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Thursday, July 28, 2005
 
NOTES FROM CALIFORNIA, PART II

And now, the long-awaited and -promised tale of how Zorgot and I almost got Mystic River-ed. In case you haven't seen the movie that gives my anecdote its dark shadow, I'll give you a brief synopsis of the scene in question, which weighs down the entire film like a wet sweater. (This can't be called a spoiler because I'm pretty sure it's the opening scene.) So. We open on a flashback some 30-odd years before the present day to see three boys playing in the street -- Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and Kevin Bacon's characters as children. They're all Boston and stupid-looking, and they drop a hockey puck or something down a storm drain, and they write their names in some wet cement. Just as they finish defacing the public property, a large plainclothes policeman flashes his badge at them and yells at them like R. Lee Ermey on a good day. He's pulled up in a Lincoln Continental or something, and there's another, older man in the passenger seat -- a priest. But so he yells at them for ruining the sidewalk and asks if their parents are around and eventually he takes the young Tim Robbins "into custody" and puts him in the back seat to take him downtown for to face them consequences. All reet? But no! Guess what? The old priest looks at him with kindly eyes as they drive away to their house and keep him in the basement and rape him for a couple of weeks. Eventually he escapes, understandably worse for the wear.
     Cut to 2005 in downtown Los Angeles. Here's the Map of the Scene. Zorgot and I are walking back to our car from the museum. The sun is shining, it's gorgeous out in that typically annoying L.A. way. We're on the North side of the street, walking East under a row of trees. On the map, you'll see the crosshairs that indicate almost our exact position. As we pass the Buddhist Temple on our left, a big red pickup truck pulls up to the curb. The driver has his window down. But here's the first weird thing: 1st Street is a two-way street, and this guy pulled up to the curb from the opposite side of the street. That is, he had to pull forward across the double yellow and he's now pointed the wrong way on the North curb. Weird, right? Who does that?
      "Hey! Are you guys tourists?" he shouts.
      This immediately puts me on my guard, because my inner translator hears that sentence and parses it as "Hey! Are you guys assholes?" Because isn't that what the question means?
      "Hey! Are you guys tourists?"
      "No," Zorgot and I say in unison. One of us is lying. (Of course, if we're answering the asshole question, we're both lying.)
      "Really?" he says.
      "Yeah," says Zorgot right back.
      "Huh. I only ask because this is a really dangerous neighborhood."
      "Really?" we ask in obvious disbelief, looking around for threats we might have missed. It's a bright sunny day. There's a freaking Buddhist temple to our left. A quick visual scan does not reveal any truncheon-wielding baseheads hiding behind the parking meters. No purse-snatchers, no pit bulls, no quicksand, no dangerous concentrations of E. coli that we can detect. Whoops -- I take that last one back -- there's a homeless man under a blanket 100 feet behind us, and he did have a strong whiff of fecal coliform bacteria about him.
      "Oh yeah, it's totally dangerous," says the driver, who is wearing sunglasses and a Hawaiian shirt. He looks like an aging surfer, or maybe an ex-Marine; he's got that healthy, muscular, capable glow that I hate so much about Californians. I bend down to get a better look at his passenger, who is similarly attired, though about ten years older, with longer, wavy blond hair going grey. He's not wearing a priest's collar, but he is wearing a cervical collar -- one of those neck-brace things that people wear after they get whiplash. It makes him look befuddled and completely harmless, which is why Ted Bundy was so fond of using them to lure young women into his murderous clutches.
      "You shouldn't be walking around here," says the driver, soberly. "Nobody walks around here."
      "Well I know that. But I'm from New York," I say, giving up the non-tourist front, "and when you tell us it's dangerous to be walking here, it makes me think you're gonna pull a gun on us." The driver chuckles and reaches down to unsnap his seatbelt and get into his pocket. Zorgot and I both back up several feet.
     "It's funny you say that," he says, producing his wallet, "because I'm a cop. So I do have a gun, but I'm not gonna pull it on ya." He chuckles jovially and then brandishes a badge at us, which I step closer to look at but still can't really verify its authenticity. (A bonus lesson here: fake badges can get you far with me, because short of taking it from his hands and biting it and knowing what a real L.A. Police badge should look like, I'm really clueless here.)
     "Yeah, I'm a cop, I used to work at the __th precinct right around here, and stuff happened on this street all the time, Oh yeah."
     "We're gonna be okay," says Zorgot, "we're just going back to the car. We were at our friend's house, just four blocks down." (This is quick thinking on Zorgot's part here, offhandedly telling the dude that people knew we were here and we would be missed if anyone tried to kidnap us and make matching hipster suits out of our skins. Zorgot is smart.)
     "Well hey, listen, if you want a ride," he says and pokes a thumb over his shoulder to the back of the truck, "we can totally take you if you wanna hop up in the bed."
     Hop in the bed. At that point, of course, it becomes pretty clear what the whole deal has been. "No thanks, we'll just walk. Thanks though."
     "No problem!" The two Hawaiianly-shirted men cross back over the double yellow line and drive away over the First Street Bridge.

So What The Fuck? The way we saw it, it was one of the following scenarios:
      A) Totally on the level. They were cops, or at least one cop, and he was genuinely concerned for the safety of two obvious saps who didn't know that being a pedestrian in Los Angeles is the equivalent of walking through that Brazilian shantytown in City of God wearing a sandwich board saying "I have stored all of my cash and jewels inside my actual stomach, so please don't try to remove with this large knife here." He may have been off-duty and doing the right thing. Zorgot didn't think he was a cop because he thought the badge looked fake. But I think strong evidence of cop-hood is that thing where he crossed the double yellow; normal civilians are deeply trained not to do that kind of thing -- it just doesn't occur as a possibility. They would always pull a U-turn instead. Enh.
      B) A pickup. Zorgot carries his cell phone and wallet and stuff in a tiny little purse, and it's not even a "man-purse," whatever that means -- it's a small embroidered hippie macramé bag with a long strap. I was wearing ripped-up cutoff jean shorts. From a distance, walking together, we give off a heavily faggy vibe. And even after talking to us up close for a couple minutes, it's still not clear that we're not gay. So maybe these dudes were just looking for some fun friends, and when we didn't accept the offer for the ride to safety, they went on their way. Maybe the guy was really a cop, maybe he likes to role-play. Who knows, who cares!
      C) An attempted solicitation for sex. Maybe our appearance was not only faggy, but slovenly, cheap, and even... for sale? Did we look like hustlers? And were they gonna offer us cash for sex if we "hopped into their bed?"
      D) An attempted solicitation leading to arrest. OR! Did they think we were hustlers, and their plan was that when we offered them sex for money, they were gonna pull out their badges and haul our asses off to jail, where they could have sex with us as much as they wanted?
      E) An attempted fag-bashing. Was it some crazy old school redneck awful violent bigotry plan? If we had been lispy and wrist-flappy, or whatever else fag-bashers expect from homosexuals, were they gonna take advantage of the isolation of the area to make their description of the neighborhood brutally true?
      F) An attempted serial-killer style murder. Or were they totally gonna make us put the lotion in the basket?

What's your vote?

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DISALLOWED FOREVER

"I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you!"
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"from whence"
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"...the exception that proves the rule"
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any use of the question "spit or swallow?"
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the phrase "drop trou"
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fake-o reviewer verbs:
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pronouncing merci beaucoup as "mercy buckets!"
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PET PEEVES

"confinscated"
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trying children "as adults"
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"drownded"
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misuse of reflexive pronouns, as when someone says "Please talk to Bob or myself." Come on people now. "Myself" is not just a fancy version of "me"! LEARN IT.
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tattoos in the Courier font
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any use of Comic Sans