It’s an easily forgettable stretch of Ventura Boulevard. Deep in the valley.
We live up on the hill.
Some actress on KTLA reported that 100% of all self-service touch screens and shopping cart handles in the San Fernando valley were completely contaminated by fecal matter.
We have tile floors and prefer glass smoke utensils. Needless to say, it is an endless cycle of replacing dropped or tipped-over glass bongs, so Gena and I drove downhill on TCB to Ventura and turned right.
We drove by Persian restaurants, corporate chain-motels, Vape shops, half-assed attempts at pot dispensaries, Goodwill and a pet health food store, specializing in gluten-free dog biscuits. They were all stretched out in a row, end to end, along a ribbon of asphalt named Ventura, whose literal translation means “Luck” or ”Good Fortune”.
The head shop is located next door to one of those extreme fitness clubs, where Valley Girl wanna-be’s and computer programmers torture themselves by flipping oversized tractor tires end-over-end and lunging repeatedly against giant rubber bands, while the muscle-bound instructors scream in their faces like drill sergeants. All in the name of physical fitness.
As is typical in this neck of the woods, there are large parking lots located directly behind the strip row of shops and commercial buildings. They are open-ended with entrances and exits on both sides of the lot. We turned on a side street and drove up a small foothill, then through the lot’s entrance.
We parked two spaces away from an older-model black Cadillac. As we got out and walked past the rear of the car, I noticed handicapped plates and a folded-up wheelchair in the back seat. The Caddie was a late 90’s model and had that “lived in” look you see so often in SoCal. The “unsheltered homeless” are abundant and grow like clumps of wildflowers along the curb lanes of side streets. In every shady cranny and off-traffic backwater, humanity attempts to exist, off-grid and low on hope.
A tan lump could be seen just above the passenger seat as we passed the car from the rear. I thought nothing of it. We went to the head shop and picked up the latest generation of glass water pipe, then returned uphill to the parking lot.
As we neared our car, I noticed a small group of people were gathered around the black Caddie. I walked toward the group. “What’s up?” I asked the closest bystander to me. He was on his tippy-toes looking over the front row of gawkers. “Looks like some old bum died in that car last night” he said to me with absolutely zero percent conviction in his voice. He was a younger guy, his eyes were dull and glassy. He wore a t-shirt with a gold, metallic “Backwoods Smokes” logo, some candy-coated blunt wrap.
I ventured closer and took a look for myself. I saw the upper torso of an older man, dressed in a khaki work shirt. He was slumped across the front seat of the old Caddie. His face and hands were a dark, purplish-black. The car’s windows were slightly cracked open and flies buzzed around the dark form, stiffened by rigor mortis.
“What is it?” Gena asked, walking up behind me. “Don’t look and get in the car” I told her. “I’ll tell you all about it on the ride home.” We got in the car and rolled down the windows. I drove out the opposite entrance, away from the car and the gathering crowd of onlookers.
As we passed the parking-lot security guy, we heard his cell phone conversation. He was obviously on the phone to 911, giving directions to LAPD: “Take your time,” he says as we pass by him with open windows. “Looks like he’s been dead since yesterday.”
“Jesus Christ!” Gena gasped and looked at me. “THAT’S what you were going to tell me about on the way home? “Yeah” I said. “It’s a tough town, ain’t it.”
We drove the rest of the way home in shocked silence.
As we drove, I thought about life and death, gain and loss. “O death, where is thy sting?”
I’ll tell you where. It’s in dying alone in your car, that you call home. Forgotten in some dark corner of a deserted parking lot in a Godforsaken corner of the San Fernando valley. A faceless face in the crowd. Another life-flame extinguished and nobody knows your name or even WANTS to.
I then secretly thought to myself with a morbid sense of self-satisfaction: “I picked the perfect town to live in.”