Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Finally, an Answer to a Long-Lingering Question

“Oh, so this is how I’m going to die.” This is how it passed through my brain, not with surprise or even relief but with a casualness I found rather surprising.

Here’s the scene: I’m walking to the grocery store because I needed brown rice, and I needed brown rice because my life is so decidedly non-rock star that the success of my night hinged around my dinner including brown rice. And it wasn’t even the good grocery store: It was the Ralphs where all the produce looks sad. When I bought plums there, I also bought an army of fruit flies that hung around wine bottles and toilet rims like weird party guests. Even worse, the most direct path to the shitty Ralphs takes me by this restaurant with extensive patio seating full of happy, chatty social people whose dinners probably don’t revolve around brown rice.

Also, Maria Bamford was there — not in the restaurant area but walking the opposite direction and talking on the phone. I recognized her voice before I recognized her, and I’m actually not 100 percent sure it actually was her, seeing how blond, neurotic, vaguely theatrical women are the lifeblood of Los Angeles, but oh, let’s just say it was her, because “Wow, that was Maria Bamford” was the last thing I thought before “Oh, so this is how I’m going to die.”

Just a few steps away from Maybe Maria Bamford, I stopped in my tracks and watched a motorcycle swerve off the street, up a driveway and onto the sidewalk, where it sped toward me. The motorcycle was not close, exactly, and this fact is important, because as it tore down the sidewalk, I didn’t leap out of the way. I didn’t even step out of the way. I just stood there and thought, “Oh, so this is how I’m going to die.” And the form of death I was envisioning — hell, presuming — wasn’t even me getting struck by some drunk motorcyclist who mistook the sidewalk for a neat mini-road that he’d previously not noticed. No, my immediate inclination was that this dude on the bike was coming specifically for me.

I can only guess that my mental state resulted from a lifetime of watching movies about people who lead lives more exciting than mine. But even considering that, I’m surprised by my logic in this situation. I’ve been awaiting death about since I gained sentience. If it wasn’t a murderer who’d kidnap me out of the grocery store, then it was a steep, paved hill combined with a faulty bicycle. If it wasn’t armed home invasion robbers, then it was silent, skulking mountain lions. If it wasn’t nuclear holocaust, then it was killer bees. If it wasn’t an airbag-related suffocation, then it was a masked serial killer. If it wasn’t a terrorist attack, it was the pathogen of the week. If it wasn’t a spree shooter, it was getting trapped in a Costco during a major earthquake. And if it wasn’t any of those, it was a Final Destination-style freak accident, and thank God Final Destination finally gave me a simple shorthand for the kind of surprising, Rube Goldbergian deaths that I’ve been envisioning (and avoiding, I should like to point out) since middle school. Yet after all this time and all these worries, my reaction to a potentially life-threatening situation is to dumbly stand there and accept doom.

To conclude the story, no, I didn’t die. The man on the bike slowed down a bit and veered to the side. He even did that cool thing where the bike skids to a stop and the driver has to lean way over. He flipped up the visor on his helmet.

Him: “I thought you’d move.”

His voice, by the way, was a particular voice that I would say belonged to a vivacious party host in a movie set in New Orleans.

Me: “Um.”

Him: “Where is Ambrose?”

Me: “Um. Who is Ambrose?”

Him: “It’s a street.”

Me: “Um.”

Him: “I must have passed it.”

And then he fired up his bike, popped his visor down and sped back onto the street, cutting gingerly through cars as he sped away in the direction he came.

Oh, and I totally got my brown rice. I’m not sure how much of this Maybe Maria Bamford saw.


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  2. Yeah, when my '87 Civic had a spinout on an icy interstate, I had a similar thought. NPR was playing on the radio, and the hosts kept talking like normal, and I was thinking, oh this is how I'll die, on this interstate with NPR playing.

    I didn't even hurt the car really, but the sensation lingered for a bit.

    Two or three years later I was walking home one day and I suddenly remember the sensation of thinking I was going to die, but it took me a couple of minutes before I remembered when it was I had felt the sensation before and why.

    I guess it's useful to have some feeling for what it's like to be about to die: there's not really a terror or horror to it, just a raw fact that's somewhat too large to take in but since it's not something you can do anything about there's no use in getting upset about it.

  3. Too bad she didn't put on her mother voice and tell you that you were a moron for not moving out of the way.

  4. I love all of this. Especially the part where you don't die in a freak motorcycle accident, but all the rest of it as well.