I am at a house party where there are about thirty people of all ages. It is early evening, and there are lots of little kids running around, playing, and watching a DVD, while the adults are talking and drinking wine. My female neighbor friend and I are talking and sitting in two comfy chairs, when I notice that her wine glass is empty. “Here you go,” I tell her, reaching behind me to grab a bottle and refill her glass. My dad reaches over with his empty glass and snaps his fingers at me. “Sorry, Dad,” I say with a smile, “ladies first.” The party is bigger than those of us who live at the house had planned on, so we run out of wine before too long, and I volunteer to walk up the street to the store to get some more.
I walk out of the house to find deep snow on the ground. The street, incidentally, is the one on which I grew up, but the house we’re in is not that house. I walk back inside to grab a warmer coat and a scarf, and then I trudge across the yard to the street. Near the end of the street, I meet a family playing in the snow. They offer me a kids’ DVD, which happens to be the same one that the kids at our party have been watching non-stop for the last few hours. I make a face. “Thank you, but I’ve seen that too many times already.”
They laugh, and the wife says, “Yes, I can see that you have.”
“Do you hear that?” I ask them. There is music playing nearby. “I’m going to go investigate.”
I hear a band playing down the block. It’s made up of eight or ten members from WellKnownMarchingBand. They’re playing on a makeshift stage in a vacant lot with a music store on one side and an apartment building on the other. I pass a guy who’s getting out a trombone, and he asks me if I’m gonna play with the band. “I don’t know, actually. I may just watch this one.”
He looks a bit taken aback. “Isn’t it an honor, when someone invites you to–”
“–play with the FancySchmancyBandyBand? Of course it is, but I don’t want to impose on you guys. If it seems like the thing to do, I’ll jump in.” I grab a pair of drumsticks and twirl them with my fingers.
I walk past him and into the apartment building. I feel the need to change my clothes once I’m inside, and when I see an open apartment door, I walk inside and find a bedroom. No one is home, so I rummage around in the closet and find, to my surprise, a pair of pants that will fit me. I take off my own pants and and notice that there’s a window on the side wall of the bedroom; which means that the person next door can look in on me from her kitchen. I see a head-shaped shadow move across the curtain, and realize that I’m being watched. I step backwards into the closet and start to put on the pants I find there. The neighbor’s window opens and a blonde woman, slightly younger than I am, climbs down into the room I’m in, walks to the closet door (which also has a window) and peeks in at me. “I think it’s about time I saw you naked,” she said. “My name is Heather.” I feel the pile of shoes on which I’m standing slide out from underneath me, and I feel myself being pulled out of the closet.
At this point, the point of view changes. I’m driving in my red Honda at night with a female companion. We are looking for a freeway on-ramp, and there is a big mess of construction. It’s hard to tell where to turn, and there are lots of other on-ramps, and tunnels, and viaducts, and every kind of interchange. We muddle our way through it all and I start to accelerate, when a stop sign appears in the middle of the on-ramp, to keep people from driving into a big hole with a 20-foot drop. I stomp on the brake pedal, and the car skids to a stop. We narrowly avoid driving into the hole, but my car bangs into the metal sign post and knocks it to the side of the road. The on-ramp is too narrow to turn the car around, and it’s too dark to see anything, so I turn my hazard lights on, and the girl and I decide that we should leave the car there to block the hole. We get out and start to walk back up the on-ramp, and we notice that there are other cars in similar trouble. On the freeway below us is a slow-moving four-car accident. Then we turn and see a yellow Volvo station wagon on a different on-ramp drive through the hole in a different overpass. It hits hard on the pavement below and slams at high speed into a cement wall. The driver’s door flies open, but we don’t see any movement, so we run back up our own on-ramp toward a house on a bluff that overlooks the freeway. We see a couple of other people along the way who also abandoned their cars, and I tell them, “We’re going up the hill to call nine-one-one.”
We arrive at the house and look around. Somehow my companion and I get separated, and I talk on my cell phone while walking around on the lawn. I finish the call, and decide to have a look around. The house is a hundred-year-old Victorian that was historically preserved at the time the freeway was built alongside it. It is currently inhabited by an assortment of hippies, artists, musicians, slackers, and a couple of garden-variety weirdos. Since it’s a sunny afternoon, many of them are outside in the yard selling a myriad of shiny, colorful, beautiful things. I walk around the yard and greet each of the people in turn. They turn out to be a very engaging and creative bunch, and I think to myself that I would really enjoy living in a similar situation. I ask one of them if it would be okay to explore the property a little bit, and maybe even see inside the house. He agrees, and off I go.
I start in the yard, and walk around the north side, the west (front) side and then back around to the south side (where the freeway is), which is overgrown with thick blackberry bushes. As I’m walking through the bushes, I hear someone else rustling around inside them. A short, chubby old woman appears, holding a megaphone and orating crazily about witchcraft of some sort. I tell her she surprised me when she came up behind me like that, then I turn back and walk to the back yard again.
I walk into the house and up the stairs to the second floor landing. There is more selling of goods, primarily jewelry and music, going on up there, and I’m again impressed by everyone’s creativity and communal spirit. There are a handful of customers wandering around as well, and the witch woman comes out wearing a big wooden box in front of her with a small stereo inside it that’s playing an Edith Piaf song. The woman is singing along tunelessly about witchy subject matter, and the customers tell her, “That’s lovely, is it your own composition?” The woman smiles and avoids the question, so I answer, “It’s Edith Piaf, actually.” I walk toward the next person, and the woman sets down the musical box and announces, in a very loud voice, that she’s always wanted to do THIS, and she jumps in the air toward a rail above the door of one of the adjoining rooms. She kicks her legs up in the air, and holds them aloft for a long time. Since she’s so short, her legs are at everyone’s head level, so she’s letting the room know (in no uncertain terms) that she’s not wearing anything underneath her dress. Her dress slides up past her thick waist, and stays there. The customers laugh, I turn away, and two old women who live in the room next to the one in which she’s hanging appear and say to everyone and no one, “There she goes again. Why is she always doing that?”
Just then, an old man in a wheelchair appears from out of the bathroom that serves this floor. On his lap is a shaving kit; brush, mug, shaving cream, and a large circular razor. He asks me if I’d like to learn how to shave. “I’ve tried using those,” I tell him, “but I never fail to cut myself. I guess I’m just an electric guy. I could show you how to use an electric one, if you want. They’re much easier.”
“I like these,” he replies, as he stands up out of his wheelchair and sets them on a nearby wooden shelf. “I usually miss a hair or two, but these give me a much better shave overall.” He gives me a smile, and I see that he has indeed missed a hair or two.
I tell him, “I’m here because I almost wrecked my car out on the freeway last night, and my girlfriend and I saw a bad crash, so we came up here to call nine-one-one. I’m really impressed with this place. What’s it like living here?”
“It’s a pretty amazing place. Want me to show you around?”
“That’d be great. I’ll let you get dressed first.”
So he goes off to get dressed, and in the meantime I walk back downstairs and out into the yard again. Before long, the old man comes wheeling out to meet me in the middle of the yard. He says, “Show me what happened last night, and where your car is. Maybe by now we’ll be able to get it out of there.” I take him toward the edge of the bluff, to overlook the various interchanges, but I’m unable to find the one on which my car is parked. Traffic is moving along briskly on one freeway, but the other freeway and its myriad of on-ramps are clogged with stopped cars and holes in the road, and a few drivers are trying to maneuver their cars around all that. It’s complete chaos. “I see what you mean,” the old man says. “What a nightmare. Seems like you’re better off up here. Grab that bike over there.” He nods his head toward a dilapidated mountain bike that’s leaning against the side of the house. I walk over, grab the bike, and roll it to the edge of the yard where he’s sitting. “Come on,” he says, pointing at a small structure on the house’s property near the corner of the bluff, with a door and a stairway leading down. “I’ve been wanting for ages to find out where that goes.”
The building is tiny, with windows on all sides, built in the same style as the house, and is only big enough for a door and the stairway. We open the door, and he stands up and walks down the stairs in front of me. I’m carrying the bike over my shoulder while I walk down. There are three or four flights of stairs, with a couple of short landings along the way. At the bottom is a tiny enclosed area, about ten feet square, with windows on all sides and daylight flooding in from somewhere. We seem to be underneath one of the freeway overpasses. There are a few scruffy people, also attempting to sell things; mostly art, and mostly either out of their bare hands or off of the walls, since there’s no room for tables or anything. They all know the old man, of course, so they know not to sell me anything, but there are two young Asian boys (maybe five and eight years old) who are too young to know who’s a customer and who’s not, so they try their usual aggressive selling tactics, by cornering me and blocking my bike, chattering all the while about their tiny pictures and thrusting them in my face. One of the other artists smiles at us and makes a gesture to help me lift my bike over their heads. The old man and I walk back up the stairs and out of the structure onto the lawn. I notice that the bike has a pseudo-Japanese brand name on it, something like Fujasoki, which isn’t even a real Japanese word.
“What was that all about?” the man asks me, clearly amused by the entire endeavor. “I had no idea that was down there.”
“Seems like a tough way to make a living,” I reply, just as a familiar blonde woman comes out of the house and down the steps. “Oh, hey, Heather,” I say. “Do you live here too?”
“Yes,” she says, and gives me a little laugh. “Are you naked yet?”
I laugh too. “Not yet, as you can see.”
The old man chuckles at our bizarre conversation, and looks back and forth at us. “You two know each other?”
“Sure,” I say. “We go way back.”
“That’s right,” Heather replies.
I tell them that I want to go back in the house to look around for a while, so we say the usual pleasantries and I make my way inside. I have a terrible time remembering everyone’s name, including the old man’s. I want to inquire about renting an apartment in this house, but I’m not sure who to ask, since everyone seems to be busy selling their various wares.
* * * * * *
That’s when I woke up, fully aware that I had to write this all down before I forgot any of the zillions of precious details.