Genuflect by Gordy Grundy
July 2006; Issue No. 81
I'd been looking for the kid for two solid weeks. Actually, you could say I've been chasing him for a lifetime. He had run away so many times that finding him had become a semi-permanent gig. In my line of work, repeat business is hard to come by. His parent paid well and I'm always available 24/7. I was walking the mean streets of Los Angeles, looking for him, but instead, as usual, he found me.
I was working downtown LA on a hunch, crossing Seventh at Hope Street when the brick grazed my shoulder and exploded on the sidewalk in front of me. A week ago, the Newport-Inglewood Fault line, an artery of the San Andreas, had rattled everyone's eyeteeth. The ground was still cutting loose every ten minutes. Flying bricks were not unusual. The city was still shaking parts off of buildings like a wet dog. An umbrella wouldn't save you from the prevailing rain of mortar, glass and granite.
The immediate flying brick had shredded the shoulder of my trench coat. Fresh blood indicated that the new Fortuna suit underneath hadn't fared any better. It was too soon for my shoulder to hurt; shock is a lovely painkiller. If that brick had been three inches to the northwest, my head would look like anybody's carnitas plate.
I looked up, afraid I'd see a gargoyle or a bare-breasted building ornament following the brick. Instead, I saw the kid standing on the forty-fourth floor ledge of a Beaux Arts building. It was hard to see that far up, but it looked like he was winding up with another brick and my head was his bulls-eye. I guess you can say the kid and I have always had an adversarial relationship.
Suddenly something was heading my way and gaining in volume. I danced left as green glass exploded where I had been standing. It was a Heineken forty-ouncer. I reminded myself to tell the kid it wasn't a good habit to drink so early in the day.
Like I said, we have a long relationship and this wasn't the first time that the kid had tried to kill me. He goes AWOL, his handlers fret and I get hired to find him. For a tot, the kid gets around. I've chased him on more than one continent and in a variety of cultures, both high and low. I don't get thanks; I get bruises. Or another brick aimed at my head.
My landlord is the real problem. He likes his rent on the first of every month. If it wasn't for the him, I wouldn't bother with the kid. Responsibility, three meals and a warm bed are funny things. They're powerful incentives.
It's even more than that. My bartender and advisor says that if I don't catch the kid, my own well being will die. If I don't find him, if I don't bring him in, nothing will work out. There will be no future salvation.
Normally, I wouldn't choose to run up a flight of forty-four floors but the constant aftershocks had me a little wily about construction standards. That and a blackout had rendered the elevator unavailable.
Naturally, the stairwell door on the forty-fourth and the forty-fifth was blocked with more debris than I could heft so I climbed to the roof, figuring I could work my way down.
There he was, sitting on the ledge two floors below, looking out over the smoldering cityscape. His little legs were swinging lazily as if he had a sing-along song in his head. He was smoking a cigarette. Half of a six-pack sat beside him. He took a sip of his beer and never took his eye off the remixed landscape.
From a tall building, the Los Angeles horizon is pretty spectacular. The Pacific lies to the West and the South. Mountains border the East and in between, fires dot the suburban sprawl. Below me, downtown is half the metropolis it used to be. The 'tallest building on the West coast' is no longer and its record is once again held by the iconic City Hall. The funny thing about the quake is that Gehry's Disney Concert Hall has been realigned into a series of perfect right angles.
I yelled down to the kid. A tick of his head let me know that I had surprised him. He ignored me nonetheless. He just stared forward but his little legs had stopped swinging. He seemed lost. With the aura of melancholy, he was swimming in his own Sea of Eternal Sadness. His little slumped shoulders hung low, as if bearing the weight of too much insight. I could sympathize with the little guy.
I shouted to him.
He ignored me again. Then he stood and stretched, arms wide, as if he were shaking it off. I couldn't see all of his face but he suddenly looked happier, even mischievous. Like a man on top of his world. A look of invincibility. Of purpose.
I didn't feel the building tremble. Or maybe he slipped on a piece of loose concrete, but as he stretched, his foot went out from under him. Hands clawing air, he fell.
Instinctively, I dropped with my arm pointlessly extended. There's no way I could've reached him.
He rolled to the edge, the upper half of his body swinging over the abyss. He looked up at me, eyes panicked.
Mine were wider.
And then he got up.
Laughing. He pointed at me and cackled, "Nanny-nanny-poo-poo" as he danced a jig and dusted himself off. He was playing with me.
I raised myself on a bruised knee and looked for a way down. That little motherfucker.
He was on a narrow ledge, laughing big with overdrawn gestures. Knowing he had my eye, he put his fists on his hips and held a defiant look. The kid flipped me the bird and then stuck the extended finger into his cheek like Shirley Temple.
I don't rile easily but I like a little more gratitude when I risk my neck.
I ran angry around the balustrade until I found a fire escape, more like a ladder that hugged the building. I swung over it like some idiot action hero. The screws, which secured the ladder to the building, were loose, just like everything else in my life. The ladder collapsed. My feet landed hard on the ledge below and a lucky grasp on the breast of Halliberta, Goddess of Commerce kept me from falling. There sure don't decorate a skyscraper like they used to.
The fire escape collapsed and fell loudly, forty-six floors to the street.
I was glad the kid was safe, on the other side of the building.
Taking swift but small side steps, I rounded the corner to the West face. There was the kid, a floor below, dancing the hula and singing to himself. It was an Arctic Monkeys song, the one I like about 'looking good on the dance floor' or something.
When he saw me, the kid promptly turned around, dropped his drawers and mooned me. This seemed to delight him immensely. As he pulled up his pants, he was laughing so hard that tears were streaming down the two fat cheeks of his freckled little face.
I could find no easy way to get to the floor below. There was nothing to use. I found a piece of industrial electrical cable, but it was not long enough.
I looked down. The kid was making a drawing on a brown paper bag. Engrossed in line work, he was shading the background of a cityscape. A large monster, that looked like me, loomed at the horizon. It was quite good actually.
If I couldn't get down to the kid, I'd have to pull him to me. I took my belt and wrapped it around my ankle and then secured the buckle to a sturdy drainpipe. This would give me a few more feet of dangle room. However audacious or stupid, I thought I could get to him.
I've got to bring him in. I must settle him down. Comfort him. Soothe his pain. Educate him. To tame his outbursts and redirect his powerful energy. I need to help him age wisely. Let him mature. Then all will be well. Yeesh.
I inched over the edge. The forty-floor view shrank my testicles and knotted my stomach.
I scooted further over and made the drop.
The belt held. Thank God for American made.
Now I was fully and freely hanging upside down. I extended my arm. If he got close enough, I would be able to grab his hand and pull him to safety.
But he stayed just out of reach. The kid had taken the paper bag and was blowing it up like a balloon.
"Give me your hand," I said with gentle authority, "Give me your hand and we can go home."
The kid stuck out his tongue and made a 'Nyah-Nyah' sound.
"C'mon. Let's get outta here and get something to eat. Give me your hand."
He approached on tiptoes, pretending to sneak up on me like a vaudeville comedian. Raising the bag, he clapped his hands. The brown paper balloon burst with a loud 'bang'. I saw it coming but it scared me nonetheless. I must have twitched; I felt my ankle harness slip a quarter inch toward the street.
"Grab my hand," I said.
He approached slowly and warily. Each step was deliberate as his eyes flickered between my helping hand and the long street below. I never had felt such compassion. His baby blues seemed to plead with me for help.
Then, as quick as a sidewinder, he grabbed a hold of my index finger and pulled me along until he could run no further.
Then he let go. The action sent me swinging across the western face of the forty-fourth floor. As I swung back, I made a lunge for him but missed.
He gave me a shove, which increased the momentum and my trajectory. Hanging by one leg, I was now spinning and swinging uncontrollably. The kid was squealing with delight. When I ricocheted back, he gave me another shove, like he was playing on a schoolyard swing.
You couldn't hear the approach, but when the Red Cross helicopter came from below the ledge and around the corner of the building, the sound was like a physical explosion. The kid fell to his knees and covered his ears. The prop wash sent me swinging even further and spinning more wildly.
The loudspeaker, from the rescue chopper echoed, "Do - you - need - assistance?"
I assumed that help would be an obvious gesture, since I was hanging from my ankle, swinging forty stories above street level.
The kid stood up and clapped delightedly.
The pilot leaned out, gave us a 'thumbs up' and the chopper climbed to reveal a dangling rescue sled.
The reverb of the propeller shook the building and chips of concrete rained down upon us. I was spinning faster than ever.
The orange rescue sled inched closer. The kid crouched down as if he were ready to dive into a swimming pool; his toes curled over the building ledge like piggly-wigglies on a diving board.
When the sled was teetering six feet away, the kid took a flying leap. It looked like he might have smashed his lip on the railing, but he scrambled inside the basket.
The crewman gave a 'thumbs up' and the pilot repeated the gesture to me. I felt reassured. The whomp of the propeller grew louder and faster as the helicopter rose and then banked away quickly.
I was still hanging by my ankle, upside down, spinning. As the Red Cross helicopter became a silhouette against the sunset, I could see my inner child sitting in the basket, cross-legged. He was waving at me. I couldn't see if he was waving goodbye or just flipping me off.
GORDY GRUNDY is a Los Angeles based artist. His new show 'FORTUNA: VisionQuest' debuts at the Arbor Art House in San Antonio Texas July 15th. His visual and literary works can be found at www.gordygrundy.com.
[HOME PAGE] .. [EXHIBITIONS] .. [ARTWORK] .. [LITERARY WORK] .. [THE CIRCLE G] .. [ARTIST'S BIO]