Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dead Bird Window

I think it was a shopping mall of unforgiving angles surrounded on all sides by parking garages. Or was it downtown in the financial district? Was it San Diego or San Francisco? The windows were scrubbed and windexed daily. Everyone peeked at their reflection as they strolled by. It was cold and sunny.
The birds kept coming. After the third dead bird, someone laughed. There were more. The continuing onslaught of birds expiring against the window was gluttonous. It was darkly celebratory. Too much thought ruined it.
The sound of their bodies breaking on the glass made some think of the French fries upstairs or the hot dog on a stick. I thought of the terrible dead baby jokes a classmate insisted on telling me.
Was it the mothers and fathers upstairs away from their children for the lengthy workday that made me think this was remarkable? No, I never think of that when I’m eating a hot dog. Was I eating a hot dog? Did I wonder how they would taste? These sparrows, these swallows, these birds nesting in an underpass?
It happens. It’s a great tragedy of architecture. We forgot to take this into account: living in a glass house kills unsuspecting birds that just want to fly there. It’s some fucked-up juxtaposition that makes some think of suicide and others of the foolishness of governments. Its not quite like lemmings, though. It’s an aerial fish-in-a-barrel scenario. For the birds, it’s a narcissus moment. For the birds. I am certain I was one of those birds. I am certain I am “for the birds”. In an election, I would be for the birds, or even Senator Byrd.
Do they live for a few short seasons and then perish ridiculously? Do they come back and crush their skulls against it in yet another meaningful life?

Getting a Handle

I’m well into my shift – its 4 a.m. and I’ve been on the job twelve hours, smoked a pack of Reds and downed two liters of Coke, listened to rock radio, news radio, sports radio and then back to rock radio after a few minutes of classical but no fuckin’ country for me – when I get a call to pick up a woman stranded just the other side of the Caldecott tunnel.
I don’t generally have to deal with people for more than a few seconds – whether they’re stranded or trying to bribe me into letting them go this one time and they’ll never park here again, hell, they’ll never park again, they’ll never even come downtown, they’ll send someone to do their errands. I’m either the best or the worst kind of person, and it changes by the hour. People don’t want to think the worst about anyone when they first meet, but when you’re towing their car… well…Anyway, for this lady stranded on the other side of the tunnel, I’m the best protection she’s got from the elements, thanks to her trusty cell phone and her no-good Audi’s transmission.
Most people will just assume you’re a regular Joe, God-fearin’, America-lovin’, ex-Marine humbled by the insanity of his youth and the honesty of a steady job. But anything, be it a little bit of an accent to your English, a dreaminess to the tone of your voice, a funny stride, will make them nervous. They’d just as soon throw you in a nice little category than try and figure what might be eating at you, what keeps you from blowing your brains out, you’re so depressed, or opening fire in a shopping mall. I got one thing and I think about her about half the time I’m driving this tow truck around. I got two hands on the wheel and the other scratching my ass when I pull up on this lady and her flashing hazards. That’s right. Three hands.
I wave to the lady and she stands out of the way as I back in to hook her car up. Usually, I can just guide the hooks in, lift the car up and I’m ready to roll without leaving the comfort of my cab. But this time I didn’t back up the truck at exactly the right angle and the lady had pulled off at a kind of slant and was facing down an incline on the shoulder and I get real pissed at first, but take a deep breath and get out of the truck to do it by hand. Once I get my hooks in it, I can maneuver the car any which way I want. I bend over, and when I bend over, something happens to me, my jeans stretch in ways that normal people’s jeans don’t stretch and some things appear beneath my shirt in ways that would startle even the most casual viewer.
“What’s that under your shirt?” the lady asks me as I’m struggling with her goddamn car.
“Its my cell phone,” I say and I crawl a few more inches under the car so she can’t see me anymore and so I can hook up her car and get the hell on.
At this point this is what she’s doing: She’s thinking. She says to herself, “That was not a cell phone under his shirt. That was some kind of alien creature, moving around. Maybe he keeps a little dog under his shirt. But that didn’t look like a dog. What the hell is this guy doing to my car, anyway? Why does he have to crawl way under there? What sort of a tow is this?
I know she’s thinking by the way her eyebrows are working when I get back out from under her car. The sun is starting to break through and the morning commute is starting to pickup a little bit – the real early-bird mother fuckers, the traders up in time for the East coast markets and the coffee shop personnel (you can distinguish them by the year, make and model – lots of Benzes and Beemers for the former and Hyundais and Fords for the latter). I stand up right in front of her and I let her know how it’s going to be.
“Listen, lady,” I tell her and she’s got some obvious and understandable fear in her eyes when I take such a stern and direct approach, “I got three hands.” I hold up my grease-stained arms and show her my normal hands. “I got these two hard-working appendages and then I got a third one on my back, just above my ass. Now, I can give you a ride where you need to go. You can sit up front in the cab with me and my three hands or you can ride in your car in the back. And even though that’s highly illegal and against the code of ethics that comes with towing, I will understand if that is your desire.”
“Jesus Christ,” she said, “I guess this is California, isn’t it?” I thought that was about the dumbest thing she could say, but it was her way of saying she’d ride up front with me and that she could get over the fact that I had a third hand because I threw that fact down on the table up front. It explained that my mutation wasn’t something in my head that would make me want to skin her alive and hang her up in my closet. But what if I had made up that story about my third hand? What if it really was a dog under my shirt? She’d be dead meat.