Grumpy Monday: I don't want to go to L.A. I don't think I have much chance of success taking a Collections Company to court, for not fulfilling their contract. My flight is delayed. No wonder United Airlines are the cheapest alternative. I hate using a toilet that thinks it's smarter than I am about flushing decisions. I just had a toasted ham and cheese sandwich that, even to someone like me, who considers bread "but a vehicle for butter", was too greasy to eat, (and, by the way, it wasn't butter, it was certainly a petroleum by-product that was excreted by the oozing, rubbery mess they euphemistically call cheese)! I also want to know what ingredients there could be in mustard that have stained my trousers neon yellow?
There is a sleeping traveller stretched out on the waiting area seats, coughing pitifully. As I wonder about Swine Flu and contagion, I realize that he is an employee of the food-court, complete with apron, taking his break before going back to spread whatever he has to the maximum number of passengers, who will pay through the nose for the privilege.
Update - 6:10 p.m. I must be doing something right because, even though I haven't yet embarked on my flight, I have already received a preliminary settlement offer phone call from the Collection Agency's lawyer. I tell him it is insufficient and that I have an appointment the next day with the District Attorney, to present my case of their fraudulent practices. I don't really have an appointment, but I am convincing. He disputes my reasoning. He has a pro-forma contract. I say that I have a copy of a fax sent eight months previously that trumps his contract. He is willing to wait by his fax machine for me to travel to my hotel and transmit my Ace in the Hole. I feel as though I have them on the run.
LAX is teeming with life. It seems appropriate that the balmy late-evening air carries the saline scent of the Pacific Ocean. I find my shuttle bus and arrive at the car rental desk 5 minutes before they close at 9 p.m. They have a fax machine so I take care of business, faxing my new best friend, the lawyer, whilst my car is brought around. I call his cell and leave a message to confirm that the ball is now in his court. It is never sufficient to assume that faxes or emails will automatically reach their intended target.
The drive to my hotel (motel) in Van Nuys is a straight shot and surprisingly agreeable. On the 405 freeway, traffic is cleanly zipping along at 60 mph, unheard of in L.A. I head north, passing well known exits for Wilshire, Santa Monica and Sunset Blvd. The City is so much more attractive softened by darkness. The sleaze factor is transformed; jewel bright as all that is visible are the colored lights.
The air is, again, surprisingly breathable; warm citrus is the predominant tone. This may well be a once in a lifetime L.A. moment.
Tuesday - 1 p.m. I've been at the Municipal Center since 7 a.m. Court wasn't until 8:30, but the address was ambiguous and I wanted to be sure to have time to relocate if I was not in the right place. I have been trading phone calls with the company attorney who had made the initial settlement offer. I feel as though I can't leave this place, or I will lose my leverage of threatening to lay out my case with the commercial fraud unit.
The pedestrian plaza is modern, well-groomed; a combination of trees, grass, cement and even a water feature; surrounded by Court buildings, The Library and Police Department Buildings. The jail is around the back and there are an array of bail-bondsman's storefront offices, conveniently lining the street nearby. Not a Starbucks or Jamba Juice in sight. I've moved around from varnished wood backless bench to granite wall seat. The criss-cross grid pattern of the green metal stools, which are now in full sun, is permanently imprinted on my rear end. I have a book and people-watching to keep me entertained. I am feeling at home here, my temporary world delineated by the stately monoliths and their supplicants. I become one with the Municipal Plaza. This is my fleeting cosmos.
Three well-mannered, fresh-faced boys and a Dad sat near me for a while. The youngest wearing Clark Kent reading glasses and twiddling away at his Game boy. Dad went to take care of business and I moved to a new spot near a walkway between two buildings, enjoying the contrived breeze blowing from the man-made canyon. Later, I grew tired of reading and gazed straight ahead. A suited, lawyer-type with a woman companion bends to retrieve something and looks questioningly around. He addresses another man, who shakes his head and shrugs. From 100 ft away I interpret what I see; I had heard the young boy mention he had his Dad's car keys. They've wandered off and left them there. The lawyer-type is grateful to hand them over to me. I have time to fill. I revisit the square, keeping my eye out for "my" lost boys. Keys reunited, my Mom-job done. My feet are starting to hurt in my smart shoes, the soles are warming from the heat of the ground.
The line to enter the courthouse has grown long now. Every size and shape and color of humanity is represented, dressed in every style and un-style imaginable. They wait, two-dozen deep, to pass through the security check point to the lobby.
I too am waiting. Has the lawyer been unable to reach his client for a response or are they playing me, trying to wear me out?
The light beige sidewalk is a sticky polka dot hazard of circular black chewing-gum embellishments. I widen my territory in search of a decent cafe. Crossing the street by the jail to go to the Workers' Comp. building, I experience sudden exposure to overhead sun, which drills down on my head and reverberates up from the black-top road, like molten lava steaming the humidity out of the air.
The cafe is a pleasant surprise; I don't care about the food or decor; the seats have cushions! I select a sandwich and bottle of water. There is a wisp of an old woman sitting on a stool at the register. Small of frame, accented voice, dark olive eyes. She tells me she is Greek and thanks me for smiling today. As I pass some time with my book and food I hear her interacting with her regulars. She is well liked. One professional woman in a smart suit and heels takes napkins and wipes down the coffee serving area where she said she had spilled a little sugar. I didn't see her spill anything. It seems to have been a gentle gesture towards easing an other's life.
The sun is fully overhead. I claim a seat in the leafy dappled shade of a plane tree. The birds that were chatty and chirping in its branches this morning are silent; not a peep or a flutter anywhere. The crowds of people have diminished too, all but a few stragglers and I, drawn inside by the lure of air-conditioning.
There goes a woman I recognize from this mornings' ebb and flow. Petite, bright orange hair, indeterminate age. Moving purposefully towards the steps, greeting other habitue-es. Her lime green blouse, titian bob and carmine lips an aesthetic assault on the monochromatic architecture. She's older than the building, for sure.
Lunch must be over. Activity increases again. There are some pretty girls and some pretty dresses. Not necessarily pretty girls in pretty dresses. The shoe choices are intriguing. I've seen a lot of flip-flops and sandals. The glint of patent leather pumps and designer shoes and purses. The best legs of the day just walked by in sneakers. Long, tanned, refined muscle definition all the way up to the short white athletic shorts and tight butt-cheeks. Shame about the grey mustache, balding tome. and the coach's whistle around his neck. Honors due to the legs still.
My eyes continue grazing the range and light upon a youthful cop in relaxed-fit summer khakis which do nothing to hide his body from my imagination. Lithe, blond, energetic with shoulders tapering to waist below. I like his poise and unconscious air of authority. He bounds up the steps and leaves the landscape a poorer place as he disappears from view.
My phone has not rung in a while. If I call the lawyer back for an update it lessens my power. If I wait too long I will be out-manoeuvred, stuck facing a mad dash through turgid freeway gridlock to return my rental car and get back to the airport.
I called him. The trouble is that I am starting to like him. We are adversaries with the common goal of moving on with our lives ASAP. We tentatively close our deal. Not exactly a fight to the death but a tussle of wills and stamina.
Before I leave, I decide to take a closer look at the large bronze statue of a Hollywood-esque Indian that has been in my line of sight all day. He is front and center, facing the courthouse doors. I approach, pre-disposed to assume this is somewhat offensive and politically incorrect. His name is the first thing I see. "Fernando', the plaque says, not what I would have expected. I lean towards being disgusted at the insensitivity of the City Fathers who belittle this hard-bodied representative of the West's dubious past, but I read on. Fernando is so named in honor of the last indigenous people of the San Fernando Valley - The Fernandeno People. This, larger than life, "American Indian Brave" by sculptor Henry Van Wolf has recently been restored and stands in silent vigil, stern and stoic; a solitary sentinel, overseeing the people still optimistically petitioning for justice today; reminding us that justice, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
Can you hear the drums, Fernando?