Signs and Omens

11/17/2010 04:57 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Peter Mehlman Television writer; Producer, Seinfeld; Host, Narrow World of Sports

Foreboding was all over Los Angeles last week. Monday through Friday -- on the 101, Will Rogers Beach, Beverly Boulevard, Rustic Canyon -- signs and omens popped up everywhere, all pointing to one wildly eventful five days.

I don't think it ruins this story to let you know that the omen pointing to my imminent death turned up false, but for now, that's all you get as far as how the markers played out.

An out-of-town friend recently tagged LA as a city maniacally consumed with portent. Among the acid rain of snotty observations usually tossed out from hotel rooms, that one was pretty astute, no? We do shiver out the phrase, "That's a bad sign" more than most other Americans.

The knee-jerk explanation is that, in a place of lulls between natural disasters, people develop hyperactive antennae as a puny way of controlling life.

For a (mildly) more nuanced explanation: Everyone in the world is self-absorbed; but in LA, we don't deny it. On top of that we delude ourselves that scripts are literature and in literature, there is foreboding. Combine the two and: If a guy with a leaf blower plunks you in the head with a discarded donation letter from The Make A Wish Foundation, we assume this is God sending you a direct sign of Halle Berry falling into a fog of love with you.

Now, back to last week. On Monday morning, while illegally walking my dog on Will Rogers Beach, my iPod's "Shuffle" chose George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass" out of over 800 songs. That song contains the line I used as the title of my first novel which was being shopped around New York publishing houses that very day.

Automatically, I assumed my agent would be calling with news of a bidding war. So I was pretty dreamy all day.

My dog threw up three times due to drinking ocean water so on Tuesday I illegally let her off the leash in Rustic Canyon. Usually I walk down a paved incline, but that day I took a newly/needlessly installed stairway. At the top of the stairs, in a square of fresh cement just begging for desecration, someone wrote these words: In memory of Peter.

Automatically, I assumed I'd die that day. You already know that didn't happen because I told you so, but can you fault my logic? If the world can be divided into people who want a heads up before death and people who prefer winding up on a autopsy table without knowing what hit them, I'm in the table group. So I was pretty shaky all day.

Around noon on Wednesday, I was illegally texting on the 101 when I overshot the Laurel Canyon Exit. The last time I overshot that exit was in the mid '90s. That day, due to 15 extra minutes on the road, I heard an NPR report about the Today Sponge birth control device going out of business -- which led to the Seinfeld "Sponge-worthy" episode.

With that subscriber-supported gift from God as precedence, how could I not automatically assume another quasi-monumental inspiration would find me after the Tujunga off-ramp? So I listened to a lot NPR that day.

Thursday night, I was DUI-ing it back from Silver Lake when...

Wait. That was made up. I barely drink and would never, ever drive under the influence of anything stronger than Terry Gross. I swear. It's just that, after my other infractions, the plot of this story felt like it needed a perilous bump. I mean, if you're going to blog, you may as well go off on insane tangents and push some buttons. But forget that. It's not true and let's leave it at that.

The truth is, on Thursday night, I was driving back from my basketball game -- maybe even under the speed limit -- listening to Nirvana, when a possum darted in front my car to his death. Possums don't usually dart but this one did. Possums do play dead but don't usually overdo it on the blood squibs. I got out of the car with "The Man Who Sold The World" playing too loudly on the hushed street. The possum was clearly dead so how could I not automatically assume that reincarnation was real and that Kurt Cobain wasn't much happier this time around?

Yes, sometimes the omens can get so cosmic as to be overwhelming.

At 7:30 AM the next morning, the possum corpse was gone. The spot was so immaculate my dog's nose didn't even do its usual CSI analysis. LA sanitation doesn't clean up things that fast, coyotes don't work that neatly. Automatically, I assumed...

Nothing. The pristine crime scene had to be a sign of something but what?

You tell me.

My agent didn't call on Monday, I didn't die on Tuesday; no notable inspirations flew in my head on Wednesday; no other dead animals supported the case for reincarnation on Thursday.

In the week of signs and omens, nothing happened.

Gazing at the spot from where the dead possum got up and walked off, I dug my feet back into the planet and thought: You know what it may all mean?


Does nothing work for you? There are no signs, there are no omens.

Wait. That's wrong.

There are signs and omens. In fact, they're everywhere.

They just don't mean anything.


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