I write columns in the morning, as I walk. Some people think walking is a huge waste of time, as they drive past, around, and almost over me, daily. During these walks is where I make my hay. While I walk I am producing. As I hit the sidewalk yesterday morning, I thought, "Wow... I wrote three columns yesterday. Now I have nothing to write. Oh well... something will come." About five minutes later, I was at the crosswalk.
A car instantly stopped for me. Now, this doesn't happen often. Today I arrived at this point a little tardy though. Usually, I arrive a couple hours earlier. But because of good fortune and good friends, I got to sleep in a little. Traffic was busier than normal. Yet, I waited... less? Normally, I have to wait a few cars before someone does the right thing. This was a pleasant vacation from those (negative) doldrums. As I rushed across the street my column began, naturally.
I never think, "Hmm, I have to write a column, so what am I going to write about?" It's more like, "Wow... I wrote three columns yesterday. Now I have nothing to write. Oh well... something may come." And that's the Truth. Anyway, I am walking and my thought is, "I just slowed all that traffic down. I just caused something to take place, and it affected a whole group of people. If I get there a few seconds later, maybe a few more cars get through before someone stops. I get there later, maybe the same, maybe not... who knows?"
But what I do know is this: one single act, no matter how innocuous, no matter how "well-intended," no matter the motivation, it's the result of that action that matters. And we never seem to know what happens as a result of those actions or inaction even. Not taking action can have its' consequences as well. And sometimes we see the result, but mostly, we do not. And if we could, we would probably eat a bullet. Well, those with a conscience would. Sociopaths would just smile, sardonically, while taking a drag off their (Federally-Protected) Crack Sticks, one more time while plotting their next hostile takeover.
Think I'm nuts?
Let's say this happened: for sake of argument, let's say I am the witness to the event that I am about to write. I saw the entire thing... yet I have not seen it or know where it is going to take me. Just like the effects of all our actions, I have no idea where we are about to go. This is going to be a Free Form Writing Exercise. Everything written already, is a Free Form, of sorts, as it was produced naturally; it was not forced or contrived in any way. The upcoming story unfolded as I listened to AC/DC, Slayer, Black Sabbath, Rush, Metallica, Ministry, Sex Pistols, P.I.L. (Public Image Ltd.), and Ozzy Osbourne.
I got to the crosswalk. Bustling up as they stacked up, one of them stopped and waved me across, like your mother waving you into the camera's eye in a vacation shot. After crossing the street the line of angry cars sped rushing past. I could feel their disdain as they flew by. All but the first car, that is... that soul was A-okay. The rest of them, though, they had issues. Less than a minute later, as I walked down the earthquake-mangled West Berkeley sidewalk, I could hear someone ahead slam on their breaks. Skid sounds followed and then I heard a sound; a sound I will never forget, the sound of life, leaving a body. Heaving. The sound of impact that ripped the soul from its housing was sobering. It was the sound of the Source, calling. Time to go. Adios. "Thanks for coming, drive home safely!"
Her mangled body hit the pavement and bounced like a discharged balloon. I have never seen anything like it. Like a rag doll. A bag of broken femurs and patellas, rattling around like a bingo-bag of laminate-numbered-chips. It was so sad to watch, a young life being snuffed out by a 2,000 pound Steel Beast. She was only fourteen-years-old too. Her life was just starting. Just the other day, for the first time, ever, she kissed a boy; Johnny Fortunada is his name, and he was one of the many witnesses of this tragedy.
A week later there was a funeral for young Natalie. Natalie Carver was a straight-A student and loved everyone. Not everyone loved her though. As with life, not everyone loves everyone. Especially those with whom are loved by gross. People can and will display jealous tendencies toward things beloved. Nevertheless, Natalie was a bright light in a sea of a never-ending-stream of detritus. She always made others around her feel welcome. She would treat the movie star the same way she would treat a member of the Wing-Nut Taliban -- equal. Her parents, Marty and Sally, regularly remarked of Natalie's "old soul" approach to life. That she was here for a purpose. Sure, every parent believes their kid is special. But where Marty and Sally were concerned, it was true. Natalie had plans to go to the local college, the University of California, Berkeley, as a Journalism Student. She wanted to get her message of equality and love out to the masses.
Eventually she would birth a non-profit organization, she dreamed, helping all those Mentally Handicapped People she grew up seeing begging on the downtown streets. Those folks she gravitated towards, because she knew they were just like her, only down on their luck. And a lot of them were also abused sexually, physically, and emotionally, and she knew this at a young age. Again, she was an old soul. She used logic and reasoning to get where she needed. Not greed or ulterior motives. She envisioned a city, state, country, world, planet better than what was already here. She wanted to leave the world in a better condition before she left.
It was sad, listening to all those great stories of that beautiful young flower, taken out by the internal (more like 'infernal') combustion engine... the "greatest achievement known to man!," I believe someone once uttered? How's that going, everyone? Seems to me vehicles are the bane of all civilization, all time, ever. Seems to me this is the Source for all human beings miseries and despair. But I digress. Not a brighter beam of light ever shined on this planet... Natalie was truly awesome. She was too close to the Source. She was enlightened, time to go.
Johnny Fortunada didn't taken Natalie's demise so well. Two weeks after Natalie's burial, Johnny began using heroin. A "friend" of his turned him on to it. More like, the clown got him strung out so he could use Johnny to get high; he knew Johnny's parents had cash because of their living location: Berkeley Hills. Johnny's parents noticed the difference in his appearance almost immediately. He began listening to Yanni and John Tesh. Barry Manilow was heard coming out of Johnny's room every once in a while. Problem. Gateway Drug. Once, while Johnny had borrowed his parent's car, he was heard bumping... Kenny G? Yep. That was the clincher: he had himself a nasty little drug habit. Once you go Kenny G., you know you're in way too deep.
It had been four years since Johnny began shooting heroin into his skinny arms. He was a mess. He was barely alive. And, he was now eighteen-years-old. An adult, as far as the State was concerned.
After getting pinched for a deal, where pounds of the hard stuff was involved, Johnny was offered a deal by the District Attorney of Alameda County. The deal predicated he go into a "program." Johnny resisted the idea, at first... but soon relented, when the judge told him it was that or two years in the State Penitentiary, where he would surely get his prostate massaged on a daily basis, because of his young, hairless, androgynous appearance.
He would be Prime, Grade-A Choice-Cut to those on the inside. Johnny getting this deal was predicated on a few factors: his age, his clean track record, and the circumstances of his witnessing a friend's death. Johnny's parents paid for a top-notch clinical psychologist to evaluate him and speak in is behalf at his arraignment. His socioeconomic status had nothing to do with the deal. On the surface, that is how it appeared to some in the local papers, but again, the circumstances proved worthy of the deal and the critics were once again silenced. The residing judge agreed to all the terms of the deal and Johnny was on his way to rehabilitation.
Johnny Fortunada does his rehab, again reluctantly. He is now "clean," but something about the process did not sit right with him. He was always the sort of guy who asked tough questions. It wouldn't hold, for long. He did the prerequisite NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and AA (Alcoholic Anonymous) meetings. He checked in regularly with his Probation Officer. He was staying clean. But, a lot like a "Dry Drunk," Johnny was a "Dry Junkie." His parents knew it, too. They kept too close an eye for Johnny to succeed. In fact, as Johnny grew tired of being watched. It was time to leave the nest. Johnny had been sheltered way too long, he thought. He had never struggled. He thought it would be a distracting change from his Trauma, even though he thought he had already dealt with it, he surmised; he buried it, actually; it will come later and bite him when he thinks he is doing well. Too well. "Pride cometh before the fall" indeed.
The very next evening Johnny cops some dope on San Pablo Avenue and fixes up under the University Avenue overpass, where I-80 and the avenue meet. It's raining out, too. Pouring. Water is rushing out of the bridge's PVC pipes, they are strategically placed so the bridge does not collapse from erosion and rust of infrastructure. Johnny is high. After the spell of euphoric utopia rescinds Johnny decides he wants to drive to New York City. He's never been out of the Bay Area... and barely out of the Berkeley Hills. Shangri-La was all Johnny ever knew. He was spoiled. Even the views were privileged. It never went to his head, but it was corrupting his soul; he always felt guilty.
Johnny staggered through the torrential downpour on a mission. He needed a vehicle. New York City was a long way away. He would go to "Needle Park," in the city. He had read of this place. The Beatniks wrote about it. Alan Ginsberg. Jack Kerouac. Sidney Lumet? Maybe. I think. Nevertheless, Johnny wanted to get there. He was an Artist, like they were. He felt that pulling at him; pulling enough that, as he walked up University Avenue, heading up the hill, toward the campus, he noticed a Classic, and it was running with the door, the driver-side door, wide open. Johnny did not hesitate. He jumped in the '69 Chevy Chevelle Malibu SS, metallic purple with 60-inch tires and Center Line Race Rims. Fuzzy dice hung from the rear-view mirror, and the dashboard purred, thanks to the leopard-skin rug taking up space (ruining it) over the (original) black leather interior. The person who left this car running, in this fashion, was an idiot.
Johnny sped off and backtracked to the freeway on-ramp. I-80 East was the sign he wanted, as he cranked up the stereo and car's momentum. The song was, "Free For All," by Ted Nugent. Appropriate, Johnny thought, as the lyrics, "The stakes are high and so am I, it's in the air to niii-yi,yi-ight, yeah," "bu-du-bu, bu-du-da, bu-du-da-bu-du-da!," came out of the radio and then Johnny, slightly late. He banged the black-leather steering wheel as he tried lighting his cigarette when he noticed someone trying to merge into his lane from his side of the car. It was clearly their fault, but assigning blame would not stop the rain, stop Johnny's heroin habit, bring the Jews and Palestinians together or bring back Natalie. Johnny reacted to the insanely unaware drunk by honking repeatedly, but he was too busy adjusting the cap on his bottle of beer; he thought he was parked.
The drunken maniac's next trick was to slam his car into Johnny's new muscle car and off Johnny's new car careened into another unsuspecting car; a car with a family in it. Four of them in all. All four never saw it coming. They were singing (in unison) an old cheesy seventies song when it happened. They bounced off Johnny's car, skidding because of panicking break maneuvers of the unaware father of two young girls, and into the guardrail they flew. After bouncing like a pinball, guard rail to light standard, back to guard rail, finishing the deadly dance in a water-collecting culvert. The water level had been rising steadily because of the constant barrage of rain from the previous couple days. This was a nasty weather system, and more inclement weather was on the way, according to the "new's" Trained Weather Chimp.
The seventies-style station wagon sat upside down in the culvert. Water filling the inside of which was smashed, like a crushed beer can. Half of them had their brains pushed through their knee caps already. They had no more worries, no more fears, no more aspirations, no more dreams, no more pain. The other two were alive, but were struggling to stay that way. Their seat belts were jammed and they could not release them.
The water kept steadily rising. Mother Nature did not concern herself with the design flaws of a car seat belt or an "accident." The father and eight-year-old girl struggled and cried, but there was no point. Futility and frustration began creeping into the converted steel coffin. Nobody was listening. Nobody was coming to the rescue. There was no Superman. He was an American Myth, sort of like "And Justice For All!" Just another empty platitude in a sea of empty platitudes.
At this time Johnny's car had come to a rest near the endangered family, only fifty yards away. Johnny, stunned, shaken, still a little high, realized there was problem. He heard two people screaming for help. Only now the sounds were being muffled by all that water rushing in. Would Johnny be that Superman?
When Johnny got to the flipped family relic it was too late. Their lungs had taken in too much water. Their shocked eyes were both fixed and dilated; all four of them; eight if you count the other two, but their eyes had already been blown out of their sad sockets upon impact, so.... Game over. No yellow penalty flags left on the field. No red coach's challenges, either. The teams were exiting the stadium. No winners tonight. Only Losers.
Johnny staggered back out on the rain soaked freeway. He was sobbing, uncontrollably. Johnny looked up to the sky for guidance, but received none. He shouted to God for advice, but God was too busy killing people in Muslim Nations to be concerned with a Peon like Johnny. God was too busy trying to hide priests from this world's Justice. God was too busy blowing up and raping sh*t to give two fucks about Johnny Fortunada and his shallow silliness. f*ck him. He made his bed and now it was time to soil himself in that bed. After all, he had "choices." And he made the wrong choices. He chose drugs over capitalism and a lifetime of loyal consumerism. He choose to run away, instead of staying put and facing the horrors of it. He chose death.
Johnny could never forgive himself.
On the morning of Natalie's death Johnny was late. He was always late, but he was late on that day, too. And he was late because he waited until the last minute to write his History paper. Johnny was having issues with school at that time and Natalie was always there to help him. That's why she was with him on that morning. He called her the night before and asked her if she would come over the following morning, to help him get a "C," at least. He had scribbled a bunch of notes, but nothing all that pertinent to the subject of Marie Antoinette and "let them eat cake!" That story resonated with young Johnny. He had a rebel in him screaming to get out. He was a sheltered kid... he needed freedom and reality. But he was not prepared; prepared for what would happen to his best friend and what would happen to him as a result of that horror. Yet, he did not put in the effort it took to get the job done, so cue: Natalie.
Johnny's guilt for Natalie's death was too much for him to muster. And this latest development was the final domino to fall. He was now responsible for five deaths, he thought. "I suck! I am the personification of Evil!" his guilt concluded.
A few cars narrowly missed him, some of which had slowed down to gawk speed. Some of the cars did not get that memo and were still flying past the scene. Probably high or drunk on something. Johnny crossed the freeway's dividers, walked out into the oncoming southbound traffic, and was crushed by a big orange truck and trailer. Johnny's body exploded upon impact. Blood, sinew and capillaries burst like a shotgun's discharged impact on a basket of tomatoes... or puppies. The chunks of flesh stuck to the undercarriage of the trailer, would take weeks to get clean. Even still, little pieces of Johnny would eventually end up in New York City -- The Bronx, in fact. That specific trailer traveled east and west quite regularly, in fact. The driver was on his way to the Port of Oakland when Johnny decided he had had enough.
Meanwhile, back on University Avenue, a confused man throws down his milkshake and bag of corporate fast food... his car has been stolen. As he is delivering his psychotic dance three young men approach him. They are all three carrying guns. A nickel-plated .45 caliber, 9mm Beretta, and Walter PK380, respectively. In unison, they all three pull out their weapons, aim, and shoot the angry man where he protests. All three young men deposit their discharged weapons on the ground as though they were laying a baby chick softly in a nest. All three young men then walked back from the direction they came, got to the corner and walked with purpose, out of sight.
"There are no U-Haul trucks behind funeral processions."