Tuesday - November 11, 2042 (10:43pm)
The image on the billboard. It’s a group of students situated around what looks like some kind of science laboratory’s workstation, all smiling, looking wide eye at an Asian student doing… something. He has his eye cupped up against some kind of tube and he’s smiling too. It’s a series of tubes, really, and they’re set in their brushed steel base at an angle, with a turret of three other tubes on the bottom end. The bottom end of each tube is the widest. The image is a bit low res, so I can’t figure out if those are pieces of glass covering the ends of those three tubes attached to the bottom piece of the turret. The device must do something to whatever one places inside those tubes… either that or you’re able to see into the earth… perhaps?
A few times I’ve sat at Tacos Amigos on La Cienega just south of the strip - best fish tacos in Los Gatos - and I’ve stared up at the billboard for twenty or thirty minutes waiting for that particular advertisement to come around again and again. (It’s one of those revolving advertisements.). Last time, I noticed a hot waitress staring at me, confused, probably thinking I’m crazy because instead of reciprocating any interest, I’m staring at a billboard down the corner like I’m in one of the ads. And I have to agree with her, cause like… what the fuck is wrong with me? Why do I even care? I guess it’s that I don’t know what that thing is, yet it must be common enough for most people to know what it is if UCSL put it in an ad. They must think it makes their school seem somewhat more enticing to attend since the purpose of an advertisement is to get you to buy something. If I go to that school because of that ad… what am I buying? That I’ll get to play with one of those thing-a-ma-jigs as my nerdy friends look on, smiling?
Anyway… this is about the sixth time I’ve started writing in this journal in as many years. I’m sure I’ve saved previous journals on this very computer before, but the files always disappear. Probably a result of late night drunken messaging with Dez, begging her to take me back cause I fucked up somehow. How drunk messaging comports with deleting document files I don’t know, but I’m trying to imagine that I’m the one doing it and I just don’t remember so that I don’t go down yet another rabbit hole. I’ve gone down enough of those lately.
I say all of this and, indeed, am starting this again because there’s some nagging question growing inside of me regarding this reality. When I look around, I’ve lately been wondering about the space between spaces. About how close you can get to something, anything, be it the material on the ass of this chair or a drop of water from this glass next to my keyboard, before you start to see that thing fall apart into a honeycomb of building blocks each made of honeycombs of smaller building blocks honeycombed and filled with smaller blocks… until you get to the smallest blocks. Or honeycombs. I’m not even sure why I believe they’d be honeycombs, but something about it seems correct. Unless I’ve seen it before and internalized the pattern to the point of subconsciously knowing that’s what my reality is built out of. Or I’m having a psychotic break. I suspect it’s the last one more and more lately, though I can’t ignore the evidence staring me in the face.
Now, coming from a 28 year old Estonian and career criminal, this will all sound like I work for the most boring criminal enterprise going and that I have way too much time on my hands, but I just can’t help it. Typing this out feels wrong. Even more wrong that I’m saying it as though I’m talking to someone… who? My other self? Hey, that’s another interesting thing… that you can both have thoughts and be ruled by them, but also WATCH those thoughts as though you’re sitting on a high throne watching a series of court jesters walk by, each trying more desperately than the last to get your attention and get you to act on something, goddamnit. So I guess we are all of two minds. Or at least I am… I can’t say for sure about anyone else. Anyway, here I go with a terrible metaphor, but bear with me:
I’m wondering if we’re all missing some poker player’s tell woven into the fabric of everything around us. Believing that all you have to do is look close enough and you’ll see it. Or maybe I’m the only one missing the player’s ‘tell’ and everyone else can see it or is at least aware of it. Because no player is perfect, they all slip up now and again, and a world incapable of making a perfect poker player must also be incapable of keeping a poker face. And the gambler only has to do it for one game. This world, if it’s playing a game with us, must keep it’s poker face for eternity. Jesus Christ, what the fuck are you on about Dmitry, with your dime store philosophical ramblings?
I guess it didn’t really start with the thing on the billboard (which I fully intend to investigate, I’ve got the whole thing planned) but with that number: 229. Just seeing the numbers typed out, me, Dimitry, reproducing them on a laptop makes me feel as though I’m putting something out there that sends something back. 229. I see it at least once every few days, sometimes multiple times per day. And I tend to see it more when I’m doing one of two things… either following my instincts and doing what I know deep inside somewhere is what one might call morally ‘right’. Or the exact OPPOSITE of that, some act of malice either to yourself or others that you don’t need a priest to tell you is wrong. Either obeying or disobeying one’s conscience might be the simplest way to put it.
For instance, a few months ago, when I was doing a job for Maurice, we dragged a man I knew was innocent into a basement at one of the safe houses in Southgate. We were ordered to beat him within an inch of his life and then send a picture to that sick fuck Maurice (maybe that’s why I delete these journals, I’m insulting a man who would think nothing of melting me in a 50 gallon drum), to make sure we’d really beaten him to within an inch of his life. This shit went on for hours, though Levi did more of the dirty work than myself. I get queasy just thinking about it. The guy, we’ll call him ‘Niko’, escaped the van at one point and made way towards the rail yards near by. How he had any idea where we parked and which direction to go in, I have no clue, but this was a tough fucker cause we’d already done fifty percent of the job with a pipe wrench and a cheese grater by that time. He had to have spilled a pint of blood in that van before wrestling away and kicking the door open to ultimately escape. That van, by the way, now lay submerged in what’s left of Salton Sea. I gotta make a mental note to go back to that place. Didn’t even know it existed prior to leaving the van, but it’s creepy as fuck up there; an entire seaside ‘resort’ town where the water has nearly dried up, there’s no moisture in the air, and entire motels, restaurants, fleets of cars, boats even lay wasting away. It had a strange beauty to it, the kind of shit Dez would love. I should take her up there with her camera sometime. Where was I?
Oh yes, the ‘safe house’. We took this poor sonofabitch Niko to one of Maurice’s many hell holes in Southgate, which is just south of East L.G., a sort of no-man’s land that few people are aware even exists. Like a sub tropical Salton Sea… tons of mosquitos, liquor stores, and abandoned vehicles in an area where the humidity seems to sit and fester. Now, I’d been to the safe house we took him to at least twenty times. It’s a rather odd place, a split-level home with burnt looking cedar siding that makes it look almost invisible at night and an absolute jungle of overgrown weeds in a lower income (much lower) neighborhood that, if the economy were doing a little better and they finally did as Mayor Balin promised and extended the downtown Los Gatos line, would actually become a decent place to live as long as you have a pool.
But the point is that in all the times I’ve been there, I’ve never noticed the license plate nailed to the wall just above the stairs leading to the lower level… DLB-229. My stomach melted, congealed, then oozed through my body down to my socks in an instant the second that I laid eyes upon it. My spine felt like it’d been struck by lightning. I stopped dead in my tracks and of course Levi noticed (he notices every time I’m at a loss or don’t know quite what to say and spew gibberish and he never fails to call me to the carpet - one of those people who only understands when and why he is at a loss for words but never why others don’t know what to say and how to say it.)
Where was I? Oh yes, so Levi notices of course and asks what the fuck is wrong with me. Part of me wanted to quit the job right then and there… I’ve had enough of this sort of thing. But that number on the plate, 229, staring back at me, practically leering at me, made me feel as though I’d gotten hit in the gut with a sledgehammer. So yeah, what the fuck is wrong with me? Oh, I don’t know, Levi, maybe the fact that I’m having an existential criss while looking down at this poor bastard’s caved in eye socket, nothing but a hint of his pupil at the center of a slab of tender meat that’s been kneaded with the steal claws Levi screws into his work boots?
After seeing that license plate, I felt forced into some kind of morality play between my two selves, each arguing for center stage, “This guy has a family. He did nothing wrong. He got caught up in some bullshit bank job and saw something he shouldn’t have… just in the wrong place at the wrong time and related to the wrong people. If you do this, you’re going straight to Hell, Dmitry… tomorrow, in fact.” Then the other half, “Remember mama, she needs you… don’t be so hasty to retreat, you know Maurice has lost his mind from the drugs, just pull your punches and go home alive tonight. You have a sister that works for Maurice, and you’re just trying to make a living. This guy is getting this cause he deserves it.” Right. Deserves it. I don’t know that anyone deserves that, but the idea that people deserve some terrible fate has been playing a lot into my thoughts lately… because surely there are people who do not deserve a terrible fate, but get one anyway. Where do they fit in? Am I in any position to ask such questions? Fuck no, but maybe that’s the whole point.
But in my moment of intense inner conflict (which, again, how is such a thing possible? Am I not only me? Am I me and someone else?), that man looked up at me and he knew… he knew I was feeling that mix of empathy for the incredible suffering he was going through and selfishness about my own fate. Not wanting to do wrong, but feeling that for some reason you have to, just because… that’s the life you’ve chosen. That’s how you feed yourself and at least help to take care of the people you care about.
Of course we took him into that basement and beat the ever-loving shit out of him anyway. I distinctly remember the sound of the patch of skin leaving his scalp as the high that came from telling my conscience to take a hike caused my adrenaline to surge when he lunged for the stairs, hoping to get a fingernail in and climb out of that burning hell… and I swung around and grabbed his hair just as Levi kicked him in the back. Skerrrruft! Like that.
The best I can say of that night is that the license plate kept me so distracted that I succeeded in pushing the guilt and self-loathing of this good Catholic boy’s conscience all the way down to the other side of the earth. Hmmm… what? What other side? Of what? What’s Catholic? I gotta stop having these asides.
So yeah, otherwise, this thing called a conscience would have eaten clean through me, keeping me from sleep, food, sex, alcohol, and yes… blowing my fucking brains out. Cause I’ve thought about doing just that a few times when I’m in the middle of such an existential crisis. Something keeps me here, though… a few things, really. Mama, Dez, my sister Faith, and now, to find out why a number would follow me around and try to guide me along a certain path. Or why I would think that such a thing was occurring in the first place.
Our boy Niko didn’t die that night from the beating. We did text the photo to Maurice, our boss, and he texted back some gibberish and a photo of the city from his house high up in the Sunnywood Hills overlooking the entire Los Gatos basin. Not sure why I think relating all this to my future self looking back on a life rife with unvirtuous acts might make me seem virtuous (maybe hoping my future self will care to know?), but we brought him to one of Maurice’s doctors in the Valley, Doctor Wiley, and we paid that doctor to have him fixed up with a stash of cash we’d found under that same step in the safe house where his orbital socket cracked.
Amazingly, the doctor was Levi’s idea - looking at me at the end of the night, it seemed as though something in his soul had died in a matter of seconds. Niko’s fists beat hard against the inside of the maroon LeBaron’s trunk as we stood there, catching our breath, Levi half bent over leaning on the trunk to steady himself. As the guy grew short of breath from the lack of oxygen in his steel tomb (it’s an old car), his beating against the trunk door sounded almost like a fading heartbeat, though the increasingly weak punches seemed to have hit Levi in the heart and sent the blood flowing back into his conscience.
Levi… gosh, where to begin? Levi is your textbook old school New York Italian whose mixed heritage father was just Irish enough that he became a cop. He grew up in Brooklyn and, of course, also became a cop; one that played at being decent or ‘one of the good guys’ his entire life, believing himself a benefit to the community and to his pension only to find out he actually craved (nay, enjoyed) the amoral possibilities of the job somewhere along the line. So he gleefully participated until the bill came due… cause it always does. Always. Along the way, though, he became expert at assisting underworld figures in a variety of ways, utilizing the computer programming education his father worked so hard to pay for to launder money, fuck with the banks, and generally wreak havoc on the fine institutions that believed Levi was there to protect them. There’s also graft, acting as a bodyguard and fixer, an assassin, and the occasional hot-headed murder with total impunity. All the things his occupation was supposed to stand in opposition to.
One day, something terrible happened that I’ve never quite gotten all the details to and Levi did what all peoples seeking rebirth and renewal do… he went west. And he wound up in Los Gatos. The west hasn’t really renewed Levi, it’s only resculpted his sense of purpose and greatly reduced the number of lies he tells himself about what he’s doing. Which, depending on your point-of-view, can be a good thing. If Levi ever needs to ‘go west’ again, he’ll wind up in the ocean. Perhaps that’s why, without warning, he’ll sometimes park at the ocean along the Pacific, get out, and just stare out at the western horizon. The first few times, I thought he was trying to rattle me, but… I just stayed in the car and stared at it with him. I think Levi grew to like me for that reason.
The curt motherfucker only ever wears tan khakis and a navy blue anorak, the 60 some odd year old tufts of hair, now white and all that’s left, peeking out over his ears in the too long a stretch of time between haircuts; his only stab at non-conformity to any kind of ‘code’. But even this seems calculating in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. He’s your basic tough guy, only he’s actually tough. People like Maurice and hell, even Nicolai, the coldest bastard in the basin, aren’t actually tough. They’ve spent their lives trying to prove how tough they are… Levi just gets on with it. I really think he scares Maurice and I’ve never heard anyone in Nicolai’s gang so much as utter an act of defiance in his presence when Levi gets a little lippy or tired of the bullshit tough guy act that we all have to put on in this line of work. There’s an uneasy respect, I believe, between Nicolai and Levi. And even though I’ve never confirmed this, I’ve been around long enough now to know that Levi never has to worry about the Russians as long as he’s on the side of right. I’ve often wondered if he has an ace up his sleeve from the New York days.
This is all to say that it left me a bit rattled when, at the end of a night spent beating a man to within an inch of his life, Levi seemed to want to do something to help the guy. And I know it’s because of whatever look I had on my face standing there listening to the man’s now hamburger meat fists losing their grip on focus and motor cognition from the metal on flesh marathon they’d just run. I’m not exactly sure what kind of a sight I was that would cause any empathy to ooze from someone like Levi. I hope you feel as if you know him now. If ever there was a ‘you do the job and you go home, and never the twain shall meet’ type of person, Levi was the poster guy for such a motto. The obvious result of what had happened to his son-in-law back in The Bronx when he became a little too much like his old man. I wouldn’t presume to think a person like Levi has a ‘key’, as it were’, to understanding the big picture… like the sled in that movie about the newspaper magnate, but if such a key exists for Levi, some translation stone onto which you could graft all of his peculiarities and see them come into stark and understandable relief, it must be that.
Which brings me to the selfishness I was talking about. Cause when I saw that license plate, DFP-229, which I fully plan to find out if it was present in my previous twenty or so trips to that safe house, I knew that if we killed that man, if we didn’t give him a fighting shot at seeing his children and wife ever again, there’d be immediate repercussions. For me, at least. Instant karma, if you will. Like that song that plays on one of our ten radio stations every fucking day that I don’t want to hear it ever again. “We all shine on… on and on and on and on.” God, fuck that guy who sings something capable of lodging itself in my brain just as much as these whacked out, probably pointless philosophical musings.
When I’m in that period of waiting for the repercussions, I’m like a cornered, wounded animal. Always waiting for the other shoe to drop or for some invisible force to jump down from a tree when I least expect it and majorly screw with my life… destroying the thing I’ve come to value more each and every day - peace and quiet. And so it was with some relief that after four days of waiting and not being asked to do anything too evil by Maurice (break a few fingers, steal a car, guard a big drug delivery), I thought, “Maybe I’ll drive the few hours out to Barstow and see mama?”
But I’m exhausted… odd, this now doesn’t seem so much like a journal in the sense of “I did this, and this, and this today”, but more like a therapy dump for the shit I’m trying to understand about my increasingly fucked up existence. I’m trying to catch up to where we are now, which actually hasn’t been that interesting since the visit to mama. That one is a doozy for tomorrow when I’m better rested and can properly convey the insanity of karmic collateral damage. I’m also supposed to meet Levi and get him to explain to me what that goddamn thing is on the billboard.