Notes From The Coast

The beach does funny things to the brain

Chapter 2: The Dock Rats

ShippingContainers-LA-Hal

 

Last time on No Imminent Plan…

Our once-scrappy, now adrift hero, Carl Grubbs was having his coffee when his wife declared, among other things, that she was getting a boob job and leaving him for the plastic surgeon. Plus, he’d missed another story deadline at work. As mornings go, it was not his finest. He was charging headlong into the rapidly collapsing dream that was his life.

But that evening, across the beautiful cliffs of Palos Verdes and down into the working class neighborhood of San Pedro, other happenings were threatening the relative peace of an otherwise perfect California night…

 

 

Chapter 2 – The Dock Rats.

“Where is that idiot?” griped Scott Kidnowski, new Head of Harbor Security at the Port of Los Angeles.

He was talking to Jerry, his newly-minted junior supervisor who was in the control tower with him. He suspected Jerry wasn’t really listening because he had his head over a small plastic trash can under the desk trying to vomit away his hangover from the night before. Scott surveyed the area below. The Port of Los Angeles is a sprawling complex made up of 7500 acres of land and water comprised of loading docks, canneries, processing yards and gated high security areas where terrorism was sought and fought by the Los Angeles Port Police. It is one of the busiest ports in the world but tonight, the only working area open during the night shift was a set of four berths, Docking Bays 312-316, in the shape of a dinner fork, four tines sticking out in the south facing San Pedro Bay. The Port Police night shift called it The Pitchfork.

“Did the dipshit get lost?” Scott said as he wondered about Chris ‘Tugboat’ Nevins, the worse half of the half-wit team of junior supervisors he recently promoted. He had sent Tugboat out for Tommy Burgers. Scott was headlong into the midst of suffering his promotion hangover. The Dock Rats had taken him out to celebrate his much deserved and long overdue promotion to Chief Harbor Security Master, Los Angeles Port Police, knowing secretly that their futures hung in the balance. As a result, he could barely concentrate. Excedrin and Alka-seltzer had provided some relief to the waves of nausea and searing lightning bolts of pain but he needed grease to make it through the late shift tonight.

“Yo, any sign of Tugboat’s piece of shit Toyota yet?” Scott said as he radioed from the control tower down to the docks to Mike on Security Team One.

“Negatory, sir,” replied Mike, “Uh, you want me to call him, see if he needs directions?” Mike sounded just as irritated as Scott.

“Nah.” Scott sighed. “Just let me know when the jerkoff arrives.”

“Jerkoff arrival under close watch, sir. Over.” Mike sighed.

Scott was working with three teams down at the docks, all of whom were equally hung over. Mercifully, it was slow. Scott thoughtfully took in the expansive harbor below.

Big haul-in days at the Port Of Los Angeles had slow nights and Tuesdays were one of them. He was expecting a freighter from China, two from Taiwan and one from the Dominican Republic via Panama between the hours of two and four a.m. Piece of cake. It was coming up on 2:15am, two ships were in and two others could be viewed off the coast. Scott dispatched a small team of security officers with K-9s to inspect the containers for illegal substances coming off the ships. The team on the ground radioed in. The walkie-talkie crackled to life.

“Yo, Scott, we’re waiting for the cranes to unload the first containers. Looks like the Dominican ship’ll be light, but not the Chinese freighter,” observed Mike.

“Looks like China first, Tommy burgers second. Feel free to kill Tugboat after the ship’s cargo is off,” Scott said as he massaged his temples.

“Roger that, sir,” Mike said, as he got to work.

Scott surveyed the scene as each container came off the ship. The security team and their K-9s opened the front doors of hard containers for inspection and lifted the rag-tops of soft containers looking and sniffing for narcotics, booze, small arms, machetes and any other suspected illegal foreign materials that might violate a trade agreement or federal law. Terrorism had made the search teams more vigilant in looking for weapons and opiates from Southeast Asia and Afghanistan but more lax in other areas of harmless contraband like foreign liquor without proper papers. Scott ran a tight crew and they had an excellent record of exposing big security breaches. The Mayor had even written him a letter commending him and his team.

As the Chinese freighter unloaded, Scott kept a vigilant eye. He knew that soft, plastic-topped or ragtop containers were a delicate issue. Among harbor security personnel, it was common knowledge that human cargo was often found in these rag-top containers because they allowed ventilation. In the past four years, over three thousand immigrants from China and Korea had traveled and arrived in shipping containers up and down the coast from San Diego to Vancouver often with disastrous and deadly results. It was believed that one in five immigrants survived the three-week ordeal trapped in metal shipping containers with no light, no food, little water, and lots of human waste. Beyond the hurdles of mere survival in a metal box, many faced unsympathetic security, and stern American courts where they hoped to declare political asylum and be granted a chance to stay. In the best case scenario, if an immigrant did win his dream to stay in America, there was a good chance he would find himself herded off the boat into the waiting arms of a gang eager to transport his sorry ass to an East Los Angeles sweat shop making t-shirts for American Apparel.

Human trafficking was a ten billion dollar industry and one of the saddest things Scott had ever seen. During his first year working the docks, he had witnessed a mother who had died from malnutrition and dehydration while her young son, very much alive, cried in her arms inside a shipping container from Beijing. The boy was sent back to China alone. He couldn’t shake the image of the boy watching the Feds cover his mother with a sheet right before he was carried off in the back of a U.S. Immigration van. From that moment, Scott vowed to treat human cargo as human rather than cargo. He didn’t want anyone dying in his harbor. Not on his watch. He would handle with great care those immigrants who risked and tried to scrape out a better life here. For this reason, he decided to head down to the docks to take a closer look at the containers. He forgot his walkie-talkie when he thought he smelled melted cheese on its way.

###

Three teams were on call that night and all three were now scanning and inspecting the containers as they came in. Refrigerated containers usually got a light inspection due to the nature of the cargo. Usually fish, squid, poultry or beef. There was a huge refrigerated container from China of which the dogs took one whiff of and started barking like mad. The security team looked up at the container and checked the manifest. It was marked as smoked meats and hot dogs. All urgent interest from the humans on the scene was lost. The dogs however were trying like hell to signal something was amiss.

 

“What the hell?” Mike Furniss murmured as he held the dogs back and peered into the container. All he saw were pallets of hot dogs. He closed the door and radioed up to control, “Hey Scott, my dogs are going crazy over the smoked meats cold box. Should we move it in the secured area, take a better look? Over.”

No response. Mike waited another minute and radioed again, “Hellloooooo, do I have to wait until you finish your French fries before I get some direction here?”

###

Chris “Tugboat” Nevin’s Toyota pickup sped into the loading area down below just in time to nearly run over his newly promoted boss. Tugboat slammed the brakes and the truck slid sideways on a wet patch, launching one giant bag of Tommy burgers out the truck window and onto the grimy, fish-gut-covered pavement. This triggered a seagull red alert as the scavenger birds sprang to life and began dive-bombing the truck to get near the fallen Tommy burgers.

“Jesus!” Scott shrieked as he jumped out of Tugboat’s way as a seagull swooped down menacingly close to his head. His reaction time was surprisingly fast for a man with a hangover . “God damn it, Tug!” Scott yelled into the headlights of the Toyota.

“Shit. Sorry, Scott,” Tugboat nervously said. “What are you doing down here? You could get killed.”

“The odds increase substantially when you’re around, Tug,” Scott said. He outstretched a hand in Tugboat’s direction. “I’m down here to inspect some of the ragtops. Cheeseburger, please.”

“Right, you had, uh, one without onions?” Tugboat jostled the bag of burgers searching for the right one. “Or the one with grilled onions?”

“Doesn’t matter. Give me a cheeseburger before I fire you for incompetence.”

Tug tossed one to Scott who caught it and swiftly walked away over to where Mike Furniss was standing.

“Anything suspicious?” Scott asked as he took a huge bite of his piping hot chili cheeseburger.

“Nah, not really.” Mike paused.  “Although my dogs went crazy about ten minutes ago over a refrigerated container coming off the Chinese freighter. I made a brief check – it was hot dogs. I radioed you but I guess you were on your way down here. Jerry said that the dogs were just confused because, you know, hot dogs. He told me to put it in regular holding.”

Scott looked down realizing he forgot his walkie-talkie. He nodded quietly and kept chewing. But as the Tommy burger started to seep in and make his brain function properly, Scott’s critical thinking came back.

“Hot dogs?” Scott questioned a Mike’s words sunk in.

“Yep,” replied Mike.

“From China?” Scott inquired further, growing more concerned.

“Uh, yeah.” Mike nodded.

“And the K-9s were going nuts?” Scott asked.

“Yeah, but you know… dogs love hot dogs,” Mike said with a hint of uncertainty in his voice. “That’s what Jerry said anyway.”

“I see your logic there, Mike, but these are highly trained dogs. Hot dogs coming from China don’t add up. Japan maybe, Kobe beef hot dogs. Where did you direct that container?” Scott asked, as a silent alarm started to go off in his head.

###

Five minutes later, Scott and Mike were standing in the processing yard in front of the container from the Chinese freighter. Scott stood back as Mike opened the door to the refrigerated container.

“Hey, uh, Scott?” Mike said as he inched inside the container with his flashlight.

“Just hot dogs?” Scott asked, a note of anxiety in his voice.

“Well, yeah, these are hot dogs alright. But that’s not what I was going to say.”

“What, then?”

“Well, it’s not cold in here. Not even a little bit. And there’s a fan blowing.”

“Oh shit,” Scott muttered, more to himself than to Mike. “It’s ventilated.” He took two steps toward the mouth of the container and in that second, twenty-five Chinese immigrants in tattered clothing stormed the door and came streaming out of the shipping container. The terrified crowd knocked Mike and Scott on their backs nearly trampling the security officers. Mike tried to grab for his walkie-talkie but a frantic, fleeing Chinese foot sent it skittering across the pavement.

“Team Two! Team Three! We have a code red in section 314!” Scott cupped his hands and yelled desperately for backup. But no one could hear him as he watched a horde of fleeing Chinese head off into the darkness.

###

On the other side of the shipyard at Docking Bay 312, all was going relatively well as Security Team Two was inspecting some funky substances from the Dominican Republic container, unable to identify most of it. Wedge, short for Sal Wedgeman, a short, stocky man who was Team Two leader, shook his head and wore a genuinely confused expression as he inspected the jars of powders and bags of dried herbs. A lot of it looked suspicious and highly illegal but when they stuck it right under the noses of the dogs, the K-9s appeared utterly bored with the Dominican shipment and its contents.

“Antoine,” Wedge shouted. “Come over here for a second.”

Antoine, a tall black man sporting impressive dreads, a goatee, and perpetually smelled like patchouli ambled over and looked at what Wedge was holding.

“Not to profile you or anything but you come from this general geographic area, right?” asked Wedge, “Any idea what this shit is?”

Antoine inspected most of it and then took a closer look at a small jar of white powder. On the bottom of the jar there was a small stamp of a snake. Antoine narrowed his eyes and paused.

“Voodoo potions, mon,” Antoine said casually in a Jamaican accent.

“No shit?” Wedge said interested. “Like black magic? I thought all that kind of shit came from Haiti.”

“Dominica is da same island, brudda,” Antoine said as he lit a cigarette and then smiled. “But ‘dis is harmless, mon. Most of ‘dis stuff ‘dey sell as novelty shit in the Botanicas. You know, put a hex on your boss, win the lottery, love potions, that kind of tourist voodoo crap.”

“I need a love potion for Sheila,” Wedge said, referring to his current girlfriend. He sighed and took one more look at the disinterested dogs and their reaction to the contents. “Alrighty. Send it on to regular processing.”

As Wedge moved on to another container, Antoine discreetly took the small glass jar of white powder stamped with a snake and put it in his work duffel bag. The dogs ignored him completely.

###

“Great work, Mike, INS is on its way and the ambulance is there, right?” Scott said as he paced back and forth inside the Control Tower. He was in contact with his security team on the ground.

Jerry was sitting in the corner as effective as a toaster. Tugboat was standing by the desk with a Tommy burger in one hand and a gun in the other.

Scott hung up. “Okay, the ambulance is on the way and I just heard from Wedge over on Docking Bay 312, they have three people from the container in custody, two women and a child. Let’s head over there.”

Tugboat checked his weapon then cocked it. Scott looked over at him.

“Ease up there, Rambo. They’re refugees not criminals,” Scott said.

“But, Scotty,” Tugboat said, “what if they’re refugees and criminals?”

Scott got the feeling Tug was itching to shoot someone with his shiny, new Junior Supervisor title. He looked directly at Tugboat, “Do starving women and children dressed in rags seem like they’re armed and dangerous to you?”

“You never know man,” Tugboat remained obstinate. “I mean they could be part of the Hong Kong Triad. In my video game they’re really up and coming.”

“If anyone fires a weapon, it’s going to be me, blowing my brains out. Now move.”

###

Scott, and his crews arrived down by Docking Bay 312 just in time to see two young Chinese men and a small child sitting on the back of the ambulance as the EMTs administered first aid. The child was chewing on a half a Tommy burger. INS was asking them questions through an interpreter. The teams reported to Scott that no other refugees, alive or otherwise, had been found in the harbor yet. Scott suspected they hightailed it into San Pedro under the cover of darkness, alone, afraid, no food, or shelter. But after considering the alternative of human traffickers and Los Angeles sweatshops, he wondered if they weren’t better off with the garden variety hookers and junkies on the streets of San Pedro.

“It looks like things are under control here.” Scott turned his attention to Wedge. “You finished inspecting the Dominican containers?”

“Yes, sir. Sent to regular processing after a thorough inspection. No problems,” Wedge answered.

“Best news I’ve heard all night. Two Panamanian freighters have arrived and need our immediate and undivided attention,” Scott said, seeing the light at the end of the hangover. “Take your team and head that way. Let’s get this night over with.”

“You got it, Chief.” Wedge took his team and headed to Docking Bay 316.

Scott turned his attention back to the ambulance and ten blissfully quiet minutes passed before his walkie-talkie crackled to life.

“Chief, we have a small problem over at DB 316,” Wedge reported. “With the Panamanian freighter.”

“Uh-huh.” Scott cringed. “Define small.”

“Well, the dogs almost missed it because of the coffee, but we’ve got Venezuelan cigarettes. The papers say Columbia Coffee and Panamanian Rum. No papers for Venezuelan cigarettes. Over?” Wedge reported.

“Oh, okay,” Scott said, pleasantly surprised that, in fact, it was just a small problem. “Get the ship liaison down and read him his rights. I’ll be right there.”

****

Scott walked over to DB 316 where he saw the familiar pockmarked face of Luigi Calvarone. Inexperienced traders attempting first time shipments that came to the US hired Luigi, a freelance liaison, to deal with the border patrol and harbor security. He spoke five languages and had the air and cologne of a cheap attorney not quite on the right side of legal. Not far from Luigi, a short man who was built like a fire hydrant stood in an expensive white linen suit smoothing over his waxed mustache. His hair was dark and wavy, and his eyes stayed hidden behind a pair of tinted glasses so bug-eyed and oversized that Scott thought they might be women’s sunglasses. The man didn’t say a word.

“Mr. Kidnowski, congratulations on your promotion, well deserved, well deserved,” Luigi said warmly, as he extended his hand.

“Thanks, Luigi,” Scott shook his hand and eyed the man in the linen suit. “Seems we have a problem here.”

“It does appear that way, sir. May we speak privately?” Luigi inquired as he gestured to the man in the linen suit to stay where he was.

Scott, although suspicious, granted Luigi a private audience a few feet away from the security teams.

“We are men of action, are we not? Paperwork is for the bean counters and pencil pushers. Please let me explain my dilemma.” Luigi spoke softly in a musical way and smiled, “My client ­–“

Scott interrupted Luigi. “Who is your client?” Scott looked suspiciously over at the short sparkplug of a man.

“Er, his name is Baren Bonavico. Goes by Barry to his friends. I call him Mr. Bonavico. A very upstanding citizen who cannot afford to waste time dealing with Federal ATF agents and certainly we do not want complications of, shall we say, an international nature over cigarettes when it is simply a matter of a paperwork oversight. My client, he made the mistake of hiring his wife’s sisters,” Luigi implored. He held his hands in a pleading way. “Dingbats.”

Scott looked at the Luigi and nodded in recognition. Family always gets you in trouble. His brother-in-law almost got Scott canned for trying to slip a half of a blue fin tuna into the trunk of his Chevy Impala.“So, what are you getting at?” he said, with a little more understanding.

“Well, I am simply suggesting that my client, Mr. Bonavico pay a fine. Directly to you and your men, of course. Right here, right now. We will be on our way and we can forget this whole thing happened.”

Scott looked skeptically at the man and then said, “Sounds less like a fine and more like a bribe. I can’t be bribed, Luigi.”

“Not a bribe, my friend! Merely a showing of our gratitude for ease in processing. We’re talking about cigarettes! Not Escobar’s cocaine! How about somewhere in the neighborhood of five hundred cash and a case of Panamanian rum?” Luigi suggested.

“That’s a nice neighborhood,” Scott said to Luigi and then looked over at Bonavico. “But it’s not a bribe. And we’re doing a thorough manned inspection of everything else in that container.”

“Of course,” Luigi said, still smiling as he looked back at his client. Bonavico stood there in his white linen suit not smiling. He smoothed his groomed mustache again. Scott thought he was watching them like a man trying not to get caught watching.

At that moment, Tugboat came running up to Scott panting and pointing at his walkie-talkie.

“Coast Guard!” Tugboat sputtered, “That other freighter! They just found loads of cocaine on it. We gotta dock them right now. The FBI is on its way, so is the DEA and maybe even the Federales. They said it’s the Mexican Mafia! The Coast Guard ordered all our men out on the docks to bring them in,” Tugboat said, gasping, on the verge of hysteria.

“Good god, this night.” Scott grumbled as he massaged his temples. “Okay, gather everybody else and go. I’m right behind you.”

Tugboat nodded in his out-of-breath, slack-jawed way, and took off flailing and frantic like a kid hopped up on Red Bull and gummi bears.

Scott put his hands on his hips and looked back at Luigi and then over to the shady short man in the linen suit. Five hundred bucks and a case of rum could hardly be considered a bribe. It was more like a thank you. Then he looked over at the Venezuelan cigarettes. He took stock of the night so far. Immigrants loose. Mexican Mafia. Gun-happy junior supervisors. And now the motherfucking Coast Guard. He had no time for cigarettes.

“Leave the rum with Sal Wedgeman. He’ll take care of the processing,” Scott said and then smiled cheerfully. “But get it out of my harbor before I get back.”

“Consider it done.” Luigi said, and then handed a small envelope of cash to Scott.

Scott stood there for a few seconds and realized that the cash felt dirty. It felt like a bribe. Somehow the rum seemed more convivial. Like old seafaring tradesmen making a fair deal over booze. Like pirates. But the money, no, the money felt dirty.

“The rum will do.” He handed the envelope back to the liaison.

A surprised Luigi hesitated and then took the envelope and slipped it back into his suit coat. “Of course, Mr. Kidnowski, as you wish.”

“One more thing,” Scott added and then pointed to Bonavico. “The family excuse only works once. Get your paperwork in order next time, Mr. Bonavico otherwise I won’t be so generous,” he said sternly then he motioned to Wedge.

Wedge ran over.

“Yeah chief? Wedge asked as he came forward.

“Take one case of rum and process everything else. But Wedge, scrutinize as if you’re a prison warden, you hear me? The cigarettes are okay,” Scott said.

“Aye, aye, Cap’n.” Wedge signaled to his teams as they started lifting the cigarettes out of the giant plastic bins filled with coffee.

Scott watched for a few minutes to make sure there everything went smoothly without any last minute protests. Then he nodded to Wedge and stalked off in search of Jerry, Tugboat, and his security teams. He straightened his shitty, government-issue tie and set off to the other side of the docks as he mumbled to himself, “The fucking Coast Guard.”

###

However, the highly sensitive noses of the Harbor Security German Shepards are never wrong. Scott Kidnowski could not have known that Baren “Barry” Bonavico had just smuggled in the largest shipment of Venezuelan cocaine in the history of the Port of Los Angeles right under the watchful eye of Harbor Patrol. Barry watched as the plastic pallets that held the cigarettes were loaded onto a truck. There’s money in chaos, he thought.

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Chapter 1 – Jump into my nightmare, the water’s warm.

alligator

THREE WEEKS EARLIER…

“Jesus Christ, Carl. It’s not rocket science. Just pick one,” Amanda barked, the exasperation clear in her voice.

Staring at the three pairs of breast implants on his kitchen counter, Carl ran his hand through his scruffy beard and reflected quietly how much it took the romance out of the Girls Gone Wild videos. All six breast implants were lined up like an absurd artificial boob smorgasbord, increasing in size from left to the right. The final pair in the parade was so impossibly large they could have been mistaken for washed up jellyfish. Carl tried hard to find the right answer for his impossibly hot wife as she stood there, hand on her hip, tapping her foot in her designer wedges impatiently waiting for his response. All he could come up with was, “I need more coffee.”

Amanda, his wife of almost five years, had been growing increasingly hostile in the last few months. He thought it would pass like most of their petty fights but this time there was something driving her. Some kind of turmoil bordering on contempt that he hadn’t felt before. Her anger was quick and ferocious but usually it ended up with great makeup sex. This morning, he was getting a Pavlovian erection assuming her appetite for sex correlated to her level of fury. As usual, the fight stemmed from something he could not provide to his lovely, demanding wife. This time, it was a choice of mammaries.

“Why do you want fake boobs?” Carl mounted a protest. “No man likes Plastic Fantastic over the real thing.”

“Don’t start this shit. It’s not all about you. I brought these implants from Dr. Saks’ office to give you the illusion you had a vote but as usual you bring your little black cloud of negativity to rain on my parade,” she snapped.

“Amanda, you don’t need these. Yours are perfect. I love them. See?” He set down his coffee cup and lovingly cupped his wife’s perfect C-sized breasts and smiled.

Amanda stood there and glared at him. “Carl, I want a divorce.”

As if on seven-second delay, Carl dropped his hands and raised his eyebrows, emitting a slow sad whistle trying to catch the fast moving words as they bounced off his mind like bugs off a windshield.

“Whoa,” he mumbled trying desperately to catch up to the immediate catastrophe. “How did we go from choosing your future breast size to ending our marriage?”

“It’s been five years,” she said dispassionately from stern lips. ”We’ve given it a good go. But the truth is, we don’t want the same things.”

“We want the same things. We just don’t want the same size,” he declared, pointing to her real boobs versus the gigantic implants on the kitchen counter.

“Dr. Saks says I have nearly a perfect body and with a small augmentation, I could easily be a perfect ten.”

“You are a perfect ten. And why the fuck are we talking about Dr. Saks and since when does his opinion mean more than mine, the guy you’re sleeping with?”

Amanda stood silent and looked at the floor. And a small, unnamed worry that had been working its way silently through Carl’s brain began to surface, like an alligator out of a swamp.

Finally, the unnamed worry reared it’s ugly head. “Ah. I see. Saks is the one you’re sleeping with.”

Amanda softened and looked at him. “I’m sorry, Carl. I really am, but you had to see part of this coming right? I mean, with your…condition.”

“It’s not a condition!” Carl spat back. “It was one time when we had too much of that shitty Oregon Pinot Noir at your Mom’s house! It didn’t help that she put us in your grandmother’s room for Christ’ sake, surrounded by her porcelain doll collection. Any normal penis would have declined to perform in front of sixty pairs of soulless eyes! And I thought you said you understood?”

“I did – but it’s been a month. How long does a woman have to wait?”

“How about longer than a month?”

But Amanda replied coolly, “It’s grounds for divorce. My manicurist told me.”

“Ah! Remind me to hit Angel’s Nail Salon when I need to know my legal rights!” Carl reeled, trying desperately to keep his head. “How long have you been thinking about this?”

“That’s what you want to focus on? How long?”

“How long! How long has Dr. Saks been, shall we say, asserting his opinion?” Carl’s voice raised an octave which, he sensed, was making him sound hysterical. Keep it together, buddy he told himself.

There was a knock on the door.

“Um, I’ll get that,” Amanda said, eyeing the front door, an expression of alarm on her face. “Aren’t you supposed to be on your way to work?”

“’Marriage in shambles’ takes precedent over reporting the daily news.” Carl looked at her perfect ass as she walked nervously toward the door.

She walked to the front door of their mid-century modern home as he stood in the kitchen, with the wretched words “I want a divorce” still hanging in the air like an oily fart, when he heard a man’s voice at the door.

“Hi there, I’m Stan from Sea Coast Realty!” A short, squat man in an ill-fitting suit stood at the door, holding a cheap briefcase, adjusting his glasses, and smiling like an idiot. “I’m here to give you an appraisal on your home’s value?” Stan said, a little too cheerfully.

Carl walked toward the door in his green, ratty bathrobe, black fuzzy slippers and coffee in hand. “Appraisal?” he asked, blinking in disbelief.

“Look,” Amanda said nervously, “This would be a lot easier if you would just get on board…”

“On board? Is that what you want? Okay.” He walked back into the kitchen, picked up one of the implants, noticed how surprisingly soft it felt in his hand and then whipped it at the kitchen window. The fake boob immediately exploded with a huge splat against the glass. Gooey globs of implant slid down the glass. “I vote NO on the Double Ds,” he yelled.

“Excuse me for a moment,” she said to Stan the Realtor and turned toward the kitchen.

“Not a fan of these either!” he yelled, his comment echoing from the kitchen. He wound up like a pitcher on a mound and launched another implant at his soon-to-be-ex-wife. She ducked and the implant hit the realtor squarely in the face, liberating the gelatinous saline all over his glasses.

Stan from Sea Coast Realty wiped the implant flotsam off his glasses and ran for cover behind a credenza in the foyer.

“Carl!” Amanda rushed into the kitchen trying to stop another assault. “What the hell are you doing? Chill the fuck out!”

“Chill? Did you say ‘chill’?” Carl asked in a hostile, sardonic tone as he stood there like bathrobe-clad warrior armed with transparent saline-filled grenades. “What is that, some universal Californian way to smooth everything out? Make everything okay? My wife is sleeping with her plastic surgeon! I’m a walking LA cliché,” he bellowed.

“Congratulations. Maybe this is the Midwest calling you back home,” Amanda said dryly.

“At least back in Detroit, a man knows his wife is leaving him before the fucking realtors do,” he pointed to Stan. Stan shrugged in embarrassment. “I’m from Ohio,” Stan said.

“Carl, the simple truth is I want the life you promised me,” Amanda said. “And you just didn’t deliver.”

Carl stood silent for a moment and then said, “I did deliver. I thought we were happy. We have a house, we vacation in Cabo, you love my Chicken Paprika. What more could you want? Breast implants and a Mercedes?”

“No,” she said flatly. “A BMW.” She grabbed the keys to her Honda, dangled them disappointingly, walked out and slammed the front door. Stan the realtor scurried behind her.

Carl ambled slowly back to the kitchen sink, poured out the coffee, took out a bottle of bourbon and poured it into his coffee cup just as the phone rang.

He looked at the caller ID. It read LA Times. He groaned and picked it up. “Yeah?”

“Grubbs?” The familiar growl of his managing editor, Ed Coleward emanated from the landline.

“Where the hell is the rest of your expose on the eroding state of Emergency Room healthcare?”

“Hey, Ed, yeah, I know it’s due,” he held the phone in the crick of his neck and rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand which was still holding a size 300cc implant. “The thing is…”

“Carl,” Ed interrupted in an even, threatening tone, ”Resist the urge to lie to me right now. I do not want to hear about car problems, dead relatives or injured pets.”

“But Ed, this time I …” he tried to specify but Ed cut him off.

“Beyond shooting yourself in the head, no excuse is gonna cut it, kid. So, cut the shit. For the moment, just today in fact, pretend that you are a competent, working journalist for one of the finest papers in the free world and get your goddamn story here and polished by 3pm.” Ed hung up.

Carl stood at the counter for a moment thinking about the irony of his situation. Finally armed with a legitimate excuse and it was wasted. He slid down the kitchen cabinetry and contemplated how he got here. On this spotless floor of his big empty Southern California house sipping bourbon at 9am in a ratty green bathrobe holding a fistful of artificial boob with no wife, no article, and no motivation.

###

At forty-one, Carl’s life was in a holding pattern of apathy. A streetwise kid from Detroit, Carl earned a scholarship to the University of Michigan and then took a job as a beat reporter for the Detroit News. In his first year, when other fresh-faced reporters were writing about Kite Festivals and City Council meetings, he had been working on a hunch that exposed corruption inside the mayor’s office. His intelligence and street smarts served him well as a reporter. He was hungry and eager to make his mark. With a series of nationally recognized stories and several official death threats, it wasn’t long before the offers came in. Washington Post, New York Times, Chicago Tribune. But it was the lure of sunny beaches and California lifestyle that drew him out west. He took a job as a senior reporter working for the Los Angeles Times.

When it came to his job, it was his instincts that were his real gift. Carl was a born skeptic and he had a good nose for the truth. This trait served him well as an investigative reporter. He could instantly tell when someone was lying to him. Which is why the blind-siding news that Amanda was boffing her plastic surgeon was so unsettling. Was he losing his edge?

There were many things that attracted Carl to Amanda when they first met beyond her physical attributes. She represented a new perspective, a demarcation from his old life into his new one. She was Southern California personified. She was tall, blonde, and had a body that considered gravity a guideline rather than a law. She had long, wavy hair like a mermaid, and a one-sided smile that constantly suggested mischief. Amanda was also as beautiful as she was vapid. She was light. She was free. Unlike the grounded girls in Michigan that would call him on his bullshit. Unlike Carolyn.

At the age of thirty-two, Amanda worked as a stylist for a production company in Hollywood where she was responsible for putting the entire cast of Reno 911 in short shorts. Currently, she was working on an Adam Sandler movie. Carl loved looking at her and he tried to talk to her about higher-minded things or play Scrabble with her but she quickly lost interest and would come up with games like “Topless Tuesdays” in which she would perform chores around the house sans clothing. Deep conversations were overrated anyway. He had thought his Midwestern values would seep into Amanda’s consciousness but he sorely underestimated his adversary – the California Dream.

He should have suspected things were going spectacularly wrong when late last year, Amanda began getting Botox. She didn’t have a wrinkle on her perfect, sun-kissed complexion but she got it anyway. Looking back now, he realized that in the world of plastic surgery, Botox was a gateway procedure. It led to other increasingly unnecessary procedures including like collagen injections, spider vein removal, acid peels, cellulite scrubs, and liposuction to get rid of “saddle bags” whatever those were. Amanda was addicted; the boob job a clear inevitability. What distressed him most was that Amanda thought she needed this work. What kind of quack doctor could look at her terrific physical specimen and prescribe carving her up? One that wanted either money or control, Carl suspected. He could imagine this smug asshole sitting behind a desk assessing Amanda, telling her just how enticingly close she was to being perfect. Preying on her insecurities while his dick got hard watching her write the check. Carl’s started to seethe with anger and wondered just how many women had been manipulated by Dr. Saks. He vowed to find out. But, first, more bourbon.

Carl wandered out on the patio in his backyard and let the California sunshine warm him. Carl hadn’t lost his motivation all at once. It never happens like that. No, instead it was a steady and almost imperceptible wane as the California Dream seeped deeper into his psyche. He took up yoga. Learned to surf. Became a Lakers fan. He wrote less hard-hitting stories and flirted with the idea of writing a screenplay when Amanda suggested she could drop it in the right hands. The stories he did write for the paper were less focused and dealt with vague sprawling problems like homelessness and rolling blackouts. They were stories that didn’t need solutions, nor a point of view, and in some cases, even the deadline was nebulous. Carl started to write long, rambling character pieces that highlighted societal problems. He hadn’t done a real story, one that got his blood pumping in over four years. Los Angeles was a tricky mistress, hard to please and even harder to understand. But it was beginning to dawn on him that if you knew what you wanted from the City Of Angels, you could get it – in some form or another. But if you come to Los Angeles looking for answers, direction or, God forbid, yourself, you would remain forever lost in your own recreation and reinvention, much like the city itself. The promise was always there, beckoning, but like the horizon, it never got any closer.

He had fallen victim to that LA epidemic of hope, distraction, and self-loathing which made him just another monkey in the noisy desperate jungle of wannabes. He took a big swig and finished the bourbon in his coffee cup, walked to the bathroom and turned on the shower. At least he was employed. And, it could be worse, he thought. He could be a writer for reality TV.

 

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