Around 7:30 this morning there was another smash up on Aurora Avenue in front of our building. A silver SUV ripped over the sidewalks and the objects on the sidewalk. The SUV took out a couple of signposts and a fireplug, which flooded the street with water. I was in the shower myself, but my companion said the crash sounded like a giant ocean wave, and that it looked like the driver was okay.
There are so many crashes in front of our house, it makes me wonder how many there are all up and down Aurora, which is a divided highway with a speed limit the ranges between 30 and 55 MPH. Recently my sister’s friend’s sister got hit by a car up in Shoreline while crossing at a designated crosswalk. I don’t think that crosswalks are a good idea on highways. I much prefer the pedestrian overpass.
Left view: The offending SUV, which has come to rest in front of the Park Motel.
Center view: A police car amidst the wreckage.
Right view: An officer surveys the scene where the fireplug was hella tore up.
After about an hour of sleep tonight, I was awakened by an enormously-loud crashing sound on the street below, followed by horrific screaming. I knew immediately that this wasn’t some of the ordinary drunken Friday night yelling I often hear from the street or from the open-air hallways of my building. I tried to shake the confusion out of my head as I reached for my cel phone to call 911. It was a woman, and her shrill screams came in through my closed back windows. “Help me! Please! God, somebody HELP!”
I live on Aurora Avenue. Aurora is Seattle’s name for Highway 99, part of a system that ran from Mexico to Canada until Interstate 5 took its place in the late 1960s. In Seattle it is known as a pretty seedy street that forms a significant part of the red-light district. Shadier parts of Aurora are home to drug dealers, all-weather hoes in tight pants and parkas, and motels with hourly rates. I usually feel insulated from all that mess in my apartment. We are on the fourth floor of a nice, modern building, with gorgeous views of Lake Union, downtown, and Mount Rainier. We exit at the back, on a quieter residential street where the neighbors say hello and goo-goo over the baby. Our neighborhood borders one of the nicest neighborhoods in Seattle, Wallingford, which is chockablock with kids and dogs and cute coffee shops. My part of Aurora doesn’t see a lot of action; it’s just a divided highway that can zip you from here to there quickly if traffic’s moving.
However, this is a part of Aurora with a higher speed limit, so the one thing we do see is accidents. I knew something horrible had happened on the street below. Between the haze of early sleep and the effect of the bone-chilling screams, I could barely get my words out correctly when the 911 operator answered. “Something’s happened on the street. A woman is screaming on the street. I think there’s been an accident,” I managed. He took my address and asked what I could see. I can’t even see Aurora from my windows as there is an open-air walkway at that end of the building. The operator promised someone would come right away and asked me to call back if things changed.
I hung up and went back into the bedroom. My cel phone read 12:45. My teeth were chattering and I was shaking. My companion moaned and mumbled a few words to me. I suspect he didn’t even wake up. He slept through a wicked altercation that my neighbors had in my old building a few months ago as well. The screams continued and the street was otherwise eerily silent. I couldn’t stand it anymore so I got dressed and went out barefoot to the open hallway overlooking the street, leaving him in the apartment with the baby.
Some of my other building neighbors had gathered and were watching the street. Others had called 911 too. I looked straight down over the edge to see what happened, but the woman in the apartment across from me pointed across the street. I could see a man sprawled out on his back, in light-colored clothing, not moving. My neighbor told me he was a pedestrian hit-and-run and speculated that the man and the screaming woman were trying to cross the divided highway, which is sadly a common way to get killed in Seattle. The woman had stopped screaming and my neighbor told me that she had run down the street. A minute later the police came, followed by fire trucks and an ambulance, and the police cars blocked off the street. The EMTs loaded the man into the ambulance, but did not turn the sirens on or drive off once they had secured the man in the ambulance. The screaming woman returned and I could see a couple of police officers talking to her.
“That was a loud crash,” I said to my neighbor. “Someone has a messed-up car now.”
“Yes,” she said, “I’ll bet his windscreen’s messed up. It’s all too bad. It’s not the driver’s fault if someone’s crossing the road at a place like this. If they would have stopped it would be okay. As it is, it’s a hit-and-run felony.”
I don’t know if the man’s alive. I hope so. It’s sad–there’s a safe place to cross Aurora about a block up from where they got hit. I hope I can sleep now. I have been woken up by trucks taking out trees and telephone poles on the street, as well as fender-benders, but I have never woken up to the sound of a person screaming at the top of their lungs like that.
When I start looking at the body, I wish I’d never started. I wish that eyes had never been invented, and that we all crawled around in shit blindly like worms do, so we wouldn’t have to see things like this.
The idea of it, the shape, the size, the angle, bonks around in my head, my big head, the one that Orphum says makes me look like a just-washed cat, like I can change my head like a shoe or something. Imagine having a head for every situation? You could wear your sincere head to an arraignment. You could wear your crabby head when you have to go catch the bus, and you don’t want the old women from other places talking to you: “You. Go downtown today? You go downtown?” As if I’m going to go someplace different, ever.
Is the body covered in some kind of striations, or is that a horrible rash? Did he get runned over before we got here?
“That’s a big old mess, is what that is,” Orphum says, and I feel like I should be tearing him up for talking about the body that way, but I can’t quite get my grabbers to start swinging. Orphum scrapes the shovel along the bony bits of gravel and I can see the little poofs of dust lit by the headlamps. I feel like the shovel is scraping along my spine, not the road’s.
“You reckon we should wait?” he asks. I was kind of surprised when I thought about it later, since he never really asks me anything, except “You ready?” and I nod and close my eyes and Orphum takes my clothes off.
That part gets easier, which you can guess if you know anything about life at all. Most things get easier, if you just close your eyes or grit your teeth and get it done with.
Sometimes the plan goes wrong, though. Have you ever had sex in the cab of a pickup truck? The other night I was waiting until Orphum was finished, and we slipped on the vinyl seat and I hit my head on the steering column. KA-POW.
Well, I think my brain practically exploded, because now I know why cartoon characters see stars and tweetie birds and God knows what else when they get cracked. I looked at my hands and watched them dissolving into the seat, and watched the roof of the pickup peel back and everything became stars. Orphum was saying something, but I couldn’t hear him because he was so far away. His breath is usually fogging up my ear and his lips always make spit strings tying us together, but instead his breath was somehow like a breeze.
I threw up then, it was the only drawback. Orphum said it was okay, that I could hose off the floor when we got back to his Ma’s trailer.
Things haven’t been the same since then. I had a nosebleed that night, and I told Orphum and his Ma that I must’ve hit my face, too, even though I couldn’t really remember. There’s some kind of imbalance. I think that if I shake my head enough to stop the rattling, or hold my breath all the way over the Indian Sluice, or smoke enough cigarettes I’ll be okay.
“Kill the headlamps,” Orphum says, looking into my eyes, and spits his chew-spit near the body. I look up at him from within the headlamps and don’t want to leave the little ring of moths that are sputtering around me. They know and I know it’s cold with the lights off.
Instead of arguing, I nod. He’s giving me that look again, the same look he gave me earlier today when he noticed that my pupils were off-kilter.
“No one’s perfect, Orphum,” I said. “People are meant to be uneven. It’s in the Bible, if you took the time you’d know.” Orphum didn’t say anything.
A couple of days after the steering column, I was sort of wobbling around my kitchen, about to make myself a snack because I thought that would settle me down and help me go to sleep. I opened the whole refrigerator and leaned in, breathed the cold stale smells that you can’t help but love, just like gasoline and magic marker.
This is the funny part: I was just standing up from pulling the olive loaf out of the bottom drawer, when I cracked my head again, on the freezer door. Almost in the same place, too, what are the odds of that?
The plastic-wrapped olive loaf jumped out of my hand and flopped itself to the ground, and I could see the jar of mayonaise breaking. The glass exploded up like lightning and bounced off the walls, and little slices of olive fell from the wrapper and burned themselves onto my retinas.
The most beautiful thing in the world and only I can see it.
Sometimes my mom catches me at it. She’s pulled me off the bathroom floor, shaken me until my teeth rattle and I can feel the blood sloshing around in my head like its some kind of water park in there.
“Are you on drugs?” she said, breathing years of layers of tobacco up from her filmy lungs. I can only shake my head to this. How can I tell her that the bathroom has the highest concentration of hard surfaces in the whole trailer?
Orphum spits again, and hands the shovel to me. I have the pickup truck keys in my hand, but I feel like I missed something. Maybe I skipped forward, like a film that’s been spliced too many times. I look down–there’s our old friend again, now with chew juice next to his boots, which look like my brother’s size. What a waste.
The wooden handle feels solid and reassuring in my hand. There are dents in the handle that have been made by strong men, working industriously. I see men who look like Orphum squeezing the handle tightly enough to make these slight grooves, the traces of hard work. I feel like the shovel it could tell me something, or dance with me, or put me to bed.
Orphum clears his throat, and spits again. “I’m gonna have a cigarette. Why don’t you start digging?” The moths are gone and I wonder how I will even see to dig?
Sometimes I am full of the Dickens. At other times, it is the usual amount of P and V, as anyone who knows me in real life can attest to (pinch, pinch, pinch, you broccoli asses.)
Sometimes I unleash said Dickens on complete strangers, just because they gave me the stink eye.
Today, when I was leaving Fred Meyer (What’s on YOUR list today, Asshole?) to collect my car from the covered garage I saw a very hateful looking-woman getting out of the car next to me as I was getting into mine. She watched me as I opened my door, which wouldn’t have come close to hers even if I had swung it all the way open. BWA-BOOP went her car alarm. She went to the front of the store to collect a cart and continued to watch me like I was Winona Ryder at a sidewalk sale.
I backed Jerome out in my usual slow, careful fashion that one acquires after spawning (even though the Bubs was at home) and saw her reset her alarm after I got far enough away. It seemed she had her alarm set up so high that an eyelash would have set it off. I pulled away, shaking my head. Some people! Then I had that itch…you know?
I pulled around the garage again, but instead of heading for the exit I coasted back to my vacated spot…next to her car, and…I gave three loud solemn honks, just like the signal in the garage where Lee Harvey Oswald was assassinated. The Stink-eye Woman’s car went off like an angry baby: AAAWAAH! AAAWAAH! AAAWAAH!
She was still sort of hovering in the entrance, no doubt trying to decide which poorly manufactured sale item would soothe the hate in her soul. She recognized the distinctive cry of her car, and ran out to placate it. She saw me, in my car staring at her. Stink-eye Woman pointed at me, like she was attempting to smite me down. I could see her face twist as she mouthed the word “YOU.”
I waved at her as I drove away.
I think I have this great reservoir of untapped evil. If it were the Middle Ages I’d be seducing lords with full treasuries and then lopping their heads off. I’d be grinding up puppies in a giant pestle to use as a beauty poultice. Where does it go, all this excess evil? I don’t think I’m passive aggressive, so I don’t leave the forks greasy or forget to feed the cats. I’m hoping that by containing it it will help me Burn Fat and have Shapelier Buttocks.
I am mean today. Perhaps it is the state of the world right now or my lack of sleep, but I feel just plain mean.
However, I can say without a doubt I used to be meaner.
When I lived in Phoenix, I got a job in a major chain record store. This branch was unusually small; it was located in a dying strip mall in the ugliest part of an ugly town. Every month or so word would come down from the mucky-mucks that the store would be closed at the end of that week and we should be looking for other jobs. I never was rattled by this; I knew that $5.50 an hour could be had just about anywhere. My co-workers were mostly the cool, laid-back record store geek-types that I always felt most comfortable around when I was younger.
HOWEVER there was one girl who worked there who was named after a month, and not a normal girls’ name month like June or April, but January. If a team of ex-Nazi scientists went into a laboratory for 50 years to create the most annoying, insipid, mindlessly happy, urge-to-strangle-it inducing robot, working a shift with January would still be worse and anything that those goose-steppers could invent. Some girls are are so stupid, men just see them as easy targets (you know this is true). But January so grated on the nerves of everyone she met, I don’t think any of the guys who hung around the store ever tried to sleep with her. She did have a best friend, of course, because girls like her always have freaky lil sidekicks.
At this time I was known to the regular customers as the jazz snob with an extremely low bullshit tolerance, and I have to admit that when January would put on one of her pop-punk records and skip around the store with her pigtails flying stupidly behind her, I could literally feel steam come out of my ears. Every so often she would pause on her rounds an ask one of our co-workers, blinking cutely, “If I was a vegetable, what kind of vegetable would I be?” Almost without fail, that person would say “a carrot”, I’m not sure why.
Oftentimes I just felt sorry for her. She told me once that her mother (before she died) had told her that she named her only daughter “January” after a character in a Jacqueline Susann novel (“Valley of the Dolls”, anyone?) who whored herself out because of her drug problems and then overdosed halfway through the story. From the little bits January revealed about her personal life, I could tell that her father didn’t care about her very much; he was just throwing money at her to keep her temporarily happy with small material things. I knew that public school had let her down as well; she was in her first semester at the local community college and couldn’t even fathom how to start a simple freshman level essay. She often revealed herself to be very ignorant about common sense things and was constantly putting her foot in her mouth.
Even so, I told myself, the fact remained that I was beginning to grind my teeth whenever she opened her mouth to speak. Something had to be done. I didn’t want to quit my job; it was easy and it was always interesting watching many of my co-workers go through the various phases of their crank high. Most of them had second jobs and made the questionable trade-off of meth for sleep. So I hatched a plan.
For a while January and I were the closing clerks. At 10.30 when the store closed, it was just she and I and the twitchy closing supervisor who was 25 but looked 45 because his wife was on a long list for a heart transplant. January and I would sit in the tiny cube known as the counting room, elbow to elbow, silently seething with our mutual hatred for each other as we counted stacks of rumpled bills, credit card slips, and checks. I was usually plus or minus a dollar, because I was careless and would alternate between shortchanging people or giving out too much change. January usually had bigger problems with her till; she was pretty math deficient and sometimes had to go fetch our supervisor for help (who was usually out tidying up so we could leave).
About two weeks after I had hatched my plan, January hit a typical snag with her cash drawer. She walked out of the room to get Rick, who would sigh and count her till for her, while she hovered over him and tormented him. The moment she left I made my move. I reached into her till, pulled out a twenty, and tucked it into the waistband of my pants. When Rick returned with January trotting behind him, I announced, “I’m done! Can I go now?” Rick said yes and dropped my money into the safe. I went into the employees’ bathroom and pulled out the twenty and promptly flushed it down the toilet; of course I didn’t steal the money so I could spend it. I didn’t want it. I felt a little twinge of reget as it swirled down and out of sight, but I told myself “well, it’s all over now.”
Rick was in the back room for a long time. Eventually he sent January out to help straighten the racks with me, and about fifteen minutes after that he unlocked the doors and sent us out. “I just can’t get January’s totals to balance,” he said, frowning with frustration.
Three days later she was fired.
Was I happy? Yes, I was happy she was gone but not overjoyed. I knew I had done everyone a favor, because even the store manager dreaded working with her and was sorry he hired her.
It was one of those weird things you do that you try to feel guilty for and then can’t but don’t know why.