Style of Story – Farce
Farce – Heightened people in heightened comedic situations. The mirror is tilted and starting to be distorted based on Shakespeare’s quote “Art is a reflection of reality, hold the mirror up to nature.” Make-up/Physical comedy/Sets brightly lit and shallower in depth. Actor has greater emphasis on technique, setting up jokes, and reactions, pantomime, and waiting for laughs.
Tikkun Chaiyim AKA Vinnie Zamboni breaks down on Route 66 in the Arizona desert two days before Christmas on his return to Los Angeles where he is expected at a birthday party that evening.
Originally published in “The Angels are Watching” 2003
Rewritten and edited 2010
James Berkowitz © 2010
Returning home to Los Angeles from a glorious spiritual retreat in Sedona, Arizona just before Christmas, I decided to take my neighbor’s adventurous suggestion traveling via Route 66. The morning was cold and blustery while cruising ninety miles per hour in my Old Faithful 1986 Toyota Celica GT that has kissed freeways cross-country. We greeted the long stretch of vast and open road with the blaring sounds of “Eight Miles High” by The Byrds. Breathtaking views of the horizon accompanied by a desert field landscape were a visual breakfast.
Excitement was mounting in my heart and rushing through my veins more feverishly each moment. My best friend Lynda Sue was having her thirtieth birthday party at her home in Encino and I bought her an exquisitely handmade Navajo sand painting. Joyous future visions of the party intoxicated me while I waited anxiously to see her reaction to the gift. Suddenly, my right foot felt numb. The car was still moving very fast but losing speed rapidly. I wiggled my toes quickly to confirm feeling and then punched the pedal to the floor. No use. My speed had plummet from ninety to zero in a matter of seconds. The power steering tightened up rapidly. I quickly managed to maneuver the car off the right hand side of the road onto a dirt space. Then, I took a deep breath. The battery still had juice. I turned the key a couple of times and not a sound. A few moments later I tried again. Old Faithful did not respond.
It was nine o’clock in the morning. The universe was at work testing my will. Approximately ten minutes after digesting everything I contemplated my next move. During this engaging thought process a bewildered coyote approached Old Faithful. Thinking a pack might be following from behind the rocks along roadside, I sat still behind the wheel. The winds were howling and singing like a hot kettle when this four-legged creation decided to pay me a visit up close. I watched intently as it slowly made its way toward my window. Coming within three feet and staring eye to eye, the scraggly fur coated animal tilted its head side to side while twitching its ragged ears; examining me thoroughly as if I was an alien inside of a spaceship. Once the examination was finished I was clear to get out of my car and seek help.
Flagging someone down in this area for assistance would be a major coup. Let’s just call this place Desert Fields, Arizona about forty minutes east of Kingman. Hark!!! I hear a car in the distance and it’s approaching at freeway speed. I started a celebration wave of the arms and the car decelerated. An all American family event on wheels stopped to help. They had a cell phone too! Mom, dad, and the kids took turns twisting and turning the antenna in various directions but to no avail. This was a non-service area. They told me they would make a call at the next pay phone to report the breakdown. I thanked them and their salivating Golden Retriever, wishing the dog could retrieve my car and run with it to the next service station.
Forty-five minutes passed before a toothless wonder of a man from the Pleistocene era stopped in an attempt to help. The hands of time vacillated between him and his 1940’s decrepit Ford pick-up truck. He told me in garbled language that the auto garage in the next town is closed on Saturday’s and that I would have to go to Kingman about forty minutes west to service my car. Basically, Kingman was the next sign of civilization. I had an auto club card and asked him if he would be kind enough to call at the next pay phone. He nodded cordially and I gave him the card number and appropriate information. Assuring me help would be on the way, he left with a backfire that echoed through the desert, a clankety clank, and disappeared into a billowy dark cloud of poison.
Thirty minutes passed and nothing happened. I jogged in place and then around Old Faithful to keep warm. Hastily, I got back inside. Realizing another opportunity might pass led me outside again. I was performing my own powwow around the car ritual when the supersonic sound and blazing speed of a Porsche passed by. I started jumping up and down with the enthusiasm of a sports player making a game winning play adding a little soul dance shaking of the hips. The car came to a halt; then spun a television police chase u-turn and headed towards me.
Stopping and stepping out of the car was a very tall, wild haired and colorfully dressed in Native American garb, blonde blue-eyed beauty with a German speaking tongue. Brita Von Der Full, an extremely buxom and svelte woman in her mid to late twenties with starry eyes asked me if I needed help and I replied “Yes!!!” emphatically. She told me that she knew the mechanics in the area and that the best shop was in Kingman. “Sounds reliable to me,” I said. Continuing, “Will they come out on a Saturday?” “I will speak to them for you and they should be here in thirty minutes.” I gave her my auto club information and told her that I’d been waiting for help the past couple of hours. I reiterated that the cold winds were sending chills throughout my body and making me pee like an endless waterfall. Brita told me that she lived ten minutes from here according to Porsche Speed Time and that she would pass by again in about an hour. She continued, “If you’re still here on my way back, I’ll take you to my ranch, make you dinner, and put you up in the guest cottage until your car gets fixed.” I grinned from ear to ear and got toasty from her invitation. She gave me a warm bear hug and an explosive kiss on the lips that sent my hormonal rate up to the grand azure sky.
Thirty minutes passed and like clockwork a supped up fire red tow truck came zooming to an abrupt stop. The logo on the side door read D’Fulio Bros. Auto Repair and Towing. Opening the door hastily as a gang of chimps at first sight of bananas was a wiry, spaghetti and garlic haired mechanic of medium height and weight in his late thirties. His wide sunglasses stretched across his scruffy face with an untrimmed moustache. The tag on his dirty blue button down shirt read Dom and when he opened his mouth I heard a New York City dialect. I was curious and asked him, “What part of the city?” “Bronx” he replied. “You been there?” “Sure” I said. “I’ve seen some games at Yankee Stadium and also went to the zoo.” “Brita told me your auto club info but I need your card before I do anything.” I handed him my card and he went back into the truck to confirm with the service station. He was still operating at a city pace and was very curt. Then I asked, “How long have you been living here?” “Since eighty-five” he continued, “My fathuh came out in eighty-two with my muthuh and my bruthuh, then I traveled by motorcycle cross-country and did a lot of partyin’.” “Sounds like the movie Easy Rider.” “That’s it man, one of my faves.” I got into the car and waited for his instruction. “Open the hood and turn the key when I tell ya.” His arms were flagellating around the engine like an octopus. He told me to turn the key three different times and there were no results. Then he ordered me to get out the car. I looked at him with suspicion as he crawled into the backseat and started pulling it out. One of the locks would not cooperate and became an irritating nemesis. I had a mini toolbox with the appropriate screwdrivers necessary to dislodge the seat. He told me I was smart to carry the box with me. I thanked him for his kind words and gave him the tools.
The D’Fulio Bros., circus had begun and Dom was our featured contortionist. He was pulling the rug up from the floor in the madness of wild African prairie dogs chasing a boar; bending, twisting, and muttering under his breath, determined that the problem was in the gas line. Old Faithful was being accosted before my eyes. I stood helplessly, watching in amazement at the many pretzel-shaped positions Dom accomplished. Unsuccessful at getting the car started, he finally pulled the car up on the flat bed of the truck and off we went to Kingman.
Greeted in the front cab with Perfume De Auto Garage mixed with the onerous smell of his body was further enhanced by the lighting of a cigarette. I cracked my window enough to get some air to run beneath my nostrils and he turned to me with a snide look but did not say a word. We passed shanties, shacks, farms, and all kinds of open configured spaces of land decorated with various tractors and heaps. There were modern homes in Pueblo style mixed in with older homes built during the early to mid twentieth century.
The truck was quiet for about twenty minutes when Dom said. “How da ya know Brita?” I stared at him briefly, and then quickly came to my wits that she told a good story about us. I said, “I just met her and we shared a very in depth conversation. She told me if I was still stuck on her way back that she would pick me up and take me to her ranch.” “Ya know, ya just might be doin’ that.” “What do you mean?” “This place is closed through New Year’s. The auto parts stores, warehouses, and the three tow companies within a twenty mile radius are done till after the holidays.” “Brita said she would pick me up if I was still there when she got back.” “I hear ya, we service her car all the time and know how to get to her place. Whadda holiday you’re in for if you get to stay with that broad, she’s the best lookin’ and richest one here.” I remained calm, balanced, and in the moment taking a deep breath while reflecting on all the great inner soul work that I’d been doing prior to and during the trip. Turning to him with determination, “ I have an engagement tonight in Los Angeles that I must attend.” He chuckled, looked at his watch, and then replied, “it’s eleven thirty AM man! Fuhgeddaboutit!” I let it go and knew that I had to call Lynda Sue, a longtime college friend JC, and my mechanic Kalam known by his nickname Kal when I got to the garage. During the remainder of the ride we passed a run down motel that Dom pointed out to and said, “If the rich broad don’t let ya stay at her place then that’s your only choice. We know the guy that runs it and can probably get ya a discount.” I thanked him and kept quiet until we got to the garage. This was one ride having a deviated septum would’ve been God sent.
When we arrived at the garage, an enormous place that also catered to eighteen wheel trucks and various industrial vehicles I was greeted by Big Papa Tony. He is an arrogant man in his late fifties, standing six foot three and weighing approximately three hundred pounds wearing wire-framed glasses that revealed his penetrating brown eyes. The brother, Rocco “The Ratchet”, acquired his name while striving to be first in Big Papa’s eyes in his quest to find and fix a problem with a truck motor. Dom settled it by slamming a ratchet upside his head. He’s in his early thirties, a broad and rotund six feet tall much heavier than Papa who is slow and very goofy. Rocco has dark hair and eyes, sporting an unkempt beard and moustache. Both were dressed in filthy and grease stained work clothes. This was our introduction to Kingman. Old Faithful and I would have to chant the “Take Me Home” mantra many rounds before we exited this dreadful place.
The first order of business was to relieve my bladder. I asked where the restroom was and Big Papa replied, “Outside in the back.” I looked at him pleadingly. He continued, “Go to the other side of the station where the piles of tires are, then open the wooden door and take a right.” Going back into the cold didn’t matter at this point because the pressure was so great. I walked slowly as if I had leaden feet while sometimes hobbling to prevent wetting myself. The dirty and foul smelling toilet resembled both of them. Urination had become a ceremonious rebirth. I christened the bowl and then exclaimed, “What Relief!!!”
Back to the garage and the D’Fulio family where I handed Big Papa my auto club card to process. He looked at the card, then readjusted his glasses and began reading aloud with full use of his diaphragm, “Tikkun Chaiyim A.K.A. Vinnie Zamboni. What’s this all about?” “ I work in Hollywood.” “Whaddaya, a comedian or somethin’?” “I do it all Big Papa.” The brothers were standing nearby closely watching and listening. I continued, “I write stories, make movies, and perform as an actor and comedian.” “You look like part of the family, but the name Chaiyim, that ‘s not Italian, and you don’t look like a Pollark.” He paused. Then continued, “I heard that word Chaiyim many times in New York City. Whaddaya, a Jew?” Knowing that I was being served bigotry alamode on a silver platter, I replied, “That’s half the story.” Big Papa became exasperated. “Half the story, are ya tellin’ me somethin’ went wrong? “The bible goes back a long way” I said. Big Papa raised his voice and began yelling. “What’s the bible got to do with it?” “The history of the Jews goes back thousands of years.” “Whaddaya, a half-breed or somethin’?” “Look at it this way Big Papa, when I’m making money I’m Jewish and when I’m making love I’m Italian.” A burst of laughter erupted and echoed throughout the garage. Dom piped up, “Pop, this guy’s really funny, I bet ya he’s someone famous or somethin’.” Big Papa replied, “Well, I know ya better half, you don’t mind if I call ya Vinnie do ya?” “Vinnie it is and Vinnie is shall be.” Then he announced: “Alright boys, let’s take care of Vinnie and go to work on the car.” He turned to me and said, “I’ll call the wife and tell her to put another plate on the table for lunch.” “Lunch!” “Yeah, it’s coming up on one o’clock and we usually eat at twelve, but with you as our guest comin’ through town and being part of the family we’ve pushed it back an hour.” “I thought you close at five.” “Yeah, but its two days before Christmas and we’re gonna close early.” “What about my car?” “It looks like Dom has checked through everything and you’re gonna need a timing belt. It’s gonna run ya between fifteen hundred and two grand depending on how long it’ll take to order the belt, get it here, and install it. They’re closed through New Year’s. It’s a big job, so you’re here for the holidays Vinnie. Welcome to Kingman.” I was determined to get home and asked to use the phone. Big Papa agreed while staring at me with suspicion. I pulled out a calling card to assure him that I would be incurring all charges. His face turned red and formed a devilish smirk. All he needed was a pitchfork and horns to be complete.
My first call was to JC. I made sure that I was out of hearing range on a cordless phone that was decorated in various patterns of dirt and grease spots. I announced myself immediately and she answered in her warm and sultry voice, “You’re back.” “Not quite. I’m more like an outback, except in Arizona instead of Australia.” “Where are you?” “Kingman, Arizona. My car seized on Route 66.” “Sounds like you had a great spiritual retreat because you’re very calm.” “It’s getting better and better. I’m transforming bigotry and hate into a delicious chocolate cake.” “I’ll do anything you need, just tell me. I’ll even come and get you if necessary.” JC was driving a 1982 Toyota Corolla with a mosaic of different colored paint chips and an interior that a rat pack invaded. A definitive work of late twentieth century art that included automotive sounds transcending any auto repair shop. I said, “JC, I’m focusing and directing my energy to get home. Do me a favor and call Lynda Sue, tell her what happened, and that we’ll be there for the celebration.” JC replied, “If there is anyone who can make it out of a desperate situation where someone else would freak! It’s you. Your people made it out of Egypt, so you’ll be just fine.” I chuckled. Then replied, “Yeah, but this time I also have the help of Vinnie Zamboni.” She laughed, knowing that there was more to the story “You’ll have to fill me in later.” The D’Fulio’s were pacing in circles and scratching each other across the way. I said, “I gotta get off this phone, these guys are growing more irritable with each moment. Stay tuned for a further update and keep your pager on. Love ya.” “Love you too.”
Big Papa bellowed from the other side of the garage with an amplified megaphone voice, “Come on Vinnie! Let’s eat, the wife’s waiting, the boys are restless, and I’m hungry.” “Alright Big Papa, just one more call.” I walked into a position where I could be seen and quickly called Kal. He’s from Beirut, a man in his mid twenties who is an ace at his craft. I entertained him every time I brought my car to be serviced. We had a good rapport and he gave me his home, cell, and pager numbers in case of an emergency. I remembered that he lived with his mother who had just arrived from Lebanon. When she answered the phone I couldn’t understand her. I said, “Hello, Kalam please.” She responded in her native language and did not understand basic American-English greetings. I glanced peripherally at Big Papa pacing the floor, watching the cement slowly lift from the ground to his shoes. I took a deep breath, followed by a glorious exhale and said into the mouthpiece “Salam Oleichem, Kalam.” She replied, “Oleichem Salam” which was followed by the sound of the phone kissing a hard surface. Kal answered a few seconds later. “Mah Sha La” I said. It’s a code word we used when we saw a beautiful woman pass-by or come into his garage for service. He laughed. “Where are you?” I said, “Kingman, Arizona at D’Fulio’s Auto Garage.” He stopped laughing. I had him check my car before I left L.A., and everything was fine, however, I didn’t tell him I was going for a long trip. He said, “You should’ve rented a car for a trip like that. Now what can I do? I can only help you if you can get the car back here.” “I need your help now! They want to repair the timing belt for almost two grand. They also told me that I would have to stay here till the New Year. I need you to talk to Big Papa to see if you can find a solution over the phone since you know Old Faithful inside and out.”
Kal agreed and I connected the two of them with a friendly introduction. Big Papa had a hard time understanding Kal and became very indignant. This, in conjunction with his hunger made his cheeks turn fire engine red. He looked at me, then abruptly yanked the phone from his ear and stared at it with disgust. I could still hear Kal talking through the speaker. Then he said, “What’s this guy, an Arab?” I replied, “He’s from Lebanon.” “They’re the worst, a bunch of thieves.” I thought to myself, Kal fixed my timing belt a couple of years ago for three hundred and fifty dollars and this guy wants two grand. To avoid the constant pummeling of a bigoted human warhead, I interjected and said, “Okay Big Papa, give me the phone.” I took it from him quickly and there was silence. Evidently Kal heard Big Papa’s comment and his voice was grumbling when he started talking again. He told me that I was getting boned and not to let them touch the car. I replied that they already began to monkey around and he interjected vehemently. “Stop them before they ruin the whole car!!!” “Okay” I said, and thanked him while Big Papa was waving his hands motioning me to hurry up. Kal concluded, “Stay near a phone that you can be reached, I have another solution.” He paused. “One more very important thing.” “What’s that?” “Do me a favor.” “Yes.” “Tell Big Papa, Mah Sha La!!!”
I’ve been to the zoo many times in my life especially during childhood, but this was exceptional. Big Papa was so hungry that he began grunting and groaning while muttering utter contempt under and over his breath. Rocco was scratching and rubbing as if a flea party was taking place on his stomach. Dom was chain smoking on his quest to breaking a new world record, jerking his head side to side and twitching as if he had Tourette’s syndrome. It was just the right moment for my next question, “Who are the three tow companies within the twenty mile radius Big Papa?” “Come on Vinnie, Manja! Manja! You know what that means don’t ya?” “Sure do.” I was fantasizing about a strawberry vegan cake at Lynda Sue’s. Then continued, “Come on! Let’s make the tow company calls. It will only take a few minutes, they’ll give us a yes or no and we’re done.” The boys kept quiet. Big Papa approached ominously, staring down at me as his huge smelly body pressed up against mine. Suddenly we were toe to toe. Big Papa said, “You’re pretty good Vinnie and I like you, but you’re in Kingman now and the folks here are done working for the holidays. If you can get one of these guys to tow ya to L.A., and do it for under seven hundred bucks, you’ll be performing a miracle before my eyes.” “My people have performed miracles before in the desert. So be it Egypt or Arizona the same energy forces apply. Give me the phone and let me go to work.”
Instead, Big Papa picked up the phone and started calling himself convinced that this was an outrageous proposition. The first call confirmed his words. A housewife answered saying that her husband was running last minute errands for Christmas and then coming home to stay. The second call was clearly to an old crony who wanted to yak it up and talk nonsense. Big Papa let out a haughty laugh after he finished saying L.A. He looked at me with the possibility that he might bite for seven hundred then started the holiday banter again. I knew the call was going nowhere. Dom said, “Fuhgeddaboutit Vinnie, it’s all over.” “What’s the phone number to the last place?” I asked. Big Papa started celebrating victory by lighting a cigar. The boys were standing side by side next to the desk laughing in ridicule at me while getting a kick out the of the situation. Big Papa, trying to speak without laughing said, “Here ya go Vinnie, show me whatcha got.” I took the phone with glee, dialing with confidence and trusting my intuition. A young woman with a soothing voice answered, “Tommy Tow can I help you?” I replied, “Yes, I’m in Kingman and I have to get back to L.A., tonight for an engagement as well as for the holidays.” Just as she was starting to tell me that Tommy would be back in a few minutes he arrived. I reiterated the situation to him and my urgent need to get back home. He was very laid back and understanding. I could sense his interest and told him I would make it worth his while by paying him cash on arrival in L.A., also treating him to any meals or drinks along the way. He told me that wasn’t necessary but asked how much cash. I replied “Five hundred dollars.” That was the amount available on my credit cards via ATM. He was hedging while Big Papa and the boys were watching earnestly. I knew I had at least one hundred and fifty cash with me and embraced the moment telling him “Five hundred and fifty dollars with a blessing from God for helping someone in need.” That clinched it!!! He agreed and told me he would be at the D’Fulio residence in a half hour to pick me up. Hastily, I made two quick calls to Kal and JC to share the good news. Big Papa, Dom, and Rocco were in shock. I said, “God answers all and I’m thankful for this moment.” Exasperated, Big Papa said, “That’s all we need is a Jew comin’ into town. He’ll end up running the place. Alright Vinnie, you’ve performed a miracle, now show me how you perform one from your better half at the dining room table.” “What’s that?” “We’re gonna make food disappear.”
Poof!!! Into a dustbowl cloud we went at land speed pace to their estate situated about an acre away amongst the sand dunes. The wind and cold still prevailed and got more intense into the early afternoon. We were welcomed at the front door by Big Papa’s wife Anna. She is a stout woman in her late fifties, approximately five foot five with thin salt and pepper hair tucked neatly into a bun. Anna had very light make-up and was wearing a flowered dress under her festive food designed apron. Her greeting was timid and in a soft voice. Big Papa, Dom, and Rocco were loud and boisterous wanting lunch to be served immediately. I was quite impressed how she handled them and my short notice guest appearance. We were directed to the entertainment room which had brownish black panel and a full bar lit with beer company lights. Behind it was a custom designed mirror that disfigured all in its proximity. The dark wooden table and chair set up was for four people. Anna was the server and continued to take the boys antsy behavior in stride.
Big Papa piped up, “We’ve got a real Italian meal for ya Vinnie.” The putrid smell of sausage, meatballs, and other seasonings combined with cigar and cigarette smoke that permeated the room warranted a gag bag. My vegetarian diet of five years with a non-smoking lifestyle was up to its greatest challenge. The D’Fulio’s wanted me to have a stiff cocktail with a cigarette or cigar to celebrate Christmas. Big Papa was swinging a stogie in his mouth from side to side while blowing at an industrial smoke stack rhythm. “Come on Vinnie, lighten up, it’s Christmas for God’s sake.” “I am lightened up Big Papa, I haven’t eaten dinner since last night.” “Here, let me make ya a good drink to take ya mind off it till the food comes out.” He jumped up from the table excitedly and took a standing position from behind the bar. Then, whipping out an old bottle of vodka from underneath, opened and poured a hefty shot into an old-time Las Vegas drinking glass that revealed a scantily clad woman that turns naked when filled. The booze wreaked turpentine and the label was tinged. I asked him, “What year is it?” He replied, “Fussy guest we have here boys. Whadza maddah? You don’t like what we have?” “How about a hot drink” I suggested. Big Papa with an excited bartender voice: “Okay Vinnie, Whaddaya havin’?” “Do you have any tea?” “Tea!!!” He exclaimed. “I’m offering ya the best from my bar, how about some coffee and brandy?” “Sure Big Papa.” He went into bartender mode with great pride and served the drink on a coaster. “That’ll be two grand.” “In what denominations?” “You’re a real character Vinnie, a little New Yorker in ya.” “Yeah, a little too much. Here’s lookin’ atch ya Big Papa.” I raised the drink and made a toast, thanking the D’Fulios for their warm welcome and hospitality.
My senses were on overload with the onslaught of smoke, stench, food, and booze. I had watery eyes, a runny nose, congested lungs performing “Wheezing Cacophony # 1,” and an irritated throat that was ready to call the fire department. I just wanted to take off all my clothes and run outside being together as one with the sun and the wind. The food was served in a proper manner. Anna put a hot plate of spaghetti and baseball sized meatballs in a thick sauce before me. The slices of home baked bread were gargantuan taking up almost two feet of space across the table. I could only think of the poor cows at Cowschwitz on Interstate 5 in mid-state California that suffered for this plate in which I had no desire to touch. “Manja Vinnie! Manja!” Big Papa said. Dom feeling quite bold riding his dad’s coat tails, “Yeah Vinnie, mom makes the best so eat up.”
I was nauseated by the whole situation and asked where the bathroom was located. Hoping there was an accessible window, my first intent was to get fresh air followed by spending moments away from the D’ Fulio’s until Tommy Tow arrived. The other rooms in the house were virtually spotless. I had initially taken off my hiking boots before entering the home and walked in my socks to the bathroom. It was in immaculate condition. There was a window in which I quickly opened to breathe some crisp fresh air through my mouth then blew my nose. It would’ve been angelic if I could’ve blown Kingman into a tissue then discarded into the toilet with a rapid flush. I went into a silent meditation and took some deep breaths sitting on the toilet seat cover. Slowly, I began drifting into a dream-like state, finding myself at home getting ready for the birthday party and feeling joyous when the sound of a loud and ear piercing horn with urgency became a symphony to my ears. Tommy Tow had arrived to pick me up. We would go to the garage to get Old Faithful and then off to L.A.!!! I bolted from the bathroom like a greyhound after a rabbit and quickly went to the entrance to put on my boots. The D’Fulios’s had inhaled their lunch and we converged at the front door. Big Papa added his own finale music with his song “Discordant Flatulence.” I put my boots on quickly and ran to Tommy as a boy would run to his loving father after a long departure jumping into his truck with enthusiasm. Big Papa went to the garage alone while the boys stayed at home. Can you blame them? We swiftly picked up Old Faithful, exchanged paper work, and said our goodbyes. Big Papa handed me his business card and told me I was welcome back to Kingman anytime. I thanked him, and waving with a Grand Canyon grin said “Mah Sha La” as we started to pull away.
AHHH!!! At last, the sweet and arid desert of Interstate 40 heading west. Tommy, an attractive, baby-faced, and physically fit man of six feet in his late twenties with brown hair and blue eyes was a quiet one. We swept into the mid to late afternoon sun as a bird with open wings riding on a brisk wind. I was full of fervor and knew that Tommy would be work in achieving any conversation so I remained silent. The scenery was quite bland for the most part, but then I remembered a great conversation I had with the late artist Lou Burnett from Rockport, Massachusetts at the front door of his studio. Lou and I were looking across the street at an old weathered Cape house that was occupied by another artist. Lou said, “See that splintering window frame?” Pause. “Look at it closely” Pause. “Can you see the beauty in that?” I stared intently, turning the passenger side window into the frame of a painting while the sand formed into swirling grains of pointillism. I was encapsulated by the divine visual while thinking about Lou’s wisdom in seeing the beauty in everything. Gazing back through the front window, I had delusions of grandeur about entering the promise land as we approached the California state line. I turned to Tommy and asked him if it was for real. He smiled and said, “Yes, we’re entering California.” We rolled into the state in a harmonious manner and silence was broken. Then, I asked if it was permissible to play some of the recorded music tapes I made for the trip. He gave me the okay by taking the cassette I pulled out of my bag and stuck into the tape player.
We were a couple of hours into the trip and it was approaching dusk. I was very hungry. We found a small diner with a gas station that enabled us to get something to eat while also fueling up. Tommy ordered a cup of coffee and donut to go then proceeded to call his wife on the outdoor pay phone. I went inside and sat on a stool at the counter. A waitress with the name Lucy on her tag gave me a friendly greeting accompanied by a gum snapping rhythm of Doo Wop street singers from the nineteen fifties. She was approximately forty years with wide brown eyes and rosy cheeks that gloated with warmth. Her brunette hair was in a bun. A shimmering gold necklace with a hanging cross was draped over her white blouse. She wore her knee high black skirt and nylons well. I asked for a plate of steamed vegetables by special order and a side of grilled potatoes. Fifteen minutes later, she returned with a decorative food serving in the shape of a cowboy boot. I was astonished, gazing at the mounds of potatoes and expertly assembled vegetables. Through a haze of steam rising from the plate she said, “Whatcha doin’ here?” I told her I was on my way back to L.A. She looked at me with deep compassion and said, “Take as long as you like sweetie, we also have fresh baked apple pie for dessert.” Lucy could tell I was beat and took care of me with motherly love, making sure my cup of tea was refreshed while stocking me up with warm bread from the kitchen. I became relaxed and groggy. My eyelids registered, “NOT AVAILABLE AT THIS TIME!”
Briskly, Tommy came into the restaurant with a cold blast of wind rushing behind him. My eyelids registered, “AVAILABLE IMMEDIATELY!!!” Tommy said, “Are you done Tikkun?” I nodded yes. Rising up from the stool was a very slow process. I grabbed the end of the counter while pushing upward saying to myself, “Okay kid, time to go!” Moving into the winter night air brought forth an exhilarating rush of childhood memories from youth in New England. Memorized winter poems by Robert Frost evoked from my cold and trembling lips on my way back to the truck. I crawled wearily into the passenger’s seat and we were on the road again.
Traveling along Interstate 10 West through the Palm Desert area we encountered newly sprouted shopping malls with cars swarming like bees buzzing in and out of their holiday honeycomb nests. The heavy traffic, extremely dangerous wind conditions, and the Christmas holiday rush caused a couple of major accidents that kept us crawling bumper to bumper. We saw a fierce fire blazing in an old building in between passing structures. There were more sirens from police cars and fire truck apparatus than a holiday parade. No bubble gum was tossed either! This series of events displeased Tommy very much so I pulled out some chewing gum from my backpack and turned to him saying, “Hey Tommy! Look what the parade brought us.” He caught a sideward glance of me holding out a stick of gum then smiled and said, “You know Tikkun, you really know how to change a frustrating moment into a good time.” “Well, what else can we do?” Let’s enjoy these special moments together. Here, have some gum and turn up the tunes.” He lightened up for an hour, which was just enough time to clear the bogged down area.
Once we got through the freeway opened its lanes with loving arms from Palm Springs to L.A., with little said until we approached downtown. That’s when Tommy became anxious and longed for home. He was behaving as a child going to school for the first time. His nerves were jarred. Petrified of the city, I had to coax him as we passed the ominous gang graffiti endorsing the exits, buildings, and signs leading to Kal’s shop on South La Brea Avenue near Olympic Boulevard. Tommy’s fear in conjunction with where the shop was located meant a swift drop off.
Kal was a man of his word and awaited our arrival. Notorious for his sense of humor he showed up wearing a red and green Keffiyeh decorated with Christmas holiday symbols and greetings. He was smiling and introduced himself to Tommy in a friendly manner. Tommy nearly fainted. Kal and I hugged passionately and said “Salam Oleichem” in unison. I winked at Kal with a quick nod towards Tommy. He understood immediately and quickly showed Tommy where to drop the car. I interjected at a pause during the process and told Kal that I relayed his message to Big Papa. He looked at me surprised and said, “NO-O-O-O!!!” I said, “Y-EHH-S!!!” I told him how it happened and he thanked me for doing the honors.
When the car came down from the truck we pushed it into the garage bay in comedic strides, moving like dysfunctional camels across a desert. The intensive workout and awkwardness of getting the car inside had us sweating profusely. Images of water humps began appearing on our backs to quench our thirst. Kal did a compression check and told me the motor went to heaven. Furthermore, he said that he would install a rebuilt engine for twelve hundred dollars including labor and that the car would be ready in a week. We both agreed and then stepped outside the shop celebrating the fact that we could breathe, waving our arms and hands while blowing kisses to the moon and stars above. Kal helped us out of the parking lot stopping oncoming traffic while directing Tommy on to La Brea Avenue heading north in the direction to my apartment in Los Feliz located east of Hollywood. People were blowing their horns while hooting and hollering Merry Christmas out their respective windows. Kal waved and smiled then did a crazy street dance to entertain. Tommy was horrified at first looking through the rear view mirror but then started to chuckle as we were getting further away.
The ride north on La Brea and east on Franklin Avenue through Hollywood was smooth sailing. We turned north on Hillhurst Avenue in Los Feliz. I directed Tommy to pullover to the right hand side of the road in front of a variety store to buy us some bottled water. Across the street was an ATM where I could get the money that I promised him.
Standing face to face with technology after a whirring and spiritual journey was a reminder of just how far our species has evolved. I began pressing computer buttons knowing that I had an adequate credit line to fulfill the monetary agreement. Three major credit cards at my disposal and the fact that it was the jolly holiday season created some unnecessary excitement. The first card that I inserted failed to give me five hundred dollars. Instead, it spit out three hundred. I grabbed it quickly before it could change its mind. Then, I used another card that made me wait patiently while the inside machinery sang its own Christmas song to theme of “Jingle Bells.” “Out of Money, Out of Money, Now Please Go Away.” Not only did it sing out of key with a strained voice but lit a flashing red light with amber dialogue reading “Please wait for Santa to refill me. Merry Christmas!” There was another ATM located around the corner of the brick wall. However, I saw a couple leaving while overhearing them reciting a holiday curse prayer. I pulled out my wallet and counted one hundred and sixty dollars. My total was four hundred and sixty and I remembered that I had some money stashed in my bedroom.
When I returned to the truck, Tommy was suspicious asking me if everything was okay. I answered him calmly, saying that it took unusually long due to the holidays to process my request. We drove away from the curb and made our way around the corner to my apartment building. The tall palm trees waved their fronds with a warm welcome while the flowers greeted us with a blossom smile. I told Tommy that I wanted to unload my belongings and bring him some food and drink for the road. He politely said no and wanted out of L.A., as much as I did Kingman. I gave him an oral nudge and then he gave in knowing that I was genuine about the offer. I told him it would take about fifteen minutes due to my place being situated in the back of the complex.
He kept the truck running while I gathered everything. Then, I jumped out the door to home sweet home. I took slow paced steps processing each moment as I passed through the courtyard and gardens. When I arrived inside my apartment, I dropped my belongings and placed the sand painting gently by the door. Hurriedly, I went to my bedroom searching for the reserve funds. A quick muse led me to my metal file box that decided to wrestle alligator style on a moments notice. The metal key lock that also serves as a tab to push and unlock the box was jammed. Finding the tiny key in which I had in a mini manila envelope inside my closet amongst other life long items kept the money dance flowing. Discovering the key, I made a pirouette to the metal box and gingerly worked it into the lock with success. Eighty dollars in twenties had a chorus of four Andrew Jackson’s singing “WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS” echoing through every room. Several minutes passed and I needed ten more dollars. I went to the kitchen and put a care package together for Tommy’s ride home. Afterwards, I decided to call my on-site property manager with whom I had a great rapport to see if she could spot me the money. One ring later, I remembered that I had a roll of quarters to be used for laundry inside my nightstand drawer. I hung up quickly and bolted to my bedroom to check. Yes!!! My memory served well, a full roll of quarters equaling ten dollars caressed my eyeballs. Five hundred and fifty dollars with some food for Tommy! Sweet!!!
I was content and made my way gleefully to Tommy. He could see me smiling and holding yummy treats for his ride home. When I got to the truck I handed him the payment with an assortment of fruits, nuts, and granola then said, “Merry Christmas Tommy with blessings to you and your family.” He thanked me and wished the same. His eyes twinkled with thoughts of going home to his wife and children. I gave him directions to get back on the freeway and with a friendly wave goodbye down the street he went. It was approaching nine o’clock. He would arrive in Kingman during the wee morning hours of Christmas Eve day. Turning back to my apartment, I passed a couple of neighbors who saw the truck pull away and they asked if everything was alright. I told them, “The celebration is just beginning!” They looked at me with curiosity. I said, “I’m going to my best friend Lynda Sue’s birthday party in Encino and it’s just getting better and better.”
Fashionably late still applies in Los Angeles social culture. JC and I were determined to keep this ancient ritual alive and well. She picked me up curbside in front of my apartment building and I hopped into the passenger seat happily. We embraced in a friendly hug and kiss pulling away the ripped ceiling liner while maneuvering over the stick shift. She looked rocker cool, clad in her ripped jeans, T-Shirt, and work boots. We then made our way via Route 101 North out of Hollywood.
Cruising in JC’s car is always a musical endeavor. Amongst all the creaks, rattles, and various noises of her Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a loud serving of college radio sounds segued us nonstop to Lynda Sue’s. We were bopping along and singing to the great underground music of the nineteen sixties and seventies. The freeway was clear as if Moses came back for a holiday encore. This time, instead of parting the Red Sea opened all lanes for us to get to our destination.
We arrived at the party by ten o’clock and there were only a few cars outside. JC and I walked up the long steep driveway to the house. The mild valley air was pleasant and we watched moths dance around the lights as we approached the doorway. Ringing the doorbell was accompanied by a chiming symphony. We stood patiently waiting for the door to be opened. Lynda Sue’s mother, Rosalind, in her late fifties, average height and physically fit, dressed in a yellow blouse that read hello in multiple languages with a flower patterned vest and smiley pin along with beige cotton pants and wildly pointed shoes was about to greet us when Happy, a large Black Labrador Retriever, excitedly rushed from the foyer and leaped on me full force with slurping tongue kisses. I lost balance and JC caught the gift I was holding in mid flight. Each turn of the head sent saliva streams across my cheeks. Rosalind tried to grab Happy’s collar but to no avail. Happy missed one turn as I ducked and ended up kissing the Mezuzah on the doorpost.
After our grand entrance, I cleaned my face and hands in a nearby bathroom. Then, I formally introduced JC to Lynda Sue’s father, Dr. Bob. He’s a healthy and well-built man in his late fifties, wearing a straw hat and button down checkered shirt, khaki slacks, and loafers who was eagerly greeting and entertaining a few guests in the party room. His stethoscope necklace was a topic of conversation dangling back and forth across his chest with every move. The layout which included a parquet dance floor, fully stocked bar, and pool table was inviting us to have as much fun as we could stand. Food was in abundance due to many who made an R.S.V.P. However, there were only a half dozen guests including JC and I.
Lynda Sue, looking like a flower child with an assortment of beaded jewelry and braids was wearing a matching blue shirt and jeans outfit with moccasins. She had her back to us while expressing disappointment about the situation to another guest. I placed my index finger over my lips to indicate the shush signal. The guest acknowledged. I slowly approached her reaching out my hand toward her back. When we made contact, I began to gently rub my fingertips then palm in a circular motion. She turned quickly and joy erupted through every muscle in her sun glowing face. Her gleaming brown eyes started to well up and shed warm tears. She gave me a tender kiss and said, “Tikkun” with a little high shriek in her voice towards the end “JC, Oh My God!!! You’ve made it!” I handed her the wrapped present. She asked enthusiastically if it was okay to open and I replied, “Yes!” Everyone stopped to watch. Lynda Sue was awestruck. Staring intently at the Navajo sand painting, a billowy white cloud of tranquility overcame her. A sudden transformation took place in the room that allowed all of us to see the beauty of the world in a grain of sand. Joyous expressions of celebration became evident as the sounds of tribal drums began thumping our hearts and moving our feet. We clasped hands and joined in a circle dance on the parquet floor chanting “One Earth, One People, One Love.” Repeating over and over again, while a strawberry heart shaped cake awaited us on a nearby table that read, “Every moment is a birthday!!!” Happy entered the room thinking it was his birthday too making a four-legged bee-line for the cake.