PLANE

It’s not every day a plane crashes on your street.

I first heard about the freak accident (well, let’s hope it was an accident) when I was at work, about 5 miles from where it happened. It was just a few minutes after the crash was reported on the news, as details were still trickling in. I have no access to television or radio at work, so the information came in the form of an IM from Drew:

“Oh my God, a plane just crashed into an apartment building in the Fairfax district.”

I live in the Fairfax district.

A few seconds later came another IM:

“On Spaulding Ave.”

I live on Spaulding Ave.

And then, immediately:

“I’m not kidding!!!!!”

As if this were anybody’s idea of a joke. Not these days. Not in this part of the planet. Not in the middle of a Friday afternoon.

I started mentally calculating the odds. Millions of people live in Los Angeles. Apartment buildings in this city probably number in the tens or even hundreds of thousands. There are probably over a hundred buildings on my street, which only runs for a mile or so. Now, one in a hundred still makes for slim odds, but when you started with one in a hundred thousand, the chances seem a little more real. It’s like I had matched five numbers on my lottery ticket and was waiting to hear what the Mega Bonus Number was. Could this really be my apartment?

People would worry about me. Everyone knows I work at that time, so I wouldn’t have been near my apartment when it happened, but you know how people get. They’d freak out. “Maybe he took a sick day.” “Maybe he got fired recently and was too ashamed to tell us.” “Maybe he went home for lunch at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.”

I’d have to change the outgoing message on my answering machine to tell callers I was okay. “Yes, the plane hit my apartment building, but I was at work at the time,” I’d say, probably choking back tears. “So although I’ve lost everything I own, I still have the most precious possession of all: my life.” I’d never say such sappy things before, but now that I had cheated death, I’d probably go all corny like sitcom characters do when they cheat death. “Thanks for your concern, but let’s pray for the rescue workers and for a swift cleanup of the area.”

Wait a second, that didn’t make any sense. If my apartment was gone, my answering machine would be, too.

This was serious.

I started thinking about losing everything I owned. My TV, my computer… my Gamecube! No, wait, maybe the Gamecube would survive. I mean, if a plane hits your apartment, it’s bound to cause some damage, but something’s gotta survive, right? I’ve seen photos of disaster scenes in the newspaper. There’s always one thing that sits there undamaged and totally recognizable, usually a child’s toy — a teddy bear or a Spongebob calculator or something, a morbid irony among a sea of charred, smoke-damaged debris soup. The Gamecube could easily survive. It’s just a small black box. Black boxes are made to survive plane crashes. Maybe, just maybe, there was hope of the Gamecube surviving.

But not the games. The games would never make it. Shit.

I thought about how stupid I was never to have bought renter’s insurance. I wondered if insurance people even covered you if a plane crashed through your living room — those bastards, they probably didn’t. A plane crash is probably an “act of God” or something. Well, I don’t believe in God. I do believe that the standards for pilot licenses should be stricter so that pampered billionaires can’t turn themselves into amateur pilots and go plowing their private jets into residential neighborhoods because they’re not sure which lever to press to make it go up. But the insurance companies wouldn’t care. They’d stamp “Act of God” across claim form in bright red ink, and I’d go away empty-handed. I was really glad I didn’t give those lousy rat insurance companies my money.

But now I was broke for sure. I don’t have much money in my bank account, and my only worldly possessions that aren’t in my apartment are my car and the clothes that I’m wearing right now. I wish I’d worn something nicer today. I’m going to be wearing it for at least the next week. Then I remembered I still had my tennis racket, which is in my car. It’s been in there since my tennis league ended last month, and I’ve been meaning to bring it inside, but I’m just such a lazy bastard I’ve never bothered. Lucky thing, too. It’s worth about $100, and that’s going to be a lot of money to me now that I’m destitute.

Then I tried to cheer myself up. It won’t be so bad. I have too many people who care about me to ever go hungry. I pictured my friends and coworkers taking up a fund to help me start over. It would be totally heart-warming. It’d make me realize how loved I am and make me think about what’s truly important in life. I imagined my George Bailey moment, where my friend Dave — I just know they’d put him in charge of it — would dump a huge basket full of cash out on my cot at the YMCA, and I’d start bawling my eyes out. “Thank you, everybody!” I’d exclaim. “I love you all!”

They’d probably do a story about me on the Channel 9 News. I’d cry on TV as I told the entire metropolitan area that possessions didn’t matter as long as you had love. And all throughout the Southland, thousands of people would be inspired by my story. I figured I was pretty well-loved and would fetch at least $120,000 from well-wishers, including anonymous donors who saw the Channel 9 News. That would be more than enough to get back on my feet. In fact, I could even use the leftover dough to pay off my student loans.

No, that wouldn’t be right. That’s not why those people gave me all that money. I’d have to give the extra money to a deserving charity. That’s what my benefactors would want. But which charity? There’s no charity specifically for people who’ve had planes crash into their living spaces, so I’d have to choose the next closest thing, to make sure the money was spent as it was intended by the kind, kind Samaritans who’d given to my cause. Maybe the Red Cross. Or maybe not — I had a crappy part-time job there nine years ago, and even though they’re good and all, I’d begrudge them the donation just to get revenge on my mean old boss. I’d probably interview charities instead, let them make their case and tell me how they’d spend the money, then go with the most deserving one. Maybe I’d split it up over a few different causes. I’d have to see how convincing the charities were.

Interviewing charities would take a lot of time, so I’d have to take a leave of absence from my job. Man, that’d be sweet. I’d also use that time to search for a new place to live, and to shop for furniture. My new apartment would have drapes or curtains, not those cheap-ass vertical blinds my old one had. Man, I always hated those things. I hope the plane totally vaporized them. Cheap pieces of crap. And my next TV would have picture-in-picture. TV prices have come down since I bought my $650 set. I could get a much better one now for the same amount I paid when I bought that outdated piece of junk last year. I figure there’s nothing wrong with upgrading on other people’s money as long as I’m not spending more. Maybe I could even find one on sale for $600 and then kick the extra $50 over to my charity of choice. Look at that — I found a way to give even more money to charity. My misfortune and frugal shopping combined would make the world a slightly better place.

It was going to be tough, rebuilding my life after a devastating freak accident so suddenly shattered my world. But I could do it. It would make me a stronger person in the end, and for the rest of my life, I’d tell the story of how I once lost everything I had and, as a result, realized how much my life was worth.

Then, my phone rang. Drew told me the crash was on Spaulding and Clinton, three blocks away from my building. Still remarkably close and really creepy and disturbing, but my apartment and all my stuff was fine.

Then I started thinking about the people inside the plane and the people who lived in the building it hit. I started thinking about all the things that they and their relatives had lost. I thought about how hard the weeks ahead would be for the survivors.

And then I thought about how much I hate those damn blinds.

TOILET

Is there anything more humiliating than clogging the office toilet?

How about being witness to said clog?

I won’t describe what I just saw in the men’s room at my office, but by now you’ve probably figured it out. As for me, the image is permanently fused in my brain. When I’m at my grandaughter’s college graduation from Mars University sixty years from now and the robot school provost beams her degree directly into her head, I’ll still be flashing back to the swirling soup of swill that confronted me on June 3, 2003.

And let’s just say that when I stepped into the stall, the bowl was filled to the brim, just barely contained from breaking loose and making a disgusting situation even worse, and as I backed away in disgust (note: time elapsed between the two actions, about 1/100000000 of a second), wouldn’t ya know it…? The automatic flush sensor sensed me stepping away from the toilet, and, well, it automatically flushed.

And then there was a splash, and a rapidly expanding circle of water followed me as I raced outta there.

It must be humiliating for the guy who did it. He probably flushed at least three times, praying to his God of choice that it would all be sucked down the drain into blissful excretory oblivion. But instead, the water level just got higher and higher each time he attempted to flush. Then, he quietly slipped away and left the mess unreported so no one would know he was the perpetrator.

But he’s out there. There are a limited number of suspects. This idiot (hello, if you’ve got a big cleanup job, how about an intermediate flush or two?) is roaming the halls of my building, hanging his head in shame and hoping no one will ever know. But I’ve got something on him. I’ve seen his poo.

Yuck. I’m going to go throw up now.

… but where?

BIRTHDAY

Drew wouldn’t give me any ideas of what to get him for his birthday, but there was one thing he told me he DIDN’T want: tickets to see Sam Harris.

It was a little surprising, as Drew had made clear to me that he’s a bona fide Sam Harris fan. Who’s Sam Harris? Well, you may remember him from his stint on the original Star Search, where he charmed the judges with his hammy, over-the-top rendition of “Over the Rainbow”. Or you may remember him from — well, no, actually, that’s probably the only place you’d remember him from.

But Drew bought Sam’s self-titled 1984 album, which featured the non-hit single “Sugar Don’t Bite”. He even played it for me. (It stinks.) Tickets for this awful show seemed like the perfect birthday gift — it was something Drew would clearly enjoy, plus I’d score points for offering to suffer through something I hate just for his sake.

Only about two weeks before the big day, we drove past the theater where “Sam.” is playing. There was a huge, imposing marquee outside which said “Sam.” in big bold letters alongside a black and white picture of Sam, prostrate and with his arms stretched upward as if he’s just let loose such a powerful gush of song that he’s at once collapsing from exhaustion and praising God for the glorious gift of shmaltz that has made him so joyous.

“Ugh, how embarrassing,” someone in the car said. And surprisingly, it wasn’t me. “Can you believe that?” Drew continued.

“But I thought you liked him,” I said.

“I like him, but that looks just awful. I’d be so humiliated to be at that show.”

Then he glared at me. “Do not get me tickets to that for my birthday,” he said.

“Aw, c’mon, if you actually went, you’d probably–”

“Do NOT!”

Well, if you know me, you already know where this is heading. At that point, I had to get him those tickets.

Okay, so I wouldn’t actually make him go to a show he didn’t want to go to, but I was definitely going to make him think he was going. I ran some actual tickets for a concert we’re going to later this summer (R.E.M. and Wilco at the Hollywood Bowl) through my scanner, and with some help from Photoshop — voila! They became Sam Harris tickets for Monday June 2, 2003. (Thankfully, Drew doesn’t pay very close attention to detail, like the fact that there’s usually printing on the backs of Ticketmaster tickets as well — oops.)

I gave the tickets to Drew on Sunday night, and a master class in acting began.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I bought them before you said you didn’t want to go.”

“I’m such a jerk,” he said. “God, I’m so sorry I said that.”

“It’s okay. We can skip it. We can totally skip it.”

“No, you spent a lot of money on these tickets.”

“Only $90.”

“We’re going.”

“I mean, plus the service charge.”

“Really, I want to go. It’ll be fun.” Now I was watching Drew give the performance of his life.

“Really? You really want to?”

“I do. It was such a thoughtful gift. I do really like him. I don’t know why I said I didn’t want to go. It’s gonna be great. I’m excited.”

Then Drew took another look at the tickets. “It starts at 9:00? That’s a strange time.”

“Yeah, I thought so, too,” I said, then I quickly changed the subject. Since I knew there was no show, I wanted to be able to take him to dinner without him wondering how we were going to be done in time for an 8:00 show.

That was my first mistake.

I let Drew hang all day, and he told everyone he knew what a jerk he was by ordering me not to get him a gift that I had already bought for him. And all day long, he secretly dreaded going to the Sam Harris show.

Don’t I stink?

I wanted to play the whole thing out, to take him to dinner, wait until he said we needed to leave to get to the show on time and then take out the tickets and tear them up in front of him. “I know you don’t want to go, so we’re not going!” I’d say. Riiiiiiiiip!

But along the way, I was sure he’d found me out. He told me he spoke to a friend of his, who said that up until last week, I’d been making plans with her for Drew’s birthday night (something I wouldn’t do if I knew we were going to a concert that night). Then his assistant secretly told me, “He says you’re going to a show tonight, but he doesn’t know if it’s real.”

I tried to figure out how to play out the prank at this point. It was like the Friends episode where Rachel found out about Monica and Chandler (or maybe it was the one where Phoebe found out — God, am I really making a Friends reference?) Sure, he knew… but now I knew that he knew. Of course, what if his assistant told him that she’d tipped me off? Maybe he knew that I knew that he knew.

So I bailed. I told him the tickets were fake and we weren’t going.

Only he didn’t know. He didn’t know anything.

“Come on, we’re going, right?” he kept saying. I had to convince him it was a prank. Sure, he thought the curtain time was odd, and he noticed the lack of legalese on the back of the tickets, but he believed me anyway. Even at dinner, he wasn’t sure. It wasn’t until 9:00 came and went that he finally accepted that there was no concert — and he was very relieved that he was still sitting with me at the restaurant and not listening to Sam stretch his aging vocal chords for the high notes in whatever standards he was choosing to butcher in his new set list.

All that effort, and I could’ve gone so much further.

But I learned something that says a lot about our relationship. Drew trusts me. A lot.

Well, at least he used to.