Being Friday the 13th, today might be a good day to avoid: walking under a ladder, black cats or opening an umbrella indoors. (Though, if you’re opening an umbrella in July I think you have other issues.)
I’m not very superstitious, but I do have a haunting Friday the 13th tale from exactly 22 years ago. It began with a message on my answering machine from a “detective” way too young to be from the Santa Monica Police Department.
A practical joker myself, I assumed it was a friend getting even. But as I left my apartment I saw yellow police tape cordoning off the front of the building. Apparently a woman had jumped from the seventh floor. I immediately went back upstairs.
The message wasn’t a prank. Sam Luke, a rather eccentric 50-something neighbor, had been arrested for attempted murder. Saying I was his best friend, he gave the cops my number. And now they insisted I come to the station. Oh, brother.
Sam had lived at the Shores for 25 years but never worked. (There was speculation about a family trust.) All he did was jog and chase girls. (Not a bad job if you can get it.) But poor Sam suffered from some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder and often what he said made no sense. Yet, I liked him. Go figure.
Actually, the basis of our relationship consisted of whenever either of us needed our car serviced, the other would pick him up from the mechanic’s. On one drive home, however, twice Sam almost plowed into the car in front of us at a red light.
Explaining his odd behavior, Sam showed me a photo of his beautiful ex-girlfriend who had spurned his marriage proposal. “I haven’t been myself since,” he said despondently. (Turns out he asked her four years ago!)
Sam added rather ominously, “If she doesn’t marry me, she won’t marry anyone.” At that juncture I almost said, “Thanks, Sam, I think I can walk the rest of the way.” The point is, the girl who fell from the seventh floor (or was pushed) and who was in a hospital battling for her life was Sam’s “almost” fiancée. Gulp.
“How do I get into these messes?” I muttered on the way to the police station. (Similar to what I say the night before these columns are due.) Worse, the detective said they were convinced the girl jumped and they would be releasing Sam into my custody.
Releasing Sam? What about “If she doesn’t marry me, she won’t marry anyone?” But the detective insisted that having landed on her heels proved that she had jumped. Silently, I was convinced he pushed her. (Some best friend I was.)
But, to the detective and Sam’s credit, when the ex-girlfriend came out of surgery, she admitted that she had set Sam up. Wanting to commit suicide and knowing that he jogged in Palisades Park, she met him there and asked if she could come over for lunch.
When Sam and I walked slowly from the police station to my car he was trembling uncontrollably. He asked me to drive him to St. Monica where he prayed for about an hour while I waited in the car. (Never thinking that 22 years later I’d be writing a column about it.) On the way home Sam told me the whole story.
“I was making her lunch,” he said, still in shock, “and when I looked up she was standing on the balcony railing and then she just jumped!” I’m embarrassed to admit this but, frustrated comedian that I am, I actually asked, “Sam, exactly what were you making for lunch?” (Fortunately, poor Sam didn’t notice my insensitive humor, which is more luck than I have with some of my readers.)
Amazingly, the girl was eventually able to walk normally though it took six surgeries and a few years. But Sam went downhill fast. He stopped jogging and began drinking. Totally polluted, he’d often ever so slowly stagger to the Shores from Surf Liquor on Main Street, like a cross between the “Night of the Living Dead” and Frankenstein. (The sight of Sam didn’t exactly enhance the Shores leasing agent’s sales pitch when showing prospective tenants a $5,000-a-month apartment.)
This past January, poor Sam, well into his 70s, was committed to a convalescent facility. Sadly, on March 20, the day before he was to return home, he passed away. I volunteered to write his obituary in our tenant newsletter.
I admit there really isn’t a moral to this story. (Unless you count, “If you live in a high-rise and your ex-girlfriend invites herself over for lunch, just say no.”) I only hope I’ve been kind to Sam. Strange as he was, it’s likely that every Friday the 13th, instead of ladders and black cats, I’ll be thinking about him.
Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.