The Expendable Laugh
Each and every morning……no, let me qualify that a bit better; each and every morning, Monday through Friday at approximately 8:15 AM (excluding holidays) I step out of the shower onto my navy blue bathroom rug, twirl my toes around in it, for just a second, stretch, and dry myself off from top to bottom. I don’t have a shower radio; though I revel at the thought of laminating/shower-proofing reading material for the shower, I really would never have the time or motivation and feel the need to entertain myself for an additional 15 minutes. The shower time is one of the few moments of zen that I have to clear my mind and think spontaneously.
Today, I was drying behind my ears, then hula-hooping my waist with the towel, shaking my head feverishly, and playfully using my hand as a squeegee across my chest. I wrapped my index finger in the fleshy towel and navigated towards my belly button. It’s still there, after all these years. A doctor or nurses artistry. I don’t necessarily have a deep nor shallow belly button but I noticed that it was glazed over with a film of soapy water. I collected the water on my bare finger and analyzed it. It was a dollop of water that could have nonetheless drowned several species of small bugs. In fact, I would have asked a flea, “Where will you be the day after tomorrow?!?!?!” and drowned it shortly after, had there been any fleas around. Such is life; one day you are chewing on a Beagles testicles and the next you’re drowned in a dollop of lint laden belly button water. I suppose some of us are the Beagle sometimes as well. I laughed at the thought of it. Your laugh really carries in the shower. Try it sometime and see what your roommates think about you later on. You’ll be surprised how jealous they are because you can amuse yourself. Everyone should have a good self-induced laugh, now and then. There was a night in September of 2001 that I couldn’t force even the most expendable laugh to break the insanity of a midnight misadventure.
I was certainly far from being in my element in the UK, and my defense mechanisms had become severely heightened as a traveler. I left the underground station and was painfully reminded of my previous night by the tattered stains on my GAP sweatshirt, and a very noticeable limp.
On the very night before I had a substantial run-in with four young punks and a knife, but that’s another story. So, as you might imagine, on this night, I was extra cautious walking home at midnight. As the Croc Hunter would say in a situation like this, ‘You’ve got to keep yer wits about you’, and I was. My eyesight was dramatically shortened with the current weather conditions, but I planned on keeping a safe distance from anyone or anything until I made it to the comforts of my 32 person back-packer flop house.
It was raining. No shit. It was raining in London. For a country that gets 300 days of precipitation per month; rain isn’t news. No rain is news. Rain is news in L.A. Not only is it news, but it is the coming of Christ at least once a year:
‘Storm Watch 2004: We’ll be following this story closely as it further develops. It appears to be rain….and it is striking the southland hard this evening. On all major freeways, beaches, and even schools. This change in weather is causing major hysteria for people with water sensitive electronics, and delays for those who have apparently never driven under these conditions. Gov. Shwarzenegger is calling this event “Uh potenshally terreeble disastuh”.’
For some reason the major news channels are able to get away with preceding these storm reports with insanely startling and irrelevant teasers:
“Your children may already be dead and your assets totally liquidated….More at 11”
The street and sidewalk ahead of me looked waxy and undulated. Beading raindrops cascaded and formed small tributaries within the asphalt fissures. The rain sparked as it struck the ground and the glass-crunching sounds of heavy rain were the only that my alert audio receptors were managing to pick up. I was walking AGAINST traffic on the right side of the street (Old habits are hard to break), and from the corner of my eye I could see a flash of movement. It was another man, about my size, though he appeared to be of African decent. I noted his location as we walked parallel, though I forced myself to pretend he really wasn’t there. The tranquil explosions of rain were soon drowned out by frightful screaming. First they were undefinable gasps and yelps. Then, I thought, I could clearly hear the word ‘Help’. I stopped and froze against a wall. I wanted to hide in the shadows for a moment. I actually would have rather crawled in a hole, if one were accessible. ‘Go Go Gadget invisibility’, that didn’t work. I closed my eyes as I realized the man was screaming for ME to help him. I wasn’t fooling him with my best Chameleon impression.
“Please help me!”, we made eye contact for a second and he smacked me in the face with his words.
I was a good 30 yards ahead of him on the opposite side of the street. From my vantage point, I crossed onto his side of the street, tentatively, to simply assess the situation. I squinted beneath the intensified street lights and twinkling droplets. My vision is quite poor, but I was clearly able to make out that the African man was hunched over a mound of something in the sidewalk. Great help, fucking vision, really coming through in the clutch. The man could have been hunched over a howitzer cannon, and I wouldn’t have been able to tell. My curiosity brought me closer. The African man was frantically shaking the mystery sidewalk ‘lump’, and moving his face closer to it and then his ear against it. Now within five feet, I made out the features of the lump and identified it as another man. He wasn’t moving, and his eyes were shut. Surrounding the man were torn plastic grocery bags and the subsequent random produce and frozen (though, now thawing) dinners. The plastic bag handles were clutched in his fists.
“He’s dead!” squealed the African.
“What?? No, he’s not. He’ll be fine…..I’m sure”, I waited a moment completely expecting my positivity to resurrect the sidewalk-man.
“He has no pulse, and he’s not breathing!!!” The African man looked like a deer in headlights. I was no better off. I had never seen a dead man before. I get squeamish when I have a charley horse. A dead man was a bit overwhelming.
We both pulled cell phones out of our pockets at the same time and dialed the emergency number (999) at the very same time. Our hands both trembled, and seeing the pearly white of the African mans eyes, made my voice tremble.