Dude was screaming. At least I thought he was. I could see his mouth wide open and he was shaking, the cords on his neck taught with exertion. The rumble from the industrial air-conditioning units was drowning out the noise, but it was obvious he was screaming. Slowly he raised his hand towards me, like an opera singer does for effect. I looked at him, at his outstretched hand, and mumbled something like I ain’t got no money, sorry, gotta go. Then I walked outside…
Saturday night. It was late. Hell, it was Sunday morning really. I hadn’t been able to sleep and decided I wasn’t going to watch a DVD, besides, there wasn’t one I hadn’t already seen. I couldn’t look at another book, or read another word. The thought of getting on the Internet annoyed me. I wasn’t the least bit hungry. As I lay in bed staring at the ceiling I thought of a million things, and nothing at the same time. The night was so quiet. The walls of my apartment were practically falling in on me. In the distance a dog was barking, a car passed in the street outside, the sound of its muffler fading away as it went. Even my neighbors weren’t making any noise. It seemed I was the only one awake.
“Fuck,” I mumbled, and got out of bed. “It’s goddamn Saturday night.”
I’m not even sure why I said that. It’s not like it meant anything. Saturday night, Friday night, the entire weekend hasn’t meant shit to me in a very long time. Even when I had a regular job the weekends were no big thing. Just another night as far as I was concerned.
Groping my way in the dark I walked to the bathroom to take a piss. Standing at the toilet next to the open window I noticed the neighbor’s anti-crime security light was turned on, glaring in the run between my building and theirs. It’s a crawl space really. Why it has to be lit up I have no idea. There are bars on all the windows. Huge six foot fences at either end. There’s nothing there but a few yards of dead grass and a short chain link fence that separates the properties.
Except when I looked I noticed a dog staring up at me.
“Bark,” said the dog and then he looked around rather sheepishly as if he was embarrassed and checking to see if anyone else had heard him.
“Bark?” I said back at him. “Why the fuck you barking at me?”
The dog looked at the ground. “Woof,” he said, wagged his tail, then wandered off into the darkness like he had some pressing engagement elsewhere.
It was the fucking neighbor’s dog. The one that barks all weekend when they go away and leave him alone to defend their property. Any noise and he goes crazy. There’s been nights I’ve hated that dog. There have been more nights I’ve hated the neighbors for leaving him.
Searching for some clothes I stumbled around before turning on the lights. On the floor were my jeans, draped across a chair was a t-shirt. In a pile of disarray by the door were assorted pairs of shoes and boots. After lacing up my Converses I found my car keys and walked outside into the night.
The day’s weather had been relentlessly hot and it was still warm, but at least the sun wasn’t shining and there was almost a breeze. After checking the rearview mirror I backed my car out of the parking lot, and then gunned it down the alley towards Sunset Boulevard. Amazingly, even at this hour of the morning there was traffic and Sunset was packed – Los Angeles being one of those few cities capable of producing rush hour traffic twenty-four hours a day.
A Mustang convertible filled with blond haired teenage girls almost broadsided me as I slipped into the traffic. Honking my horn I waved as they all laughed and the driver gave me the finger. Stuck between a huge stretch limo and a tricked out lowered VW Bug painted an ugly Day-Glo green, I reevaluated leaving my apartment. But still, I wasn’t the least bit sleepy, so what else was there to do?
Turning off Sunset I headed north to Hollywood Boulevard. The side streets were dark, but people were everywhere. Two women with incredibly long tanned legs stepped out of a neon doorway as a group of drunk jocks yelled tired pick up lines in their wake. At Hollywood and Vine the sidewalks were so packed with tourists and club hoppers I thought perhaps it was earlier than it was. But it was just another Saturday night in Hollywood.
As I continued east across Vermont, the traffic slowly thinned out and the lights grew dimmer. Tiny bars and restaurants with tables out front on the sidewalks lined the street. It was crowded with pedestrians, but not as insane as Hollywood. A giant pink 99¢ store on the corner loomed up out of the darkness as the hipness of Silver Lake faded, and Echo Park appeared. Instead of cafes and bars there were small dimly lit corner stores, transient hotels, and darkened strip malls, some boarded up and permanently closed. The sidewalks were pretty much deserted: Here and there a person pushing a shopping cart, a couple walking their dog, a group of winos on a bench yelling out to me in a language only they could decipher. When I stopped for a red light, a dude in shorts and a grungy wife-beater riding a BMX bicycle pulled up to my car and asked if I needed anything. His question hung in the air as the light changed and I drove away.
LA’s really dark, I thought, as I approached downtown. Stopped at a red light I peered around trying to get my bearings. The meager glow from old fashion streetlights barely encroached on the night’s gloom making it all seem so mysterious. Periodically headlights flashed as passing cars illuminated a vintage coffee shop to my right. An old decrepit cab roughly idled next to me at the intersection as we both waited for the light to change. Two tough looking guys shuffled across the street and headed into a sandwich shop, a woman on crutches hobbled a few feet and then stopped in the shadows as if hiding. I turned the car around at Union Station and hit the 101 back into Hollywood. A Highway Patrol passed me doing well over a 100 mph, its lights flashing across the walls of the underpass like a blue and red strobe. Pulling behind him I pushed down on the gas and watched as cars on either side slammed on their brakes in some sort of kneejerk response to the cop. Three minutes later at the Sunset exit I signaled and pulled off.
Suddenly I was incredibly thirsty and needed some water. A Walgreens sign advertising they were open twenty-four hours shimmered in the distance. But when I got there the parking lot was full, so I headed into what looked like additional indoor parking behind the store. It was one of those big-ass cavernous places, painted bright white with a grungy loading dock where the trash bins were and the building’s industrial air-conditioners growled away in the corner. It could hold thirty cars at the very least, but there weren’t any there. Just a couple of overturned shopping carts and a pile of garbage in the center.
I pulled into the nearest slot, killed the motor and got out. The roar of the air conditioners hit my ears as I locked my car and started toward the exit. Suddenly the pile of trash moved, it was a huge black man underneath garbage bags, cardboard boxes and food wrappers. In his hand was a half full liter of soda, which he waved at me like he was trying to get my attention. I looked down at the ground and noticed it was covered in bird shit. Then I saw there were pigeons everywhere. On the pipes and air-conditioning vents that crisscrossed the ceiling.
My first thought was of Legionnaires’ disease, and without thinking I held my breath and moved toward the exit. The huge black man had his other hand out, like he was begging for money, and he was screaming. Or at least I thought he was. I couldn’t hear him over the din of the air-conditioners. I just saw his mouth wide open, and his pained expression. I mumbled some kind of excuse and hurried to get outside. I don’t know what freaked me out. I wasn’t afraid of him. I just found the whole scene incredibly bizarre.
Outside, in the parking lot, groups of kids were hanging out yelling at each other, drinking sodas and eating the crap Walgreens sells. As I passed a bunch of Asian dudes standing around a hyped up Nissan with its hood open, I noticed I was still holding my breath and I let out a sigh. In the glare of the store’s windows I watched a woman as she walked towards me wearing the tiniest halter-top and short shorts. I was staring at her silhouette, admiring her body, until she was right next to me and when she smiled I could see she was only a teenager and then I felt like a lecherous perv and looked away.
Up in the night sky a full moon shown down on everything, basking us all in its glow. I stopped walking and turned to look back at the parking structure and wondered about the giant black man in the garbage, surrounded by all that bird shit and bleakness. I wasn’t sure that I had really seen him. I mean not like he was an apparition or anything. But it was just so strange and I really didn’t want to go back to my car, then see him again, and know that he was real and sitting covered in garbage screaming his lungs out.
Checking my pockets for money I walked through the automatic doors into the cool of the air-conditioned store. It was 2:14 am and I still had to drive home to go to sleep.