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Bad Mercury Rising
By Dave Shulman
First published in L.A. Weekly, August 13, 2004.
The underground garage had 26 parking spaces with corresponding signs. Each sign, about 2 feet wide and 3 feet high, was home to 25 large red uppercase letters forming four explicit words, one word per line: ASSIGNED TENANT PARKING ONLY. To accomplished semioticians and weekend syntax-dabblers alike, it might seem that the parking in this garage was intended more for the use of a paying tenant’s ’67 Volvo than for the rogue ’75 Mercury found inexplicably docked in my space at the end of a long night’s work.
The severity of such a minor crime swelled considerably due to the lack of alternatives: This was over on Laurel Avenue, a block up from Sunset, sort of West Hollywood adjacent, before you go up into Laurel Canyon, over by the DGA, just up the road from the Laugh Factory, in a neighborhood that has no name and less street parking. Old red Volvo and I prowled along Selma, seething, up and down Hayworth, growling, back up Laurel to Hollywood, red-eyed and drooling, over to Fairfax and south to where an expensively dressed man was enjoying a moonlit piss in the street beside an expensively dressed sedan with its lights on. I pulled over, waiting until he finished and waved (his hand), got in his Lexus, pulled out and ran the very red light at Sunset. But it was 3:30 a.m., a weekday, so no one died or even noticed; I parked there beside the fresh piss-puddle, locked up and hiked the four short blocks home.
But instead of going somewhere reasonable — up to my apartment, to sleep — I went down to the garage. Knelt down beside the offending Mercury. Checked to make sure the coast was clear, unfolded my pocketknife and . . . no, I did not slash the tires. That would have been evil. I didn’t feel evil, just cranky, just mean. So, using the tip of the knife to hold down the release pins on the valves, I let the air out of all four tires. Because that was the plan. Because I was insane with exhaustion. Because ’75 Mercury picked the wrong night. Because there’s a rule: Eventually, we all have good reason to park in someone else’s space, and when we do, we must leave, prominently, on the windshield, a note to the following effect: “Sorry to inconvenience you by parking in your space. [Insert tenant’s name] in [insert apartment number] suffered an [insert life-threatening emergency here], and I came to his/her aid as quickly as possible. Please come find me and/or call my cell phone at [insert number here], and I’ll come move my car. Sincerely, not a motherfucker.”
It takes a while for tires to go flat through their valves, and this gave me some time to unwind and reflect, which should’ve been enough time to see the error of my ways, stop and go to sleep. I knew I wasn’t doing a good thing. And I knew I’d be caught — who else would even be suspected? — but I didn’t much care. I was in a foul mood, and it wouldn’t die. Sick of being nice to mean people, sick of rolling over and taking it, whatever it was. Complain about your tires, motherfucker? I dare you. I double dare you.
The next morning (five hours later) at 8:45, I crawled across the courtyard and down the stairs in the clothes I’d slept in and found the Mercury unmoved, so I went back upstairs and knocked on the manager’s door. Antoinette, who wore such thick makeup that no one knew quite who or what was beneath it, was a good manager — polite and efficient, quick with a cup of coffee, early to open and late to close.
“Come ihhh-yihnn!” she sang from far behind the door.
I tried, but couldn’t. “It’s lahhh-ocked!” I sang back.
“Just a mihhh-nit!” Antoinette maintained a closely matched pair of ridiculously oversize artificial breasts that, combined with her assorted skintight tops, short black skirts, fuck-me pumps, over-the-top coquettish mannerisms, aforementioned Rembrandt-thick makeup and rotation of unfamiliar middle-aged late-night companions, endowed her with a pleasantly recreational air.
After a mihhh-nit, the door opened to reveal Antoinette wearing tons of makeup and little else; behind her, the pink-and-purple curtains hung in suggestive folds, and, on the 19th-century brothel sofa beneath them, in a tattered gray robe, sat a pale, emaciated, middle-aged woman, bald, sipping coffee and reading the paper.
“Good morning, Day-yayv!” Antoinette crooned. “You’re up awfully early! Have you been working out?”
“Yeah. No. I was just . . .”
“Day-yayv? This is my friend Martha.”
“Hello, Dave,” Martha smiled weakly.
“Martha’s my dear friend from San Bernardino. She’s in town for a few days, getting radiation treatments at Cedars-Sinai. It’s the closest hospital that has the equipment she needs. Do you want some coffee?”
Radiation. Cancer. Mercury. “Coffee?”
“Actually,” said Antoinette, heading for the kitchen. “It’s strange that you came by, because I was going to call you in a little while. We got in pretty late last night — we were at the hospital forever, waiting for test results — and Martha couldn’t find any parking, so I let her park in the garage. I think she may have parked in your space.”
“Oh. I . . . actually, I parked on the street last night, so I didn’t notice. Yeah — park there as long as you like.”
“Oh, good,” said Antoinette, emerging from the kitchen, turning to Martha. “See what nice tenants I have?” Martha nodded. Then Antoinette turned and presented me with a nice hot cup of coffee and matching cleavage. “So what can I do for you, Mr. Early-Bird?”
“Oh. I . . . thanks.” I made up something about unpacked bearings in one of the washing machines, gulped down the coffee, thanked them and left, bug-eyed, to whisper holy shit! holy shit! holy shit! as I sprinted upstairs, grabbed the pump off my bicycle and ran back down to the garage.
The parking lot was almost empty, leaving me little cover behind which to glow bright red. Pump, pump, pump. Good one, Shulman. Pump, pump, pump. Nice karma, moron. Pump, pump, pump. Pump, pump, pump. Still, radiation or not, shouldn’t someone have left me a note? Pump, pump, pump. Pump, pump, pump. Must we all — must I — so very much suck?
Took about 10 furious minutes to fill the tires, undetected. Another five to return the bike pump and wash the rubber dust from my hands while calling the bathroom mirror a stupid motherfucker, and another five to walk down to Fairfax and, standing in a sticky bog of Lexus pee, pluck my well-deserved ticket off the old red Volvo’s windshield.