My friend, Andrew, an artist in Los Angeles, was grouchy on the night he turned 40. He did not like the aging process. To cheer him up, I made reservations for a small birthday dinner at his favorite restaurant and invited three of his closest friends.
Andrew, being a control freak, insisted that we all meet outside his apartment complex at precisely 7 p.m. and then he would drive us to the restaurant. He was proud of his driving mojo and only trusted himself to get us to the restaurant in time.
Getting together for dinner in Los Angeles can require as much precision as a military operation. Friends live far apart, and traffic is always bad. Sandra drove from Pasadena, picking up Hiroshi downtown, while I drove from Redondo Beach, picking up Brian in West Hollywood. We all converged on Andrew’s block in Silverlake, parking our cars near his apartment complex.
Part One of the mission was accomplished.
The metal security gate to Andrew’s garage creaked open and Andrew appeared, driving his 1996 Honda Civic. Scaffolding blocked part of the pedestrian way, so Andrew drove his car to the other side of the street, pulling into the driveway of another apartment complex. He yelled at us to get in. He didn’t want to be late.
[pullquote]She was 25 with beautiful hair. Andrew was 40 and balding. Andrew hated her.[/pullquote]
We stumbled into the Honda Civic, Sandra in the front and the three men crushed in the back. I was regretting my own idea to celebrate Andrew’s birthday.
“Be careful as you pull out,” said Sandra, looking into the rear view mirror.
A Verizon Fios truck had parked across the street, and, because of the construction outside Andrew’s complex, a traffic jam had formed on the block.
“%$*& that %$*&,” said Andrew, the first, but not the last time he used obscenity that evening.
I prompted the others to sing “Happy Birthday” to Andrew to lighten things up.
As we reached the chorus to the song, the security gate of this other apartment complex opened up. We heard honking behind us. It was coming from a Mercedes driven by a young blond woman. She was wearing sunglasses and a fedora and wanted to enter the parking garage that we were blocking.
“%$*&!” said Andrew.
Andrew opened his window and yelled at the woman.
“Hold on, lady. Give me a chance!”
“I live there!”
“Well, I don’t! Let me back up, and then you can do what you want!”
“I can’t go back! I can’t move!” she answered, sticking her head out of the open window of the Mercedes. “There is traffic behind me!”
She honked again, but Andrew wouldn’t budge. It was a tense showdown. A row of cars was forming behind the Mercedes, and now they were honking their horns.
The Mercedes Woman took off her fedora and waved it at us, gesturing for us to go in. She was 25 with beautiful hair. Andrew was 40 and balding. She drove a Mercedes. Andrew drove a Honda Civic. Andrew hated her. He mumbled something that is unprintable.
“Go in,” said my friend Hiroshi. “Then she’ll go in and let you out.”
Andrew drove into the apartment complex where he didn’t live. The Mercedes Woman drove in after him.
“She was so rude!” Andrew said as the woman parked in her spot. “I’m going to go talk to her.”
I reminded him about our dinner reservation, but Andrew had already left the car to speak to the woman.
When the Mercedes woman saw Andrew coming at her, she took pepper spray from her purse. He argued with her, and she yelled back. We couldn’t hear exactly what was going on, being in the car with the windows closed, but we were positive that it wasn’t pleasantries being exchanged. After a few more moments of arguing, Andrew returned to the car.
“Now I feel better,” he said. “I told her what I thought of her.”
Andrew made a U-turn with the Honda Civic and headed for the gate when we realized that it was now closed, and the Mercedes Woman had disappeared, leaving us stranded in someone else’s garage.
“That %$*&!” said Andrew.
“Eventually someone else will come into the garage and we’ll drive out,” I said.
We got into the car, the engine running, and waited. Ten minutes passed, and no one came.
“Can we get asphyxiated sitting here like this?” asked Brian. “Not the best way to celebrate Andrew’s birthday.”
We left the car and searched through the garage for an intercom or an unlocked door, but we were trapped. We were so far below ground, even our phones received no reception.
At the far end of the parking garage was a locked metal door with open slats that led into the main lobby of the building. It was decorated with California pastel and gold-plated fixtures. We heard the sound of an elevator opening on the other side of the door, and footsteps approaching. We all rushed over, hoping someone would free us from our jail, but it was the Mercedes Woman herself.
“Can you let us out of here?” asked Sandra politely. “It’s my friend’s birthday.”
“Yes, I can,” she said, dangling the remote control on the other side of the slat, in front of Andrew’s face. “But first HE has to apologize to me.”
“What the %$*&?” screamed Andrew. “You want me to apologize to YOU?! After you locked us in this cage like the astronauts in Planet of the Apes?”
“Just apologize, and I will let you out.”
“Apologize for what?”
“For calling me a %$*&.”
“I’m not apologizing for that. That is just a statement of fact!”
“Just apologize,” Hiroshi told Andrew.
“Apologize and get it over with,” said Sandra.
Andrew crossed his arms in defiance.
“Never, never, never give up,” said Andrew.
“Oh, Jesus,” cried Brian. “He’s bringing up Winston Churchill.”
“Can I apologize for him?” I asked the woman
“No,” she replied. “I want HIM to apologize.”
Andrew returned to the Honda Civic and sat cross-legged, like a little boy who just got grounded by his parents. Sandra walked over to him. Andrew had always had a crush on her.
“This birthday party is for you,” said Sandra. “We want to celebrate your fortieth birthday. You’re a man now. A 40-year-old man. An adult. What would an adult do right now?”
The Mercedes Woman was still on the other side of the gate, the remote in her hand.
Andrew bit his tongue, approached her and apologized to her for calling her a #%$*&.
“Thank you,” she said.
She handed Andrew the remote.
“The gate won’t open from so far away. Drive yourself out and I’ll meet you in front to get the remote back.”
Andrew opened the gate, handed the remote back to the woman, and a few minutes later, we were speeding away.
We arrived at the restaurant 45 minutes late. I told the maître d’ that we got stuck in Los Angeles traffic. Apparently everyone is stuck in traffic in Los Angeles all the time, so he immediately gave us our table.
“It was mature of you to apologize for insulting her,” I told Andrew as we toasted him.
“Yeah,” he said, laughing loudly. “That’s me. Mature. Why should I let a little thing like that ruin the joy of my birthday?”
“I like this new you, Andrew,” said Sandra. “You’re starting a new chapter of your life”
“I think you’re right,” said Andrew. “That, and I also took the batteries out of the remote so she will be stuck there the next time she tries to leave.”
Andrew pulled the batteries from his pants pocket and slammed them on the table.
“%$*& her,” said Andrew as he poured himself another glass of wine.