Dead Birds and Other Omens
There’s a bird in the bush outside my apartment chirping his fucking ass off. As soon as the sun pops up he does his little bird thing, all cheerful and happy sounding. Tweet, tweet, tweet, and I want to kill him. He’s been doing this for the last few weeks. Every morning I wake up to his song. Every morning I imagine him flat on the pavement like roadkill. Although I’m not actually sure it’s a he. But for some reason “he” sounds better than saying I want to kill “her,” or endless rambling on about “it.”
I walk outside, and the bird shuts up. I lock my door as the apartment manager’s cats converge around the bush staring up licking their chops. I see them clenching their little kitty jaws like they’re already chewing on the dead carcass. Looking down I notice my laces are undone and sit on my front step and tie my shoe. The gray cat comes over, sits by me and purrs.
“You’re pathetic, you’re a disgrace to cats,” I tell him. “It’s one little bird and you can’t get him?”
The cat licks its lips and turns away.
“Don’t you turn your back on me,” I say.
The droning vocals of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah drift out the window of an apartment across the courtyard. Someone’s been playing it repeatedly for the last two days. Like it’s on permanent replay and the rest of us just have to accept it and suffer. They could be dead in there and unable to turn it off, but I really don’t care enough to go find out. A helicopter passes overhead, its rotor blades ripping the air and then it’s gone. The cat looks toward the receding noise, the bird resumes chirping. I get up and walk to the courtyard gate. My hand on the handle, I stop and look back.
“Four cans of cat food, you bring me its beak,” I say and walk out.
My neighbor, the rumpled Armenian thug, stands in the parking lot staring at a brand new black Mercedes that’s missing its bumper, grill, fenders and headlights. He looks at me as I walk past. I nod hello. His expression doesn’t change. I know he sees me. Our eyes meet. But it’s like I’m not here and he doesn’t acknowledge me. He never has. For the last ten months this has been our routine. I say hello. He ignores me.
Since I’ve lived here he’s had at least nine different luxury cars. All of them suffering some form of destruction – missing doors, smashed front ends, crumpled trunks, or the whole side crushed in. It has to be some sort of scam. Although I never really see him do anything with them. They’re in the parking lot for a month; then they’re gone. During the weeks before the Christmas holidays there were always people hanging around the courtyard gate. Then the Armenian thug would appear loaded with packages of brand new expensive games and toys. Money would change hands. I’d walk by. He’d look at me, not say a word. He didn’t have to. I got the message from his expression.
A bird screeches and I look up to see a crow sitting in a purple flowering Jacaranda tree. Its voice is deep, the call resounds across the parking lot. I’ve heard it said when you hear a crow it means something significant is happening, or about to happen. I’ve also heard it means death or something bad is on the air. I’m hoping it means my Armenian thug neighbor is going to get run over by a truck full of stolen video games. He and that little bird could be flat effigies in the alley behind my apartment building.
Across the street the gangbangers are busy removing the tires from a white van that’s jacked up in their driveway. A narcocorrido blasts out of speakers that sound as if they’re blown. A few girls in skintight jeans and t-shirts flutter around four dudes standing by the gate dressed in pressed chino shorts and wife beaters. The short one named Sleepy, who’s covered in tats and wears a bandana over most of his forehead, lifts his chin at me and then goes back to standing with his homies looking tough. I don’t really know these guys. But they’ve always been cool to me. A week after I moved in they made the effort to introduce themselves and we nod whenever we meet on the street. I’m thinking my Armenian thug neighbor could take a few lessons in cordial relations from these guys. Then I’m thinking what does it matter? There’s probably not a whole lot my neighbor and I have to talk about anyway.
A dented gold Ford Taurus roughly idles at the curb. One of its tires is almost flat and there’s liquid dripping out of the tailpipe. The old guy who owns the car is sitting in the driver’s seat reading the morning paper. He’s got a disabled parking placard hanging from his rearview mirror, the only reason the city hasn’t towed his car. I didn’t even know it ran. I see the old guy glance my way and I say, “hey.” He pulls out a half pint, takes a slug, then leans out the window. “Wanna snort?” he says and waves it in my direction.
“I’m good,” I tell him and keep walking. A sudden tug on my foot and I look down to see I’ve stepped on a huge piece of pink gum. Half of it’s attached to the sidewalk, the rest is stretched to the bottom of my shoe. I try to scrape it off on the curb and get stuck. I turn to walk and my foot feels glued to the pavement. I rub the bottom of my shoe back and forth until most of it comes off. This is almost worse than stepping in dog shit.
The dreadlocked junkie who lives in the motel on the corner spots me coming down the street. He pushes his cap onto the back of his head and stands there waiting. I can see he’s smiling. He’s must be doing all right today – feeling no pain.
“You’re a man that walks with purpose,” he says and then falls in step with me.
“I got places to go,” I tell him.
“People to see?” he asks.
“Be lyin’ if I said I didn’t,” I say.
“You wouldn’t happen to have a spare cigarette?”
“Don’t smoke,” I tell him and he abruptly stops walking.
“I ever tell you I sang in a rock and roll band?” he asks as I keep moving.
“Yeah, you told me you sang with Slash,” I say barely turning around to look at him.
“Oh, you know, huh?”
“To hear you tell it I do.”
“I wasn’t always out here hustling cigarettes ya know.”
I stop and turn around. He stands there looking at the ground. “I used to smoke,” I tell him. “Shit just changes. That’s just the way it is.”
“You better git where you goin’,” he says. “I ain’t trying to hold up a man with purpose.”
A bus careens down Sunset and I hit the crosswalk daring the cars to run me over. But all of them screech to a halt and I walk across like royalty. LA is strange like that. The law says cars are supposed to stop for pedestrians. Most cities I’ve been you just cross the street, taking chances, slipping in between the oncoming traffic. In LA you can get a ticket for jaywalking. It seems all too civilized down here in the sun.
There’s choir music coming out of the Korean Baptist church on Selma Ave. A woman’s voice solos above all the rest. I half expect her to break into Hallelujah. But she’s singing something else about her lost soul, and secretly I’m relieved.
A muttering bag lady sits on the church’s front steps. She’s dressed in a parka and a wool cap. It’s 85 degrees in the shade and she’s rummaging around in her suitcase. An overly dressed usher leans over and asks if she’d like to come inside for the service. She looks at him like he just suggested she commit suicide. I smile at her and she spits on the sidewalk. I cross the street as a lowered Impala drives by, its stereo so loud it drowns everything in its wake.
Three tall girls in short tight skirts, high heels, bleached blonde hair, and tiny tank tops are standing at the corner looking confused. They’re dressed like hookers, or maybe it’s Paris Hilton, or a combo of both. They’re not exactly svelte, and their bodies strain the confines of their clothing. One of them takes off her gold Gucci sunglasses and tries to smile as I approach. “Grauman. Chinese.” she says. It’s not a question. It’s a statement.
“Yes?” I say.
“We want,” she says. Her accent is Russian, or some other Slavic country. The other two stare at me and surrounded by that much exposed flesh I’m momentarily lost for words. A taxicab slows down and stops. One of the girls walks over and leans in to talk with the driver. A bird chirps in the tree above us and I think of the fucking bird in front of my apartment that woke me up.
“Three blocks, to your left on Hollywood,” I tell her.
She says, “thank you,” and puts her sunglasses back on. They all teeter over to the cab and fold themselves inside. I watch their blonde heads bobbing in the rear window as they drive off in the other direction. On the ground is a crisp twenty-dollar bill. I pick it up and turn towards the cab waving it in the air, but they’re already two blocks away. Shoving it in my pocket I walk towards Hollywood Blvd. I need coffee. I need to start my day.