Thursday, April 17, 2014

Union Street

I don't know where to start: with the 100 people-long line at the DMV, the little boy on the fence in the middle of an abandoned block, or the dead body in the street. I'll start with the line, the one that wrapped around the side of the building and down past the parking lot. How do people stand in lines? How do we do this? Especially when there's nothing great at the end of it. When we were kids we were incapable of waiting. We poked and pinched each other, made faces, stomped our feet, giggled, sang, threw our heads back and moaned openly. Now we wait all the time but the restlessness is interior, or else we've given up. It's a little of both for me. I am paying for a ticket for my boss, so technically I'm getting paid to stand in line, but that doesn't mean I can tolerate it. In my mind I do all of those things I did as a child, and then the adult versions of those things, which is to think debilitating and crippling thoughts, then filthy, then just plain wrong, mouthhandsfacestomachlegsgrocerylistpeebellybuttonmedicaltestdaughterscrying

Now serving 347. Number 347.

When I got to the front of the line I was told I needed to go to another DMV. She handed me a post-it size of paper with the address so she wouldn't have to explain it to me. Next!

I'm not going to go through the whole day. You get the idea. I know I've told a version of this story before. But by the time I was sent to a 4th building, I was barely human, I could still move, still see and hear but I was in shark mode, or rather sea bass, just a blank staring mindless creature in motion. I was driving in the ghetto, under the overpass, a place pretty much abandoned except for a few little crack houses and (evidently) the California Highway Patrol office. Everything was grey, even the few homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk. But then I turned (Siri, in her gentle, maddening voice said: Turn right on Union Street) and all of a sudden it was like I was in Oz. Every house was a different color: purple, orange, light blue, yellow, pink. The street was like an abandoned  movie set. Bouganvilleas hung over fences, little stores had hand-painted signs. I sat up, I looked, I noticed. There wasn't a single person around, but up ahead I saw a tiny little face peeking over the fence. He was staring right at me! He was about 5 or 6 and had black curly hair. I stared right back and then raised my eyebrows twice. He did the same. I made a face. He did the same. We both smiled at each other, lifted shoulders, crinkled eyes, and then his head disappeared in a flash and I saw a man in a white undershirt yelling at him in a tumbletwirl of Spanish. There was a pause and the boy slowly lifted his head up again and looked right at me and waved, still smiling big. Good Bye! Adios! I love you muchacho. I wanted to grab my phone so I could take a photo, but by the time I found it, he had disappeared again. Instead I took a photo of the little bakery across the street. I had to!

This all happened in less than a minute; but my day was changed. I felt energized, I felt hungry, I felt light. I still had to go through some more rigamarole with the Highway Patrol but whatev! no big! I was almost done. I had an exchange, a connection, I felt like a person again. Once I got there, I waited in the parking lot for my boss who had to come meet me. I opened the car door so I could feel the air and sun all at once. I answered some emails. I wrote some notes to myself. I thought about the person I wanted to think about. Josh arrived about 10 minutes later.

I just drove by a dead body.
Drove right next to it in the street. Look!

He pointed up in the sky and a helicopter was hovering right above us, the tail of it wagging slowly back and forth.

Over there on Union. A guy, face down in a white undershirt.
What? Union?
The one with the colorful buildings?
Yeah, right in front of the bakery.

I re-wound the video in my hand from ten minutes ago, littlefaceplayingmonkeysillylovefunmanabandonedstreetlookoutWWHHHAA?

"So where's the fuckin cop I gotta talk to?" Josh asked.

I pointed with my thumb to the station house, "I'll be in in a second", I said.

I don't know if I told this story right. I left out a lot of little details. I left out the list of things I want and don't have. Maybe I should have started with the dead body. Or how I wonder about death. When we say things can go from this to that in a second, that's what we are usually talking about. But really, life and the opposite of life are going on at the same time, it's just our focus that shifts. I wonder if I find this photo in a couple of years, which side of the street I will remember first.

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