The Martini That Saved My Life
©Stephen Allen

It was a typical summer morning in Hollywood: overcast, cynical and
heartless. My beat du jour: traffic school. I crawled into my vintage Stutz
Bearcat and mashed the button on the garage door opener. Nothing.
The bus got me to the Hollywood Palms Hotel about a half hour late. The
instructor was a hard bitten ex-cop carrying 70 pounds of poison fat. He
looked like he had a 20 year hangover. This was gonna be no picnic.
The class was packed with the flotsam and jetsam of central Hollywood,
no type unturned. There are about a couple of dozen stories in the Naked
City....this wasn't any of them. The seats were too close together and there
weren't any tables or desks to slouch on, just straight wooden chairs with
slats missing from the backs making comfort a complete impossibility. The
only seat left was right in front. On my left was what once must have been a
man. My guess was one day about 4 years ago, he left home with no money or
clothes and hadn't changed, eaten or showered since. On my right was another
story. Legs. Like the Indy 500. And only a drag strip's worth of skirt.
She kept shifting them and shifting them. And every time she shifted, the
skirt got closer to the finish line. Let's just say I'd like to lay rubber
all over the road. I was afraid to look at her face, I was doing so well
with my racetrack metaphors. I had 7 and a half hours to work my way up.
The instructor's name was Duane Downs. He had each of us traffic
criminals step up to the podium and bear our violator's souls before our
fellow sinners. This is Hollywood and every last violator thought he was a
comedian. It was a painful hour. With each "entertainer" my spine tried a
little more to collapse on itself like an accordion. It's hard to disappear
when you're 6-4 and 190 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal. At least I
imagine it would be. I'm 5-8 and three quarters, an out of shape 175.

Anyway, after that, the class started to have fun. We were asked to
write poems on some specific traffic situation. I don't know where Duane came
up with that one. I ran down a jaywalker in couplets with internal rhyme. I
felt better. Little bastard was askin' for it. Before we were asked to
learn anything, or knew what was happening, it was lunch time.
I strolled down to the Thai/Mex fast food place across from Capitol
Records. Good spaghetti there. Hollywood. I stopped over to Musso's on my
way, uh, back to traffic class to get a fresh perspective through 2 martinis
with outriggers. Much better. Then I faced a dilemma: If I ordered another
martini, I would be late getting back to traffic school. Then I thought
about the way that Duane rubbed his stubbled jaw, thinking about the liquid
lunch he was going to inhale. So I ordered it. That third martini.
Got back to the room about a hour late. Nobody noticed or cared. They
were all dead. The room looked like a war zone. Guess ole Duane had had
enough dumb questions, and decided to paint the place red with his 45
automatic. Great place, Musso's. Best martinis in town.