People think I am a lawyer. I am not a lawyer. It was the signs that made people think I am a lawyer. But I am not a lawyer.
It started with the calls. I got so many telephone calls. Hi, they said, is this Robert “Bob” Gomes?
Yes, I am Bob, I said. Why are you calling me?
Aren’t you iAccidentLawBob?
No, I am not. You have the wrong number. Then I hung up.
But they kept calling. Day and night they kept calling. Can you help me with a car crash? Can you help me with my “fender bender”? Can you help me manage the lease of my Honda Accord, because people tell me you are a good lawyer?
You are mistaken. I cannot help with your car. This call is the accident. I hung up.
This is what I was telling them until I asked them one day: Where did you get my information, and why are you people calling me? Why do you ask if I am a lawyer? I am retired.
The big, big sign, they said. The one where you are smiling. Your face, the phone number. 833-iLAW-BOB. You have collected over two hundred million dollars for accident victims. You have worked for over ten years in the Los Angeles area, they said. iAccidentLawBob.com. You are an expert.
No, I told them. I am not the iLawBob. Please stop calling me.
But then emails. How did they get my phone number and my email? I had to get a new phone and a new phone number and a new email because the data and information they sent me was too much. They were reaching me all of the time even though I did not consent to this. They kept calling and kept emailing still, even with my information changed. I had to change them again before friends told me they saw me on signs.
Is this a joke? They asked me this. Gracie would have loved this, they said. She would have wanted you to put yourself out there, to help people and be happy. Are you making a big joke, they asked, in her honor? You’re a funny man, but you’re not that funny of a man. This could have helped when you were still in the landscaping business.
Gracie would not have laughed at this, I told them. She liked our quiet life, she liked our small world. She liked to help, but she didn’t want me or her or anyone to be on call. Independence, she always said. And a job like lawyer? Like one on a sign? That’s too on call.
I asked them what I asked everyone who called: Where are you seeing me on a sign?
We saw you on the road, they said. Off the highway. Near Van Nuys. Down in Hawthorne. We see you everywhere, they said.
Can you send me a photo? I asked them.
But they never sent me a photo. I was driving too fast, they said. The light changed, they said. The photos I did get are blurry, they said.
I never saw myself as a lawyer. I did not believe them.
Then I saw the signs. Three of them. I was driving in my truck to Gracie’s grave in Ontario, and I saw me, in the sky, looking at me from a billboard, smiling, even though I do not remember having this photo taken. iAccidentLawBob.com. 833-iLAW-BOB. It was all there. I pulled the truck onto the side of the road. I called the number and it rang and rang and rang. No answer. There was a message. This is Bob Gomes, your iAccidentLawBob, I said to myself through the phone, with my own voice, even though I do not remember saying these things to anyone before. Due to a high volume of calls from persons like yourself seeking legal help, I am unavailable at this moment. Please leave a detailed message with your name, phone number, and a brief summary of your accident and I, your iAccidentLawBob, will return your call. Thank you. A beep.
I am Bob, I said to myself. I am the Bob that I am calling, and I am not a lawyer. I am a landscaper and I am retired now. Why are you doing this to me? Take the signs down. I do not need legal help. Thank you.
I ground my teeth and looked at myself in the sky, on the sign with a little smile, almost a smirk. I wore a dark blue suit with a tie, a really red tie. It was what I wore to Gracie’s funeral, not what I was wearing when I saw the sign. I was wearing church clothes when I saw the sign. My nice jeans and a polo shirt. I was coming from St. Joseph’s after doing the Lord’s work. Gracie always said working the soup kitchen was the Lord’s work because it’s work no one else wants to do. We did it though. Every week we did the Lord’s work and I continued to do the Lord’s work without her.
I pointed at myself on the billboard, at the Esq. after my name. There was a star next to the big number. Small text at the bottom: Results may vary given facts, circumstances, and evidence. Services are not guaranteed. Of course services are not guaranteed. That is not my job.
I got out of the car and looked closer at the sign. I wanted to know who did this, because who did this? I needed to know. There were little words at the bottom of the sign. Smaller text than the small text: Brought to you by Better Life Media. Better Life Media. What is that? I looked it up on my phone, and I found a website. I pressed their phone number and there was ringing and ringing and ringing.
No answer but the message. You have reached Better Life Media, where we help you reach the eyes you need. Please leave a detailed message and, if applicable, location information regarding any billboard or sign in question, and we will return your call. It was my voice. I was talking to me again.
I left a message. Is this Bob Gomes? I am Bob Gomes. Who are you and why are you doing this?
I hung up and I clicked around on my phone. There was no more information about Better Life Media. There were some reviews. Great services! Perfect for reaching others when you need them. A little slow but did the job. Helpful but strange. I did not help these people. I looked up the website that I was telling people about in the sign. iAccidentLawBob.com. People were saying that I was not the best lawyer. Not great. Very distracted. Did the job but not perfect. What I made back barely covered Bob’s legal expenses. Bet he uses the money for his signs instead of being a better lawyer. This is not me they are talking about. It is another Bob Gomes who looks like and is me. Why would they say these things about me? They are very mean things to say.
I walked back to my truck and I sat. Did I go to law school and not remember? I looked in my rearview mirror at my eyebrows. They are big and bushy. Dalmatian pipe cleaners—that’s what Gracie called them. They were curved and confused. I did not like this situation. What do I do about this? What do I do.
I drove and I saw myself everywhere. I saw myself as far as Loma Linda before I turned around. I was by the ocean too. As far north as Oxnard. Just outside of Long Beach. I didn’t check in Lancaster, but I might be there too. Maybe I need to start a social media to ask about this, I thought, but I do not know how to use such a thing. I did not start a social media. I did not see Gracie that day.
I got home and I called the police. I told them about the signs. iLawBob, they said. They were excited, happy. You’re a legend on the highways. Someone dressed up as you for Halloween here, someone yelled.
Why, I asked. Why are you being me?
You help people, they said. Not a great lawyer, but a lawyer all the same.
I got so mad that I stood up from the couch and threw my phone on the carpet. I am not a lawyer. I yelled one, two, three times. I could hear the police officers laughing from the ground, into the rug. I was very mad, the most mad. My face was hot. They hung up, the no-help cops, so I started looking up lawyers. They would know how to handle this. They would make people stop talking about me being bad at the job I do not have, which must be slander. I could feel all the people on the phone talking in my head, talking about the work I did not do well.
I did not want to be a lawyer, but I especially did not want to be a bad lawyer. Do good and the world does good by you. Gracie always said that, and I always thought that way because of her. That made me good at the things that I do. That made me good at making the yard, at helping the needy, at church. That made me good at being a widower.
I found a lawyer on my phone. I called the lawyer and he said, You can figure this out, you’re a lawyer. And he hung up. Another lawyer said they would look into the matter. They did not call me back. I talked to three secretaries, and three lawyers called back saying I did not have a case. Did I need to become a lawyer? I remember thinking this and I remember thinking I am too old for this.
I went for a walk. I wanted to clear my head. You can figure this out, Bobby. I could hear Gracie saying that. How do I fix this? That is what I asked her from my head. I looked up as I walked and I saw a sign: YourHelpfulLawyerJan.com. 877-JAN-HELP. A Black woman with very short gray hair. Red glasses on. Wearing a white collared shirt with a flimsy tie like a Christmas bow. I needed Jan. I called the number.
This is Jan, she said.
Are you Helpful Lawyer Jan? I asked. I need your help.
Yes, I am Jan.
Thank you, Jan, I said. Thank you for talking to me.
And how can I help you?
I am iAccidentLawBob, from the signs. I saw your signs.
She laughed. You saw my signs? She made a big sigh. It was a sigh so big I could have fallen into the phone and lived in that sigh. You saw my signs. She said it again. Let me guess: You didn’t ask for this either?
I did not ask for this either, I told her. I did not ask for this. I am on a sign and I do not want to be, Helpful Lawyer Jan. I am not a lawyer. Can you help me?
She was quiet. I had to ask her if she was there. Hello? Jan? Help?
I’m still here, she said. I’m not going anywhere, as you can see by the sign. She made a laugh, and I felt like she was trying to tell me that I should know what she meant by already seeing the sign.
Why are you laughing? I asked. Please. I need your help.
Climb up the sign, she said. Climb up there. Look at yourself. See how you can help yourself.
I don’t want to climb up on a sign, I told her. I am not young, I am not in the best health. Why do I need to climb up there?
I’m telling you, she said, climb up and look at yourself. That’s what I did.
This did not make sense, I told her. But you are a lawyer now, aren’t you?
No, she said. I’m not a lawyer. I just did what I had to do to make all this work. I answered the call.
I laugh at her. I am not going to answer these calls, I said. I don’t want to help these people.
Now she laughed at me. You sound like a good man, Bob. Do the right thing.
I coughed. The right thing? The right thing? I am not qualified to help people like this. I cannot do a legal anything.
Bob, she said, let me leave you with some advice. Look at yourself and answer the call. Get the message. Make a difference. Then she hung up.
I looked back up at the sign, toward the bottom, and saw it said Your Signs. It was small text like Better Life Media. I looked up Your Signs and I called.
Hello, can you help me? I asked. I am looking for the maker of your Helpful Lawyer Jan signs.
Bob, the voice said. This is Jan. I can’t help you. Only you can help you. She hung up.
I stared at the sign. She was stuck with the same thing and she was no help.
I kept walking and thinking. I didn’t want to look at myself. I didn’t want to help all these accident people calling me. Even while I was talking to Jan, I got two calls. One had their car stolen. The other had what they called a T-bone.
I walked back home. I was so angry that I wanted to cry. I wanted my life back even though I had my life. I wanted my life before the signs, back with Gracie. When things were normal. Who did this? Am I a joke? I want to help people but not like this, and I don’t like people thinking I am bad at my job because I take great pride in being me, in being a good person. I take great pride.
I did not see another sign for two weeks. I tried not to drive then. I walked to the supermarket. I walked to St. Joseph’s. I walked and saw a few friends. I told them about the talk with Jan and my sign problem and they said the same thing: Why not do what Jan said? They would laugh about the situation, but no one wanted to come with me. This is too freaky, one of my friends said. They promised they would not help me. That made me mad and I did not talk to them for a few days.
You have nothing better to do in retirement, another said. Do something new. You’re old and alone. This would be good for you.
I disagree, I told them. My life is great.
How can it be great, they said, when you’re always so angry? You might be depressed.
I grunted and walked back home. I did not talk to them either for a few days.
I tried to stay inside. I was bored and mad, and at a certain point, I wondered what Gracie would do, and I thought she would call Jan. She would get help. She wouldn’t sit around and wait. She would fight. So I called Jan’s law number. She did not pick up. Her message said if you are a returning customer, please press three. Her message system was fancier than my iAccidentLawBob message system. I had talked to her, so I was a returning customer. I pressed three. If your last name starts with A through F, please press one. If your last name starts with G through L, press two. I pressed two. If your last name starts with G, please press one. I pressed one. Bob, she said from within the message system. I told you what you need to do. You know how to fix this. Don’t call me back until you do. The phone call ended.
I threw my phone at the carpet again. Jan is probably laughing somewhere with the police. Why does everyone think this is a joke?
So I drove and looked for the signs. Which one do I go to? How do I climb up there? Do I go to one now, during the day, or wait until night? I didn’t know if I wanted people to see me do this or if it should be done in secret. I decided to go big, to do it when people could see me, because I did not have anyone to help me and I was already in my truck. If I was going to get hurt or in trouble, I wanted what I was doing to be out in the open.
I went to the first sign I’d seen, the one off the 10, near Ontario. Near Gracie. I got off the exit, went around the loop, and found myself in a field by the highway, one of those fields that has a little dry creek that is not real. I looked at myself in the sky looking over the highway, my face telling people how I could help them. I sighed. I have to help me. I looked at the big post that held up the sign. The ladder-stairs that poked out the side were thin, kind of like big long metal hot dogs sticking out. They would hurt my hands to climb. I put on gloves from the back of my truck. My landscaping gloves. I looked up at myself on the sign pointing down at myself. I took a deep breath. I started climbing.
I went up and up and up. It got windier and windier. It was sunny but not hot but I was getting a little bit sweaty. I counted the bars as I went up. There were sixty-five. There was a grated catwalk in front of the sign. I pulled myself up and I was breathing hard. Make sure to take care of yourself, I remember Gracie telling me. I guess I had not, judging from my breathing up in the sky. The wind up here felt like it was going to blow me off, back to the ground, and then I was scared for the first time. I got on my hands and knees. I didn’t want to fall.
I sat on my knees next to the web address, real me in front of the little i. It must have looked like my body plus AccidentLawBob.com. I looked out into Ontario. The highway went and went, and the cars zoomed and zoomed. No one noticed me up here next to myself. The world was normal and I was the only thing that wasn’t. I squinted out beyond the creek field, and I could see some hills in the distance with what looked like gray pills popping out of the ground. The cemetery. Gracie, I said out loud to myself. I should have visited her. I should have gone to see her. My world, my Gracie.
You can do this, I said to myself. But I said it in Gracie’s voice. Maybe it was her voice? I still do not know. Why, I asked back, why am I here? I looked at the sign. iAccidentLawBob.com.
You can help, Gracie said. You can help.
I crawled over to my torso, to my shoulders, and stood up very carefully in the middle of the sign. My face was face-to-face with my giant face. My eyes were like computer screens. My nose was like a big flesh rake. Each of my teeth was as big as the Bible that they carry around in St. Joseph’s. I was as big as me but must look so tiny to other people, even though no one probably saw me in front of me.
What do I do? I asked myself. What do I do now? I closed my eyes and rubbed my face and I felt a wind on my back. I put my hands out and I opened my eyes and I touched my teeth that were as big as books until I was through the teeth, until I was falling into them, through my mouth, wind blowing on my face, like I was falling, but I was not. I was not on the other side of the sign, but I was. I didn’t fall to the ground, through me, into the field to fall on my head.
No. I was somewhere else. It was bright but not like the sun, because I could see without squinting. I was warm too. The place was empty. I did not see any doors. Not even walls. There was no one else. The place was giving me this feeling. Like I had heartburn but in a good way. I felt like I had done it right. I was wearing my suit. I was standing. But I couldn’t feel the ground or the sky or the wind or anything.
Hello? I said, and there was no echo. It was like talking into a stuffed animal. I was just there. I saw an outline and I walked toward it. A body. Standing. I didn’t know what direction I was going because there was no direction. The person was Black with very short gray hair. Jan.
You did it, she said. This is what you had to do.
I shook my head. But I’m not a lawyer, I told her.
She lifted her shoulders and made this sort of happy scrunched face. I’m not a lawyer either, she said. That doesn’t really matter in here. You’re going to do your best to help people.
I nodded even though my face was now scrunched too. I do not know if I like this, I said. I do not know. I looked down at the bright nothing we stood or floated on. I wasn’t scared, but I wasn’t not scared.
She grabbed my hands. Bob, she said. It doesn’t matter. You’re whoever they want you to be in here—and whoever you want to be. Her hands were so soft and so warm, like the underside of a puppy dog, the parts where they haven’t grown fur yet. I felt good. I felt like I was sitting after a long, long walk, even though I was standing.
Is this heaven? I asked her.
She laughed. Oh God no, she said.
I shook my head again. My eyes were still tight but began to loosen. I had this feeling like I wanted to ask a lot of questions, but none came to me. They sort of disappeared and it felt good. Like cotton candy. All I did was smile.
I have someone I want you to say hello to, Jan said. Come. Over here. She’s very, very special. She squeezed my hands. It’s okay, she said. I think you’re going to like who we have waiting for you.