- CRITTER TALK
- SCI/TECH/OTHER STUFF
From the above paragraph, you probably think this is going to be one of those stories of inspiration that can be shared on “The View” or “Dr. Phil”, but it’s not. Come on, people, you should know me better than that by now. I have a friend who described my life like this:
He said, “Greg, the stuff that happens to you doesn’t happen in real life. It sounds like it came from a sitcom. And that’s what you are, a walking sitcom!”
If you don’t believe me, I have twenty-five years’ worth of journals to read and laugh at. Trust me when I tell you this is only a sample of the strangeness that is my daily life. The great thing about it is that it’s also an ongoing saga of what NOT to do. I used to think I was God’s butt-monkey for laughs, now I just think that this is my curse as a writer.
Okay, so here we go…
Back in the magical year of 1995, I was a twenty-four year old wiseass working for Tower Records in Pasadena, California. It was one of the better jobs I’ve ever had, hanging out all day, getting free stuff, smoking weed at lunch, making fun of the customers, and constant partying with my co-workers and friends. To this day, I still miss it.
One Saturday night, I was working the register with my friend Robin, and this guy came up to the counter to pay for a CD. He placed it face down on the counter, and I picked it up to scan it for purchase. I looked at the front cover and laughed immediately. He was buying a Hootie and the Blowfish CD.
I held it up and asked, “You’re not SERIOUSLY buying this, are you? What do you think this is- a Sam Goody? You should have bought this at the mall!”
Robin turned her head to keep the customer from seeing her laugh. The guy’s face was lit up, beet-red with embarrassment. “It’s for my girlfriend,” he mumbled in shame.
“Sure it is, buddy. Sure it is. I think your girlfriend needs better taste in music,” I shot back.
Getting upset, the customer looked at me and snapped, “What is it to you, anyway?”
I said, “Honestly? Not a thing! But if I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t buy that unless I was wearing a paper bag over my head. God knows I wouldn’t want anyone to recognize me walking out with that! I’ll give you this, though- you’re a braver man than me!”
The customer gave me a twenty, and while I made change, I said, “If you’re really buying that for your girlfriend, all I can say is that it MUST be love! She’s a lucky girl. She better pray she never loses you. But if she does, I’ll be happy to hook you up!”
The customer took the change and his expression softened. “Thanks!”
“Have a nice day!” I called out as he left.
My friend Robin stared at me in disbelief. “How do you get away with that?”
Confused, I asked, “How do I get away with what?”
“With insulting the customers. You made fun of that guy to his face, and he didn’t call for a manager or anything!”
I smiled. “Why, Rob- did you ever stop to think that maybe I’m just charming and hard to stay mad at?”
Smirking, she replied, “I can’t believe what an asshole you are!”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
After closing, everyone else had left, and I was almost out the door with Robin when our manager, a Chinese fellow named Matt, came up to us. Matt was skinny, had long, greasy black hair, and wore glasses that covered a dark discoloration on the left side of his face. He had delusions of being the Asian version of Keanu Reeves in POINT BREAK, right down to the voice.
“So… what are you guys doing tonight?” He said, in a mock surfer drawl.
Robin and I looked at each other. Before she could answer, I said, “Umm… not much. It’s raining, and I don’t feel like doing anything other than crawling under a warm blanket and going to sleep.”
“I’m going to go home and do some studying,” Robin said.
“Come on, let’s go get a drink down at the Three Clubs tonight!” Matt said.
I was like, “Dude, it’s pouring out here, and the last thing I wanna do is drive down to Hollywood. Let’s do it another time.”
Matt whined, “Don’t be like that, man! It’s after work! Let’s party!”
Robin said, “Matt, like Greg said, some other night.”
“I can’t believe what pussies you guys are! It’s the weekend! We should be doing it up, not acting like a bunch of geriatrics! Come on- one drink! I’ll even drive!”
I glanced at Robin. “What the Hell, if only just to shut you up! But the first round is on you.”
“Okay,” Robin acquiesced.
“Awesome!” Matt gushed.
Matt led us to his car, an old, rotting Datsun coupe that looked like you had to start it by winding up the rubber band under the hood. The inside was even worse. All of the upholstery had been threadbare or ripped out, and there were no seatbelts. The thing was basically just a skeleton on wheels. I felt as though I needed a tetanus shot just sitting in it. I let Robin have the front seat, not that it was any gallant sacrifice on my part. She felt around the seat to make sure nothing snagged on to her prized leather jacket. I suppose in her mind, the car had that punk rock, bare bones look that she liked, but in my mind, I felt like I was riding in a port-a-potty with wheels.
As Matt lashed himself to the seat with a pair of straps, I asked, “I have two questions for you.”
“Sure,” Matt said. “Shoot.”
“Did you really buy this thing, and if so, did it come with Evel Knievel’s crash helmet and racing jumpsuit?”
“That’s not funny, dude.”
“Actually,” Robin chimed in, “It’s hilarious.”
“Hey,” Matt began in defense of his rolling deathtrap, “I’ll have you know by the time I’m done, this baby will be a kick-ass racer that can beat anything on the road!”
Robin added, “I don’t suppose we could wait until you finish it, can we? I don’t feel like dying in a fiery crash late at night.”
“Me neither,” I said, “Especially not when I just picked up the new issue of Playboy earlier. I have yet to violate it.”
“Shut up, you two!” Matt hit the gas and screeched out of the parking lot and onto the street. “Here we go!”
I don’t know what Matt was thinking, but he didn’t even bother trying to drive with a modicum of sanity. I guess he felt like he needed to prove something since we’d made fun of his Asian go-cart. Hell, even referring to it as a go-cart is being charitable. I’ve been in soapbox racers that were sturdier.
The ride only got worse when we hit the 110 Freeway. To be honest, it doesn’t even qualify as a freeway, really. Between Downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena, it’s a winding three-lane highway on either side, and though the top speed limit is 55 miles an hour, NOBODY ever adheres to it. It’s kinda like our version of the German autobahn. Anybody doing anything less than seventy-five might as well be in a wheelchair.
Driving the 110 at night is a borderline suicide attempt under normal circumstances, but when you add rain to that, you’re better off putting a gun in your mouth and pulling the trigger. It would be quicker. Matt was driving like Satan himself was after him. The rain was hitting the windshield so furiously that the road ahead was a complete blur. I had absolutely no idea how he was able to maneuver. He must have been using the Force.
Robin and I wisely kept our mouths shut. We made a silent pact not to say anything so that Matt wouldn’t get distracted from driving. Then the car started to make a distinct knocking noise that we could all hear above the din of the engine and the rain.
“Oh, shit!” Matt hissed.
I didn’t want to ask what was wrong, but the compulsion was too great. “What is it?”
“The engine is dying on me!” Matt said, “We’re gonna have to pull over.”
Robin snapped, “Are you crazy? We’re in Echo Park!”
Quick interlude so I can explain- At one time, the city of Echo Park was one of the top three contenders for the title of “murder capital of Los Angeles County”, alongside Watts and South Central LA. It was where the Mexican gangs held their territory, and it wasn’t a place you wanted to hang out if you were something other than Mexican and wanted to keep breathing- ESPECIALLY after dark. They say it’s tamer now that most of the gangs have moved out and the area has been gentrified, but I still wouldn’t hang out there if you paid me.
Matt shouted back, “It’s either that, or the car dies out here on the road and we get smacked by a BMW!”
Feeling nauseous, I muttered to nobody in particular, “I think I’d rather stay here and reenact a scene from BLOOD ON THE HIGHWAY.”
Matt exited onto the nearest off-ramp, and sputtered into a deserted parking lot a few blocks away. It was the worst possible place we could have been. It was dark, the rain was pouring cats and dogs, and we were in the middle of nowhere. The only way the Auto Club could have found us was if they had NASA track us down with a satellite.
The car finally died as we parked. “Now what?” Robin asked.
Matt kept turning the key into the ignition. “Don’t worry, sometimes I can get the engine to start again. If not, we’ll have to find a phone and call for help!”
I shouted, “Have you lost your mind? There’s no way we’re going to find a phone that works around here! Even if we do, we won’t last long enough to find it!”
Matt said, “No, we’re fine. No one is going to hurt us! I have guns in the back- see that bag next to you? I have three pistols in it. If somebody hassles us, just pull it on them and they’ll back off!”
“HAVE YOU LOST YOUR FUCKING MIND?” I shouted.
“What’s the big deal? I’ll take the .357, Robin can handle the .45, and you take the Walther PPK. There’s no kick to it!” Matt reached behind his seat and reached for the bag. Digging into it, he got the .45 and the PPK and handed one to Robin and the other one to me. I refused to take it.
“What’s the matter with you? Take the gun!”
Robin checked the clip and snapped it back into place like she knew what she was doing. I barely know one end of a gun from the other. With my luck, I’d end up shooting myself in the balls. No thank you!
Matt held the pistol in his palm, waiting for me to pick it up. “Come on, man- we have to go!”
I shook my head. “No way. I’m not shooting at anybody!”
“You don’t have to shoot at anything. It’s just in case something happens!”
“Get the fucking car started and nothing WILL happen!” I said.
Matt was still holding the gun in front of me. The urge to pick it up was becoming harder and harder to resist. It looked harmless- it was just a little thing. But I could still do a lot of damage with it. I started to reach for it, but pulled back at the last second.
“Take it!” Matt yelled.
I shook my head. “It’s not gonna happen, Matt. If we get confronted by a bunch of homies and pull out a pistol, here’s what’s gonna happen- they’ll kill you, rape and kill Robin, beat the shit out of me, and once they discover I’m a Mexican, they’ll apologize, give me a bottle of Tequila for the pain, and give me a ride home! Just start the car! If that doesn’t work, then we’ll figure something else out. But I am NOT picking up a gun!”
The car stayed silent for a minute. “Fine! Whatever!” Then he went back to cranking the ignition. By some miracle, the engine turned over.
“HELL YEAH!!!” We all shouted.
“Three Clubs, here we come!” Matt said.
Robin said, “Uh-uh! Point this piece of shit back home!”
I backed her up. “I’m with her. I’ve had enough laughs for one night. Let’s go home.”
Begrudgingly, Matt got back on the freeway and headed for Pasadena. Once we were back at Tower, I ran up to my car and kissed it. “I’m never leaving you again!”
Robin said to Matt, “Oh, brother! What a drama queen!”
“Totally!” Matt agreed. I blew them a raspberry, then they piled into my car and we went over to Robin’s apartment to have a few celebratory beers. Which is where we should have gone in the first place.
So that’s my gun story. I admit, it’s not exactly LAW AND ORDER, but you have to admit, it was pretty entertaining, wasn’t it? If there’s a moral to the story, it’s this- if you keep your head, don’t panic, and more importantly, don’t put yourself in a position to need a gun, then you can skate through life bullet-hole free!