HOME ARCHIVE [previous][next]
Car by Eli S. Evans

05/03/2006

Night.
  Red light.
  Stop.
  Green light.
  Go.
  Red, green.
  No blue lights.
  Blue stars.
  Night sky, and tonight it weighs on me, heavy.
  I miss the arrow at that double-sonofabitch traffic signal in Culver City near the In-N-Out Burger restaurant where, for a first time that was in fact not the first time at all, but a first time of sorts, I met Kirsten, standing in line, hey, don’t I know you, aren’t you that guy, no I’m his brother, that whole thing. This is the traffic signal that ruins my night regularly: if you miss the arrow and the green light you have to sit through not one but two full red lights before the signal responds to the weight of your car on the sensor and grants you a left turn arrow. It’s twenty to midnight by the clock on the dash. Only in Los Angeles, in what other major western city, does twenty to midnight mean, literally, the witching hour, a few cars moving up and down Venice but not enough, at this hour, to justify a light like this one. Ridiculous. Two red lights. Not that I’m in any particular hurrry, but then again that’s not the point. The point is that at this hour, which in any other major city would not be the middle of the night, but here, in this city, my city, city I was born in and in which I remain, same house, even, upstairs, second floor, non-descript part of Los Angeles, not quite in Culver City which was where a lot of the Sony people set up shop when my father was in the industry, not quite in it, near the edge of it, Culver City, division of Los Angeles, in this city, my city, this is indeed the middle of the night, beyond the middle of the night, a few cars moving up and down Venice, a bus nearly empty but for a couple of unhappy passengers, up past their bedtime, perhaps on a regular basis, not a pedestrian in sight, short line of cars in the drive-thru, misspelled, at the In-N-Out Burger restaurant where, for not exactly the first time, but not exactly not the first time, I met Kirsten, that time, another time, a night without which this night would not exist. Strange, though, when you think of it that way. Without that night, without that fortune, I will not venture to call it good, this night, this particular pain, yes, pain, does not exist, this pinch, I could have made all of this impossible if I had done something else that night, gone somewhere else, had something to eat at home, I’m not a big fast food person and neither is she, it’s just one of those things, In-N-Out Burger markets itself as different, not healthier, per se, but more honest, more like what you would get if you made this food yourself at home, real vegetables, real meat, real grease, not some strange chemistry lab grease and byproduct meat, none of that, vegetables that look something like the way that vegetables look in the grocery store, if you’re going to give in to the impulse, that’s the place you should probably go, more integrity, it appears to have more integrity, behaves as though it does, even if in reality it does not. It’s strange to think, though, that a fortuitous encounter like that, an accident such as that one, that happening when so many other things could have happened instead, when it would have been so easy for that not to have happen, it’s strange to think, so strange to think, that when the stars align the way that they so often do, and something happens, in this case you meet someone, not quite for the first time but not quite not for the first time, they recognize you, but they recognize you not for the person that you are but rather for the person that you are not, your brother, Lenny, your twin brother, but you are not him, that happens, and in that moment, in that alignment of the stars, so many possibilities open up, out of all of the possibilities in the world you and this person meet again for the first time, or something like that, she mistakes you for who you are not, and so many possibilities open up, a new world, a world in which you and this person are not strangers are not two people who pass each other in your cars on Venice Boulevard and glance or do not are not to people who have not simply forgotten one another but never really knew one another in the first place there was nothing to forget, but two people, now, in relation to one another, and so many possibilities come from that, so many possibilities, and it is strange to think then that of all of the possibilities that opened on that night, out of that moment, that accident of circumstance, that which so easily could have been any other way, this is the one that has come to pass, this, this one out of the millions or more of possibilities that opened out of that, itself one out of millions or more of the possibilities of what could have happened in a place and at a time, in line at the In-N-Out Burger restaurant in Culver City, Los Angeles, on that night, that is a million times a million, that is how unlikely it was that this is what would have happened, perhaps even more, one chance out of whatever that sum would be, perhaps an even higher number, and yet now it is irrevocable, now this is what has come to pass, and every choice, every decision, every yes or no, every utterance, every almost or not quite, ever whatever, it is all implicated now in this and now there is no way back, now although this is the one thing that almost definitely certainly would not have happened, could not have happened, as unlikely as it was, now it has, it has come to pass, it has come to pass.
  Right.
  Left.
  Forwards.
  Rear-view mirror.
  I don’t like idling beside this In-N-Out Burger restaurant, not tonight, so fuck it, I turn, left, not only without an arrow but against the light, a left around a median and across three lanes of non-existent thirty-five-mile-per-hour traffic on a red light.
  So I do that.
  Then, of course, lights.
  Red and blue.
  Of course.
  In the parking lot that the In-N-Out Burger restaurant shares with a Blockbuster video store, fucking bullshit franchise video store, complicit with the big production houses which are really just television stations, now, fucking Blockbuster video, in that parking lot, the lights start to spin, I see them almost immediately, no time to enjoy the minor infraction, the rush of subversion, in my rear-view mirror.
  Say:
   “Fuck.”
  Motorcycle.
  For a moment I think those lights, that motorcycle, are not coming for me: out of the parking lot, right onto Venice, slow left turn, making sure oncoming traffic responds, slows, stops, yes, of course they are coming from me, and it doesn’t matter, I don’t care, what is it going to be, a ticket, a traffic violation, not even a misdemeanor, I don’t care, money is not an issue, I have it, it has been passed down to me or on to me from my father, who I never knew, by way of my mother, who I did know, but no longer do, or at least not the same, but it doesn’t matter, it’s not because I’m afraid of the penalty, I’m not even thinking about the penalty, I have no conception of the penalty, I just go, make a dash for it, I’ve heard about this before, hit the accelerator, the problem, probably, is that maybe I could get away with it except for those extra beats that I waited, beat beat beat, still unsure whether he was coming for me, but who else would he have been coming for, it’s past the middle of the night, nineteen to twelve, now, in this city I was born in, this city I was raised in, this city I am still in right, I’ve never been on the wrong side of the law, I go, I hit the accelerator hard and I see him, almost immediately, respond in kind, police cars, they look like regular cars but they’re not, the super-cars, über-cars, they can go fast, they can take a hit, I’m not going to outrun him, I turn right, hard, at the first intersection, pass three driveways and turn into the fourth but I can only pull up as far as the closed gate protecting the back part of the driveway and the back part of the house, backyard back door, back door perhaps left open, I am already turning the lights off as I am bucking then squealing into the driveway to a quiet stop in front of the gate I’m still leaning on the brake when I turn the ignition off, quiet quiet in front of the gate, then the police car comes, slower, now, around the corner, flash lights red and white and a white spotlight strobing back and forth across the empty street, I slump down in the front seat of the car, I am lucky, no lights go on in the house, nobody comes to the door, I am slumped down too far to see much in the rear-view mirror, but out the passenger side window of the car I can see the motorcycle coming slowly up the empty street, dark street, lucky no lights flipping on in this house, no bedroom lights kitchen lights turned on hey honey what was that, nobody coming to the door, hello, is somebody here, hello, hey what’s that car, none of that, and in the driver’s side mirror I see the motorcycle pass behind my car, lights switched off ignition off pulled up flush against the gate in this driveway of a house I have never been and I do not know have no idea who lives here, motorcycle, lights flashing, light strobing, passes behind without breaking pace, I take a deep breath, or let out a sigh, then it is all very cartoonish, I can see, out the driver’s side window and then the driver’s side mirror, the motorcycle suddenly bear right, toward the curb, then turn in a wide doughnut or half-circle, sweeping back along the other curb, then pulling to a stop behind my car, facing the wrong way on the right side of the street at the bottom of the drive way, and then comes the flashlight in one hand and the other hand on the gun and the police officer, bow-legged because of the boots, I will assume, sauntering, not because he wants to, not because of the attitude but, once again, because of the boots, they wear these high leather boots, these motorcycle cops, sauntering up to the car, at this point there’s really nothing else to do, I cross my arms over the front of my body and slump down even further in the driver’s seat of my car, as though somehow because of my slumping he won’t see me, he’ll decide, oh, well, guess I’ve got the wrong car, so much for that guy, and go about his business, go on his way, the flashlight sweeps once across the front of the car and then comes back and stays, on me, I assume, although I do not look up, and finally there is a knock on the window and the officer, boots which I cannot see, helmet, which I can, has his off hand, the hand not on the flashlight, still on the gun, and he knocks against with the rim of the head of the flashlight on the window, he knocks lightly but it is a heavy knock nonetheless, a heavy flashlight, I imagine the kind of flashlight that could also be used as a weapon, as a billy club, in the right situation, it would not take much for it to shatter the glass, break the driver’s side window on my car which, I admit, is a nicer car than I should have given what I do with my time, which is not much, take care of my mother or not really take care of her so much as hang out with her, and not really hang out with her so much as hang around her, she is starting to not know who she is and so how can you be with a person who herself does not know who she herself is, and so I look up, at the second knock and the police officer says, put your hands where I can see them, and so I do, I put them on the dash, and he says, okay, now slowly, with one hand, roll down your window, and keep the other hand where I can see it, and I say, loudly through the glass, the closed window:
   “I can’t roll down the window because the car’s not turned on.”
  He seems to be contemplating this for a moment.
  Then he says:
   “Fine. Open the door.”
  So I do, and when I do he floods the interior of the car with the flashlight and has a good look at me, looks a little perplexed, and then, and he sounds irritated, not angry but annoyed, says:
   “What are you doing? What in the fuck are you doing? Are you an idiot? You can go to jail for starting a chase.”
   “I didn’t start a chase,” I say.
   “You did.”
   “I pulled into my driveway.”
   “You live here?”
   “Yes. No.”
  He shakes his head.
   “I put my lights on,” he says. “And you saw me. And you ran. That’s starting a chase. You know that there are tough chase laws in California, especially after the whole O.J. fiasco.”
  Everything hurts.
  Without thinking about it, in part, I suppose, because everything hurts, I bring my hands and move to put them over my face. The police officer jerks, the hand on his gun moves, he says:
   “Hey, hey, what are you doing?”
   “Covering my face,” I say, through my hands, which are already covering my face. It comes out muffled.
  Police officer says:
   “What?”
   “Covering my face,” I say, and take my hands away, pulling them down over my cheeks, pressing, and lean back against the headrest. “I’m covering my face. I’m just covering my face, that’s it.”
----------
Eli S. Evans lives, for the moment, in Los Angeles. He teaches creative writing at Orange Coast College and is a fellow in critical theory at the ArtCenter College of Design. His interests include French critical theory, Javier Marías, Archie comic books, and the late Spanish singer Enrique Urquijo. This is an excerpt from a much [much, MUCH! -ed.] longer novel.

[previous] [next]