When I first flew into Los Angeles International Airport and saw the smog layer that drifted over the sprawling city, I was reminded of a piece I’d read in a magazine when I attended elementary school in Australia. The writer had described how, in the not so distant future, scientists predicted that in the city of Los Angeles massive deaths of bird life would be reported due to the density of smog.
The article went on to explain that Los Angeles city officials were contemplating placing taxidermy replicas of local birdlife in trees, outfitted with sound devices. At chosen intervals these artificial birds would tweet and sing, giving tourists and locals the impression that all was swell in the city of angels. Thankfully the pre-apocalyptic vision of Los Angeles that I’d read about at the impressionable fourth grade age was not what greeted me upon my arrival in 1982.
To this day, when I see birds happily tweeting away in a tree on a sidewalk in Los Angeles, I find myself waiting for a battery to drop out of their stuffed bodies. I stare at them, wondering if some official in a tall building armed with the latest high range binoculars has me in his focus. He’s onto the fact that I’m privy to the city’s taxidermy propaganda.
My husband tells tales of growing up as a surf rat in the south bay of Los Angeles, where it was normal practice after a surf session to find one’s self bent over, coughing up ‘stuff’ from his lungs.Yes, he says, during the late 50’s and early 60’s the air quality was bad in his beloved hometown. Thankfully, due to tough smog regulation on vehicles in California, one is now able to witness blue sky as opposed to the brown smog layer that used to drift endlessly above the city of my husband’s youth.
Innocently adding to the bad air quality of LA, the first car I bought was a Ford Pinto station wagon. I remember it being quite the bargain, and now I know why. The thing was a death trap. Being new to the concept of freeway driving, my Pinto and I stuck to surface streets, mainly due to my fear of driving beyond anything other than a two-lane road. But also my faux-wooden-paneled wagon needed to quench her thirst with gasoline every few miles. She was a thirsty little fireball of a car.
These car memories have flooded back to me at this time due to my youngest son’s hand me down Volvo being recently carted off to the auto graveyard. The Swedish wagon was rear-ended while stopped at a red light by a driver who didn’t notice the line of brake lights in front of her. Both my son and the girl were not physically hurt, thank god, but it was a sad day for our family as we said silent goodbyes to the heavily armored, Scandinavian white lady.
My husband and I began searching used car sites in the hopes of finding the perfect auto for our son. When my husband headed to LA for work, the job of car hunting was in the hands of my son and I. Just how difficult could this be? I thought as I perused Craigslist. The next day we were on our way to look at a real beauty. I’d checked the VIN number, spoken to the owner, and was armed with a list of questions that my husband said were mandatory must asks.
My son and I waited at the dedicated meeting place, our eyebrows raised in delight as the little Jetta station wagon pulled in beside my car. The man who I’d spoken to on the phone had sounded mature, a hell of a lot older than the young man driving this car.
He was outfitted in dress pants that were a touch too tight around his butt and thighs, perhaps a tad too short also – in the crotch and hemline. Thick, black hair was slicked down with some kind of styling jell that seemed to sparkle whenever the sun hit it, this carried over to his beard and moustache. As he walked toward us he gave his hair a couple of quick combs with a small tool that he put immediately back into a pocket. How he managed to get a comb through his head of hair amazed me, so much so that I forgot all about ‘the list’ my husband had given me.
After pleasantries, it was decided that I’d test-drive the car first, followed by my son. As we stepped toward the car to open one of the doors the young salesman stepped in front of me saying, ‘Did I mention on the phone that the only thing that doesn’t work on this car is this door?’ ‘No,’ I commented. He stared at the door, ‘I guess it slipped my mind, but it’s a cheap thing to fix, and you can open it from the inside.’ I was about to say that I wanted to get in from the outside, but figured that I’d let this one thing go, for now.
I’d no sooner driven out of the parking lot still amazed at the fact that the salesman’s pants didn’t split when he sat down, when he reached into his pants pocket. I saw this as an extraordinary accomplishment, given the tension in his pants, but was even more surprised when he pulled out a small vial.
For some unknown reason, which made no sense at all, I had an ‘80’s flash back moment. Driving my v-dub beetle with my roommate and a few other friends along Sunset Blvd., complete with a long braided hair extension, false eye-lashes, lipstick, black tights, mini skirt, and a studded bra top under a black jacket. The Style Council, Haircut 100, and Blondie blaring out from the radio as we drove toward Club Lingerie or some hip bar downtown LA with a pool table, the name of which has escaped me.
The smell of man perfume abruptly brought me back to the present. ‘Tight pants,’ tipped the container upside-down against his index finger then proceeded to dab the pungent stuff behind his ears, on his wrists, and his neck. I just hoped he’d stop at these parts of his anatomy. My son quickly rolled down the back window, I went into idle chatter mode. Anything to distract me from turning to look at my son’s face as I knew we’d both crack up.
Once he was happy with how he smelled, our car salesman announced, ‘you need Persian rugs? My uncle has a shop.’ I said we were not in the market for a rug at present. ‘What about furniture?’ He asked. ‘No, really just a car for now,’ I answered, pushing down the window control allowing the man-musk to escape. ‘Beads? My other uncle has a very good bead store.’ I shook my head and suggested that my son drive the car.
Once home again, I walked directly into the bathroom, threw my clothes into the laundry basket, and took a shower. The next day I could still smell that damn cologne lingering in my nostrils, it wafted around like a skunk’s aroma. We didn’t buy the car, even after ‘tight pants’ spent three days of texting me final offers.
I considered calling the Environmental Protection Agency to suggest they keep their noses peeled for potential high-risk toxic man-perfumes in the area. These innocent looking vials filled with clear liquid, had the potential to be detrimental to bird life. But I reminded myself of the official with the high-powered binoculars watching me from some tall building during the Los Angeles avian taxidermy plot of the1980’s. Better let this one go, I thought to myself and continued searching for the perfect used car.©