Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Better Than a Homicidal Dwarf


So I haven’t posted anything here in some time now, but I have a good justification: In the span of ten days, I’ve left my job and my apartment, and then I began a new job and moved into a new apartment on the other side of Los Angeles. It’s been a positive transition, overall, but I’ve been investing all of my time in making my new digs — both residential and professional — as comfortable as possible. Besides, you didn’t really want to hear stories about me unpacking boxes, did you? Of course you didn’t. No one ever wants to hear about anyone else’s moving experience ever.

Tonight, however, I actually have something to say. The full force of the following story will best be appreciated if you’ve seen the 1973 thriller Don’t Look Now. In fact, you may want to stop reading now and go rent this classic Donald Sutherland film now, even though I’ll be explaining the relevant plot points as I go.

Now that I’ve moved far from the streetlight-studded avenues of Brentwood, walking around my neighborhood is an exercise in “What did I just step on?” and “Oh, apparently there was a puddle there” and “Who would have predicted how uneven this sidewalk is?” I find these inconveniences fairly tolerable, since my rent dollar stretches a lot farther where I am now. But on Sunday night, while I was walking to my new apartment, I spotted something unidentifiable about half a block in front of me. It was about two feet tall and walking away from me... on two legs. I wasn’t wearing my glasses and my fellow biped was mostly obscured by shadows, so I still had to stop — like, literally cease movement — and watch this thing plod away, just so I could attempt to answer the question, “What the fuck is that?” The body shape and weird gait ruled out a cat or a dog or a raccoon or a skunk, and you just rarely see too many neighborhood critters walking, however awkwardly, on two legs nowadays. And while the questions lingered long after it scuttled into a gap in a fence, I didn’t mention it to everyone, because any of the possible answers — chupacabra or elf or diminutive spaceman — would make me sound crazy, even if someone else suggested them.

Tonight, in roughly the same spot on my block, I saw it again. It was stopped. It was mostly silhouetted with only a few spots of light showing me that it was gray in color. I walked toward it. It walked away. I moved faster. So did it. But rather than escaping to the left, into someone’s yard, it dodged right, in front of a parked car. I kept moving, having decided that I need to find out what this thing is. I saw nothing when I rounded the front of the car, but as I passed around to the car’s other side, I could hear its footsteps on the asphalt. And when I rounded the hood of the parked car, I heard it rustling in a big flax plant back near the sidewalk. I pulled back the big leaves, still having no idea what I would find…


Okay, so do you remember how I mentioned Don’t Look Know? Well, I’m going to spoil it for you now, and that’s okay, because the ending is pretty much the only thing people seem to remember about this movie, even though it’s pretty solid all the way through. In the movie, Donald Sutherland is grieving over the accidental drowning of his daughter. But upon moving to Italy — and away from the home at which she drowned — he keeps seeing her on the streets, wearing the same red rain slicker she had on when she died. In the film’s final moments, he chases what he suspects could be his daughter or even the ghost of his daughter. He corners the mysterious figure in an old, deserted palazzo.

You know what? Watch the clip. (Warning: It’s bloody and highly unpleasant.)

Yes, the figure he thought might be his daughter or whatever turns out to be a gibbering, homicidal dwarf who produces a razor and slashes him to death. In the context of the film, it’s a commentary on his inability to let go of his dead child: Had he accepted that she died, he would have lived, but he instead fixated on the hope of her being alive and therefore ended up dying himself. However, in the context of this story — and, really, the isolated clip and the fact that it’s the only thing most people remember about Don’t Look Now — it’s just jarring, surreal and nightmarish.

This scene was the only thing I had in mind as I reached for the potentially lethal whatsit in the flax plant.


With uncharacteristic levels of bravery pushing me onward, I pulled back the leaves at once I was greeted with a flurry of angry movement. And hissing. And flapping. And feathers. It was a duck — a gray duck, in fact, who was none too happy at having his hidey spot uncovered. And with that revelation, I turned around and walked home. Mystery? Solved.

Had I been anywhere else besides the middle of thoroughly urban Los Angeles, I might have thought, “Oh, maybe the thing walking on two legs was a large bird.” But I just don’t often see birds that size around these parts, much less taking night walks along the same schedule that I take mine. Though I could likely see the duck again, based on this past week, I feel like I’ll probably never know why he lives in my neighborhood. I wish him well. I hope he’s found a good life here in L.A.

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