Riley: As the National Guard is redeploying its forces to defend us on the homefront, I think it's only logical that we go after these draft-dodgers once and for all, and send them packing! They ought to fight just like everyone else, wouldn't you agree?
Cuomes: I just, I just, some of these people are conscientious, um, objectors, and you can't just -- lump them in with, with terrorists.
Riley: Look, you heard the President. If they aren't helping us, they're helping the terrorists. What's so hard to understand about that? This is why liberals don't have the guts for running this country in a time of war.
-Heard on Fox News Channel; September 9th, 2008; 6 PM PST.
"Yo, you cool to drive?" Hazel is asking from the corner of the front seat.
"Yeah," Chaz snorts, "are you cool?"
"Oh I'm cool..."
"Oh you cool..."
For a moment they cruise in silence. Chaz's Trans Am swoops over the high arching overpass like a fucking missile, planes down smoothly onto the 10 East.
"Man," Hazel gets serious, "I wonder what happened to Chevy."
"Aw I'm sure he's alright."
"Think he got arrested?"
"Nah. He's smart. He can get outta shit. Anyway I'm sure he wasn't one of the people that was getting all violent. He must've left when that happened."
"Yo, what the fuck is that?"
"Huh?" Chaz looks over. At the last second he sees the blurred tail end of a big black van doing a hundred in the other direction. "What was it?"
"There were like three huge steel vans going like a thousand miles an hour."
"Maybe I should take off these sunglasses."
"Yeah, dude, it's kind of dark and you're kind of wasted."
Chaz heeds the advice, takes 'em off.
"What's FEMA stand for?" Hazel asks a minute later.
"Oh, wait, I know this. Wait, why?"
"It was on those vans. FEMA."
"Federal...something. Federal emergency maaahhh - yo. Yo, do you see what I see right now?"
"Oh shit," Hazel's already reaching to fasten her seat belt, "slow down."
"Yeah. Shit is there somewhere -- there's nowhere to get off."
Ahead of the Trans Am an ocean of brake lights glimmer red, cars at a total standstill. All lanes blocked on Interstate 10. The cops have set up a checkpoint.
"Aw shit, shit. You have any gum? Quick."
Hazel is rifling through her koala bag. She finally produces a hard old stick of Trident from the baby-pouch. Chaz pops the gum quickly into his mouth.
As he approaches, letting the engine of the old beast idle as quietly as possible, he sees that there are three different checkpoints, one for every other lane. The middle lanes are divided by cones, with cop cars parked in them serving as temporary floodgates.
Cars are passing through the checkpoints slowly, one by one. Chaz stays in his own lane. He rolls down the window, sighs nervously. Never had a DUI before.
He sees the flashlight and the silhouette. LAPD. No riot gear or anything. Straight up. Chaz's mouth is slightly agape; he gives the cop a good view of his tonsils before remembering to snap his teeth shut.
"Hi," says Chaz.
"License and registration please, sir."
Chaz reaches over into the glove compartment. He thought they weren't allowed to do random checkpoints. This is a new thing. Goddamn terrorists fucking shit up for everyone. He hands a messy wad of papers and laminated rubbish to the cop.
"Have you been drinking tonight, sir?"
"Had one. A beer. A long time ago," Chaz replies tensely. This is it: The moment where the cop will decide his fate.
"Pull up ahead behind that car," the cop sighs, pointing to a cruiser.
Chaz idles it forward.
"Run," Hazel urges him firmly, between tight lips.
"What?" Chaz must have misunderstood. She couldn't possibly have just told him to run. He looks at her to see if she's joking. "Fuck, no. I'm not about to go through that again."
Hazel folds her arms sternly.
Chaz has been in two car chases in his life. Both were back in high school, when he and his friends had just turned sixteen and gotten their licenses.
The first chase took place in the hills behind his parents' house. They lived up one of the narrow Hollywood canyons in a quaint white Deco house that had been passed down from Chaz's grandparents.
About a mile uphill from the house, the winding, one-lane road came to its terminus and a dirt road swung up the steep lip of the canyon to a gate. When Chevy would come over to stay the night, they'd drive to the top of the street with a battered cooler full of malt liquor, jump the fence, and wander down the deer-paths through the high dry chaparral. Eventually they'd reach a point where the arm of the mountain dropped steeply into the canyon and away, rewarding them with a stunning view of the billion glowing bulbs of the LA basin, from downtown all the way to the beach.
There they'd sit peacefully drinking themselves into a happy stupor, riffing off each other, talking about girlfriends and other goings-on.
There were never any police up there; no one ever knew they'd come and gone; all they'd leave behind were a few broken 40 ounce bottles way down the hillside somewhere, among a thousand other bits of alcoholic shrapnel.
One night they were sitting up there, watching the planes lining up their glideslopes on approach to LAX, and Chaz happened to mention there was a rapist on the loose, living in these hills, who the cops were supposedly looking for. Chevy and Chaz spent awhile amusing themselves with that idea, making jokes about Deliverance, "squeal like a pig," tackling each other by surprise in the darkness and so on. Finally, exausted and drunk, with a gallon of Old English sloshing in each of them, they stumbled back to Chevy's old Volvo station wagon.
Which happened to be lit up brighter than the fucking moon by four or five spotlights from a cop car behind it.
Instinctively, both boys dove down a small embankment into the bushes. But a cop standing at the gate who had been shining his flashlight into the car had noticed; now he was sweeping the light across the path, raking the hillsides, looking for movement. He seemed happy enough to stay on his side of the gate, though. Soon he went back to checking out the inner contents of the car.
"It's not a cop," Chaz whispered.
"Yeah," said Chevy.
Bel Air Patrol. You can tell from the lights."
"I don't know. Is this private property?" Chaz left the question open.
"They could call the cops. Hold us until they got here."
"Let's just chill," Chaz said sensibly, "wait for them to leave."
They hid in the bushes, breathing shallow. A minute or two later, the rent-a-cop got back in his car and drove off slowly down the dirt track.
"Cool," Chaz said. They clambered up to the top of a low ridge. Looking down into the canyon they could see the car turning onto the paved road and driving downhill. Then it was lost around a bend.
"Alright," said Chevy. "I'm fucking wasted. So nice and slow. Let's go. Take our time."
They hobbled together toward the car and somehow made it over the gate. The Volvo started up smooth and easy under Chevy's hand. He got it turned around and let gravity take them down, applying the brake liberally. They were moving at about ten miles an hour when they hit the paved road, and given its narrowness and the danger of all the parked cars on both sides, he kept it under 20 as he glided them around the hairpin curves. But it wasn't to be a smooth sail home. A sudden blaze of brilliant white light flooded the back of the car. The patrol had gotten the drop on them; hidden in some dark driveway, no doubt. When the sirens started, it wasn't so much that anything went through Chevy's mind, only it wasn't nihilism or some kind of death-wish, either. It was pure irrational instinct, the kind that makes birds fly south; the kind that makes people want to fuck. He just shifted it into second and put the hammer to the floor.
"DUUUUUUUDE! DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUDE!" Chaz screamed as they flew downhill, accelerating, putting space between themselves and the cruiser. Chevy already had it in fourth and was aiming for overdrive; the spedometer read 70 and climbing. Parked Lexuses and BMWs shot by in a glorious drunken blur. With one swerve they nearly skidded and lost control but Chevy turned into the skid the way it said to in the DMV manual, which he'd read every word of quite recently. The car stabilized and leapt forward like a Swedish snow leopard, if such a thing exists. They'd now put about fifty yards between themselves and the pursuing rent-a-cops, who were no doubt far more worried about potential property damage than they were. Chevy was strongly considering making a run for the canyon's outlet, blasting out onto Sunset Boulevard and making a clean getaway. But two ideas struck his drunken skull in rapid succession; firstly, what if there are more waiting for us down there? Or LAPD? And secondly, what about that thing I read once with the parking brake?
He remembered it pretty clearly, he thought. So as they took the final blind curve before Chaz's house at some insane speed, putting a hillside momentarily between themselves and the cruiser, Chevy did several things at once: slammed down on the brakes briefly, cutting their speed in half; killed the headlights and simultaneously yanked the parking brake all the way up; then with both hands guided the car in a smooth parabola, a controlled crash up and over the steep lip of Chaz's driveway.
"What the fuck what the fuck!" Chaz hollered.
"Duck," Chevy ordered. Both boys ducked.
In the side mirror, Chaz saw the lights of the chase car shoot by at a phenomenal velocity. The boys bolted out of the Volvo quick as could be, ran into the house and sat, panting, letting their heartbeats return to normal. Chaz's mom, awakened by some supernatural intuition, descended the stairs and brought them milk and cookies. When she was gone they finally felt calm enough to begin smiling about it. Then they were laughing out loud, laughing uncontrollably until, lying down on Chaz's futons, Hobbes the black lab snoring between them, sleep overtook them at last.
Chaz's second chase was a little hairier, and took place only a few weeks later. Chevy's parents used to have a big house in Brentwood, before Chevy's dad ran off with his secretary and things got tougher. Right near the end of this period -- his dad was gone, his mom staying there while the house went through escrow -- Chevy threw a final party out in the big backyard.
It wasn't a huge party, just fifteen or so friends getting together, hanging out around the pool. Chaz was there, and Nick, and so were the boys who later came to be the New York crew when they all moved out there together after high school. These included assorted characters like Dave, Chris and Alex, and one fella named Tuohy, who went back to Ireland, but those guys aren't central to this particular story. One who is, however, is Doonan.
Years before he became the symbol of freedom for a generation, before he was the guitarist of the Wetnesses -- the last great rock and roll band of all time -- before he was the sheet-soaking, pillow-clenching fantasy of a hundred thousand teenage girls, Doonan was a clever, snide little dark-haired prankster proud just to have grown out of his baby fat. The only instantly visible sign of things to come was a permanently unrepentant mischief in his scheming hazel eyes. As if he were constantly looking for the Way Out. In this particular case, driving drunk from the party back toward Hollywood with a hopefully-done-barfing Chaz as his payload, he sort of overshot the mark.
They were stopped on Cliffwood, at the Sunset light, trying to turn left onto the deserted Boulevard. It was about three in the morning. The car smelled wretched from their twin exhausts. Chaz emitted a sour odor of boozy vomit, while Doonan, having earlier stolen from a gas station and then eaten an entire large-sized pouch of nauseatingly spiced beef jerky -- washed down with pure russian vodka -- was exhaling something that smelled like a putrid, rotting corpse soaked in jet fuel.
Doonan had read somewhere that if you flash your brights rapidly at a red traffic signal, thus mimicking an ambulance, the light will turn green faster. Like many things with Doonan, this was part self-apparent truth and part wishful thinking. Ambulances do have flashing lights. And they do make red lights turn green. Q.E.D. So when the light did turn green, Doonan was so happy with his success that he forgot to turn his brights off.
He was cruising mellow up the little hillock on Sunset, just about to Kenter Avenue, when an LAPD squad car drove by the other way, happily flashing his brights at Doonan to notify him of the situation.
Doonan did not immediately understand the nature of this warning. To his mind at that exact moment, it seemed rather more like a threat. And so Doonan, having heard and absorbed Chaz's story with Chevy and the Volvo, did what any red-blooded sixteen year old American boy in his situation would do: he went into full fight-or-flight mode, screamed "I'm going for it!" and to Chaz's stomach-churning dismay, blew the late yellow at Kenter and nailed the old Jeep Cherokee to the fucking floor.
"NOOOOOOO!" Chaz was screaming. The cop had pulled a fast youie and was in full pursuit. He hadn't expected this kind of excitement at three AM in Brentwood, and he was happy for it. He hit the lights, kicked his Crown Vic' into high gear and bitchslapped old Sunset into what it was intended to be: A fucking racetrack.
Doonan, attaining collossal speed as he crested the hill toward the boutiques and bakeries of Brentwood Village, knew one thing. He knew he couldn't outrun that cop car. It was gaining way too fast. If he could make Bel Air he might be able to lose them in the hills. But he'd never make it. His girlfriend Billie's house could be reached by going up the next street to the left; but for one thing, that street was a dead-end cul-de-sac at the top of a hill, with no outlets on the way; and for another, her parents hated him enough as it was, without him crashing into their trees at three AM with the LAPD in hot pursuit. Chaz was beside him, screaming at the top of his lungs -- Doonan correctly concluded that he was going to be of no help. There was only one way out now, and Doonan took it.
Sometimes when you're playing Pac Man, you have to take your little Pac Dude into a corner and chill for a second. Then when the ghosts are almost on top of you, you zig another way and grab a pill, and you're free. This was the kind of logic Doonan chose to employ.
The easternmost, and therefore final street of Bretwood Village defined a lazy half-circle that wound around and came out south and west of where it left the Boulevard, on Barrington. Off this loop, behind a Wells Fargo and between some apartment buildings, there was a small network of alleys that webbed all three streets together. Some of these alleys were pedestrian walkways only; others were made for cars. Doonan skidded around the curve onto this street, nearly sending the Cherokee tumbling, then (having momentarily surprised the cop) dove into the first alley to his right, which mercifully was designed for automobiles. There were several spaces reserved for Wells Fargo customers against the wall of the bank. Doonan slammed the jeep into one of these spots, killed the lights, ducked and waited.
It didn't work.
About two seconds later the heat showed up, sirens whining and lights blazing and man, were they pissed.
A gun was drawn on Doonan, pointed through the driver's side window. Another pig had gotten out of the cop car unnoticed and was hassling Chaz similarly on the other side.
"Step out of the car with your hands up! Up!" The driver-cop was yelling. Doonan attempted to do so. He opened the door too fast and it caught him in the ribcage on the backswing, nearly knocking him over. On the other side of the car, Chaz flopped like a fish, throwing both hands against the passenger window without even being asked to. He knew where this was going.
"What'd you do back there! Why'd you take off like that!" The cop was demanding of Doonan.
"I don't know," Doonan said. The twinkle was gone from his eye. He was deadly serious, in full adult/responsible mode, "A few weeks ago some kids flashed their lights at us and then they chased us with bats. So we kinda thought..."
thought we were going to chase you."
"We don't -- son, what the hell are you talking about. Look at the top of my car right now. You see all them lights and shit?"
"Sorry, sir, I mean we didn't see it earlier."
"Are you drunk, boy?" the cop demanded.
"No sir. Not at all sir."
"How old are you?"
"Just started driving?"
"About six months ago, sir."
"Let me smell your breath."
"Um," Doonan hesitated.
"Whatsa matter, you been drinking or haven't you? Now let me smell your breath."
The cop cupped his hand over the side of Doonan's mouth and stuck his snout into the cavity there and Doonan, well -- Doonan let him have it.
The cop jumped bodily away from him.
"Jesus Christ son what the hell is wrong with you!"
"Peptic ulcer," Doonan lied.
"Oh my God. I've never -- Bruce, come over here and sme-- never mind -- I've never smelled anything so disgusting in my entire life. Boy, where'd you live? Where were you driving to?" The Man was still reeling badly from Doonan's ungodly beef-jerkey stench.
"Hollywood," said Doonan, "but we can stay in Brentwood just up the street for the night."
"This one's alright, just a little drunk," said the Bruce-cop.
"You get there," said the first cop, "and get there quick, and safe, careful, and no more driving tonight. Are we clear boy?"
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
"And do something about that -- Jesus Christ -- that breath of yours."
"Yes sir. Thank you, sir."
Halfway back to Cliffwood, Chaz leaned out the window and lost the rest of his beer all over the paint job on Doonan's door. He didn't feel bad about it at all.
Doonan was grimacing and ashen as they pulled back into Chevy's driveway.
"Dude," Chaz asked, "why'd you do that? With LAPD?"
"Sometimes," Doonan tried, "sometimes you gotta make a decision and stick with it."
"Fuck that!" Chaz was angry now, "So you just keep going when you know you're fucked?"
Doonan killed the lights and thought about it for a minute, squinting at some invisible point in the middle of Chevy's front lawn. "Yeah," he concluded, "exactly." At the time, Chaz had only sighed and looked away.
Hazel's arms are folded. "Run. You're wasted," she reminds him. She doesn't know the stories.
Chaz looks at the steering wheel, looks at the cop car he's idling toward. Considers the odds on an eastbound '81 Trans Am with a ten second head start on three souped up Crown Vic's. Knows he's got half a tank. Runs down a list of places within fuel range. There's no way out. If he runs, he's dead. Hazel doesn't understand this. At least by talking with the cops he's got a shot.
He brings the car to a halt. He can feel her big brown eyes staring at him in dismay. He pretends not to notice, keeps watching the line of fuzz.
"Step out of the vehicle please, sir," the cop says. "Ma'am you can stay inside."
Chaz gets out slowly, stands blinking down the empty stretch of interstate. "Follow the light with your eyes please, sir." The cop is an older guy with thinning salt-and-pepper hair. Twin coronas of honest-looking wrinkles radiate from his green eyes.
Chaz complies with the instruction. He follows the penlight with tiny pupils, touches fingertips to nostrils repeatedly as asked, walks perfectly down a straight line. He's amazed at his own sudden composure.
"Fine," the cop says, "wait a sec." He keys the mic on his shoulder. "Hey Charlie, did you read the 991?"
"991 confirmed on two," comes a voice.
"What did I do?" Chaz asks, amazed. He was sure he was about to be set free.
The cop's mustache twists into an uncomfortable-looking position for a moment. "Just need you to clear up your draft status," he mumbles half-heartedly. He's got his handcuffs in both hands and a look on his face that says he isn't happy about this at all.
"What are they going to do?" Chaz asks him with plaintive honesty. "I never sent in the card."
The cop eyes him grimly. "They're processing everyone," he says. "You dodged, you go to the brig."
Chaz is just standing there with this pathetic look on his face like someone hit him in the head with a rock. Then he thinks of Hazel and tears burst down his cheeks. "I didn't know," he quivers, "I didn't know."
The cop hooks the handcuffs back onto his utility belt, crosses his arms, regards Chaz like a stern father.
"Is that your girlfriend in there?" he asks.
"Yes," Chaz sniffles, trying to clear his eyes.
"You seem like a good kid. You two gonna get married?"
"Yes, I think, I don't know for sure yet. We're not engaged yet."
"Listen to me," says the cop. "This is more than friendly advice. Take that girl to the nearest chapel and marry her right now. Tonight. Don't wait. And get out of LA."
Chaz's eyes have grown wide and strange.
"Don't give me that look," the cop warns, "just go. Now."
Chaz gets in, closes the door. He and the officer share one last look of understanding. Then Chaz guides the Trans Am slowly out of the checkpoint, gathering up speed, heading East.
"What'd he say?" Hazel wants to know. Chaz doesn't answer; he focuses on the road, lets the tears air-dry over his face leaving a salty tension. He doesn't even blink as he drives past their offramp.
"Where are we going?" Hazel asks, "Chaz, what's going on?"
He takes his eyes away from the road for a moment, blinks at her. It seems like they haven't just looked at each other for a long time. He wishes they'd done it more. When he looks at her he remembers why he loves her.
"Hazel, do you love me?" he sounds distracted. What does it mean? They're rounding us up. Get married? To avoid the draft?
"Yeah baby...of course...I love you..." she's completely taken aback by the tone of his voice. She reaches up and fastens her arms around his neck. He glances forward, keeps the car in its lane, then they kiss for a long time.
What was I thinking? That I'd dump her when someone else came along? Nothing new has happened for years -- and I blamed her -- but isn't she the one I chose?
A sordid history of fantasy lap dances plays through his memory. He realizes every one was a false promise, a little trick he played on himself. Again and again he had come home to Hazel and slept happily by her side. And what if that's how his life is supposed to be? What if that's what everything had been telling him?
"Let's get married," he declares, "Tonight. Let's go to Las Vegas."
"You really want to?"
"Yeah. Yeah, for sure." He feels like himself again. "I want to."
"What did that cop say to you?"
"I don't know," Chaz shakes his head, "but I definitely think that loving you just saved my life."
Which is by far the most romantic thing she's ever heard.