birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Spinouts, blackouts, and impatience

Beautiful Death Trap

In 1964 I get my drivers license and I am a lucky teen. My father has a cool car, and he lets me drive it. This beauty is a white, Chevrolet Corvair Monza convertible with four on the floor. It looks like a sports car and I love driving it, especially, like my father, with the top down.

One night that summer, I am speeding to my friend Al’s house, driving the Corvair like a British sports car. As we later learn, it is far from that. Zooming around the sharp curves on a shortcut to Al’s house, the car suddenly spins out and I lose control. The Corvair does a 180-degree turn, hurtling off the pavement in reverse, mercifully at a point in the tree-lined road where there are no trees. I am hyperventilating from the emotion of almost crashing, but also relieved that the car is not damaged and I am unhurt.

The following year, Ralph Nader publishes “Unsafe at Any Speed,” detailing the dangerous design flaws in American cars. The Corvair is on his list due to multiple design defects, including inadequate suspension for a vehicle with most of the rear engine hanging out over the axel. This makes it easy for the back end to break loose—as it did during my spin-out—and cause the car to fish tail.

During college, I meet Ralph and make friends with people working for him. By then, there are multiple consumers’ rights and citizen advocacy groups working under Ralph’s umbrella. Ralph’s colleagues inspire me, and encourage me to go to law school, and I do.


little things

This prompt reminds me of the ice breaker where you are supposed to tell a room full of veritable strangers your most embarrassing moment. Sure, there was that time in 6th grade where I farted loudly or the boy I thought liked me back only to find out he liked my best friend. You know the stories are in there, but it is hard to extract them when you want them.

Thinking about one incident where something unintentional happened to me brings my mind to a whole bunch of little things, all pretty inconsequential. I can tell stories about my children until I run out of breath, but the things that happen to me seem to hold less memory power in my brain.

So rather than discuss one incident, I will tell you about my summer, since it has been a summer of "happenings" as my aunt would call them. If I were more superstitious, I might think someone is trying to tell me something.

I have fought with my weight my whole life. Not the "do I consider surgery?" kind of fight, mind you, but a struggle just the same. I also live a somewhat sedentary life with my job, and I know that it is important for me to move more. Healthy is far better than skinny. At the end of the school year, I was neither.

I started by walking daily. My husband started the challenge and was kicking my ass, so I needed to up my game. There was a time in my life not too long ago where I ran 3 miles daily. The days may be gone; they are not forgotten.

Soon after school got out I had a freak health scare where I ended up with a bloody nose that did not stop. Compression led to bleeding from my eye, and the ambulance driver decided this was beyond anything run of the mill so the lights and sirens went on, and I arrived a Level 1 trauma. Not an accident, mind you, because nothing instigated the chain of events unless you consider rubbing my nose an incendiary act. My blood pressure was through the roof. 200/120. The doctors wanted to say I had high blood pressure, but I know as a general rule of thumb that is not the case. I'd been uncontrollably bleeding for about an hour - perhaps that had something to do with it.

Packing and cauterization later, I go home to retell the story. The idea of the high blood pressure came up, and friends encouraged me to both monitor the hell out of that (my bp is fine... mildly elevated (122/82) but generally fine) and start getting some exercise. Good idea. I concur.

Except this was the summer of injury. The nose incident was followed by my son stabbing me with scissors (completely and totally by accident. A tick was involved. Long story.) Then I threw out my back trying to do oblique work to strengthen my core (I was able to run, but my hips and back were not happy so I thought - CORE WORK!! Bad idea..) It took me over 2 weeks to heal from that. Then last night as I am leaving to go to a work function, the storm door on the front of our house decides it is the right time to take a bite out of my ankle.

When we moved here 3 years ago, I was still 'running'. During one of my runs, I impaled my leg on a fallen branch and had to have my husband come get me.

Last summer, while on a long walk with the boys, I sprained my ankle when my foot fell off the pavement.

Nose, back, hand and now ankle.

My clumsiness just might be someone's way of telling me to accept the body I have and be okay with fat and happy.


23 Floors Down

My celebrity doppelganger is (or rather was) the Russian-born actor Anton Yelchin, most famous for portraying Chekov in the new Star Trek films.

The likeness is only passing, but he more than any other actor resembles me. Yelchin passed away last year in a freak accident, when the parking brake on his Jeep malfunctioned and he was pinned between the car and his mailbox. Why he got out of his car while it was running is now a mystery. It's tragic and random, but there's also an air of absurdity to it--he was run over by a car he was driving.

As a fan of his for more than a decade, the news came as that weird sad shock that comes when a celebrity dies. Someone I never knew, never met, probably never would meet, is suddenly gone. When the details came out of HOW he went, it fired off something in my brain.

My celebrity doppelganger died in the one way I fear myself dying. Disease, terrorism, natural disaster--none of these things keep me up at night--the way one thing I'm most afraid of though is a freak accident brought on by my own stupidity.

And that brings me to the story of my greatest accident, which is (as far as I know) my closest brush with mortality. At the age of 22, I moved with my girlfriend at the time to New York City for graduate school. Our apartment was on the 23rd floor of a tower along West End Avenue. My first time moving out of Los Angeles, I sold all my furniture, stored a bunch of things at my parent's house, and moved to New York with three large suitcases of clothes and some books.

We arrived in New York on Saturday morning, and my girlfriend went immediately to a temp job she had landed. I went around the city collecting various items to start our lives, picking up free furniture on Craigslist, a couple trips to Bed Bath & Beyond, all figuring out how to do this without having a car was a fun and learning challenge.

By the end of the first day, we ordered our first New York pizza and ate on the floor of our still mostly empty apartment before falling asleep. The next morning we woke up at dawn with the blinding light of the sun piercing through the 23rd floor windows. The large windows had no blinds or curtains on them.

I had volunteered for Habitat for Humanity for four years in college and had hung more blinds than I could count, so I decided to make that my morning project.

I made my way to Home Depot on the Upper East Side, bought the necessary blinds, hanging hardware, and a few tools to get me going.

My girlfriend was at work for the day, and I had literally zero friends in the city to ask for help from, but I was confident I could hang the shutters myself--I had done it many times before.

I realized as soon as I started that I had forgotten to buy a step-ladder. But I am impatient and sometimes impetuous, and I decided that I could just stack two of my three suitcases to stand on. Problem solved.

I measured, drilled holes, installed the braces. When I realized that the shutters wouldn't hang straight because of a large, ugly window guard that stuck out from the railing. It had odd triangular screws to prevent me from removing it.

Determined to leave no bad choice unchosen, I figured out I could use a small flat-head screwdriver at an angle to loosen the screws and pop the guard off. It was almost TOO easy. I felt like MacGyver. I realized I could now even open the window, except that it was pretty solidly painted shut.

I probably should have waited for my girlfriend to get home for help actually popping the six-foot long blinds into the brackets on the wall, but I was anxious to get the project done. I climbed up on my suitcase step-ladder, and put the one end of the blinds into the bracket, I then leaned over to pop the other end in, but it was a snug fit and required a little bit of bending. I put my hand against the window's handle to get some extra leverage as I pulled the blinds into place.

I forgot to mention one important detail. My suitcases were rolling suitcases. At the angle I was bending I tilted the suitcases down to where the wheels must have touched which sent the top one flying out from under me. My hand which was at that moment holding firmly onto the window's handle, pulled the formerly painted shut window open, and because the guard on the rail was gone, it pulled it all the way open, with me falling sideways in the direction of the now open window.

I reached up with my other hand to try and grab onto the sill and brace myself. My fingers caught a quarter-inch lip around the sill, on which I was able to stop my outward momentum. Had that lip not been there, I'm fairly certain I wouldn't have been able to get a grip, and I would have ended up tumbling to my death and winning a Darwin Award once the police pieced together what had happened.

The lessons I learned from this near-fatal accident are countless. Don't be impatient. Ask for help when you need it. Ask yourself before you do something: what could go wrong here? If nothing else, it makes for a great story to tell.


A Friend in Need

I've been in more than my fair share of auto accidents and have twice been driven to a hospital in an ambulance. One of those times I remember very well, and the other is one I can't remember at all.

I think it was a regular weekday morning when I was driving from my home near LAX to Silverlake to visit with a friend. Or, maybe we were going to do something. It's been awhile.

My car, a black VW convertible, had never given me any reason to doubt its soundness, so I didn't think about it at all as I entered the 10 Freeway to drive to the house she shared with her husband. It was the same way I used to drive to work (before they fired my ass), so I knew the route well and had driven it hundreds of times.

I don't know if it actually did or not, but I now think my car may have given a slight, quick shimmy as I got onto the freeway. I remember nearing the Western offramp, but that's about it.

I do have a omentary snapshot of looking at the car next to me, a silver Accord and its driver, but that one split second memory is the extent of my knowledge of the accident.

I woke up in the MRI at County Hospital, although I didn't know where I was then. I remember the tech telling me not to move and I lay back down and went back to sleep. The next thing that happened is I woke up in a large room filled with people on stretchers and looking up at a CHP officer. I immediately panicked, filled with dread and fear, but he quickly assured me that I wasn't in trouble (?) and things would be fine.

He must have asked me some rather routine questions, and he was pleased that I could tell him where I was going. Not surprisingly, no one knew that except me before I told him. I soon learned I'd been in a accident, which explained the brace thing I was wearing and also my sense of disorientation. My car, it turned out, had lost a wheel, presumably with the tire still attached, and after swerving around a bit, I'd run head first into the concrete barrier that separates the two directions of traffic.

I think there's a name for those things, maybe K-something, but that's not important.

Over the next couple hours, I tried to sit up and got told not to do that, got wheeled down for some X-Rays, discovered my body had a bunch of those sensor things attached to it, and realized I had a severe headache.

The eventually got me out of the brace, and took me to another room where I'd spend the night. The next morning, the guy in charge, asked me if I had anyone to call. I first thought of my sister, but I figured she'd be at work, and while I knew a number of people to call, I didn't know anyone's number.

I eventually talked him into sending an e-mail to the woman I was planning on meeting, and a couple hours later she showed up to take me out of the hospital and back home.

She teased me about how I was dressed, hospital pants and an Indian casino T-shirt, took me home, and made sure I was okay.

Mu car? Not okay. Totaled. Broken windshield, three corners dented and crushed while it wandered all over the freeway, and the front license plate sanded smooth by its impact with the divider.

For something I don't remember at all, I sure think about that a lot.


Waltzing, giggling, partying, fitting in

Babies, burnout and boxes