Miller Time
Night School 61: Three Calls
By Grady Miller
Feb 26, 2012 - 2:20:31 PM

HOLLYWOOD—"I'd like to know why I'm being arrested,” Jason said gloomily, as they bounced along in the back of a prowl car.

Mr. Perlmutter whined, “That's one for O. Henry. I'm about to ride my bike into a stopped car so I can roll over the hood, claim spinal injuries, and sue the pants off them. But 'them' turns out to be you, an esteemed colleague.”

“Former colleague,” Jason corrected.

“I mean colleague. When I tumble over these people's hoods, I feel like I'm bringing theater to their drab lives. And I don't have the heart to scam you, Jason. Till now, this has been a good little scam. Most people wanna pay me off on the spot. Cash. I'm sure making a lot more than I ever made teaching.”

“Aren't you a bit old for this?”

“Why this new extracurricular activity gotten me into good shape,” Mr. Perlmutter said. “I haven't been in this good a shape since I did gymnastics in college.”

“Why have I been arrested?” Jason moaned. “They'd only say there's a warrant out for my arrest.”

“Look at the bright side, you're following in the footsteps of other greats. Mel Gibson, Robert Downey, Jr. and Nick Nolte. They've all endured the ritual of having their mug shot taken. Now what's your motivation when you face the camera?”

Jason said, “If I wasn't handcuffed, I'd slap you.”

Somewhere between the mug shot and receiving his lodgings for the night, Jason learned that the warrant stemmed from an unpaid speeding ticket in Beverly Hills. Holy cow. Jason felt like the biggest idiot in the world. It was the speeding ticket he got while Kit was riding with him and they were both late for school. So thoroughly he had put it out of his mind, it was as if it had never happened. Now the disagreeable matter came back to bite him in the butt.

At the Van Nuys jail he quickly ran through his three allotted phone calls. Though it was unlikely his acting pal, Jerry Goodson, would possess a few quarters, let alone the few hundred dollars needed to post bail. Jason discovered his phone message box was stuffed. He left a message for Suzanne, hoping she might answer, and finally he called Joey Leonard, who told him to buzz off.

Then Jason joined five others in orange jail jumpers jammed in a cell the size of a broom closet. One old man muttered, “I didn't do nothin,” pacing up and down. “I wasn't doin nothin. Pushin my cart in the street. They arrested me for being in the street. The street belongs to everybody, don't it?”

Others slept curled up or sat on the edges of bunks and kneaded their hands. A skinhead with a serpent tattoo that wound up the side of his face said, “You ain't nobody, old man. So shut up.”

And skinhead proceeded to tell how he broke a restraining order and slit the throat of his girlfriend's chihuahua. The old man went right on saying, “I didn't do nothin.” How long this went on in the windowless cell, deprived of sunlight and his cell phone, Jason couldn't say.

He finally refuged in sweet sleep, lullabied by the old man's chant “I didn't do nothin.” Next thing he knew he was on Mulholland Drive, high above the city. Below, Los Angeles exhaled light, a light that caressed his face, and movie premiere beams criss-crossed the night. The steering slipped from his fingers and the car veered and crashed through a guardrail. Down the steep slope Jason's car rolled, the grass and scrub brush scratching at the chassis, down it rolled faster and faster. Beside him his ex-wife Suzanne jolted like a rag doll when the plunge came to a sudden halt at the foot of a ravine. The noise of the brush and branches being traversed was deafening. Just as deafeaning was the sudden silence after the plunge stopped. A thread of black blood came out between Suzanne's still warm lips. Her jade eyes stared out, unseeing. She was beautiful and dead. Jason squeezed her to him, pinned under the boulder grief so deep and real. He felt unutterable remorse for not having said I love you as many times as he could have, for not saying how proud he was of her successes, and thanking her for bringing their daughter Kit into the world, that light in life, that spark. In the dream he was sobbing and moisture trickled out of his eyes when he opened them and saw the drab cell and the assorted clubmates housed therein.

Jason awoke so brimming with gratitude. So relieved to be alive in another life and free of the tragedy dreamed. His innards still wrenched from that heartbreak of a dream so real. And suddenly Jason recalled that when Suzanne and he were married, he took out a half-million dollar life insurance policy on her of which he was the sole beneficiary.

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