ANDREAS ECONOMAKIS

MUSSOLINI ON THE BAY BRIDGE

by Andreas Economakis

Spring, 1992.

Friday night.  I sit on the couch, swigging a beer and packing bong hits.  It’s the quickest way I know to unwind.  My brown VW Bug sits directly outside my Yosemite Ave. apartment, next to the Rasta’s Audi.

I hate the Rasta.  He’s been breaking my balls ever since I moved into the apartment. Dancing and swatting his legs, he constantly bitches about the fleas at the building’s entrance. Rasta blames my cats.  I argue with him that it’s an Oakland problem, that there’s no way my cats could accommodate so many fleas on their backs.

“It’s a Biblical plague, dude,” I keep telling him, “not the cats’ fault.”

“Rasclat!” he replies, annoyed.

The phone rings.  It’s my girlfriend.  She’s just finished her shift at UCSF’s hospital, in the city.  “You want to go to Katie’s party?” she asks.  I’m game.  I’m always game to get out of Oakland and back into San Francisco.

I drain the rest of my beer and get up.  I slide the bag of weed and my pipe into my leather jacket.  The door slams and I’m outside.  It’s a cool night, my breath visible in front of me.  I unlock the brown Bug.  She’s a good-looking Beetle.  She turns over on the second try and I start down Yosemite Avenue.

Not 20 meters from the apartment, the car totally dies.  Just like that.  Lights, motor, everything.  Dead as a doornail.  I peer out the window, down the dark, sleepy street.  I wait for the nuclear blast.  I’ve just seen a film where there is a nuclear war and all the electronic equipment the city dies, just like my car.  No.  There is no nuclear war in the Bay Area.  I get out and fiddle with the battery.  Nothing!  Shit!

I push the car into a parking space and stomp back home, my anger level rising, brewing. The fucking car is a lemon.  Of this I am now sure.   I first suspected the Bug was a dud right after buying it, on it’s maiden voyage over the Bay Bridge.  The exhaust fumes were so thick in the cabin that my girlfriend and I had to dangle our heads out the window, like a couple of German Shepherds.  I fixed the exhaust, but it somehow still leaked into the heating system.   We had to drive around without heat, frozen in our good-looking Beetle.  Now this.  I feel like pumping a bullet into the Bug.  But what good would that do?  The car is already dead.

Stewing, I wheel my 1981 Honda motorcycle out of the yard and fire her up.  The insurance has lapsed and my NY registration has just ended.  I will get all the paperwork squared away soon, once my girlfriend learns to drive and takes over the Bug.  Damn Bug.  I wonder if it’s a good idea to drive the bike without proper paperwork.  Just a quick jaunt into the city, I think.  Surely no one will see the tags.  Not tonight of all nights.

At the onramp to the Bridge, I’m still stewing about the Beetle: “I can’t believe that guy sold me a lemon, I can’t believe how gullible I was, I can’t believe….” My brain is boiling.   I’ve just passed Treasure Island when I notice the blue and red lights of a Highway Patrol car directly behind me.  The patrol car chirps and flashes.  Fuck!  My heart starts pounding.   I slow down.  How fast was I going?  I’m not sure.  The light on the speedometer is broken.  Shit!

I signal to pull over to the emergency lane.  The cop barks through his loudspeaker to not pull over, to continue to the first exit and pull off there.  This guy is a barker!

I slow down to about 30 miles per hour, and inch my way to the exit.  Surely the cop has seen my expired NY tags by now.  I’m sure he’s going to frisk me and find the weed and pipe.  I have to ditch my stash.  But how?  This Nazi is all over me.  Oh, man!

My breath smells like beer.  Why didn’t I eat a mint before leaving?  I’m going to get Breathalyzed.  This is it.  I’m going to jail.  Guaranteed….  My girlfriend will be left standing all alone in front of the hospital, my cats will starve to death in their flea-shack in Oakland, frantically scratching their backs as Rasta-dude dances and swats his legs out front.  This is all shaping up to be a lousy episode of “Cops.”

I pull off at the first exit, an abandoned little road in the industrial bayside district of downtown San Francisco, the Embarcadero.  Yikes!  This place is totally desolate.  The cop will kick my ass down here.  Or violate me.  Oh God, I just can’t handle dropping to all fours, 9mm cocked and pressed against the side of my head.  I’ll bite down if it comes to that.  He can shoot me for all I care.  I’ll bite down before he splatters my brains against the sidewalk, Hemingway style.  I’d like to see Officer John Wayne Bobbit explain that to his supervisors?   No, I won’t let this fascist debase me.

I pull over to the side of the abandoned street.  There is no one in sight.  I kick out the bike’s side-stand and get off, placing my helmet on the gas tank.  I’m trembling.  Assuming my most innocent look, I stick my hands in my jacket pockets.  I nervously finger the bag of weed and pipe, wondering if I should try and ditch them.  The cop will probably see me.  Maybe I should run. Just hightail it out of here.  No.  They always catch runners.

The cop sits in his patrol car, lights on, blinding me.  He’s probably running my plates.  Or maybe he’s unbuttoning his fly.

“Take your hands out of your pockets and keep them where I can see them!” he barks.

Swallowing stale spittle, I quickly comply.  This dude’s obviously into bondage.  Oh God… I try and calm myself by wondering what the slammer in San Francisco looks like.  I bet it’s filled with pothead filmmakers who got busted just like me.  If I’m lucky, I’ll soon be finding out.  Better the slammer with a bunch of baked Fellini experts than the Hemingway-meets-John Wayne Bobbit scenario.

I bounce back and forth on my legs, tense, waiting for the impending doom.  The patrol car door opens and the cop gets out.  Oh… my… God!  It’s Benito Mussolini!  The cop is a big, heavy, shaved-headed Italian-looking dude with leather boots that go up to his knees.  He’s wearing a shiny leather jacket and a pointy Gestapo hat.  This guy’s into leather!  He probably shaves his penis.

Hand on a huge black 9mm semi-automatic pistol, he practically goose-steps up to me.  I shrivel into my boxers.  Mussolini looks me up and down.  I stare at Il Duce, eyes wide with terror.

“Do you know how fast you were going?” he asks (don’t ever answer these or any other self incriminating questions).

“Um… Don’t really know….  65?” I cringe in reply.

“You were doing 93 on the Bridge. The speed limit is posted at 55.  License, registration and insurance,” he says.

“Oh, man,” I murmur, fishing my wallet out of my jean pocket.

Then, remarkably, something clicks.  Maybe it’s my survival instinct.  Or maybe it’s the cop’s 9mm pistol.  I start yammering, like Roberto Benigni on speed.  My yammer goes a little like this:

“Officer, my car just broke down in Oakland and I’m really late picking up my girlfriend at the hospital, and I couldn’t see the odometer on my bike, a bike that, believe you me, I would never had ridden because I don’t have current tags or insurance, I was just getting ready to do all that, but my car just broke down, and I’m really late to pick up my girlfriend, did I say she works in the emergency room at UCSF(?), and that damn lemon of a Beetle, isn’t there a lemon law(?), I’m really sorry and I’m just about having the lousiest day of my life and man-oh-man is my girlfriend going to be upset, did I mention that she works at the hospital (?), and that Bug, I got ripped off and…”

Il Duce stares at me, flashlight pointed at my face.  He has a grave expression.  He glances down at my license and chuckles the way cops chuckle when they have you by the balls and are toying with booking you or letting you go.  Or maybe it’s the “I’m getting ready to violate you with my baton” chuckle.  He’s probably heard my routine before.  He examines my license with his flashlight.  He’s stalling.  He’s obviously into terrorizing his victims before the S&M shit begins.

My heart is pounding like a jackhammer.  I flash forward and see my brains splattered on the sidewalk, leather-clad Il Duce curled up in a bloody fetal position next to his dismembered member, screaming into his radio for backup.  Serves him right, damn rapist of the people!

There’s an awkward silence.  The cop hands me back my license.  Amazingly, he tells me to slow down, get the bike registered and for God’s sake, update my insurance tomorrow.  I nod, speechlessly.  Mussolini swivels in his boots, walks back to his patrol car, gets in and squeals off. I stand in the dark, abandoned street, unbelieving.  Who would have thought that Mussolini is such a nice guy?

–Andreas Economakis

This piece is part of a collection of stories on blindness entitled: The Blindness of Life.

Andreas Economakis is a film director, writer and father of a curly-haired girl named after Anaïs Nin and Melina Mercouri. He considers Los Angeles, Athens and Nisyros his “home.”  Greek when in the USA and American when in Greece, Andreas regularly calls on his past as a bicycle messenger, cabinet resurfacer, maintenance mechanic,  airport shuttle driver,  alumni development fundraising researcher and  film production manager to avoid typical office jobs and the odd redneck spitball.

Copyright © 2010, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.

For more stories by Andreas Economakis click on the author’s name below.

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