There was a time in my life, when I had a near-death experience. Though there was no tunnel of light, and the ghosts of my loved ones to greet me or anything quite as dramatic as that. Since I did not actually achieve cardiac arrest, thankfully due to the fact that fortune smiled upon me. For once.
Several years ago, I used to work for a small-time computer wholesaler, and one of my co-workers was this Russian guy named Dmitri. Dmitri’s family was originally from Moscow, they fled the soviet bloc in the 90s due to the political changes taking place and the sudden dramatic rise in the crime rate and corruption, as well as the higher cost of living. That’s all I really knew of his family’s situation. Dmitri himself seemed to wax nostalgic about the good-ole days growing up in Russia. He said ‘it wasn’t that bad.’ He was semi-built, but shorter than me by about seven or eight inches, had brown hair center-part and almost shoulder-length, to give you an idea what he looked like.
Dmitri and I actually had no reason to get along, he was my opposite in terms of what he did for fun and what his hobbies were. He tended to like really heavy rock and metal, either screaming lyrics or dumb shit like Saliva. You know, the guys responsible for that obnoxious ‘click-click boom’ song. He was also a car enthusiast, and would often tell me about his car, which was a Mazda RX-7. One time giving me a ride in his, he managed to achieve a speed of about ninety five miles per hour on the highway adjacent to our building. A ballsy move considering the speed limit was only forty five. Often these fairly one-sided conversations were about the supposed superiority of rotary engines to the standard, and he would often download engine sounds and play them at me, explaining the differences in great detail. To me all I heard was a bunch of obnoxious and loud noise, but his eyes seemed to light up with excitement every time, which I never understood why. In addition he had a tendency to really like clubs, and drinking. Especially drinking.
What we had in common was twofold. First we hated the working conditions we had to put up with at our place of employment. The wages were low for the technicians, even though not everyone could do what we did, but the sales people made about a thousand a week. We were barely making three hundred. We were working for Chinese Jews though, so perhaps some stereotypes can be true on occasion? To give you an idea, the owner was this old Chinese lady, who sat in an office filled with gold and jade statues and wall-hangings, behind a massive mahogany desk that had to at least have cost a small fortune because the top was surfaced with a jade slab. She would pull us in this office and tell us how they could not give us raises whenever we asked for better pay. I myself, worked there for almost four years without even a slight pay increase. They probably still wonder why I stopped showing up on time.
Dmitri would often say bitterly, ‘say what you will about the communists, but the ministers never told us they couldn’t afford to pay people better while sitting on golden thrones.’ I somehow doubted that.
I would often chime in a fake Chinese accent something along the lines of, “YOU NO GET PAY GOOD EVA, IF YOU COMPRAN YOU FILED FOREVA WHITE BOY!”
Second, we both loved pool. We took into the habit of doing a weekly pool-night down at the local bowling alley, we called this night of pool… ‘Pool Club.’ Which reminds me, that’s who I let borrow my copy of the book version of Fight Club. Another one of life’s little mysteries solved, but I digress. Either way that’s where this little tale brings us to the final night of Pool Club.
Now, for your information, the first and second rules of Pool Club were that you didn’t talk about it. (To keep other co-workers from wanting to tag along and ruin it.)
The third rule was that you couldn’t play sober.
The fourth rule was that you must not brag when you defeat other members of the club.
The fifth rule was that if someone else challenged you to pool who was not a member of Pool Club, you accepted, no questions asked.
The sixth rule was that you never played for money, mostly due to potential over-confidence issues arising from rule number three.
The seventh rule was that if it was your first night at Pool Club, you had to play.
This night I had broken rules one and two of Pool Club. I talked about it to a good friend of mine, who I have not spoken to in many moons, Alfonso. I invited him to come along, and so Dmitri, who seemed pretty hyper this night, came to pick us up in his car, which by the way, was a two-seater and a sports car. So there was really no back seat, just a ledge and the trunk which was accessible from the inside. Either way he somehow managed to wedge himself back there, and the bowling alley where we played was only about a mile or so from the house anyway.
The night panned out like any other, really, we played pool. Drank some beers, and shot the shit. The madness didn’t begin till it was around time to leave. Dmitri seemed a little, uh…. hammered. Dmitri was no featherweight, the guy could hold his liquor pretty good and I knew five beers over the course of about two to three hours was not nearly enough to get him this wasted. Still his car was manual and I had no idea to drive it so with trepidation, I got in the car. Also bear in mind by this point I was the only-near sober person in the vehicle. Alfonso was pretty toasted too.
When we got in the car Dmitri seemed even more hammered, so I asked him how the hell he was so drunk. He then said he was feeling pretty depressed that day, he was recently fired from the computer place, and so he drank half a bottle of Tequila. HALF A FUCKING BOTTLE. Frankly, I was amazed he was able to stand and function as well as he did to this point, let alone show up, seem fairly normal, and drive to the bowling alley without incident. Still by this point I didn’t feel too safe, so I was like… ‘well my house isn’t far so just take it slow. You can sober up there and get something to eat.’
Dmitri looked at me and said, ‘why are you getting so nervous. This is the trust-me car! Don’t you trust me!?’
‘Well not not really when you’re this hammered.’
‘Well trust me! It’s the trust me car!’
‘I know, you said that already.’
‘I can drive it I know how to drive the trust-me car!’
Then Alfonso, being ever so helpful, chimed in with ‘yeah dude it’s the trust me car, we’ll be fine!’
So then before I could get another word in edgewise, Dmitri started the car and took off. We were doing fine till we got on to the highway, and he started to accelerate. More and more. To the point where he was going at least sixty five, well over the speed limit. Now, while I’m not too anal about speed limits, the fact is going fifteen over is pretty dumb considering a) he’s driving drunk, and b) tickets are bad enough without a DUI on top of all that. At this point I had actually unbuckled my seat belt and was determined, if I saw an accident coming, to dive out of the vehicle into one of the ditches on the side of the road.
Either way we’re blazing down the road now and there’s nothing I can do about it, however, I noticed we were getting close to my house so I said, ‘dude, you may want to slow down my house is the next turn.’ This turned out to be the bonehead move of the night because Dmitri screamed “I MISSED THE TURN?!” and then proceeded to swerve violently off the road into a shopping center.
The only reason, I didn’t maim myself diving out of his car before it javelined itself into a steep ditch, probably managing to kill them both at the point of impact, at now seventy miles per hour, was due to simple dumb luck. See this happened right after the hurricanes we had in the 2004 season, which meant that the ditches were filled with debris, mostly tree branches and such that had been blown onto the roads. So Dmitri’s car slid across a large pile of leaves, branches, and chopped up wood, before getting stuck.
I was already climbing out the passenger window before it had fully stopped. Of all my traits my sense of self-preservation is second to none. Alfonso was climbing out behind me and laughing the whole time, and from the sides of the ditch we had to yell at Dmitri to stop gunning the gas trying to get his car loose. Each revving of the engine sent leaves and piece of wood flying out the back end of his car like a wood-chipper. Eventually he climbed out too, almost falling into the pile of leaves and branches twice on his way out, then from the side of the ditch he started sadly at his car and kept saying how much trouble he was gonna be in when his father found out. Then the tried to convince us to help him ‘push it’ out of the ditch, which in addition to being physically impossible, was not gonna happen simply because I was not about to help him get it loose so he could drive it home.
So we then walked back to my house, well… I walked. Dmitri stumbled and Alfonso stumbled from a combination of laughter / drunkness. When we got back to my place, Dmitiri was rambling about how he didn’t want his dad to find out he had been drinking, so he wanted me to help him cover up his alcohol breath. I gave him a can on that instant microwavable tomato soup stuff, with the plastic lid with the sipping hole in the top.
While he nursed that I called AAA to have them tow his car out of the ditch and get him a ride home. At the time I didn’t own a car of my own, I got everywhere by a combination of riding my bike and taking the bus. This was not done because I felt I was being more economical, but rather, due to the aforementioned poor pay which made it imposable for me to afford the expense of a car. So the towing company was en route, but then Dmitri was complaining about feeling sick… so of course Alfonso feels the need to turn on my TV and start watching Jackass the movie. Then of course he started descibing what was going on while watching it. For example, “Dude, this so gross, they are snorting worms and pulling them out their throats.” Which is smart to do when you have a sick drunk man near you, so of course, Dmitri then proceeded to puke up tomato soup and beer all over the front of his shirt, he was too drunk to clean himself up so while Alfonso laughed like a manic, I had to take a wet towel and clean off a drunken red-eyed Dmitri.
Then we all walked Dmitri backed to his car, when the towing company called and said they were nearby, and we had to watch as they used a wench to pry his car from the debris. Amazingly, the only damage the car sustained was a bent rear axle, as well as some scratches and dents obviously.
The the tow-truck driver offered to give my drunken sloppy Russian pal a ride home alone with his car, and that was the last time I ever saw Dmitri. I had never got his phone number as he always called me, and he probably thought that I didn’t want to hang out with him ever again after he, you know, nearly killed me. Afterward I wasn’t even angry, in many ways it’s kind of funny. If I had a chance to do it over again though, I probably would not have let him drive his ‘Trust Me’ Car.
It’s funny, that I spent a lot of my youth terrified of dying, but when a situation comes where it almost actually happens … I feel nothing. I wasn’t shaken, or upset, or even annoyed. It was a strange feeling, like what was going on that night was really just some sort of show that I was outside of observing. It didn’t feel real, and the crash still doesn’t to this day.
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