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.