Jake’s life was saved when he a was seventeen-year-old skinny boy dressed all in black, walking out of Grand Central Station with his own song blasting on his Walkman. At the time, he lived and breathed rock and roll. It would all have come to a halt if that Manhattan businessman had not grabbed Jake by the elbow and pulled him back to the sidewalk just before the taxi cab zoomed by. Jake didn’t even take off his headphones to thank the suited man with the briefcase. Jake could barely hear the Samaritan say, “Kid, you gotta watch where you are going, or you’re going to get yourself killed.”
Another brush with death took place at a street carnival set up in the parking lot of a mall in Mount Vernon. It was a sweltering August night, and Jake had been waiting in line for close to half an hour to ride the ‘hammerhead.’ The ride consisted of sitting enclosed in a metal capsule held by a metal arm that circled in the air. There was some confusion as to who was next in line, and the ticket taker fatefully decided to let two teen girls go next. The girls giggled as they climbed into the capsule shaped like a rocket. Minutes later, the rocket broke loose and plummeted into the cement. One of the girls died, and the other was seriously injured.
Death also knocked when eighteen-year-old Jake sat in the passenger seat with his father driving on the West Side Highway. The car was suddenly, crazily veering into other lanes. Jake noticed his father had fallen asleep at the wheel. He shook his father awake. “Son of a bitch!” his father said, regaining control.
On September 10, 2001 Jake jogged to the World Trade Center and back to his place in the East Village. He planned to run again on the morning of 9/11 but his girlfriend unexpectedly popped by to take him out for bagels and coffee. He later dubbed her his “Urban Guardian Angel”.
He is thinking back to all this as his old rickety Ford Taurus stalls just as the light turns green on the Beltline in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The car won’t start again. He gets out in the middle of the road and calls 911. The Beltline is eerily deserted this wintry day. A white jeep pulls, up and two burly men get out.
“What happened?” the bigger one asks.
“Car won’t start.”
“Well, you don’t want it parked here. This is a dangerous place to be. First of all, you need to turn on your hazards.”
“I don’t know what that means?” Jake says. As a former New Yorker, he had only learned to drive at the age of forty-two. He knows nada about cars.
The smaller guy gets in Jake’s car and switches on the blinkers. He puts the car in neutral. The three of them push the car to the side of the road.
When the cop arrives on the scene, he says, “Hell of a place to have your car die.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“You are damn lucky. Cars come speeding down here at sixty miles an hour. Nobody follows the speed limit. Where were you going?”
“To catch a movie with friends.”
“From the looks of it, you’re going to have to get a new engine or a new car.”
“If you want to warm up while you wait to get towed, you can sit in the back of my car.”
The back of the squad car looks like a cage that is strictly used to contain criminals.
“Thats OK,” Jake says.
The tow truck arrives, and the car is hoisted up and chained to the back. Jack climbs in, and the driver cranks up a rock-and-roll radio station and drives like a speed freak. The roads are icy, and Jake is petrified, yet Jake doesn’t have the guts to ask the guy to slow down.
“You look a little stressed there,” the bearded lumberjack-looking driver yells over the music of ZZ Top. “I’ll have you know this truck can handle any terrain.”
The driver, who looks to be in his late sixties, is balding, blue-eyed and has tanned weathered skin, and it reminds Jake of his older brother Tom who still lives in LA.
He recalls the very last time the two went sailing.
They were coming back from Catalina, and Jake, who was thirteen, was holding onto the mast and making up songs and singing out to the Pacific ocean. It was the age when Jake first started dreaming about becoming a rock star. And then mid song, the mast cracked in half and fell splashing into the ocean. The two brothers were stranded at sea. The SOS horn was not working. Tom had always been the total sportsman. He skied, surfed, built model boats, and often risked life and limb hang-gliding at Kagel Mountain in the Angeles National forest. Now, they would both be lost at sea. And yet, Jake was not scared as he stared at his brother’s receding hairline and hippie mustache. They had both just smoked a raspy joint of weed and were very high. All around them, there was only open sea. Tom tried his outbound motor and realized it was out of gas. They both had the munchies, but the only sustenance left on deck was the Snickers bar in Jake’s pocket. They split it in half, so they each could have some. The chocolate melted in Jake’s mouth as the sun beat down on his forehead. Jake was sure that he would either starve to death or drown that day. He wished they were at a San Fernando Valley drive-in watching a Kung Fu movie triple feature. Jake could see in Tom’s terrified ocean-blue eyes that they were in big trouble.
“I think we are both going to die out here,” Tom said. And then they both doubled over in stoned laughter.
Ivan Jenson is a fine artist, novelist and a popular contemporary poet. His artwork was featured in Art in America, Art News, and Interview, and has sold at auction at Christie’s. Ivan was commissioned by Absolut Vodka to make a painting titled Absolut Jenson for the brand’s national ad campaign. Ivan’s poetry is widely published with over 600 poems published in the US, the UK and throughout Europe online and in print. Jenson has numerous novels and a collection of poems published. Ivan’s fictional memoir, Gypsies of New Rochelle, has been released by Michelkin Publishing. www.ivanjenson.com.