On the Run in the Getaway Car

Streetlights in the fogMy car plunges into the early-morning darkness, sweeping along the curve of the freeway onramp. My brother, Scott, rides shotgun. My sister, Kathryn, sits quietly in the backseat as the bubbling synthesizer of Pink Floyd’s “On the Run” from ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ begins.
 
I feel the music, feel the pull of the centrifugal force from the arc we are making towards the freeway below.
 
‘On the Run’ is less music, more sonic sculpture. There is a flight announcement…echoing footsteps. The pulsing synthesizer intensifies.
 
Ahead is a streetlight. The moisture in the air carves a bright sphere from the darkness.
 
The music crescendos as we pass into-then-through the sphere of light. It fades as we return to the darkness.
 
I smile for some reason. Something is happening. But I don’t know it yet.
 
Now two synths build together, divide and sweep around the inside of the car as a man mumbles something about living for today. The pulse peaks and squeals as the car punches into another bright bubble from the next street light. My stomach tightens, smile broadens as we are swallowed by the darkness again.
 
The synth quietly gurgles in the background.
 
Another cycle rises to crescendo without the histrionics, but still matched in synch with the passing of the streetlights.
 
It recalls the urban myth of synchronizing ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ with ‘The Wizard of Oz’.
 
The piece begins to build again. A buzzing becomes a plane descending rapidly.
 
No more streetlights. Ahead is an overpass under construction. Work lights and scaffolding covered in sheets of clear plastic.
I think it’s over, but I am wrong.
 
The plane crashes as we pass the scaffolding. The work lights strobe crazily amid mad laughter as we streak past the scaffolding. I feel it inside. I grip the steering wheel.
 
We roll out from the overpass into the morning darkness as the piece fades completely.
 
Kathryn, from the darkness of the back seat: “Did you feel that?”
 
I’m stunned. Before I can answer, Scott looks at me, nodding.
 
“Oh, yeah”.

Life on the Isle of California

‘Isle of California’ (1972) by Victor Henderson, Terry Schoonhoven, Jim Frazin of the L.A. Fine Arts Squad. Image from federicodecalifornia.files.wordpress.com.

The man across the aisle is wearing a gun. It’s Friday afternoon in April, 1993. I’m in the Santa Monica Laemmle watching ‘Reservoir Dogs’. His coat is caught on the chair arm. The gun is an automatic.

There has been a verdict in the trial of the four LAPD officers charged with violating Rodney King’s Civil Rights.

The officers were previously acquitted of assault charges, resulting in the L.A. Riots. The coroner attributed 60 deaths to the verdict.

I get why he’s carrying a gun after the riots. I went to a range with a friend who was an NRA instructor. I was good with a .45 and a Glock 9. I killed many paper men. But I don’t have the temperament to own a gun.

They are announcing the verdict tomorrow morning. There is a curfew for the weekend – sunset to sunrise.

After the film, the man with the gun waits with me at the corner.

“Excuse me, but I noticed you’re carrying a gun.”

He’s embarrassed. He’s a cop. He’ll lead a group of officers in the field if anything should happen.

I picture him watching Michael Madsen sawing off a cop’s ear with a razor to the music of Steeler’s Wheel.

Saturday morning: convictions of two of the officers for violating Rodney King’s civil rights are announced.

No riots.

On Sunday, Roy Felig and I meet on Santa Monica Boulevard.

There are no pedestrians. No cars.

Armageddon.

We walk to Butler. Village Recorders. A famous mural covers the building.

The street beyond the studio is blocked. There’s a guarded gate with large barrels to slow approach.

Beyond the gate – a multi-story building surrounded by a parking lot.

The mural shows Interstate 10 truncated near Blythe, now the water’s edge.

Context – I completely misinterpret ‘Isle of California’ as California falling into the sea.

Armageddon.

We wander closer to the mysterious gate. We see two things: a sign informs us this is the Santa Monica Courthouse.

And a sniper on the roof tracking us with a telescopic rifle.

Pancakes, Bacon and Practical Jokes On the Side

PancakesIt is 1987.

My father has recovered from his first stroke. He hikes into the wilderness with wrist crutches. Sunday mornings he makes pancakes for everyone in the Forest Service tent cabin.

My father is a practical joker from waaaaay back. He and his brother, Bill, have jokes they regularly play on each other that started in childhood.

Dad finds a strand of silicone insulation from a window that is being re-glazed. It is long and green and shiny.

One other thing – lateralized sensitivity is a stroke thing. After my dad’s stroke, he can’t feel his right nostril. People are always telling him to wipe his nose.

One Sunday morning, he announces the pancakes and bacon are ready, turns to the famished hoard holding the platter with a pile of pancakes on it, and a long, green, slimy strand of construction-grade snot making like a pendulum back and forth just above the top pancake.

It is 2001.

Dad’s second stroke. He is depressed and angry. He has given up. He wants to die.

After rehab, I move him around the corner from me. I read the news to him in the mornings. In the afternoons, I come back to ask him questions about what we read. Memory exercise.

He can’t remember the word ‘remote’, as in ‘remote control’.

I read that the brain can make new pathways and it could be remembered a different way.

“Dad,” I say. “What do they call the thing they dig around a castle?”

He thinks about it a moment. “The moat.”

“And if they dig it a second time, they have to (wait for it) re-moat the castle.”

I do this a couple of times. He gives me dirty looks.

I sell my place and move with him to our house in Idyllwild. One day we are sitting in the living room. He reaches for the remote control but it’s just a little too far away. He looks at me like a child, pleading, and he asks me: “Steven, can you hand me the moat?”.

I look at him in horror. What have I done? I am ‘moatified’.

My father smiles. It is the first time he has smiled since his stroke.

He smiles at his little joke.