Sunday, November 13, 2016

Living in a Weak Spot

I park near the garden section and get out my shopping list before headed into the Saturday crowd of the Palmdale walmart. The whole mix of low income palmdalien freaks are out today, and I’m mentally preparing the course to avoid as many of them as possible while not backtracking.  Every cart is fucked up, with a tremoring wheel spazzing out, or a sharp rhythmic squeak that accompanies you with every inch you push. I pull one out and it’s a good cart aside from having twine twisted up and dragging out of a wheel. I push the cart carefully around a melted mcdonalds ice cream cone, and wonder if the parents gave a shit when their kid dropped it any more than the employees care now.
I dart down aisles, scooting my cart past a surprising amount of daydreaming shoppers, blocking the aisles like obese boulders. When I get to the cold refrigerated section, I head to the eggs. Searching the cartons of eggs makes me feel obsessive as each carton contains a broken egg. I imagine someone watching me and judging my behavior as a palmdalien eccentricity, But god damn, I just can’t find a carton without a broken egg.

Ice is on the list, and I need to ask the person checking me out to charge me before I get it from the freezer on my way out. I usually forget.

Beer isn’t on the list, but I head to get a case anyhow.  Only the alcohol aisle has as much colorful cheer as the candy aisle. The Reds and Blues of Budweiser and Bud Light American beer. The Yellows of Corona and Pacifico Mexican beers. The Green of Heineken, St. Paulies Girl, and Becks skunky German beers.  Murphys and Guiness Black Irish beer. I look at the beers and buy Guiness. I buy a backup of Budweiser to stock my fridge completely.

The produce aisle has been re-arranged, and it doesn’t afford shoppers anymore room. I park my cart in front of the plastic looking bakers confections, feeling it is an out of the way spot, and I dive into the mix. A few able bodied people zip around in the wide mopeds provided by walmart. The dull look in their eyes indicate that they no longer enjoy the thrill or feel the guilt of riding one. They’ve become accustomed to another convenience. I grab handful of produce bags and dodge around people to get what I need. I get strange looks as I bend around people looking numbly into their phones. A glimmer of confrontation goes through me as a white guy my age glances at me from the side of a text message or whatever social media shit people use. He slowly steps away like a cow and his eyes go back to the screen.

I’m finally checking out after all my stupid stops, and I find a somewhat empty line. I always intend on zoning out in line to make the experience go faster. The celebrity magazines are on display, still enticing the same generation that pays for land lines, newspapers, and physical copies of music, but luring them in with a younger generation of people and their new drama. Hideous pictures of celebrities are portrayed above embarrassing intimate details of their life and I guess that’s the price they pay for their fame and fortune. I have a lot of pity but not for them. I don’t even pity myself so fuck them and their millions of dollars.

“Sir?” the check-out lady calls. I look up and she informs me that I’ll be the last customer. There is a silent obligation to inform everyone that comes behind me that this line, this very short line, is closed. A lot of people would get hard having this sort of power and responsibility, but I’m irritated. Now I have to talk with people I don’t know and give them the bad news. This tiny chore will never be addressed in any lifetime. It is such a mild inconvenience that it is too petty to address, but I’ll be petty right now.

So, let’s say I zone out like I like to in line and someone comes up behind me. After a period of them waiting I realize they are standing there, and I tell them the line is closed. They’ll get irritated and blame me for wasting their time, if not out loud, I’ll still be blamed in their heart or perhaps by a dirty look. If I was an uncaring asshole, it would mean nothing, but since I’m not, I would feel guilt for having wasted their time and I would validate their vented irritation by understanding where they are coming from. It’s not my fucking job, but yet somehow it is, and the Waltons stay all the richer for not having to employ someone for this obligation. You can be an asshole and let your cart drift wherever you want when you’re done shopping, and they pay people to retrieve them, but there isn’t anyone for this stupid little job. Still, I do it. It isn’t the check-out ladies’ fault.

I tell a few people the line is closed. Each person I speak to has a quick cautionary look of “why is this stranger speaking to me” before understanding my message and walking away without a reply. They acknowledge me as a servant, or in other words, they respond to me the way most near-sighted assholes respond to employees, stripped of their personhood for the time being. Whatever, I think to myself, I’m doing the check-out lady the smallest solid I could possibly give her, yet in a way I’m sort of pissed that I’m doing the Walton family a solid too.

The check-out lady is a black woman in her forties, and she’s very kind and personable, and thanks me for letting people know the lines closed. She’s checked me out many times before, and we always make small talk. She appreciates that I get my I.D. out without a hassle when she scans the cases of beer. People want to abuse things like a system until it becomes an inconvenience, and then suddenly they want to the system to show some humanity. “C’mon, you can TELL I’m over 21”.

I pay for my stuff, and I swipe my card. This point of time is currently the transitioning period from swiping your card in the payment terminal to entering your card like a hotel key for the machine to read your chip. We’re going to forget about this period pretty soon. Every time I enter my card, it tells me to swipe, because chance has it that I always try to conform with machines that have a broken chip reader, or the software wasn’t installed yet or whatever other reason it doesn’t work yet still has the little slot for me to enter my card. When I swipe because this error happens so much to me, people inform me of the new technology all over again like I’m new to this shit.

I pay and load up my plastic bags but before I leave the building I am stopped by one of two tall black security guards in crisp uniforms. Security guards in this walmart have only been around for two years at most. They check my receipt, treat me with gratitude for not complaining about the brief inspection of my cart, and tell me to have a good day. Maybe it was their attire or their manner of speech, but they seemed to be a higher class of people than the rest of us. I leave the building and the automatic doors slide open ushering in a ton of heat. Fuck, I forgot Ice, but no way am I going back in for what should seem like a quick purchase.

I exit and see a black guy asking a Mexican guy and his wife for a donation of some kind. He begins asking for the donation, by asking a question about what area they are from. The threat, “where you from” pops in my mind, though I know his question is far from a threat. The guy wants money.
 The Mexican stares at him with hostility and slowly shakes his head. The slow shake seems more like a rude gesture to indicate his having been inconvenienced rather than a reply. I push my cart between them knowing I won’t be hassled for money because they are already engaged. When you are in front of Walmart, any point during midday is an opportunity for someone to ask you for money or for a signature. This Mexican dude is taking it far too personal, but hey he’s in front of his woman and maybe he can’t help himself for blowing this moment out of proportion. Must be an insecure weak spot.

We all have weak spots, I think as I walk to my truck, as I suddenly realize I parked my truck on the far other end of the enormous parking lot by the garden section.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Fake Shooting Stars

The sun begins to set and I take my dogs for a short drive. I never do this. Usually I make a reason to drive, but this time I don’t. The feeling I have reminds me of when I was thirteen years old and it felt good to stare out of a window. I remember feeling compelled to lay on my mattress which was parallel to the window sill, and I’d rest my chin there and stare out for a long time. Behind me were video games and Dungeons and Dragons books to look through, but staring out the window felt as satiating as sleeping in on Saturday morning.

Tonight I have that same desire, but every window in my house faces a shitty view. One faces a wall of bushes, another looks directly into my neighbors backyard, and two more face a carport littered with my neighbor’s yard sale junk that will never be sold or thrown away. My neighbors and I share property and live in separate houses adjacent to one another. The outside walls of our houses nearly touch at the corner. Nights like this I need more space.

I head out with my dogs, and I roll the window down to avoid their breath. I drive slow and avoid main streets. I stare out the window and I let my thoughts go unnoticed and unaltered. I drive in a long square to head back, and one stretch of road is a busier one with people coming home from work. A busy car speeds up behind me, and before I take my nearest right he hits the brakes, tailgates me, and speeds off when I make my turn. I look in my rearview mirror and see a short trail of cars following it.

Without self-pity I feel like a waste of space. An honestly objective waste of space. I think about the gas I’m wasting and the short moment of time I wasted for the other drivers. I genuinely consider the gas I wasted in breaking the momentum of their vehicles.  I don’t feel guilt, I feel ethereal and even my physical presence seems to be a waste of space.

I look at Sunny, one of my two dogs. He’s an out of shape black lab that was mixed with something much smaller. He has a small muzzle and little beady black eyes that look like a teddy bear. His head is small and his torso is flabby and bloated. With his thin little legs, he reminds me of a tick.
 Sunny presses his body against the back of the seat to hold his balance. He’d lay down but the middle seat buckle digs into his belly. He’d lay on the floor, but he likes to see. He’s having trouble coping with his physicality too, but his smile says that he is enjoying himself.

I get home, help the dogs out of the car, and hit my head on a nearby tree branch. It’s a thick unyielding limb, and it gives my head a dense bash. The thoughts I’m having suddenly contrast with the pain, and I feel stupid. It’s getting too dark for anyone to have seen me hit my head, but I still feel embarrassed. I sit back in the truck with the door open and hold my head. Everything I was thinking a second before seems dumb. I can’t tell if I’m just angry at the pain and judging myself through that emotion, or if there is something about the reality of the pain that makes me think whatever philosophical thought I was having was trivial and unrealistic.

I walk to my gate and let the dogs into my yard. They run through the dirt to a small patch of grass and take a piss. I look up at the first star in the sky. The only beautiful thing in this neighborhood is the sunsets that occur, with a touch of mountain range to the south west and dramatic silhouettes of cactus and electrical towers. The sky is a fierce orange, blue, and pink, like it is set on some magical fire.  The star is white, and hovering in the first shade of dark blue. I pretend to make a wish on it, and wonder why answers are never given to me, and why questions are never replied to. I’m not above asking for a sign from universal forces, so I do. I wait in the silence and marvel at the gorgeous scene. Every shitty home is concealed in the shade of dusk and overwhelmed by the flaming sky. Soon, a loud generator turns on and it alarms the dogs in the neighborhood, and they sound off in a frenzy. The star is moving, and I realize it’s a satellite catching the blaring light from the sun. The pain in my head is gone, and I didn’t realize when it had passed.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Smoke that Won't Settle

The smoke is beginning to clear, but the sky shows plumes of dark grey rising high into the atmosphere. People are breathing easier in the Antelope Valley, but days earlier the “Sand Fire”, as the news called it, burned in Santa Clarita and crept close to Aqua Dulce and Acton. In Palmdale it smelled like campfire and visible pieces of ash floated in the sky like miniature grey grocery bags. In Acton The horse people toted their horses away in giant expensive metal trailers, and people evacuated their homes, but today, everyone is back home and the air is clear.
“Everyone breathing better?” A chipper jury orientation worker asked, “Crazy, wasn’t it? Much better today.” She answered herself.

A plaque is mounted in the front of the jury assembly  room requesting jurors to consider giving our juror fees to worthwhile court projects.  I’m reading the plaque and wondering why the state doesn’t keep the fees in the first place. Nobody appreciates the value the court pays per day for juror services. The fifteen dollars a day feels somewhat close to the insult of a shitty tip. It doesn’t change the feeling of having lost a day in the slightest, it even seems wasteful of the state: as if the energy to cool our irritation creates as much hot animosity.

 Regardless, never pay someone and tell them they earned it and expect them to easily part with it. Anything stated as having been earned quickly becomes indivisible from anything else that had been earned in one’s life. That fifteen dollars that could have just as easily been withheld instead gets mailed out, and made a small joke of, before it’s undeniably signed and deposited into a bank account. 

Two women are sitting behind me and one with a masculine voice has taken the reigns of conversation. In a matter of two minutes I've learned that she owns ten thousand VHS tapes, she doesn't believe in carpel tunnel, she only gives out gummy candy at Halloween, and she joined the basketball team as a teenage girl to date guys on the team but was only asked out by the short boys. People with such rapid and eccentric stories don't actually get excited when they are in the midst of an experience. It's like they're so under stimulated in everyday life they take the key points of each moment and turn it into a story. The second woman attempts to say a few things about her family to relate but the other woman sputters with noises during each fraction of a pause to kick-start her motor mouth.

 It's a shame people don't find satisfaction in talking to themselves. I think if they did, they would and to avoid looking crazy they’d do it in the privacy in their own home, laying down somewhere comfortable with the lights off. They’d go for hours on end seeking words to express their random, uninhibited, and uninterrupted thoughts like how an electronic toy malfunctions when it's batteries are low, taking liberty in irrational expression as it lulls itself to death. But most humans are in the state of living, and we need another human’s blinks and nods and yeses to know it for sure.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Palmdalien Aliens

I wait all day and into the evening and don’t receive a call to come into work the following day, which isn’t great financially speaking. Having not been called in the day of I listed things for sale; things of minor value that I don’t care about like a skateboard and a baritone ukulele. It’s past ten, the cutoff for calls, and I head out to a liquor store.

Earlier in the day I thought of all the times I’ve been out in city streets, drunk and young, feeling like violent crime was some Hollywood hype. It seemed hardly less than legendary, and I watched out for it like comic book fiction. I’d been in fights, they were all white privilege, weekend fist fights. I’ve never had a weapon pulled on me and I had never been attacked for money. I’m surprised, considering all of the stupid situations I’ve put myself into.

Now I’m imagining the reality of real violence. It might just be another thing that comes with traveling the path of age and getting a closer view of your mortality. I pull into an empty parking lot, and I vaguely see a guy with a spray bottle sitting on the side of a curb. I don’t feel alarmed at all, but I get an odd sensation of my present scenario and think how this must be the token “other” character present for the situation. The cue for us to speak is going to happen when I come back to my car.
There is no reason to feel threatened by this character, and I don’t know how I know these things, but I know. Still, I sense his thoughts directed toward me, even with his head turned away. I consciously sink into a leisurely rhythm as I turn and shut my car door, if only to draw my attention back to myself.

I go inside and buy a pack of three tall rather than a twelve pack to avoid breaking a twenty. Spending singles feels less like spending money and more along the lines of getting rid of the coins on the floor of your car. I even cash in a two dollar scratcher: one that I have and don’t know where it came from.
I step outside and I hear a gravelly voice call out to me, “hey man”. I look in the direction and it’s the guy with the spray bottle. He has piercing blue and almost bulging desperate eyes “Look I’m not homeless,” he pleads in his approach, “I’m a disabled veteran, my name is…” and I forget his name. He puts out his hand to shake mine and I look down and see so much discoloration that I don’t know what colors are his skin and what colors are the shit his skin touched. I’ve shared a beer with a homeless bum six years before, but I was drunk at the time. Though still, the man just wants to shake my hand, and so, on the surface, I don’t skip a beat. I reach out and shake his hand and feel that it’s dry. He goes on with what might be a schpeel.

 “My wife and I have an apartment we’re waiting to get into and I got a job, but my wife just had her appendix removed and we’re trying to get into a motel tonight,” He looks like he’s emotionally pained to say all of this. “Look man, I hate being out here, but can I please wash your windows for you or something?”

“Aww, you don’t have to wash my windows. I’m on a budget myself,” I say as I open my door and set my beers on the seat, “but I can give you a dollar.”

“Ah, man. You rock,” he rejoices. I feel sick with the amount of joy that flooded his voice as I agreed to give him a dollar. I’m upset with myself that I’m not willing to give him more and that he’s so satisfied with what is just a token of generosity. While a dollar might be worth shit, the memory of the paper one dollar bill being a worthwhile monetary milestone still sort of lingers on. I certainly wasn’t trying to appear generous, but I was trying to trick myself into thinking I hadn’t turned my back on him. Maybe he subconsciously knew that it was all an exchange of tokens, and that the dollar really only represented the fact that I didn’t want to say no to him.

In times like this I imagine people I know, even family members, and think of what they might say this guy really needed the money for. I also start to wonder where my cynicism goes when I’m confronted by someone like this. I think of how plausible it is that this guy has a totally different situation than the one he pitched to me, but the vibe I picked up from him detailed the sincerity of his claims. I kind of think that, maybe he was lying to me on the surface, but that the desperation of whatever he needed was along the lines of that sort of urgency, and that I’d only understand if he could speak in universal textures.

 His story sort of goes like this. He has a wife that he’s trying to help, so he isn’t selfish and someone cares about him. He doesn’t have a place to sleep, but it’s temporary, so he can’t be identified with a homeless lifestyle that would isolate him from humanity. I guess that’s the extent of my cynicism when I try to think of how the guy might be a liar. The guy might be living the life of hardship and pain that he explained to me or he went to great lengths to bridge the gap to another one. Either way, all I gave him was a dollar.

“You don’t know what this means man,” he expresses, “I mean, when it rains it pours.”
“I know man. I really hope things start going better for you, seriously.”
I meant it when I wished him well, though I don’t know what it’s like to have it rain and pour like him. I think it’s weird that everyone wants to equate their pain to “The pain”. It just isn’t true. Some people never feel pain like others, and you’ll never know in the instance of having the pain inflicted on you, you’ll only know in the measure of frequency you have to leave the pain behind with a steady state of mind.

I drive back the short mile back to my house and think about this guy and how I’m going to write about him, and I think about whether or not I’m treating life with sincerity. I think about the two dollar scratcher bestowed upon me and the one dollar whim I gave to the man, and what that says about me. I think about the beers I’m about to drink, and the warm made bed I get to sleep in when I get home. When I get home, and see my healthy wife that I love so much. 

I look about my house and I see an aircraft leaving the nearby airport. It’s lights are yellow and green, and they twist in a way that defies the direction that the aircraft is moving. I think about life on other planets, and I believe that it exists, but because I’ll never get there, it seems like nothing more than a very good tale.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Odd Sorts on a Regular Day in the A.V.

It’s mid-July in the Antelope Valley and it’s the kind of hot you get used to like a spot in your vision. I’m standing in a makeshift line in Circle K, stuffed between snack shelves, watching other people arrive at the front of the register and looking back to figure out where the line starts. At the front of the line I see Chuck purchasing a Tall Mickey’s and a Hurricane. I know Chuck’s name because he’s a regular and I hear the clerks addressing him, and I guess in that way I’m almost a regular myself. Chuck’s a black guy in his forties with a shaved head and tattoos. He’s always dressed in new clothing and gold jewelry, but his body has a malnourished frame of an anorexic boxer, with broad shoulders and a sunken in chest. He buys the cheap stuff, and whenever I hold the door open for him, I never see him walk to a car. I can understand priorities like this.

                I’m buying an eighteen pack of beer cans to take home for the evening. You don’t buy in bulk unless you’ve got somewhere to hang the weight and keep them cold. Chuck’s going to come back for another purchase at some point in the day.

                Chuck jokes around with the clerks, and tells them to have a blessed day when he leaves. I buy my beer and feel encouraged to have the same jovial attitude, but my reservation makes the exchange brief and less personal. The clerks like me, but that’s why they don’t know my name and call me Chief. I never liked when someone calls me Chief or Boss, but I guess it’s better than a stranger that calls you buddy like an asshole that comes at you for a handshake with their palm facing downward.

                When I drive home right down the street I stop at an intersection and look over to see Chuck at the bus stop drinking his Mickey’s and wiping his forehead, and it looks as natural as drinking water to stave off the heat. He stuffs his open can into a plastic bag on the ground, and I lean into the cold box of beer and turn on the air conditioner. The intersection is near a mall, and was designed for an early 90’s population, so it takes a moment to wait for a green light. I look over and see Chuck bent over and gagging behind a short hedge in plain view to the street. He’s having a hard time keeping down what little he just drank, and the reason for his unnatural skinny frame becomes clear to me.

                Soon after, a white haired old woman comes walking by. She looks to be in her mid-seventies, moving slowly and decisively toward the bus stop benches. She hears the gagging a few feet away from her, and gets a much better view of Chuck than I have and promptly steers her head back toward the benches.

                This woman is one of those people that came to live in the Antelope Valley at a time when it was a lesser Palm Springs: A warm and inexpensive place for old people to retire. 

Nowadays, far from this retirement dream, it has become a place for the beached riffraff that’s been cast out from one of L.A.’s many polluted waves. Today, there aren’t as many retirees that haven’t moved away or died, but when I do see one of these rare hermit crabs peek out from their shells, I feel pity for them when they see how much the world has changed since the last time they took a look.

                Chuck finishes and returns to his plastic bag, the Lady sits on the bus stop bench, and the light turns green.