The Volvo was out of gas. I couldn’t believe it. I can still hardly believe it. The red light dinged on the dashboard exposing a tiny outline of a gas pump. It looked like a miniature neon sign. “C’mon down to Mobil,” it warned me. I continued humming along to the radio. 98.7 was having a classic rock weekend and “Moondance” oozed out of the speakers. Earlier, the pinky lemon sun sank into the horizon and it felt like one of those Indian summer nights where the air was still hot. Hot like a sauna. My window was open and the balmy breeze blew my hair. Sometimes it blew it right into my mouth and I had to spit it out. I could taste the dry split ends. Time for a haircut.
And then the old gal sputtered, coughed, and halted. She was a rustic cadaver with headlights casting a shimmering glow over the valley. I was on Coldwater and it was 1:00 am. This piece of shit has cost me a bloody fortune. Every time I took her to the dealer he found a mechanical problem between $975 and $1500. I know. Never take it to the dealer, but I didn’t know a good local mechanic.
“Lizzie, do you listen to Car Talk?” My Pops asked me over the telephone. “They might have some ideas. Those guys are terrific.”
Like I was going to listen to a radio show that talked about cars. I’m not a dude.
Anyway, I remembered that the car was not falling to shit; I was just an idiot. I ignored the red neon light twenty minutes ago. I glanced at my IPhone; it was time to call Triple A, but the phone was dead too. Its one red battery bar didn’t faze me either when I left AOC. Great. I felt like Eeyore.
“It could rain today.”
What was next? A rabid coyote?
I was going to have to hike down the canyon in Manolos on a quest for a gas station and carry a little red plastic can back up to fill the old gal’s thirst. Maybe my Nikes were still in the trunk. I wouldn’t make it in those red satin stilts.
I never wore heels, but I was on a date and everyone said you had to wear them. It’s sexy and guys like it. I’d rather rock motorcycle boots then hobble along looking like a fool. It felt like rusty nails were digging in to the tip of my toes. I borrowed the Manolos from my friend Jen, so I didn’t think she would appreciate it if I scaled a mountain in her $1200 shoes. This guy wasn’t even worth it. Another asshole from Tinder. He squashed my one tiny glimmer of hope five minutes in.
“Why are you still single? You’re very pretty. You must be a nightmare.”
Should have swiped nope, again.
I rummaged in the trunk, sifting through an orange Home Depot bucket. A few bottles of Cheer were toppled over onto some Trader Joe’s bags, and thank God, the Nikes rested by the spare tire. Wait, Nike. Shit, there was only one. I sat in the backseat and took off the Manolos. My feet were finally free and I rubbed them to flatten their twisted crimson nubs. I laced up the one Nike and pulled on my navy UCLA sweatshirt. One ratty gym sock from underneath the floor mat was now on the other foot. I smelled like my beagle Howie and looked ridiculous, but I didn’t care. I found a flashlight in my earthquake kit. My Pops gave it to me for Christmas and I threw it in the old gal’s trunk. I had no room in my kitchen pantry, way too many cans of garbanzo beans and bottles of Windex. I never thought I would have to open it, but it came in pretty handy that night.
My Pops always told me to pay attention to the details, to not let the important stuff slip through the cracks.
“You need to be a responsible young lady. You are thirty-two and a full fledged adult.”
But I had a tendency to forget. I couldn’t help it. My house keys, writing a rent check on time, and, well, running out of gas. This wasn’t the first time. I could just see him now clicking his tongue and shaking his head, his hairy grey eyebrows twitching. Last September I puttered along on gas fumes on the 110/101 interchange. I was a sigalert and drivers honked and gave me the finger as I sat stalled in the middle lane.
“Elizabeth Olivia Harrison, really, again.”
I pretty much locked myself out weekly. I learned how to jimmy the front screen by yanking on the wooden frame and sliding it upward. It rumbled and jerked flaking white paint chips into my hair. I wrote countless reminders in blue ink on my palm, but it smudged into a blurry haze. Oh well.
Coldwater’s asphalt was jagged and crumbly. It was steep like Runyon, but not as rocky. My ankles gave a bit when I stumbled on to the uneven pavement. It wasn’t easy with just one sneaker. Cars whizzed past and I watched as their sparkly taillights rounded each corner and disappeared into nothingness. I thought of trying to hitch, but figured with my luck, a kook would kidnap me and drive all the way to Tijuana to sell me as a sex slave. No bueno.
I decided to skip, make light of it, and have fun. This could be a great adventure. Lots of fancy people lived on Coldwater. I heard Tom Hanks had a house up here, and it was Emmy week. Who cares about that old frat guy from Tinder? He had a piece of kale stuck in his front tooth the whole time anyway.
“Well, it’s a marvelous night for a Moondance with the stars up above in your eyes, a fantabulous night to make romance, hmm, hmmm.”
I couldn’t remember the rest of the words and I was singing out of tune. My skipping was pretty bouncy and I was focusing on how high I could jump in the tight leather skirt, but my shoelace caught the tip of a pothole and launched me into the brush. I was now sprawled flat with the flashlight on top of my chest, a perpendicular spotlight shot skyward. I just got hockey-checked by the asphalt. The grass was damp and my left ankle tingled. My lone sock was black and torn. It stank. I was probably lying on top of a steaming pile of shit.
“Good job Lizzie.” I muttered to myself.
I sat up and dusted off the foliage and spiky branches. The foul smell was getting stronger and the reeds rumbled. It wasn’t windy. I shined the flashlight towards the swishing. It sounded like a cat or dog was trying to make its way through. I squinted and it was getting closer rather quickly. The black and white bushy tail poked upright, and its beady eyes glowed. It hissed, stamped, and scratched the dirt, kicking some of it up. I tiptoed away like I was balancing on a tightrope, but it was too late. The skunk’s hiss became shriller and it let loose its gassy venom, spraying the front of my shins. I staggered backwards as the little varmint continued its rampage into the brush. The smell was disgusting, like rotten eggs. Fuck.
How could this much bad juju happen to one person in less then two hours? It wasn’t my turn for bad karma. In fact, yesterday the pregnant psychic at the car wash told me that my aura was pretty high. Good things were coming my way. She was sitting next to me waiting for her Toyota Sienna. Her big belly rested on her thighs like a gigantic beach ball and her Yorkshire Terrier yipped at her feet.
“You have a lot of light in you.”
Really? So then what the hell was all this?
“Lady, hello. Are you ok?”
I was hopping up and down trying to get the skunk stench off by wiping my sweatshirt all over my shins that I hadn’t noticed that a Prius Taxi Cab had pulled up. Its headlights glared and its muted engine purred.
“Oh, hey.” I shielded my eyes from the light to get a better glimpse.
“I’m ok. I ran out of gas and my phone died so I was hiking down to get to the nearest gas station.”
The brilliance was blinding. Was this my kidnapper? Next stop Tijuana?
“C’mon, we’ll give you a ride.” He waved his arms into the light like he was making snow angels against the dark sky.
“I just have to drop this customer off at a party up the street.”
Good, he wasn’t alone. What were the chances that an international Taxicab kidnapping duo drove a hybrid? Minimal, I decided.
“Ok. Thanks so much.”
I limped over clutching my flashlight, purse, and stinky sweatshirt. Wait till they got a whiff of me. I slid into the backseat and clutched the edge of the door.
“Jesus, lady. What happened to you?”
The customer was staring at me, mouth agape, but then he pinched his nose with his thumb and forefinger. He looked kind of familiar with his silly pancake face. His hair was a mass of dirty blonde curls. Puffy and fro-like.
“I apologize. Not only did I go on a bad date, run out of gas, and have my phone die, but Pepe Le Pew just nailed my ankles.”
The driver turned and studied me before pulling his Dodgers cap down low over his eyes. They both erupted into laughter. You know, that bellyache, uncontrollable giggle when you feel like you might pee your pants. I laughed too and gave a small snort.
“Well, that’s crazy. You’re actually foxy underneath that mess. Anyone ever tell you, you look like the girl from Scent of a Women? Whoo-ah.”
Actually, the crazy homeless guy at the Laundromat said it to me all the time. He wore a rainbow Mexican blanket with no shirt and tan chinos and shouted “Whoo-ah” every time I stuck a load in the dryer.
We merged onto Coldwater. The customer pointed at my one sneaker and shook his head. How did I know him? Yoga? . If so, he was pudgy and squat yogi.
“Did you go to UCLA?”
“No, I went to the New School in New York.”
He was younger, I would have guessed mid to late twenties. He dressed sloppily, ripped jeans, lopsided button up, and Chuck Taylors. Ray Ban Wayfarers were clipped to the front of his shirt.
“You know it!”
He was still plugging his nose, but hummed Slow Rider.
“Do you have a cell phone I can borrow? I could call triple A and be out of your hair.”
“I left it at my buddy’s.”
“I only have radio dispatch.” The driver eyed me in the rearview mirror. His forehead was wrinkly with an upside down frown.
Oh, I get it. I didn’t know him. It was Jonah Hill.
That was the problem with living in Los Angeles. Famous people just looked familiar.
We stopped in front of a driveway surrounded by an eight-foot metal fence. It was ornate, with a fleur-de-lis at the apex.
“Well, this is me.” Jonah said. “You should come in and use the phone. Triple A can get you from here.”
He handed the driver a fifty from a crumpled up wad. I lingered clutching my stinky sweatshirt. He poked his head down and smiled.
“Watcha doin? C’mon Whoo-ah.”
I unclicked the belt and stumbled. The shoeless foot was throbbing and the sock was beginning to shred.
“Your friend won’t mind? I mean I’m a total mess.”
“Its cool.” He punched a code into the security box and the gates opened, whining noisily. He motioned for me to follow. The driveway was quite long with tiny candles lining each side.
“Is this a fancy Emmy party?”
“Naw, just a small gathering with friends.”
I could barley squeeze my way through the front door. Loads of fashion bloggers and actresses decked out in spiked Manolo gladiators and Herve Leger dresses huddled about. I bumped into them while they drank Moscow Mules in copper mugs. They leaned sexily and took selfies. Jonah was hi-fiving almost everyone.
“What’s up man! Party!”
It was a beautiful home. Very modern, glass walls, stainless steel with concrete floors. Black and white Mapplethorpe like photos. Guests stared, frowned, or corked their nostrils. I didn’t blame them.
“Whose the chick?”
“Make-A-Wish Foundation? Is she homeless? Jonah, you are too sweet.”
“She’s cool, she just needs to use the phone.”
He was such a nice guy. I needed to re-watch Superbad or maybe Moneyball. A few bloggers scurried, clicking their heels against the concrete and screeching it like nails on a chalkboard. I was sweating and my stomach was doing loops like the Cyclone at Coney Island. I wanted to go home, take a shower, and crawl into bed.
“Phone’s over here.”
We were in the kitchen and Jonah pointed to a cordless on the counter. It was much quieter in here. The caterers were working on stacking small golden bites onto silver platters. It smelled buttery and hot. Man, I was hungry. It had been six hours since I nibbled on a cheese plate at AOC. My mouth watered. The servers and chefs stared . I gave a small wave.
“My main man Jonah!”
“What’s up Franco? Rockin party. My friend needs to use your phone. What’s your name?”
“Lizzie, nice to meet you. Wow, rough night?”
Of course this was James Franco’s house. This night was getting weirder by the minute.
He took two steps sideways and gave me the once over.
“Ha ha. Long story involving running out of gas, falling into a ditch, and pissing off a skunk. Sorry to bother you. Thanks for letting me use your phone.”
“Me casa, su casa.”
He was smoking an electronic cigarette and wearing pajama pants with a Hawaiian shirt. His mirrored aviator sunglasses were pulled halfway down the bridge of his nose.
“Anyone ever tell you that you look like that girl from Scent of a Woman.”
“Totally. I said the same thing.”
I nodded. I was beginning to hate that movie.
“We’re going to get a cocktail. You want one?”
“No, thanks. I appreciate it though”
I cradled the receiver. Jonah and James strolled into the starlet jungle. I turned and the entire kitchen staff was still staring. I twisted so my back was to them and dialed triple A. The counter was lined with quirky do-dads, mostly adorable Limoges boxes. One ornate teakettle, an orange tiger, and a perfectly robust beehive. I didn’t envision James Franco as a collector of expensive junk. They were lined up neatly one after the other, a gigantic mob of them. They didn’t seem to go with the overall modern décor, but I guess it was kitschy. Maybe that was the point?
I picked up the beehive while listening to the Neil Diamond hold music. I ran my fingers along its smooth surface. It had a tiny gold clasp and I mindlessly fiddled with it to see what was inside. Maybe a swarm of adorable bumblebees? It was so delicate and yet difficult to pry open. The honeycomb top jolted off and flicked into my palm while Neil was still blasting in my right ear. I scrambled, placing the top back on by cupping my palms and then gently putting it on the counter. It wobbled a smidgen, but remained intact.
“Yes, I’m at 15308 Coldwater. Fifteen minutes. Thank you.”
I replaced the receiver and took a few steps away. I needed to get out of here.
“Senorita. Puedo audarle?”
The housekeeper tapped my right shoulder. I glanced at the tiny beehive.
“Te ves Terrible. Te estoy vigilando. Comporto o llamo a la policia.”
Her chocolate eyes glossed over and she crossed her arms in front of her chest. She had a unibrow .
I didn’t speak Spanish, but I caught policia.
“Um, no gracias. I’m going to wait outside.” I smiled real toothy and did a curtsy before sprinting out back.
The pool was a bottomless midnight blue. Only a handful of guests were hanging outside lounging on lawn chairs. I glanced at my wristwatch; it was 3:15am and still muggy out. I could feel the frizz puffing my hair into a stout mushroom. The moonlight was brilliant and made the water twinkle like a thousand tiny diamonds. It was relaxing and inviting, hypnotizing even. I shuffled my way around its kidney maze, smelling the pungent chlorine. I inhaled it deep. It smelled fresh and shiny. No more skunk stench. I was concentrating on how many gulps of clean odor I could take in that I didn’t notice the drunken fashion blogger. She staggered in her Manolos and elbowed me in the back, striking me right between the shoulder blades. I splashed head first into the shimmering liquid. It was muted and hushed underwater, calm and serene. I wanted to remain submerged and surrender. Ok, Mercury in Retrograde, you win. I floated to the surface and laid on my back, arms and legs splayed out wide. My pinky toe tingled in that tattered sock. The water was quite lovely and almost made me forget my predicament. I resolved to turn over a new leaf. Detail and precision was my new name. No more Lizzie.
“Hey, are you ok?”
I drifted to the edge. I was sopping wet but at least I didn’t smell like a skunk.
“Yea, icing on the cake.”
A guy in a crisp white button down was dangling a towel over me. The moonlight encircled him in a glittery mist. He had sandy brown hair that hung loose over his cobalt eyes. He winked and flashed perfect movie star teeth. Did I know him? Maybe he went to yoga? Boy, he was handsome.
He offered me the towel and took my hand leading me up the pool’s staircase. His hands were soft but manly. Goosebumps dotted my forearms.
“You’re even pretty wet.”
“Thanks.” My cheeks heated up to a blazing lilac. Maybe the car wash psychic was right?
“What’s your name?”
“Elizabeth.” I said elongating the e.
“Hey, anyone ever tell you that you look like the girl from Scent Of a Women? Whoo-ah!