Friday night, and I figure all the shoppers should be fleeing the city for their own suburban holes and strip malls festooned with plastic santas and tired mothers pushing strollers overloaded with three kids and cracked drums of Garlon. I hop in the car and head to Union Square, hoping to cram in a little crass materialism, down a quick pitcher of grain alcohol egg nog, and partake of the shrill desperation of the Salvation Army bells beating a hobo requiem for the farcical implosion of the American Empire, ranch dressing and fried zucchini strips. I zip into the Sutter-Stockton garage happy to see a long line of cars exiting, which means parking shouldn't be a problem. Wrong. Because just around the first bend the parking lot is gridlocked, all malevolence and homicidal horns. A vicious, endless snake of wrought iron and vulcanized rubber spitting toxins and writhing in a post-modern dance of phantom cell phone conversations and fuming brake pads. I contemplate giving up, ending it all in a flaming cloud of gasoline and armor-piercing slugs, if only for the glory of my name plastered all over the morning news along with Clinton, Hyde, and all the other psychos decorating this life's meadow like buttercups over the septic tank. I imagine the quotes the hacks will dutifully elicit from my neighbors, friends, and family: Neighbor #1, "He was a shy, almost fragile soul, except when he watched football, which is how he broke his thumbs, I think"; friend, "He was angry, but so lazy I never thought hed actually do anything. He was happiest just before dusk, as if in the dark he saw proof of the pain of modern existence, the effects of free agency on pro sports especially"; family member, "We thought he was friendly, not dangerous. He was never neat, played baseball, and liked to dismember chickens and electrocute frogs when he was little, you know, your basic harmless kids stuff." Celebrity, O how thine rouged cheek tempts
Meanwhile, back in the nightmarish car corral, I grudgingly slide the mechanical beast into park, contemplate how things are rarely if ever true at first light, and if when the spotlight shines on me will I meet the stormtroops with my pistols blazing, or go whimpering like a horny Mormon caught redhanded with a case of Jolt cola and this months French Vogue teetering on his anxious lap. Certainly I dream that when the moment comes, when the hatchet-faced bastards have me boxed in, caged up, sitting up straight, to work on time, respectful of the feelings of others, well, thats when Ill take my cue from situational comedies and faux-heroic Iwo Jima movies starring the draft-dodging John Wayne and storm the bunker, pilot the rudderless zeppelin, save the chaste monkey bride for the traveling gypsy circus to shackle and drag through every bum town from Brockton, Massachusetts to Ojai, California, and the redneck crowds making the same crude banana jokes and grabbing their rough denim crotches. But Im a coward. Instead of pulling out my chromium Sig-Sauer pistol and taking the jitney of senior citizens hostage, I slump on the steering wheel and feel vaguely Catholic thoughts: Jesus died for my sins, slept in a cave without food, water, and cable for three days (which is how Outward Bound started), let the Romans rough Him up, won the polytechnical high school science fair by turning water into wine, and generally kicked butt and took names, so to speak, for three decades or so while hitchhiking around the Sinai Peninsula. In short, He gave and gave and gave, and what do I give back? Precious little. Like most of my post-Nam, post-Grenada, post-Jake LaMotta, post-Gulf War, post-literate generation I snivel, I whine, I make plans with my loser crowd to meet for brunch. You know the kind. Someone will have read about this hot new place in one of the "alternative" weeklies that are given away so that poly-sexual pervs can go futon shopping and hook up on the Perv Hotline and discuss anonymous lust and phone numbers and measurements and where they were when the gravelly-voiced a.m. radio announcer broadcast that Princess Di had wrapped her thorny crown around a cement baguette in Paris, blah blah faster faster faster! until the breathing mirrors the thoughts punctuates the frustration racing around their throbbing cerebellums at a million miles an hour and then BOOM, release, another victim of safe sex, then a tender "thank you, goodbye," and in their bedrooms each puts the phone down, stares at the poster of Jerry Garcia, thinks about ordering a pizza, some spring rolls, maybe a piroshki But I digress The brunch spot will have a patio. Invariably, there will be a smoker at the table. My friends and I will have serious discussions about Star Trek, escalating baseball salaries, will Monica get a boob job, is Hillary a lesbian, is Colin Powell a Cherokee, etc. Good, honest talk. The kind of talk Hemingway might have enjoyed if he were a nobody stringer for a Bay Area P.R. firm and spent a lot of time reading the Woman Seeking Man sections instead of wasting his time by writing about the big two-hearted river and onion sandwiches and trout jumping for mosquitoes with the sun falling and whisky and that first honest pull from a new bottle you lugged up from the campsite and its weight reassuring your hip of the taste and memories and easy moon to come. The menu will be pleasingly correct, with hearty American favorites tweaked with just a dash of ethnic vibe. For example, home fries served with sun-dried humus, Thai chicken fried steak served over coconut and green curry rice noodles, an oven-baked hominy dog with jalapenos and black bean/chipotle dipping sauce and the waitresses will be swing dance video extras with beehives of green hair and tattoos that read "Karl" on their blue-white biceps as they let fly their chewing gum staccato of specials and do you want a muffin or frosted flakes with that? A deep, prolonged, nasty horn behind me. Theres space in front, proof there is a God, an ecstatic midnight, a reason to go on. A jeep full of teenagers is backing out of a parking spot. In the upper right extremities of my vision I see a blue smear of someone trying to snarf the spot out from under my dozing eye. But the blue demon must wait for the jeep to pass before it moves in for the kill. Which is to say, much too late. Before you can say passive-aggressive-is-my-middle-name I am in the spot, out the door, and locking up. The blue car stops and the driver slides down his window, "I was waiting for that space. I saw it first." "Are you kidding me?" I ask. "You were on the other side of the garage, coming the wrong way." "But I saw it first," he repeats. "The eskimos saw Alaska first, too," I snarl, "and what did that get them but government cheese and kerosene lanterns?" I walk away to violent muttering. I am happy, and decide on a brandy to celebrate the joy of Christmas.