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Subterranean click here to listen in case the audio player is not working.
I drove down the highway, down sunset boulevard;
Neon signs and strip joints, palm trees and cars.
Looking for a restaurant… wrong turn to a lonely street,
A stopped car with an open door I looked in for a peek.
A girl in a short skirt, ingenue with a painted face
She looked like she didn’t care anymore, her eyes were in a daze.
Surely somebody’s daughter, a girlfriend or some one’s wife.
Lost in the city of angels and praying for her life.
When I was seventeen, I would have come to her aid.
Naive and fearless, we’re invincible at that age.
Now that I’m older, I see the writing on the wall.
I just kept driving, driving and never heard her call.
And driving down the highway, down Sunset Boulevard;
Neon signs and strip-joints, palm trees and cars.
Looking for a party… wrong turn by a darkened path
Stalled car, open door, I only hear them laugh.
by Albert Chen
Written January 26, 1997
I feel dirty.
There is this particular little Thai restaurant that my friend wanted to take me to east on Sunset boulevard. We were going to stop in for a quick bite to eat before rushing off to meet some people later on. It was a good night, somewhat gritty, very real; none of that posturing and affectation that seems to cling to the culture around west Sunset; Not that we didn’t pass the occasional pawn shop or neon club, just that the people seemed to be doing something; Whether it was randomly setting up a tripod to photograph a strip club or watching someone find a bus stop bench to curl up on and sleeping to forget the cold; The night felt alive, like being wired on speed but somehow totally grounded at the same time.
We missed the restaurant and had to turn back around. Traffic was a bitch, so instead of making a U-turn, we turned off onto this side street near this run-down gas station and almost ran into a half open door of a little run down sports car; The Datsun was wrapped with worn and chipped racing stripes that failed to pull themselves upon the rear spoiler.
Leaving driver’s side door open on a city street is just asking for someone to plow through it. So we peered into the car to glare at the idiot inside.
Though we only saw her for a second, I’ll never forget it. She had that make-up-on-a-wholesome-face look. She wore a black cocktail dress that was shapely but somehow not tawdry. She didn’t look cheap, just innocent. And as I stared into the car through the open window of the propped door. She stared back, tracking us with eyes that were consumed in abject horror. Very haunted. Very horrible. There are photographs of Holocaust survivors have that look; There are Khymer Rouge Killing Field witnesses that have that look. My first instinct was to want to hold her and rock her and tell her everything would be okay. My next was heartbreak and anger. No one should have that look.
Granted, there was gang activity all around the lot, they were parked in every aisle of the station in their lowered cars, alloy wheels and sunglasses. Not saying that they did anything to her, the Datsun didn’t seem like one of theirs. In fact, they didn’t even seem to realize that it was there. In fear we moved on. In fear we kept going. In fear we didn’t stop. We didn’t even stop.
When I was younger, I would have stopped; when you are seventeen you can think like that. Ten years later… ten years later, you are a coward. In apathy we watch crime pass us by. We are observers, viewers, spectators of the victims of abuse, rape, and murder. In a Boston subway I once stopped a man from stealing a brief case. In Central Park, I ran after purse thieves. When you are seventeen you are invincible. When you are twenty-seven you sit in your Volvo and watch a young girl’s soul get murdered and simply drive by.
When do you lose that idealism? When did I stop helping stalled cars and flat tires? When did I become so afraid of life, that I stopped offering my hand to help? My seventeen year old soul wants to kill whoever did whatever it was to her. I don’t even know what it was. I’ll never know. My life will be forever marked by my indifference when there was want of help.
We must not walk by.
We must not turn away.
* * *
LOS ANGELES, CA. A local man was shot in the chest while trying to stop a robbery in progress at a liquor store today. The shop owner stated that an armed man approached the counter and demanded all of the money in the register. While the owner was complying, a passing citizen proceeded to enter to store and demand that the suspect drop his gun and surrender. Witnesses claim that the citizen was unarmed when assailant turned to point the gun at the man. As if oblivious to the imminent danger, the man reached out and grappled for the gun. He never had a chance. By the time the Los Angeles Police arrived, the man was dead, and the suspect gone. The LAPD has refused comment pending investigation. This has been the seventh robbery/homicide in recent weeks.