It’s a chilly October day and the monsoon had begun. Seven months without sun or baseball loomed like a snowman doused in tar. I was tired of listening to traffic from my apartment.
Traffic echoed from the wet streets. Cars streamed by like hostile sharks en route to bloodier waters. Everyone drives too fast, especially when your back is to them. I think of death. Rain gathers on the brim of my cap. Then a bus or truck catches a puddle.
An ambushed-from-behind kind of death. A fantasy death—quick and sudden, ultimate. I recall those who claim they once loved me—it could mess them up, I guess. I know it would me. I’d probably end up as one of those sad-assed ghosts that never accepts death and wanders back and forth on this stupid boulevard full of nail & beauty shops, convenience and dollar stores, black barber shops, fast food, chicken eateries, drive-thrus, bars and bistros, the Middle Eastern Market—the one shop on this stupid strip where I actually shop: good cheeses, fresh meats, produce, decent prices, friendly folk.
I’m looking for a job, I decide. I need a job, or rather, I need money and lack guts to rob a bank and am too lily-livered to, say, rob The Middle Eastern Market. If I die on this strip, I’d probably unwittingly haunt them and scare the shit out of everyone there.
Everybody looks diseased, fat, crazed, hungry. It’s Friday afternoon and no one it seems is working. Even those I see through the windows in their own employed servitude appear not to be working. We’re all waiting for something to break, an eruption of some sort. Either the economy comes around or, better yet, an actual eruption. Behind those low-slung hills and thick dark clouds lies Mount Rainier. Behind me, to my left, is Mount Baker. Somewhere to the right extends the Cascadia Fault that apparently is about a century overdue for the next big one. Perhaps something could just envelop us right where we stand. It wouldn’t be as sudden as a bus coming from behind, but it would be something. A volcano comes with less stealth.
Medical marijuana dispensaries? I wonder if you have to get drug tested to work there? I remember when I could afford pot. As a kid I could afford comic books, baseball cards. As a teen I could afford drugs. In my twenties I could afford relationships and all-night drinking. In my thirties I could afford to spurn job opportunities, relationships, brain cells . . .
Now I’m an old man of fifty. I can’t afford any of these things. I wonder if I can even afford to work?
I continue on until used car row before I cut across the street and head back. I don’t want to get too far from home as I didn’t pack an umbrella, and the sky is dark. I will have to be more desperate than I am to consider becoming a used car salesman. Half the stores on this side, heading north, appear to be going out of business. The other half already are out of business. I step into one of the former, an antique/junk shop. A guy behind the counter grizzled looking, about my age, wakes as I enter. “Afternoon,” he gurgles like these are his first words of the day. “Warm in here,” I pronounce. “Yep, cranked it up.” He wears a cap and coat. If he had a rifle, he could pass for a duck hunter. I travel the aisles. I need a potato masher, which I don’t see and don’t ask for. Prices for trivial items seem dear. A scabby looking bear pelt gets my attention. It looks like a little brown bear partially eaten by coyotes and moths before coming here and continuing to decompose. It is too pathetic to walk upon—even if this bear had eaten my entire family, I wouldn’t do it this disrespect. The paws are particularly sad. I note my own nails are overdue for a trim.
The bear makes me sad. Everything makes me sad. I let this bear claw swing from my grasp, it clinks against a copper spittoon. There’s an old stenographer machine beside it. I wish there was something here I could use or buy as I can tell this guy hasn’t rung up a sale all day, all week perhaps. I’m probably the first asshole that’s come in today. “Thanks,” I tell him as I’m leaving, which is how you’re supposed to exit an antique shop when it’s just you and them with no sale pending.
The street feels colder than before as the heat drains away from my clothes. I pass a couple of gang-bangers, struggling with their sagging pants. I pass an old lady who doesn’t look at me. I pass a hooker-looking gal, who does. I see Value Village. They might have a potato masher.
It is a week til Halloween and inside the store everything reflects this. Even wealthy people slum with the onslaught of Halloween.
Halloween used to be my favorite. It was different then. I lived in Southern California. Girls—meaning young women—all dressed like sluts without any oppressive weather to hamper their creativity.
There are no potato mashers I like. There is nothing else I need. Those who work here, mostly young girls, wear bits of costume. Advertising, I suppose. If you old bags buy this, you’ll look younger, too. None of them are wearing the hot sexy nurse outfit, or Elvira, or hot stewardess, or Playboy Bunny, or Wonder Woman or She Hulk. There is no cleavage, nor one exposed ass-cheek among them, and that’s as expected. This is a family place. These are minimum wage jobs. Girls Girls Girls, DeJa Vu, Dreamgirls and Rick’s are up and down the strip; free admission with the purchase of a ten-dollar beverage.
I look over the books instead.
“Did you hear about Alice?” I hear a woman ask a man.
“She passed away yesterday.”
“Really, god, I swear she was just in here the other day.”
“That can’t be. She’d been feeling poorly all week.”
“Maybe I confused her with somebody else.”
Well, that’s entirely possible, I think. There are lots of dead-looking people in here looking over the other dead people clothing. I never see these conversationalists, but imagine my surprise when I look up and recognize Bill Gates, standing in the corner, looking over old National Geographics.
“Hey Bill,” I sidle over beside him. “What gives?”
He looks startled. He’s wearing Groucho glasses and a stupid mustache. I guess he figured no one would recognize him. “What do you want?” he lisps, in his my-tongue’s-too-big-for-my-mouth manner.
“I notice you’re wearing a cheap suit,” I tell him, “is that to help you stay incognito?”
“Perhaps.” He swallows painfully, looks back at the National Geo cover he holds, picturing a big gorilla on the cover. “Do you think this looks like Steve Balmer?”
“Yeah, as a matter of fact. So, Bill, what’s the richest guy on earth doing, in Value Village?”
“Things are not as rosy you might think. Warren Buffet’s over there, looking at shirts.”
“No kidding, wow. I didn’t recognize him with that Spiderman habit slung over his head.”
“And look who’s doing windows.”
I looked. I screw up my eyes and look harder. Bald, flabby, wearing a dirty t-shirt, and not doing a very good job cleaning windows, either. A white guy no less . . . “Ohmygod. . .” I gasp, “Is that The Donald?”
“Was. Now he’s just Don. Yeah, no toupee, no girdle or Armani suit with padded-shoulders . . . the man makes the suit? I think not.” Bill snorts. “And,” Bill brings his voice down to a conspiratorial quiet, “Don’s fourth wife is holed-up in the second dressing room giving blow jobs for twenty bucks apiece.”
“No kidding,” I rifle through my pant’s pocket, seven or eight quarters and a couple of bills, neither is larger than a five.
“Yeah, well things are bad all over—your 99%ers think you’re the only ones to suffer. HA! Well, let me tell you, yesterday’s fortunes are today’s stale fortune cookies.”
“But Bill, how could it have come to this? Are you telling me all you guys are broke?”
“Some of us are doing better than others. Jeff Bezos is still doing pretty good. He hasn’t quite killed off the last independent bookstore in America yet, but he’s close, and when that happens . . .”
“Well, none of us saw it coming, but eventually, after we earned all the money in the world, it was only a matter of time before even our capital would be leveraged away from us.”
“What, like Walmart? China Inc?”
“For the moment, sure—only they’ve been bought out by intergalactic monetary forces . . . Exxon, G&E . . . you name it . . . the world’s been sold and bought on the cheap by powers not even Warren could see coming. Say, do you got a buck, so I can buy this. Steve’s birthday’s coming up and I want to make him a card.”
“What about your Groucho glasses?”
“Who? Oh no, these are mine. I’ve been wearing these for years. Like I said, You’re the first person to recognize me. Say, you’re pretty good. Maybe you’d like to work for the Bill & Melinda Charitable Relief Organization. Of course, I couldn’t pay you. We lost our tax exempt status when we became our own charity, but, hey, we still do good work, if I do say so myself.”
“Gosh, Bill, I don’t know. I am looking for a job job, the paying kind, but suddenly I feel kind of sick.”
“Yeah, well, think how we feel. Keep this stuff under you hat, by the way. We don’t want to panic all of humanity after all.”
“No, that would not be good. I’ll, uh, see you Bill.”
“Okay. Don’t take any wooden nickels.” He laughs, shooting some spray from his nose.
I passed Buffet. He’s wearing bright plaid golf pants. He looks like he’s carrying a load in the back of them—and not a good load either. I exit the smudged glass doors where Just Plain Don is huffing and puffing and looking like he’s three strokes from a heart attack, or maybe three beats from a stroke. He looks even more pathetic than he did during all those I-hate-Obama ads, and even worse without his hair, like Daddy Warbucks only no where near as handsome. “Excuse me,” I tell him, “But even without money, I’m betting you’re still an asshole.”
“You’re fired.” he blurts instinctually, dips his squeegee in a white bucket of soapy water.
I leave Value Village and turn back south. Maybe I’m ready to sell used cars, after all.
Larry Crist has one collection of poems Undertow Overtures (ATOM Press). He had been widely published and lives in Trinidad, California.