleam, as if he saw in me an old Army buddy or first wife. He clasped me with both hands.
“Son,” he said, and then let me go. “Best of luck to you.”

 
Tuesday, August 20, 2002
 
I saw the most disturbing photo of Axl Rose today. In the e-mail in which it was sent, I was asked if it was a photo of Axl or Jerry Rice.
I have no idea what ever became of Axl Rose and Guns N’ Roses, except that I thought I heard Tommy Stinson, of all people, had joined the band at one time. I don’t know if he’s still around.
Kevin told me that Slash is not involved, so I’m not, either.
That said, if you don’t know about Appetite for Destruction, you better ask somebody.
 
Monday, August 19, 2002
 
Going exactly 80 mph on the southbound Interstate 5 the other day, I was on my way home from work when I had the most unique experience of revelation and action occurring simultaneously. It wasn’t one of the garden-variety rush-hour thoughts – driving is really the most honest form of self-expression; bumper stickers are only a slight step above personalized license plates; maybe I’ll start using books on tape – that waft through my head on a daily basis and remain unrealized, unactualized.
No.
The other day, the formula of revelation was broken down into its components at the same exact second I decided to act on the epiphany.
Had I time to think about it, I probably would’ve been overwhelmed by the immediate power I’d granted myself.

A moving van was behind me at the time, one of the models from the 1970s with the high grill that almost looks like an 18-wheeler. Once, the truck was white, but freeway years had given it an ashy dusting. It was a pretty big truck.

Before I was sure of what I was doing, I fixed the rearview mirror just a little tighter, unfastened my seatbelt and turned the radio down. Near Via De La Valle, close to where the turf meets the surf, near the bottom of the massive hill, I slammed on the brakes of the Honda as hard as I could. The noise of the tires – not the impact – was the last I heard.

Since the truck was about eight feet behind me and also going 80 mph, you can tell how long it took to smash through the back of the car and drive me through the windshield of my car. The news said I flew 60 feet, which is pretty far considering trains usually splatter people over about 300 feet. The crash crippled traffic for hours, commuters furious and out of their cars making small talk on the quiet freeway.

At the hospital, I was lost in a forest of tubes, with all sorts of sheets covering the unnatural – and rather ghastly – contortions my body had undergone. Gauze, blinking lights, hurried and hushed conversation. Everything broken and without life.

In a way, I was asleep, resting free and easy.
It was a car accident.
Maybe I’d dropped something and tried to pick it up before it damaged the car’s interior. When I looked up, I thought I had to slam on the brakes, they can tell themselves.
God, he must’ve panicked. What a horrible crash.

That way, they’ll be saved from knowing what really happened.
And, in death, I won’t seem like the asshole I was in life.
 
Saturday, August 17, 2002
 
Alanis Morissette wants 21 things in a lover, and Garrett didn’t possess any of ‘em.
He wore his Michigan hat backward and liked wrestling. Garrett dipped Skoal and was a fan of a band called System of a Down. He liked hard rock.
He told me he felt he had met a kindred spirit the first time he saw the cover of High Voltage, Angus in shorts and with the silly face.
“AC/DC keeps it simple,” Garrett said. “Whiskey, women and rock ‘n’ roll. What more could you want?”

We were at a comedy traffic school downtown, talking outside on one of those ridiculous 70-minute breaks the instructor gives you with a wink. I remembered kids like him from high school, something tragic in their bravado, their fearless quest for a good time.
All-or-nothings, they were called. Fight or fuck, but nothing in between.
I didn’t ask Garrett how he ended up in traffic school, but he wanted to know about my ticket. Had it been a couple of years earlier, I might’ve dressed it up a little for him: Reckless driving, a 90-in-a-25 nuts violation. Instead, I just told him how I’d rolled through the stop sign and nearly admitted it to the cop who pulled me over.

Garrett died last night, after the truck he was driving went out of control and flipped on Highway 94. Actually, he died early today, but the crash was last night, right before midnight. The truck landed on its cab. A girl in the pickup was banged up, but she’ll survive. She’s 23.

Garrett wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.
But he hadn’t been drinking, which for some reason made me happy when I came across his name in the police reports I file every morning. His name stuck with me from the one time he told me it, at traffic school: Garrett Brees. It seemed to fit.
Perhaps Garrett should’ve been drinking, that if he had to go out, it might as well have been with a bang. Like the first AC/DC singer. I think Garrett would’ve liked that.

But it’s better that he wasn’t drunk.
When I read about the crash, that he was the victim, and that it happened at the time that it did, I would’ve bet my eyesight Garrett was drunk.
That he was sober allows me to remember him differently. Somehow, it’s reassuring that in his final moment, I was wrong about Garrett.
 
Friday, August 16, 2002
 
First jazz and rock ‘n’ roll, and now they’re coming after rap.
 
Thursday, August 15, 2002
 
High above the small crowd, the president was on TV addressing the media with a golf club in his hand. His dad, the president before Clinton was president, was in a golf cart behind him, his face splotched with beetlike sun lesions. The marks on his face were the same color as the Texas A&M cap he was wearing. With those guys, it’s always Texas, Texas, Texas, isn’t it? Gotta represent.
Next to the CNN in the corner of the screen was a scrawl mentioning something about violence in the Middle East, a bomb on a bus somewhere in Israel. The president, on a golf course on television, was addressing the media with a driver in his hand. The same president who leans – slumps – on the podium with the presidential seal when addressing the assembled masses.
Something else in the scrawl about a month-long vacation.
Nice work if you can get it.

“You gotta be shittin’ me, man,” came the voice that pulled my eyes from the president, his golf club and his sunburned dad. “I’m talking about putting fifty bucks down here. How you only gonna give me three to one on New York? Never be there again.”
“What do you think it should be, then?” The other guy at the table replied. “I think they get it again, Trade Center or not.”
“Bullshit, man. You know lightning don’t strike the same place twice. Unless,” he started to laugh. “Unless it’s five to one or something, then I might put some money on it going down in the exact same place.”
His Hispanic partner laughed and drank from his Budweiser.
The first guy, a light-skinned brother, wrapped bony fingers around a bucket of brown liquid; coke or bourbon, I couldn’t tell. Wearing a Lakers tank top, he was a lanky guy with receding hair and kinda reminded me of Alex English.
If I had to say who the Hispanic guy looked like, I couldn’t. People that look like him don’t often get famous. Maybe this guy looked like that pitcher on the Brewers, Ruben Quevedo. He was smiling, and I’d seen him in there before. All appearances led me to believe he was a good guy. A guy’s guy, but respectful and fearful of his wife.
“Dog,” he said. “New York’s just too big and too famous to be anything higher than three to one. I mean, you think there are really two other cities that would be better targets?”

It cracked me up as I listened. Their conversation was nearly identical to one I’d had with Kevin back around on March, on one of our rides to work. I think we had Washington and New York favored one and two, with Los Angeles a close second. Had I cell phone, I would’ve called him to tell him these guys were talking about the same thing. Instead, I grabbed my beer and turned toward the two guys.
“Excuse me,” I said. “You guys talking about odds for the next attack?”
They both half-nodded, checking me out with appropriate suspicion. White dude and his cute question. Smart guy.
“The reason I ask is, I was wondering how many cities you’re giving odds for,” I said. “A buddy of mine and I did the same thing a while ago, but when we were finished we realized we’d left a lot of good targets out – like Boston.”
They looked at each other, and the black guy started laughing again, with a sort of descending enthusiasm.
“That’s a good one, man. We forgot all about Boston. Maybe another tea party, Gordo? What do you say?”
“Yeah, how could we forget about Boston. Isn’t that where some of the planes took off from?”
I’d cleared up the Are you a cop? question for them. My beer was getting warm because I hadn’t taken it out of my hand for about five minutes. After I swallowed, it dawned on me that drinking didn’t really do it for me anymore, that it was just something I did because I knew how.
“I think we had Boston at like five to one,” I said, an intriguing number for a city legendary for curses and political wickedry. Kevin and I figured the racist and WASP currents swirling in Boston coupled with the large and vocal Muslim population there might make it an attractive target. Factor in the photos of Atta at Logan airport and the week-after threat that something was definitely going down in Boston, and it’s hard to overlook in our little survey.
Alex English nodded again.
“That’s a pretty good number, there, young man,” he said. “Where’d y’all have New York?”
“Right up there with Washington. Maybe like two and a half to one, three to one.”
Exactly what Quevedo wanted to hear.
"That’s what I’ve been telling him, but he don’t want to hear it,” he said. “He thinks they don’t want to hit the same place twice.”
“Wouldn’t that prove how good they are? To do the Big Apple again? And maybe have a chance at knocking down the statue of liberty or something with some major symbolic clout.”
“Like the Brooklyn Bridge,” Alex English said as he lowered his glass from his freshly moist lips. “I can see your point.”
Gordo looked and me and said he’d been trying through $20 of drinks to get Alex English to see his point. I jokingly told him my pleasure and drained my beer bottle. After I grabbed my keys and left a couple of dollar bills on the bar, I turned to my friends on my way to the door.
“Did you guys offer odds on San Diego?”
“Nah, man,” Gordo said. “Some of the fellas I work with mentioned it, but even at a long shot, nobody wanted to put any money on it. Everybody was with the Big Five: New York, L.A., Washington, Chicago and San Fran. Why, you wanna get down on it.”
Smiling, I shook my head.
“No thanks. It would be a creative little gesture on their part – and we do have plenty of military here – but something tells me I shouldn’t anticipate my own demise.”
 
Wednesday, August 14, 2002
 
The dog killed an opossum last night. At least, he showed up at the front door with a baby opossum drooping from his jaw.
The neighbor kid and I used a rake to scoop the animal onto a a shovel, and I walked him around the front yard to the City-issued trash bin. The opossum went in there with the other garbage: salad dressing, lint and dog poo.
This morning, when I went outside, the lid of the trash thing was flipped back and leaning against the fence. No way, I thought, did that opossum, with its torn fur and limp pose, come back to life, grow four feet and pop out of the trash. What's the word? Revenant.
I put my head over the top of the trash and looked in. There was the opossum, animated and calm, sitting in the trash like he was meant to.
The neighbor running, yelling at me in Spanish. But smiling, too, asking me why I was so cruel to put a live opossum in the trash.
She'd heard it scratching and lifted the lid.
Back inside, I was considering my options. I'd only been awake for about five minutes, and the coffee was still brewing. Unresolved, I went back outside to confer with my neighbors.
The lid to the trash was closed, and they were heading back into their house.
I asked them what happened to the opossum, and they told me he ran away. They tipped over the trash, and the opossum ran away.
 
Formerly GOD'S LONELY MAN

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