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.