Category: Fictional Stories Set in Downtown Los Angeles

She came floating through the room in the arms of……..Ken.  My dear friend Ken, was heroicly transporting her to fresh air.  Her dress was barely holding on or covering anything, and she was wearing no underwear, which was a detail that almost certainly did NOT escape anyone.

Of course, the damsel in distress, rescued by Kenny, was of considerable interest to throngs of men…and already a mob of homeless men was surrounding her, with long threads of drool and tongues dangling to the tarmac.  If this had been Beverly Hills, a slew of cameras would have been flashing at us, but this was the last night at the Speak Easy, in the back alley by the dumpster, 3 am.   A herd of bison was also drawn to the scene somehow.

She was sitting now, on the curb outside, head down below her knees, in perfect rag doll composition. In fact, maybe it was just a giant rag doll, with strings running off into the alley.  Would some ragdoll operator suddenly pull the strings?   Maybe IT  would jump to gangly life and start dancing and singing??  Or was she on hard drugs, with her life now seriously in danger? Should we call an ambulance?

I tried to make her drink some water, but lifting her head turned out to be very awkward and a little disturbing even.

She mumbled at me, and I knew she was alive.  Her pulse was faint and she was barely breathing.  If her life was somehow in jeopardy now, I knew, I was the one that must save her!   No one else would do.  None of the other men pawing at her with comforting hands, would be able to do this.  None of them had the experience that I have.  None of them KNEW, how easily people can die.  An ambulance might kill her!

Some of the bison were becoming restless.  One of them had a fat blade of grass dangling from his chin, and a huge dirt clod attached to the end .  He nibbled at a potted ficus by the door, and his stomach gurgled.

This one was NOT going to die!   Not on my watch.  How could she, or anyone else know, how experienced I was, and how certain I was that I could save her better than anyone else, even a doctor.  How could they know, the stories I’d heard.  Friends who expired, left alone on couches.  This time, I was not going to let that happen.  I checked her for track marks.  I asked her if she had been doing heroin.  A star burst to life somewhere in her bowels, and a “no” was minimally but clearly pronounced.  It wasn’t a clearly pronounced “no”, but a “no” that rose up from her core, and somehow rumbled up her spine.   It was hardly what you’d call a “word” but I knew she had said it.  She managed to teleport that word in from Zeta Reticuli, luckily I DO speak in that tongue.  She could not speak, and only I could understand her silent tongue.

Still…who knows what drugs she MAY have done.  I hoped that she was just very drunk, and I felt like an ambulance would not help or be necessary.  I knew I could get her though this, and she WANTED me to stay with her.  She could answer me yes or no, in her way.  The two word wonder, this one.  With a vocabulary this size, who knows what she might say or do, and where she’s been.  She may have escaped from the circus, the Amazing Two Word Wonder Girl!!  Maybe nobody has bothered to teach her any other words, and I am to be her language instructor.  Maybe she washed ashore with a shipment of dolls that had spilled off a cargo ship in a rough storm, and now here she was, in the back alley, by the dumpster, with a 2 word vocabulary, and completely out cold 99 percent of the time.

A homeless guy leaped out of a nearby bush, cut a hole in the fence with some giant wire cutters, crawled across an expanse of barbed wire… and handed me a condom with a giddy smile, which was probably in poor taste, but  well intentioned.  I thanked him, and said “well, uh, you never know right?”

As the club owners were leaving, we all decided to load her into a nice man’s car, and take her to Kenny’s and put her on one of the many old used couches there.  Loading her in the car was difficult.  I suddenly felt like I was transporting a cadavre,because she was really behaving very much like one.  BAD cadavre. BAD!  Later, I learned she was a performance artist, and I wondered if the whole thing had been an act, and a jest.  Her ultimate performance art piece.  Adventures of a cadavre downtown.   Note to self: Next time, go along with the ambulance idea, and see if she suddenly wakes up and feels much better.  Fake the call actually.  “Uh, hello? Yea we need an ambulance at…”  She might have suddenly woke up, I should have done the fake phone call trick as a test first.   I’m really not sure if she was faking all along, but I’d love to find out one day, its on my list of unanswered questions in life.

Later, as we were dragging her limp unconscious body through the revolving doors of the hotel, one of her rag doll legs got stuck.  The concierge raised an eyebrow,and turned his head slightly.

We managed to get her leg in, and her other leg popped out while her dress caught on the hand rail and her slipper wedged in the hinge mechanism somehow.  In short, her limp body was working against us at the revolving door stage of the trip, and I considered giving up, and just relaxing with her there in pretzel form, in the revolving door, stuck, people pounding on the glass to get through.  The concierge lit a cigarette and watched us like we were a movie, he may have had some popcorn and some jujubees.

Seemed like we struggled with those revolving doors for about an hour.  Although she was apparently unconscious, she seemed to do everything imaginable to prevent us from progressing.  Slipper wedges in mechanism.  Toe pokes in  ear.  Dress snags on handrail.  Arm covers EYES, and I have to shake my head to get it off.

Leg whips around my neck somehow.  I almost yelled “HELP!” but the concierge wasn’t about to help, lazy bastard,  it would interrupt his entertainment for the evening. We were the prime time show, we were his America’s Top Models.  He grinned disturbingly.

It took 4 of us to finally finesse her gently through.

I dragged her, clenched in my arms, down the slippery polished hallway, her legs dragging like seaweed one minute, then like stiff difficult protruding sticks the next minute.  People commented on how strong I was.   We put her on the couch.  I was determined to make sure she was ok before I left her.  I couldn’t leave her on the couch.  I knew she wanted me there with her.  I knew by the way she would squeeze my hand, and by the way she was communicating with me somehow.  Some gutteral communication seemed to rise up from the ocean depths, and escape like sea foam periodically.  No one else could hear, only I could hear.  Me and the seagulls.

Her eyes would sometimes open and glitter for a few seconds.  But wait, did she kinda WINK at me with her eyes just now!!!

Wait…wait a COTTON PICKIN minute here…did she just GRIN, just now, holy SHIT…

Later, I learned she was a homeless but world famous performance artist, and I began wondering if this had been her greatest performance art piece that I had stumbled into unwittingly, ensnared like a bug in a rug…or if I had saved her life and honor,  but I may never know for sure.  Yet ANOTHER question to ponder from my life, that will probably NEVER be answered.  Its a long list folks.

Never mind the genie and his WISHES…I wish I could have ALL QUESTIONS answered from my life!!! That’s my first wish. Genie, answer ALL my questions with definite answers…. and I will be most happy.

What tales the Genie might tell…so sad that everyone is so self centered and won’t ask the genie a few questions about genielife, say…Like how are YOU most kind genie?? Can I get YOU something oh most generous genie??   Do you workout?  Exercise really helps me alot I find, and only takes a short bit of your day, the important thing I find is to do it almost every day, and not just walking around the genie bottle a few times…  Living for so long confined in that little bottle,  do genies know how to swim?  Trust me, Its different than just sitting there on your magic carpet swoooping around riding the wind.  Can genies cook in there?  Order take-out?  Do cell phones work in there?   Do you have adequate ventilation in that bottle?  Is there a Mrs. Genie?  Do you both fit in there?  Does the bottle float or can you sink to the bottom of the sea at-will when thrown in the ocean?  Does the bottle maneuvre underwater like a submarine? How long have you spent on the bottom of the ocean and what was THAT like?  Do you have a periscope?  LOVE the outfit!!!  Who designs your clothes????

I was becoming exhausted with nursing her and being silent, so I went to take a leak and speak to myself for a moment.  Nothing is waking THIS one, I was tired, I kissed her once on the neck maybe that will do it, I’ll be right back rag doll.  I was tired.   In actual FACT, I had worked hard all that night keeping her dress ON actually, the crowd probably hated that, there might have even been some BOOING in fact because of this….Thing is, fellas, its not actually arousing to deal with a rag doll to be quite honest, cute yes, babylike, yes, artistic somehow, yes, arousing, no.

When she wakes up, ALL will be revealed, all my questions in life will be answered…If she wakes up at all…..holy shit…why do I care? And why did I just kiss her on the neck?  Holy shit.  If that doesn’t wake her up NOTHING will right?  Maybe she is sleeping beauty? and she has been sleeping for years, bonking around into walls, and getting stuck in revolving doors, waiting for the love, of another human being, waiting for that ONE tender peck.  Maybe dolls need to be loved just like people.

Sure enough!  When I came back, sleeping beauty was awake, and gathering herself.  IT WORKED!  She tried to walk, and nearly fell into the glass table, but I caught her about a half inch from impact.  She seemed pensive now, and not entirely thankful or talkative.  In fact, she didn’t say a word, but instead began drilling a hole in my skull with her big ragdoll probably psychopathic eyes.  The drill bit turned slowly but persistently, until I looked away, feeling a little uncomfortable suddenly.  Her eyes filled with questions and accusations and ultimately silent rag doll thoughts, or the eyes of a psychopath awakening in a strange environment filled with old couches and a neck kissing man.

The abyss of possible narcotic reaction with alcohol, or the vortex of a daring performance artist in a trance.  Journey into silence.  Mute as a rag doll in the attic.  The Silence of the Rag Doll.

She gathered herself together, and went to the front door, so I said “are you ready?  Are you ready for the street?” I asked.  A seagull perched on a shelf next to some books answered “yes.”

This time we were able to negotiate the revolving door much more effectively, since she was no longer unconscious,but it was rapidly apparent that I was going to have to carry a good portion of her weight to get her home, and that she actually only knew 2 words, yes and no.  Which I thought was kinda fresh actually, to be quite honest.  The concierge winked at me, and twisted a smile together on half his face knowingly.  I wonder if he will ever know the joys of spending an evening with a woman, with a 2 word vocabulary.  Few will ever know the beauty in that, I have to give her credit there.    There was definitely something refreshing, like the wind, to that.  A binary girl, a pure binary organism.  Yes and no.  On or off.  Yin and Yang.  Should I teach her the word “maybe” or would that spoil her purity?  Would that degrade her pure and virginal aura.

See how the world changes and revolves around us simply, and uncomplicated.  All other words should be ILLEGAL…Only the CHOSEN poets shall wield the OTHER words, that’s what I say…I command thee YES or NO?

A flock of geese suddenly lifted off in flight outside in the park.

I wrapped her rag doll arm around my neck, like a wounded soldier, and we marched through skid row, me in my army jacket and combat boots.  She grabbed my hand and squeezed it very tight.  If I had a bullet, she would have sunk her teeth into it.  It was a long walk, carrying the extra weight, and I prepared myself to fend off the inevitable mongrel hordes.  She could tell me yes or no, with her hand squeezing. How nice.  I may have trained her, one squeeze yes, 2 squeezes, no, like a lover in a hospital bed unable to speak. Soldiers stumbling across a battlefield now.  Gun fire down the street. Pop Pop Pop Pop.

As we headed down one particularly dark alley, I heard loud stomping footsteps running up behind us.  Exaggerated footsteps  intended to frighten, but I had no fear.  I was carrying a wounded soldier through a combat zone, and NOTHING was going to stop us!  This was a combat zone now, little did he know, little did stomping man suspect.  He ran up right behind us, stomping really loud, and stopped suddenly.   When he got closer he must have thought to himself  “DAMN…look at THESE two…is he carrying a CADAVRE or a RAG DOLL?”

Regardless of him, we marched on.  At one point, I was dragging her by one leg down the sidewalk and people definitely stared.  NO, just kidding, that was earlier down the corridor of the old hotel.  I wonder if she left forensic evidence, like a clump of hair in the revolving door mechanism.  I imagine police dogs chasing us! Hurry, this way! Quick!

A manhole cover suddenly popped up ten feet in the air, and a homeless man crawled out to hand me a condom again, same guy I think.  Again in very poor taste, but well intentioned.

A very large herd of bison filled the alley, out of nowhere, and the homeless man disappeared in their midst.

“This way?”

One squeeze.

“AH, ok, you live in this street?”
One squeeze.
“That building?”
Two Squeezes.
“Ok, no. Not that one, keep going, I guess this way…”
Down a twisted alley, through a tunnel, wait, wrong tunnel, the other tunnel?…fuck…Wait, was the one squeeze? or 2?

2 squeezes.

Damn long tunnel.  My army jacket drenched.
Finally, out of the blue amidst a flock of parrots, a huge hand squeeze.  She’s staring with one eye squinting up at this old run down hotel.
Yep, this is it.
At the door, I give her my card.
“OK! Same time next week?”


Usually there’s this desert nomad, strangely seated, no, eternally trapped, in this bizaare chamber. Sometimes I almost see the ghosts of camels lumbering by.

“What you need?” asked the desert nomad, no doubt hardened by years roaming the desert in search of water.

“Um, well, since this is a smog check ONLY facility, lets just go WAY out on a limb and assume I’m here for THAT”, I thought.

What I said was, “yes, please, thank you sir,” that’s what I certainly said, “yes, I’d like a smog check please, thank you for asking kind sir. thank you my dear friend.”

Ok, ok, so I kiss ass at the smog check ONLY station, what’s the big deal, don’t you? Anyway, its what I do every time. “Yes, thank you,” and “thank you very much,” and “Here let me pay you again.” Stuff like that just rises up from the bowels of me. “Oh, thanks man, thanks for adjusting that, I know you’re not supposed to.” Its endless really, I’m not super proud of it, but there it is. I honestly think everyone kisses ass at the smog check ONLY station, its part of the twisted ritual.

“You need a smog check my friend?” see, I KNEW he’d be calling me his “friend”, the ass kissing seemed to be working.

“Why, yes, thanks, I do in fact, require a smogcheck, and how kind of you to ask me here at the smog check ONLY station. How on EARTH did you KNOW??”

What I said actually was, “yes, thanks very very much indeed, I really hope it will pass, you think it will pass?




“I don’t know.”

He actually SAID that, “well I don’t know” in such a way as to strike TERROR to my heart. A brief, but real moment of terror. Could it FAIL? Could my old jalope FAIL a smog test??  My mouth became dry and I pictured myself dying of thirst, crawling in the desert, fooled by another sadistic mirage of a coke machine.

“Ok, will take about 20 minutes, give me key, you can wait here…” he motioned to a corner of the room where there were a couple car garage type chairs, and some magazines.

Just a casual passing glance at those plastic chairs almost gives you a migraine and a backache. My lips stuck together like fly paper. So thirsty! So very very THIRSTY? Isn’t there a shady little watering hole I could just wait THERE instead, by a lovely little pond maybe? You have one of those instead of this wretched waiting area? Can I wait by the POND instead?

“No Pond.” I’m sure he would have said.

A mute confederate of his, smoked cigarettes from a huge butt filled plastic ash tray and was apparently gambling in Vegas, although it may well have been an Israeli gambling site, or a Saudi Casino for all I know. A glimpse of playing cards layed out on the screen. A blur of spades and diamonds.

They exchanged desert banter oblivious to the outside world, including me, and I considered the possibilities. Are they moslem or jewish? its unclear. WAIT, is that a Jesus thing? Its sort of a twisted blurry and smudged Jesus layered with dust and smog…in some sort of agony, right next to a spread eagle porno centerfold.   Why not a happy radiant Jesus? why this sad smog covered Jesus in AGONY On the wall here? why? why this Jesus trapped in the smog check ONLY station, in Los Angeles. Ok, looks like we have a christian smog checker here, that could be settled…I guess if this were a smog check ONLY station in Palm Springs, we’d get the happy radiant Jesus,but this is a smog check ONLY station in Los Angeles, and so Jesus is in agony. In Palm Springs I hear they overlook his agony, and really hone in on his happy blissful moments with Mary.

Jesus doesn’t want to be here either, next to the centerfold.  He sighs.

Surprisingly, the centerfold isn’t thrilled about being next to the Jesus picture either, quite frankly. I think she would have preferred a Jesus with abs. A Jesus with a six pack would have gone over much better with her and her long painted nails. What? You think you’re HOLIER than me?? Just because you’re partially CLOTHED? Look Pal, that loincloth isn’t leaving much to the imagination, and do you know how much they PAID me to lay naked here on this couch??? They worship me too buddy! The stripper says this stuff, legs spread wide, like she’s used to having deep intellegent conversations while spread eagle like that.  She pops a communion wafer in her mouth seductively.

His friend lights another cigarette, in fact I don’t think the cigarettes ever go out, its his ‘thing’. In fact a great ball of smoke hovered above his head. He may have been making smoke signals to a distant smog check station.

I give him my key and head over to Starbucks down the street.

Having just quit smoking, everyone is a moron in my head this day. I go from zero to moron with people really really fast this day. And the guy is smoking, I’m fine though, at this point, its TOTALLY fine. ok. key goes to him, and I head over, head on over to no-problem-at-all Starbucks. Now I’m craving nicotine ok, I’ll admit it, just a little, its been over a week, but still there’s cravings see? But, no problem at all, this is starbucks.

Everything about starbucks is perfect. Nothing annoying whatsoever about Starbucks, see. Tasteful music on their own seemingly ‘grass roots’ record label. Nothing annoying about this at ALL, see. These are intelligent, aware, clean people, ALL of them, see. Every employee has JUST washed their hands, and cuticles are IMMACULATE. Immaculate cuticles on EVERY hand in here! You can’t knock the cuticles here one bit. Cuticle settings are exactly correct at the counter here, and at every table.

That’s normal see. Just me and my coffee, see. no tobacco, see. Perfect cuticles, see. I’m good. Its all good, there, look, I can see the nice man, over there, bent over halfway inside my trunk, the way mechanics do. I always think they will FALL IN the engine compartment, but he doesn’t, and they never do. Its not like the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, its just an engine compartment you MORON. Yes, I’m feeling moronic myself now.  I”m annoyed with myself and my less than perfect cuticles.

There is no shrieking, or frantic kicking of legs up in the air. He’s fine. He does NOT fall in. whew, thank God, or thank Centerfold maybe, wait, I”m confused.. If he had FALLEN IN My engine compartment, with his feet flailing around up in the air, I’m not sure what I would have said or done in my current condition. Quickly I check my cuticles…

What could I DO from my perch at starbucks? what COULD I do to help if he fell in?? Nothing, that’s what. There’s nothing I could have done, I could call 911 and say “please HELP, my mechanic has fallen in the engine compartment, and I can see his legs flailing about frantically, send help right away PLEASE!” And then I could have finished my cafe latte and waited for the paramedics while doing a crossword and studying my cuticles.

Ok, he’s fine. He doesn’t fall in. But I really hope he isn’t doing a ‘visual inspection’ you see, that’s the OTHER thing, I didn’t want him getting all into that ‘visual inspection’ part, damn!!! I hope he doesn’t see that gas leak!! DAMN, he’s been under the trunk now WAY too long? Someone check, see if he’s ok. Is he ok?

Ok, he’s up. Damn, I don’t like how LONG he was in there under the hood inspecting like that, I really get a bad feeling about that…seems like he was ALL up in that engine compartment for HOURS there…damn…ALL up in that engine compartment…ALL up in that shit! and I REALLY don’t want him doing a ‘visual inspection’, that’s the thing. i want him to SKIP the ‘visual inspection’ actually. That’s precisely why I went to THIS smog check! THIS one is supposed to be CROOKED!!! I have a hot tip here…he’s supposed to just PASS the wretched contraption, and send me on my merry way….Is he crooked? Is he crooked? Is he crooked? I want him crooked, but not TOO crooked. Just crooked enough to pass my car, but not crooked enough to burn me too bad.

Finally, I stroll back over. He’s sorry to inform me that I have failed.

The idle is such and such but needs to be such and such. I have failed the test. This causes a frown to spread across my otherwise cheery face. My face that would otherwise be a cheerful happy face, is now magically transformed to a sad face. Happy face to sad face. A simple transition, much easier than sad face to happy face.

“Oh. Ok, if I have my mechanic set the idle to 18, it will pass right?” I ask.


“I don’t know..”



“I hope so,” he adds, to show that he cares, but does he REALLY Hope so? Does he REALLY care??

Again, the ghosts of a few camels can be seen loitering, amused by the room full of crazy smog check equipment, one of them SPAT on a machine in disgust.

My lips stuck together again like fly paper again. I pry them apart somehow, because I have to SAY something about this right?  I must maintain the ass kiss right?  Thats what you must do right?  Am I doing ANY of this correctly?  I wish I were a camel.

“OK, I”ll be back tomorrow,” I proclaim. Feeling a great distance from JOYFUL, I pay him an exorbitant amount, and my frown deepens. New frown wrinkles are formed. I am the tortured Jesus, and this is MY crucifiction I suddenly realize. Maybe I will be nailed to the smog check equipment, or strapped to the gyro and probed with the C02 probe. I wonder if that probe has a sharp tip…

Has he put the jewish symbols and the tortured Jesus to emphasize mainly that he is NOT moslem, oh nooo, everything BUT moslem, see, we’re BUDDHIST TOO…look, where the hell is that BUDDHA…Hamid! where did you put that fucking BUDDHA, I told you we might need that fucking thing, I want you standing BY with that Buddha, you need to have that fucking thing handy ok? so where the fuck is it? when I say BUST out the BUDDHA I really need you to be ON it. I imagine him yelling for the Buddha, jumping up and down waving his arms…where the FUCK is that BUUUDHA?  He yells in farsi.

Its a stupid crazy world, stupid crazy smog check station, just plaster it with Jesus’s, a penthouse spread, its all legit.  A classy, upscale selection I might add. Classy, classy, legs spread wide, but classy I assure you. A wisened porno choice worthy of some admiration and respect certainly. A lacey, beaudoir, is JUST the thing for the wall of a smog check station.  Smooth the edge.  Soften the hardness.  Ease the pain.

I marvel at the restraint shown.

Just ONE spread ok? We only put ONE up see? right next to the twisted Jesus. LOOK! Its all official. Jesus, and ONE centerfold? ok, we’re allowed ONE right? RIGHT? Its a free country, this is AMERICA right??  Fuck it, I’m putting one up, he must have thought.

Fuck it, I’m in AMERICA now, I’m putting up ONE penthouse centerfold, stop busting my balls. All the garages do it, the schmuks, except most of them COVER the wall with girls, but notice we have NOT. there is but ONE centerfold on our wall here, cut me some slack dammit. what you think you’re better than me? Can’t I have ONE damn centerfold on the wall?? I’ll put it RIGHT next to the tortured Jesus, so everything is kosher right? I mean…Must I be JUDGED and CONDEMNED for this??? Where must I GO to escape this persecution?? As you can see I’m a GOOD Jew, I mean Christian, from Iran, PLUS I put this Jesus thing up here, don’t pretend you didn’t see it. After all its RIGHT there, next to the centerfold. STOP busting my balls over this!! I pay my taxes! This is a LEGITIMATE smog check ONLY station. We all have at least ONE centerfold. Its our THING. Get used to it, please just sit in corner, in waiting area…(fucking infidel.)

“Here, watch the news, its pretty bad,” is what he really said.

They also had a tv, pointed at the waiting area I was trapped in. He even switched on a cartoon and watched for a few minutes chuckling to lighten the mood and put me at ease after the bad news channel, instead it made me bite my nails and rock back and forth like a man in a straight jacket.

I just say, “ok, I”ll be back tomorrow after my mechanic sets the timing.”

“Bye Muad D’ib. May the sandstorm spare us tomorrow!”

ok, no, I just said “bye, see you tomorrow, and…and…boy, thanks so much…”

The canvas door to the tent flapped in the wind, the rustling of camels echoing in the desert cave. Laurence of Arabia rides by, blue eyes blazing glory..

I head on home, less joyful than before. But KNOWING that the adventure WILL continue tomorrow! He will certainly be expecting me. He KNOWS I’m coming back tomorrow. He even recommended that I take it to a shop where they have test equipment so they can test it and fix it right there. But I have a friend…our friend Pedro will adjust it, and I’ll come back, no worries.

I couldn’t sleep all that night in fact…thinking about the adventure that lay before me…I tossed, and I turned, staring at the ceiling.

Billowing clouds of exhaust circled overhead like dizzy buzzards. Buzzards exhausted from breathing the fumes below. Haggard and beleaguered buzzards with drooping bags under their eyes. I think I saw one of them, off in the corner of the parking lot coughing and hacking. He really didn’t sound to good, that buzzard.

Next day, our friend Pedro stopped by to tune up the car, and adjust the timing so it would pass.

He forgot his timing light, however, and so, with a battered old silver steel hammer, like Thor, he tapped. I thought he had managed, but as I drove off to the smog check station I notice the idle seemed, well, about the same actually..this does NOT bode well…I have this SINKING feeling on the way back to the smog check ONLY station…

Well, Pedro knows what he’s doing, he’s the expert here, and the smog checker guy, is also an expert. Surely I’m in good hands all the way down the line here. All the way down the PIKE, I’m in good hands here right? From expert to expert, everything should be PERFECT. The engine purred, exactly as it had before…shit…not good, not good…

I pull up at the smog check only station. Remember, that’s ALL they are supposed to do at a ‘test ONLY” station.’ There’s nothing else on the agenda here. Its one thing, and one thing only here, this is the ONE thing that they do. Otherwise, its gambling on the web, cigarettes, religious posters and centerfolds all day. Just there. In that smog check station. Every day. Day in , and day out, they sit. Sometimes switching on the giant silver electric fan. Sometimes bickering about proceedure or politics maybe. They could spend a certain allotment of time each day discussing the mysteries of philosophy and politics, women, the middle east crisis. I could imagine all of these threads in their conversation, between drags on the eternally burning cigarettes in the beaten plastic ashtray, but above ALL else, the single solitary thing of importance they actually DO here, is smog checking. Smog check ONLY, remember. This is their main schtik. Their main gig. Their primary task. Their sole objective as a business establishment…

He looked up from the computer in the corner, and the smoldering plastic ashtray, and beside the centerfold, and the tortured Jesus, looking surprised.

“Smog check?”

Yes, very convincingly surprised. Or he could very easily have been feigning surprise, I realize now. Looking back, its something I NOW realize. In retrospect, he was quite possibly a pretty decent ACTOR as well, this tall, lanky suave and intelligent middle eastern man. Possibly a very decent fellow, with reading glasses perched on the tip of his nose, very scholarly in fact.

My grandfather converted from jewish to christian when he escaped persecution in Russian and moved to America in the 20’s. I wonder if many Islamic people who come to america do this nowadays. “I’m Jewish, I SWEAR, I mean CHRISTIAN, see. I’m jewish CHRISTIAN, see. NO, not MOSLEM. I’m CHRISTIAN for sure. I’m with the Israelis, I’m circumcised and I was barmitzfaad and everything, I’m eating some matzaball soup even as we speak, mmmmm, wait I mean holy wafers. See, I’ve got a whole fucking BOX Of holy wafers here, I’m catholic obviously, can’t you tell?  What the FUCK?  What the FUCK?

What to believe? Holy shit, the smog check guy, THIS smog check guy COULD be a spy? posing as a smog check technician in the sprawl of los angeles. what BETTER place to hide? who would ever suspect, or have any interest in a hazy smog check station lodged behind a gas station where even the baggy eyed vultures don’t realize its there.

“WAIT, one cotton pickin minute, hey RALPH!!!” says one vulture to the other. “What is this CRAP we’ve been breathing all these years, HEY, I think its emanating from that smog check ONLY station I just now noticed, down there, right there, look RALPH, its RIGHT there damn. DAMN! We’ve been perched RIGHT ABOVE IT, all this time…I can’t believe I never noticed this before, holy SHIT, LOOK…RALPH…right there directly below us. DAMN!!! Holy SHIT!!  Holy Shit!! Right there below us!  I wondered what that fucking SMELL was! Holy CRAP!  All this time I thought it was a Church or a Temple or a Mosque.  I love shitting on those!”

Smog check man seems surprised to see me for exactly 10 seconds while he said “smog check?”, then he chirps up and says something or other, I think it was “STOP! I’ll do it” as he held his hands up to stop me from pulling onto the gyro myself. Thing is, ok, ok, I REALLY like pulling up onto the gyro, its definitely the most fun part of this, and now, and NOW, even this tiny joy has been deprived of me, ok, smile, wave, shut off the car. Let HIM do it. Ok, HE gets to pull the car onto the gyro thing. don’t let it get you down, whatever, smile, give him the key. Stay UP!

I give him the key, and head over to starbucks. Ok, I wasn’t really whistling any happy tunes or anything, just trying to stay detached I guess.

I wonder if this guy is really crooked, as I was told by Pedro. Pedro had assured me this place would pass me, and was delightfully crooked. Crooked, in this case, is a good thing. But now I’m wondering, what if this guy is actually selling girl scout cookies and straight as an arrow. He seems true blue this guy. Honest Abe they might call him. Normally, this would be a GOOD thing.

Its a paradox, yes, I want an honest mechanic, no, I don’t want an honest smog checker. I want an honest, but crooked smog checker if that makes sense. Actually, does ANYTHING make sense now?  No.  Nothing does at this point actually.  These endless visits to the smog checker make me question the sanity of the world. The world has gone completely and utterly BONKERS, and these smog check stations are PROOF of this very fact. In a sane world, there would BE no fucking smog check stations.

I look out the window of starbucks to see if there are buzzards and camels milling about, but no, everything is perfectly sane here. Nothing bonkers about this. Oh no. This is perfectly normal stuff. Just the smog check guy, half way inside my engine compartment again. Teetering on the edge again. Tinkering and doing his visual inspection. He’s very visual this guy, and perfectly normal. And Starbucks is ever so normal. Normal, normal, normal, sane, sane, sane.

I pick up some rank thai food to eat at the smog check station, which turns out to be a really disgusting proceedure.

Note to self: Smog check station is NOT a good place to eat, or do anything else really. Its the apocalypse COW I decide. A big juicy pimple on the face of the earth. A boil on the butt of god. With these and other delightful thoughts I consume my pad thai which has no flavor whatsoever at the smog check station. A camel spits in my pad thai and some buzzard drool lands in it with a plop.

I look over at the smog check guy who is now REALLY getting into this, oh man.

He has now WEDGED his head somehow in the engine compartment, with his reading glasses pushed up on his forehead.

He is breathing heavy, and great monumental beads of sweat have now formed on his brow. He definitely looks WEDGED in there now, comically stuck and cursing. His head a part of the engine now. He has fused himself with the engine somehow. He is at ONE with the engine. I imagine myself driving off with him still wedged in there. Will the hood still close? Can he pack the rest of his body in there, or will he be forced to run alongside the car when I leave? Oh lord, he’s having SEX with the car!!! I can hear him grunting!!! The tortured Jesus next to the playboy centerfold, by the plastic ashtray averts its eyes. Even the centerfold shudders and folds itself back up. The cigarette goes out in the dirty plastic ashtray. His partner continues gambling online. A camel farts.

“OK!” he suddenly produces a rectangular black metal part like a prize he just pulled from a box of cracker jacks. “THIS thing was in the way!!” I imagined us playing the board game “OPERATION” and he had a thigh bone in his tweezers now.

Its a small unremarkable rectangular black metal part covered in grease so I mix it in with my pad thai to improve the flavor.

“ok, well, see you next year,” I say entirely without malice.

This sends him over the edge, “I’m not SUPPOSED to do ANY work, this is smog check ONLY station!! You got a really good deal here!!!”

Having paid him twice now, I’m not thrilled or tickled about him not having to do ANY work…why can’t he do a LITTLE work here?? I sort of think he SHOULD do a LITTLE work here right? I’m paying him right?? I actually meant no malice when I said “see you next year”. I mean, this is a ONCE a year thing right? Why the sudden angst?  Am I supposed to come in here every day from now til eternity?

He wags his finger at me angrily sputtering about how I got this GREAT deal here.

The camels appear again, muttering and spitting at me also, and the buzzards shout obscenities at me. The other guy who had been gambling looks up to scowl at me. Synchronized scowls. I wonder if they practice scowling in unison in front of a mirror somewhere.

“GREAT deal.  GREAT deal.  GREAT deal.”

A crown of barbed wire is placed on my head, and I am strapped to the gyro, which switches on and grubby villagers begin poking me with the spearlike exhaust sensor. Bolts are shot through my hands and ankles. A ray of sunshine shoots down from a cloud. A small group of followers miraculously appear at my feet as my car is swallowed by quicksand with a great gulp and is now reduced to a sporadic eruption of various sized bubbles in a puddle at my feet.  “you got VERY good deal”

“yes, I know, thank you, THANK you”

“Come back tomorrow, and we’ll test it again, but I have to charge you because you used up your free re-test again”

“Do you think it will pass tomorrow then?”


“I don’t know…”

Rolling a Joint On the Hood of a Cop Car
by Morgan Martin

At the time, it seemed like a GREAT idea, but in retrospect, I’m not so sure.  In retrospect, it might NOT have been the brainiest or wisest moment in their lives.  Hindsight is 20/20, they say, and looking back, most of them would agree this was probably NOT the best of plans.  In retrospect, there might have been BETTER places to roll the joint.  The hood of a cop car, might seem like the most poetic ideal surface to use for this particular activity, but as it turns out, there are probably BETTER places to spread out your MASSIVE pile of weed, and start removing the seeds.  Looking back wistfully, later, and tracing the logic on a graph somewhere, at a hemp convention say, there might have been one or two flaws in the methodology applied here.    In retrospect, other surfaces might come to mind, other species of car.  A parking enforcement vehicle say, or a mailtruck, might have worked just as well,  if they had been thinking a bit more clearly.  In short, it was a foolhardy undertaking, in the best of light, but this awareness did not register with them until some time later.

Why THIS hood?  Why THIS car?  Why HERE?  Why NOW?  These and other obvious questions come to mind.
Why did Penny dump the weed out on that particular hood?  What could have possessed Penny?
The hood wasn’t even very CLEAN!  She COULD have chosen a CLEANER, more sanitary hood certainly.  What the fuck Penny?

What the fuck?  Now there’s all this DIRT in our weed!!!  At least choose a CLEAN cop cars hood.  Jesus…This hood is FILTHY!!  All that DIRT is going to be in our JOINT now….you could have at least WIPED a spot clean first, instead of just DUMPING out that HUGE pile of pot on this DIRTY hood.  Look, that hood over there is WAY cleaner, why THIS hood?  Why Penny? Why and What the FUCK?

As they were scratching away, cleaning the seeds, out strolls, you’ll never guess…a police officer.    A  sturdy no nonsense type of fellow he was too, not likely to see the humor and verite at work here.

At first he didn’t seem to notice the specific activity in progress, but as he grew closer, and his frown grew longer, the kids began to suspect he was on to them.  He MIGHT figure out what they’re doing, it suddenly seemed quite possible.  He may be familiar with this ritual.

Maybe he’s seen exposes, training videos, what have you, and he KNOWS about weed cleaning, and the techniques involved.  Soon he would be close enough to smell it, and he might identify the “telltale smell.”   He MIGHT be opposed to the operation on general terms, and COULD make a real fuss.  He could be fussy.  He could be the fussy type.   There could be a trace of disapproval now written on his face, and yes, yes, you’d have to call that a frown he was wearing.    There’s really no other word you can use.  It definitely was NOT an ear to ear rastaman smile, that much was clear.  He did NOT break into song and sing “don’t worry, be happy” although…wouldn’t THAT have been interesting…wouldn’t THAT have been interesting if he had started dancing and singing, and if he broke out a large hooka from the trunk.  Maybe that’s what everyone was half expecting.  Oh goody, the nice officer is here now to break out a large GOLDEN hooka from the trunk!!  Maybe he’s got some good hash he can mix in with our schwag here…

Why the long face officer?

“Uh, what’s going on here?” he asked.

Penny, who was still rolling seeds down the front of the hood with great skill, but apparently not in any rush.  Um, Penny, could you maybe speed up this process a little? Um, Penny.  Everyone appreciates Penny’s great immaculate skill and dexterity with  twisting up a joint, well, ok, not everyone, there’s a cop here now that does NOT seem entirely supportive, but Penny really wasn’t paying him much attention.  She is an ARTIST, and she was really focused on her task, and not thinking too much about grumpy long faced police officers that might somehow randomly stumble upon this car.  I think she was actually humming…

Gee. I wonder if this officer will remember where he parked?  Maybe its a LOST police car!  Maybe that’s what they were thinking, this particular cop car is LOST, and the officer will NEVER find it.  Maybe they thought it was an ABANDONED cop car, left to perish and have joints rolled upon it.  How many OTHER joints had been rolled on this old abandoned cop car.  How many delightful parties were thrown on this hood.  How many seeds had already rolled into the cracks of this hood.  Maybe this was Amsterdam, and the officer would join them.
Maybe the officer would look kindly upon them, and grace them with his most heartfelt blessing and support.  “Hey, kids, nice to see you engaged in such a productive fun activity this day.   Here, have the keys to my car, and my gun!!   And…hold on, let me bust out my GOLDEN hooka which I keep in the trunk for JUST this sort of occasion.  Hold on, wait one sec, I have a gorgeous GOLDEN hooka in my trunk, seriously, hold on kids, let me grab that for ya…its always packed with confiscated weed, I pretty much always have some, hold on…

Maybe he had a lava lamp on the dashboard, and a bumper sticker that reads “gas, grass or ass, nobody rides for free”.  Now THERE’S a bumper sticker you don’t see on cop cars everyday.  Only in California.

Penny looked up and saw the officer, now standing right beside her.  She looked him up, and she looked him down.   Her eyes roamed from the tip of his policemen’s hat, to the toe of his shiny policemen’s boots.  She may have licked her lips slowly, to moisten them properly for the operation at hand.  She noticed his shiny badge, his nightstick, his mace on the belt, and the gun in its holster, on his belt.  She continued rolling the joint with her hands, while she looked at the officer.  No, INSPECTED the officer from top to bottom.  Then she lost interest in him and bent her head down to lick the paper, and finish the proceedure, as the officer followed her every move with his eyes silently beside her.

Now the proceedure was complete, and a fine example of her exemplary rolling technique was dangling from her lips provocatively.

“Got a light sailor?” she said.

Apparently she thought he was a sailor.

Its just a friendly sailor, she must have thought.

Up strolls a friendly sailor, is what she must have thought to herself.

Enter. Sailor. Stage Left. She may have scripted.

Penny is always confusing friendly sailors with policemen.  Its the darndest thing.  She reminds me of OLIVE OIL in those popeye cartoons, all arms, nothing but long gangly  ten foot stick arms flailing about like a windmill.  HELLLLP!!!  HELLLP!!!!  HAHA. No just kidding, I’m fine.  Wait let me go so I can roll a joint for us on this dirty cop car hood.

At the moment, she was the picture of calm and she leaned back against the car, joint dangling still from her mouth.

The officer was now probably in shock, and couldn’t really seem to find words to express himself.  He was tongue tied now maybe.  What to do? What to do?  Should I frisk her?  Should I cuff her?  Should I cuff THEM ALL.  Should I…A) Call for backup or B) Use my STUN GUN, and STUN them all one by one or C)  Use the choke hold on their leader to damage their morale.  But who is their LEADER??

This bunch didn’t seem organized enough to be a GANG.  He may have wondered if we were bloods or crips, since some of us were wearing blue, and some red.  He might have really been thrown by that.  Lets see, THAT one’s wearing red, must be a blood.  That one has some LIGHT crips wear LIGHT blue?  Its almost a pastel powder-puff blue…do crips wear PASTELS? He may have been pondering these, and other profound questions, OR, he was thinking about a serious crime in progress because…

Actually, I think he may have had OTHER things on his mind because, his radio squawked and without a word, he walked around, jumped in the drivers seat, and basically drove off rolling his eyes, with weed and pot seeds flying off his hood.

“Shit PENNY, there was like half an OUNCE there, what the fuck Penny!  You couldn’t just put out a few joints?
You just had to dump that ENTIRE pile of kickass weed there, on that dirty ass cop car hood.  what the fuck Penny! what the FUCK!?!?

But Penny wasn’t paying any attention to us now…her eyes glazed over from the chronic she was now smoking and she swayed in a trance looking off where the sailor had just boarded his vessel, off to war…off to war…off to war, she must have thought.  He’s gone now, FAREWELL, FARE THEE WELL, FAREWELL, BON VOYAGE, my DEAR soldier, my dearest soldier, my DARLING dear soldier, I shall write, I shall write my love, I will be waiting, I shall wait for thee, I shall… I shall…..

“Um, Penny, what the fuck??  Are you ever going to pass that thing Bogart!”

A Bicycle Bell is practically Useless Downtown
by Morgan Martin

Not sure how to warn people who can’t hear me, its an issue.

They sally forth bleary eyed and deaf, zombie-like in almost every
detail except maybe the arms sticking straight out in front.  Ear buds are packed tighly in place, nestling them in some unknown audio world one can only guess.  I don’t know.

Oh look! She’s listening to Streisand while she jogs, you might surmise.
Maybe that blissful oblivious grin is produced by Cher at high volume.
I don’t know.  I don’t know.

Point is, I’m bicycling and I yell “ON THE RIGHT” or “ON THE LEFT”
half the time they have a cell phone pressed to their head or earbuds
and its really useless, what’s the point of yelling.  What’s the point?

Suddenly a bicycle bell is pathetic and feeble and I feel like an ant or
an aphid,who are the slaves of ants right? Is that right? Anyway, even
SMALLER than an ant.  I am suddenly a SPEC on wheels.  A rolling dust mite.

Other times, my little bell strikes absolute and sheer TERROR in the hearts of pedestrians, go figure.

Look! That one is definitely listening to Barry Manilow, the fanny pack is a giveaway.
This is not science fiction, this is real in 2009.  ZOMBIES ARE REAL!

You can yell extra loud while simultaneously slamming the hammer on that bicycle bell
or pounding a gong with a huge mallet, it doesn’t matter.

BIcycling with a gong in one hand was fun for a while and really did startle
on more than one merry occassion.  “OH… good, you heard me now did you?
EXCELLENT, ok, I’ll be riding by you at this time, on the right do I need to
ring the gong again? are we good?”

The other awful truth is that even when they are NOT deaf and wandering in
their own world “ON THE RIGHT” seems to translate into
“please DO step to the right”and POW I run them over.  Lettuce, turnips,
parsley, it all goes flying.  Or “on the left” could mean “step briskly to the left”
to them sometimes and they might SKIP to the left right into me like an
insane hopscotch move.  “Move One square LEFT!” is what they hear somehow.

You’d think “ON THE RIGHT” would always mean “I”M RIDING BY YOU ON YOUR RIGHT”
but seems to get translated into PANIC AND RUN AROUND IN CIRCLES SUDDENLY
to some pedestrians, which makes it all the more difficult to avoid running them over.

POW, oh, I’m SO sorry, here let me help you pick up those turnips and these beets…
oh my, these eggs don’t look so good now do they…oh my…

The collision itself has a particle trajectory like a linear accelerator shooting particles
on specific paths.  Turnip flies at 33 degrees longitude in a trajectory of tangent 125
and collides with lawn, Radish flies at 53 degrees longitude to 39 degrees longitude
in a graceful arc.  Eggs break, see attached report for fragment locations and
yolk impact sites are marked with a yellow star.

I should maybe yell (in every language imaginable)
“Please do CONTINUE your CURRENT trajectory, and do NOT deviate
to either side.  do NOT step to your left, and do NOT step to your right…
simply continue STRAIGHT forward please…do NOT be alarmed, and do NOT panic…
I am a BICYCLE, I am coming up behind you on your RIGHT,
above all, and most of all, do NOT step or otherwise drift to your RIGHT…

and if you hear me yelling THAT , it means very bad things.  If I am yelling
COLLISION IMMINENT this is not good.  This can only lead to very BAD
and painful things if I am yelling that.

I repeat, do NOT step to your right OR drift off in the starbard direction.
ok, and now in Serbo Croatian, for you Serbo Croatian pedestrians…

Please be AWARE that there is a BICYCLE approaching you on the RIGHT,
meaning, the BICYCLE is on the RIGHT, coming up on the RIGHT,
the bicycle that is, please DO pay attention and be aware
of this moving object which is now approaching, at this time.

I’ve taken to predicting the behavior that I will get when I ting
my quiet little bell meaningfully.

A group of chatty women are the most fun; they are truly in their own
world and often prefer to string themselves out in a line perpendicular
to the route of the path just close enough to each other to make it challenging
for a runner (let alone a biker) to squeeze through. Ring the bell for one of these
groups and you get your “panic and run around in circles” behavior in hyperdrive
and you have 4 or 5 circles all intersecting to form a sort of Olympic rings symbol,
so that gets complicated and dizzying, and you can even get a two-fer sometimes
and knock over 2 of them like bowling pins.  If you knock them ALL over, it is called
a STRIKE, and you leave a really pissed off pile of women behind in your dust.

Of course, then there’s the CORN guy squeezing and honking his bulbous horn
that sounds like a really LOUD duck, walking around the neighborhood quacking
all day, people get out of HIS way.  Who does this guy think he IS anyway?
What is it exactly about a duck quacking sound that makes people really pay attention?
I guess maybe in their minds they are thinking “DUCK CROSSING” and immediately
they are not only stopping, but now they are also buying a stick of corn having fallen
into the quacking corn salesman’s TRAP!  They don’t freak out or feel the TERROR
of a bicycle’s tinging bell.  I remember one old Chinese guy, LEAPED out of his SKIN like he was being attacked once and I was not even CLOSE to him, I felt bad, but…REALLY?

YES, that QUACKING sound means…..I SEE NOW! It means BUY CORN! ok! SURE!
Gimme one-a-them COBS quacking man!  Hell, I”ll take TWO if it’ll shut you up for
a minute with that damn quacking horn.  Hmm…maybe the quacking horn is the ANSWER!
Less scary, but gets their attention…I might have to get one of those.

The ice cream truck also turns heads in a hurry, people go running for it, covered
in smiles.  There’s no fear of the ice cream truck…no sudden movement to jump
in front of the truck…
but a bicycle bell is practically useless downtown.