Hey You!

Hey You!

By Daniel Isanov 11/24/14

An arrest, a meeting, and a new way of life. All in the second person singular . . . 

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You passed the field sobriety test. This was your third time in six months taking one and you remembered that test better than the theme song to Gilligan’s Island. You knew you passed it. Your problems began when you looked at the cops and told them you knew you'd passed it. They quietly insisted on their right to make their determination as to whether you were drunk or not. For some reason, this infuriated you beyond all common sense.

Every person who would save your life over the next remarkable two years was in the room that night.

“Listen,” you announced even louder. “I know I passed the fucking test, and you know I passed the fucking test, so can I fucking well get back into my truck and drive home now?”

Then, they arrested you.

You’d already been arrested for drunk driving two times in the last six months. The first two arrests were within a week of each other in different parts of California. On each occasion, you felt vastly misunderstood and mistreated. You had rationalizations for both arrests that depended on the car you were driving. The first time, in your recently deceased father’s Cadillac Eldorado, you concocted a scenario in which the arresting officer didn’t like to see a 23-year-old behind the wheel of such a nice car. The second time, driving your own Datsun pickup, you decided that the Oakland PD officers were angry about how foreign cars were hurting the American auto industry.

A concern which, apparently, all Oakland PD officers shared.

The third time – when you shouted at the cops – you were driving your dead father’s ‘72 Chevy Custom Cab, and you had already prepared a story about how the cops always hate a working man – your stories were getting less credible all the time. Driving into the intersection where they pulled you over, you knew it was that goddamn toolbox behind the cab.

Thinking back, you have to believe you were one of the most insufferable pricks those guys had ever seen. No, that’s not right either: more likely, you were a garden-variety insufferable prick, which is – God forgive your self-centeredness – absolutely the worst kind of insufferable prick in the world.

You’re writing this in second person because at the time of your third arrest, the big book, among idiots like you, was Bright Lights, Big City. The entire book was written in second person, and that seemed (to you) pretty hip at the time. You remember when you read it that it was the one book you’ve ever actually thrown across the room when at the very end, the protagonist trades his Ray-Bans for a loaf of bread. You hadn’t quit drinking yet, but you knew enough about assholes, like yourself, to know that trading your Ray-Bans for a loaf of bread was not going to get the job done. In fact, a pretentious asshole who could even imagine the vastly sophomoric symbolism of trading his Ray-Bans for a loaf of bread was practically guaranteed to be snorting cocaine and lusting after vapid models by mid-afternoon.

At this exact moment in your life, you were more full of shit than you had ever been before or since. In the two years that followed this moment, you would feel like you were more full of shit, but that was only because, for the first time in your life, you were keenly aware of your full-of-shitness. Being full of shit, like many other diseases, often feels worse when it’s actually getting better. It probably feels the most horrible, the moment just before it goes away.  

When the Santa Ana cops were making you walk the line near First Avenue and the border of Tustin, California, the town where you had grown up, you didn’t know that this was one of the luckiest things that had ever happened to you. The fact that you yelled at the cops and made a bad situation much, much worse— that you pretty much forced them to put you in jail that night.

As a result of this, your third arrest, you found yourself in a position where your attorney couldn’t do anything more for you. In fact, you remember precisely what he said, “I think, this time, you’re going to have to go to jail.”

And you said, “What are we looking at?”

And he said, “Six months?”

It was one of those moments in your life, in anyone’s life, when the truth is bald and powerful and easy to see. He was the kind of attorney, you knew too well, who wanted to paint a rosy picture, and the fact that he wasn’t painting a rosy picture was a very bad sign. It might even be worse than six months.

But then you did a truly extraordinary thing. Extraordinary in your own life, and maybe extraordinary in anyone’s life: you took responsibility for the trouble. You didn’t know you were doing that at the time, but you remember it now as a turning point in your life.

“What can I do?” you said. Not, “What can you do?” Not, “How can we get out of this?” But, “What can I, myself, the location of this disaster, do to make this disaster better?”

And the attorney suggested that you go to some AA meetings. And so you went to some AA meetings. Not, mind you, to treat your alcoholism, but to look good for the judge.

You sat across the table from a man with a mustache and skin too weirdly browned to be a tan. His mustache stuck straight out from his face, and he seemed to be laughing quietly at all the assholes in the room. He seemed like just the kind of jackass that you liked, the kind that you’d been drinking with many times. You both nodded and said hello, drawn together, you had to imagine later, by the fact that you were both at exactly the farthest point in the room from the speaker’s table—and also (not coincidentally) nearest to the exit.

You, yourself, had quite a bit more to boast about than just weird skin. You had weird skin and then some. You’d recently made the decision that you needed the precious time it took to shampoo your hair, so you’d buzzed it down to a quarter of an inch. You were also overweight, but in the unpleasant, disgustingly not-of-this-world way of the minor league alcoholic: you had what seemed to be about an eighth of an inch of beer fat around your body like some kind of weird gelatinous packing material—the fat encased your features in such a way that it robbed the sharpness from your face. You wore a white tank top for reasons that you wouldn’t have been able to explain—perhaps, you thought it was fashionable. And you sweated, yes, you sweated. People reminded you for many years about how much you sweated.  

You picked up a Styrofoam cup of coffee and brought it back to the table with the brown-skinned white guy, and as you tried to pick it up from the table, your hand shook just enough to spill the first half-inch onto the table. The brown-skinned white guy regarded you seriously and said, “Good job,” then turned toward the front of the room.

With only one notable exception, every person who would save your life over the next remarkable two years was in the room that night.  

Daniel Isanov is a pseudonym for a novelist and regular contributor to The Fix.

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