READING OUR OWN SHORT STORIES-LAX


It began last week when I received a phone call requiring me to go back to Los Angeles.

The next day it snowed in Taos. I walked around town on a deserted Sunday morning, just wandering through museums and garage sales. The absence of signs, people, cars, and signals lent the mind a transparency of thoughts. All the things you want to think about are set free.

I looked out at a distant field, scrubbed clean of grass and trees, now just a brown paper bag laid flat. The chill urged me to keep walking, so I continued past the little adobe homes, listening to the barking dogs and the sound of church bells.

It occurred to me on this walk how unfamiliar I was with my surroundings, air so clean it hurt to breath deeply, traditions so ancient they only can be known by ancestral storytelling. I was thinking of how it feels to walk on the sand on a winter day.

The next day, as I crossed over a Southwest Airlines flight to the threshold of LAX, the sounds of silence suddenly exploded into a symphony of discordant blurbs. The Rolling Stones were playing at one kiosk. The television displayed a CNN broadcast. A football game was blaring from the bar, and everyone’s lips seemed to be steadily moving into a cell phone microphone or headset.

The clamp went down, and I was swept into the dance of the talking heads. It’s a familiar homecoming, more familiar than I had suspected. All at once, I recalled the many times my father picked me up at LAX.

I could see him standing in an expectant crowd of awaiting arrivals. He wore those big dark shades and dressed in a suit. He collected my carry-on bag and we rushed down to baggage claim.  I did not understand why we were rushing or why he wouldn’t come with me to the baggage claim.

“Meet me out front,” my father said, “just hurry up.”

I asked: “Why are we rushing?”

“Because I said so,” my father said, taking off in long strides, never running.

After I retrieved my luggage, I met him out front. He drove with a peculiar, hunched suspicion, halfway leaning over the steering wheel. It was very recognizable. He never listened to what I was saying. He was too busy looking in the rear view mirror.

“Aren’t we going home?” I asked.

“What?” he said. “What’s the rush to get home?”

“No rush really,” I said. “I just wanted to call some friends.”

“Yeah, well, aren’t you happy to see your Dad?” he said.

“Yes.”

Then, he said something like why you don’t act like it, or lectured me about my outfit, or how my hair looked uncombed. We drove to some delicatessen off La Tijera Boulevard and he’d leave me in a booth with a corn beef sandwich. I was used to being left in delicatessen booths. It was part of growing up with gangsters.

I was not aware of the FBI airport task force. They assigned special agents to sit at the airport and wait to see whom my dad was meeting. When a member of the Mob came to Los Angeles, my father would greet them. They counted on my dad to make all their  arrangements.

The FBI knew when Dad was going to the airport because of constant on-site, and telephone surveillance. Dad knew they knew because he had an inside source at the Doheny Towers where he lived.

The source alerted dad when the FBI were parked out front. Sometimes, he liked to play practical jokes on the agents. The delicatessen stop was set up so they followed us to a public place. After we got there, the agent had to sit in a hot car in the parking lot, and wait for us to leave. My father would detain the agent for hours.

As those memories filtered through my mind, I walked outdoors into the path of taxis and limos at the airport. I wondered if the FBI still had a mob task force. It seemed so long ago, so out of proportion with the security measures against terrorism.

That day, I landed at LAX. The sky was underlined in brown. The smog smear made the San Bernadino Mountains look like warped inventions.

I trotted behind SC with my laptop and purse until we were next in line to get a taxi. We shot through the airport tangle of cars, and onto the 405 Freeway. When we passed the exit to La Tijera Boulevard I was inclined to tell SC one of my LAX short stories. Instead, all that came out was, “La Tijera Boulevard.”

“What about it?” SC asked.

“I used to go there with my Dad,” I said.. The story was mine, and I was retelling it to myself as we drove along, amongst the cars, the trucks, and signs of Los Angeles. We can read from our own short stories in all kinds of weather and they can be very entertaining.

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