I first saw George Peru on a Thursday morning. I was driving down Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake, on my way to get my morning espresso at the Tropical Bakery on the corner of Parkman and Sunset. I was stopped at the red light at Maltman. I was listening to a book on my iPhone, Stephen King, and I'd momentarily lost focus at a moment of great suspense. So, bad driver that I am, I reached down in the mess of newspapers and junk mail on the passenger seat while keeping one eye barely on the road, and I managed to knock the phone onto the floor in front of the passenger's seat, where the newspapers were older and the junk mail already crumpled and damp with the melted ice from a week-old McDonald's Coke.
I was bending down to retrieve the phone and braking at the same time. I was vaguely aware of the large vehicle in front of me. It felt like a bus, something that big, but when I sat up without the phone and brought my foot down sharply on the brakes to avoid rear-ending the bus, I saw that it was not a bus at all, but a large white truck.
The truck belonged to a plumbing company. "George Peru -- Plumber" was written across one of the rear doors in bold letters. On the other door was George Peru himself, that is, his startlingly realistic painted likeness. A good looking man in his early thirties, dressed in a one piece belted jumpsuit that shone with clean whiteness, George Peru carried his tool box in his left hand and moved forward confidently, a wrench grasped firmly in his right.
There was something immediately disturbing in this image. George Peru, his smile so fucking confident, seemed ready to step right off the rear door of that truck and into the real world. Take care of any problem. "Sewer trouble, hell, I've seen worse. Probably just a little root damage. Let's get down in there and take a look." More than anything, what struck me about George Peru was the ridiculous whiteness of his jumpsuit. This guy could suck a stopped-up sewer clean and not get any on him. There was something wrong with that.
I didn't hit George Peru's truck. My brakes squealed and complained, but my car stopped, and then, once I was sure that I was not about to cause an accident, my bad driver confidence returned and I swung my car out into the left lane, meaning to pass the truck. It was not just that I was in a hurry for my morning caffeine fix; I wanted to see if George himself were driving the truck. I wanted to get a look at his squeaky clean features behind the wheel. No job too dirty for George Peru, white man redux.
But I could see no one behind the driver's seat of the truck. The cab was too high. All that I saw were gloved hands gripping a steering wheel. I can say with confidence that the gloves were white, but that is all that I can say.
I swung past the truck, made a screeching right onto Parkman, parked in the alley behind the Tropical Bakery, and went in to have my morning jolt.
The drive from my home to Tropical took less than five minutes. It was a drive that I made every morning. I left my wife sleeping soundly, the two girls watching cartoons on their iPads and getting ready for school. I left the paper folded neatly on bricks in front of the house. I bought my own copy of the paper at the liquor store across Sunset from the bakery. A waste of paper, I know, but my wife had her own morning ritual too, and part of that consisted of the opening and refolding of a fresh, unspoiled newspaper that had not been demolished by an impatient reader, and then refolded pathetically in an attempt to hide the grease and coffee stains and the croissant crumbs that were a part of my own quick perusal of the morning news. And reading the news electronically is a feature of the modern world that I find singularly depressing.
I am, like many newspaper readers, an avid consumer of other people's tragedies. I skirt world news; I skim the sports section. I don't care what the newspaper thinks of this week's movies or how new home sales are doing. I want the pain and suffering of my fellow Angelinos. I want senseless violence. I want to know that there are other people whose lives make much less sense than mine. If I were to take my wife's paper with me in the morning and then bring it home, refolded, the vast majority of my crumbs would come falling out of the second section, where rapists compete for space with sociopaths and gangbangers for column inches. A couple of times, when there's not enough bad local news, I've had to read the editorials, but thankfully, I'm not yet in need of seeing my fellow man in that bad a light.