Since the financial meltdown I've had to re-invent how I earn and have created work I can do at home. Being my own boss, I give myself breaks when I need to. Sometimes I'll turn on the TV, but not before five PM: A necessary rule as I have a long history of avoiding unpleasantness, which often means resting before I'm tired.
I've also been under the illusion my tendency to evade reality had vanished when I was laid off but the truth hit a few weeks ago when I turned on the local news and got sucked into a police pursuit.
Watching an LA car chase on TV can be a great mind-numbing experience, which is the point. I don't have to think about anything except how others are navigating traffic, especially if the chase is on a freeway. But that day it was happening in a community deep within our immense urban sprawl.
"We're in South Central," the female newscaster said. "We've been asked to not give the exact location."
The car being chased, a white non-descript SUV could have been a Toyota, Honda or Ford. The make year and model still being discussed by the newscasters was going a little over the speed limit. It slowed to made a right turn on a residential street and came to an almost stop to avoid hitting a kid riding his bike through the cross walk.
"Oh," the male newscaster said. "See that?"
They replayed the sequence, once, then again.
"Did we all see the same thing?" he asked.
"Yes," the female newscaster said. "He slowed down for the kid on the bike to cross. Didn't he?"
"I do believe he did," the male newscaster said. "Let's run that again just to make sure."
Most people don't root for the one being chased, me included, but that day I did and went over my rationale. He couldn't be all that bad. If he were ruthless, he'd have knocked the kid down. Then I questioned why I really wanted to see him get away. What was the psychological thing I was running from that I didn't want to catch me? Hadn't I cleared out the stuff I'd done from my past? Wait, I thought, I'm not a bad person. I just live in perpetual fear. Fear is chasing me. Will I get enough work to cover next month's rent? Has money in politics put the screws to us little guys so bad we'll never have a chance? Will California have enough water to shower? I love a long shower. Is that a real picture on my news feed or has it been photo shopped?
A lot of my fear comes directly from the media. If horrible events aren't happening on our shores, global specters of terror are imported to keep up the fear flow. On social media, posts of dire warnings for all mankind are juxtaposed with images of the Dalai Lama or a positive saying scripted in pastels over a garden scene; a soft reminder that we're in some deep manure.
But, what I was witnessing that day was a real person in real trouble and I wanted a real alternative twist for the end. What was my fantasy? The driver gets out of the car with a bullhorn and yells he's sorry. He's been unemployed for so long, his wife has cancer, his kid was killed in a drive-by last week, he just lost it.
"Give the man a break," I yelled at the TV.
The car stopped in the middle of a street of houses squeezed together as tight as the inside of a sardine can.
The driver got out of the car.
"Yes," the male newscaster said. "He's exiting the car."
"He is," said the female newscaster. "He has exited the car."
"What's that he's reaching for ... let's go to our Helicopter ..."
I was watching Channel 4, the Helicopter pilot's name is Chris Christie and just as I wondered if New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was ever going to get caught for corruption, the driver pulled a gun.
The camera panned back. I couldn't see what was happening. The driver threw something in the car and limped toward a house.
Meanwhile the station had begun broadcasting a telephone conversation with someone inside a neighboring house on that street; a ninety-seven year old woman. She sounded frail. Her voice quivered.
"What's going on?" she said. "I'm all alone."
The camera closed in on the driver slumped on a front porch in what looked like a blood-stained shirt. I didn't want him to die. What could I offer as a nugget of hope? He could go back to school, learn a new trade. That might change his course. If his problem was not accepting life on life's terms, would he be able to surrender to it?
Is that the fascination of a televised car chase? Watching someone running away when I know how futile that is, that eventually the runner will have to stop to face the music.
It occurred to me that all the news I'd been absorbing might be distracting me from the reality of my life. I could learn a new trick myself: Abstain from too much of it, or all of it. See if fear chases me then.
I got up off the couch and told myself to start after I checked for news of him and hoped that the police, that day, didn't shoot to kill, that they were re-learning tactics like they promised after so many needless deaths.