Excerpt from “Sunburnt in December” – The Long Slide
by Senator Brett
We were driving hard, sliding and hugging through the short easy curves of Pacific Highway 1. Sand, sand, sand on one side of us and looming, open-faced rocky cliffs on the other. Forget the brochures, ladies and gentlemen. Forget the television shows and the commercial advertisement make-up. Trust me, the coastline of Southern California can be a scary place, a very scary place indeed, especially if your view of it is held on the wrong side of midnight and from the inside of a roaring Ford F-150 pick-up truck that’s hammering down the highway at a hundred-and-ten-miles-an-hour and spitting fire from its mouth along the way.
“Slow this son of a bitch down!” I scream at the driver. “There’s no need to be going this fast, no need at all! We ain’t going anywhere that ain’t going to be there later!” I’m half mad from the anger of my breathing life being held so loosely over the thin line that separates the safe black asphalt from the dangerous salty sand, and truth be told, I’m also half mad from my escapable frustration of knowing that there’s a thick line that I can’t even see anymore, that I barely even knew existed in the first place… the one that separates my occasional want for Utter Safety and my desperate need for Ultimate Speed. (Ah, the speed… that precious goddamn speed! How I have always loved it so! And how it has always been more than ready to be my downfall. But in the end… that rollercoaster hasn’t left the building yet, and as long as I am here and for as long as I can… I’ll do my best to hold that Big Ticket from being sold… if only for a little while longer.)
“You worry too much,” Hack tells me. “We’ll be okay. I got this under control,” he says as he gooses the truck a little to show me that it still has more power left in its cold cruel heart. I’m worried, man. I truly am. He doesn’t seem to be in his head altogether. Or maybe he is, and that’s the truly scary part. But, it doesn’t matter to me because I know that he’s right this time. I am worried. I am worried like a child who wakes up on Christmas morning and discovers that there’s not any presents under the tree. No, that’s not entirely accurate. It’s more like I am worried like a child who wakes up on Christmas morning to discover that not only there aren’t any presents under the tree, but that someone has made off with the tree itself, and all the reindeer in the world haven’t been seen for days, and people are muttering rumors about a flying sleigh that burst into flames in mid-flight over the Atlantic somewhere and no one has any idea if there were any survivors. Unless some things change, and change quick, it’s gonna be disappointing Christmas for everyone involved. And I don’t want to be a part of that play. No sir.
I don’t know how we got here exactly, but it’s almost one o’clock in the morning and Hack and I are headed back to the hotel after spending far too much time sampling the local brews, playing pool and making eyes and conversation with the beach sun-blonde women. We started the night with the best of intentions. It was a slow night, simple and cool in its own way. But, somehow we got caught up in contagious draw of slinging our bodies from bar to bar… and one good time to another. And us, being Who It Is As Who We Are, found it pleasing to our nature to follow the scent of misfortune and adventure. And, by the time the smoke had cleared we had somehow managed to sneak our way around the Gatekeeper of Sobriety. For some reason that bastard never seems to mind his post with much dedication. And, for some reason I always find myself testing his awareness. And more often than not, and like most people I’ve met… I end up winning that sad little game of drunken “cat and mouse.”
So, being the fine southern gentlemen that we are, when we realized that we were well beyond the legal limit, we quickly paid our tab and hit the door in a rush to make amends for our sins by calling it an early night. Little did we know that “early night” had passed us by several hours before and had left us without leaving a notice of eviction… or even a forwarding address. Early nights are almost always cowards in every sense… little precious liars that leave without warning and disappear behind the tinkling of glasses and cheers while no one is paying attention. And before you know it you are caught on the downward slope of their other side.
There’s something weird about California. You can go for miles and miles and not see a red light, but then when you hit one, you get ten. It’s like they packed all the places in one small space and left the rest for short mountains and perfectly combed beaches. And every town along the coast isn’t so much a neighbor to the town next, but more like a squatter sitting on the front lawn. They pack in towns and cities like chipmunks squirreling away for a long winter, they’re stacked one-on-one and the only way you can tell that you’ve left one place is to check and see which In-And-Out Burger joint you’ve reached. And even they are all the same.
We’re almost to the hotel when Hack guns the accelerator and sails the truck through a yellow light turning red. “You’re a goddamn criminal,” I tell him. “And, if you aren’t careful you’re gonna get us killed, or worse… thrown in jail!” There’s enough evidence on our breaths and enough mischief in our minds to put us away for a good while. There’s no need to be pushing our limits or testing our destiny.
“You barely made it through that yellow light, and if I were a cop (God knows that will never happen!) I’d have pulled you right then,” I lecture Hack. “Trust me, we’re two fools from Texas to these guys. They’d like nothing better than to give us a night to regret.”
“Ah, shucks, man. They ain’t gonna pull us. Besides, I made that light. I made it by a good second or so,” Hack nonchalantly replies and grins.
“No, no, no,” I reply. “You ALMOST made that light, but it was red by the time we got there.”
Hack looks at me, his eyes reflecting from the dashboard lights, and he pauses and says, “I’ve spent my whole life living in-between that second from yellow light to red light. That’s where I live.” And for moment, he isn’t drunk, or stupid, or out of his head. He’s just right. There’s a whole culture, there’s a whole slew of people who are chasing yellow lights… if only to beat them. I guess that’s why we work and toil, so that when we can play… that we can play hard. That’s why we throw parties and elaborate weddings and almost meaningless ceremonies in all those fancy places. That’s why we invented Santa Clause, Valentines Day and piñatas stuffed with candy. That’s why wine is sold in corner markets, or why Jesus is sold on the streets. It’s why people stomp their feet to music and strange beats, or how they get naked on the promenade in Brazil, or loose on the balconies of New Orleans. It’s why Small Town Texas gathers at high school football stadiums and New Yorkers argue their way to the Bronx Showdown. It’s the kids necking in steamed cars on Lovers Lane, and it’s the adults lamenting over the days when they knew what “necking” meant and the days before they traded their zest for living in for normal everyday life. It’s baby showers and family photographs. It’s sleazy johns spinning their wheels in Times Square looking for a hooker… for that one person who won’t judge them for their need for pleasure. It’s middle-aged mothers singing hymns in church while their children smoke grass in the parking lot. It’s the men that gather on Monday night to watch bigger men throw leather balls and beat the hell out of each other. It’s fast food and high-speed Internet. It’s birthday parties and Chucky Cheese. It’s medium-rare filet and 1988 Ruffino Ducale Reserve. It is the reason why we sometimes, on rare occasions, actually become the humanity that we were intended to be.
Sure, a lot of those things are mundane… and ordinary… but, trust me, we invented them to try to live in that second from yellow light to red light. We invented them to forget that one day the light is gonna turn red… and it will stay there. We invented them because, deep down, we all know we are destined for the ground… and if we can appease ourselves just a little, just a goddamn little more, in any way possible… then maybe we can forget where our highway will stop.
But no matter what you call it, or how you try to explain it, it’s still just everyone trying to make it through that yellow light… that Yellow Light of Life. When it comes to the living… we are all pushing time… and we’re all scared that if we pause too long then we’ll miss the next great thing.
MORE TO COME…
Your Friendly Senator
Here is you song of the day. Yes, I’m on a Cinjun Tate kick right now. Deal with it. “Wish” by Cinjun Tate