Ever have one of those days when you're so happy you can't believe you're alive? When everything
around you is pretty, poetic
, and perfect
; every person beautiful, every thought and action sublime
Nah. Me neither. But I've been close, and last Saturday was near as good as it gets.
Balance is what all the good teachers have always talked about. Most specifically, this good with the bad idea, this concept of moderation seems to be the thing that gets you through the stuff you need to get through. Yin and yang. Sun and rain. Day and night.
Life had definitely been out of balance. Not much was going great. Things looked bleak even down the road, at least so far as I could see. An already-unbalanced man could definitely get depressed. And let's face it, there's a lot of that going around.
I'd been casting about for a new discipline, a new passion, something I could obsess over for a while, cause—you could look it up—I'm an ecstatic. I need the rush of novelty. I'm a junkie for that feeling of being so in love that everything is beautiful. It's a feeling that doesn't last, you know. No matter what you do, she will get old. You will outgrow childish things. We have to apply ourselves to the task of really being alive, cause sooner or later, there will be a change. And it won't always be good.
I had always been curious about yoga, that most-disciplined of all disciplines, and I finally decided to get off the dime and just, well, do it. No more self-prescribed stretches and postures and diet and playing around with the idea.
This just do it idea is very relevant to success in life I think. There are an infinity of reasons not to do something, always. I never let them get in the way of my search for the ecstatic. Being a junkie, as you know.
My first hatha yoga class was everything I'd hoped for. I had—as usual, cause I'm lucky—stumbled into something that was going to be better for me than I realized in the beginning. I sailed out of class into last Saturday, dripping in sweaty exhaustion, my mind on fire at the same time it was drenched in peace. God it felt good; and I still had the rest of the day to look forward to.
Things started to turn eight, nine hours later, around cocktail time. Anything that is measured in percentage of alcohol—"proof"—really, can't be all that good for you. Many ecstatics, however, depend on the simple application of alcohol for their high. Thankfully, that is not a problem of mine. This was more about the search for the "perfect" martini, to put the finish on what had been up till then a perfect day.
My ex-wife was bitching about how she was going to have to go to the bus station to pick up her brother, who was arriving at 12:30 in the morning from Lake Tahoe. He doesn't use automobiles, and he had done the best he could with the schedule, but Greyhound, it seems, almost doesn't want to take a person from Tahoe to L.A. Why leave paradise for Babylon, basically?
Me being the pushover I am, I volunteered to pick him up, in spite of the fact that I know it means we'll sit up having a few, swapping old war stories, comparing tequilas of today and yesteryear.
All of which will interfere with the second yoga class of my life, scheduled for very early the next morning. Oh well, I figure. I can deal. It'll be good to see Bob after almost a year. I can drink Pellegrino and set the alarm clock.
Los Angeles at night looks like a movie. You've probably seen it so many times in movies and TV shows yourself that you know where I was when I started to realize that I kinda sorta wished I wasn't doing this: You're doing forty in a 35-mile an hour zone on Grand Avenue in Chinatown, small spurts of neon surrounding you like burps of Kung Pao Chicken. The streets are empty. You might as well be in a dream. It feels like the scene in the movie when the hero's left his girlfriend's apartment for the very last time, she's crying, and night is starting to gather ominously. It's a not-good dream. City, not country. Late night, not Magic Hour.
There's no cars, no people, no cops. They roll up the sidewalks in Chinatown after midnight. They have good reason.
I rip on toward the high rises you've seen so many times. Past the Bonaventure (hmmm), the B of A, the Music Center. Past the Angels Flight funicular. The east-west streets in this part of town are alternating no-left-turns. Being numerically challenged, I work the grid: is Seventh Street going my way or not? Nuts, I'll have to make a left and come back, or throw a Youee.
I realize I ought to start to be less conspicuous about now. Black Mercedes, little star on the front like a money antenna. Small groups of dark men are knotted here and there, stagnant, like places to pray on a rosary. Here's a drunk, staggering across the street against the light. There's a guy, young, staring. Just staring. There are no cars downtown but mine. Just pedestrians, out for a walk on what passes for the wild side, scuttling like sad sick insects in the pulsating sodium-vapor night.
I manage to get going the right way on Seventh without a hassle. I work eastward, past that part of downtown that looks like New York if you squint your eyes. They shoot a lotta movies there too. Main Street. San Pedro. Central Avenue. Gradually the night wraps tighter around the car as the street lights fall away. This is the clothing district now. Warehouses, side-streets broad and empty, bereft of tractor-trailers from Nike and Benneton. No racks of clothes hurtling down the sidewalks, propelled by tattooed Latino boys in tee-shirts. No impossibly young models clutching portfolios like dreams, looking for lofts with their futures hidden within.
It's after midnight and I'm in the wrong part of town. Every solitary soul I pass has absolutely no good reason to be there at that hour. There's a curious absence of police cars. Every five or six blocks, either side, there's a bar. Men stand outside, watching, or shoot pool. Women wait, mostly. These are the sort of women who will wait forever for guys like me. And this is the point where my perfect day turns irrevocably bad. I start to think about the women, one or two of them for every twelve or thirteen guys in a bar on Seventh Street, nowhere else to be. The farther I go, the more desperate they look. And morning is a long lifetime away.
Finally, in the gloom, I see buses. Hundreds of them, all Greyhounds, inactive, paroled, like dusty tombstones in a big city graveyard. What you think would be the back of the bus station is the first thing you see. It's bad design, no question about that.
I pull in, a buck an hour to park. I find a place sixty feet from the entrance, happy about that, and lock the car, not without some guilt as a homeless guy gives me the eye. And the spiel.
I have a friend who grew up in India. She always gives money to people who ask for it. My friend is a saint. And she has a lot of money. I, on the other hand, am a guy who's starting to be annoyed with men who call themselves Vietnam Vets, who happen to be ten years too young to have ever smelled burning shit in Saigon. I quicken my pace as many too-young men move towards me. It feels a little bit like the The Lord of the Rings, when the goblins come scurrying down the pillars in the caves of Moria. I am really uncomfortable when one guy gives me a rap about how he just got in from Texas and how about it man, and he follows me inside, where the air is close and there are three hundred people, six hundred eyes, six million stories.
This is where people who can't afford to fly come when they want to visit their families back home in Mexico. They have so much luggage they would drive the security folks at an airport to drink. I smell bad food—hotdogs and tacos—sold in a second, bigger room. Again, young men nod out on top of those little TV sets they have, attached to chairs, as if Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire makes any sense at this hour anyway.
They have a screen with arrivals and departures, just like an airport. Bob's bus isn't on the screen. And I remember what my ex-wife said: "There are two bus stations. I don't know which one is his."
A big red sign reads INFORMACION. There are thirty people standing in front of it, luggage piled high, plastic bags and mis-matched suitcases. A single Greyhound employee speaks patiently in Spanish and English.
Bus trips south of the border are a long and complicated undertaking, I soon begin to realize. The tickets look like grown-up versions of those prizes you win in an arcade when you're a kid, accordioned four and five feet long, some of them. This guy talks the passengers through impossible itineraries, through the American Southwest with multiple stops in every state, through Texas, into Mexico as far south as Mexico City. And oh—your bus leaves at eleven AM. A long time to wait with three kids under three.
I finally get to the guy. He's smiling. He loves his work. He has placated grandmothers and widows, flirted with teen-aged girls trying out their English, reassured children and friends of the family. And he immediately senses my comparatively insignificant concern. I mean it's not like I'm going to blow a connection to some no-name stop in another country and therefore miss the funeral.
He assures me I'm in the right place, he doesn't know why the bus isn't on the TV screen; he gives me the gate number, and I walk no more than forty feet to where a bus pulls up. Bob gets off, surprised to see me, and I give him a brief tour of the bus station. As if he hasn't seen it all before, right? Traveling south through Sacramento, the San Joaquin Valley, Bakersfield. Places where people work fourteen hours a day in the sun so I can eat guacamole. I am a moron.
For some reason there are fewer hollow-eyed men outside as we get to the car. Bob pays the buck parking and we launch—back to the City of the Angels, back to the light.
It's later now. Much. Fewer people, yes, but they seem more erratic to me. Bob muses on the crime statistics in this part of town. We pass a police car, two cops outside it, faced off against three men with their hands behind their heads. We catch four green lights in a row, and are feeling pretty good to be heading home, when the light changes quickly. I brake a little hard and we're sitting there, two old white guys in a Mercdes at one-thirty in the morning.
"I don't like the eyes on that guy," I say to Bob, a man who's seen more war than you can imagine. "Me either," he says, as the black man, five-nine, a hundred and fifty with a stand-up "do" snakes quickly in front of my car and turns toward us, motioning for me to roll down my window. That would be a big no fucking way, right?
I'm shaking my head to that effect and before I realize it, this little shit has opened my door and has his hand on my sleeve. I didn't even think about my ten years of martial arts, his probable state of mental impairment, whether he has a gun or not, or whether the light is red or green.
I hit the gas, run the light, and pull the door against his arm. He forces it open, and grabs a better hold on the arm rest. I can't believe it, but he's running alongside the car, still trying to pull the door open wider. I look at my speedometer: I 'm doing twenty, accelerating, and he's still running. By the time I hit thirty, maybe five seconds after it all started, I'm dragging him. He says nothing. I say nothing. Bob says nothing. We pass moving cars and people and still this sonofabitch hangs on. There's another light. Red. Cross-traffic. I slam on the brakes, his body flies forward, heavy against the door. I am amazed that those German hinges can handle his weight and the deceleration. We come to a stop and he gets up and pulls the door open again!
Do you realize how bad drugs are for you now?
I hit the gas, run the light (again!), accelerate to at least thirty-five and turn right at the next corner, inside a car waiting at the light in the center lane, into cross-traffic, past pedestrians that I'm desperate not to hit. The last time I looked at my speedometer, I was doing fifty miles an hour. In downtown Los Angeles. With a human being of dubious intent and intelligence hanging on to my open door. This was not a movie.
I hit my brakes, feel the ABS pump, and we stop on a dime and make change, the man's weight impossibly heavy against my door. I floor it again, tires screaming, and this time he finally lets go. I never look back. Fifty again. Sixty. Seventy miles an hour through the empty streets, Bob and I chattering insanely like two characters in Reservoir Dogs.
We discounted calling the cops, going back, dealing with anything except the fact that we were well-and-truly out of Dodge. He'd had no gun. No accomplices. We hadn't run over him and I certainly could care less if his shoulders hurt the next morning. He could take an aspirin and a shot of Jack.
By the time we finally got back to my place, our old hearts had settled down. We had exhausted the question of locking the car any time it was moving, and we decided, finally, what to drink. We downed a couple of pints of Guinness.
Anything else would have seemed like a celebration.