It was 4:34 in the morning. Streaks of indigo were reaching from beyond the Eastern horizon to mix with the midnight blue still hanging over the Pacific. Two magpies were atop the neighborhood’s trees, calling out their morning duties. There was no snooze button to make them stop.
Freddy was sheltered from the natural alarm, inside his small dim bedroom, his body stretched out under two thick duvets, his head softly surrounded by four pillows, unconscious, dreaming of a message he would forget as soon as…
The phone rang.
James, Freddy’s roommate, would not answer the phone. James always disconnected his phone from its jack before going to bed.
In his dream, Freddy had been in the produce section at Rock’n’Roll Ralph’s, 7257 Sunset Blvd., tolling the number of pretty girls, when suddenly a head of lettuce began ringing. He looked at it strangely; he’d never heard lettuce ring before. He reached for the head of lettuce and suddenly found himself…
Awake, naked, standing at his desk, halfway between night and day, with a phone in his hand.
“Hello?” came a recognizable voice from the other end of the line.
“Hey,” Freddy replied, wiping the crust from his right eye. There was a pause.
“What the fuck are you doing?” It was Max.
“Hey, I was… uh… sleeping.” Another pause.
“Oh. What time is it there?”
“Four-thirty. Where are you?” The conversation ran at an octogenarian pace, as satellite communicated with satellite over the Atlantic Ocean and into two different sets of civilization.
“I’m at Heathrow.”
“Oh ya, you’re… in Britain, right?”
“Not for much longer, thank God. I fly into Kennedy today.”
“What’s wrong? You don’t like the rain?”
“No, I don’t like the cops.”
“Bobbies got you down?” Freddy asked, wiping the salt from his left eye.
“No, man, the friggin’ parking cops. Lemme tell you –”
“Hold on,” Freddy said, laying the receiver down on the desk, grabbing yesterday’s underwear from the floor and hoisting them up around his crotch.
He sat down on his wonky office chair, pulled a cigarette from the pack on the desk, lit it and returned to the long distance call.
“Go,” he told Max.
“So I’m here for four weeks, right? The production puts me up in this flat in Stepney, really nice place. Jacuzzi bathtub, a little balcony, great view, and, I was told by the production co-ordinator, I had parking so if I wanted to rent a car –”
“Right,” Freddy blurted in mid-satellite transmission.
“I could. And they would pay for it,” Max finished.
Freddy yawned. “So what’d you get?”
“Nice,” Freddy commented.
“They were paying for it,” Max continued, “so I figured, ‘What the hell? I’ll go all out.’ Now this parking space is actually a pad, y’know, a little area in front of the flat. Used to be grass and dirt, now it’s interlocking bricks.”
“Yeah, I know what a parking pad is.”
“Okay, so I’ve got the MG parked down there and the second day I have it, I go down to drive to set and I got a ticket. They call them Penalty Charge Notices. The infraction says I was parked on the boulevard.”
“No, the pad is small but the car fits. I wasn’t blocking anything. It’s not even a fucking boulevard; it’s a road. So I figured the ticket weasel made a mistake for some reason, I don’t know why. Maybe it’s in his nature. Anyways, I go to work, come back, go to sleep, wake up, next day, I got another ticket. Same infraction: parking on boulevard.”
“What the –”
“I’m like ‘What the fuck? I’m not on the boulevard. I’m on my parking pad.’ I go to work, come home, I leave a note for the prick on the dashboard: ‘Warden Gupta, Stop giving me tickets for parking in my parking space. Your truly, Max Rasche, Resident, 49 Old Church Road.'”
“Did it work?”
“Yeah for about a week. Then I get another ticket for parking on the boulevard; this time it’s from Warden Smythe-Roy. They switch them up, huh? To keep it fresh.”
Freddy ran his hand over his face, seeing where circumstance was taking his friend.
“So I changed the note. ‘To All Parking Wardens, I am not on the boulevard. I am on my parking pad. Inquiries can be addressed to Simpleton Lanes Productions…’ And I left the phone number for the production office.”
“Anyways, another week goes by, no tickets. Then third week, Monday, I get a ticket for parking on the boulevard, Tuesday, I get a ticket for parking on the boulevard. Wednesday, I wake up. I go downstairs, fully expecting to see a ticket for parking on the boulevard. Guess what?”
“They fucking towed me. Out of my parking pad! And the only way they could have done that is by trespassing on private property. So I was just fuming. But I had to get to work so I put off all those emotions, got to work late, finished early, luckily, took the tube back home – and what a joy that is. You want proof that dental care in England is non-existent? Take the subway.”
“So what happened?”
“I get home. I open up the phonebook and start looking for who I should call about this – the Transport Committee. I call the number. They say, ‘Oh no sir, we handle the parking meters.’ I call the next number: ‘No sir, we handle the parking lots.’ Third number, parking enforcement – these are the pricks. I get the guy on the phone, I say, ‘I’m trying to find out if my car’s been towed or stolen.’ I give him the plate number. He goes away, comes back a minute later, tells me that the computers are “on the blink” and he doesn’t know if they’ve towed my car or not. So he gives me the phone number for the towing company.”
“Right, so I call the towing company, give the lady the plate number. She comes back ten seconds later, ‘Yes sir, we have your car, that’ll be 120 pounds and I’ll need to see your license.’ I’m like, ‘Whoa! Whoa! Slow down, Speed Racer.'”
“She probably didn’t get that reference.”
“No, you’re right, they never had Speed Racer over here. But I was at a loss. One second, I have a car; the next, someone else has taken it and is demanding 120 pounds for me to get it back. I was about to go off, y’know, I was ready to lose it. But then I realized, ‘Y’know what, this lady is just another wage slave, getting rammed by taxes which eat up fifty percent of her income. The towing company is outsourced by the municipal council; there’s nothing she could do for me even if she wanted to.’ So I got the address of the impound lot and hung up.”
“120 pounds?! That’s like 250 bucks.”
“Yeah. But even if I got the car out, I still didn’t have anywhere to park it. I wasn’t gonna park downstairs again and get towed tomorrow and rack up another 120.”
“I don’t understand why they wouldn’t let you –”
“Oh it gets better.”
“So I needed to find a parking spot. And the neighbors across the street, they have a parking pad just like mine and they aren’t getting any tickets. So what’s so damn special about my parking pad? So I called parking enforcement back, the guy with the computers on the blink. Someone else answered, a real prick, he was really short with me.
“I said to him, ‘Listen, I’ve got these five parking tickets plus the one waiting for me at the impound lot and they all have the same infraction – parking on boulevard – but the thing is I’ve got a parking pad in front of the place–‘ He says, ‘You’ve got a pad?’ I say, ‘Yeah.’ He says, ‘It exists, right now?’ I said, ‘Yeah, it exists, I’m looking at it, right now; there’s the road, there’s the sidewalk, there’s my parking pad.’
“He says, ‘Well sir, the boulevard is our enforceable area. It’s ten meters from the middle of the road.'”
“Metric bastards,” Freddy piped up.
“But here’s the thing – ten meters from the middle of the road is actually inside the house! So if I was to sit on the sofa for too long – say I’m watching Braveheart – they could give me a ticket. Y’know?”
“So he tells me that if I want to park there I’m gonna need a permit. I’m like, ‘Why do I need a permit to park my car on my parking pad?'”
“What’d he say?”
“‘Because it’s the law, sir.'”
“That doesn’t answer your question.”
“I know! Then he starts in, ‘Without the law, sir, anarchy, anarchy –‘”
“So I hang up on him, I look in the phonebook again, I find the phone number to call to apply for a front-of-house parking permit. I call the number, out of service.”
“I call the main parking permit number. They tell me I have the wrong number. I’m like, ‘Yeah I know, your other number is out of service.’ She asks, ‘Did you get it out of the phonebook?’ I say, ‘Yeah I did.’ ‘Well that’s the wrong number, sir. There’s a typo in that number.’ So she gives me the right number, it’s one digit off the number in the book. I call them – the front-of-house parking permit people.”
“Yeah, y’know that feeling you get when you go through this bureaucratic bullshit and you get the last number and you know this is the number that matters. Whoever answers this number is the man or woman who can actually do something for you. Well I got that feeling. The lady answered and I was the nicest guy in the world, ‘Hello how are you today? How is your day going? I have something maybe you’d like to help me out with.’
“I give her the address, she goes away for a minute, she comes back: ‘Well sir I have some bad news for you. We can’t let you park there, you can’t apply to park there and you can’t appeal this.'”
“Yeah, they won’t let me park there, they won’t let me ask them to let me park there and they won’t let me complain about not being able to ask them to let me park there.”
“Their ass is covered and their hands are tied.”
“Exactly. So I said, ‘But the neighbors across the street –‘”
“Right. ‘The Joneses across the street have the exact same pad and they park there fine and dandy.'”
“You used the word ‘dandy’?”
“Yeah. I was speaking her language.”
“So what did she say?”
“She said, ‘Well sir, they probably got their permit before the Road Traffic Act was passed in 1991 and your local council took over parking enforcement.’ Apparently, one of the councillors in Stepney thought it would be a brilliant idea to ban parking on all front-of-house parking pads from then-on-in.”
“Who knows?! Maybe he’s a fan of unobstructed interlocking brick. So I said to her, ‘Let me see if I understand correctly… According to the City of London, according to the Grand Dame of the Western hemisphere, I’m screwed?'”
“What’d she say?”
“‘For lack of a better way to put it, sir, that is correct.'”
Freddy laughed and butted out his cigarette, “That’s classic.”
“So for the past week here, every time I’ve left the flat, I’ve had to look at a car-sized waste of space.”
“You didn’t go get the car?!”
“No, I didn’t have anywhere to park it. Plus I couldn’t have gotten it out anyways; it wasn’t in my name. Plus the international driver’s license I’ve been using is hot. I bought it off one of the P.A.’s on the first day of shooting.”
“So the car’s still impounded?”
“I dunno. I told the co-ordinator what happened and she said she’d get someone to take care of it. So I dunno. I’ve been taking the tube to work for the last week.”
“So you don’t have to pay for anything?”
“Oh I have to pay. Y’know what I have to pay for?”
“All the local fucking phone calls I made to try to find out why the municipal government here sucks royal ass. They charge you for local phone calls here! Can you believe it?”
“What a rip-off.”
“I fucking hate this country.”
Bing-bong, Freddy heard in the background of the line.
“I think they’re boarding me now.”
“Alright, well thanks for waking me up,” Freddy said, yawning again. “You’re back in New York tonight?”
“Yeah, this afternoon, New York time.”
“Have a good flight home.”
“Thanks. I’ve got a couple prescription muscle relaxants from one of the other actors so I’m going to have a very good flight home.”