in los angeles, there is a standing army. it is thousands strong, and it is a foreign one. it is comprised of those who cross our southern border illegally, hide in the bottoms of cars and sleep in the desert, all for the sake of joining the brigade. it is a mighty force. it is, indeed, an army. its soldiers can be seen from nearly every intersection, on virtually every street. they storm homes, apartment complexes, and business centers alike. they take to the yards, streets, alleyways and courtyards. they are in the middle of everything, and in the corners of all things. they roam the walkways and breezeways. they are everywhere. and they appear to be taking over. they stand tall. they work hard and long. they are mobile. they are a penetrable force.
and they are armed.
but unfortunately for me, they are armed, not with guns, but rather, with leaf blowers.
a couple years ago, i decided to take a run. touching my sliding glass door from the inside, i could feel that the weather was warm. looking up from my balcony, the golden sun blazing out of the clear blue sky invited my skin and my lungs, to get out of my dark abode and venture through the neighborhood, breathing in the fresh air, and basking in the glowing orb that would light my way through a refreshing workout. i would take in the beauty of Toluca Lake, while being raptured by the fragrance of flowers gracing nearly every yard along the way.
i put on my running shoes. and my exercise shorts. i chose the perfect running shirt: loose fitting; thin; and sleeveless, for optimal movement. i stretched. hamstrings, calves, back… i couldn’t wait to enjoy the revitalizing energy of an afternoon jog.
i jetted out of my door, and waited for the elevator. today was a good day. like every day. but it was about to get even better. the elevator carried me to the ground floor, and i soon found myself in front of the big double doors. the sun was breaking through the glass. my asthmatic lungs waited; i took a few deep breaths, as i prepared to burst out of those doors, into the sunshine, running down the sidewalk to turn left onto picturesque Sarah Street. home to Alan Thicke. and Joe Mantegna. and Garry Marshall. and on down, Dawn Wells, who played Maryanne on Giligan’s Island; and Kat Dennings; and Tone Loc. it’s great to live in a great place, with great weather. and now, for a great run.
i indulged myself into a last deep bronchial expansion, and then, like a pipe bomb, i exploded out of the building. immediately, the heat kissed my skin. the air whisked me away.
for about six feet.
i leaped down the stairs, and onto the sidewalk.
as my feet hit the cement, my mouth opened for a significant, Nature’s Euphoria breath. but in the middle of the uptake, i was hit.
in the face.
in the the nose.
in my open eyes.
in my gaping mouth.
it was a meteorological attack. a storm of dirt, grit, and filth attacked my face. all of the grime–from the overpass, from curbs, from cars, from cement drainage cavities–all of the nastiness, the funk, the refuse, from the 4-lane Cahuenga Boulevard, from the nearby California State Route 134, from every building, yard, and gutter…. all of the grainy garbage, the sandy soot, had risen into a tornado of trash, gathered and wound by a multitude of gas-powered leaf blowers lurking around and in front of my building. thanks to the Leaf Blower Brigade, a putrid swirl of smut had been waiting. waiting, for me. and my face. my nose. my eyes. my mouth.
tiny particles lodged themselves between my teeth. draped my lips. stuck to my tongue. clung to the back of my throat. innumerable pieces of only-God-knows-what filled my nose, resting inside my nostrils and sinuses. and dived deep into my lungs. a flurry of septic sand hit my eye balls, planted itself into my lashes, and quickly made its way inside my lids. my head was wrapped in a dark cloud of disgust.
still, i continued to run.
i was determined to shake it off.
i bounded down the sidewalk, toward Sarah Street. according to plan, i would make a left. and slowly clear my lungs and the cavities of my skull. i would wipe my eyes. and continue on.
but with each step, my symptoms grew. wheezing gave way to coughing; coughing gave way to wheezing. my obstructed eyes began to water. by the time i reached the 3/4 mark toward Sarah Street, i had tears in my ears. and down my cheeks. both clear and brown snot streamed out and wrapped around my face like wings. my footwork became clumsier. and somewhere in my missteps, in my attempt to nonetheless fly on wings of mucus, somewhere in my blinded efforts to stay on the sidewalk, to pick the rocks out of my incisors while still moving forward, somewhere in my muted, tongue-covered-with-grime stab at enunciating “i think i can,” i slowed down, and i realized this was a no-go.
i turned around. i decided it was time to go upstairs, take a shower, flush my eyes, blow the pound of soil out of my nose, rinse my mouth, and see if i had any floss specifically designed for granulated insect parts and excrement.
my aborted run is a lot like life: you never know what you’re going to get.
like a brain tumor.
or something else.
you can put on your shoes, burst through the doors, filled with expectations. but what happens on the other side–good or bad–is anyone’s guess.
will my tumor grow? it may. will i experience more misery because of it? could it one day kill me? i am still hurting from the surgery; and i’m having problems…some, similar to those i had prior to my operation. in addition, my pupil will not dilate; a sign of neurological problems…
but despite the problem with my eye, i’m still looking forward. who knows what will happen next. in my brain. in my life.
it may throw me for a loop.
one night a few years ago, on Sunset Boulevard, i was standing with two friends. nobody else was near. then suddenly, doors opened and a crowd formed. i felt someone’s shoulder against mine; i turned my head to the right to find Hugh Hefner standing beside me. around me in every direction, stood at least 30 Playmates, very, very scantily clad. i couldn’t believe it. i was surrounded by Centerfolds. showing almost everything they had. Playboy had thrown a private party, and it had just let out of the club behind me. i’d never dreamed i’d be the creamy center in a Playmate Oreo. but there i was. and what was most surprising of all, was that i didn’t find the girls attractive. they looked…phony. “i see better looking girls at the mall.” again, a surprise.
and such is life. things come out of nowhere.
a box of surprises. some less than optimal, some awesome. and some, in between. so many surprises. but my life has been set on a particular trajectory from the start, aimed at staying on course amongst the unexpected gifts and detours along the way. i was born with hopes, and i still have them.
technically, my life started in Oahu, Hawaii. but before i could be born into a tropical utopia of Hula girls and surfer glory, i was transported. to Bessemer, a city just outside of Birmingham, in Jefferson County, Alabama.
and so, my life in the world began.