All of which, however, was not what was troubling me most at that moment. It was the couple quarreling directly across from me in front of Starbucks.
She was one of those little heartbreakers you see all over Los Angeles, an aspiring MAW, as they’re known in the entertainment capital of America — model, actress, whatever. Spike heels, size double-zero skinny jeans, unlawfully tight tank top, knockoff designer sunglasses.
“Leave me alone!”
He towered over her, trying to snag her waif-thin, 500-calories-per-day wrist.
“Don’t you walk away from me.”
“Let go. You’re hurting me!”
He called her a little bitch. She called him an insensitive jerk. I didn’t catch what they were arguing about. It didn’t matter.
Slowly, menacingly, he turned and wheeled his head in my direction. White madras shirt open to his navel. A thatch of dark chest hair that would’ve made Austin Powers proud. Black fatigue pants, black Doc Martens boots. A studly dude who spent way too much time in front of the wall-size mirror in the weight room at 24-Hour Fitness, working on his freakishly oversized biceps.
“What’s your problem, brah?” he said, glowering at me with three days’ worth of carefully managed stubble.
“My problem, brah, is that your girlfriend doesn’t appear to appreciate the way you’re treating her. How about the two of you take it inside, talk things out in a civilized manner?”
“I’m not his girlfriend. Not anymore.”
“He’s not talking to you, Belinda.”
The dude pushed past her and strode toward me, a six-foot-two, 210-pound slab of self-absorbed macho.
“Unless you want to get your punk ass tuned up,” he said, “I’d suggest you mind your own damn business, old man.”
I opened the Jaguar’s passenger door and stepped out.
“Logan, please, we have a doctor’s appointment,” Savannah said.
“This’ll only take a minute.”
“Oh, for god’s sake.” She rolled her eyes and pulled to the curb as the light turned green.
The guy’s arms were outstretched scarecrow-style, head cocked, his mouth twisted in a crooked, half smile meant to convey a taste for mayhem.
“You want some of this? Is that what you want?” He pulled his shirt over his head and threw it on the sidewalk. “C’mon, man, let’s do this.”
He had some good pecs and abs. I’ll give him that much.
“With all due respect,” I said, “I’d rather just talk this out.”
“Good call. Cuz you’d definitely get your ass kicked.”
“You think this is funny? C’mon, asshole. Take your best shot.”
“Look, much as I’d love to, the Buddha teaches that violence only leads to violence. Compassion, on the other hand, leads to enlightenment. And enlightenment is what all of us should be striving toward in life, don’t you think?”
He scrunched up his bad boy face.
“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means do yourself a favor and stop grabbing women like they’re meat. They tend not to like that.”
“You telling me what to do?”
“Consider it a friendly suggestion.”
“Who do you think you are, man? You ain’t jack, OK? You ain’t nobody.” Flared nostrils. Fists clenched. Big vein bulging at the center of his forehead. He was ready to go to war.
“Look, friend, all I’m trying to do is stop you from hurting your lady and making a bigger fool of yourself than you already have. You don’t want to listen to sense, suit yourself. Peace out.”
I was about to turn back toward Savannah’s car when the guy said, “You’re the fool,” and launched a big, off-balance, overhand right in the general vicinity of my face. I pivoted, palmed his balled fist in midflight with my right hand, turned my hips into him, sunk the fingers of my left hand into his left sideburn, and spun him up against the plate-glass window of the coffee shop.
Pecking away intently on their smartphones, heads down, and sipping their soy iced cinnamon dolce lattes, nobody inside noticed or, if they did, pretended not to. We were, after all, in Los Angeles. Nobody pays much attention to anything in the City of Angels beyond televised car chases and whomever the Kardashians are banging this week.
“What’s your name?”
“What’s it to you, asshole?”
I twisted a handful of sideburn. He screamed like a schoolgirl.
“It’s Nitro. My name’s Nitro. Jesus!”
“Nitro? Who names their kid Nitro?”
“I’m a pro wrestler. My real name’s Kenneth.”
“Apologize to the lady, Kenneth.”
“For what? She started it.”
I twisted harder.
“OK, OK, OK! I’m sorry, OK?”
“No, Ken. Not OK. And not to me. To Belinda. Nicely. Like you mean it. Tell her you’re sorry for being a jerk. Tell her you want to make it up to her, that you’ll buy her the coffee beverage of her choice and a nice bran muffin.”
“Cranberry orange,” Belinda said. “Low fat.”
“Actually, the lady said she prefers cranberry orange. Low fat.”
“I know what kind of muffins she likes. For Christ’s sake, we only live together.”
“Then you should know, in theory, what makes her happy.” I yanked his head around by his whiskers so he could address her directly. “You’re on, Ken. Remember: nicely.”
“I’m really, really, really sorry, Belinda. Can I please buy you the coffee beverage of your choice and a cranberry orange muffin?”
“Low fat,” I reminded him.
“Low fat,” Kenneth said.
Belinda feigned indifference, arms folded, staring up at the sky, milking the moment before she let go a pouty sigh, the kind she’d probably learned in acting class and said, “Fine, whatever.”
“Excellent,” I said. “How hard was that? Everybody happy? We all good now?”
“Yeah,” Kenneth said, grimacing in agony because I was still holding him by his whiskers. “All good.”
I let him go.
He scuttled away, putting ten feet between us, rubbing the side of his face. “You’re nuts, dude, you know that?” He picked his shirt off the sidewalk and pulled it back on over his head. “Totally nuts.”
“A man has to be a little nuts to take action. A reasonably sensible man is satisfied with merely thinking of taking action.”
I wished I could’ve taken credit for making such a profound statement, but it was the great French statesman, Georges Clemenceau, who’d said it more or less long before I was born. Regardless, whatever I said or didn’t say wouldn’t have mattered much. Kenneth and Belinda were already in smooch-and-make-up mode. She stroked his face soothingly where I’d yanked on him and asked if he was OK. He kissed her tenderly and assured her that he was, then held the door open for her.
Belinda looked back and rewarded me with an appreciative smile as the happy couple ventured inside the coffee shop.
I was feeling pretty darned special about my Lone Ranger moment. The feeling evaporated the instant I got back in Savannah’s car.