California Dreaming

My wife and I were packing the car and getting ready to leave our rented house off Hollywood Boulevard when a storm of howling profanity suddenly filled the air.  Turning my head towards the noise, I spotted a disheveled man barreling straight towards us.  Black, in his mid-twenties and wearing a yellow wig, he was angrily pulling a small hot pink suitcase behind him. Dressed in dirty jeans, ballet slippers and a black t-shirt tied off mid-riff, the man’s face was a riotous mix of badly applied make up, sweat, and balls to the wall crazy.

“Motherfuckers! Yeah! Motherfuckers!” the man screamed. “Oh baby!”

I’ve spent most of my life dealing with psychiatric cases and this guy made the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up. Mentally ill people are usually harmless, but when they’re actively psychotic and hallucinating they can be dangerous. My gut instantly told me this guy was trouble. Of course, he immediately focused on me.

“Hey white man!” Blondie said, ambling towards me.  “Hey whitey!” Then he threw a coffee cup at my car.

We were in a bit of tactical pickle. My wife was trying to jam a suitcase into the backseat of our rented sports car and was wedged between the bucket seat and the car door. Retreat into the house wasn’t possible because the automatic gate guarding the driveway closed much too slowly. If Blondie followed us inside we’d end up trapped with him, hidden from view and any possibility of help.  There was no good escape route.

At that point I was standing exposed on the street with the man a scant twenty feet away, but I knew if he ran at me he could close that gap in a second. As Blondie looked at me, his bloodshot eyes glimmering with lunacy, exhaustion and deprivation; my mind split into multiple decision trees – de-escalation, escape, and combat. I figured this guy was too nuts to talk down so I pretended to ignore him while my mind scrambled to come up with a plan.

I decided that if Blondie came at me I’d push Annie into the car, slam the door shut and then run around the car, using it as a barrier while screaming “Fire” the whole time.  But what if he got to me anyway? While working in psych I had been attacked by patients’ numerous times: but back then I was in a controlled environment with security guards a minute away. All I had to do was pin the patient and wait for the cavalry to arrive – but that wasn’t going to happen here. The guy was also younger and stronger than me, all taut sinew and ragged energy, so a drawn-out confrontation was out of the question. If the balloon went up I’d have to take Blondie down with ruthless force – hurt him fast and hard.

While the reptilian part of my brain was plotting violence, my cerebral cortex was telling me to look nonchalant while at the same time marveling at the incongruity of my situation. Here I was, outside of a beautiful home on a beautiful day, thinking about mixing it up with a deranged street person. This is going to sound weird, but whenever I’m in California I think nothing bad can happen to me; that I’m in a sunny paradise far removed from the normal mode existence. That’s utter nonsense, of course – bad things happen in The Golden State all the time – but I liked my weird fantasy and now this kook was smashing it to smithereens.

And that’s when Blondie decided to unzip his fly, pull out his penis and start waving it around, shouting, “WHOO WHOO! LOOK AT THIS!”  This was just getting better and better.

Then two very muscular bare chested men jogged around the corner and began running up the street towards us. As they passed the phallic peep show they just grinned at me –  like this was a just another normal day in L.A. If this shit happened in my Jersey town, Blondie would already be facedown on the pavement in handcuffs. The West Coast is different.

The appearance of the joggers must’ve startled Blondie and he backed away. Still waving his johnson, he marched over to the to the church across the street and began dousing the Episcopalian signage with urine, yelling “OH YEAH BABY! YEAH!”  while thrusting his hips with gusto. The look on that old lady’s face as she pulled into the church’s parking lot was priceless. Then, when Blondie zipped up and started skipping away like a little girl, I let out a long sigh of relief. It was over.

“Are you ready?” my wife said as she emerged from the car.

“Yeah, babe,” I said, watching Blondie cross Hollywood Boulevard, “I’m ready.”

“Was that guy talking on his cell phone?” Annie said. “He was loud.”

It was then I realized Annie has missed the entire thing. From start to finish the whole event lasted twenty seconds. For me it seemed like hours. “That guy was talking to himself,” I said.


“He was nuts, Annie.”  I said. N-V-T-S. Nuts.”

“Are you all right?” Annie said. “You look weird.”

“I’ll be fine.”

As we drove towards the convention center downtown, I thought about my weird California Dream. Maybe it’s the confluence of desert, mountains and sea: the endless sunshine or the flaky vibe: but SoCal has always felt vaguely unreal to me. Whenever I’m here I feel accentuated and relaxed, stronger and filled with possibility. And the sense of invulnerability? A narcotic effect when you think about it. I guess I like to get high on The Screwy State.

Blondie seriously wrecked my buzz, but that’s probably a good thing. I guess I needed a reminder that no place on earth is free from heartbreak and pain. But I know some part of me will always feel “safe and warm” in L.A. – that the land of swimming pools and movie stars will always sing its siren song. I know it’s only a fantasy, but I’m not going to beat myself up over it.

We all need to walk on Elysian Fields from time to time.

13 thoughts on “California Dreaming”

  1. Bambi says:

    It WAS Hollyweird! And the “black” was gratuitous – personal opinion

    1. waiter says:

      I can see where you’re coming from, Bambi. If the man hadn’t called me ‘white man” and “whitey” then I wouldn’t have bothered mentioning his skin color. But since he did, I thought stating it would avoid any confusion on the part of the reader. I don’t usually mention race in my writing, only when it’s relevant to the story. Just my two cents.

      1. Dennis says:

        I guess the ballet slippers were gratuitous also??

        1. waiter says:

          Got me there.

  2. Kim says:

    I always find the energy in LA and NYC so very different yet, so very electric. I’m a very awake person in both places. I live in Northern California now which is more .. somnambulant than SoCal. You can almost feel the veil lift while you’re driving down the 101 around Paso Robles. Then you can the fizz of energy creep into you and it becomes a buzz around Santa Barbara. In NYC, it’s like stepping on a metal plate that has the buzz very close to the surface.

  3. Martin the Dude says:

    It’s the edge of the world
    And all of western civilization
    The sun may rise in the East
    At least it settles in the final location.

    I came here from the south Chicago suburbs in 1991 and never looked back. Fresh out of college everything seemed so vividly sun-baked, wide open, and fresh. Eventually reality sank in and the universal pedestrian pressures of daily life washed over all the excitement. Still, I am forever changed – my brain permanently altered with the laid-back disease, the “Dude” syndrome that is strangely more powerful than the Eastern abrasiveness. It’s not for everyone, but it was for me.

  4. Cheryl S. says:

    OK. I thought I was the only one who still thought “NVTS” nuts! (from History of the World.) Glad to know there’s at least one other person. Glad the situation diffused itself!

  5. Robert Dobbs says:

    Stuff _can_ happen in California, but it’s not primarily the crazies that’ll do it to you. I’m up the coast aways, and we attract much more than our share of transients and street-dwellers because it’s a liberal town, and warm, and the forest comes right up to the city limits in places — plenty of places to sleep. The locals estimate that 60 percent of the street homeless, at least around here, are mentally ill. They may be using drugs, but that could be self-medication or just to dull the pain of living on the streets. And the powerlessness. They know they don’t matter. They know they’re invisible. And some people, like the blonde gentleman, get positively proactive about it.

    He scared you, or tried to. He was inconvenient and unacceptable. He got in your way. Those are poor powers, but it’s all he has left to make a place in a world that really, really wants him to not be there. I’ve run into something like this lately, and blogged about it. It’s so easy to be invisible in America.

  6. signe says:

    I live in Estonia. Interesting, how would life around here feel like comparing with life in America? I mean, Estonia is so small. And kind of…life is simple?

    Here we call police, if something like this happens. If somebody is acting crazy. To be sure nobody gets harmed.

    And “black” is not a bad word here. It’s just a word to describe skin tone…and that is not an insult, to mention somebody’s skin tone. Yet.

    Of course here is no paradise 🙂 . Definitely we have our flaws and minuses. And our society is changing. Norms. But at least today … life is simple?

  7. erp software says:

    It WAS Hollyweird! And the “black” was gratuitous – personal opinion

    1. Paul Joseph says:

      Glad it ended okay.

      I was at a restaurant once with friends years ago, and for some long forgotten reason, directed their attention to the tallest guy in a group of three. I referred to him as “the black guy” (the other two were white). One of my friends said I should have referred to him the tallest guy, and not as black. Either would have worked, but as Signe from Estonia said above, there is nothing derogatory about saying “black.” This could be the expression of some kind of color-blind fantasy that if we ignore race, maybe it’ll go away.

      And Steve, I am now reading Waiter Rant, and love it! I did some research on tipping though, after reading that chapter, and as cited in an LA Times article from 2010, according to Emily Post and something called “The Etiquette Scholar” tipping is done on the amount “pre-tax.”

  8. Kozmo says:

    Strange that anyone living on the street should retain muscle mass and strength enough to pose a threat in a melee with a prepared, healthy man. Good genetics, I guess. Or the power of lunacy. That would explain how the Joker can still win fights occasionally with Batman.

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