Wednesday, December 27, 2006

L.A. Story

LOCK. LOCK. Our car doors have a nice, authoritative sound, comforting when you're (I'm) sitting alone in the car on a busy, if a bit seedy, part of downtown Woodland Hills. Never comfortable in the L.A. region - and I'll be honest, for me, anywhere south of Oxnard is more or less La-la all sort of blends together in one, big blob of traffic, ugly billboards and people who go 95 while on the phone, smoking and always without signaling. Not my favorite place, in short. Back to lock, lock.., though -

LOCK. LOCK. I leaned back in my seat and pressed the button for my friend/assistant to see what was going on at home. Outside, the wind was gusting in the near-darkness, and many of the daytime shops were closed or closing. A Bic'd headed, heavy-set pasty guy in tattered jeans and too many piercings/tattoos for civility was pulling the bars shut across a record shop and lingering, taking digital pictures (security? memories? his blaaahhhhg? MySpace?). He didn't return my smile, or perhaps he didn't see me. I could see Scott picking through the merchandise (knives, but he is not one of those crazy knife guys, I swear) in the store to my right, the whole storefront reinforced glass walls.

As I started my conversation, a scrawny woman, maybe in her fifties, maybe younger but beaten down with age, approached the car. Clad in a too-thin sweatshirt, she started for my window. I gave a quick half-smile, ready to shake my head no, I didn't have any money/cigarettes/matches/whatever. She rapped thickened, dirty knuckles on my window and said, "Ess thees chyours?" in an accent I couldn't place. Expecting a ploy to get me to open my door, I tilted my head toward the window, still on the phone, didn't see anything, and gave a half-shake of my head. Adding to my concern, I could see a larger, indistinct figure hovering nearby her, only a shape backlit by the bright store. With my keys and purse clearly on my lap, I was not about to just open the door and bend over some unknown mystery item. Uhh-uhh. Riiiight, I thought, I'll just bend my head over, they'll crack me on the head, and...well, this is L.A., or close enough, home of a thousand ploys to separate an unsuspecting person and their money, or car, or worse.

"Look, I've gotta go, there's some lady talking to me through my window, callyoubackinasec, OK?", I said. (Fortunately, Christie is used to my auctioneer-paced delivery and signed off quickly.)

"Eesss thees chourrs?" I couldn't see anything, and I could see Scott coming out the door of the store. Thank goodness. I hate dealing with homeless people asking me for money and stuff, it always leaves me feeling angry and sickened, as well as ashamed for feeling that way. 'Hurry up, hurry up,' I thought, 'She's about to hold up some awful thing and ask me for-'

"Eet's money, did you drop money?" She was holding a twenty dollar bill. Shame and relief flooded my system completely, a Slurpee headache in July. Scott had stepped out of the car, his wallet full of cash I hadn't used at the dentist. Somehow it had fallen, not on his side of the car, out into traffic and away with the wind, but near the tire on my side.

"Oh my gosh, yes, thank you so much! I really appreciate it, that was so kind!", I said, rolling down the window and opening the door to retrieve it. She smiled, shuffled off with her companion in the cold wind, happy to help, clearly expecting nothing for her good deed. Scott had by this time crossed the pavement, seen her hand me the $20, and pulled his wallet out and inspected the contents. He pulled the car forward and I scooped up the other $40, precisely what he'd dropped.

Sixty dollars isn't much money these days. Sixty dollars probably could have bought her something she wanted or needed, certainly a good dinner or a little treat. We would have argued over who/how it was lost, spent an irritable evening, maybe needled each other in the next day or so about it, but it would have been more an annoyance than a serious problem. On the other hand, a reminder about expecting more bad than good from people was priceless. Especially in the middle of a busy street, on a windy evening in L.A.. Los Angeles, a city full of con artists, criminals, homeless, drug addicts, desperate out-of-work actors, musicians, producers, plastic surgeons, artists, families, elderly, students, hippies, people, human beings.


Chiada said...

Somewhat akin to that movie. escapes me. But I know you know what I'm thinking of. Not that you're one of those people. Just that whole situation. I think we've all been "there" before.

chiefbiscuit said...

Angels unawares ... a beautiful story Meeps and you're sensitive enough to take heed of its message. Thanks for writing about it. It's happened to us all of course, in one form or another.

Maya said...

I had to do something to assuage my deep, deep embarassment at being so rude (in my head at least, it was nothing I said). Movie...hmmm...I can think of a couple of them, but nothing is coming to mind at the moment.

Chiada said...

The one about all the racial stereotypes in L.A. With Matt Dillon and Sandra Bullock and Ben Cheadle.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for telling this story the way you did. And Happy New Year!

Maya said...

Crash. Yes, but without the bznitchyness.

HS: And to all, a good night! You too!