Saturday, August 15, 2009

Saturday in LA

There's a homeless man outside, covered in carbuncles, walking an endless circle around our block, jabbering to whomever has a free ear and nothing better to do. He does this every day, never asking for money, but somehow always drunk or getting there.

I call him Barnacle Bill because I like to think of his face as the prow of a ship, content with its humble lot in life, wading through the muck day after day, doing as little as it takes to get by, patently unconcerned with trivial things like appearance, until the whole vessel suddenly falls to pieces one day, swallowed by the timeless sea, unacknowledged, relieved.

Like most fixtures in my neighborhood, Barnacle Bill is a lot friendlier since my girlfriend moved in and gave the fellas a little something to look at around these parts. He never used to say a word to me, but now he often interrupts his monologues to say 'Hi' as I walk past; I'd rather not think about what he says to my ladyfriend.

Even the workaholic bodega guy, Michael, has gotten friendlier. One day, Michael gave me $3 and change because he said his brother overcharged me for a bottle of vodka the day before; another time he gave me a bottle of Crown Royal and three Mexican Cokes for an IOU when my debit card wouldn't work. My girlfriend, meanwhile, not only gets handfuls of free Korean mystery candies and slightly lower prices, but also has her own private stash of Italian sodas.

Unwelcome friendliness is better than a knife to my throat, but in general I prefer to avoid the local flavor, to remain anonymous, despite my conceptual yearning for community. I suppose you have to draw the line somewhere, though--do I really want Barnacle Bill drinking a beer on my couch, in his pee-stained pants? Do I want to find out what goes on behind the curtain at the all-night Taco Psychic across the street?

I saw someone buy Barnacle Bill a beer from Michael's bodega once. I learned that Barnacle Bill only drinks good beer--Modelo--when somebody else is buying, some stir-crazy lonely soul angling for a sidewalk drinking buddy. On one such glorious evening, as she smoked on the fire escape above, Bill chatted up my girlfriend by trying to convince her that toucans live in the trees outside our building.

Phantom toucans aside, nature is everywhere out here, whether you want it or not. Confused fruit flies patrol the toaster oven, an alley cat minus a tail begs for male attention, and
the cockroach perched on my toothbrush shoots me daggers. Does he know something I don't?

Somewhere in the bowels of our building, a lap dog resumes its incessant barking and the shirtless Korean man in the building next door hocks his 400th loogie of the day. It's 7:30pm. "Welcome to the Wheel!"

There is comfort in regularity; there is also resignation.


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